Friday, December 11, 2015

Living Alone

I’ve remained in the house at 819 E. 5th St. The following Spring I had an unexpected flood in the basement. Our lot was a low, filled-in one, with a concrete culvert going partly underneath the house. A large discarded oil-drum had lodged in it so the water backed up into my basement. Then, the same summer – Aug. 20 was a very heavy rainstorm in Duluth and surroundings, so again my basement was heavily flooded causing damage to the furnace and water heaters, which had to be repaired. No sooner was that done, another storm exactly one month later Sept. 20, ’72 – flooded my basement again and also all the low spots of Duluth – doing complete destruction to avenues, etc. The “Small Business Bureau” paid me $1000 for a new furnace, etc. But, I was afraid there may have been serious damage to the foundation of the house and also the basement floor. It was just too much for me and I began seriously to think of moving. Fortunately, Mrs. Bess Lester, who had rented our downstairs apartment for many years, was very willing to buy the house, fully knowing all about its drawbacks, etc. At a very reasonable cost, of course. I wanted out, so badly, I did not care – just so I got out from under the burden of caring for an old, very old house.

Labor had become very costly. So in the Fall of 1973, I sold the house and applied for an apartment in the Gateway Towers, which was under construction at the site of the old Soo Line Depot – 600 W. Superior St. I paid rent for my own apartment until on Feb. 11, 1974 I moved. Here, where I have lived ever since.

This is a 14-story “High-Rise” built especially for Seniors. The apartments consist of a living room, bedroom, kitchen and both. All utilities are included in the rent. The tenants are pre-dominantly a few couples and widowers. The heat is supplied by the Duluth Steam Corporation. It is comfortable living and quite care-free. As long as one is reasonably well and can care for one’s self. This building is not completely government subsidized, somehow, there are 3 churches connected with it which I do not quite understand. As a result, the rents have been raised almost every year, regardless of one’s income. At first, my rent was $106 per month, then $116, $126, $136, and now $152. Inflation is climbing at a terrific rate.

About 1938 – the Social Security Programs was begun, with which the seniors are now living on, and enjoying. In years gone by, the old parents were cared for by their children, if possible, or had to go to “Poor Farms” as they were called at that time, when their own savings were gone. I do not begin to understand the workings of the government, which has become too large and unwieldy to manage properly. Human greed enters into the picture always and tends to ruin good things. At this time I feel that a “balloon has been blown up too big and has to burst.” Time will tell.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Joys of International Travel with an Infant

You'll all be happy to know that BabyTK and I have returned safely to the Big Manti* with MamaTK in tow. (Mr. ATK returned a couple weeks before we did.) Actually, we've been back for more than a month. Time really flies.

Anyways, we had quite the adventure--Chicago to Frankfurt to Istanbul to Bishkek. Of course, you could just do Chicago to Istanbul to Bishkek and cut out the Frankfurt part all together but then I wouldn't get the joy of taking a United flight (*grumble*stupidFlyAmericaAct*grumble.*)  This one was a United flight operated by Lufthansa, so perhaps it was slightly better than an actual United flight. I don't know.

Anyways, I would like to break this experience down into the various legs.

1.) Pre-Departure
So in order to travel internationally, one must have a passport. Even little babies. So prior to the birth of BabyTK, I was pretty concerned about getting the passport in time to get BabyTK's ticket purchased without having to rearrange the plane tickets MamaTK and I already had. And of course BabyTK needed a diplomatic passport so that's a whole extra layer of bureaucracy to deal with. So basically as soon as the little guy popped out, Mr. ATK was filling out the paperwork in order to get everything set. And might I add, trying to take a passport photo of a five day old baby with his eyes open, is quite the challenge. Anyways, we had our paperwork on point. Got a birth certificate like, three days after the baby was born, and submitted all the appropriate paperwork, expedited I might add, within two week after birth. I mean, BabyTK was born on August 18 and we sent our stuff in, again EXPEDITED!, before the end of the month. So weeks go by. September starts winding down and no passport. I keep bugging Mr ATK who was like, "I'm sure it's coming. We have time." Mr. ATK receives a thing saying "the passport has been processed" so I'm like, "Great it should be coming. More weeks go by, no passport. September ends and Mr. ATK heads back to Bishkek and no passport. We were scheduled to fly October 16 and recall, BabyTK doesn't get a ticket without a passport, so he not only doesn't have a passport, he has no plane ticket. Finally, I check in with a facebook group to be like, is this long of a wait normal? (I mean we were supposed to fly in two weeks.) And then I got to hear all sorts of horror stories of passports left on a pile in DC or sent to Post instead of to the home address in the U.S. So I get the number and call and sure enough, BabyTK's passport is in a pile in DC waiting for us to pick it up and has been for, like, 3 weeks. Sigh. I have no idea why it wasn't shipped to the address we requested it be sent to, but it must happen often enough that they were super helpful and shipped it out that day. I got it the next day and luckily got BabyTK's ticket purchased in time. Still, it was a little too close for comfort for me.

