A little blog about my travels to Tyumen, Siberia. July 15-September 1st.
Радуйтесь всегда в Господе; и еще говорю: радуйтесь. Кротость ваша да будет известна всем человекам. Господь близко.
К Филиппийцам 4:4-5
Casteth not cupcakes before Gopniki.
The gopnik, plural “gopniki” or “gopota” are originally, Russian lower class (and by lower class i do not imply that there is a middle one) youth from the criminal regions of moscow, who were controlled by the local mafias. In 1980s and 1990s, developed into a youth subculture that opposed other subcultures such as the bikers, the punks, the KPSS, etc. Nowadays, the gops are controlled only loosely by higher criminal organizations and are usually found in any novostroiki (new building) regions. Their native language is mat, and they feed themselves through robberies, known as “gop stop” and small operations. Their most common attire are fake addidas track-suits and knopka caps, although those are now less popular. They tend to cut their hair close or else to shave it off entirely. Often, they can be seen squatting on steps or sidewalks in their recognizable style. They may assiciate themselves with the Skins, or the neo-nazi movements, and beat up asians, caucaus peoples, blacks, jews, and homosexuals, as well as their main enemies, the punks.
So, Amy, Jeff, and I were coming back from a day at the Center, and as we turn the corner to their apartment, I espy a growing crowd of your people loitering on the front steps. I try to guess their ages - from a distance, I guess that some of the girls are in their late teens and the boys maybe the same age, but as we draw nearer I realize that these are just kids. They were all under thirteen, for sure. I noticed a man, dressed like a gopnik, sitting on the hood of a car and furtively glancing over his shoulder. Maybe he was their uncle, I told myself, maybe they’re just hanging out before school terms begin again.
As we approached the entrance, the reality of the situation became tragically clear. I notice a boy with a cigarette in his hand, and he can’t be older than twelve. He holds it so casually, grasping between index and middle finger. I notice empty, label-less green bottles tipped over on the pavement. Cheap alcohol collects in tiny pools and they tell me later it stunk. And I think “Oh my God, they’re just little children”.
Then I notice that the older man has handed one of the boys an aerosol can with the nozzle removed, and he’s huffing it right in public. Jeff whispers next to me “Don’t stare, don’t stare”. I remember the story of a young man back home who was huffing the gas from whipped cream. A clot traveled to his brain and he died within a few hours. And these are just children.
What kind of man is leading these children down this dark path? The same sort of man who led him down the same path when he was a child.
Later, Jeff and I make a trip to Metro (German version of American Walmart in Russia). While we’re gone, Amy takes a plate of cupcakes down to the kids as she is on her way to pick up some yogurt at the corner produkti. She told us later
I had this idea in my head that I would go down to these kids and give them cupcakes and tell them “Don’t you know that Jesus loves you and you don’t need to stuff like this?” Then they would say “You know what? You’re right” and put away their stuff and they’d all go to the Center together and talk about God.
It was a really beautiful thought.
They took her poor cupcakes and fed them to a wild dog. Amy said to herself “Oh well” and went on her way to the store.
When we got back, the gopniki-in-training were gone, as was their dealer.
I wonder what will become of them.