Monday, April 28, 2008

Preschool Days in Podsosnovo

Sometimes I feel like we've stepped back in time. For most of my childhood (age 4-13) I grew up in a small little country town called Enoch, also known as 'the valley', which was basically an outgrowth of Cedar City, Utah. It was a wild, open place to play and be free with plenty of dirt trails and lots of grass to roll around in. Enoch was overrun with children and the culture was definitely happening outside. We had a vegetable garden and I remember reveling in the abundance of corn and being obsessed with the swiss chard. . . my mouth is beginning to water.

Walking around Podosonovo is similar to what I remember Enoch being like – wide-open, peaceful and filled with the expectancy of busyness. Everyone here in Pod has a vegetable garden and at least a few farm animals – it's probably what Cedar City was like when my father was growing up. Some of the highlights for me are the constant exclamations of roosters, punctuating the moment like church bells do in European cities; the smells&sounds of the farm animals and the rituals that develop around caring for them; the general spirit of productiveness and self-sufficiency which is evidenced more as the weather warms and people start spending more time in their fields preparing them for planting; and even dodging the cow dung (instead of dog dump as in NYC) as we walk about.

Another significant discovery is the preschool. Though Des and Zoe don't speak Russian yet it was ultimately decided that they would be welcome to attend the collective farm preschool.

Because this is a community established by Russian-Germans, and the county or rayon itself has significant German government involvement, there are a lot of German influences here (which is a part of what Nathan is looking at). The school aesthetic reminded me very much of this influence as we toured it on our first day and were shown room after room of decorative old-world-euro craftiness – marionettes and elaborate puppets with a theatre, paper mache animal helmets and all sorts of homemade, imaginary play, folk-art things. Ahhh. . . it was like stepping back into your ideal of what an early-twentieth century European childhood must have been like. Disney-fied even. I suppose Walt got some things right. It all looked like something he'd conjured up in _Pinocchio_ (minus the dark, child snapper elements). There was also a large science room and music room/gymnasium. There is a little museum that a bunch of German grandmas put together depicting German interiors and children's rooms from their decade – it all looked so picturesque-Bavarian. There was a German language instruction room with all these cute little chairs arranged in a circle with crocheted mats on each them. Ahhhh. . . on&on&on. The children are so polite. On our first morning, as we sat out in the hall listening to ourbabes sound out their objections to being left in school, and each child who passed by us greeted us courteously. It was so cute.

In the classroom, much is similar to others I've seen the U.S., where they are organized into little play sections and tables. The bonus is the little room off of the main room which has about 10 cozy, clean, little beds for naptime. It made me think of the boarding room scenes from the French children's story _Madeline_. This school is a bit of a boarding school as it's running from 8am-6pm.

All the children eat breakfast, lunch and a dinner snack in their classrooms and there is a little cupboard that holds all the dishes (porcelain!) and utensils for each student. The food is brought into each class 3-times a day by bundled up women coming in from the outside – we also witnessed this on our first day at breakfast time: each woman carried a tea kettle, bread wrapped in a cloth, a dish of preserves and an old metal bucket which perhaps contained hot cereal (gruel!) Its little details like this that send me into complete ecstasies of appreciation for the variations in living and doing. It all felt so dated and pastoral and charming and I loved it!!!

Another detail which I totally appreciate is the necessary changing of ones wardrobe. There are shoes which each child should bring that are only worn inside (this goes for adults too). We had to go out and buy D&Z special shoes/slippers for school. Also, an extra set of clothes needs to be available and each child must decide which set is for indoors and which is for outdoors. They must change their clothes several times: when arriving at school to put on their inside clothes; when going out for morning recess (weather permitting); when returning from morning recess; for naptime (removing everything but undies); after naptime, putting clothes back on; and when going out for afternoon recess, which at this point is pickup time for most kids and so they stay outside till each kid has been fetched (which could be a couple of hours). I institute similar clothing changes at home and appreciate the level of control they've taken on at such a massive scale. Other little bits of detail in organization are the decals on each child's locker (Desi's are balloons) which correspond to the decal on their beds and the towels on hooks in the bathroom.

