Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
T HE B URANOVO B ABUSHKAS live in the tiny Udmurt village of Buranovo, just outside
Izhevsk. After many of them lost their husbands, they turned to music for comfort. Somehow
a Beatles cover they performed at a local concert made it onto YouTube and went viral.
On my first visit to see them I was overwhelmed by their charm and courage—such
big personalities in such tiny bodies. Most of them barely reach five feet. I sat at a dining
room table next to the oldest member of the group, eighty-four-year-old Elizaveta Zarbatova,
whose head barely reached above the table. But her high-pitched, crackly voice carried au-
thority. She was widowed in 1957, when her husband was electrocuted. She was sitting next
to a woman who lost her husband in 2004 to drinking and diabetes. Another fellow babushka
lost her husband in 1984 to alcoholism, and shortly after his death, she lost her own right
arm trying to use an electric saw. But Zarbatova, like her friends, was in no mood to com-
“After I lost my husband, I received some kind of gift—the ability to compose music,”
she told me. “The music comes from the heart. The suffering comes right from my heart.”
My story about the babushkas was produced in 2011 with support from the Kitchen
Sisters, veteran independent radio producers who made the piece part of an on-air special
called The Hidden World of Girls , hosted by the actress Tina Fey. I was honored and
touched. But I never felt any sense of finality. I never felt as if I asked these women ques-
tions that truly got to their pain. I always wanted to revisit them.
In 2012 these tiny women—never having traveled much beyond their small vil-
lage—represented Russia at Eurovision, the international music competition held that year
in Azerbaijan. It's as if the babushkas of Buranovo—and greater Russia—were collectively
sending a message to the world: We may seem like some relic dying off, but don't count
us out yet. Maybe, somehow, that's Russia's message today: We may be misunderstood, we
may seem like we don't know where we're going. But given our rich past, given where
we've been, what we've endured, what we've accomplished, and how we've influenced the
course of history for better and for worse, don't discount us. As Zarbatova testified, out of
the darkness can come something beautiful.
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