Sunday, May 29, 2011

Little Albert and the Lion

Stanley Holloway (1890-1982) was a British actor and humorist, a "one-man walking comedy show" who made famous Little Albert Ramsbottom.  He first introduced the monologue in 1932.  I remember listening to it on the radio when I was young and never tired of it.  Today I found it again on YouTube.  Enjoy.

For those of you concerned about Little Albert, rest assured he was coughed up in the very next monologue, just as pa was collecting his life insurance and went on to star in 14 more, including many during the war.  You can find them all on YouTube

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Hard Facts of Life

A big reddish yellow female dog had been hanging around our place for about a week.  I never saw her but Tanya said whenever anyone went outside she would run away through the back garden.  She was sleeping in our yard.  Two days ago, our neighbour from whom we buy milk, Victor, had all his ducks killed and eaten, he assumed by this dog.  He wondered if we had a rifle.

Tanya locked the dog out of the yard.  She dug out the hard path under the gate until she could squeeze herself back into the yard.  Last night, Tanya and Roman found the reason.  Nine little puppies in a nest in our garden shed lean-to. Good sized, healthy little black or brown puppies with their eyes still shut.

No wonder Victor's ducks were eaten and one of our neighbour's rabbits this morning.  She was ravenous trying to feed nine puppies.  And they were still little.  There was no way she could scavenge enough to feed them as they grew and they would simply starve, one by one.Roman would have taken them all home.  Lena would have left him if he had. So he moved them to another spot and put them on a blanket while we debated what to do.  We already knew the answer, we just didn't know how. 

The veterinarian in Zhovti Vody does not euthanize unwanted animals.  There was no way I was going to drown them, or put them in a sack and leave them in the brush to die.  I wished I had a .22 rifle.  We talked about trying to find homes for them.  Yeah, right nine homes?  And it is no use waiting until they are older to put them down. We left it for the night.

This morning Tanya went out to check on things and the mother dog had moved the puppies back to the nest in the corner of the garden shed.  Tanya didn't touch them or speak to the dog.  She started phoning people.  She remembered our neighbour Valerie had a rifle and called him.  He said he would come over in about two hours.

When he arrived, he and Tanya went to where the puppies were.  They were gone.  The mother dog must have felt something was wrong and did everything in her power to keep her babies safe. She is a good mother and is doing her best as she sees it.

It doesn't solve the bigger problem - can she feed them?  Will they starve?  Will there just be  more homeless dogs roaming the country?  Dogs and cats are not neutered in Ukraine.  It is considered unnatural.  And since there is no way to dispose of unwanted pets unless you do it yourself, most people just abandon them. 

People always treat and respect animals just slightly worse than they themselves are treated and respected by society.  it is a hard life.  For man and beast.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Home and Garden

The Blogging Muse seems to be still on holidays as he/she/it is no help at all in dropping ideas into my head.  Time to post some pictures, I guess, of Tanya's hard work paying off in beautiful flower beds well on their way to where she wants them to be in a couple of years.
When we got home, the fruit trees were all done blooming and are loaded with cherries and apples.  Our young trees, sour cherry and apricot are doing great and I will have to take some pictures of them come harvest.  The big old apricot tree we cut down because it was interfering with the gas line (above ground in Ukraine) has started regrowing and the branches have fruit this year.

Anyhow, here is the flower garden as of yesterday.

Front flower garden; yellow blaze is solid yellow iris bed

Climatus (sp?) third year

Blooms in the morning, petals fall off by noon, blooms again next morning

Tanya has several colour combinations, all pastels

Looking down from the balcony

Looking down from the balcony

Neighbourhood garden across the road from our house looking South

Neighbourhood garden across the road from us, looking North

Iris bouquet; no flash

Iris bouquet with flash.  This is what they actually look like.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I have blogged before about Robert Gamble and his work with street children in Odessa, Ukraine HERE and HERE and HERE.  This post is reprinted with permission from his last newsletter.