We give a shout out to Alice and Aga and all of Desi's friends at the preschool in New York City! Yeah for the Y and thank you for all your love.

Y-ly was here and he loves Russia!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Why We’re Here – Russia/Kazakhstan 2008-2009

Below is Nathan’s award winning proposal abstract. It’s confirmed, we’re spending a total of 16months on his dissertation fieldwork in Russia and Kazakhstan. We hope to be able to stay in Podsosnovo, Russia until September08 – pending our visa renewals – then relocate to Sherbakty, Kazakhstan for the remaining 10months.


From Perestroika to the Polka: The Politicization and Everyday Life of “Germanness” in Kazakhstan
Nathan Paul Jones, Kazakhstan, Anthropology

Residing throughout Kazakhstan is a population of nearly 300,000 Germans whose ancestors either immigrated there in the 19th and 20th centuries, or were deported there from western Russia during World War II. Since the USSR’s collapse, many of them have left Kazakhstan for their purported ancestral homeland, but once there other Germans perceive them as Russians or Asians, devoid of “Germanness.” Alarmed by this lack, German-funded NGOs such as the Technical Cooperation Society (GTZ) have deployed personnel and money to Kazakhstan with the belief that language and cultural education can reconnect these erstwhile Germans to their ethnic roots and stem their need to seek the same in Germany. Kazakhstan’s government officially sanctioned this effort by authorizing a similar indigenous organization known as “Rebirth” and establishing the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan, which promotes multiculturalism in cooperation with the GTZ and Rebirth. The GTZ believes it can moderate the desire for migration by providing authentic ethnic identity for Germans, while Kazakhstan’s government expects this increasingly ethnicized minority to contribute to its multicultural political image.

What influence does such an ethnic-based project have on its subjects, and how do the subjects influence the construction, implementation, and outcomes of the project and its sponsoring institutions? How do NGOs purport to “regermanize” Germans, and how might these attempts interact with local government objectives? If Germans have indeed lost their Germanness, what has replaced it? Do they possibly represent a non-ethnicized, postsocialist identity in the highly nationalized global politics of the 21st century? If so, could they be seen as an alternative model of political identity rather than a failure that needs correcting? Why don’t the Kazakh or the German governments see it this way? How might de-ethnicized identities interact with the NGOs and their work? Finally, do the ethnic projects accomplish the intended outcomes or something altogether unexpected – do they affect migration, economic and political opportunities, and relations between ethnic Germans and others in Kazakhstan?

Stalin’s fear that ethnic Germans living in the USSR might collaborate with invading Nazi troops during the war prompted their exile from western Russia. Deportation to forced labor camps, followed by settlement in collective farms in rural Siberia and Central Asia, characterized the early phase of exile. These experiences influenced the gradual withering of German dialects spoken in western Russia, as well as other cultural repertoires associated with “Germanness.” Nonetheless, in 1989, the USSR reported its total German population at just over two million. With political liberalization in the early 1990s, Germans were permitted to leave for Germany resulting in the departure of over a million people from the former USSR between 1991 and the present.

My dissertation research will compare two villages with significant German populations located in neighboring regions of Kazakhstan and Russia. I will conduct ten months of research during the academic Fulbright year in Kazakhstan’s Pavlodar region. This period will follow six months of research conducted across the border in Russia funded by an IREX IARO Grant from March until August, 2008. Studying the local-based institutions and those originating from Germany operating in two countries will help separate the effects of the German projects from the programs supported by local states, and will reveal which institutions have more influence.

My research will examine NGOs’ attempts to regermanize Kazakhstan’s Germans, the Germans’ own notions of identity, and their ability to influence regermanization. Germany has gradually decreased funding to the GTZ in Kazakhstan, forcing it to employ local Germans and Russians to operate its programs. This affords opportunities for locals to apply identities and practices from their socialist and postsocialist experiences. I once attended a GTZ-operated German youth camp in Kazakhstan employing local Germans and Russians, many of whom worked with youth in the socialist period as leaders in the Communist Union of Youth (Komsomol). While German kids learning to dance a polka from a former Russian dance teacher and Komsomol leader may not be what the German government had in mind for its funding, it provides an amazing laboratory for studying the interaction of politics and ethnicity. Understanding how the NGOs and locals produce such interactions and how, through everyday social life, locals challenge notions of Germanness and the authority to impose identities is the basis of my inquiry.