Our first leg of the journey was also the longest. Chicago O'Hare to Frankfurt. That's about a nine hour flight and I was pretty concerned about how my fellow passengers would react to BabyTK. I mean, let's be honest here. How many of you out there get that scowl as soon as you see a baby or other small children on your flight, especially when it's a long one? I know I've felt that sense of dread, though I like to think I never gave anyone the evil eye or did that obvious disappointed sigh right by the parents. I was worried he would cry the whole time and everyone on the airplane would hate me. But then again, he is a baby and babies cry so get over it, you know? And BabyTK was an awesome flyer. On this flight we were in the bulkhead seats which had a bassinet, which was really nice since BabyTK likes to stretch out. He was getting a little cranky in his car seat after awhile, but once I laid him in the bassinet he was good to go.

The downside to the bulkhead is you can't have luggage at your feet during take off and landing which is annoying and worst of all, the armrests don't go up so you are, like, wedged into these tiny seats. I mean, I usually don't have a problem with the width of airplane seats (even after packing on the pounds gestating a human like inside of me) but these were tight.  

So we get to Frankfurt and, I haven't yet mentioned one big downside of traveling with an infant which is that they get their own luggage and carry on (as a ticketed passenger) but, uh, are not very helpful in helping to transport the extra baggage. In fact, they themselves are a little bit like extra baggage as pushing his stroller took away precious luggage hauling/cart pushing hands. MamaTK and I were juggling our luggage and carry-ons and his. In Chicago, we hired a guy to cart the luggage to the ticket counter, and so we just ended up with the carry-ons. But still, that left us with 6 carry-ons (excuse me, three carry-ons and three personal items) plus a baby in a stroller. It was quite the sight watching us try to get down the airplane aisle with everything and the car seat. Thankfully, on our Chicago trip other passengers helped us maneuver the luggage and put it in the overhead bins. Maybe they were being nice or maybe they were annoyed with how slowly we were plodding up the aisle. Either way, they helped. A big thank you to them.

Anyways, we arrive at Frankfurt, and as everyone is in a hurry to get off the plane, we wait so as not to clog the aisle with all our crap. This of course means no one is available to help us try and get all the stuff off the plane. I mean, yes there was the entire flight crew but they just watched us struggle and looked annoyed that we were taking so long. I think one of them even asked if we were planning to get off. It's a bit hazy now; I just remember being super annoyed and pretty stressed. I know it is not their job to carry our luggage, but, I mean, we're moving as fast as we can, so either lend a hand  or shut up and wait. (We got all the luggage down, the challenge was getting it down the narrow aisle and out the door.) Oh, and of course the stroller we gate checked was not waiting for us at the exit as we anticipated, but was sent to baggage claim. Why? I have no idea. Kind of defeats the purpose of having a stroller. So now I am carrying a car seat that I anticipated pushing on the stroller frame, plus carrying several carry-ons, as is MamaTK. But now we need to haul ass through the entirety of the Frankfurt airport, go through immigration--where I was asked to present proof that my baby was mine because our last names are different--and down to baggage claim. Again, on the complete other side of the airport. But, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, or so I thought, as I had made arrangements for a bellhop from the airport Sheraton to meet us and handle the baggage. I did this on my trip home when I was a billion weeks pregnant and it worked like gangbusters. Sadly, this time we arrive at baggage claim and there is no one to be found. The baggage carousel is pretty empty as it took us forever to get there, but our luggage still hadn't come out, so it's not like they were all done unloading the bags. Eventually the suitcases come and I go hunt down our stroller, but now we have two FULL luggage carts plus a stroller and only two people to move all this stuff. It was bananas. We work our way through customs and I am fuming about the stupid bell hop the whole time and when we finally get through customs and out into the airport, there is no elevator to be found. I leave MamaTK with the baby and the luggage and searching for an elevator but seriously, there are like, zero in that airport! It's crazy. There are signs explaining how to take the luggage cart on the escalator, so I guess that's what folks do in Germany. I'm pretty sure it would have been a safety hazard with the luggage carts we were sporting.  (Not to mention it seems kinda sketchy to take a stroller on an escalator.)

