Earlier today, I had the misfortune of dozing off on my marshrutka ride home, and by the time I realized that the driver had passed my stop, he had driven to the last stop and it was too far for me to simply hop off and walk home.
“Excuse me, did you drive past Angliskii Prospekt?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, a long time ago — here, come sit up in front with me, I am going to drive back soon.” So I awkwardly sat in the front seat, as the marshrutka driver put the van into idle and smoked a cigarette.
“Where are you from?” he asked intently, blowing smoke out of the corner of his mouth.
“I’m from America.”
“America?! America! You don’t say. Do you have pictures? What is it like there?”
Since I was feeling particularly bored and slightly adventurous, I decided to test out my conversation skills and talk about the current economic crisis. I told him how living in America was not that great right now, because of the economic crisis, and that I did not know when things would get better. He sat up a little more in his seat and looked me straight in the eye.
“Da, it is the same here. Only Allah knows when the economy will get better. Under the Soviet Union, everything was better. There were always jobs. When Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union, the factories there always worked — it was not hard to find a job,” he said, somewhat wistfully. “We need a strong leader again — like Lenin, like Stalin,” he added seriously. I sat there silently. Yes, there were jobs under the Soviet Union, but at what human cost? Jobs versus the high death toll from the purges, gulags, population transfer, collectivization, etc? “Yes,” he said again, taking a final drag on his cigarette, “everything was better then. Now we have to pay for everything — university, apartments, everything. Terrible.”
Lenin and Stalin
Even post Khruschev’s de-Stalinization, it is fascinating to me that people still regard Stalin with such high reverence. ( In 2008, in an internet poll, Stalin was in the running for most influential Russian. ) The marshrutka driver’s response also made me think of how after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian babushki were at their wit’s end, because, for the first time, they had to pay rent and they couldn’t afford to. Things were better under the Soviet Union, they wailed. Same sentiment today, because of the current economic crisis in Russia — things were better under the Soviet Union.
As I was pondering in silence, he sighed, threw out his cigarette, and then turned the conversation to a dreaded topic.
“So, a pretty girl like you must have a boyfriend (molodoi chelovek), da?” he said, smiling at me and taking my hand. Thank you, Uzbeki marshrutka driver, for not only creepily hitting on me, but for also painfully underscoring the fact that I am single.