Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “hospitality”

A quick introduction to Russian culture

This week I scanned some photos of my first trip to Russia in 1995 into my computer, and posted some on Facebook, and thought I’d post some here too.

IL-62I flew from Johannesburg to Moscow on an Aeroflot Ilyushin IL62, an interesting experience. When I’d spend two years studying in the UK I returned in 1968 on a Vickers VC 10, and the two aircraft looked very similar. Both had four engines in the tail, and I was delighted to be able to fly in both.[1]

The flight, via Togo and Malta, lasted 17 hours, and my friend Andrei Kashinski met me at the airport with his friend Maxim Zapalski, who had a car, and, since it was my first visit to Moscow, they took me straight to Red Square. Andrei had arranged accommodation for me in the guest house of the Danilov Monastery, where he was supervisor of the rebuilding programme. He insisted on feeding me, though I had just had a substantial breakfast on the plane. He phoned another contact, an online friend Sergei Chapnin, who arranged for me at attend a youth conference at a parish in Klin, about 80 km north-west of Moscow along the St Petersburg road. The priest, would be coming to Moscow, and could give me a lift to Klin.

Kurenkov HomecomingSo back in the car with Andrei and Maxim, and they took me to a flat in a block in north-west Moscow. Guests were expected, but I was the unexpected guest, and the first to arrive. The flat was tiny, but crammed with books on every wall It turned out to be a welcoming party for Alexei Kurenkov, who had just returned on the plane from New York, where he was studying at St Vladimir’s seminary. And there was a fantastic feast — my third of the day, and though I had lost track of the time it felt like mid-morning. It was July, and I’d flown from winter to summer, from short days and long nights to long days and short nights.

So my first practical lesson in Russian culture was within an a couple of hours of arriving. Russians eat a lot, and you can’t visit a friend without being fed. My fellow blogger Clarissa describes this and other aspects of Russian culture in her blog Clarissa’s Blog: What You Need to Know About Your Russian-Speaking Friend:

A Russian-speaking party is very different from the Anglo-Saxon party, for example. For one, nobody stands while trying to balance the plate and the glass. Everybody sits around a big table. Regardless of the economic situation of your Russian-speaking hosts, food will be abundant and will consist of several courses with many food choices. Nobody will ever ask you eat off a paper plate and drink out of plastic cups. The table will be beautifully and properly laid, there will be beautiful table linens and dinnerware.

And that’s the truth. The more people you visit, the more you eat. If you visit a lot, you can end up having six or seven meals a day.

In South African culture, or should I say South African white urban culture, if you are going to drop in to see someone unexpectedly, you try to avoid doing so at meal times, so that your hosts don’t feel obliged to feed you. In Russia, there is no avoiding meal times, because meal times are whenever guests arrive.

It took me a little while to get used to this. I once made the mistake of thinking I could pop in to say hello to someone before jumping on the Metro to go to a service at a Cathedral. No chance of that. Fortunately the Cathedral was full and anyway in Orthodox services people arrive late all the time.

Rural black culture in South Africa is still a bit like that. You can drop in to say hello to someone and then when you want to go they say you must wait, because someone has gone out to catch a chicken to slaughter for a meal. The amazing thing (to me) about Russia is that that kind of attitude has persisted in urban culture, even in big cities like Moscow.

Notes

[1] The VC 10 and IL 62 were my favourite passenger aircraft, and here is a comparison:

The Il-62M had a dispatch rate with Aeroflot of 97% with some examples logging as many as 17 flight hrs/day, and it was described as the most reliable type in the fleet at that time (Gordon et al., 2004). It set several international records in its class, mostly exemplifying a range capability far in excess of the conservative Aeroflot calculations applied in Soviet times. Some of these records were set by an all-woman crew of five captained by Iraida (“Inna”) Vertiprahova. With 10 tonnes of freight, the Il-62M had a maximum range of 10,300 km compared to 9,412 km for the VC10 carrying the same weight. With a 23 tonne payload, the Il-62M range was 8000 km, compared to 6,920 km for a Boeing 707 with maximum payload.

