Mikhaylovka is 1200 inhabitants. About 500m from the main highway, the village is more or less surrounded by a cow gate, so the cows are kept in the village. Two roads have asfalt: the one from the entrance and, prependiculary, one connecting the school to the “club”. Other roads are made of dirt. All roads have cow shit around. At one side of the village runs a river, 25km long at that point, with clear water were kids swim in the summer.
The school has kids from 6 to 18 years old, about 180 of them and 40 teachers. Twelve graduated this year. The school reminded me of and old primary school. There were two old sport fields, one concrete for basketball and other grass for other sports (volley, football, fight, etc). The toilets were outside, a barrack with 5 holes for boys and 5 for girls, no separation between holes (only between sex). There was an anfitheatre were we saw a ridiculous graduation cerimony with teachers, parents and students, each group at its time, singing and saying bad memorized poems. There was also a canteen, looking again from a very old primary school.
At the middle of the paved road it was the commercial centre with three shops. One was shut, other almost and the survival one sold basic things, mostly in big quantities.
The sum was made using abbacus (we saw this multiple times all around Buryatia) and there was a credit notebook. The other edge of the road was the “club” which comprised a gym/auditorium/theater, a kitchen, a small room and a library which was closed most of the time (even if the timetable would not say that). It seems there was also a projector room but it was broken. The library had some hundreds of books, 2 computers and 2 paid internet kiosks used by no one. They had no money to buy new books and were living of books donations. There were no english books.
A kindergarten and 20 sheeps were in front of the “club”. The village administration building was also on this road, a small one floor house with repainted offices, couple of computers, no internet. The village had also a post office else where.
Makhailovka houses were made of wood with, sometimes, colourful roofs and windows. Each had a garden with banya, some cumcumbers, potatoes, a dog and toilet – small barrack with a hole. Our home garden also had two pigs, and others had cows stable. There was electricity with fluctuating current, telephone and TV. No radio signal was received here, nor mobile phones worked. There were water stations across the village with mechanic pumps taking water from couple dozen meters below.
Houses had usually a summer kitchen, not so insulated part of the house, with an electric stove, a table and several small buckets for all kind of purposes (milk, washing dishes, dirty water, clean water, etc). There was also a hand wash basic, which we would fill with water and with a small lever we could wash the hands. The used water would go to a bucket below. The next room had as central piece a wooden stove used mostly in the long winter and, depending on the house, more or less separated spaces with boards or vertical hanging carpets.
Our house in Makhailovka had a light courtain door to our room, where there were two beds. One wall was cardboard up to 30cm from the ceiling and two others were outside walls. There was a small winter kitchen were the cooking part of the big brick made wooden stove was; a living room with a TV, a buddha corner some books and pictures and, behind some cupboards, it was the other room of the house with a double bed where the daughter and sometimes also the mother slept. Our host family had a quite big banya building where in the first room they stored the pig’s food and the second room was the banya itself with the iron made wood stove with hot water container and stones for steam. The room had dry side to sit and wet side to wash, where the wooden floor had holes. The toilet was about 50meters from home. For us they bought toilet paper but usually they used newspaper. Our family had a second house (‘house there’ – дома там) where mother and step-father would stay and where they milked their cows.
Our host family was composed by Lisa, the library responsable; Valery, her second husband; and Irina, daughter of Lisa and student on the 3rd year of English-Chinese studies. Her english, however, was like a high-school student in Europe.
English was one of the most amazing things people, including young, did not know. Among the graduated students that year from school only one would be able to articulate some sentences with very limited vocabulary. Other amazing thing was the alcohol available in the schop and the amount of chronic alcoholic one would cross in the streets of so small village.
During our stay once we had a young alcoholic guy who did not believe we were living there and wanted to force us to go to his place. His girlfriend shouted to him to leave us but he ended up to enter our house and sit down until we found Irina who explained him what we were doing there. He drunkly apolagized himself. Other time a very drunk old men, in need of vodka, followed us asking for money until we got home. Kate had to stay a while with us until he left. Cheap vodka costs one euro the bottle!
People are in general small for European standards and seem 10 to 20 years older. Life expectancy is around 60 years old. The oldest people in the village was a couple – she 95, he 94. Retirement age in Siberia is 50 for women, 55 for men (in European Russia is 5 years more).
People’s diet was dased on dairy products and meat. From the milk they would do several products – cheese, kefir, tvorak, vodka. The meat was mainly boiled in a soup or mashed and put in ‘buuzi’/’pozi’ (Buryati/Russian), the Buryati national dish. To drink was always tea with milk and the table was always with cookies, candies, sugar and home made bread. Cumcumber, radis and cabbage where the vegetables found on the shop and planted at home. Eggs and potatoes and apples were also easy to find (most people had potatoes field in their garden).
On our arrival to Mikhaylovka the head of the administration received us in local costumes giving us milk to drink from the left hand – milk is symbol of cleaness -, a cloth with traditional drawings and a glass of vodka over a bank note (of about 1 euro), which we should keep for luck. This vodka ritual was repeated several times during our stay. and as soon as our glass would be empty they would refill. Soon we got to know that we are not obliged to drink and the only mandatory elements of the tradition is to accept and touch our lips at the end of the (long) toast.
While in Mikhaylovka we participated to two annual summer parties called Sur-Harban. One on the village level and the other on district level. It happens in a big green area where they built a stage. On the stage people sing and dance. There are sport competitions of wrestling, volley, rope pulling and a horse riding race. All ages participate on the wrestling competition and the aim is to make the opponent to fall or to lift him up from the ground. Some drunks also take part. The volleyball is for school ages. Around all this there are people selling ‘buuzi’ and tea and couple of shop-cars selling either food, clothes or ustensils. The party lasts all day and big part of the village participates. Jurgen tried some judo class and I organized a garbage hunting game. Both did not have much success.
On the district Sur-Harban 40 villages were represented, each with their own yourt, also part of a beauty competition. As honorable guests we made a tour of couple yourts where always we were offered food and vodka. Once, however, we had the most distingable honor with means ‘sheep head’. See Eva’s entry about this.
The shool in Mikhaylovka was a success. Children gave us several ‘thank you’ drawing at the end. About 15 children from 8 to 14 participated regularly. One day some more come from a summer camp in a nearby village. With the usual more than 30 minutes delay (usual in Russia, trains excepted) we started with english class and games, then Eva gave a health class with some painting session, I gave a children rights class. After we follow with some judo, aerobics and journalist class. In the evening more aerobics. The second day of school was similar, small re-arrangements in essay to keep children more active and focused. A dip in the river followed. Last day we organized a treasure hunt around the village with questions broken-up in separate locations and questions about our classes and about us. Children run it all for 40 minutes in two teams.
After this we left to Engorboy, not before having one more pic-nic with the head of administration, our host families and white wine (there were drivers). It was then a 3-hour drive in mostly non-asfalted road.