Saturday, December 20, 2014

Catching Up


Well, we have a lot to catch up on, so let's get right in.  First of all, you can probably tell that the above picture wasn't taken recently, because it's the middle of December in Siberia.  That might just tell you how much, exactly, we have to catch up!

So yeah, going back to our last post, it was coming to the end of fall.  And in a last flurry of energy before the winter set in, plus taking advantage of our new car, we tried our best to get out into the countryside as much as we could.


The boys love being outside, as most boys do, I think.  They really enjoy practicing things like batoning wood for a fire; I think they're going to be quite the little bushcrafters.  The only disappointing thing about a trip into the woods is having to come back into the city, which looks really grim once the hot-water plant turns on and starts pumping black smoke over the whole city.



Let's see, what else has been up?  Well, a close friend of ours had her birthday a month or so ago, and we were invited to come and speak at the ceremony.  You can see from the audience how enthralling a speaker I am. :)  Apparently the novelty of hearing a white guy speak in T wears off after a few minutes and you're having to struggle to figure out what he's trying to say.



As I think most of you know, the pine nut facility is currently on hold.  We had a poor harvest this fall, and combine that with the economic crisis and currency fluctuations and we decided this wasn't the year to be processing.  Nevertheless, you have to keep a close eye on things to make sure the pipes don't freeze!  We had a couple of pipes actually freeze on us and had to take steps to melt the lines and get everything going again.



Here we're venting the steam/hot water from the system to fix a leak:



We're not just sitting around all the time, though - the government had me (J) in for a session on attracting foreign investment.  I wasn't the guest of honor but I did have a chance to hear the governor speak.



Oh, our oldest son Steven turned 8, too.  Here he is, enjoying the most important part of any birthday party, the cake!




But there were friends, too.  And toys, and a new member of the family that Steven bought himself.  We told him if he could save up 200 rubles, he could buy himself a guinea pig (he earns 2 rubles for doing his chores most of the time).  Well, he did it - I was very impressed when he passed up the chance to get ice cream for 15 rubles a few times, saying "No, I need to save up for my guinea pig."  When it got to his birthday and he had the 200 rubles, we got him a cage (thank you to the T family in Moscow!) and we now have the newest member of the Wandering Family, Tom.





Oh, yeah, there was Thanksgiving, too!



And our friends came over to show us how much their grandson has grown. 



This one I just put in for my parents.  I grew up with delicious fresh mangoes available in abundance in season.  I was quite amused to see this for sale for almost $10/kg here - the most disgusting-colored mango you've ever seen.  Needless to say, we'll wait for the next shipment of dried ones from Bolivia.



Today we went out and enjoyed the nice weather a bit.  It was up to -25 this afternoon and the New Year's tree was up, so we had to go check it out.  First Matthew got a ride on one of the ice sculptures for the purposes of a picture.



Then it was sledding, sledding, and more sledding.  Although, as you can see in the video, the kids don't always wait long enough between trips and there is a lot of slamming into one another at the base of the slide.  Fortunately, everyone is dressed heavily enough that serious injuries are rare.





And I'll leave you with Matthew's aka "The Christmas Pirate's" year-end wish for everyone.  Thanks for stopping by!


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.












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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.

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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!