Lessons in Culture Learned Pushing a Trolly Bus

Robert ? October 2005


Okay, so now you already know the punch line, but I didn?t think you?d read my story if I simply titled it, ?Lessons on Culture?.  


If you know anything about my weasel bite experience, you know that it has required several trips to the Krasnodar Trauma Clinic for out-patient rabies treatment injections.  Well, on the first such follow-up visit, I decided to take the Trolley-Bus to the clinic.  When I arrived at the stop, a short walk from our flat, bus number three was just arriving.  I needed bus number 4 for the route to the clinic.  I look down the street past bus #3 as far as I could see, and there wasn?t another bus in sight.  I had not allowed any extra time, so I decided not to wait, but to take good ole #3 and just walk the final few blocks.  Standard Russian procedure.


Ours is the last stop on the route, so by getting on the bus at our stop, I can pick my place to stand, rather than fight for a spot in what will become the sardine can at the very next stop.  So, feeling quite culturally adapted and almost as resourceful as a Russian, I took my place on the bus and proceeded to crank up my Mp3 player with a worship set that has become a critically necessary component of a 30 minute ride to school, packed into a trolley-bus in closer physical intimacy with perfect strangers than I care to elaborate.  


As you can see from this photo, trolley-buses in Russia are not small things.  You can also see the life-giving cables overhead. As you can see from this photo, trolley-buses in Russia are not small things. You can also see the life-giving cables overhead.

However, at this point, having not made it to the first stop on the route yet, we were just seven casual strangers, sharing a large tin box attached by two large fingers to cables overhead from which the bus got it?s power.  This particular group of seven consisted of myself, a sixty-something man, and five women of various ages.  


If you?re still reading at this point, you are surely beginning to tire of the seemingly endless and pointless details, but I assure you that virtually everyone of them will very soon become folded into the story.


As the small group of us began to make our way through the traffic circle to the first stop on the route, with me already caught up in the world between my earplugs, our trolley-bus happened upon a collision between another trolley-bus and a car.  Of course, as with all trolley-bus collisions (I?ve actually encountered several now), a disabled trolley-bus, parked smack dab under the trolley?s overhead power supply, becomes a virtually insurmountable obstacle to all subsequent trolley-buses that come after it.  Well, not to be insurmountably obstructed, our driver decided to try to pass the collision site, thereby forcing our overhead cables to pop off the track which supplied the bus?s life flow of electricity.  So, now disabled directly beside the bus collision, we managed to completely close off all lanes and obstruct the flow on traffic on Ulitsa Krasny Partisan, a major thoroughfare running through our neighborhood.   


You need to realize, that though I can write about this now, at the time I was pretty much oblivious to my surroundings as I had already become engaged in my world of worship, which actually on this particular morning was more of a mix between U2 and Mercy Me.  


Realizing the need to perhaps reengage in the real world, I took out my earplugs just in time to see the driver entering the bus after surveying the situation outside.  He made an announcement, in Russian of course, that I translated in my imagination as something along the lines of, ?It doesn?t look like we?re going anywhere for a while so you?ve welcomed to get off and find another bus.?  (Remember this is my imaginary translation, since I probably didn?t recognize two words that he said.)  So, based on my imaginary interpretation, I made the decision to stay put, since I had earlier assessed the situation and knew there wasn?t another bus anywhere in the neighborhood, and if one did come along now, it sure wasn?t going anyplace.  I noticed the sixty-something man decided to get off, but no one else did, so I proceeded to put my earplugs back in place and turned back to gazing out the rear window.  I soon felt ice forming on the back of my neck and turned to see five pairs of eyes glaring at me.  I couldn?t understand their concern over my decision to stay on the bus.  Feeling a bit indignant that they would judge me for my decision to stay on the bus, when they elected to stay on as well, I turned back to my backward gaze.  Not feeling the ice on the back of my neck melting yet, I turned back again to find their gaze still fixed on me, at which point I said to myself, ?Alright already!  I?ll get off the bus?.  I gathered my belongings and made my way to the front of the bus.  It seems without power the driver is unable to open the doors, so the only exit was through the drivers door at the front, a long walk past five sets of glaring eyes.  

Upon exiting the bus, I?m sure you guessed long ago what I would find. The sixty-something man was single-handedly attempting to push this huge trolley-bus, containing five women and one rather thick American man, up an incline to reconnect it to its life flow of electricity.  


Needless to say this rather thick American, who moments earlier was relishing in his sense of cultural adaptability, very sheepishly deposited his belongings in the drivers compartment and began to assistant my elderly fellow-passenger in his effort.  We were soon joined by a policeman who was working the accident, a driver caught in the resultant traffic jam behind us, and the bus driver himself.  Believe it or not, the five of us soon got the bus rocking enough to gain some momentum and slowly edge the bus up the incline a distance of about 30 or 40 meters, until we were close enough to reconnect our cables and continue our journey.  


My lessons from this experience?  First and foremost, I learned that women don?t push trolley-buses in this country.  Secondly, I hope I learned not to make decisions based on my own imaginary Russian translations.  I have also come to learn the verb ?pomich?, which means to aid, help or assist.