Thursday, June 28, 2012

Last pre-Germany Post

An ancient Scythian gravesite, now fixed up some, on the way to the village

So, the Wandering Family has wandered its way to Germany for a conference, and we have lots of pictures to post.  But, before I do that, since the new camera is ALL the way upstairs and I don't feel like going and getting it, I thought I'd post the last few pictures that we took in T-land.

A couple of weeks ago I went out to a village with a friend to carry out a small relief project.  There are a number of families in this town who don't have a lot of food to eat, so we wanted to help them out.  We had a contact who we trusted to distribute the food, so we loaded up a friend's Uazik and took them a bunch of food (flour, sugar, tea, noodles, etc).

This is one of the grandma's on the list to get some help with food; she showed us her house and was very hospitable.

The only other thing I could find that was even halfway interesting was photos from a recent football tournament I was a part of.  Thanks to some health/sports initiative from the federal government a few years ago, T-land has an excellent artificial grass stadium, and a group rented it out for a tournament.

This was my team; we were eliminated with a record of 0 wins and 2 losses (one of them to a very dubious penalty call).  Well, technically we had another game to play as the tournament was suspended (long story, but suffice it to say that the managers of the stadium did not honor the original rental agreement), but I didn't come back after the delay to see what happened.

Anyway, soon enough I'll be back on here and post something about our time here so far.  It really has been enjoyable and profitable; lots of valuable contacts established and advice received from people with more experience, etc.  Plus, a fun time in the evenings when the sessions were over just hanging out with an awesome group of people, but you'll have to wait to see pictures of it (hopefully in a few days).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How To Shear a T Sheep

So we still have some pictures left from our time out at the ranch and I figured I'd share them with you rather than more pictures of what we're up to since we got back (which is mostly pretty boring).  The one group of pictures I didn't post last time were from the sheep shearing, which is a major operation when you don't have electric shears and you have 200 sheep to shear.

You start by telling your 5 year old to go and catch you a sheep "to get a haircut."  He of course starts by herding all the sheep into the corner of the pen:

Then you have to convince him to grab one of them, which is tricky since the one-year old sheep are almost as big as he is.  Eventually he snags one (one of the ones that still needs his haircut, of course), and drags it over:

Then you pick up your shears, which are basically a primitive scissors, all rusted from their time sitting around since last year.  They're called "khachy."

Then you have tie the sheep's legs up and have your kids hold down the head, and proceed to start slicing off the wool, bit by bit.  The process, for the two or three people in the world who care, is called "kyrgar." 

(Out of curiosity, is this what you had, David?  Or is it "kyrgaar"?  One person swore that you "kyrgyp turar," while someone else told us you "kyrgap turar."  Do you remember which one you had in your notebook?)

It's a pretty laborious process, but a T person who knows what they're doing can do a pretty good job in about 20 minutes.  It took me about 40, once I got the hang of it, because at first I was trying to keep up with them and gave one of the sheep a nice slice on the leg.  Better to go slow, I decided.

Here you can see a sheared sheep standing next to some non-sheared sheep for contrast.  Apparently the main motivator behind the shearing is not selling the wool, which is next to worthless here (our hosts sell theirs for 30 cents a kilo).  

It's to make sure that the sheep doesn't sweat off a lot of the fat he's supposed to be building during the summer grazing.  A wooly sheep is a sweaty sheep, I guess, and a sweaty sheep is a skinny sheep, and that's obviously no good.

Another daily task was the cleaning of the sheep and cow pens after their overnight stay.  This involved hardy brooms (for the sheep pens) and shovels (for the cow pens), and usually we ended up with about 6 or 7 wheelbarrow loads of poop to dump.

In the winter the animals obviously don't go out to forage (too much snow and too cold), so they stay in the pens all day.  No sweeping/shoveling.  

That means that you can later go and dig out all the compacted dung, which is a very important thing, as it serves as "firewood" to keep you warm the next winter.  Here Steven stands next to the pile of cut dung, which we used to heat the yurt on cold nights.

