Thursday, January 29, 2015

Жаңы Жыл! (Or Celebrating New Year's in a Kyrgyz Village)

New Year's salads shaped like sheep! Happy 2015!

Happy New Year all! We are happy to celebrate our first New Year in Kyrgyzstan!

And while many of you were out partying or perhaps watching "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve hosted by Ryan Seacrest," the ATKs spent a few days in Mr. ATK's former stomping grounds, Kochkor, with his Kyrgyz family.

Panoramic of the mountains and fields outside Kochkor

New Year's was quite the cultural experience for me, that's for sure. First of all, New Year's Eve/Day is a BFD here. I can't stress that enough. Our cruddy little Christmas? It's nothing. New Year's is where it's at in Central Asia. From what I understand this is largely due to Soviet influence.  Since the Soviets were not exactly pro-religion, secular holidays were, and continue to be, the biggest holidays. There is a Kyrgyz holiday called "Nowruz" which is celebrated on the spring equinox and traditionally signified the start of the new year. It's still a very big holiday. (And a quick search on Wikipedia informs me this is a Persian holiday that celebrates the start of the Persian calendar and is celebrated in areas that were under Iranian cultural influence. The more you know, I guess.) But Victory Day? The day the Allies beat the Nazis? That's a really big one. (I just asked Mr. ATK for his unofficial rankings of Kyrgyz holidays from biggest to smallest deal. He says its: 1. New Years; 2. Nowruz; 3. End of Ramadan; 4. Victory Day; 5. Women's Day; 6. Independence Day/First Day of School.)

Anyways, there are big variety shows on TV that put Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve to shame--both in Russian and Kyrgyz. These programs are on for, like, 10 hours. It could be because Russia is massive and it's probably 8 a.m. in Moscow when the clock strikes midnight in Vladivostok. Or it could be they just like singing songs about the new year. Or both. They aren't mutually exclusive. One of the things that cracked me up was that as we would be watching these people sing and most of the time I wouldn't understand it (especially when it was in Kyrgyz), but then I'd realize, "Hey I know this tune! That's 'I Will Survive'." But instead of it being the real "I Will Survive," it was a version that kept saying "Happy New Year" (one of the few phrases I can actually pick out in both Russian and Kyrgyz.)

There is also this gem, which I heard several times and is awesome.

So clearly, this is the Russian "version" of Wham's delightful, yet sad "Last Christmas" in which the singer reminisces about how the previous Christmas he had given a special someone his heart and then the very next day, this person gave it away. But, the singer is optimistic that if he gives his heart to someone special this year, it will save him from further tears.  Well, this Russian version scraps that narrative entirely and basically just talks about how awesome New Year's is and how you get to see old friends. (Granted, this is all from what I can understand. My Russian is officially "limited.") 

But I digress....

Back to Kochkor.

The New Year's celebration was an interesting one. Largely food based. We arrived around 3 pm and the family was cooking, but had also already laid out quite the spread. (I wish I had taken a picture!) At around 3:30-3:45 we sat down for our first course. There were many salads, fruits, vegetables, sweet breads, and, of course, tea. After this, the food kept coming about every 90 minutes, until midnight rolls around and then you all toast.* Needless to say, food was plentiful and pretty much every hour and a half more food came out, including fish and turkey, and we ate some more. This is all supposed to culminate in eating besh barmak, (which means "five fingers" in Kyrgyz), a traditional dish made of horse meat (if you are lucky! They only slaughter a horse for special occasions, or honored guests) and noodles. I tried my best to power through all the food, in order to save myself for this "big show" at midnight. I admit, I was struggling. First of all, I'm not big on staying up to midnight, even on New Year's, because I am a 60 year old trapped in a 35 year old body, so I was getting sleepy as the night wore on and all the food didn't help. I tried eating less and less to save some room, but that's kind of hard. Also, Mr. ATK was struggling a bit, too, though I'm sure he would deny it.

Mr. ATK and his brother Aziz, "slit the throat" of a salad shaped like a sheep. Gotta be halal after all!
I guess Mr. ATK's brothers noticed how we were struggling with the food, so they decided not to serve the besh barmak that night. I felt really bad that they altered their tradition. I tried to say, "Oh, that's not necessary. Eat your food. We'll be fine. We can eat some." But they were like, "No, horse meat is heavy and you won't sleep well." So we had the besh barmak the next day. 