I will conduct my research between September 2008 and June 2009 in Sherbakty, a village in Kazakhstan’s Pavlodar region. Sherbakty maintains a large population of Germans and is also a site of intervention by the GTZ and Rebirth with assistance from the above-mentioned Assembly. My research there will employ open-ended interviewing and participant observation. I will interview village residents, NGO employees, and local administrators, asking them about their experiences regarding marriage, religion, migration, education and labor in both the socialist and postsocialist periods. In my past experiences in Kazakhstan, these topics provoked richer elucidations about Germanness than responses to direct questions about ethnic identification. My participation in the daily life of German villagers and in the NGO-supported festivals and activities will help me to identify how these organizations attempt to regermanize, and how their subjects’ react to and attempt to influence the process. Participant observation will also reveal variations in the presentation of German ethnic markers in different contexts over time.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Provincial Observances

Hot water is in the bathroom, cold in the kitchen. We need to pass through to the outer chambers to get to the bathroom and the hot water. As needed, hot water is carried into the kitchen and cold water out with buckets. I have instituted a couple of my own buckets, newly purchased, for the occasion of carrying kitchen only water and one for holding bathroom only water. There is also a bucket, which is Nikolai's, that is used to scoop questionably clean bathwater out of the tub to flush the toilet. I observe this demarcation of bucket usage strictly. After briefing N8 on all the purposes of the buckets, I was appalled to find out that he had used the toilet bucket to rinse himself and the babes off while taking a bath one evening! Gross! And then a couple of days later, I noted that Nikolai used the same grimy toilet bucket, that always rests on the floor of the bathroom, to bring in hot water and add it directly to his soup pot to begin to boil his potatoes!! How O.C. are You?

Bread is left out on the table all night long and there is most surely mice (I've heard them) but it seems that it is never nibbled nor have i seen any mice tracks (poop) anywhere. What gives? nyc mice are so in your face!

The milk tastes like hay. Which leads me to question what the cows in the US are fed . . . corn? Soybeans? The eggyolks are a pale yellow, very subtle. What makes the eggs in the US such a brilliant yellow/orange? Again, the food the chickens eat? Nevermind . . . eat your heart out organic disciples! I get hormone free milk and free-range organic eggs for free! (And when I pay for a ½ gallon of milk or 8eggs it's only about a dollar! I know, I know stop rolling your eyes LaurieB and quivering with envy L&NMc!)

Children's morning cartoons on the standard TV channels here in Podsosnovo are over by 8am! What's up with that? Give me another hour at lease on weekends, please!

The snow is melting and now its mudmudmud and massive puddles to navigate with a stroller and one puddle-loving 4yearold. Most people's driveways are currently complete ponds, impassable. Some have created stepping stones with bricks or rough bridges with boards or ladders. Nate and I had to balance along a narrow line of bricks once while carrying the stroller, he holding the front and me at the back, with Zoe in it! [I've posted some photo's to the right].

Nikolai often sets a plate of lard on the table that has been dusted with cayenne pepper and spreads it liberally on his bread. I noticed, when his granddaughter Yulya was visiting, he took a piece of bread and rubbed raw garlic on it and gave it to her. She'd been sick and I wondered if it was another preventative flu cure, similar to the eating of raw onions which we've seen at the preschool.

At Desi&Zoe's school, each class has its own 'bedroom' off the main classroom filled with soft yummy beds where all the babes sleep for about 2 ½ hours in the middle of the afternoon. Everyone strips down to their skivvies and the funny thing is, Des&Zoe have so far refused to do this. Those who know them know that they love to get 'naked' all the time!!! Most puzzling.

At all the shops here the shopkeepers expect to fetch everything for you – even if it's in a freezer case right in front of you and it would be so convenient just to get it yourself – it's still expected that I point and grunt my fledging Russian to try and get what I can reach myself.