Anyways, after searching the airport for an elevator and coming up empty, MamaTK was like, "Can you just go to the hotel and get someone to come help?" Since the hotel is attached to the airport, I was like, "I guess so." And so I left MamaTK with piles of crap and a baby to head to the hotel to check-in. I did get someone to help and I got a complementary upgrade to a club suite due to the mix up. (They said there was someone there but left because I never showed up. I would say that guy should at least wait until all the luggage has been unloaded. There were still people at the carousel, for pete's sake!)

So we finally get everything up to the suite and while I had hoped to do a day of sightseeing in Frankfurt, the weather was awful and we were pretty exhausted so we slept and I ventured out to a few grocery stores for food. Plus, with the upgrade, we could access the club level where there is free food during happy hour.  So that was nice. MamaTK got lots of sleep. Me? Not so much as BabyTK decided a series of 15 minute power naps were all the sleep he was willing to do. Unless of course he was sleeping on me. Then he snoozed away. But as soon as I put him down, the wailing began.

This leg of the journey was pretty smooth. The only notable thing that I recall is that for some reason, whenever I put the car seat up on the table by the x-ray conveyor belt in order to take the baby out of it, everyone, security and random passengers around me, kept thinking I was going to put the baby through the x-ray in his car seat. I'm not sure if I give off an "incompetent parent" vibe or what. This happened at O'Hare, too. Anyways, I did not put the baby through the x-ray.

The flight to Istanbul was not full and, in fact, the bulkhead seats in front of us were all empty. We were all set to move when some random guy swooped in and took the aisle seat (there were only three seats in the row.) He promptly reclined his seat (into MamaTK's lap) and then got up and went and sat next to some lady (who may or may not have been a famous German person based on how the flight attendants and some passengers were acting) who was in the two seat section rright across the aisle. (It was a 2-3-2 set up.) It was really annoying.

And, of course, upon arriving in Istanbul, our stroller ended up in the forwarded baggage, sent on to Bishkek. Not sure how on earth you are supposed to get gate checked item upon arrival. Luckily there are mini-baggage carts for carry-ons in Istanbul and BabyTK's car seat fit right in it, so I didn't have to haul him around by hand for the duration of our two hour layover.

Also, the Popeye's in the Istanbul airport was incredibly underwhelming.

Not a lot to report from this leg. Things went pretty smooth. The only thing is that the Turkish air flights always board, like, 30-45 minutes after the say they are  going to, so people are always lined up waiting anxiously at the gate. And of course, it was right around boarding time that BabyTK decided he needed to eat. Well, you know, I didn't really want to start feeding him only to be told to start boarding. But then again, they were taking their sweet time to start the boarding. So I'm bouncing a crying baby much to the delight of all the other passengers, I'm sure. And old babushka, who kept telling me the baby should be wearing a hat (I think that's what she was saying; it was all in Russian) also told me the baby was hungry.

Eventually we got to board, and amusingly since I had a baby I got to go in the early boarding, but there was already a big line of passengers down the jet bridge waiting. The Turkish Airlines guy grabbed the car seat from me and pushes through the crowd with me trying to keep up and MamaTK way behind trying to explain to confused passengers that she was with us. So we get to the front and the guy basically makes them take down the barrier that is across the door and we get in (along with the impatient horde behind us.)