New Year's selfie taken as the clock struck midnight

In between courses, Mr. ATK and I went out to explore town. He was keen to both show me around his old stomping grounds and see how the town had changed in the five years since he left. The biggest news seemed to be (in no particular order): 1. The road between Bishkek and Kochkor has been redone and is much improved (Mr. ATK marveled about this on the way there and would try to explain how awful it had been. "See this guard rail? This guard rail wasn't there before. It was just a drop off the cliff.") 2. The stoplight in town now works. 3. The family got indoor plumbing. (I'm pretty sure I was the only one who used the indoor toilet, however. Even Mr. ATK used the outhouse. I don't know if he just missed squatting outside in the cold or what.)  4. There is an ATM!


It was pretty interesting to see the village. It's a large town (bigger than my Peace Corps site, for sure. It has a traffic light, for pete's sake!) Like Bishkek, it had quite a few monuments in honor of Kochkorkians (not sure what the adjective for these folks would be) who died in war, notably World War II and Afghanistan. It also has a Lenin statue, which is always interesting and it has a couple of schools who have the most insane playgrounds. I imagine these are very Soviet style playgrounds. They are a series of bars, mainly. I wondered if children just do pull ups during recess.

I think the things on the right are like pull up treadmills

On New Year's Day, the family took us out to see some sites outside of town. They couldn't believe that Mr. ATK had never seen the salt mines, so we loaded up the car and headed out to the mines. First, however, we stopped at the place where the water starts on fire. Now when they first mentioned this, I was thinking of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland which famously started on fire. That is, I figured the water started on fire because of pollution or some sort of mining issue (like how the water near some fracking areas supposedly starts on fire). Now I suppose this water could have been polluted, but it came out of the ground flammable. And the spring wasn't near a mine or anything that I could see, so it was very odd. The brothers bought some matches and sure enough, just started lighting the water on fire. A couple interesting things to note: 1.) This lighting water on fire thing is apparently a popular past time around Kochkor, because while we were there another car load of people showed up and also started lighting the water on fire; and 2.) People seemed to think this flammable water was some sort of health tonic. Apa brought a two liter bottle and filled it up. So did the people in the other car. They took the water home in order to drink it!

Fire water!

Now I'm not a chemist or a scientist or anything, but I just feel water that starts on fire cannot be good for you. That's just me.

After the fire water, we headed over to the salt mine. The salt mine is closed for the winter so we just drove right up and looked around. It was pretty cold in Kochkor, and the mine is a bit higher up in the mountains, so, you know, I took a look around and was quickly ready to take my frozen toes back to the heated car. The entrance to mine was padlocked (for obvious reasons, as the mine was closed and there was no staff present.) This led the brothers to discussing where they could find the guard so he could open up the mine. Another car of people (who we did not know) then showed up to also check out the mine. I guess it's a popular hang out spot. Anyways, these folks also wanted to go find the guard to open the mine up so we could all go inside. My crazy American brain was like, "First, why would a guard open up the mine for a bunch of strangers? Second, what kind of crazy liability would this guy open himself up to by letting a bunch of randos into a dark salt mine?" Then I realized that 1.) They would probably try and bribe the guard (if, in fact, we could find the mythical guard, who was not anywhere near the mine); 2.) There is probably no liability in this country.

Mine stuff
In the end we were unable to find a guard (we even drove to a little village, or maybe it was a sanitarium) at the bottom of the hill, but alas! no one was there.

All in all, it was a very interesting, if not chilly trip. Next time I will bring cuddle duds.

And I leave you all with the following picture of the town New Year's tree. Happy Жаңы  Жыл!

