Friday, April 27, 2007

Real, Live, Stock.

I never before realized how valuable an animal could be to a person’s livelihood. Just one animal can make the difference between security and uncertainty, food on the table and an empty plate, hope and despair. The health and fruition of your animals will determine the health and fruition of your family for the coming year. Spring has come and with the fresh new grass comes herds of young animals, grazing across the village like clouds in the sky. A cowboy pulls his reigns long enough to the left to position his horse appropriately for driving his cattle towards one of the small rolling hills that stick out from the earth like humps of green whales. A short old woman runs after a cow, waving a small wooden cane in the air back and forth, back and forth. The village is brewing with life like I’ve never seen before; there is a feeling of anticipation that can only come after seven months of strong, unrelenting cold.
I wander across the schoolyard, through a gate and in between two large stockpiles of hay. I open the gate to the other English teachers home, her house a one story building equally long as it is wide stands on the left and a small barn stands on the right. She has invited me to see her new piglets, because she knows that living my whole life in New York City means this will be a new experience for me. Her excitement runs through her body and out through her eyes and the corners of her mouth as she opens the barn door. The litter of eleven piglets squealing behind the door means an improved life at least for the next 12 months, granted they all survive. Once they reach full size, she can sell each one for around 200 dollars. That’s up to 2200 dollars or enough money to pay off loans, maybe buy a few heads of cattle and even have money left over to purchase a 25 year old Soviet made Lada, still the best made cars in the world.
So I walk into the barn, the piglets shiver and huddle in the corner of a pit of wet mud. My friend picks up the unlucky one unable to crawl his way into the middle of the pile of pink fur. She baby talks him and holds him in her arms, petting their little heads with her fingers as if they’re her own children. Much like her children, these piglets have brought her hope and happiness.

The sun lingers on the horizon and the last few sheep and goats scamper back into their barns. The last few sounds of sticks whipping against hide and the trotting of horses echo in the distance, then a few words in Russian and the slamming of a wooden gate. It is spring, and the lives of the people of Vinnoye are starting to coincide with the lives of pigs, cows, sheep, goats and horses. It’s a codependence that has existed for thousands of years, that somewhere deep in the history of our families was once understood fully. In the year 2007 in Vinnoye, Kazakhstan these animals serve the same role that they did 3,000 years ago. They are more than hamburgers in wrappers. They are the promise of a better tomorrow. I think there’s something beautiful about that.