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Alyona Bedenova

Alyona Bedenova, Tyungur village, Republic of Altay: One heart

15.06.2011

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Alyona is a very cheerful and active woman, and she’s always busy with something around the household. She has two cows, a couple of calves, two goats, five sheep, a horse, chickens, and a big garden.
 
“Our son is studying in the city, so my husband and I get by on our own. And what else is there to do? How can a person live without their own garden and livestock and still provide a child with an education? You know, we were born on this land, and it feeds us – it’s only natural.” As Alyona speaks, she makes dough for bread, boils potatoes and sets the table. She treats us to cottage cheese, sour cream and home-made jam and then sits down opposite us and says, smiling, “Well, what would you like to know about us?”
 
“I’m 41, a housewife. Our family is small – my husband, our son and me. We have a lot of relatives though. I was born in this village –in that house right over there – and my mother had six children. I’m used to doing work around the house; I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.
I don’t have any particular favorite dish. Everything I have here, I like it all, and I can’t think of anything in particular. It’s the same with seasons for me. Some people say, for instance, that they don’t like the winter. But I actually like the winter. You know, when you make a fire in the furnace, look out the window, see snowflakes in the air, and it’s so peaceful and beautiful. How can you not like what the earth gives us? See, my husband and I have many relatives, but I only have one heart, though it’s big enough for everyone.”
 
Alyona looks out the window leading to the street. She watches the people driving or walking by, and goes on to say, “In the morning, we drink tea with milk, and I boil rigatoni and make hot cereals. We, the people in Altay, can’t live without meat, but in the spring and summer we have to restrain ourselves. We want our livestock to grow and fatten up. In the fall, we give our young bull-calves to the meat packing plant. In order to breed a fat young bull-calf, you have to feed it, give it water, take it out to pastures and make hay for the winter – all of this for nearly three years. Meanwhile, the prices at the meat packing plant are low because it’s a monopoly. You can make 15,000 rubles by selling a big cow. But what can we do with that? We buy flour, sugar, oil, pasta and cereal with the money that we make from the sale. We also have to send some money to our son, pay for electricity, and there are many other expenses. Our expenses on breeding livestock barely pay off. But without livestock we can’t survive, so I can’t complain. Everything is just fine. Yet, there are times when we can’t sell fleece for several years. I shear sheep, put the fleece away in sacks and wait for years for the buyers to come. Here, in the Altay region, the sheep have fine fleece, so it’s very good, but the government doesn’t need it. Tell me, is it easier to buy raw materials abroad? I think if we produced more domestically, instead of making helpless gestures, the prices would be different. I try not to go to the grocery store too often, because what can you really buy there? In the spring, I always have a craving for tomato salad, but the tomatoes that are sold in the store aren’t even real tomatoes; they’re wax decorations or something. I feel bad about spending money on such food products. So, I have to wait until the fall. I collect two or three buckets of tomatoes, and we eat as much as we want. Price increases were especially significant last year. Each time the store has a new delivery, the product is the same, but the price is different. So far, we haven’t been affected by this, since we don’t really buy things at the store anyway. But elderly people, and people like my daughter-in-law, can’t afford to buy anything. So, it’s a good thing that we help each other out. But whatever we do, 70% of our family budget is spent in the store.”
 
After being silent for a while, Alyona continued, “I have good relations with my husband. We take each other’s advice and consult each other on things. We split the chores, of course. He does all the man’s work – firewood and hay, and I’m responsible for the kitchen. In addition, there are some things that can only be done by both of us together, especially in the summer. We roll hay and take the sheep out to pastures together. We don’t hire a shepherd in the village, since we’ve come to an agreement with others that each family is responsible for taking the village’s livestock to the pasture in the mountains for two weeks. Soon, it will be our turn. In the meantime, our relatives will keep an eye on the household. This is the kind of mutual help that I’m talking about. When it’s time to pick berries in the mountains, we’ll all go there together. We have a special place there where my grandmother used to pick berries. This is what our life is like…”
 
The cottage cheese and sour cream that Alyona put on the table for us turned out to be so delicious, we couldn’t stop thanking her.
“Stop thanking me, it’s nothing special, really!” she said with a surprised smile. “I have a better idea let’s go and I’ll show you around our place.” We walked out of the house, and there we saw picturesque mountains and a horse lazily walking around nettle bushes. A dog was sleeping, and the cows still weren’t back from the pasture. A little calf with white eyelashes was looking at us. It was already evening.
Suddenly, it occurred to me: why can’t everyone live this simple and peaceful life, like Alyona does? Live in harmony with oneself and the earth.


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