Sunday, January 31, 2010

Masha's cat enters the sex trade

Masha has a big male kot named Kouray.  He is a purebred gray Scottish Fold, for which Andrei and Tanya paid good money, for Masha's birthday a year and a half ago.  There is another Scottish Fold in town, a gray female.

A batch of kittens (or two) would help both owners recoup their investment.

So today I drove Tanya, Masha and Kouray over to meet his new paramour, taking cat, kennel, food and litter box for a possible extended stay.

Apparently it was not love at first site sight.  Kouray meowed to go home and the koshka,  less than impressed, hissed at him and made threatening claw moves, Tanya said. 

Give them time.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Couple of Updates

The lady who "owned" the big grain terminal in P'yatikhatki has had all charges dropped.  She is no longer on the lam and is now working in administration for the Raion. Her kids have taken over ownership and operation of the elevator.  Obviously she had a good lawyer and likely a good portion of her $20 million went to "good use".

When I slipped on the ice in Kyiv, I was lucky.  Banged my head.  No damage to it though suggestions were made that the sidewalk may have suffered.  News last night said that in January some 7000 people have broken bones from slipping on the icy streets and sidewalks in Kyiv .  In a civilized country under rule of law, a couple of good lawsuits would put paid to that nonsense.  It won't happen here.  The legal system is controlled by the political system.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tipping Point or Legends of the Fall

My friend Robert phoned me yesterday from Vancouver Island to kick my butt back into gear on a project I was working on for him before I went to Kazakhstan.  He asked how our frozen water pipes were doing.  I said they thawed but the hot-water had split open somewhere and was leaking so serious repairs were still necessary.  I said "It is terrible.  We are down to one bathroom for two people", and we both burst out laughing at the stupidity of THAT statement.

Robert said it is better than what we grew up with and he is right.  We both grew up in the era when the outhouse was a fixture on any farm, many small towns and even parts of some cities.  Of course, thinking about outhouses made us think about Halloween pranks, back in the "old days" when pranks were in good fun and didn't land you in jail.  Tipping the neighbour's outhouse was a traditional part of every Halloween night for many teenagers and generated many a good story.

One of my uncles built his outhouse around four posts sunk four feet in the ground.  He loved to brag about his "Untippable" outhouse.  One night he watched as a car load of kids (his oldest daughter, tired of his bragging, among them) butted up against it and tried to push it over.  Motor rev'd, wheels spinning but no movement.  He bragged even more after that.

An acquaintance who grew up in the Peace River country told me his gang used to roam the country on their saddle horses.  One neighbour had built his outhouse set in among four trees so it could not be tipped.  Lysle and his friends went to the house for hot chocolate, "admitting defeat".  While they were inside keeping the neighbour and his wife occupied, the rest of the group used their saddle ponies and lariats to raise the outhouse several feet off the ground and then nailed it to the trees.

Another story concerned a man who lived by the railway in a small town and built a concrete outhouse which could not be tipped.  Until one night the station agent was watching the late freight pull out of town and noticed a cable snaking tight behind the caboose.  They found the cement outhouse a half mile down the track.

In Saskatoon, at one of my dad's cousin's, the kids would sneak along the high fence then make a break across a clear place to the shadow cast by the outhouse.  Safely there, they would then tip it over.   The cousin, one Halloween night simply moved the outhouse a few feet forward until the open hole was in the shadow and netted a couple of boys who likely caught hell when they went home smelling of "roses".

it was a constant battle, all in good fun, with no one taking serious offence (unless they were IN the outhouse and it was tipped forward onto the door).  There are likely enough stories out there to fill a book.  Someone should write it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lena's Mom

Lena's Mom, Ludmilla,  will likely come home from hospital tomorrow.  She had her right leg amputated well up the thigh about two weeks ago, just after I left for Kazakhstan.  Severe diabetes had so destroyed the circulation that if she had not had the operation, gangrene would have killed her.  Eventually.  She did not want the operation.  The pain was so bad, she just wanted to die.  But the pain was finally too much for her and she consented.

Not an easy choice, as this country is pure hell for anyone less than able bodied.  The doctor's tried several meds to see if they would dissolve the blood clots but it was far too late.  This should have been dealt with several years ago.  No money.

