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.


  1. Oh how I dreaded being dragged around as a kid meeting distant family members whom I've never seen since and having my mother try and explain this is so and so the fourth cousin once removed of the brother in law of your great aunt.

  2. My paternal grandma & Al's maternal grandpa = bro&sis. 2nd cousins? 3rd cousins? I guess I was glad to be dragged. Yay, Cuz!

  3. I am assuming the question about the appropriateness of "mentally challenged" was for me. Terminology is changing all the time, so I don't blame you for not knowing. When I started disability studies 6 years ago, it was "children with mental disabilities," but now the term "neurodiversity" is becoming more popular, though the older term is still accepted and used. Who knows what it will be in 5 years?!

  4. I couldn't help but notice the absence of photos showing Valya.

    uhhhhh. I understand.


  5. "(Elena's) father is a much decorated war hero, having fought the Japanese in 1938 and the Germans from ‘41 to ‘45."

    Now, there's a survivor. The mind boggles at what he must have experienced.

  6. I've been hearing more labels as 'children with intellectual disabilities' as a diagnostic term. Have you, Ky?

  7. I enjoyed this visit with the relatives very much. My kudos to Elenas dad too!
    Hope the weather improves for the rest of your trip.

  8. For most of my life, I never much cared about family. Then I watched "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and realized everyone's family was strange in its own way. Also the older I got the more I realized friends come and go but family is stuck with you forever. Suddenly I started paying attention.
    I greatly enjoy meeting Tanya's family and trying to sort out who and how everyone is related. They are all part of who she is.

    SW, you are right about the old man having seen and done a great deal, likely enough to fill a couple books about the war.

    SB and Ky, thanks for the advice. I will go with children with mental disabilities from here on in.


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