SOVIET HOSPITALITY Part14
Our hosts tonight are Rabfail’s elder brother and his wife. He was wounded in the war and retired. She is beautiful even in old age with steel caps on her teeth.
Breakfast included ponchiki (a sort of hot fresh bun) – delicious with butter and honey. The others all went off to fetch water or feed animals but I was lazy and watched television in Russian. I’d made th acquaintance of all the sheep, cows and geese the previous evening. The sheep are allmuch tamer than Welsh mountain ones.
Later Abdullah, younger brother, and we spent the day with him and his wife. A apart from a bath-house session we seemed to eat all day as a neighbour invited us to ‘drink tea’ which is a euphemism for being obliged o try every dish on a very laden table between toasts in vodka and tea with jam. When we eventually returned to our second hosts house I was informed, as I feared, that supper was ready. Plov had been made especially for me. It had been underway before the neighbours arrived so I had to do my best. My new skirt hardly goes round me now. The neighbour has a very posh almost unobtainable car. It seems he bought it second hand and did it up but Rabfail thinks he pulled strings and others did the work.
Abdullah seems to be very inventive about supplementing his income. He makes his own nets and goes poaching in the kholbas lakes (that are part of the farm) at night.
Last night we did not go back to Misbach and Baldis as Abdullah and Suriah and Granny felt it was their turn to be our hosts. They insisted on supper too – three meals between 1pm and bed! We got up at 7 am. And after breakfast went out o take photos of the locality in the sun and have a further look at the kolkhoz. It has wonderful big barns for storage and indoor work on machinery and everything semed in good order. But Misbach said about the harvester etc standing out in the snow, ‘No one bothers about them because there’s no boss.’ Don’t know how true this is as when we got to where they repair things (where Suriah works as a turner) all seemed in very good order. We had a look at the potato cooperative. It consists of 24 men and they lease 75 acres of land from the kolkhoz and have bought machinery on credit and built an enormous partly underground storehouse where the central gangway is wide enough to park their machinery. They are building something next to it. Apparently the government gives them a quota to fulfil and that quantity they sell to the government at a fixed price. Anything over and above this and their own seed potatoes they can sell to shops at a negotiated price in Spring when potatoes are less plentiful.
We paid a short visit to the nursery school and I gave them one of my knitted rabbits. The nursery school is an ordinary house of three rooms and a kitchen but they are going to build a new one. The children all lined up for a photo which may or may not come out as my camera could not cope with the change in temperature and kept steaming up. One room was their playroom where their teacher was drawing a big cartoon for the wall. Two rooms were full of little beds for rest time. There are 22 kids on the list but only 16 were present. Their cook insisted on sitting us down and feeding us hot fruit juice and little blini.
We returned with Misbach for an early lunch of meat and soup followed by coffee and bread and butter and jam. Then as the time for our bus approached Abdullah arrived in his taxi and said we had to go to say goodbye to Granny and that I was to travel in his tractor. This involved climbing up its side by three widely spaced steps so he had to push me up. It was the wildest ride I’ve ever had. I was glad we walked back later. Before getting up into the tractor I warned Abdullah that I did not intend to ‘drink tea’. He said cheerfully, ‘No tea, just sit.’ I did not believe him and I was right. Babushka had been cooking all morning and there was a second lunch – soup, meat, a pile of quiche-like pirogi and again tea and jam. This time, thinking of a four hour bus journey with very rare and extremely bad public toilets, I categorically refused. Rafail and Misbach dutifully ate the lot. I don’t know how they could but I suppose it’s training as it seems to be essential etiquette. When we left Babushka hurriedly donned he extra-woolly headscarf and coat and followed us out in her unprotected varenki in the snow. The others, who regularly go outside in these, wear galoshes over them. Misbach walked with me to the bus stop and shortly the tractor arrived and out climbed Suriah and Abdullah so we were seen off by a committee.