Saturday, March 26, 2005

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Back to the dacha...


Ok, I guess it is time to return to tales of the dacha. Enough with rehashing Poland for a while.

I have been thinking the last few days exactly how to begin speaking about Yasha. At the moment we are not talking. I mean, I have loosened my stance towards him and I now offer "privyets" if we pass each other on our street. There was a long time when I would not even do that. And this situation is quite painful for me. It is not painful because I am apart from a great friend- I wasn't actually sure I liked the guy when we were talking. Oh, he is not so bad. Not like his wife is bad. And she is! She is horrible. No, Yasha's Ok as intolerable, overachieving and obtuse Napoleon Complexes go. That's not what this is. I am in pain from this simply because I don't like these sorts of conflicts and especially not where I live. That he does welcome these sorts of things, even seeks them out is where we differ, I guess.

I think I better back up a bit.

Let me set up the situation. As I said there are Dachniks, those who live in town and commute out to the village on the weekends, and Derevniks (derevne: village or woods in Russian) who live there full time. "Syelchanye" is probably a better word for the latter, but I like mine better. And you know it is kind of a big deal who is who. It is a turf deal. If you actually live out there, there is a certain feeling of belonging, it is both a social thing and a political one as well and that feeling is not extended to the dachniks. I mean, no one abuses the Dachniks, especially when they know what they are doing- and they all do, but they are expected to come and to go and are generally treated as guests. The villagers don't really share in their local gossip with them and there is a separation. Probably both sides like it this way. The dachniks probably think of the Derevniks as being old and backward and out of touch with the new reality, and the villagers, like thinking that town is far, far, far away.

I think that my problems started when the locals began to take notice that I was staying for long periods of time there. Was I actually going to move in? Why would a rich American (I am American therefore I am rich. Sort of a built in attachment to the word. It is all propaganda…) want to live in a Belarussian Village? And especially in a shitty one room cabin which would small even by local poverty standards. I often wonder about that myself, but the story of how we got into the Big Apple Farm is for another time. And actually my being an American without any money was like a double curse. But I digress.

So, there was gossip that there was an American spending a lot of time (though not a lot of money), days and nights in the village. I mean, I don't know this because no one will ever speak to you straight out about things, never, never, never, but obviously I was the headlines. And as there very much is a club, I mean, THIS IS THE SOVIE UNION, the legitimate question apparently on the table was: What were they supposed to do with me? (And you have to understand, this really is like the old days. Because of their pensions, nobody here has ever felt the referendum as far as I could see. I mean some of these folks act as though they still think Brezhnyev is in charge. Or in some cases, Stalin!!!)

So this must have been their talking. And of course something needed to be done to 'normalize' the situation. You can't have an American walking around and thinking he can do whatever he wants. That would just not be orderly. And allowing such a thing would certainly not be something Stalin would have done. And you had to listen to Stalin, didn't you? Discipline, discipline, discipline: There can be no loose cannons in the USSR! If I was actually planning to stay, I needed to be
1) Broken in and
2) Watched. And so this is what happened.

That job of doing both was undertaken by Yasha who by coincidence was both geographically (He lives across the street) and personality wise (He is a pain in the ass and his wife won the 1964 Olympic gold medal for gossiping) very much the man for the job. But more than this, Yasha apparently has spent his whole life trying to be the "go to" guy; see the Napoleon reference above- so of course a job like this would naturally fall to him. And worse, he must have accepted this job 'with pleasure'. So anyway, this is how the story really begins.

It is early April and Tatyana and I were out at the table, enjoying a warm sunny spring day happily (in our ignorance) circumcising onions in preparation of spring planting. And this was when we first met Yasha. And if you want to be fatalist about things, this is when the problems started.

So Tatyana and I are cutting the tops off of the little onions that are the seeds that make big onions, this from Tanya's mom and dad as a way of helping the onions to grow faster, and onto our property strides Yasha. Yasha is about 5'4", has an elfish smile full of too large teeth and a rapid fire way of speaking that seems to be challenging who he is speaking to be faster than he. He immediately pointed out to us that we had not plowed the land. They like to do that here; point out where you are wrong. Laughing at each other could also be an Olympic sport here.

Yasha then pointed out that he had a horse with him, that plowing the land was absolutely the right thing to do, and that he, Yasha, would be more than happy to do the work.

Now an amateur I am, but a fool I am not, and I was at least familiar enough with preparing land for gardening to know that soft is better than hard. However, what we had aside from several bags of now kosher onions, was absolute bubkis for money and so this conversation put us on the spot. I mean, you can't refuse an act of graciousness. Not right from the start. I mean you can, but if you do you set the tone for the whole relationship. But then again, anything you do sets the tone for the whole relationship. But then again I AM an American and therefore the first thought that had come into my mind was "How much is the work gonna cost me?" And, because we were (and still are) on our collective asses money-wise, that question was a big deal to me. But this garden was too. I mean, it had been my plan to just do the whole thing by hand. I had the time and I am not afraid of work. I had been planning on learning as I went. But then again, having this guy break the land for us would have to help, right?

...and this stuff is really hard work!

Such a quandary.

Well there is no harm in asking, right? I mean, if the price was right, if we could afford it. And I also figured that it would be a good idea to work with the guy, to accept his offer because it would help incorporate us into things. Right?

In the months that followed, Tatyana would warn me again and again: Don't take gifts from anybody! You don't understand our people. If they offer you food, don't eat it even if you are starving!

I didn't know what the hell she was talking about. But in time, I learned.

Nothing tomorrow. Gonna have a birthday. Gonna sleep. Gonna eat. Gonna see a movie maybe. Might even have a glass or two of grandpa's homemade. And that's the way it's gonna be. Don't like it? Too bad. Watcha gonna do about it?

More soon…