She now has a new raft of troubles, with only one leg, but constant excruciating pain isn't one of them.  She is sleeping nights.  She is learning to walk on crutches.  Roman has rigged handles over her bed to help her.  She can borrow a wheel chair until the system gets the paperwork done to provide one.  Her pension will increase and half her meds will be paid for.

Maybe she will even smile again, one of these days.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Our cold weather problems are small in comparison

Tanya and I both agree we have little to complain about.  Our electricity, gas and water still work, our roads are clear and we are warm.  There are millions of others tonight who are less fortunate.  It has not been reported, to my knowledge,  how many, if any,  have died in Ukraine.  We have a presidential election going on and such bad news may be self-censored for fear of angering one or both parties.

Icy weather claims more lives; 

Cold snap kills 40 in eastern Europe ; 

Europe cold weather kills dozens

Extreme weather kills Mongolia livestock


Frozen Assets

The water pipes in the upstairs bathroom are frozen.  The toilet still works and there is cold water only to the sink but the shower and the hot water to the sink are solid somewhere in the wall behind the shower.  The guy who installed it was not the sharpest knife in the drawer and put the pipes behind the insulation, against the outside concrete block wall.  I wasn't here when it was done, not that it would have made any difference, I suppose. The main bearing walls are 30+ cm thick but this wall is only half that.  Not much insulating value after a week or two of -20 weather.  Why I didn't let the taps run slowly to prevent freezing is a question I have been asking myself since.  We will have to cut the pipes and reinstall them inside the room likely where they should have been in the first place.

It is cold.  Last night it was -25.  Climbed to -10 by 1:00 today and has been dropping more than 1 degree per hour since.  It is now -19  at 7:00 pm.  Our house is cold.  It was never designed for these kind of temperatures and is under-furnaced as well.  Or perhaps under-registered.  When Tanya redid the heating system in 2005 her then husband insisted on changing the old standard cast iron registers for some local built cheap ones that do not have the heat exchange capacity needed.  We have priced new ones at Epicentre in Krivii Rih at about $100 to $150 per meter.  We need about $1000 worth.

Tanya cooked up a big pot of buckwheat porridge for the dogs tonight and put a cup of goose fat in it for added energy.  The mutts were all happy.

Kuchma Cat has been staying out all night again for the past few weeks.  I guess business is booming getting ready for spring kittens.  He rules the block on which we live.  Last fall I had to pull him off a much larger black tom that he had choked down.  The tom was pretty wobbly but managed to get away.  All the fat Kuchma put on earlier this winter is standing him in good stead this weather.

He was left in the house when Tanya went to Dnipro to get me on Friday, jumped up on the counter (he rarely does that) and ate a fair bit of ham that Tanya had left out from her lunch.  The dogs got the trimmings around the teethmarks.  Tonight he jumped up on the counter, while we were sitting in the kitchen having supper.  Tanya yelled at him and he jumped down, glared at her, then walked over, laid down at her feet and began purring.  Tanya said "Just like all men when you yell at them".

Sunday, January 24, 2010

By the Day or By the Hour

I stayed at a hotel in Kostanay, northern Kazakhstan which rented by the hour.  Now don't get me wrong.  It was a perfectly respectable establishment which had rates by the day, half day or hour.  There were no "working girls".  The hotel was located near the railway station so people would go there between trains or to wait for a train or what ever.  Flexible hours meant better service and it was busy.  It was fairly new, had a good restaurant, well appointed rooms and for me, most important - wireless internet.

But "by the hour" does lend itself to a certain amount of humour.

Especially the second night, when the sounds from the room overhead, beginning about 9:00 pm indicated the couple were not sleeping.  The woman was very vocally appreciative* of the attention shown her.  I emailed this information to Tanya who responded that I was a pervert for listening, that I should put the headphones over my ears and go to sleep and further that I should never go anywhere again without her.

I replied that I wished she was with me as we could have given them some competition, though I doubted for the full two hours and it certainly would have been easier to sleep**.

Tanya was telling Roman the next day, that I was staying at a bordello.  Roman said "Don't worry, Mom, the Kazakh girls are probably not too expensive".

*"I got a sweater for Christmas.  I was really hoping for a screamer or a moaner" - Stephen Wright.
**"The only thing better than the sleep of the just, is the sleep of the just after". David Frost.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Home to Winter

Kazakhstan was cold.  It was -20 most of the time I was there.  The morning I left Astana it was -30C with a wind.  It is normal for that part of the world and for its "twin" Saskatchewan on the opposite side of the world, 12 hours difference.