In August of 2005 on my first trip to Ukraine, I was with a team of social workers.   We climbed the side of an abandoned building , crossed the tar roof and entered a room with five children.  One girl, I guessed to be fifteen sat on a mattress, her back to the wall.  While the team was talking with the other four, I looked at her and motioned with my camera.  “May I?”  She nodded and I stepped in front of her.  At first I just crouched to make a picture.... but she seemed so completely at ease with this that I sat down about six feet away, cross-legged.  One click of the shutter then another and another.... the final frames revealed the slightest smile.  That's Vika's picture in black and white below.

You would have to be a photographer to understand what I mean when I say that something happens between shooter and subject, a kind of understanding can be achieved without words.  Permission is given, approval.  In seconds, a relationship was established between me and Vika.  I took the memory of this moment and these images along with thousands of others back to the states.

You don’t need to be a photographer to understand the power of images.   I looked at them again and again; I thought about this girl who lived on the streets.  If I were to pick a moment as a photographer that called it for me, when I felt certain, this was what I wanted to do for the next stage of my life. It would be that moment, not because I decided then, but because I kept looking back to it...  that small room in an abandoned building, seated a few feet from Vika. A year later, I left the pastorate and moved to Ukraine to start This Child Here.   

In the past five years, she left the streets and moved into a shelter for kids called The Way Home where I kept an office. She stayed for a while, then left, then came back again.  She got pregnant; she got an abortion.  She got a job;  I heard she was living with some relative on the south side of the town. From time to time, she would come into the office and show herself to me, always when she had clean clothes and looked her best.  Then I lost touch.  Last week, while on a visit to Odessa and The Way Home and in the middle of a lot of worries about a shipment of used bicycles, I was standing next to my “wall of photos” of street kids.  A girl from the streets who was in office pointed up to Vika’s photo and said, “She died.”

What, who? Vika?  How?”

She jumped... off a building.”

I asked around... and learned she had been to a clinic for patients with STD's and that she was pregnant.

Others have died:  Last fall, Elvira jumped from a building and died.  Losha hung himself; Taras died from an injection of drugs into his neck; Tolik froze to death last winter.  Igor died in August after he took a handful of pills and downed it with vodka.  But the death of Vika takes me back to the beginning, to my first connection to a child on the streets and first hopes for one of them.  And her death impels me all the more to attend to other kids who are “at risk.”

Below is another photo. I don't know the name of this girl, but I took her picture while attending a training we were doing in an orphange for kids who are at risk.  This is the place where work needs to be done.  Kids come and go in shelters and orphanges. They often cycle from orphanage to streets, to prison, to streets again; on the streets they can make poor choices.  These trainings focus on Self-Esteem, Personal Boundaries, Addictions, and Life in Community. We hope for a level of conversation that leads to emotional healing and healthy choices in life.  We hope to build something on the inside, a stronger, more resilient child, a child with the desire and skill to choose to live.

Grace and peace,
Robert Gamble

Director, This Child Here

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hey, It's Good to be Back Home Again

John Denver knew whereof he sang.  Three weeks and three days between sleeping in our own bed is a long time.  Tanya says we must be getting old.

The trip home was uneventful.  Valerie and Slavik drove us to Krasnoyarsk so we didn't have to ride the bus after all.  Transaero is strict about over weight baggage.  44 kg and we were allowed 40.  Being trusting fools we went and paid the excess charges while our bags sailed on through.  $35.  For 4 kg.  The maddening part was that 1.5 kg was water Tanya packed for the train and 0.5 kg was a bottle of local beer that Valerie snuck into our suitcase for Roman. We could have bought real champagne for $35.

I had a D seat instead of a C seat in the old 737  between Krasnoyarsk and Moscow which meant no where to straighten my right leg.  So I had to get out of my seat and stand every few minutes.  I hate flying.  Some people can work on airplanes.  I just try to survive.  It would be a pleasure if I could afford business class or if they auctioned off the emergency exit seats.

We got to Moscow, took the Metro to our train station, found our platform and train and collapsed onto our bunks.  The rock hard train bunks felt like feather beds we were so tired. There are two main types of sleeping cars - Coupe which is four bunks to a compartment with an end wall and sliding door and Open car which is four bunks to a compartment but no end wall and two more bunks across the aisle.  We prefer Open as they are less stuffy and I can stick my feet out the end of the bed into the aisle. 

