Thursday, October 23, 2014

Celebration Time

One of the biggest celebrations here is a summer festival called Naadym.  It's a celebration of the T culture and the people.  Every year they put their traditional yurts up, eat their traditional food, and have traditional games and competitions.  It's their version of the State Fair.  This year I (B) was invited to participate.  I should of been prepared for what that day would bring since we've been here for a few years but I admit, my American upbringing didn't make this day very easy for me.  I'll explain.

The company my friend works for asked me to set up food for their yurt that they entered into the yurt contest.  They also asked me to make my flag yurt cake as a present for a high ranking official (very exciting).  They told me to have everything ready by 9:00 am because the judges were to come around then.  My friend and I spent all day the day before preparing the food.  

The next morning she came at 6:00 am to finish the preparations and had everything ready by 8:00 which is when they said the car would pick us up.  So, we waited and waited and waited.  Finally at 9:00 they show up.  "OK" I thought, "I should have expected that" since the culture here is to do everything 1-3 hours after the said time.  No problem.  We get there and the yurt is not even set up.  I start to worry and ask "what time are the judges coming?".  They said "we don't know".  OK.  

So, eventually we get everything set up and the food out.  Everything was ready by 10:30.  The cake is sitting on the edge of the table ready to be presented as a gift for when the officials come to see everything.  So, we wait, and wait, and wait.  As people start milling onto the fair grounds we start to get visitors in the yurt (it's like when people walk around looking at the displays at the State Fair).  Every time a person came into our yurt they would walk to the cake and try to stick their fingers in it to taste it.  After the first few attempts (a few succeeded in getting their fingerprints in it) I finally had to stand guard.  This is unheard of here.  If there is food you share.  That is what you do.  It's a community here and everything is everyone's

I guess I have my limits.  This was the most important cake I've made and wasn't about to let someone come in and destroy it (remember, I am still an American by nature).  I should mention that I was struggling with the worst migraine I have ever had and didn't have any medicine with me.  So, I was not in the best mood on this day! ;)

Finally, 12:30.  The officials show up.  My cake is presented and it was a big hit.  Now, more waiting as they go from booth to booth and yurt to yurt with a few speeches to the crowd here and there.  We wait and wait and wait.  3:30.  My migraine is causing me to see double and get dizzy.  My mousse cups are melting and the chicken fingers and cold.  But, we are still waiting for them to come by (remember they told me that the officials and judges would be there at 9:00 AM).  I finally said I had to go because I was sick but they begged me to stay.  I decided that this was a great opportunity and stayed.

5:00:  The lady runs into our yurt and announces they are coming.  I was laying down at this point and was half asleep when she did this.  I jump up and as I gathered my balance, they walked in the door.  My friend who was standing beside me told me to fix my hair since it was sticking straight up.  My makeup had run all over my face and, well, I wasn't exactly presentable.  I was also suppose to say a phrase to them (in their language) which I was drawing a blank on so my friend spoke up and said it for me.  We sat and talked for a few minutes and they left.  But, I couldn't leave yet.  My friend's coworkers and boss sat around the food and started eating.  They begged for me to stay so I did until I got so dizzy my friend thought I was going to pass out (I started to sway).  They sent a car for me and took me home.  I spent the next 4 days in bed recovering.


You may be asking "was it all worth it?".  Absolutely!  Although I wish I had been feeling better during it, it showed me that I am in this culture and can't expect to have everything adjusted to my liking.  I, instead, have to adjust to my surrounding.  As J likes to say, the most important quality to have in our line of work is flexibility.  I couldn't agree more.  I guess I'm still learning that lesson but what a good lesson to learn.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Happy Naadym!

Naadym is a festival held once a year here in T-land, and this year it was pretty nearby so we got to go out and get a little bit involved.  But more on that in a bit.

First off, don't you like the above picture?  I recommend clicking on it to see it closer up. The "T camels" (there are only a couple of people who still have them) are well-known touristy photo objects here, but we had no pictures of them until recently.  We were going down the road, saw them resting nearby and Bobbie snapped this sort of artsy soft-focus picture (no photo effect added, her camera just fuzzed it out by itself for some reason) that I personally really like.

Anyway, summer life.  We take advantage of the warm weather to get outside as much as we can, which the boys usually take advantage of to get as wet/muddy as possible!  But then they come home and cuddle with their dog and look so cute it's impossible to get upset.

