There are real angels living in Russia
by Barbara Jo Guilford
There are real live angels living in Russia. I know, I met them. On May 29 Friendship Force of Northern Colorado traveled to Makrous, to visit a collective farm about 2 1/2 hours east of Saratov where we delivered 35 boxes weighing 65 pounds each containing medical equipment donated by many contributors including United Medical Center West of Cheyenne, Wyo. Makrous village officials greeted us at the administrative building and answered our questions about collective farms. They had arranged a formal dinner but first we were invited to visit schools, the hospital, library, and other community centers.
As I entered the Cultural Center, I noticed a wall of childrens’ art. I was enraptured. Two women entered and burst into smiles and greetings. We hugged and kissed as I struggled in Russian to tell them why I was there. Luckily, Slava Ustinov, the president of the Saratov Friendship Force helped me communicate. I praised one of the childrens’ paintings and my two hostesses immediately took it off the wall and presented it to me, over my objections. The two women guided me around their center making special efforts to show the German influence. We seemed to click and I begged their forgiveness for leaving to visit the newspaper office. I promised to return after our dinner. They proudly presented me with a photograph of their cultural groups at their Makrous Harvest Festival taken in 1999.
Off I went to the newspaper office to answer questions about the medical items. The first question which was asked of me was why I had come to Russia. I talked about Friendship Force International and the Rotarian Medical project. I also told the editor that my parents were born in the region and that I belonged to the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (AHSGR). The editor asked about “Weidergeburt,” an organization of ethnic Germans demanding return of lands to former occupants of the area. I told him I was familiar with the demands, but realized my opinion was irrelevant since most Germans had left the area and my mission in Makrous was to deliver the surgical catheters, painkillers, operating trays, heart catheters, forceps, etc. He did explain that the Germans had been offered money to satisfy their demands. I explained that our local AHSGR chapter had helped to gather the medical supplies. I was shown around the office and I took photos of the editor and staff. They deliberately showed me an outdated linotype printer and asked if I ever came upon old computers. I told them I would keep my eyes open.
Slava and I next went to see the library where a special exhibit of World War II heroes of the collective caught my attention. I wanted to stay, but was advised that dinner was about to be served. I noticed the automobile garage where equipment was repaired and would have liked to visit it.
The dinner was a banquet with an abundance of food. At each guest’s place was a bottle of Russian vodka and many bottles of wine and water on the table. There were huge baskets of varieties of fruit including some very beautiful pears. The American guests were all given gifts, I received a “skoltoolka,” a black lacquered box painted with a Russian scene. What I remembered the most were the toasts of friendship ” to peace, families, countries, long life, prosperity and good health. The main course of breaded fried steak tasted familiar ” just like meals in farm country USA. I left the celebration a little early to wander around the village to photograph the houses which were very decorative. I bought some candy in a store for handing out. A couple of school girls asked me for my autograph.
As promised, I returned to the Cultural Center about 2:30 p.m. Children had gathered and met the rest of our delegations with songs. We pinned angel pins on the children and all hugged and kissed. I presented my two new friends with a cookbook from the AHSGR. They gave me books from Moscow about the German history of the area. I later would present these Russian books to Elizabeth Yerina at Engels, who has collecting the German Archives for 35 years. When we parted they sang “Dasvedania, Dasvedania” (Good-bye, Good-bye) which I recorded. I now can listen to that recording and remember the day I met real live angels … living in Russia.
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