Murrmurrs has just blogged about nocturnal emissions and apparently I gassed the entire passenger list in our car during the night.  At least Tanya blamed me.  I was asleep so pleaded innocent. It could have been worse - we could have been in the closed Coupe.

Clearing immigration leaving Russia was no problem.  They didn't even ask for my OVIR document from Khakasia.  Of course, if I hadn't had it...  And clearing Ukrainian customs and immigration was even easier.

We got to Dnipropetrovsk at 8:00 am and grabbed a mini-bus home.  We were inside the house by 11:30 and swore never to leave it again...until next time. 

The dogs were relatively glad to see me though they had not lacked for attention.  Roman had even given them a bath.

Kuchma heard us and came running across the yard.  He must have had a good scrap while we were away.  A nickle size patch of hide and hair was missing from his left cheek and his right ear was punctured in a dozen places and had no hair or hide around the base. Didn't seem to bother him though. We learned he had stolen one of the neighbour's baby rabbits for lunch while we were away.  Our dogs steal his chickens and our cat steals his rabbits.  Not good neighbourliness, is it?

We were amazed at how Tanya's flowers had grown.  They needed work and Tanya of course went into panic mode.  She was up at 5:30 this morning and out watering by 6:00.  Didn't stop for anything but cold water until supper time. Entire flower garden watered, weeded, clipped, pruned and transplanted.  Tomorrow it is the vegetable garden that gets it.

Our car battery was dead.  No surprise after sitting for three weeks.  It died after sitting one week in Crimea last year.  Yuri and Katya who looked after our place while we were away (along with Roman and Lena) came for supper tonight.  He was going to take the battery out and take it home to charge up.  Who knew a Kia battery could be impossible to remove.  Must be a secret formula.  Yuri went home and brought back what appeared to be a WWII vintage charger, about the size of a small fridge. Needed an engineering degree to operate it certainly.  But it worked.  30 minutes and the Kia fired up like nothing had ever happened.

I spent today catching up on emails and other backlogged paperwork.  Tomorrow I have to work on a business plan that needs finishing shortly.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The ABCD Wife and a Little Johnny story

Since I hadn't posted for a while, today I did five posts including this one to make up for it. And a couple of stories for you ...  This will have to hold you until we get home Thursday to Ukraine.

A wife asked her husband to describe her .....
He said, 'You're A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L'.
She said, 'What does that mean?'
He said: Adorable, Beautiful, Cute, Delightful, Elegant, Foxy, Gorgeous, Hot'.
She said: 'Oh that's so lovely. What about I, J, K,L ?'
He said: I'm Just Kidding, Love.....!!!
His funeral is Tuesday.

Little Johnny's father bought him a life-size robot for his birthday.  The salesman warned Little Johnny's father that the robot hated lies and reacted violently if anyone told a lie.  Little Johnny's father thought that was a neat characteristic and did not tell Little Johnny.
Everything went well until one day Little Johnny didn't get home from school until 6:00 pm. 
"Where were you?" 
"Several of us boys went to the library to research our homework." 
The robot rolled over to Little Johnny and smacked him upside the head.
"That robot is a lie detector", said Little Johnny's father.  "Where were you?"
"We went over to Billy's house to watch a movie."
"What movie did you watch?"
"The Ten Commandments."
"Debbie Does Dallas."
"Let that be a warning to you," said Little Johhny's father.  "When I was your age, I never told lies."
The robot smacked Little Johnny's father so hard his toupee fell off.
Little Johnny's mother is doubled over with laughter.  "You can't be too angry at him, can you, after that?  He certainly is YOUR son".
The robot smacked Little Johnny's mother so hard she fell off her chair.

Playing Dress-Up

Saturday we spent the afternoon with Alexii and Luda (Tanya's second cousin, mentioned a few posts back) and their youngest daughter Svetlana.  We had lunch at their apartment and then went to the park for coffee and ice cream.

