MOSCOW: When I walked into Starbucks, I noticed friends and colleagues hugging Milana. She was dressed in a bright skirt and wearing a bow in her hair. I asked if there was some event. "It's my birthday," said Milana, who has been working at Starbucks the past five months. She turned 19. I asked how she was going to celebrate. She said she was going to hang out at Starbucks for a couple of hours. As I sat there drinking my coffee, I saw her walk by a few times carrying flowers given to her.
ULAN-UDE, EAST SIBERIA: Maria was working the coffee machine in a small kiosk on Arbat Street in Ulan-Ude on a weekday afternoon. Maria, in her mid-20s, said she studied and worked in St. Petersburg as a lawyer. However, after two years, she said she got tired of working in an office and quit, moving back home to Ulan-Ude. ''I am doing what I love,'' she said from inside the kiosk. ''I go to work like I am going to a holiday celebration. I want to lift people's spirits.'' Maria says she works about a month, saves up her money and then goes snowboarding for a few days. She is now saving to go to China in the fall. ''It is an old dream of mine to go to China,'' she said.
Elizaveta works at a cafe in Minsk to help pay for her university studies....and to save up for a Hungarian pointer dog, a photo of which is taped to the tip bowl. Elizaveta said she gives half her salary to her parents as payment for university. She said she would like to stay in Minsk to be close to family and friends, but 'decent, stable jobs' can be hard to find in Belarus. When I asked if she would consider work in Russia, she said she prefered heading westward as felt closer culturally to Europe.
Roman, a barista at a Minsk coffee shop, had a lighthouse tattooed on his neck. He said "a lighthouse is a symbol of hope to sailors" and for him it is a reminder to see hope around him 'and not to despair.' He said he studied medicine and then worked in physical therapy, but didn't stick with it as the pay was so low. I asked if he made more as a barista. He said as much as double.