By Kayode Ogundare:
COLD MOSCOW, WARM RUSSIANS
December was the start of Russian winter and it was bitterly cold all day long (although locals claim it is usually freezing in January and I shudder to think how I would cope if the Draws are to hold next month. Fortunately, the World Cup will hold in the summer months of June and July so the cold will not be a factor.
The weather was so treacherous that temperatures sometimes dropped to -8 degrees on some days and, on such occasions, you are left with no other option than to stay indoors all day long. If you chose to go out or you are caught outside, then you run the risk of frostbite.
To have an idea of just how cold it was, let me list my typical clothing ensemble on an average day. Before going out, I usually make sure I wore two pairs of socks, two trousers, one necktie (which is actually 4yards material, my favourite hat covering my ears and brain, two shirts plus underwear and a massive windcheater jacket weighing a ton. (See picture but please don’t laugh).
Yet, it doesn’t keep all of the cold away, just makes it bearable until I’m able to come back to the hotel and snuggle into my bed.
The saving grace, for me, was that my hotel provided complimentary tea all day long whenever you wanted it. I made it a point of duty to drink nothing else but tea and, on the average, I drank as much as 15 cups per day. Yeah, that’s to keep the cold away.
MISSING IN MOSCOW
On the few days that I was able to go out, weather –permitting, I took in the architectural beauty of Moscow. And that was how I got lost for more than three hours as I tried in vain to locate my hotel.
I had gotten on the wrong train and found myself in another part of the city. I walked and walked and walked but I kept getting back to the same spot.
Nobody to ask even though the streets were full of people. Not one of them spoke a word of English and I didn’t know the Russian word for ‘go’.
I couldn’t locate my hotel and I didn’t have a phone to Google-search it. Inside the biting cold, I was walking up and down like a Nollywood movie ghost.
Luckily I saw a black guy and waved at him but, thinking probably that I wanted to beg him for money, he quickly crossed to the other side of the road.
Two Russian boys approached me and, in very poor English (was that even English?), they said they could help me locate my hotel or a police post.
I saw through them instantly. It must have been the Naija sixth sense but I was wary of their offer to help.
What gave them the impression that I’m American I will never know. The shorter one just said: “American? I love America!”
The other one asked: “Eddie Murphy. Who (‘how’, I guessed he wanted to say) is Eddie Murphy?”
They were a comical pair as they both scrambled to find the appropriate English words to use in communicating with me.
It was funny but I couldn’t laugh because the cold had glued my lips together.
I took them up on their offer but, predictably, we had barely moved four steps before they pulled their stunt.
The taller one said he was from Volgograd (another Russian City where, incidentally the Super Eagles would play Iceland on the 22nd of June, 2018) and he had “big problem, no money” so can I give him something?
I smiled at this, inspite of the cold which had turned my face to a permanent grimace anyway, and I said I was willing to give him 50roubles but that would be after we got to the hotel.
He said no, he wanted 500roubles, half now, half at the hotel. I threw some choice expletives at the two of them, in Yoruba of course, and told them the deal was off.
They both left in annoyance and I was left alone on the sidewalk. Just when I was thinking the cold will be the death of me, an elderly man walked up and asked what I wanted. Problem was, he didn’t speak a word of English either but probably saw I was lost.
He took me to a building and showed me a map of the city on the wall. Instantly I recognised my train station and pointed it to him.
He followed me down the subway into the Metro, even offered to pay for my ticket but I declined.
He brought out a pen and paper, drew a rough sketch of how I will locate my hotel when I came off the train and, voila, that was how it happened. I didn’t even need to ask anybody for directions again.
Ms Svetlana, the Administrator (what we call Manager) of my hotel was already going out of her mind wondering where I had been especially with the snow now falling heavily and steadily.
She had already cried her eyes out and was on the verge of calling the police when I stepped into the lobby. She screamed and hugged me, forgetting momentarily that I didn’t speak Russian. After realizing her mistakes, she fired a staccato of questions at me without giving me the chance to finish answering one before asking another.
I told her how much I suffered and she cried some more. Then she made me very hot tea, ordered me to go to bed and sleep. When I woke up, she’d pasted a Map of the City on my door.
Since then, and until I left, I never went anywhere without a map of Moscow in my pocket, my hotel name and number boldly circled in red ink. Svetlana insisted I carried it, even when I went to the supermarket which was just two buildings away.
TOMORROW: MAKING FRIENDS AND AN ENCOUNTER WITH A RACIST.