Monday, May 19, 2008

Potato Stories

It’s amazing how much perspectives can change in a short time. 18 months doesn’t seem that long when you’re living with fun, entertaining people. 43 days seems like forever when you’re waiting to see people you love and miss. And 50 potato holes don’t seem like much when you have hundreds more to dig…
Last weekend was potato planting time in Zhelezinka! There are fields that spread out over the step, tilled by the government and sold to families and organizations that need somewhere to plant their potatoes. I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into when I piled into the car with Slava, his wife Tanya, best friend Sasha and Sasha’s mother, Vera. We had a trailer with several sacks of potatoes, four shovels and some buckets.
The trip was over dirt roads that remind you of the 25 cent massage beds in cheap motels. After a short search among fields, looking for our specific plot of dirt, we pulled up next to a strip of dirt that looked like any other to me, but Tanya assured me we got stuck with bad dirt! The nerve of these people! Giving US bad dirt.
There were people all over the place, digging small holes and tossing chunks of potato into them. That day at school many students were absent, and excused, because they were planting potatoes. The process is pretty simple, but the more people you have the better. At least two people are required, and three makes it twice as fast.
The first person starts to dig small holes in a straight row. A woman, typically, follows with a bucket of potatoes, tossing them into the holes. Another man follows, digging new holes and tossing the dirt into the first hole. Potatoes are also thrown in his hole. In our case, we had three men so I came last, making the third line and filling the second holes. It was pretty efficient and I was impressed. The first day we worked about 3 hours, until we ran out of potatoes. I wasn’t feeling too tired, and didn’t think it was too bad.
The next day we went out to the fields at 9 am. There were even more people, and this time we were planting Sasha and Vera’s plot. It was wider than the first one, which made the work harder. We continued the process as before, and after a few hours my forearms were really starting to kill. We took a lunch break: tea, hard boiled eggs, pickles, cucumbers, radishes etc and then set back to it. It was a six hour day and by the end I was pretty beat.
We probably planted over 1000 potatoes. I imagine I personally dug over 300 holes. I also managed to get a slight sunburn, though Slava and Sasha, who didn’t use my sunscreen, got it a lot worse. I enjoyed the work though, being outside in the nice weather and being able to mostly zone out during the work. In August I’m going back to dig them up, which I’m told is a lot more work…
I’m in my final two weeks living with Slava and his family. Peace Corps wants me moved out, but family searching is not going so well. Apparently there are some families out there that want to host me, I just need to visit their houses with Slava some time and see my options. I looked at an apartment for rent, where I would be living alone, but it doesn’t look like it will work out.
I pay 20,000 tenge a month to families to stay with them. That includes food, rent, utilities etc. The man wanted 18,000 just for rent, and I would have to buy furniture, utensils etc. Tanya figured it would cost about an entire months pay (40,000 tenge) to get settled in, and then 25,000 to 30,000 every month, something I can’t afford. Other problems would be the loneliness. Living alone I would not have somebody to talk to every day like I do here. My Russian would suffer and I think homesickness would be much worse. Finally, Tanya warned me that some of the dumber people in the village, when finding out there was an American living alone, would come and vandalize my apartment, throwing rocks through the windows and things like that, so it’s better if I don’t live alone.
That said I never really wanted to that much. In Seattle, I might enjoy my own apartment, but I can always go visit someone and hang out, or they can come to me. My friends here are still pretty limited, and we only hang out in the space we see each other regularly. I have my soccer friends that I play soccer with, I have teacher friends I see at school and I have Nora’s friends that I mooch whenever Nora and I hang out with her friends.
That’s all that’s new in life here, as far as I know. I’m counting down the days until I get to see you guys. Now that I have bought a ticket, thoughts of home occupy a lot of my time. We’re also getting all the work done for our various camps we have coming up, which should keep me somewhat busy in June. It’s the last week of school and everybody is getting a bit antsy, this guy included.


Wendy said...

Did you know that the United Nations declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato? Apparantly it's a hidden treasure! So there ya go. We're counting the days till you get home. Can't wait to see you! xxoo

Randy said...

You still look like my kid brother... just a little older and a little wiser. now come home and get your wedgie.