Got home Friday to heavy snow and -15 in Dnipropetrovsk.  My plane was 30 minutes late getting in from Istanbul and Andrei and Tanya were another 30 minutes later getting in from Zhovti Vody to pick me up at the airport.  It was storming pretty bad and the roads were terrible.  The storm died down and the plows were out by the time we set out for home so we had no problems.  Andrei is a good driver.

There is snow everywhere.

It was good to be home.  Tanya and I do not do well without each other and 10 days apart simply reinforced that fact.  She did get Katya to come over to clean the house a couple days before I came home, though Tanya said they spent a lot of time visiting and drinking tea.

The dogs were glad to see me.  I let them out for a run today and they came home when I called them.  Tanya had let them out a few times too and they were quite good about going back into their run when she called them.  One day though, she opened the front door and the dogs were waiting for her.  All proud.  With the elderly sun ripened remains of an elderly sun ripened goat spread all over the front step and embedded in the rubber mat (1mx3m).  Tanya pitched the mat into the yard and will scrub it when it warms up.

Which won't be for a while.  It is -20 right now and Kyiv is forecast to go to -30 tonight.  The army is putting up heated tents for the homeless in a number of cities.

Never a good time to be poor or unemployed but winter is worse.  Ran into this website which chronicles USA unemployment by county from Jan 2oo7 to Nov 2009.  Not pretty.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Back on the Blog Again

I am sitting in a hotel in Istanbul and will fly home tomorrow to Dnipro.  This is the first I have been able to access since I left.  Media including internet is highly censored in Kazakhstan.  Accessing any websites proved to be a pain as one would have to try several times over several minutes before it would clear the filters and come up on Firefox. Standards like BBC or The Economist were first click.  Sasktel or CBC took many tries as they were new to their filters.
Blogs are considered mass media in Kazakhstan and subject to all the rules, written and unwritten. is simply blocked permanently. It must be impossible in China where control is really tight.
I do not understand why leaders like Nazarbayev who are popular and doing a relatively good job feel they have to resort to the strong arm stuff.  In an honest and open election he would still get 60% of the votes.  Instead of 99.3%.

In other news, after I got off the plane this morning in Istanbul, I got on the shuttle bus that takes us from the plane to the terminal.  A pretty girl in her 20's smiled at me and got up so I could sit down.  Some days I get too much respect.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Murphy was an Optimist

Left for Dnipropetrovsk this morning at 11:30.  Andrei drove through thickening fog and light rain all the way.  Arrived airport 1:30.  Flight canceled 2:30.  Arrived home 5:30.  Leave for Kyiv on night train from Pyatikhatki at 12:40 am.  Will fly from Kyiv at 11:55 am tomorrow and catch my connecting flight in Istanbul on time, arriving in Astana at 4:00 am Thursday. 

I hope.

So instead of spending the night in a quaint little hotel in old Istanbul, I will spend it on a short bunk in an open sleeping car on a rocking, rolling, thumping, pounding  train to Kyiv.  And instead of a free day to work in my room before my plane leaves Istanbul, I spend four hours in Kyiv airport and three in Istanbul airport.  And arrive in Astana just in time to leave for a 400 km drive on ??? roads in the dead of winter in a country that makes the Regina plains seem hilly.

I must be nuts. I am not 40 anymore. Nor am I actually there yet.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Conspiracy Theories that Proved to be True

I am a firm believer that much of what happens we will never know about, nor the causes, nor the results because there are those who stand to gain in positions to manipulate.  And just in case you think all conspiracy theories are nuts, well, read this and watch the various videos.  May-B sent me the link.

It is a far more scary world than you thought. 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Behold, I wait at the gate and ring

I have my visa to Kazakhstan.

When we dropped off my application on Dec 29th, the Consulate people assured us they were open January 8th (the day after Orthodox Christmas) and to come and get my passport and visa then.  They are open from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon.

Caught the 12:40 am train from P'yatikhatki.  Had my mattress unrolled onto the berth, bed linen laid out and was asleep by 1:00 am.  They wake us at 6:00 so everyone can use the washrooms, get ready etc for 7:00 am arrival in Kyiv.  People get off the train looking like they just left a hotel room: clothes neat, make-up flawless, hair brushed.  I get off the train looking like I just spent the night on a train.