The flight was fine, except BabyTK's carseat took up the whole (tiny) space so the lady in front of him couldn't recline. This lead her travel companion to ask us if there was a problem and I was like, "No." And she gestures to the baby's carseat and is like, "Can you do something about this?" And I was like, "No." And that seemed to be enough for her. Thankfully no one tried to strangle either me or BabyTK. Of course, in what might be a form of passive aggressive retaliation, the companion (who was seated in the middle seat in front of me) promptly reclined her seat into me and then moved into the empty seat in front of MamaTK, reclined her seat and spent the rest of the flight there. But oh well, what can you do? It all worked out.

And so here we are, back in Bishkek. Not sure when our next trip will be, but we'll see how international travel changes as BabyTK becomes ToddlerTK and eventually ChildTK. He was pretty sleepy on all the airplanes. I assume he will continue to be a perfect angel as he travels the world.

*For those of you not in the know, mantis are Kyrgyz dumplings.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Life in Duluth (Part III)

Jim was never a demanding boy. He bought his very first “second-hand” bicycle with his own small savings and got a job with the Western Union – delivering telegrams. Next he got a summer at the Areo Coffee Co.

He attended Central High School and was always a good student and graduated in 1946 with honors. Soon, he got work with the Minn. Highway Dept –working from the “ground-up” – the work taking him to various small towns in the northern part of the state. He was always interested in Drafting work in High School so he kept that up in the M.H.D. He has been there ever since – and now in 1978 changed over to the Minn. Natural Resources Dept.

In April 1955 he married Doraine Lee, also, of Duluth. They lived in Virginia, Minn. for a while and then in Duluth, where they built a home on Brainerd Ave. They now have 3 children, Scott, born May 7, 1958 – Tom, born April 28, 1960, and Mary Kay, 15, born April 7, 1963. In 1971, they moved to Fridley, Minn. where they now live.

While in Duluth, they had a small cabin at Comstock Lake. They later bought a lake frontage lot at Leader L. in Wascott, Wis. and Ike and I took over the cabin at Comstock. We enjoyed it so very much, as it was rustic and we were close to Nature, which we both have always loved. Ike was so happy there, doing what he always enjoyed – fishing leisurely and rowing – no motors, no electricity, outdoor “privy” – clearing brush, fixing the cabin, feeding birds and listening to them sing. Picking raspberries in the summertime. Sitting by a bonfire – making coffee outdoors. And just walking in the woods, sometime seeing a deer, once we even saw a large moose and her young one.

That was not to last long. Ike had a stroke on Dec. 2, 1970 which was totally unexpected, as he had always taken good care of himself – eating moderately, drinking (very little), exercising diligently, without fail every morning and walking outdoors several times a day. He did suffer from a prostate condition, which had become cancerous but did not cause pain, but he didn’t feel well. He was operated on in Rochester, Minn. and was put on (stilbestoral?) tablets. The doctors said that was a slow type of cancer. For over 3 months, he was a patient at Miller Devon Hospital in Duluth. Dr. Bakkila, etc. attending. Therapy was given [to] him every day, -- and could finally walk a little with the aid of a 4-pronged cane, with someone holding on for extra support. Mostly, he was in a wheel-chair. In March, 1971, he was released to my care at home. He had become very depressed at becoming so helpless, a man, who had been so capable of doing practically anything he wished to do. The fact that Jim had to move away hit him hard. Those were the toughest days of our life together. I am thankful I was able to care for him and he was very grateful for that. It wasn’t easy on me either, combined with the prostate trouble, too, we got very little sleep or rest. He warned about me being able to hold up – I didn’t tell him that, but I was concerned myself – as I was so tired and lost then about 20 pounds – (which I could spare, of course.) My dear friend Lillian Day would come over to iron and wipe up floors – but she couldn’t give him the very personal attention he had to have.

