Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Russian Mama - Galina

Wild nameless plant with little white round fruits plucked from Russian mama's garden, apples too, Russian mama is a real gem.

Almost every day other day, Russian mama will prepare something like this for me. Sometimes its Russian pancakes with honey, sometimes Russian meat dumplings. Full package with sachets of Instant coffee mix, yogurt, candies, biscuits, napkins and plastic fork and spoon. In the morning, she will also make sandwiches with ham and cheese.

Whimsically referred as the lady in a box, Galina works from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 5pm, selling stationary and making photocopies for students in her tiny book kiosk located next to my classorom.

The silly toothy me and her Russian mama, who also like my best, real biological mama in Singapore wears purple all the time.

It all started when I started to look for Russian literature in her little book kiosk next to my classroom in the university. It was towards the end of last semester.

Her name is Galina. She sells mostly technical books for students here and promised that she will bring hers at home. She even asked me to name the books I need, and she woul bring whatever she has. Her children are all grown up and she doesn't want to keep these books idling in the bookshelves. Most importantly she said she herself had read all of the books at home, and she is very willing to part with it.

Unbelievable Russian kindness - she started to bring me books that I have always wanted, for instance Tolstoy's collection of letters, Chekhov's short stories, and even Nabokhov's Lolita. For those that I find too difficult to handle, I would normally give it back to her.

When there were no students queuing outside her kiosk, she would always be happy to talk to me about anything happening in her life. About her grandchildren, her children, her health and her life in general, besides her health, she does not complain about anything, only sharing happy moments. In the little drawer in the kiosk, she keeps a lot of food, always ready to share with me, sweets and biscuits...

She also decorate the corner with wild flowers that she plucks along the road or from her garden. And like a real, sentimental Russian, she would stand around to arrange the cut flowers slightly in the vase, and marveled it from near and from far, and looked back at me standing behind her, and said, I don't know about you but I really like them. And she said that flowers always make her day.

Sometimes she would bring some magazines she finished reading at home and read aloud to me while students are scarce. She said that she had good education and proud that her Russian language is very good, and I shall never fail to ask her for help. And she really taught me a lot. She speaks in a very fast and confident manner, and sometimes I did not understand entirely, it did not really matter to her. However sometimes I would stop her and she would say to me in a way that I could understand.

At the end of last academic year, I was not sure if I was coming back for another year. It all depended on the health of my parents. Hence I told Mama Galina that I might be leaving for good. She was rather upset.

A week before I left Russia , Mama Galina fell ill and did not come for work. I owed her 200 Roubles as she did not have small change when I bought some souvenirs from her kiosk earlier on. I passed it to her boss who helped to mend the kiosk then. Hence I did not say goodbye to her.

When I came back to Russia again for the new term in September, she was so emotional and happy, and kept saying that she was so afraid that she would never see me again, and kept saying, my little girl, I am so happy you are back.

When my new life started in the dormitory, fully equipped with micro-oven and kitchen, I decided to make her some Chinese food, all heated up in micro-oven before I sent to her after my lessons. The first time was rice and a stir-fried dish that I made the night before. I put them in separate boxes and tie up nicely with a ribbon, complete with a pair of chopsticks, spoon and fruits. She was speechless when she saw it, she said she had always wanted a pair of chopsticks. And she had never never tasted Chinese food.

From then onwards, she insisted that I should not buy breakfast from the snack counter downstairs, as she would make me sandwiches every day, and could boil tea at her kiosk, as she said why spend money when you can have it here? She also started to make me Russian food, like borscht soup, pancakes (that can last me the whole weekend for breakfast or tea-time) and braised fish. She would put them in boxes for me and add on with sweets, biscuits and yogurt, and instant coffeemix. When apples were in full bloom, she brought me apples every other day.

Although she insisted that I need not cook anything for her as a guest in Russia, but I have continuously since then, in every other day, brought her Chinese meals like braised or fried chicken with rice, or most often all kinds of fried rice and fried spagetti. And most surprisingly she even liked my curry chicken, which I have specially separated from the super hot version to suit her Russian taste. She often said that she always wanted to bring them home for dinner, but they are often too delicious to keep for that long.

When she knew that I also like flowers, she started to bring me flowers too. I was afraid that it would cause her inconveniences, but she said they are all blooming in the garden, why not let it bloom in our rooms? To convince me, she even drew a map and showed me how near is the bus-stop and garden to her home.

The next day I was surprised to get a huge bouquet of purple cammomile. So much that I had to share it among other friends living in the dormitory. She even fully supplied me with two beautiful vases. At least three 'households' benefited. I even cut some for the kitchen and our locked toilet, but the flowers were proven to be too beautiful and was stolen from the kitchen on the third day.

I am grateful to have such a Russian mama.


  1. Great to hear that you have someone to take good care of you.