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Thanksgiving in Buryatia - 11/29/05

A light snow is falling, though faintly as the morning's squall is giving way to sun.

Thanksgiving began on Thursday, the 24th, having dinner with three other Americans at a fourth floor walk-up Chinese restaurant favored by the local Chinese workers, continued with a traditional feast held Sunday (with a decided Buryat flavor) to welcome Dan Plumley from Keene, and concluded Monday morning reading articles in Newsweek, The New Yorker and New York Times (one by seasonal resident Robert Worth) on the disaster in New Orleans and continuing plight of Iraq and the monthly celebration of our region contained in the December issue of Adirondack Life, gifts from Jerilea Zempel brought by Dan.

The mind and emotions stagger by the juxtaposition of images and experiences and feels deeply what I have to be thankful for. I look out my window and see Chinese workers pouring concrete and laying bricks on a nearby apartment complex at temperatures of - 16 C. The concrete, either frozen in place or kept moist (and toxic) with anti-freeze, will become unstable and represent a future disaster waiting to happen if ever a strong earthquake hits this earthquake prone region. The city is dotted with such buildings in various stages of completion. I cannot be smug, as New Orleans has shown our nation is filled with such seeds that in September blossomed with such terrible results.

I am saddened by political priorities that result in over four hundred billion spent on an unjustified war. Had those same dollars been spent on economic development, education, cultural preservation, environmental protection, food production and enabling justice in that same region, and over here protecting the Mississippi Delta, maintaining levees and just economic opportunities, many senseless deaths, economic chaos and destruction of international treasures may have been avoided. I too am saddened to see so many young people while away countless hours each day addicted to video games, time not spent reading, writing, walking, and communicating with others. I am saddened by the destruction of alcoholism, spouse and child abuse, the damage caused by too much salt and sugar in diets, the lack of exercise and other individual acts, reinforced and encouraged by siren songs and images in advertisements and the media. I am saddened to see fishermen toss empty vodka and beer bottles into the Baikal, and by warnings not to eat more than one fish caught in our own lakes because of mercury poisoning.

Yet I am encouraged by so many who are not without hope, but be it through well placed barbs and images that use the media to tweak the establishment; through the efforts of those who bring the arts and humanities into hospitals to enhance the wellbeing of caregivers and the cared for alike; through those who give their time, energy and resources to protect and rebuild our environmental resources; through those who doggedly make caring for children and helping them make better informed decisions a central part of their lives; through those who struggle to preserve and keep our cultural heritage alive; for those who enter politics not to tear down, but build a better society; and for people like Dan who link those of us in the Adirondacks with those of us in Siberia-Mongolia who have so much to share and learn from each other and, create new and fun alliances; Louise Gregg's apple pie recipe being a modest case in point.

Since I couldn't get turkeys, cranberry relish or pumpkins for pie for Thanksgiving, I thought, I can substitute chickens for turkeys, ask Sveta to come up with a substitute for cranberries, we are fine on potatoes, and while we don't have pumpkins, we do have plenty of apples. I emailed Louise and she sent back detailed directions. My friend Nicholi, a Tibetian scholar and resource for finding obscure things in Ulan Ude, looked it over and thought, hmm. No pie tins. My wife is a great cook he said. She'll think of something. The something was an apple pie cake tart. Start with a cake tin. Use tart dough for the crust. Use Louise's pie filling. Bake. The result was twelve happy people. What else did we eat? Three roasted chickens (sliced and separated into white and dark meat by Dan), Olga's garlic sautéed carrots and Luba's carrot salad with garlic; Sveta's husband Sasha's sister's spicy sauce; Ayuna's sliced apples, oranges, cheese, bread and kielbasa platters; Sveta's boiled potatoes and sliced tomatoes; and a pile of other things washed down with Italian red and white wines, Russian vodka, mineral water, Buryat and Russian tea, and beer from Chita. Olga and her husband also brought a cake.

Dorge, Dan Plumley, Sveta and Naj.

My refrigerator is now semi-filled with leftovers that I eat while aghast by news that is news to me and a burden that many of my friends back in the Adirondacks have been living and coping with for months. I look out my window and watch the buckets of cement rise amongst the swirling snow to be poured by the Chinese laborers and fear for the future. Yet today I met three people, professor and ecologist Dmitry Shalbouyev of the East-Siberia State University of Technology who monitors water quality and organizes a highly respected program that engages a small army of young people monitoring and cleaning shorelines; Serge Shirobokov from the State Pedagogical University in Omsk who studies comparative education and is leader in helping Russian and European, and American universities, link together to enhance the exchange of students, experiences and ideas; and Tatiana Peranova, a professor of economics at the Institute of International Education, who links together Russians who have received grants to study in America with their counterparts to continue and enrich the dialogue. Three people who have dedicated their lives to making a difference. Today also I met Pandido Khambo Lama Damba Ayusheyev, the 24th Khambo Lama of all Russia, and my friend Buddha Lama, they at the Buryat History Museum to review their exhibits, meet with its director Ochirova Vladimrovna and take steps rebuild a relationship strained in the late nineties. It was a powerful moment of healing that, combined with meeting these new people, gifts and affection from home, our Thanksgiving celebration, and discussing future possibilities with Dan, leaves me at day's end with renewed hope for the future.

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