On Nov. 21, (on his sister’s birthday) he very quietly and I think painlessly, just shut his eyes for the last time. Sitting in his wheel chair, having eaten his supper.

Death is a part of life – which none of us can avoid. But it is so very final – and takes quite a lot of adjusting to learn to live completely alone, without the strength and support that I had learned to depend on living with a good man for half a century almost! His word was his bond and when I was weak he was always strong. I have no words to adequately describe my husband – but I am very grateful that I was fortunate and lucky enough to get him – I’m sure I didn’t deserve him – but he understood me and accepted me with all me weaknesses and faults – and I’d say all in all – we had a happy life together. We both loved nature and our wants were simple.

The One Where I Have a Baby

Hey, World!

 I realize this is first and foremost a travel blog (albeit a poorly updated one) and I have no intention of turning it into a "mommy blog" (which would also likely be poorly updated), but you know, having a baby is kind of a big deal and so before I can go back to writing about Kyrgyz cuisine (a post I've been working on for, like, 9 months) I feel the need to share my labor story with the interwebs. Why? I'm not sure. But now that BabyTK is one month old(!), I figure why not risk oversharing (which, according to the very amusing blog STFU, Parents I am most certainly doing with this post.*)

So, BabyTK was due on August 15, but decided to hang out inside until August 18. This was mildly annoying because, and I assume most women who've been pregnant would agree with me, after 9 months, you just want the kid to get out. It's like, "Your lease is up, baby." Plus, while overall the summer was really very mild, those last few days were super hot and humid. And, of course, Mr. ATK and I had quite a bit of paperwork to do in order to get everything necessary for BabyTK to return to Bishkek, none of which can be completed before the baby is actually, you know, born.

Anyway, August 17th rolls around and I finally start feeling some contractions. Of course, it's at like 11 pm. That's when these things start, I guess. At the most inconvenient time possible. Around 1:30 am, they are like a minute apart and pretty painful and I'm thinking, "This is it. He's coming soon." I had heard stories from friends as well as MamaTK about how when they showed up at the hospital they were at like 8 centimeters and the baby was born in an hour or two, so I figured with the timing of the contractions and pain, I was also in that boat. (Wishfully thinking that perhaps quick labor was hereditary.) Sadly, I get to the hospital at 2:00 am in quite a bit of pain only to find out that I was at one centimeter. I tell you, I almost burst into tears. I thought they would send me home (I had heard that happens when you aren't far along.) Happily (I guess) they did not send me home. They admitted me. And while I had originally thought that maybe I'd try a natural, epidural free birth, when the doctor came in she was like, "This baby isn't going to be born until around 5 p.m. You should get an epidural. I don't think you'll make it that long." I was like, "Okey dokey." Honestly, mad props to all those women who forego the epidural and do the whole labor au natural. A couple of people had told me earlier, "Don't be a hero; take the epidural." I thought for a second that maybe I'd go for it, but, nope, I wussed out. I mean, go through that pain for the next 13 hours, and it was going to get worse as the hours wore on? Yeah, no thanks.

So I got the epidural (oddly, Mr. ATK was kicked out of the room for that procedure. Seriously, the epidural is the part he isn't allowed to watch? Interesting.) We can fast forward 13 hours to the actual birthing part. I'm going to spare you the details (because that would definitely be an overshare) but the funny thing is, the doctor is not there for, like, any of this process. So it was me, my "support people," and two nurses. They were very nice. It was all "push, push, push" for about 90 minutes and then when the baby is, like, right there, ready to come out, they are like, "Don't push." And one of them leaves to get the doctor. So I stop pushing, but, you know, contractions (even if I can't feel them) they continue and they are the body's way of pushing this thing out of it. So there is one nurse in the room (who was in training for obstetrics) and suddenly out pops his head. Now the baby is looking around and the nurse is like, "Hit the call button!" which leads MamaTK, Mr. ATK, and me to be like, "Where's the call button?" (I feel if this were a movie, Yakety Sax would have been playing.) The nurse hits the call button and yells, "We've got a head!" and suddenly a swarm of nurses arrive. One is like, "Hi, I'm Jenny! I'm going to deliver your baby." And then she delivers the baby. They all take the kid and do whatever it is they do (he had, um, relieved himself in the womb so he had to have some special stuff done before they could give him to me.) Eventually, the doctor shows up and I guess, finishes up, but I mean, even if she had been on time, all she really would have had to do is basically catch the baby. No disrespect to doctors, it's just kind of funny. I mean, I guess, she was probably out delivering other babies. No need to sit by me and say push for 90 minutes--that does seem like a waste of her time. I don't know. It was amusing. Mr. ATK and I assume we'll get 10% off for having our baby delivered by a nurse instead of a doctor. That's how that works, right?

