Monday, April 22, 2013

Subbbotnik

I missed another subbotnik, or voluntary work day. They're held in the spring, in honor of Lenin's birthday. Alla told me about this tradition when we were complaining to each other about the messy condition of some streets in our Boston neighborhood. If we h had a subbotnik, everybody would show up ant the neighborhood would look great. I heard a countervailing opinion in Belarus. Some call the subbotnik an involuntary day of unpaid labor. Still, I was told that missing one is a bad idea.

I generally don't read the municipal notices posted at our building's front door, often at my peril. If I remembered to look, I would know in advance about the times things like hot water would be shut off for maintenance. And I would certainly have known my duty to help clean things up on Saturday. All I knew was that it looked like an excellent day to take a bike ride.

I did have a great ride, but I felt pretty sheepish about picking my way through throngs of volunteers with rakes spreading out along the bike path. They weren't all dressed for dirty work, and I suppose that people who live in the city and don't have country gardens (dachas) may not need even to own that sort of clothes. The student groups looked more or less resigned to their tasks, but many others seemed genuinely enthusiastic.

On my way home, after the volunteers had gotten spread out along the path, I stopped to talk to a couple of well-dressed women working near a line of parked buses. I asked if they'd been brought in in one of them, and they replied with bright smiles that they'd arrived on their own, by Metro (subway). They made me feel extra guilty about the way I'd spent my morning because they seemed honestly to be enjoying themselves and their day of public service.

Chagrined, I promised to clean up our yard when I got home. They didn't seem convinced that I'd really gotten the spirit, and it turns out that they were right. When I got home, the bits of trash which had accumulated under the snow had already gotten cleaned up by other volunteers.

The city transformed itself over the course of a day. Folks painted the handrails at the Metro stations and the street lamps in Victory Square. The bike path is spotless. Trash disappeared. It looks great, and I think it's an honorable tradition, and I'd better look for the announcement next April.

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