*I'm going to dedicate a blog post just to Kyrgyz food, so I'm not going to go to far into descriptions of all the food.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Kathryn in America: Kathryn meets Ike/Move to Chicago

Sometime, I had already become very aware of a nice neighbor boy – he wasn’t really good looking then and very bashful – but I could see the honesty and integrity – also. I think he liked me very much. He wasn’t much of a talker, in my eyes he stood above all of the other young men that I knew. Our “courtship” was a little “different” compared with this fast modern age of today! He had an older brother who had already married another neighbor girl and brought her home to live as a “minia” that is a daughter-in-law – who lives in the home of her in-laws and certainly is not in command of the household. (That was very customary in Finland.) So, an extra brother was “superfluous,” naturally. Ike worked in the woods, also odd jobs in Superior, shipyards, etc. In the summer he helped at home with haying, milking, and heavier work in the Fall such as harvesting and threshing. The brothers had bought their first Model T Ford jointly – (you can guess who really had it most of the time.) We did a lot of walking and just visiting at my home. Seems we never talked of marriage – but it just was understood. Farming did not interest us – tho’ Ike’s father would have liked to have his younger son live at home, (for some reason or other.) That did not appeal to us. So in Sept. 1922 we just went to Duluth and were married by Dr. Nelson Pace at his home. He was pastor of the First Methodist Church then. We took no witnesses along – just Mrs. Pace was there and their daughter Merna (who was in the tub at the time!) put her name on the certificate. That was it --$5.00. So, you can see no fancy weddings are required to make a marriage endure! We rented two small furnished rooms on Mesaba Ave. in the 400 W. block. Ike found work at the Duluth Showcase Co. in W. Duluth and I waited on tables for a while in the Boston Café – across W. Superior St. from where I live now. The wages were very low – we were young and footloose – so we decided to try the “Big Town” – Chicago.  I can’t remember how we traveled to Oulu, but we went home to see the folks before leaving. Needless, to say, they didn’t like the idea at all. In fact, Ike’s father still begged us to come live at their house and the school chairman came to offer me the Southern School in Oulu, that had not yet found a teacher. But, “no thank you.” We did not stay long, as we were afraid the neighborhood young folks might come and “chari-vari” us – which they did sometime for newly-weds. They called it a “shiveree” –a surprise drumming with tubs, wash boilers and what have you. The couple was then supposed to give them “refreshments” – they didn’t quit drumming until that was done. Ike went ahead, by train, he only found work with a roofing co. I followed in November. We rented a bedroom from an old-maid tailor who was gone all day – so we had kitchen privileges. I got work behind the “jewelry counter” at Woolworth’s in the Loop.

Chicago circa 1922

In January (1923) we got word that my father was very sick. I pawned my $10 gold piece to the old maid for a $10 bill – and took the train home. From Duluth, I called the Co-op Store in Oulu, to ask how my father was and was told he was dead! My cousin, Linda, was then in Duluth, we bought two sprays of flowers – one from Ike and me – the other from Uncle Victor and family. I took a train to Brule, I was crying so I couldn’t find my ticket at first, the brakeman George who was taking the tickets on the train, cried also. He had gotten to know all the young people who traveled from the country to Superior, etc. Ike’s brother, Eino, met me in Brule with a horse and sleigh. Father was only 50 years of age – the Dr. had said his heart was “shot.” So, I think the stone dust at the quarry in R.G. –combined with running up the hills after “Lucy” finally was too much.
Mother was widowed at the age of 48 with three minor children. Waino dropped out of school then, he didn’t care for it in the first place. So, he became a “man” at an early age.

I went back to Chicago—on the way I withdrew my savings $500 – from a bank. Ike had $200 saved when were married.

Soon after, we had the opportunity to rent a 4-room apartment in the same building, but we had to buy the furniture that was in it – which we did. $300 – complete furniture! Simple but adequate. It had two bedrooms which we were willing to rent to a couple. Soon after, Mary and August Muttinen came to live with us. They had married in Kuopio, Finland in Nov. 1922 and had come to America to make their “fortune.” We all were young and had fun. Mary and Gust went to night school to learn English and we tried to help. Mary got work in a laundry and Gust had learned house painting. I got work at Montgomery-Ward mail order house as “file clerk” and for awhile I was “inspector” at the Babe Ruth candy factory, which was not too far. Ike was still “roofing.”

I don’t remember just when he started work at a small furniture factory. But always I remember the date, Jan. 24, 1924 – when he had the misfortune of catching his right hand in some “circle saw.” His hand was badly mutilated. Those days the compensation was trivial. He was paid the hospitalization --$15 a week until the doctor pronounced it healed – then $2000. While he was recuperating – I landed in the hospital and had to have my appendix removed on Valentine’s Day – Feb 14th! (We had to pay $100 in advance.)