So, then, what did we do all day while the folks were out with the animals and we were home alone?  A lot of this:

 And this (Matthew is of course modeling the very latest in "yurt fashion": rubber boots, underwear, and a baseball cap):

Sometimes the kyrgan achai would come home for lunch, and once he gave the boys a little ride around the yard, which they thought was the greatest thing ever.  At some point we might try to buy a horse for them/for us to get into the culture even more.

Then there was lots of time sitting around reading or playing with the baby goats who were too young to go out with the herd.

That's about it, I guess.  Tune in next week for the last pictures before our trip out to the team conference.  Thanks for thinking of us!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

When the Cows Come Home

So, we've been back from our stay on the ranch a few days now - clean and rested!  This was my (Bobbie) first time out at a ranch so the whole experience was very informative and, overall, a great experience.  It was like being on a farm you would of seen in the 1800s.  No running water, no electricity, no mass production of products. The ranch is owned and run by an elderly couple that, despite their ailments, does just about everything.  It was amazing watching them work!

The old lady wobbled around on her cane, very bow legged, obvious arthritis in both hands and hips, yet never complaining, working hard: milking cows, taking care of young sheep that needed medicine, making meals, helping her husband with the animals.  One day she did mention a headache and was going to call a neighbor to help me milk the cows (I'll discuss that process in a minute).  So, me being a nurse I, of course, had loads of medicine, and I gave her something for her headache.  A few hours later her husband came to our yurt asking for the brand so they could buy some (it was Excedrin, which isn't sold here).  

She thought it was the best thing ever.  It really struck me how much we take for granted.  Simple medicine we have access to that and not even think twice about, she appreciated.  That is just one example of some culture differences I noticed out there.  I've always known the people here were NOT time oriented but now I know why.  I was so time disoriented out there I kept asking Jesse "What time is it?" every few hours.  Since most people here live without clocks and watches here, they naturally will not take time into consideration like an American would.  And, because of this non time oriented lifestyle, things are a lot more relaxed and slow (something that I had to get use to out there).  So, you ask, what did we do all day?  


Well, I would get up in the mornings and make breakfast.  Then, we would go and help clean out the sheep pens.  Then, kind of walk around doing nothing most of the day.  In the evenings, after supper, they would bring the cows home.  Their farm has about 10 calves and 20 cows, and they would separate the cows they wanted to milk and let two calves at a time out of their pen to suckle a few minutes.  One of us would stand there to make sure the calf would suckle from each nipple, which brings the milk down making the cow easier to milk.  We would then drag the calf over to the fence and tie them up.  
Once the mama cow stopped walking we would pull up our chairs, hold the buckets between our legs and start milking.  Since this was my first time ever to do this I only got half a bucket the first time.  By the last day I was getting 1 1/2 buckets, which I was pleased with.  Of course, the grandma was getting 2 buckets in half the time I was getting my 1 bucket.  It was really amazing to watch her work.  You could tell she's done this all her life.  


 Once we got the four cows milked, we would haul the buckets to her cabin and prepare the milk to get turned into butter.  Now, let me stop here and say that I LOVE milk.  I mean, I could drink a gallon a day easily.  And butter?  Don't get me started on how much I love butter.  I used to eat the stuff straight as a kid (and could probably do it now).  That said, I couldn't stomach the milk products we were getting.  What ever the cows feed on here (which is like thorny grass stuff) makes not only the milk products but also the meat pretty untasty.  


Anyway, back to our work.  We would heat the  milk in a big metal bowl on her gas stove.  As this was heating she would assemble a contraption (a hand-cranked butter churn) to pour the milk in and make butter.  One of us would then start to crank the machine as the other would pour the heated milk into the machine.  After a few minutes, it would start pouring out the butter through one of the arms and the leftovers would come out of the other arm.  And, voila, you have butter (the stuff coming out the left arm of the churn below).  


It was great to spend time with her because she loved to just talk and let me listen.  Great language and culture study.  

Thanks for checking in with the Wandering Family!  More on what's happening coming up in a week or so.