TASH RABAT: Nazira, 32, grew up around foreign tourists in a mountainous area of Kyrgyzstan near the Chinese border. She helped her parents during the summers to service the foreigners staying in the family's yurts to visit the nearby 15th century Caravanserai. Nazira later went to university to study languages, but one summer between semesters, she met a shepherd who was grazing his livestock in the area. She fell in love and left university. ''I like romantic men, but he isn't very romantic. He just works all the time,'' said Nazira with a laugh in a kitchen inside a train wagon. Nazira, who speaks good English, said she would like to learn Spanish, but doesn't have the time at the moment between taking care of her children and the tourists. Her family is building a new home in the nearby town, which she hopes to turn into a B&B for travelers during the offseason.
TASH RABAT, KYRGYZSTAN: When the Soviet Union collapsed, a collective farm near the Kyrgyz border with China was carved up. Some workers got goats, others yaks. Jyrgalbek's father received a home attached to the collective farm in the carve up. It would probably have been worth nothing were it not for the fact it lay some 200 meters from a 15th century caravanserai. With borders opened after the Soviet collapse, foreigners started to come visit the Caravanserai and pitch tents to sleep overnight. The family noticed this and considered the potential to make money from tourism. Jyrgalbek, a mechanic who lost his town job after the Soviet collapse, took over the house in the mountains, moving his family there. At first, he started by cooking food for the foreigners while attending to the livestock he owned in the area. Around 1997, he started to set up some yurts for the tourists to sleep in. Nearly 20 years later, he and his daughter have about 20 yurts, which helps generate a good portion of their yearly earnings. The rest comes from selling livestock, such as horses, yaks and sheep at the Sunday market.
Islam grew up in Afghanistan in a family of 10 children. A good student, he was sent to study in Russia for six years during the 1980s just as USSR troops were in his country. He returned to Russia in the 1990s as the Taliban took power. He now works in trade at a massive Moscow market that feels like a Asian melting pot. He counted off several countries where his siblings live - Austria, Norway, Canada. Of the 10 children, only two are in Afghanistan. He says he is getting to the age where money is less important and the desire to do some good greater. Islam says he would like to return home someday to help young people looking to start their own business.
He caught my eye as he nervously walked toward Red Square. He had some resemblence to actor William Defoe, but was dressed like Lenin. As this was Moscow and not LA, I suspected he was a Lenin impersonator, so I walked up to chat. Igor said he was on the way to meet a Stalin impersonator in the underpass below red square, but was nervous the police would see him and stop him. He said he only recently became a Lenin impersonator after taking a photo - and then chatting - with Stalin. The Stalin impersonator recommended he give Lenin a shot. Igor said the first two attempts at altering his image with a black goatee and mustache didn't work. His friend suggested trying red dye and they were both pleased with the result. Igor said he had recently moved back to Moscow from his native Ukraine to find work. This is not the first time. He said he was a trolley bus driver and construction worker in Moscow during the turbulent 1990s.
He and Vladimir Putin have had the same work address since 2000 - Red Square. This Moscovite plays the father of Peter the Great, the Russian ruler Putin perhaps most admires. I asked him about the most interesting things he has seen over the nearly 15 years he has been working on Red Square - he immediately recalled photographing with various international stars such as Gerard Depardieu and members of Boney M, a group popular in Russia. As for 2014, the more memorable event was his trip to Montenegro. He plans on vacationing in Belarus next year.
I was getting cold while walking around Voronezh, so when I saw a coffee sign, I popped in to warm up. The coffee stand was in the back corner of a florist shop and Mikhail was serving up the java. He said he got into making coffee when the young owner of a local coffee stand took time off to travel around the world and needed someone to stand in. Mikhail said he enjoyed making coffee that he took up the job in the florist shop when the traveling owner returned. Mikhail, who meets regularly with other protestant followers to discuss religion, said he hopes to open his own coffee shop some day not only for fellow believers, "but for everyone." Besides religion and coffee, his other passion is motorcycles. He hopes to assemble is own bike someday and showed me a photo of one that he liked.
Sergei, a bartender in Voronezh, had tattoos all over his body, including a butterfly on his neck, as well as some piercings, so I asked him about his background. He was born in Crimea, but grew up in the distant region of Chukotka, which lies near Alaska. He left in his late teens as saw no future there, moving to Voronezh, where his grandmother lives. He has continued to get tattoos and piercings since arriving in Voronezh many years ago, including splitting his tongue in two. Sergei said it took a while for his girlfriend to get used to his split tongue, while he has kept it a secret from his grandmother, who wouldn't take it well.
I will continue with the music theme today before moving on to Voronezh portraits. I saw Alexei in his unusual boots and just had to stop him for a chat. Just as he told me he played 'brutual death metal,' some other guy also noticed Alexei and came over to join us. The other guy interrupted me and started talking to Alexei about boots, music and something else, but I couldn't understand him well as he was quite intoxicated and his words slurred. Alexei gave him some change and he walked away, a bottle of dark liquor sticking out of his bag. Alexei then told me a bit more about his music and that he was also studying computer programming. He ended our conversation with his family history that I will share in my next post of Alexei.
Sergei creates music using a saw, playing classical songs. He mainly plays in the underpass near Red Square. He said he grew up playing the guitar in Altai in Siberia and then studied the contrabass at university. About 15 years ago, he take up 'the saw.' The unusual skill has enabled him to travel abroad as well as around Russia.
Russia Street Musician Series: Dima was playing in the underpass beneath Tverskaya, one of Moscow's main streets, in about 0c (32F) temperature. He said he started learning at 6 and at 9 when to a music school. After high school, he studied at a technical college and worked in construction til he lost his job. Now, he said, he travels once in a while from the suburbs to Moscow to play for money. He said he likes 1990s rock.