And then it's back outside to see who can climb the monkey bars (which, as you can see, were definitely designed with safety as the top priority) the highest.  Can you spot them almost to the top?  

Fortunately, no one has slipped and broken a wrist/ankle.  Yet.

But enough about our regular, boring lives.  This is a post about Naadym!

Once a year, people from all over T-land get together.  Historically this was a gathering of nomads for trade and other events, so everyone brings their yurts and sets them up.  I didn't get any pictures of the horse racing or wrestling but those are big features.

Of course, in the modern age someone has to haul water and run a generator for everyone to have power and such, so the government does a good job of trying to balance the desire to keep everything as traditional as possible while also allowing for modern conveniences.

It's sort of like a state fair, so there are of course booths set up to sell you anything and everything.  Our favorite was the delicious Vat of Plov seen below, made the traditional Uzbek way with a ginormous round pot and a whole bottle of oil.

This gentleman can handle all your traditional healing elixir needs, including literal snake oil.

One of my favorite thing to see was the displays from the reindeer-herder sections of T-land.  They have a bit of a different culture to the rest of T-land as their area is too wooded for sheep so they breed and raise reindeer.  Their dialect is a bit different and we don't have any close friends from this part of the state so it was interesting to see their houses.  They live in American West-style teepees, including one that was lined with reindeer skins.  Apparently it's quite warm, even in -50 degree weather.

And that's it for tonight.  The lovely Bobbie has promised to write a post very soon, so if there's not something up on here about her adventures (including preparing food for the governor!) in the next week or so drop her an email and complain. ;-)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Father-Son Camping Trips Parts 3 and 4

I really wish the forward-facing camera on my phone was half-decent, because I love the above picture from my recent camping trip with Matthew.

Anyway, this has been a month full of interesting activities, half of which I'll leave for Bobbie to post about later.  For my part of it, I'm going to just fill you in on all the latest things that are going on with me.  We put the pine nut production line on hold for the summer as the quality of the nuts we were getting wasn't the best.  As a result, we've been able to do some family things, celebrate my birthday, and mostly get back into culture and language study in preparation for some stuff we want to start next year.  So let's get into it!

So last month was my birthday, and my lovely wife took me out for sushi.  There aren't a lot of casual dining restaurants in town but sushi is one of the options and since both of us enjoy it we try to go a couple of times a year.  We turned the above tray into the bottom one in about 30 minutes!

It's been nice to have some more fun times with the boys as well.  If you'll recall from last year, we have a tradition that I take each of them out for a one-on-one father/son camping trip once a year (obviously in the summer).

This year, first up was Steven.  His favorite game is to throw rocks into the river (especially if there is some sort of "target" to aim at) so we did a lot of that.

Of course, you have to have hot dogs cooked over the fire if you go camping!

So yeah, we had a great time.  I'll post some pictures of my trip with Matthew in a sec, but first, take a look at our garden!  The corn is doing surprisingly well, and the Brussels sprouts are shockingly big and full.  Not so much the iceberg lettuce, but you can't win them all.

Even the okra has grown.  We're not going to have much of a harvest before the frost, but I'm mildly surprised that we're going to get anything at all.  I reckon we might get 5-10 pods, which isn't much, but hey - better than nothing!

Anyway, back to camping!  This time it was Matthew's turn, and he's really a huge outdoorsman.  Steven likes camping but in the end could take it or leave it.  Matthew, on the other hand, LOVES to be outside.

First we set up the tent, with Matthew so cheerful he was just about unable to stand still long enough to put the poles in.

Then he tried Steven's favorite game of rock-throwing, but really preferred to just roam and explore.


My favorite part of the day was when we woke up in the morning.  He opened his eyes and immediately started to cry.  "Why are you crying? What's wrong?" I asked.  "I'm awake, Daddy," came the reply, "that means that now we have to go home!"

So we ended up spending half the morning there enjoying our fire and exploring a bit more.

On Saturday I was all geared up for a nice day of sleeping in, but in T-land you can never really make any plans because if a friend calls and needs help on the spur of the moment you're committed to help out.  And help out I did, and it was actually a good time to catch back up with a man I haven't seen in a while.  He needed help re-drilling his well.

Of course, normally a well is dug by a giant rig on the back of a truck pounding a pipe deep into the earth, but this is T-land and so we can't have that.  Instead, elbow grease is the key.  And, of course, hopefully you remember to bring along more than one bottle of water because obviously you won't have a functioning well if you've been called in to repair one.

