What was the name of this village before the revolution? “There was no village here before the revolution, it was a river here,” says Kirill (36), whose family are the only permanent dwellers of Чырвоны Кастрычник (Chyrvony Kastrychnik, Red October in Belarussian), “In the early years of the Soviet Union, they straightened up the Dnieper River for navigation. People from an overpopulated village nearby moved here then.” The whole region of Polesia, full of swamps and flooding rivers, has long been ignored by history. Local folks spoke their own language that had no name, they were calling it “our speech”. Even in the interwar period of 1918-1939, many dwellers of Polesia were not seeing themselves as belonging to any nation – asked who they were, they would answer “we’re from here.” They lived the same way for hundreds of years, growing and collecting food in the summer and in the winter making clothes and other commodities. “Every day of the year had its scheduled tasks, they always knew what to do,” says Kirill, “The oldest people remember it as a very happy time, with almost unlimited freedom.” Everything got changed in the time of the Soviet Union, that is after World War II in the west of Polesia and here – after the October Revolution, the Red October.
“My name is Marina,” laughs the girl in dungarees, standing behind a table covered with small jars containing spices. She switches back to Russian. “My friends and I were experimenting at home with different methods of making coffee and then we decided we needed more guests!”
Marina is a founding member of the collective behind Addis Coffee, a Saint Petersburg coffee workshop running on a pay-as-you-feel donation system. The workshop is ‘underground’ St Pete literally, being located in a series of rooms that were once a bomb shelter. Marina and the team have renovated the space, so it now feels very homely with blanket covered couches, board games and a guitar they welcome musical guests to use.
We entered Laos (in the middle of July) accompanied by Wendy’s dad Greg, who joined us for a week, rediscovering the backpackers trails of the 70’s. Laos welcomed us in a completely different style – it appeared the whole country, however small, poor and undeveloped, is covered with a network of tourism industry. This, mostly being eco-tourism, has created a barrier between us – visitors and the real life of Laos. Barrier in the form of money, the one thing we believe divides people the most. Barrier high but not uncrossable.