By 7:30 I was sitting in McDonalds having breakfast, just a 20 minute walk from the Kazakhstan Embassy.  There was snow everywhere, left over from last week.  Packed snow makes for slippery sidewalks, I found when I headed out at 8:40 to walk to the Embassy.  But shoveled sidewalks make for black ice. I was tiptoeing carefully thinking how dangerous it was when my feet went out from under me and I slammed my head on the sidewalk.  My cap took most of the force; a young man helped me to my feet and I trundled on, arriving at the big orange metal Consulate gate of the Embassy at precisely 9:00 am .

It was quiet.  Too quiet. They always attack just before daylight. Sorry, wrong story.  I rang the bell.  Nothing.  Several times.  Nothing.  9:15 - phoned Tanya.  Tanya reached Security who said hang tight, he might be coming in a bit late.  9:45 - nothing.  Call Tanya.  Tanya calls Security, who phones the Consulate Officer, who says he is coming in to work.

I am waiting outside all this time.  Nice day.  0C, no wind.  I am not cold and keep pacing to "relax".  10:15 - phone Tanya.  Tanya phones Consulate, speaks to officer, who tells her they are closed, I should come back Monday. Tanya "opens mouth" which is the direct translation from the Russian.  Threatens to phone President Nazarbayev if she has to because last week, this same guy told her they would open on Friday 8th.

10:30 - Consulate Officer answers my ring, opens gate, takes $50 USD passport fee and gives me my passport c/w visa.  Takes 5 seconds.  11:00 I am back in McDonalds drinking a well deserved cup of coffee. 12:00 noon - am back in Train station lounge, killing 5 hours until train time.  Isn't it fun?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Victor, Victor and "Evita"???

 The Ukrainian Presidential Election will be held January 17 and will likely go to a second round as there are some 18 candiates running so it is unlikely any one will get the majority needed.  The front runners are Victor Yanukovich, the villain of the 2004 Orange Revolution followed at least 10 points behind by Yulia Timoshenko, former ally and now bitter enemy of current president Victor Yushchenko whose support is now single digit.

There is a good article in The New Republic about Yulia Timoshenko, current Prime Minister and would-be President of Ukraine.  The opening attention grabber is that she truly considers herself Eva Peron reincarnated* and goes on the describe her rise from poverty in Dnipropetrovsk to billionaire through gas trading and her unrestrained "lust for power". 

In his book "Casino Moscow: A Tale of Greed and Adventure on Capitalism's Wildest Frontier", Matthew Brzezinski describes how Yulia made her money, with the help of her father-in-law in the early days of Ukraine's independence after the fall of the Soviet Union.  When the system collapsed, factory managers had no idea how to source inputs nor market outputs.  All they knew was how to produce to meet their quotas.  Everything else had been done from Moscow.  

People with connections began to barter with the factories, providing inputs eg gas and electricity and marketing whatever the factory produced.  Always at huge cash advantages to themselves and certainly to the detriment of the factories whose managers could care less, until they found themselves bankrupt and discarded.  

She then followed Lazarenko to Kyiv where she became Minister of Energy in his cabinet under President Kuchma, where she fell out of favour  and spent a month in prison before charges of illegal transfer of a billion dollars, plus bribery of Lazarenko were dropped.  

She switched her loyalties to Yushchenko and her fiery oratory stirred the hearts of the  crowds massed in Independence Square during the Orange Revolution.  Whether Yushchenko was jealous of her popularity or she couldn't stand playing second fiddle, she did not last long as Prime Minister and was replaced by Yanukovich.  Go figure. After the last general election she was able to cobble together enough votes to regain Prime Ministership but will not be satisfied until she is President.

Why anyone would want to be president of Ukraine today is beyond me.  The incoming president will inherit a mess.  European Voice has an excellent article on the subject.  An economy that shrank 15% last year and is in danger of default.  A constitution that virtually guarantees ungovernability.

