Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A trip to the market, a trip around the world...

We take Saturdays easy around here. Sure this is a Jewish thing, but I have come to like taking Saturday’s off with a religious conviction. And so these days we do all of our shopping and preparing on Friday to create a situation where we do not need to do anything, and I mean ANYTHING come Friday evening.

The problem in this lies in what to do with yourself on that open, lazy day. We had up until a few days ago a serious hot spell that was literally cooking the cabbages out on the field. This is of course is bad for dacha farming but it is great if you are want to head over to the beach and lay about, reading, swimming or just admiring the landscape and bikinis.

But this last Saturday we finally received the rain for which everyone had been praying. The crops stood up bright and tall and everyone took a sigh of relief at the return of normal Belarusian weather. You can’t blame them for wanting the return of the cold; they simply cannot afford air conditioning.

But now we were pressed with the idea of what to do with ourselves in the rain. Sitting at home is really no answer especially with television being against the Shabbos rules so this last Saturday we decided that what was called for was a trip to the market. We have three open-air markets in Pinsk and all three of them work six days a week. Certain markets have certain specialties but we really weren’t interested in buying anything, it was just a place to go to see who we might run into.

“What do we need?” asked Tatyana. We had just entered the market and Tanya went into buying mode. On our right were four babushkas singing plaintive Christian hymns and offering a collection box for donations. Right next to them was a woman selling a Persian cat with a mild eye infection, one man selling a single pair of shoes- though I have seen him before so I think he probably has sizes- and various women selling berries from buckets and glass banks and dried mushrooms strung together like necklaces. I had stopped momentarily at a table with pens, batteries, hair-ties, glue, bug zappers and at least fifty other general knick-knacks; none of which could cost a dollar.

“We don’t need anything, but I was looking for a safety pin.” I answered while nosing about. The safety pins were there the day before when I had come. “I saw one here the other day.”

“What do you need a safety pin for?”

“I need a safety pin for what you need a safety pin for. Do we have any at home?”


“So, there you go.” I asked the woman where the “bulovkas” were and she agreed that they had been there but that she was at moment out.

Nothing.” I shrugged. We walked through the farmers tables. There was no protection form the elements here so the sellers had to make their own from plastic. We looked at the fruit and vegetables on the tables and I repeated that we really needed to be better prepared next year.

“Oh, I forget to tell you.” Tanya said “Your friend called.”

“Who’s my friend?”

“The man with the knives.”

“He called? Great. So our potato tool is ready?”

“You wanted the tool?”

“I asked him to make it for us. You knew this.”

“I didn’t know this…”

“We spoke to him together!”

“I didn’t know you were serious.”

“What are you talking about? Why else would I speak to him about this?”

“I didn’t know.”

“What did he say?”

“He said if you didn’t want it he would sell it on the market.”

“And what did you say?”

“I said ‘Go and sell it.’”

“Oh my G-d!”

“He can make another one…”

“But he made that one for me. I asked him to do this work. I have been trying to work with the guy for months since we came to him about trying to make a blender attachment for the drill.” She laughed at this. “What’s so funny?”

The rain was starting to come down harder now so we went under the arched plastic awning where they sell women’s clothes and shoes. Tanya went directly to a table which had children’s sizes as well.

“Anya needs a new hat.” Anya was at this moment in her stroller playing with a small branch with leaves on it, her new favorite thing.

“Where does she need a new hat?” Tanya picked out a pink imitation straw sun hat with yellow flowers embroidered on the front.

“It is the summer time. All women need new hats in the summer.” The small alleyway was filled with shoppers examining the wears set out on short tables in front of the metal box stalls. I caught a glimpse of a young woman changing tops behind a little curtain in the rear of one of the stalls. Tanya grabbed my arm and held up a different hat for me to give an opinion of.

“How much is it?”

“Ten dol…”


“You don’t like it?”


“Maybe this other one…”


“Adam, she needs a new hat.” I began pushing the stroller through the plastic domed corridor hoping Tanya would get the hint. A few stalls down I saw another changing curtain but behind this one was a fat grandma dropping her skirt and this put me off the idea of peeking further.

“And what can we do?” Tanya asked in Russia. She was trying to tell me how important this hat thing was.

“We don’t need to do anything. This is not a serious shopping trip. We are just enjoying our Saturday.”

“Oh! Look at this one…” She had found another. We went on like this for a while, winding our way through both the covered and uncovered areas, looking at children’s clothes but not buying anything. We returned to the covered area and I realized that we were in the shoe section.

“Doesn’t Marina work somewhere around here?” I asked.

“You are so stupid. She is right there.” Marina had changed her hair color. She was sitting on a stool, surrounded by men’s shoes, reading a clothing catalogue with her head down. When Tanya spoke, she looked up, smiled and stood up and came over to us.


“Privyet” Marina is thin, has large, round eyes and close cropped hair; she likes to wear jeans and tennis shoes and is always energetic and smiling. She used to work at Tanya’s book store but got fired for refusing to allow a lady to return a book for a refund. There actually was a “no returns” rule in effect, but as this lady was one of the bosses from Brest, Marina lost her job over this. Marina, for what it was worth, did not know that the woman was her superior; she just thought she was following the rules. The most important thing for the boss apparently was for her subordinates to understand who she was. Marina found this job selling shoes at the market just after this and is also going to school for a degree in economics.

“Look at how Anya is growing. Is she talking yet?”