This is the drilling "machine," it's basically just a heavy pipe with a cap on one end, and three people lift it up and slam it down onto the end of the pipe that's going into the ground.  On a good blow you can get it to penetrate about a centimeter or so, if you hit a rock obviously you'll be slowed up for a few blows at least.

Needless to say, it's hard work, and more importantly, thirsty work.  Next time I'm asked to help out on one of these jobs I'm definitely going to bring some more water along!

Anyway, eventually we got the pipe 8 meters into the ground at which point it was theoretically able to deliver some water, though I had to go before we got the pump attached and got it working.

Thanks for stopping by, as always.  Bobbie should have a post up soon about her latest adventures, including meeting some local leaders and serving them cake!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Can't Think of an Interesting or Fitting Title

Just, like, "Life," or something, maybe?  Anyway, blogpost title creativity notwithstanding, things are going pretty well at Wandering Family headquarters these days.  Production has paused at the pine nut facility while we try to sort out the sales side of the business, so that's given time to return to language study and things while we wait for all that to be arranged.  (Please lift up sales, by the way; we need to get a few contracts for regular sales soon in order for things to operate smoothly through the fall.)

Anyway, Bobbie has returned to her cake baking as an occasional thing to do to help build relationships and to just enjoy her hobby.  Above is a recent example she made for a friend's wedding, and she already has a deal arranged to do another wedding cake next month.

Below is what really takes up all our time; two active boys!  The summer weather is the perfect time for us to get outside and enjoy the limited months we have where outdoor activities are possible, so we've been doing that as much as we can.  And of course, like for all little boys, a bit of tree climbing is always fun!

I think I may have introduced you to our swing before?  Matthew got a swing for his birthday; the local swingsets are all broken or have parts missing so we take our own rope.  It's really easy, actually - I pre-tied all the ropes so all we have to do is swing them over the swingset, tie one knot and voila! - a functioning swing.  The boys love swinging, and then after a half-hour or so we untie it and take it home (it would definitely get stolen if we left it up).

I haven't taken a picture of the garden in a few weeks so this is when everything was still just coming up, but it's been a pretty decent success.  The iceberg lettuce and chard aren't doing well, but the spinach, salad greens, corn and even okra (much to my surprise, that last one) are doing OK.

I know, to look at me you definitely wouldn't think "That guy probably really likes a leafy green salad" but it's true, I do!  It's probably down to craving it since we don't get any fresh vegetables for a really long time in the winter, and when they're available in the summer I wolf them down whenever I get a chance!  Throw a few radishes and pine nuts in with these fresh greens and it's like heaven.

Sorry I don't have a lot of pictures this month.  Please keep lifting us up, as I mentioned we need to get sales going for the pine nut business very soon, plus we're trying to get back into language study so you can be thinking about that as well.  See you again soon!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wandering Faster

Well, I've already had more than one person ask if we were pregnant again (!), so I guess I didn't word that bit on our last post about how we had a "big surprise that will change our lives" very well!

No, just to clarify.  It's a surprise that changes our lives, sure, but not THAT much.  It is something that allows the Wandering Family to increase the range and extent of our wandering - a new car!  Well, not new.  New to us, though.  It's a 2005 Toyota Succeed, with the extremely dubious figure of 160,000 kilometers on the odometer (many Russian cars have had their odometers wound back).  Not that we're complaining, though, it's the first time anyone in our family has owned any car that was fewer than 10 years old, and we love it.

Obviously, purchasing a car meant taking a trip over the mountains out of T-land, to a magical city known as Krasnoyarsk.  Ah, Krasnoyarsk.  A city with peanut butter and marshmallows in the stores, a city with fast food restaurants with displays for kids to poke their heads through for photos, a magical place!

Sadly, I didn't actually take very many pictures there.  It would look too much like your home city to be interesting, anyway.  Much better is the beautiful Siberian scenery on the way:

Eventually, driving our own car (full of peanut butter, marshmallows, and the like, of course), we got back home.  One tire blowout on the road, but fixed quickly enough.

I must be turning Russian, because where in America I would almost never wash my car, I felt a compulsion to go down to the river to enlist my sons in a project to immediately wash off all the dirt the road had added to our new baby.

They hated it

Oh, and I just popped this post up really quickly to avoid any more of you thinking we were going to announce a pregnancy any time soon (seriously, not happening), but thought some might be interested to see the latest progress in our little experimental garden.  From front: American spinach, sweet peas, salad greens, and Russian spinach, all growing nicely so far.