So that's the story. Hope it's not too terrible of an overshare. BabyTK is doing well at just over a month. Long and lean.  Also, they say that moms forget the pains of pregnancy and childbirth after they baby finally arrives. Well, I haven't. Forgive but never forget is my motto. :)

Everyone loves a fur rug, right?

*Best FriendTK shared this website with me shortly after BabyTK was born. She assured me I was not like one of those moms shamed in the blog, but part of me thinks it was a warning. If I ever start sharing pictures of BabyTK's bowel movements or "mommyjacking" Facebook posts and telling people they don't know anything until they become a parent, I do hope someone lays the smack down on me because that crap is just obnoxious.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Life in Duluth (Part II)

Life in Duluth (cont.) 
He [Jim] started “kindergarten” at the Nettleton School near 6th St. and 1st Ave E. His good friend, Ray Skarbakka started school then too on the same day. This was in 1933.
That Spring, in May, my mother Emelia Tikkanen, died in her home in Oulu of cancer and other complications. She was cared for by her children, Waino, Elizabeth and Eino, who were at home. I couldn’t be there too much, as we had Grandpa and Grandma Uusimaa with us in Duluth to care for. Ike was on the road for the Brach Candy Co. But Jim and I were there for about a week before she died, Jim would bring her small bouquets of early wild flowers – he was her only grandchild. My mother was only 58 years of age then. 

In 1940, on the 4th of July, we moved to 819 E. 5th St to a house which we had bought for approximately $3000 – 25 foot, low lot. Later, we bought an adjoining 25 foot lot. It was a duplex and we lived upstairs.
Jim was rather disgusted at the move – he was then 12 years old and was to start school at Washington Jr. that September, which would have been close to 25 E. 3rd. And his “pals” were left there! One day, he even cried, as there were no nice friendly boys in the neighborhood. So, he walked a lot in those days to school and also to be with his old pals in the old neighborhood.

About 1938, Ike had our name legally “Americanized” to Newland. He had then quit the candy co. about that time, I don’t exactly remember the date. He worked then at various other sales jobs, also went into siding and roofing work for others and then on his own. Jim sometimes help[ed] on those jobs.
 My sister, Elizabeth had married Oscar Simi in Dec. 1939. They now have one daughter Myrna, born in 1943. She married Arthur Hase and has two children, Debbie and Kenneth.
 Dec. 1942, my brother Eino married Sigrid Korhonen – they have two boys, David and Rudy. David now has 4 children and Rudy has a daughter.
Waino married Irene Gronroos* in June, 1943 and farmed the old Tikkanen home in Oulu. Their marriage produced 4 children, Alice, Norman,** Brenda and Donald.

We enjoyed driving to Oulu and we always felt welcome there. The children seemed to like to have us come and we would often bring them, by turns, to town with us, as they considered that a “treat.” Not one of my nieces or nephews ever said a mean or sassy word to us – I have always loved them all.

Neither one of my brothers had to go to W.W. 2 – as Waino was both farming and sailing and Eino was sailing – ore shipments were considered vital to the “war industry.” In my estimation it took the war to get the country out of the depression in which it had been for many years. That does not speak well for our “Democracy.”

Jobs were difficult to find before the war broke out. Once my brothers went to the wheat fields of N. Dakota to work – for $2 a day and board! And jobs on the boats were at a premium – one had even to do some “bribing.” Waino once had walked past the man who was doing the hiring and slipped $5 into his hand – no word spoken. Next day the man had winked at Waino, among the men waiting at the “hall” and asked is anyone wanted to go on half a trip? Half a trip meant that you were left at the other end of the trip – no one really wanted that. Waino went, and sailed all summer!