Russian's love to sing – there have been concert events every week we've been here. Some sing with there own accompaniment (I love the accordion tunes!) and some actually lip-sync to popular tunes swaying like they were on Lawrence Welk. Nikolai once asked Nate to check with me and see if I would mind if he sang around the house sometimes.

Law and Order (Russian style) has been co-opted – including the opening music and the in-between text placement update chime – along with all the grisly murder scenarios. It seems I can't escape that franchise! They regularly filmed in my former NYC hood and whenever we travel to see family the TV seems to always be tuned to it. I still don't get the appeal.

Nate and I agree that television commercials aboard have a certain appeal and we enjoy watching them. Whereas it's the complete opposite in the USA, in fact that's one of the reasons I tune to PBS (and public radio!) so frequently.

The banya (Suana) has got to be the coolest invention EVER and I have to figure out how to have it in my life on a regular basis post Russia/Kazakhstan.

I love having a slop bucket accessible for all perishables. I've decided that it's got to be one of my favorite ways to recycle. Strangely, it doesn't bother me having it as close by as in the kitchen.

I think I must have to live with a cat while here. I have not wanted to go near them since childhood. I am not a pet person. But there is much to adapt to that is foreign to me and a lot of it I am welcoming but there are some things I am resistant to and foreignmice are one of them. Whats the difference between nycmice and siberianmice? still processing. . .

Nikolai has a granddaughter, Yulya, that we see quite a bit. She is 6 and really sweet. It's nice to have another child around that is not yours, adding to and legitimizing the general child atmosphere here in this house (that our babes have loudly imposed.) BTW, LaurieB, if you're reading this, she looks sososo like your Julia – the Russian equivalent seriously – and to further the similarity her name is basically the Russian counterpart to Julia! It's crazy!

We are such consumers and are contributing greatly to a big rubbish heap at the back of Nikolai's house. Nate took me back there the other day to show me what the chickens were up to and they'd pecked their way into most of the neatly tied bags and strewn it all over! It was devastating to see what we were responsible for! N8 has asked what is done with the garbage and as far as he can understand Nikolai buries it from time to time (or perhaps burns it!) Zoe has been going through quite a bit of diapers due to her little body's difficult adjustment to all that she's been eating. DIAPERS DON'T BIODEGRADE, RIGHT? So ashamed!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Zoe en Voice

Zoe funny!

"Stop it talking me Mom!" I was explaining to her why she couldn't have any treats after a dinner she didn't eat.

"Spiderman!" I returned from my first internet session here in Podsosnovo and upon entering the kitchen I saw little Zoe in Desi's Spiderman costume (!) then she did the little hand movement to shoot webs. Ha!

"Nikolai funny!" After playing peek-a-boo through the kitchen door.

Upon waking one morning, Zoe looked out the window and greeted the day by saying,

"My Russia!"

We had just returned from buying some milk which is sold in plastic bags, I was trying to transfer the milk into an empty water bottle and began spilling it all over the table&floor. Zoe, who was sitting right there, responded empathetically, "Oh-my-heart!"

After singing 'Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree' together, Zoe said "My favorite".

Upon waking too early in the morning Zoe comes to my bedside and says, "Hungry mom". She has never desired food like this before. She and Des have switched places he's become the indifferent one and she's the normal one.

Zoe always like's to take roll and confirm our relationships with each other. Over and over again she'll look around and point and say, "Daddy, Mommy, Desi, Zoe".

While playing one day she approached me in a panic saying, "Help, help mommy! Shark on me!" She's learning all kinds of interesting imaginary play from DPJ.

During breakfast preparations this morning, Zoe was hanging on the warm water pipes which run along one of the kitchen walls, and calls my attention to her trick, "Watch me mom, watch me Heather!" After this I ask her, "What's my name?" and she repeats it again (which is the first time she's called me by my name) and then, now curious, I ask her, "What's daddy's name?" She replied, "Tuna!" I asked her again, and she finally admitted, "Nathan".

Back at the dom, after dropping Desi off at school, Zoe was playing with a toy phone and said, "Hi Desi school! I love you Desi!"