Ulan Ude: Seeing the Farmer, Ten Years Later
Sitting in the kitchen of Buyanto Tsydpov's sister-in-law, I thought for a brief moment that we might as well just catch the next microbus back to Ulan Ude. She'd immediately mentioned the fact that Gary and I never sent the photographs we'd promised back in 1995, and I wondered if, when we saw Buyanto, he'd be angry about it.
She told us how to get to the farm, and David and I set off across a wide expanse of cow-pied pasture. The sun was high in the sky, and all around we could hear the buzzing of crickets hopping across the fields. After walking for 45 minutes, we got to a house surrounded by rusting farm machinery. When we asked for Buyanto, a young woman invited us in to wait, saying "He's not here, but he'll be back soon."
An hour later Buyanto arrived. As he approached the house, I heard the woman say, "You have guests. Two Americans." I walked toward him, holding my hand out. "Do you remember me?" I asked. "I was here ten years ago, with a photographer named Gary."
At first, there was no hint of recognition in his face. But after a moment, he said, "A-ha. I remember." He paused again, then said, "So, what are you doing here?"
I wasn't sure how to answer this, so I just blurted out how sorry I was that we never sent the promised photos. "Hmmm," he said, nodding solemnly. "But I have them now!" I said, gesturing toward the house. We went inside, and I gave Buyanto his pictures. For the first time, he smiled, holding the photos and pointing out how young everyone looked. From that moment on, his manner changed. "Don't worry that you didn't send them," he told me. "They're here now. I'm glad you didn't forget us."
"I woke up early this morning," he went on, "and when I looked out the window I saw a magpie. For us, that's a sign that you'll have guests. I thought to myself, 'Who's coming to visit today?' I would never have thought it would be guests from America."
We spent the rest of the day with Buyanto, riding around his farm and the adjoining lands in his white Volga sedan -- the same car he'd had ten years ago. He talked to us about the many changes farmers in Buryatia have faced -- changes we'll explore in depth in tomorrow's posting. He also took us to several significant local sites, including a healing spring of pure drinking water, a burial mound for fighters killed by Genghis Khan's hordes, and a natural rock formation known as "Five Fingers."
That night, we sat down to dinner with Buyanto, his wife Tyspelma, and a large bottle of vodka we'd brought as a gift. Toast followed upon toast, and soon Buyanto began singing Buryat folk songs in a loud, clear baritone.
He showed us the Buryat way of drinking -- you dip your ring finger into the liquid four times, scattering drops to the earth, sun, sky and wind as an offering -- and suffice it to say that we did it enough times that night to truly perfect it. At some point (my recollection is hazy), David and I apparently sang "We Shall Overcome" at Buyanto's request. And Buyanto declared, "Tomorrow I will cut a sheep for you! When a Buryat has an honored guest, he must kill a sheep!"
Tomorrow: The hangover, the sheep, and the future of Buyanto's farm.
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