Doctors run in the family.  Luda is a Psychologist.  Their son Oleg is a Neurologist and Svetlana at age 25 is a Pediatrician.  She recently received her PhD also and is working a month at a time in various hosptials around central Siberia bringing their medical staff up to speed on a new program that Russia has instituted.  She was home for the weekend from Krasnoyarsk and spent the day with four old people which was nice.

Luda and Tanya carried on like two teenagers.  At one point they were flat on their tummies on the sofa bed looking at albums from their school days.  Then Luda, who loves to sew, dug out out some dresses she had made, including some traditional Russian dresses and she and Tanya played dress up.  Tanya is a couple of cans of tomatoes and a plug of chewing tobacco wider than Luda (I like her that way) but all the dresses fit either of them.

The head dress with the devil's horns is traditionally worn by the mother of the groom at the wedding.

Svetlana did NOT wear her mother's dress.

The Eye-full Tower

Svetlana aka Joni Mitchel c 1970

Music Box Dancer

Tanya's niece, Ksenia, Luda and Valerie's youngest, is a 9 year old imp.  A miniature version of her father,  with almond eyes, freckles and a mischevous smile.  Top student in Grade 2 (equivalent of Grade 3 in Ukraine and Grade 4 in Canada) she lives to sing and dance.  I say that her eyes dance all the time and the rest of her just tries to keep up.  There are excellent voice and dance teachers in Belii Yar, something remaining from Soviet times when children and culture were important.  She has voice lessons weekly and dance lessons three times a week, including most of Sunday. Her mom volunteers at the dance school and makes all Ksenia's costumes, one sequin, one bead, one rinestone at a time.  We watched her group at a May 1 recital. They were awesome.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Thursday Tanya and I had supper with another school friend, Olga Bengert. Her family were Volga Germans.  When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin rounded up all those of German ancestry as he considered them dangerous collaborators, and shipped them in cattle cars to Siberia and Kazakhstan.  Some of them, including Olga's family ended up in Abakan.  Her grandfather was sent to a labour camp near Lake Baikal to cut timber.  He never returned and they have no idea where he died or is buried

Tanya and Olga
I grew up on the east edge of St. Joseph's Colony in west-central Saskatchewan which was settled in 1906 by Volga Germans and other German and German/Polish Catholics. I went to high school in Leipzig and there was a Bengert family in the community as there was a girl in my younger brother's grade.  It would be interesting to know how or if there was any connection or how many other familiar names there are here in Khakasia.

Saturday Afternoon at the Park

What does a well-dressed mother of a two year old wear to the park in Abakan on a Saturday afternoon, you ask?  Well, I have the answer here.

Очен хорошо!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Friends and Family

It has been rainy and cold so we have not done any driving around the country this time. We are here to visit friends and family anyhow. And there are enough of them within a short distance of Belii Yar that it is not a problem to find people to visit. Keeping relationships straight is a challenge as all cousins are referred to as “my brother” or “my sister”, which is nice in a way as it signifies the closeness of families. Tanya is learning for my benefit to say “my cousin” or my second cousin” just so I can figure who is who and how everyone is related.

Thursday last we visited friends of Tanya’s, Pyotr and Natalie, that she had not seen for 15 years. Pyotr was the director of a state farm where Tanya worked for a year after she graduated from University. Pyotr, his son and another man have a 250 sow-farrow to finish pig operation. They slaughter market weight pigs and sell frozen sides of pork. They are renovating rented facilities and building new barns too. Expansion is difficult as they cannot access large loans easily and have to compete with giant corporations which are wired in solidly to the establishment.

Saturday we had supper with our friends Sergei and his wife Tanya. They are in their early 30’s and have two young sons. We have known them since I was first in Abakan in 2006. Sergei was our tour guide and translator for several days when we met with agriculture officials in a number of centres. Both speak fluent English. Sergei did a master’s degree in Boston some years back. He has an English school in Abakan called The Boston Club with seven levels of instruction taking up to 3½ years. It is swamped with students and they do not dare advertise even though he has several staff.