That Spring we bought a brand new Ford Coupe – it cost $600. And Ike began selling Fuller Brushes, house to house. He must always have looked honest as he found very little trouble getting into the house to demonstrate the brushes. He earned only a commission, I think was 40% -- but he himself had to buy the “free sample” brush to give to the lady of the house. Those little brushes cost was 2 cents a piece. He practiced on me and the Muttinens – but he liked selling, and did quite well – as he always did his best on whatever he did. 

*Kathryn had all of this and more under "Move to Oulu" in her written memoirs. I decided to break the chapter up into three smaller sections, so I made up the title for this chapter.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

More In-Laws!

One of the great things about being married is that you get a whole new set of family members (Hi, MamaTK-in-Law!). One of the great things about marrying a Peace Corps volunteer is that s/he likely has a whole other family is some village in some far away land. Now, one of the drawbacks (or maybe not, for some people) of life in the Foreign Service is that you spend years at a time thousands of miles away from friends and family back home. But one of the pluses of life in the Foreign Service is that you may be posted in that far away land (especially if you speak some obscure language like Kyrgyz) and... Poof! Instant family!

Now, Mr. ATK lived here for two years in the Peace Corps and before finding something to do, blogged about his experiences pretty regularly here. Since coming back to Kyrgyzstan, we've met up with several people from "the old days" including women from the handicraft association Mr. ATK worked with (who were in Bishkek for an exhibition and sale during Thanksgiving weekend),

Shyrdaks (traditional felt rugs)made by the women of Altyn-Kol, the organization Mr. ATK worked with in Peace Corps)

and most importantly, Mr. ATK's host family--my new Kyrgyz in-laws!

Mr. ATK's Kyrgyz family consists of Ata and Apa (father and mother) and four brothers. The two youngest speak English quite well. One is a student at university and the other is a tour guide, who takes tourists hunting in the winter and trekking in the summer. Everyone else speaks Russian and Kyrgyz, with a very strong preference for Kyrgyz. As a result, I'm usually just sitting and listening to everyone talk.  Sometimes I try to see if I can figure out what's going on, but usually I sort of daydream about whatever until I realize everyone is looking at me and they must have just been talking about me. Then I smile and shrug my shoulders a bit and we all laugh. They really are very lovely people. Three of the boys call me Jenge which is Kyrgyz for "sister-in-law who is married to an older brother" (age rankings are very important in this culture). Since Mr. ATK is older than three of the brothers, they have to call me that. I've only met the oldest brother once. I don't know what he calls me. I'm actually older than him, but apparently it's the ranking of the menfolk that matter and since Mr. ATK is younger than the oldest, I am "sister-in-law who is married to a younger brother." Like I said, I don't know how to say that. It might be that actually there is no word and he is just supposed to call me some sort of descriptor. The younger brothers, who I call by their names--Azamat and Aziz--told me that technically, I, as the jenge, am not supposed to use their names. Instead, I am supposed to call them whatever, something that basically describes them. Like, "guy who studies economics" or "guy who lived in Malaysia." Of course, that is just weird to say in English, and I cannot for the life of me remember the Kyrgyz phrases they suggested (which was basically, "guy who studies economics" in Kyrgyz) so I just stick with their names. They don't seem to mind, even if I am breaking the rules.

As you can see, I've learned quite a bit about Kyrgyz culture from my new in-laws (with help from Mr. ATK, of course.) Mr. ATK had already explain some things, like how the daughter-in-law married to the youngest brother has to pour tea for everyone (and basically do all the housework.)  I did pour tea at our first dinner and it was kind of nerve-wracking because, like, people just hand you their cup. After watching Apa do it over New Year's it is clearly something intuitive--like knowing the proper time to hand the cup over and when to look for the cups from everyone. Basically, it seemed to me that Apa didn't really get to eat. Anyways, at my attempted tea serving, Mr. ATK was the worst, of course. He just kept holding his cup out and I was trying to eat, so he would clear his throat to get my attention and then everyone would giggle. The actual Kyrgyz people were very sweet and I think they thought it was cute that I was trying. It's very interesting to me, because they just hand the cups back and forth without any verbal acknowledgement. No "Please, may I have some tea?" Or "Thank you" after receiving the tea. I find it kind of awkward, and I told him I thought it was awkward, but he looked at me like I was nuts. I guess he did live here for two years, so he just fits right into this little dance.

