Friday, February 19, 2010

Tanya's Bombzh

The word in Russian for a homeless person is bombzh. It is an acronym that has come so forcefully into daily language since the raspad (dissolution of the Soviet Union), before which one would never find a homeless person on the streets of any Soviet city, that I cannot remember what the words are that make up the acronym. B likely stands for bezdomnyi (homeless), but the rest of it has simply faded too far from my mind to be recalled.

Years ago, a friend of mine, Tanya, an immigrant to the United States from Moscow (who has since returned to Russia) was living alone in a small apartment in Arlington, Virginia. Each day on her way to work, she passed the Rosslyn metro station. Outside the metro, several homeless men would panhandle passersby. Like me in an earlier period, she began talking to one of them. Each day she would give him a few coins -- she did not have much money herself, being an immigrant, working at a low-paying job. Each day he would share a few words with her. This went on for days, then weeks, then a couple of months.

November arrived and along with it Thanksgiving. This would be Tanya's first Thanksgiving in the USA. She spoke to colleagues and work, watched television, and read. All about Thanksgiving. She wanted to join in the celebration and experience a day of gratitude. She would be alone, however, and while she had celebrated Halloween and before that Labor Day and before that the Fourth of July alone, she wondered how she could best experience Thanksgiving, a holiday that was generally celebrated with family.

It was then that she realized that she did have family. Her "family" was living on the streets of Arlington. It was "my bombzh," as she called him. (I knew him by no other name.) So, the day before Thanksgiving, she walked over to the metro station, which was only a couple of blocks from her house. Sure enough, her bombzh was there. "I am all alone and would like to celebrate Thanksgiving with family," she told him. "Would you be my family?"

He readily agreed. They had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal together. Most of the food was not traditional American Thanksgiving fare, except perhaps the turkey. However, Tanya was a talented Russian cook, and everything she prepares is very tasty. The bombzh had quite a good meal.

And therein started a tradition. First Christmas, then New Year's Day, for every holiday, Tanya invited her bonmbzh to her apartment to celebrate. Over time, he seemed very much like family to her. As for herself, Tanya never had to celebrate a holiday alone again.

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