Saturday, March 14, 2009

New friends

While I was in the States, a Russian girl asked to be my "friend" on the popular Russian networking site, vkontakte.ru. We had a few mutual friends, so I accepted, and we began to write back and forth.

I normally look for opportunities to reach out to young women, so it didn't strike me as strange. I found out that she had a young daughter. When she learned that I was an American, she asked about English lessons for her baby's father (I didn't quite understand the status of their relationship).

Meanwhile, I arrived in St. Petersburg and had promised that we could meet in person. I found out where she lived, and when I was going to be in that neighborhood, sent her a message saying that I could pay her a visit.

So I got on the metro yesterday and traveled to the south of the city. Then I got on a trolley and headed towards my new friend's neighborhood.

When I got off the trolley, I called and was told to stay put. "I'll be there soon," she promised. I looked around, trying to guess if any of the people coming towards me were her. I didn't have much time, but I imagined that we could have a cup of tea together and that I could meet her daughter.

Suddenly, a young woman appeared at my side. "Here I am. We're in the car," she said, gesturing. As I got into the car, she didn't get in right away, and I had a sudden feeling of panic that something sinister was happening. Here I was getting into a car with a strange man at the wheel, in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

But I trusted Katya, and Dima, at the wheel, appeared friendly enough.

Katya explained that her brother had suddenly invited a group of guests to visit, so the flat was not available for us. We drove to a little cafe and ordered tea and pastries.

As I sat with Katya and Dima, I suddenly felt that there was going to be a business proposition.

"Do you like Russia?" Dima asked in perfect English. And I realized that they were going to ask about lessons. Dima dreamed of becoming an interpreter, including working for an Australian team coming in the summer. He said that he was self-taught, but I was impressed by his fluency and range of vocabulary. I've had many people approach me for lessons, but are unable to commit, and we don't continue beyond a few lessons. But I saw potential in Dima and wanted to help him. He spoke of having to give up his studies in order to support their little family.

"What is a stronger word than 'hobby'?" asked Dima, wanting to describe his feelings about English.

"Interest. No, passion," I said, after thinking for a minute.

"Passion. It's a good word," he said, before translating it to Katya.

I suggested that they visit an English-language church service in order to get some practice. And I promised to find out about private lessons or a conversation course for him.

Sometimes I wonder how I get so tangled up in other people's lives. But the added interaction is inspiring. Life would be dull, otherwise.