World cup: hospitality and chauvinism

The World Cup is more than halfway over, and more than half the teams have gone home. The USA, England, the top teams from the 2006 World Cup — France and Italy — and many more. Ghana is the only African team left in the running, and many South Africans are supporting them.

But what will the returning teams and fans take with them when they go home? And what lasting effect will it have on South Africa?

Here’s a rather nice article by an American Shari Cohen: South Africa Rolls Out the Ubuntu in Abundance:

So, if South Africa accomplishes nothing more on the playing field, it will still have won as a host country. I am a cynic, no doubt about that. And yet I have to admit, I’m a little teary just writing this because I leave for home next weekend and I will be leaving a little piece of myself here in South Africa. I just hope I have learned enough to bring back a little piece of Ubuntu to my homeland, where perhaps with a little caring and a little water, it will take root as naturally as it does here, in the cradle of civilization. It’s funny, many people in America still ask me, ‘are the people in Africa very primitive?’ Yes, I know, amazing someone could ask that but they do. And when they do, I usually explain that living in a mud hut does not make one primitive, however, allowing kids to sell drugs to other kids and engage in drive-by killings — isn’t that primitive behavior? I think it is. When I think of Ubuntu and my recent experiences here, I think America has much to learn from Africa in general, in terms of living as a larger village; and as human beings who are all interconnected with each other, each of us having an affect on our brothers and sisters.

And remember, just two years ago there was xenophobic violence in many cities in South Africa, where people attacked foreigners. So perhaps the World Cup, and the welcome it encouraged us to give to foreign visitors, might make us a little more welcoming, and we can hope that the ubuntu won’t disappear after the final.

And this will probably also be remembered as the World Cup of the vuvuzela.

But an e-mail has been going around pointing out that it is not so new. The vuvuzela has been annoying people since 1660!

St. Maximus Confessor and Christian Hospitality at The Land of Unlikeness

St. Maximus Confessor and Christian Hospitality at The Land of Unlikeness:

St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662 A.D.) understands the cosmos through a theological ontology of Love. All creatures in creation are unified through participation in the ecstatic Love that is the life of the Trinity. Participation in this Love unifies the difference of creatures into a harmony. As such this love is the “reason” or “logos” of creatures. With the fall of humanity this love is disrupted cosmically. The fall of humanity is key in this “cosmic tragedy” for humanity is the microcosm (micros-kosmos or “little cosmos”), which participates in the sensuous creaturely dimension of being and the rational-spiritual dimension of the hierarchy of being. Humanity, the microcosm, is the center or crux of the hierarchy of being as it co-inheres in the second person of the Trinity, the Logos. It is the crossing of the divine and the sensuous dimensions of the hierarchy of being. Consequently, when humanity falls the harmony of creation is disrupted.

This interesting article not only illuminates the practice of Christian hospitality, but also the Orthodox understanding of original sin, and how it differs from that of the West.

St. Maximus Confessor and Christian Hospitality at The Land of Unlikeness

St. Maximus Confessor and Christian Hospitality at The Land of Unlikeness:

St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662 A.D.) understands the cosmos through a theological ontology of Love. All creatures in creation are unified through participation in the ecstatic Love that is the life of the Trinity. Participation in this Love unifies the difference of creatures into a harmony. As such this love is the “reason” or “logos” of creatures. With the fall of humanity this love is disrupted cosmically. The fall of humanity is key in this “cosmic tragedy” for humanity is the microcosm (micros-kosmos or “little cosmos”), which participates in the sensuous creaturely dimension of being and the rational-spiritual dimension of the hierarchy of being. Humanity, the microcosm, is the center or crux of the hierarchy of being as it co-inheres in the second person of the Trinity, the Logos. It is the crossing of the divine and the sensuous dimensions of the hierarchy of being. Consequently, when humanity falls the harmony of creation is disrupted.

This interesting article not only illuminates the practice of Christian hospitality, but also the Orthodox understanding of original sin, and how it differs from that of the West.

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