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.)


Monday, March 2, 2015

Kathryn in America: Life in Duluth

Duluth – 1925

Location of Duluth, MN

We came to Duluth and we rented a large room on the 3rd floor of 124 W. 3rd St. where we lived the winter. Ike found work with a collection agency and I tried waiting on table at a couple of Greek restaurants. I also was counter girl at Miller’s Cafeteria. In the spring of 1926 Ike began selling to stores for the Brach Candy Co. of Chicago – his territory was upper Minn., Wis., and parts of Michigan. He built up the territory, calling on all Co-ops etc. by sheer Finnish “risu” and long hours and the product was good. Those were “depression days” and candy was a luxury – so his initial earnings were not much. Strictly commissions. In the meanwhile I had rented a “cold water flat” at 25 E. 3rd St. and bought the few pieces of necessary furniture. Ike always left such decisions and purchases to me. He said, “Your eyes are as big as mine, you know what we can afford and what we can’t.” By “cold water flat” is meant exactly that. There was no bathroom (just a toilet) we heated with a coal stove and coal and wood stove in the kitchen, plus a gas stove – apartment size. Rent average $11-$20 per month. At that time we heated the water on the stove in a copper boiler, for washing clothes, which I did on a washboard, two galvanized tubs on a wooden wringer stand. Fels Naptha yellow laundry bar soap. White clothes were boiled in the boiler – and everything dried outside – or in rainy weather I strung lies up in the kitchen! I liked washing clothes and taking pride in getting them clean. For baths, we went once a week to public saunas on S. 1st Ave. E. (We always took plenty of brown wrapping paper to walk and sit on.) No plastics yet then. We had no telephone, no radio – so I read a lot, getting books from the Library.

Ike was away much, so I rented the other bedroom to Mae Huikkenen (Nummi) and Linda Peterson (Eskeli.) They worked on S. 1st Ave. E. and Michigan St. in Finnish restaurants. We had fun, once we even had jobs “breaking eggs” at the Cold Storage Plant – near where Jeno’s in now.

Eggs were separated (yolks from whites) and frozen, to be sold to large bakeries. One had to smell them so that no bad ones were mixed with the good.

So, life went on, and we decided to start a “family” of our own. On July 18, 1928, we had our first son. He was born in St Mary’s Hospital in Superior, Wis. Dr. Sincock officiating at the birth. Somehow, I knew it was going to be a slow process – so we even stopped in Superior on our way to the hospital to watch a parade in which two Presidents rode, Coolidge and Hoover. They were fishing on the Brule R. at the Pierce estate. That was a Big Time in Brule, everything was newly painted, etc. Jim was born after three days – I won’t go into details – but I have thanked the Creator for saving him from birth defects. He was baptized, along with his cousin, Helen, who had been born in Jan. Jonas Ojala did the honors. He had “confirmed” both Ike and me.

That Fall, Ike’s father and mother had decided they were becoming too old to farm. So, a deal was made, as they had two sons and a daughter, all married. My father-in-law’s name was Isaac Uusimaa and his wife was Maria Elizabeth (Leinonen.) He had “homesteaded” 160 acres of wild forest in Oulu, Wis. Four “forties.” One, he had sold to Sakri Konu.

So, a deal was made where the old folks would spend four months of each year with each child – the oldest son, Eino (and his wife Saina) remaining on the old home place. He paid $1000 to his sister Elaine and to his brother Ike – as he got all the buildings, livestock, machinery, etc. Also, the other two forties were given to Ike and Elaine. In return the children agreed to give full support to their parents for the remainder of their lives. The summer months they spent in Oulu, June, July, August, and September. Then, to their daughter’s in Superior until February when they came to Duluth to stay again until the end of May. (In town the “bathroom” was indoors.)

That worked out very well as the old folks never became helpless. Grandma Uusimaa was a very industrious and clean little woman, very religious and always had a knitting or patching work in her hand. She took care of Grandpa Uusimaa, who had very stiff legs and used one or two canes. Also, she kept their own room clean and liked to do the dishes. Grandpa liked to read and without glasses! He said glasses were only “vanity.” He read and re-read all the Finnish books, which I would get for him from the Duluth Public Library and also the Finnish paper. He was a great talker, grandma, again was quiet – she always said that “Sin was not far away when talking too much!”

That’s how Jim learned to talk Finnish, talking with his grandparents in their own language. They adored him.

Grandma Uusimaa died in our home in March of 1937 of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. She is buried in Oulu, Wis. in the old Pioneer Cemetery (now called Oulu Lutheran.) They had been married 49 years that month.

Grandpa died in his old home in Oulu, July 18, 1939, as he had always wished. He was then about 87 years old, grandma was 83.

They had married at not too young an age, so they were only survived by their 3 children and their wives, Elaine and Robert Alto had 4 children, Mary Elizabeth, Arthur (the oldest) Helen and Raymond. We had only Jim – named also for his dad and grandfather (Isaac.) Eino and Saima had no children.

In March 1931 we were expecting another baby. But, it was not to be. The birth was more difficult than my first in 1928. The doctor told Ike that he could not save both, Ike had to make the choice. So we lost a little boy, who we intended to name Richard William. That was the first time I saw my husband cry bitterly, as we were told to get any future children from an orphan’s home. So our only son became very precious to us.