Apa tying on my joluk.

I think my favorite thing so far is that Apa even gave me a joluk (headscarf) when we first met. The Kyrgyz are traditionally Muslim and married women commonly keep their heads covered.  They aren't particularly strict or conservative Muslims--the headscarf is more of a "welcome to the family" gesture. I guess the the mother-in-law ties the scarf on the daughter-in-law like you see in the picture above: old lady style. As I understand it, the daughter-in-law has to wear the scarf old lady style until the mama-in-law tells her she can wear it in the more typical, do-rag style. The boys told me it is usually 3 days or so.  You'll be happy to know, I wore the joluk when we went to visit over New Year's and Apa said I could wear my scarf like a do-rag. So I no longer look like an old lady.

So all in all, life is good here. We've got some new family to spend the holidays with and it has been a pleasure getting to know them. Stay tuned for my next post which will focus specifically on New Year's out in the village.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Kathryn in America: Move to Oulu, Wisc.

Move to Oulu, Wisc.

Location of Oulu, Wisconsin

So, in September we left by train for I.R. [Iron River] with all our possessions in the freight. Mrs. Maki and Esther Lind (Aijala) came along as far as Bannerman Jct. The train from R.G. [Redgranite] came there and back. Again, I had to part with friends that I had learned to be with and like. More tears on all sides. Luckily, my friend Mattie now lived in Iron R. (one consolation). Her grandpa had been transferred to the church there. Oulu is about 10 miles from there. We hired a team and wagon, with driver, loaded our meager furniture on it and so began the slow ride to our new home. It seemed a never ending trip, we were so anxious and eager to get there. A few log cabins along the way including an abandoned small lumber camp in Oulu near what is now the Coop Store. There was a small creamery there, too, I seem to remember. I don’t know how we got our possessions down the hill. When mother saw the house and realized one could see no other house from there, she sat down and cried. She sent father running up the hill to the road to see if the wagon was still there, but it had left. I’ve often wondered what really would have happened if it had still been there! My mother would sometimes berate my father for buying such a hilly and hard to farm place. I really felt sorry for him and would tell her that she should have come along with him to look at it. My mother became very nervous. She had managed to save $3,000 in the 7 years we lived in Redgranite. She was always thrifty and careful and did not waste. 

So, began our life in Oulu, Wis. All the houses were built of logs – the people were all Finns excepts for 3 of 4 families of Swedes. First, 2 cows were bought, “kestikki” (with extremely long curved horns) and “kirju”. They were both gurnseys and gave plenty of rich milk. Then, a horse, named “Lucy” – Lucy must have been a wild horse at some time – she always wanted to run. Waino and I enjoyed fishing in Reefer Creek, we almost always had a small catch of delicious small brook trout – once in awhile a big yellow sucker. We started school in the “Little Red School” not too far away. There were 8 grades – all in one room! I went into the 7th grade. The kids were all Finns – it was hard for the teacher to get the boys to talk English outside – girls were more obedient. All the kids had to speak Finnish at home as so many of the mothers especially, had come to Oulu direct from the Old Country. I remember I caught lice into my hair soon after. A girl in front of me had dark hair and I could see lice crawling. Mother bought a fine comb, placed a black cloth into her lap and combed my hair into it. Then she washed my hair with kerosene!  It took awhile, but we got rid of them, and kept careful watch afterward. I seem to remember there were approximately 40 kids in that one room.

The "Little Red School" in Oulu, WI where Kathryn was both a student and teacher

Eventually, my parents bought an adjoining 40 acres and a log house was built on top of the hill and the old house converted into a barn, as the “herd” had increased.

Most of the people belonged to the Apostolic Lutheran religion, a strict and (to me) a narrow-minded belief. Once in awhile services were held in the various homes. My folks were of the Evangelical Lutheran faith and were not as strict. But, we would go to these services, there were not too many “social affairs” otherwise. The first time I went, I thought it very funny to see adult people jumping up and down “thanking the Lord” laughing and crying at the same time. Some were even dancing by themselves. They all “forgave each other’s sins” – and would greet by saying “God’s greetings to you” and at parting “believe your sins forgiven.” And believe me, everything was a sin, especially anything that was “vanity”. They called themselves Laestadians. 

