An eye-opening adventure of a Russian woman in London
England met me with a heavy rain, but a strong umbrella. I didn’t take the gesture seriously and enjoyed the weather (yes I did!) to see what UK had to offer.
From day one in England many people suggested that I visit the London Eye, a giant wheel that takes you up to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. That was one of many ‘must-do’ attractions that I didn’t do. Instead I went to the so called Paramount view, which is less known to tourists but also has a fantastic view of the city AND good coffee - I went there with a friend of mine I haven’t seen for years. This little journey to Paramount view made me realise how much I enjoy 'do like a local' activities and re-connecting with important people in my life instead of doing traditional touristic stuff.
The longer I stayed, the more fun it got. Travelling on a double-decker bus without any idea of where I am going, instead of a tourist bus with a guide that tells me to look right or left. Wandering around Islington in North London all day and getting home in the evening to clean and secure Wimbledon in the South West, attending a performance at the Royal Opera House and treating myself to a high tea in the VIP lounge, with 3 pounds left in my pocket. Spending Christmas Day with a family I have never met and their local community. Exploring Brixton market in South London, where nothing reminds you that you are in London. Eye-opening trip indeed.
A local pub experience one evening offered me a perfect place for reflection. ‘People of England view the world from the island, and it gives a special observatory quality to their outlook on everything’ – paraphrased from Jeremy Paxman. I applied an‘English’ view on my life, and a few themes emerged for me. I then adopted the English manners, so I will have to apologize if you find the notes too personal and not helpful for tourists, but bear with me and thank you for reading.
Theme #one: Family Traditions
I arrived to the UK two days before Christmas. Besides the decorations and the long queues in the shopping malls, I also quickly sensed the importance of this holiday for the families.
In Orthodox faith Christmas is celebrated on Jan 6-7, and ‘celebrated’ is a strong word here. In my family, as in many others, the New Year has always been the main holiday. What are family traditions in Russia? When do our families unite? I was pondering those questions while finding my way through the streets filled with people.
‘Those you see on the streets are either tourists or immigrants. The rest have left for their homes’ – my cousin remarked. ‘There is a flip side to our Christmas traditions – said a British friend of mine – it’s the time when lonely people commit suicide in our country.’
I was privileged to meet the ‘lonely’ people. I say privileged because of the way they (we) were treated. I say "we" because my cousin and I technically were left without the rest of the family that day too.
Knowing that all transport stops working on the Christmas Day (Dec 25th), my cousin and I chose to spend it in her neighborhood, Hackney – more so, a friend of mine suggested we do it in the social enterprise style. Katie, a young entrepreneur living in Hackney, has been working with elderly for many years and a week before Christmas opened a café called The Convenience. So she decided to have Christmas lunch there and invite those who don’t have a family to spend it with. It was a wonderful treat, we got to connect with the people of Hackney and try a delicious Christmas turkey and a pudding. And most importantly – we didn’t feel lonely at all!
Theme #two: Social Enterprise Embedded
Being in London is a blessing for someone like me who is involved in a social entrepreneurship sector. Every time I asked my new mates in London ‘What do you do?’ I heard people saying about the meaningful work they are involved in: engaging elderly and homeless, helping families fight domestic violence, supporting refugees, teaching, and other great deeds. The most surprising thing for me was that none of them presented themselves as ‘I am a charity worker’, ‘I am a social entrepreneur’, rather – they would name the exact issue they are caring about, and impact they are striving to make. It clearly seemed that social work was embedded into the daily lives of many people, it was no longer a concept, but a necessity.
My British friends from a Journey for Change to India (journeysforchange.org) aren't an exeption. A year has passed since our journey together, and they are truly living social entreprise style in the UK.
‘The difference that I see in London compared to other places – my cousin said when were walking near the lake in a park – is that this city offers plenty of opportunities to try things out, especially if you are not experienced. Like in my case, I am a young designer, but I have interned in a few famous theatres including the Royal Opera House’. I remembered these words very well, because to me they perfectly illustrate what our Impact Hub team (www.impacthub.net) is trying to do back in Moscow – expanding the space for trials and errors for would be entrepreneurs.
Blue peacock on Trafalgar square. It is one of the four statues on the square. The significance of that is,
Theme #three: Faith and Religion
I was happy to meet up with a friend who is a Bahai, a follower of the youngest of the worlds’ independent religions, and take part in discussion nights he organised. During one of them in particular Alex offered a collection of quotes – all about the purpose of life – that sparked a fruitful discussion between me and my cousin on our way home. ‘Perhaps, it doesn’t matter who you believe in – be it God, Dao or a stone – whichever way helps you keep on going through your life’ – my cousin said.
Then, being in Oxford for the New Year with my British friends opened up another lifestyle, that of an Anglican family. I knew that my friends were devoted Christians, but it is for the first time that I have seen how much the religion is part of their daily lives. Conversations about faith, praying before meals, seeing the church where the couple got married, attending an Anglican service – just being in this environment showed me how much religion means for my friends and guides their life choices.
These experiences made me realize that I myself have been a seeker for a few months and I am in the middle of this right now. What will be my way to establish spiritual connection?
More to be expressed and shared, but – the sun is back, and I need to go and discuss this with my English friends before it goes away.
Lastly, thank you Easyjet for opening a flight from Moscow to London and making me a packing-pro for just 150 EUR. I will keep an eye on the flights to London and come back soon.