Monday, April 16, 2007

Field plowed...

Holding a basket of homegrown potatoes
So I just got back from the farm. Interesting day. To start with I had no real intentions of going up at all. I know that it goes against the Christian grain by doing so, but I have budgeted myself for Sundays to go and take care of things up there. It won't be only Sundays, it will be Sundays and one other day, but basically Sunday is going to be, pardon the wittiness, like religion. But today was Monday and the reason for my making the trip two days in a row was that there was a chance to get the land turned and this was important enough to make the ride.

I mentioned the other day that I did not want to do the plowing myself. I don't want to make a big deal of it; I know how to do it but I don't like it. I could also say that I am not all that good at it. But that wouldn't really be the point. Better perhaps to say that there are guys who are really good at it, who make it look easy and I say that these are the guys who should do this rather than me. Do you want to say about this that I am making excuses? If you are, let me explain how it is.

The guy I worked with today was named Sergei and he was really good. He knew his game and did a very honest and capable job. He was also personable and was cool to talk with. It was pleasure working with him and the experience made me want to call on him for more things. This is how it should be. But of course, this has not been my experience thus far in our little village.

For several years now I have received nothing but problems with asking for help when it came time to do some of the heavier work. Yesterday, rather than talking to any of the locals, I had grabbed a couple of the neighbor kids and asked them of they were into making some money. Their response was that they did not know how. I thought this was crap because if I knew how, they knew how and in fact last year I had borrowed their plough. But not being bad kids, they went to their older brother and asked him if he wanted to do it. After several hours of not hearing anything, we found out on our way up the street that the brother had refused because they didn't have any good horses and the local Kolhoz. And of course that it was Sunday and of course hat working on Sundays is against the rules.

Hearing about why work was not going to happen has pretty much been par for the course for me here, so rather than getting upset, we got into a conversation about how things have changed from last year, what the story was with all of the tractor drivers, what has happened to the horses from last year and why the cost of wood had gone up so much. We also talked about how many trees have been cut down lately; this direct result of what happened to Belarus after the prices of gas has been doubled and will be doubled again over the next few years. You know, it is good to be in the know about what is going on. I am digressing like hell here, but in brief, I was once again confronted by the problem of getting some help to take care of the land as it needs to be taken care of. If you are a long time reader, you know all about these problems.

After, we walked up the street feeling dejected as hell that we were looking at more and more problems than we needed. I was halfway to deciding to just chuck this farming bullshit once and for all get on the bus and go home. And in fact, I was so hard pressed that I actually decided to have my first beer of 2007. It tasted pretty good actually but this is well beside the point. However, the minute we left the market, beer in hand and soul dragging behind us in the dust, this guy Sergei pipes up asking if we were looking to get some plowing done.

There wasn't any magic to this; this is the time when everybody is doing their plowing and planting their potatoes but to have a guy actually offer was like bolt of lightening. I asked him how much he needed for the work and like a gift from above, the guy actually answered straight out and named the right price. Let me tell you, for four years now I have been asking people how much they need for whatever services they were theoretically providing and couldn't ever get anything even slightly resembling a straight answer. "Oh, I don't know. You can pay whatever you think is right. It's never a lot. Just kopekies…" I wanna scream already. But this guy calls it right the first time, honest and straight and we shook on the deal in about one minute. He was free after lunch Monday, and this is why I agreed to come out again.

The album cover of Jimi Hendrix' "The cry of love"
Now his saying "after lunch" was a serious stipulation as he said he had other work in the morning. And of course this was fine with me because I meant that I could get some other things done in the morning and then catch the second but up. However, when I did come out today, at about 12:30, my neighbors were saying that there had been already two guys looking for me but that they had left because I wasn't there! Well, this got the tongues a wagging and sent me straight down into hell again. Obviously all of this was the same bunch of crap as it is every year.

So, as obviously there was nothing to do at the moment, I sat on the bench with my neighbor and passed some time with him. We talked about the trees getting cut down and used for heating material in place of the Russian gas we don't want to pay for. We talked about why the kolhoz killed some of the older horses and sold some of the better ones and why this was so. We talked about pensions and about why there doesn't seem to be any village restoration going on in our little town. And of course we talked about why a guy who agrees to come and do some plowing would say that he was coming after lunch and then shows up before lunch. All pretty much common material. And then all of a sudden my guy Sergei showed up riding double on a motorcycle. He said he wanted to know where I had been all morning.

Anyway, I showed him what parts of the land I wanted plowed and why we were not planting the whole field. I asked him if a certain area would be possible to plow where the tractor had failed to drive last year and he said he was willing to try. Everything was very straightforward and professional. He left to go and get his gear after reconfirming both the price and the area and I went back and sat down again with Stepan.

"So, is all in order?" He asked.
"Of course not." I answered. "In this village, things are only done when they are done."
"Pravilno." Correctly said.

In fact Sergei didn't come straight back but rather took several hours. The real reason for this, and of course I only found out after, was that his original partner was already drunk- this was his brother by the way. He didn't come back until about 20 minutes before the first bus back and by this time I had already decided that if he didn't show up, I was simply going to get on it. Many, many deep dark thoughts. But when he finally did show up, he did do a more than reasonable job of turning our land so that we can do some planting this coming Sunday. And what is more, as we got to talking I found that he had a good chainsaw and would be willing also to help cut down a couple of older trees which do not really produce any more and by doing so would clear the way for both more light on the field and space for some new trees. If he is willing, I am willing.

Sergei has been traveling back and forth to Moscow for better than 10 years now, which is probably why he speaks business in a way, I can understand. I guess the idea of client-side planning has not yet reached the Belarusian woods. He is divorced though not all that unhappy about it. He likes to keep himself busy, has a good set of values and doesn't want o get too upset over things. He says he loves living in the village where the air is clear and you can hear yourself think. He invested his money and had tried to live in town but after three years gave up on it and returned to the villages. He wouldn't go to the states if he had the chance, here he has things covered, knows his way around and enjoys the pace.

For me, all of this was indeed like a fresh of fresh air.

After work we rode the horse cart over the magazine and drank a little vodka, chased with my second beer of 2007. I know that some drinking situations are better than others and that first toast was hard to find. The second one though, to friendship, went down well and I was sorry to have to cut the meeting short when the bus back to town arrived. I got some looks from some people when I got on with an open bottle of beer. It was nothing like I haven't seen with others a hundred times before; people like to laugh at such things so it was not the end of the world. But I wasn't drunk, just very happy to have things moving well for a change.

I stuck my earplugs in, turned up the volume and as Jimi Henrix started talking about "Freedom", I sipped my beer and watched the village houses and fields go by. We will be planting less this year but we are planting and I will be spending time tending our land. And as of the moment at least, if feels very much like we are getting off to a good start.

More soon...