My brother, Eino Alfred, was born April 15, 1917. John Maryland’s mother was midwife. They lived in the next hollow up the creek, in fact the original house is still there and John lives in it. I must remember to mention that no one had wells yet along that creek – all water was taken from there. So, when it had rained, the water was muddy with red clay and the cattle had waded in it – you can imagine what our drinking water tasted like! The folks tried to store it in large crocks – but it all had to be carried in pails up the hill; it wasn’t easy. The job for us kids always was to keep the water supply replenished and the wood box full. But, life was fun and we were young. 

In the summer we had to go up to Copper Hill (where Eino is buried now) and pick blueberries. Mother canned them for winter eating. It was usually hot at that time of the summer and we got thirsty. No thermas bottles then. There was a natural small spring in the woods, luckily, on the way home where we never failed to stop and drink the cool water. In winter, all boys had rabbit snares in the woods, they were good eating. One could not afford to kill cattle for beef, except if too many bull calves were born. They were raised awhile and butchered. Deer were plentiful, but my father never owned a gun. Waino finally got one. No hunting licenses were required then.

I was always the best speller and reader in school. (Modest?) Most of all, I enjoyed the spelling bees, which we had often. The teacher would choose two “captains” one on each side of the room, the captains would the choose the spellers by turn one at a time. (Maybe you can guess who got chosen first, as that side usually won.) One year, I represented Bayfield Co. and had to go to the Wis. State Fair to spell (near Milwaukee). We had an audience and I was nervous. When the words were given to us to spell – we had to ask the meaning if the sound was about the same. “Independents” instead of “independence” got me down. My mother had given me 25 cents for spending money – the Co. Supt. of schools put $10 into my hand – which I brought home intact and we sent it back to her! I’ve often wondered what did she think?

I finished the 8th grade and went to confirmation school in June 1915, for a week – which was all that was required. A small Apostolic Lutheran church had been built on the Maryland property (it is still there.) There were 16 of us kids, 10 girls and 6 boys. Jonas Ojala (of Oulu) was the “pastor” – he had never gone to any “seminary.” He tried his best to teach us as much of the catechism as he could in 5 days! On Saturday, us kids scrubbed the church, wooden benches, etc. and decorated with fresh birch boughs. Sunday, we were “confirmed,” parents attending.

Then, with 3 other girls, I came to Superior to work. Jewish families were eager to get the Finnish country girls to work in their homes. So, I got to work for a family by the name of Averbook – above a drug store on the corner of Ogden Ave. and 5th St. 2 whole dollars a week – 7 days. I had to do every thing in the house, except cook which Mrs. Averbook did herself as they were very strict Orthodox Jews. Meat and milk dishes were kept separate. It was interesting. I learned a lot about Jewish life.

In September I enrolled in the Normal School, which is now Wis. State University in Superior. At that time we could enter there from the 8th grade, as it was equivalent to High School. There was what was called a “Better Rural Teacher’s” course that would qualify one for country school teacher. I attended two years and stayed at home one year to help mother with the younger children, as I was still young myself. Then I went back for a year and got my first teaching job at the the Northern School in Oulu. $60 a month! That was in 1919 – I lived at Henry Getto’s as they lived closer to the school. Eight grades again – all in one room. I can’t remember how many children there were. – (only 1 in the 8th grade.) Every morning I walked over a mile and back again in the late afternoon. It was fun. We had a program at Christmas time to which all the people came – entertainment was simple then and too much was not expected by anyone. We also had a “basket-social” one evening for the neighborhood young people. The girls made a decorated “basket” and put in sandwiches, cake, etc. The young fellows would “bid” on a basket – whoever got it – also got to eat with the one whose name was on it. My basket was bid up to $5 – but now I can’t remember who got it! The proceeds were used to buy some needed equipment for the school. The next 2 years I taught at Little Red School and lived at home. Then my pay was $80 and $85! An 8 - month school year. 

The "famous" Oulu Rock, painted with Finnish colors and with the Finnish flag on the side.