“I say yes but he doesn’t think so.”

“Well baby talk…”

“She speaks Russian that’s why he doesn’t understand her.” Marina smiled at me.

“Adam knows Russian well.”

“Well enough…” Marina and Tanya went on together for a while about child rearing and then about some residual issues concerning the book store. Anya handed me her leaf and I looked at it and handed it back to her. When the women slowed down, I cut in.

“How is business?”

“Like always, good and bad. This weather doesn’t help.”

“At least you are inside. The others all have wet shoes to sell.”

“Maybe. When are you going back to work, Tanya?”

“Anya is one and a half now. When she is three; or maybe five.” The rule is that the state compensates working mother’s who go on maternity leave for three years after the birth of their baby. In general they receive half of their pay while they are away. They may also stay away from work for an additional two years but without monetary compensation and they must be given their job back when they return.

“It’ll be three…” I said and Marina laughed. “How is school?”

“I have a vacation now. I go back in September. I have two more years after this.”

“It must be difficult.”

“Life is difficult. What can we do? We have to work, we have to live.”

“Been fishing?”

“Once since last I saw you.” Marina likes fishing and can be found down by the river casting on her off days. “Didn’t catch anything big though.”

I pantomimed casting and reeling and repeated it several times with a bored expression on my face. It got a laugh.

We said our goodbyes and ambled along the corridor. We met several other people we know from town. One of Egor’s teachers was shopping for a swim suit for her daughter and she and Tatyana talked about next year’s school. And then we ran into Victor, the original mechanic from the bike school and one of my “would-have-been” partners in that bike shop that was supposed to have been started here forever ago. Victor was much, much slower than usual and didn’t look well. He told us he had been in the hospital and had a biopsy done on a growth near his right kidney. He was waiting for the results. Victor’s wife was diagnosed with cancer several years ago and he has been caring for her. He was still working at the meat factory, the job he took after leaving the bike club. He had heard that the club had been closed after Kolia had left for Gommel.

After he added our phone number to his cell phone, we parted not feeling very well at all. I hate it when something causes Polish flashbacks. My lips were tight and we walked along in silence for a while. After a while the weather cleared and we looked at a couple of book sellers for children’s books for Anya. Then we went into a couple of stores inside the market looking at things for the garden. And then we just walked around looking at the sellers and buyers moodily splashing through the puddles. An old lady was selling waffle cones filled with homemade caramel and nuts. Several old men were selling poles for scythes and axe handles and woven baskets. Near the gate were all of the farmers and dachnics selling strawberries and blackberries, new cabbages and potatoes and succulent fruits brought in from Ukraine. Then the rains came again and we sought shelter under the covered tables of the state sellers.

“Let’s go home.” Tanya said.

“Yea, maybe.”

“We didn’t buy anything.”


“Let’s just go home.”

“Just a second.” I don’t know why I didn’t want to leave exactly. Maybe it was the rain. Or maybe I wanted something that I hadn’t thought of or seen. Or maybe I just didn’t want to go sit in the house.

But then I saw him walking amongst the farmers heading for the exit. He had his usual shashleek (shish-kabab) spears under his arm, a cleaver, several steak knives and a dangling collection of sapkas (hoes) on a string.

“Oh no…” said Tanya.

“Oh yes! Hey!” He turned and smiled at me when he saw me. The knife guy is short and stocky with his usual baseball cap; a thin mustache over a toothy smile. I have spoken to him many times but I still don’t know his name.

“I heard you finished my potato tool.”

“Yes, I called. Your wife told me you didn’t want it.”

“No, she was being a fool. Of course I want it. What happened, you didn’t sell it did you?”

“Of course I sold it.” He smiled at me.

“In about 10 minutes, right?”

“Less!” He laughed. We both looked at Tanya who had her arms crossed over her chest and was looking away.

“Listen, that was all a mistake. I wanted the tool.”

“Yea, I made it just like you said. Very big, bigger than normal.”

“Yea, that’s what a wanted. Maybe twice as big.” I showed him with my hands.

“No, that big is not useful.” He showed me with his hands the width he had in mind.

“Well, but bigger than the normal size.”

“Yea, this was big. Anyone could see this.”

“I have been looking for an over-sized tool for months.”

“I was surprised at how quickly it sold. I think I should make several for when the season starts.”

“Well, I am glad it was a good idea for you. When can you make another?”

“On my off day. Maybe. But there is time.”

“Yes, the season is not until September. But still I really want this instrument and I am sorry for the misunderstanding. If I had been home, I would have come straight over.”

“How much does it cost?” Asked Tanya.

“Fifteen thousand.” We said in unison. Tanya made an even darker face and again looked away.

“OK, I’ll make another for you. I’ll call you when I am done.”

“Good. For sure I want this.”

“Ok, ok…” He smiled and we shook hands again. “I have your number.” After he had left I smiled at Tanya who was still dark and cloudy.

“If he calls…” I said to her.

“I understand.”

“Good. Now we can go home.”

“Finally!” The rain was very light now, no more than a mist and we exited through the same gate where we entered. The Christian babas had gone home but the berry and mushroom people were still out there looking damp in their raincoats and hats along with several women selling socks and cleaning pads and shirts and underwear and butter, cheese and meat from Poland and chocolates and candies and scarves.

“Are you sure we didn’t need anything?” Tanya asked as we started towards home.

“No, we have got everything we need.”

More soon...