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.
The ruble decline impacts nearly the entire former USSR, not just Russia and Russians. Akram grew up in Kyrgyzia, lives in Chelyabinsk and currently works in Moscow like many of his former countrymen. He regularly sends money to his parents, who are raising his two youngest children in Kyrgyzia. Akram said his parents now get 20% less for each ruble he sends them. Akram said he is getting Russisn citizenship and hopes someday to build a home outside Chelyabinsk, where is wife is raising their eldest child.
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.
Damian was skateboarding with Igor (previous post) at the extreme sport playground on a cold November night. He wasn't a diehard skater like Igor, having taken it up only a year ago. He said he was looking forward to snowboarding, which was of greater interest to him.
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.
He was sitting at the very hip Mr. Right barbershop in Voronezh reading a magazine as he waited for a friend. He said he was a barber himself, though he looked more like a model. I asked him about his future plans and he said he was likely going to move to St. Petersburg.
Maria was walking with a guitar on her back and sporting an Iron Maiden t-shirt. For some reason, t-shirts of 1970s-1980s rock groups were popular this year in Moscow (especially among those born way after these groups became popular). Though I think it's more of a fashion trend that a sign of music taste for many, Maria said she liked Iron Maiden. She said she played the harp for many heard and then moved over to the flute. She doesn't play the guitar, but was rathering kindly carrying it for her friend. Maria said she really likes physics and may pursue that in university. When I mentioned I switched over to the history faculty after burning out on quantum physics, she pulled a book out of her bag to show me what she was currently reading. It was titled something like "The secrets of quantum physics."
Inga was standing on a main street in Voronezh selling her paintings starting at 150 rubles ($4), her husband at her side. She said that her pre-revolutionary ancestors were aristocrats and that also had Latvian roots, which explains her Scandinavian name (Inga). She said she has been selling paintings on the street for more than a decade, so I asked Inga for the most interesting moment, expecting to hear something about a big sale. Instead, Inga said she used to be quite attractive 10 years ago. One day, a pimp noticed her and tried to get her into the prostitution business, promising large sums of money. When I bought a small painting, she took out a pen and signed her name on the back of it.