Tanya, Sergei and Al
Sunday I met one of Tanya’s second cousins on her mother’s side of the family. Tanya and Elena have been best friends since they found themselves in the same classroom in Grade 5. Elena’s father and mother are in good health though he is 90 and she 86. Her father is a much decorated war hero, having fought the Japanese in 1938 and the Germans from ‘41 to ‘45. Elena is very happily remarried three years ago to the now retired chief of police of the Raion of Askis or Askiz (pronounced exactly like you think it is, much to the merriment of English speakers).

Viktor was showing me books about the 90 year history of Askis and the militsia as police are called in Russian. There are 150 (should be 200 at full strength) police for 50,000 residents of Askis Raion and 2500 police for about 550,000 people in all of Khakasia (62,000 sq km). That is roughly one policeman for each 200-250 people. There were pictures of them marching carrying fully automatic assault rifles. As one defines crime, so one defines crime prevention, I guess.

Tanya and Elena
Monday, I met another second cousin, this time from Tanya’s father’s side. Luda is a Doctor of Psychology, retired from the university but working with a newly established centre for children who are mentally challenged (right term?). All of the old support institutions collapsed with the end of the FSU and are just now being reestablished. Her husband works in advertising. The four of us went over visit her aunt, Papa’s cousin Tonya, whom I had met two years ago. Tonya's youngest daughter, Valya, husband and two sons were there so I met some more family. They were there working on garden and installing indoor plumbing for Tonya.

Tanya and Tonya
Tanya's second cousin Valya is the slimmest, trimmest mature woman I have seen in Siberia. I asked my Tanya if Valya really was a “Sibirochka”. Why? Well she isn’t  T  H  I  S  wide. Smack! Deserved but worth it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Time Zones

Visiting in Siberia has made it easier to talk to my kids on Skype because of the time difference.  We are 14 hours ahead of Saskatchewan and Alberta and 15 hours ahead of BC.  I can get up in the morning and call them on Skype at home at night. 

Disregarding Daylight Savings Time, Abakan is GMT+7 hours and Regina is GMT-7 hours, which should put them at or near meridians 105 E and 105 W respectively, roughly equidistant from London.  Except they are not.  I looked it up on MapCrow (though there are several other distance calculators) and Regina (6636) is 900 kms farther from London  than Abakan (5735). 

The map below explains the situation.  Click on it and you can read it easily as the jpg is 5 MB. It shows the meridians and their assigned time zones. The actual time zones of various geographic regions are colour coded so you can see where they match the assigned time zones and where they do not.

Most of Russia seems to be one time zone farther east than it actually is geographically.  Abakan and Krasnoyarsk should be GMT+ 6, not GMT+7.  People who have difficulty with DST should try sorting out the time zones of Asia.  China for example covers 4 time zones but sets one time zone (Beijing time) for the country because, as I was told, several time zones is too complicated to understand.  OK...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Living and the Dead

When I was growing up, all my aunts, uncles and cousins, on both sides, lived within an hour’s drive of our place. Tanya’s family was very much the same except lived even closer together. During their working years, a few of the family worked in other parts of the FSU but they all came home when they retired. Consequently, when we come home to visit, we don’t have to travel far to see almost all of the family still living, or visit the graves of the departed.

Last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the Orthodox citizens of Russia and Ukraine visit cemeteries to pay their respects to departed loved ones. Before and on those days graves sites are cleaned of grass, weeds and last year’s artificial flowers, fences and so forth painted. On the day of our visit to the two cemeteries here in Belii Yar where members of Tanya’s family are buried, we took new artificial flowers and plastic turf to bring some beauty and colour to a dry prairie landscape.

There were six Tishen sisters; Anna, Yevdokia, Maria (Tanya’s mother) Natalie, Valentina and Vera. Three are gone, buried here in Belii Yar, including Tanya’s Mom who died 10 years ago on March 31. The remaining three sisters are in their late 70’s, early 80’s, old by Russian standards of today. Valya and Vera still live here. When her husband died, Natalie moved to Chelyabinsk to live with her daughter but she wants to come back here to die. Of the six brothers-in-law, Tanya’s Papa is the only one still alive. He will be 80 this summer. Three of the others are buried in Belii Yar.