*I believe in reincarnation too.  In a previous life, I was a horseman of the Siberian Steppes, though Ella used to assure me I was merely part of his horse.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Our Second Christmas Dinner in a Fortnight

Today is Orthodox Christmas Eve. Orthodox Christmas falling on January 7th,  thirteen days after Western Christmas.  The Gregorian calendar was not adopted in Russia until the early 1900's by which time the Julian calendar was 13 days behind..

While the traditional Christmas Eve supper is supposed to be 12 meatless dishes, we were a bit unorthodox and Tanya roasted the goose we purchased sometime back and kept safely in our freezer just for tonight.  Excellent bird, I must say!

Roman and Lena were here for supper.  Roman and I had been to Dnipropetrovsk, leaving at 8:00 and returning by 3:00.  I went to get my air ticket to Kazakhstan (Tanya isn't going as she has a terrible cold) and Roman went to see his Doctor, his appointment having been rescheduled from mid-December for weather reasons.  We got home just in time as it began snowing hard and the roads were getting heavy.

So to all our Russian friends, we say "С Рождеством Христовым!" (Srozhdestvom Khristovym) and to our Ukrainian Friends “З Різдвом Христовим” (Z Rizdvom Khrystovym).


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mom L Turns 90

The World's Best Grandma and Mother-in-Law turns 90 today.  Mom L joins her sisters J (93) and M (92) in completing 9 decades and beginning a 10th.  While she can hide her own Easter eggs, she is still bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and spry enough to live on her own with her little black dog.

Her life has been devoted to looking after everyone else.  She is generous to a fault with her own money but constantly worries about how much you are spending on her.  She is loving and forgiving; encouraging and supporting; kind and gentle.

All she wanted for her birthday was for all her friends and relatives to call her and tell her how much they loved her.  So I called her this morning at 8:00 her time and did just that.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Good Wife

One of the things I really appreciate about Violet's blog and I have said it before is that her husband figures in almost every one of them.  Things they do together, how he looks after her and how much she loves him.  With three boys to raise, they need each other and that kind of positive reinforcement is wonderful to see.

I should take a cue from her and start the New Year by saying thank you to my wonderful wife for how much she loves me and how well she looks after me.  First a couple of stories:

One morning I was trying to convince Tanya there were better things to do than get up.  (Now, I am decades away from "tri-weekly"; sort of half way between "try weekly" and "try weakly").  At any rate, she carefully tucked the quilt between us and said "I am a Canadian woman this morning", got up and went to work.

A few days ago there was a note in The Economist which I read out to Tanya, to the effect that the governor of some Indian province had been forced to resign, having been filmed in flagrante delicto with three women.  He was 84.  Tanya said "Quick, write to him". 

I get no respect.

She is my organizer and manager.  I have a small contract in Kazakhstan in mid-January.  First off she offered to come with me.  Russian is the business language and I will learn much from her just being there and listening to what is going on outside the official discussions.  She spent two or more days on the phone. To the Kazakhstan Embassy in Kyiv to find out what I needed as a Canadian applying in Ukraine for a visa.  To various airlines and travel agencies to find both the cheapest and most direct route from Dnipropetrovsk to Astana.

Then she spent a full day finding tickets for us to go to Kyiv to apply for my visa (she doesn't need one).  Holiday season and the trains and busses are full.  We could get to Kyiv but not home.  All seats on the train are not available at all sales wickets.  She and Andrei went to P'yatikhatki finally and Andrei knew people who had "reserve tickets" they didn't need.

That same night we (she came with me, just in case there were problems) caught the midnight train in P'yatikhatki arriving in Kyiv at 8:00 next morning in a heavy snowstorm that dropped 30 cm of wet snow on Kyiv during the night.  We took the Metro (subway) to the stop nearest the Embassy and waded through snow, slush and ice for another 20 minutes to get to the Consulate and drop off the  application.

The streets were a disaster.  There was an army of people clearing sidewalks but could not keep up.  Steps down to the underpasses were like 45 degree ice ramps.  Watching a classy but clueless woman in stiletto boots trying to climb without breaking a leg was interesting.  Tanya said that they averaged 17 broken legs per day for the next few days according to the news. We went back to the railway station by 12:00 pm and slept in the first class lounge as best we could until our train left at 5:45.  We were home safe and warm in our house by 11:00 pm that night.

That day was Masha's Grade 1 Christmas concert.  Tanya missed it to make sure I would get my visa OK.  How do you say thank you for love like that?