Today was one of the earliest starts we’ve had yet. The van picked up our intrepid instructors from the hotel at 6:30 AM so that we could get the kids in the vans for a 7 AM departure! Almost everybody was on time, and we got cameras out and the classroom locked, but there was a student missing…we waited as long as we could before we regretfully had to make the call to load up and head out. Our timing was important again today because we had to make it to the livestock market in time to shoot and then make the one-hour drive out to the summer pasture where we were also expected at a certain time! We had to be there in time to see the horses get milked, and while it happens several times a day, there is a period of a couple hours between milkings. We wouldn’t be able to miss ours and then wait for the next chance.
With everyone loaded and the vans halfway down the block from the school, a taxi came flying around the corner and stops in the middle of the road. The late student, looking harried and frantic, leaped out of the back seat and ran towards the van just in time! Thankfully, Kevin had thought to grab her camera, and the moment she was on the bus we were off.
There was a definite shift in “pedestrian” traffic as we neared the market. We saw people walking cows with ropes around their horns or goats in groups of threes or fours all headed in the same direction. We rounded a corner to see a couple of men loading four mature goats into the back of a Honda Fit and another guy taking a goat out of the trunk of an old Soviet sedan. Obviously, we had arrived.
The market itself was a large open dirt lot with trucks meant for carrying livestock jammed into one half of the lot and crowds of men and boys leading goats or cows filling the other. There were chicken underfoot, goats refusing to move, or cattle threatening to smash someone against a truck, all while men called out their offers, deals were being made, and cash was changing hands. By the time we arrived we were only able to shoot for about forty-five minutes but as we climbed into the truck it felt like we’d already had a full day!
Chechyck Jailoo, the pasture area, was another story all together. Where the livestock market bustled with activity, the summer pasture was peaceful. Clean crisp air blew gently over the pass instead of the hot dusty musky air of the market. In the summer pasture, there were two family yurts and another one that acted as a school and early childhood center for the nearby students. Inside the family played traditional instruments, worked on reading skills, and had creative play while outside the students wrestled and played tug of war.
Our assignment for the day was to photograph the specialty of the area: the care of horses and the production of horse dairy products including the national drink, kumiss (remember the fermented horse milk). These families raised goats and horses and we were able to photograph caring for the horses, milking them, and then working the milk to create butter, cream, yogurt and kumiss.
We also witnessed their way of life and photographed as they prepared for us an incredible meal of soup, boiled meats, plov, and goat head soup. As the special guests, we were presented the head of the goat to eat, and each part we ate had a special tradition. To eat the ears meant we’d hear from one another again, to eat the eyes meant we’d see each other again, and to eat the brains (a delicacy of highest honor) we would be wise.
If that’s true, then I guess we’ll be coming back to the summer pasture to visit with them again, and we’ll all be a little wiser when we do.
Russian WOTD: Krasivo = Beautiful