There were “Hoovervilles” all over the country then. Jobless men in makeshift shacks, scouraging for food. Soup lines were long. People were near revolution – something had to be done – as granaries were full – pigs and cattle were killed to keep prices up – milk was spilled on the ground. (Man’s inhumanity to man.)

F. Roosevelt got in as President – and all sorts of government jobs were created artificially to quiet the population. CC camps for youths, planting trees, etc. WPA jobs for adults.

We managed “on our own,” I am glad to say. From childhood, we had always been raised sensibly and never felt deprived of anything.

*My grandparents!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

ATK and the Case of the Forty-seven Cents

I realize this title makes it sound like something mysterious is afoot in Kyrgyzstan, but I have to admit it's just a shout out to my childhood hero, Encyclopedia Brown.

I mean, I do have an amusing tale to tell about 47 cents, but there is no case to be cracked or riddle to be solved. But admit it, "The Case of the Forty-seven Cents" totally sounds like it could be an Encyclopedia Brown mystery.

Anyways, the other day, a Kyrgyz co-worker came to me and asked a favor.

Her: Ashley, can I ask a favor?

Me: Sure, Altynai, what is it?

Her: Do you have 47 cents I could borrow?

Me: What?

Her: Do you have 47 cents I could borrow? I'll pay you back, of course.

Me: Wha-? Like 47 American cents? Or 47 som*?

Her: American money. I can pay you back.

Me: I'm not worried about that. You mean, you want like pennies and quarters and stuff?

Her: Yes. Do you have any?

Me: Uh, yeah, I mean not here. But I definitely have 47 cents at home. Uh, can I ask why you need 47 cents?

Her: The cashier gave me my advance in dollars for my training in India and I need to return some of the money, but I need to pay even the cents, but you know, it's very hard to get American coins here. I owe 47 cents. So I need to borrow it, because they won't let me pay it in som.

Me: Wow. Really?

Her: Yeah. If you bring it tomorrow, I can pay you back in som.

Me: I'll bring it tomorrow. But you don't need to pay me back.

Her: Thank you so much!

So "tomorrow" rolls around and she comes to my cubicle. "Did you bring the 47 cents?" No I did not. I had forgotten. Why? My guess is because it's 47 freaking cents. She seemed a little disappointed, because I think she wanted to finish with the vouchering and everything, and I don't really blame her. It's a pain to have that hanging over your head.

Anyways, she was disappointed and I felt bad, because I promised I'd bring her the money.

Me: You know what? I have a ton of coins at the bottom of my purse. Let me look and see if I have any American money. Maybe I have it in here after all.

So I scrounge around in my purse, and, in all honesty, I'm not expecting to find American coins, but you never know. So I start pulling out handfuls of coins. Most were som, followed by a surprising number of bolivianos. That started some chit chat.

Me: Oh! Five bolivianos! Don't suppose this will help?

Her: What's that?

Me: Bolivianos. The money they use in Bolivia. Oh. Here's three more.

Her: You've been to Bolivia?

Just then I found a penny. And a dime.

Me: Here's 11 cents. Oh and here's a quarter. So that's 36 cents....(digging some more) Ah! And another quarter! 61 cents! Well what'dya know? Here ya go! (hands over 50 cents.)

Her: Thank you! I can pay you back.

Me: Oh no. In fact, keep the change.

So she left to pay her 47 cents debt and I chuckled to myself because it was such a hullabaloo about such a trivial amount of money. And for those of you out there worried about government waste, don't you worry, the U.S. government will get all the pennies owed to it from advances for business travel.

Because 47 cents is kind of a ridiculous amount of money, I thought, Let me go look at what 47 cents is in som. (Not sure why I didn't just do the math in my head. If I had given it even the slightest thought, I would have figured it out in, like, a second. I think it's because 47 cents is so trivial I figured it would be some trivial amount in som as well.) So I go to good ole and see that 47 cents is 30 som!