Of the 11 cousins, four are gone; two including Tanya’s brother Sasha who died of a heart attack three years ago, are buried here. Five including Tanya’s sister Luda still live here. Tanya is the furthest away, then Natalie’s daughter in Chelyabinsk. Yevdokia’s son, Kolya lives in Kyzyl, Tuva , 400 km south through the Cyan mountains. I have met all but Natalie’s daughter. Good people.

The second cousins are beginning to spread out and lose touch of course, but the six sisters and their families were very close knit, possibly because their parents died when they were younger. Tanya may have been five when her grandparents Tishen died; she hardly remembers them. They are buried in the old grave yard in Kalyagino, the nearby village where Tanya grew up that no longer exists. Papa’s brother Victor, who died in his 20’s is buried there also. Vera and her daughter Natalie went out last Sunday to tend to those graves.

Papa’s mother, Tanya’s beloved Babushka, is buried here in Belii Yar. Her husband and his two brothers lie in far flung battlefields of The Great Patriotic War. The locations of the brother’s graves, or at least the places where they were killed, are known but Tanya’s grandfather’s location is not. She had thought Smolensk but has received new information that places his unit in Ukraine so is tracking that down now.

Families are not that close any longer it seems.  My kids' cousins are scattered and so are Tanya's boy's cousins.  Maybe our generation was the last of the close families?

Friday, May 6, 2011

I said OVIR and OVIR and OVIR again*

We wanted to buy a new SIM card for my mobile phone when we arrived in Abakan so we could make local calls. In Ukraine, you can’t walk down the street without someone trying to sell you a SIM card for a new phone company or a new plan. Not so easy here in the land of the double headed eagle (looking east and west).

Tanya and I could not buy one unless we were registered at the local Department of the Interior Office in the location we were staying. The office was closed Monday and Tuesday. Since Tanya held a passport from a country of the FSU, she doesn’t have to bother registering or even getting a visa. Me, on the other hand…

I described in an earlier post about getting a Russian visa. Since Tanya’s sister is a stay at home mom these past couple of years, Valerie, being gainfully employed, had to go to the local Office of the Interior (OVIR) and fill out the forms to get them to issue a letter of invitation for me. Which took a month. Plus courier time as only an original is valid.

So on my arrival, I have three working days for my presence to be duly noted and my passport stamped by said OVIR office. I didn’t have to go, just my passport. Correction – since Valerie invited me, HE and my passport had to go, as Tanya and Luda were informed when they took my passport in while downtown shopping.

Valerie took my passport to the office at 2:00 pm and had to go back at 6:00 pm to get it as it takes 4 hours to do the requisite paperwork. They gave Valerie an original of some piece of the paperwork of which he has to give me a copy so I can leave the country. (No, they couldn’t make the copy, whatever are you thinking?). And when I leave Valerie has to take his original back to the OVIR office and inform them I am indeed gone.

In the mean time, Luda bought our SIM card using her passport. So I better be good or the whole famn damily will end up in the hoosegow.

*with apologies to The Dave Clark Five

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Computer and Internet

I figured it was a fair deal.  Lyuda and Valerie put in a real bathroom for me so I bought a computer for them.  Yesterday was the big day.  Of course it has Windows 7 which I had never seen or used and neither had Tanya. We are sticking to XP as long as we can.  And it was in Russian so I was truly flying blind when it came to helping.  I left it in Tanya's capable hands.

Today we got internet.  Sort of high-speed lite which means slow downloads of You Tube videos but low cost for unlimited time and downloads.  I sorted down my emails to less than 100 and answered a few, but have had no time to read blogs but will catch up another time.

People are lined up so I have to get off this thing.  I can't hook my own computer up to the internet yet but hope to tomorrow, maybe.

For late additions to my readership, if you go to the label Abakan Journey on my blog page you can get a good idea of our previous trips and see some of teh landscape and people.