Lyudmila and Sergey Matiny, Tyungur village, Republic of Altay: “Altay Kalash”


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We pulled up to a solid house with beautiful gates and flowers in the yard. Kids were milling around at the entrance, and the youngest of them was Timofey – Lyudmila and Sergey’s grandson.
“We have a big family, but the children are living on their own now. They live in the city and don’t want to live here in the village. But we brought our grandson here; we want to raise him, for now, anyway. He’ll eat healthier here. All together, we have three children and two grandsons. We don’t have a big garden and livestock right now, but we used to. We don’t have the energy for it anymore.”
Lyudmila invited us into the house, took her grandson into her lap and continued, “One cow, a bull-calf, three horses, sheep, chickens. We also got a small pig recently. Would you call that a large farm? We sell meat, but at such low prices that it’s actually offensive. Sometimes I wonder why we’re being forced to live below the poverty level with such prices. We breed livestock, work, and then get paid peanuts for our hard work. I’m 47, a trained medical worker, and I work in my profession.
I’d be so happy to be able to go to the grocery store every day and buy sausage, fruit, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. Sometimes I have a craving for pomegranate or fish, but we can’t afford it. We’re always in debt. We just bought a sack of flour on credit. When I was younger, I thought, just wait for communism to take over, and we’ll all have enough to eat. It turns out, anything you could possibly wish for can be found in the stores, and if you have money, you can buy everything.”
At this point, Sergey joined our conversation. “Vodka is killing people in villages. Half of the people here died from it recently. People really should have jobs. In the past, everyone had something to do, and each person was responsible for something. Now, for the last 20 years, people have been unemployed. You can’t survive without your own garden and livestock. And even though we get paid very little for the meat that we sell, it’s still an income. But, despite that, we live in debt. It’s just a never-ending process. Right now, we only have one cow, so sometimes we have to buy dry milk powder, sausage and butter, and in the winter we even buy eggs at the store. We buy Chinese garlic. Our climate is really very severe, and if one of the plants doesn’t have a good harvest, and we have to kill a cow for meat, where else can we get what we need? At the store, of course. And on top of that, we pensioners are being suffocated with taxes by the government. And why do you even ask? Do people really need to know about all this?”
I started to tell them about the Big Talk about Food project, and their surprise was instantly replaced with a smile. “Oh, so kids will see us on the Internet? They’ll say, ‘Why are you complaining?’”Both Sergey and Lyudmila started to laugh. “But you know, children who live in the city have a really hard life. They work and have no time for anything, because they have to make money. We have our own land here, and all we really need is to be in good health. We certainly aren’t going to starve, and we’ll raise our grandchildren.”
While Sergey and Lyudmila sat next to each other, Timofey kept running from his grandmother to his grandfather and smiling.
We then got on the topic of Altay dishes. “Our favorite dish is kyochyo. It’s a soup with lamb meat and barley. It takes a long time to cook it just right, so that it has a rich flavor, and we all love it. We also like Altay kalash – a type of local bread – pitas fried in lamb fat; they’re soft and golden in color. People like to drink tea with milk here. Tolkan is the national dish. You take barley flour, roast it, add hot milk, salt, butter, and drink it the way you’d drink tea. It’s very hearty. In the morning, we usually make hot cereal with milk. If there’s a family holiday, we buy sausage and make various salads. Just like everybody else does in Russia, I guess. We like to get all of our children and relatives together here. Our daughter got married last year, and there were so many guests!”
We continued our conversation in the yard. Sergey showed me an Altay ‘ail’ (a makeshift hut) that he built himself for his daughter’s wedding. The Altay people used to live in such ails throughout the year, but nowadays, there’s a small ail in every Altay yard. It’s used as a summer kitchen, a place where guests can sit down for a meal when it’s warm out. In this family, the ail is beautiful and well-built, with a roof covered with larch bark, in accordance with tradition. Next to the gate, there’s a carved tethering post, known as ‘chaky’ in the Altay language.
While my kind hosts walked me out, I remembered the words of one Altay wish, “I wish you a long life, eternal years, a merry mind and honest thoughts!
What else can we wish such kind-hearted people as Sergey and Lyudmila? Good health and a long life – to bring happiness to their children and grandchildren!

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