Well, now, 30 som... I can do a lot with 30 som. I can buy some many things with 30 som. What things? Well, a bottle of water, or soda, a giant pig in a blanket at the cafeteria, a cherry pastry, two potato rolls(!), a candy bar, a samsa.... so many things.

I thought to myself, Thirty som? Not sure I would have turned that down if it was offered.

I've marveled at the difference for a day. It's really funny when you think about it. Forty-seven cents is basically useless in America and so I found the whole "47 cent debt" pretty silly. But 30 som? That's a useful amount of money here. And it sounds like so much more than 47 cents. But it's not.

I'm still kinda amazed.

*Som is the Kyrgyzstani currency (in case you haven't figured that out by now.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy (Belated) Women's Day to you all!

The holidays just keep coming here in Kyrgyzstan. From mid-February until mid-March we've only had (or will only have had) one full work week. That's right. Lots of four day weeks for us over on this side of the globe. First we had President's Day. Then Homeland Protector's Day (which doubles for Men's Day). Last weekend, March 8, was Women's Day. And March 23 is Nowruz.

So Women's Day. This is an actual holiday here. The kind where you celebrate at work and also, get a day off of work. I have to admit, I'm quite impressed. It's a big deal. Not quite New Year's Eve/Day big, but pretty big. We nominally have Women's Day in America (March 8th is technically International Women's Day), and I think March is Women's History month, but apart from Facebook meme and posts, it's not really a thing that people seem to do anything to commemorate. Mr. ATK had mentioned that Women's Day was a real "thing" in Kyrgyzstan, (he, in fact, ranked it the fifth biggest holiday in Kyrgyzstan here) but I didn't fully understand just how "real" of a "thing" it was until work on Friday.

So Friday rolls around. As the last day of the work week, it is usually a happy day (as I'm sure you all know). So, I was sitting in my cubicle and a co-worker comes by and hands me a rose.

Me: What's this for?
Him: Women's Day.

The menfolk bought a rose for each woman in the section. And to top it off, the ambassador bought a rose for each woman in the embassy.  Very thoughtful.

Anyways, I ended up having the "What's this for?/What's going on?" conversation several times throughout the day. I kept thinking, "Oh, a rose. Oh nice. That must be it." But nope. One lady made earrings for all the women in our section, and then the guys took us out for lunch, then we got back and there were a couple cakes and lots of cookies. I mean, every section did their own thing, but our section's was pretty boss. And I have to say, it wasn't just the guys doing things for women. I'm pretty sure the cakes and stuff were from the boss, who is herself a woman. And the one lady made earrings for everyone.

As we were heading out to lunch (another situation where someone was like, "Come on, let's go!" And was like, "What's up? Where are we going?") I mentioned to one of my Kyrgyz coworkers that I did not realize Women's Day was such a big deal and she was like, "You don't have this in America?" Me: "No. Not really. I mean it exists, but you don't do anything or get any time off and if you asked people when Women's Day is, I think only 10% of Americans could tell you." She was like, "Really? That's funny because it is a holiday because of America. It started there." I was unaware of this, so I looked it up. Sure enough, the first National Women's Day was held on February 28, 1909 in New York in honor of the 1908 garment worker's strike.

So, I have to give "mad props" (the kids still say this, right?) to not only Kyrgyzstan, but the menfolk in the office who really went all out. On Men's Day (aka Homeland Protectors Day) we got cake and pizza for the guys and I remember asking one of my female Kyrgyz co-workers if we could expect something similar for Women's Day and she was like, "Oh, yes." And I thought, Well, I'll believe it when I see it, because, in my past experience, while guys in the office usually support these sorts of social activities (including monetarily), they rarely plan them. That usually falls on the women in the office, for whatever reason. Personally, I never minded planning things, but it's just something I've noticed over time. Anyways, mea culpa, guys.  Well done.

And though this is a week late, I wanted to end this post with this link to Buzzfeed's list of 12 Historical Women who gave No F**ks. (And if the title doesn't give it away, there is hilarious, but explicit, language in this list, so, you know, you might not want to check it out at work.)