Tatiana Chernikova

Tatiana Chernikova, Ust-Koksa village, Altay Republic: Vicious circle or logical cycle?


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 We just had a real June downpour, and the air is still filled with revitalizing moisture. We can even see a rainbow in the distance. I’m talking with Tatiana Chernikova – a charming and energetic woman. She's the type of woman about whom people say, “She’s got the look.” Tatiana will turn 40 this year, and she's raising a son. She's a trained tailor and  a true craftswoman – she sews very well, assembles models, makes ceramics and paints, and on top of all that, she’s a good cook. Anything she does, she does it well.

I remember when Tatiana used to work as a cashier at the grocery store in the center of Ust-Koksa, and it was always nice to see her at the store. She always looks nice, is quick to help you, and can give you advice on what’s best to cook. She'll even share one of her interesting recipes with you.  No one has ever left her store unsatisfied or feeling cheated. But regardless, one day Tatiana decided to leave that job.

I asked her, “Tanya, why did you leave the store? It’s a steady job, and the salary is good for a village like this.”

“I couldn’t stand being there any longer!” she said with characteristic honesty and liveliness. “How can I look people in the eye, how do I keep quiet when the manager of the store changes labels on expired products right in front of me? Expired products were made to look fresh. There was only one goal in that store – to sell everything, no matter what. But what about the people? I openly said that I’m on the customers' side, and I told people which products they shouldn't buy, which products were past their expiration date and which had been on display for a long time. I advised people not to buy unhealthy products that contained a lot of chemical additives. People here never pay attention to the contents of products. They purchase whatever's cheaper, and then run to a drug store and spend the last of their money there. One door leads to the grocery store, and another – to the drug store. It’s a vicious circle. So, I told people all these things, and of course it resulted in a conflict with my boss. Who needs a sales assistant like me? Ultimately, I left resigned. It’s unfortunate that I have no income at all at the moment. I sew for people, grow vegetables in my friend’s garden. My son and I live very modestly, but at least my conscience is clear. I just can’t lie. It makes me sick, and then my heart is in the wrong place.”

Tatiana led me to the garden to show off her nice, carefully plotted vegetable patches, and they're really a pleasure to look at. Her only regret was that the seeds didn’t all grow as expected, but as she pointed out, the poor quality of contemporary products is to blame for that – it's resulted in low-quality seeds.

“You know, sometimes I think about how poorly the majority of people live in our country, what people eat and drink, but I know that I can’t despair. I know that every person has the power to change his/ her life, make it better and cleaner. I think I’ll be able to build my own small house, have a garden, and provide my son with an education. We can’t afford to buy fruit right now, but I really have no desire to buy fruit anyway, since it all looks like it's covered with some sort of chemicals. We no longer eat sausage and mayonnaise either – I don’t want to poison my son or myself. I love homemade cheese, and I make it myself. It’s absolutely delicious, and you can’t buy cheese like this in a store. You take fresh milk from a cow, boil it, add kefir and stir, but don’t let it boil. Then you add salt, and when the milk curdles, you can use whey for baking. You have to put the cheese itself in gauze and leave it for a while to get rid of the extra moisture.  And if you want, you can roast the cheese in high-quality butter with tomatoes and spices…”

Tanya looks up to the sky dreamily, and then, as if coming back to reality, continues, “We like to have porridge for breakfast. But nowadays, we can’t afford to buy buckwheat very often. I once bought dried fruit, but it smelled like petrol, so I prefer to get by without certain products that seem to be quite routine. I think I spend 80 percent of my income on food. But since I left the store, I can hardly call my minimum wage an income.  I teach my son not to trust advertisements. I can’t help but laugh when I see the smiling faces people advertising Rolton (note: instant noodles brand).” Chemical additives used to create  artificial flavoring are the reason behind many diseases, and people are treated like waste plants. Advertisers are perpetuating this myth that a person needs a great variety of products, but in reality all you need is simple and healthy grain products, vegetables, dairy products, and fruit. That’s what I believe! The only thing that will save our country is the development of agriculture and the honesty of every single person. If we don't learn to start treating the Earth and all other people with care, what will our children inherit?”

Tatiana asked this question while gazing off in the distance.

By then, the storm clouds were already far away in the mountains, and we could once again feel the warmth of the sun. It’s amazing to see how perfectly the natural cycle of things works!


Author: Marianna Yatsynshina

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