Ekaterina’s Steel Wall

Ekaterina is a five-year old force at the orphanage. Her impish grin and adventurous spirit immediately attract. Like most of the children, a good helicopter ride makes her day. Spinning a child around by their hands produces pure joy on each face. Providing multiple revolutions of spinning bliss is something I pride myself in. If only for a few moments, these kids can forget everything in the rush of a true moment of pure childhood. Of course one ride is never enough, and in the mind of an orphan, waiting your turn will get you NOTHING, so way wait? Crowding and clamoring for another go is the only way to go. Have you hung out with orphans? They don’t accept “no” for an answer. Especially Ekaterina. And reasoning with Ekaterina? Hah! She had a ride and was ready, no, insistent for more. So insistent in fact, that she hung on to me like a buckin’ bronc rider who never heard of the eight second rule, impeding all helicopter rides. When that didn’t work, she started hitting me! I kneeled down to speak with Ekaterina, but stop was one more word that did not apply. Her unrewarded persistence was disappointing, and in her disappointment she decided that I had offended her. Her tears tugged at my heart.
But then came her silence, weeks of silence . . . months of silence. Each week when I spent time with the kids, I tried to break through Ekaterina’s wall of aggrievement. But when she saw me coming, she ably deployed my status of non-existence. I won’t lie, it hurt. Ekaterina is a great girl, and felt I had made a good connection with her. I was also impressed with the tenacity of her commitment to my non-existence; she is five after all. So I bided my time, gave all the other kids helicopter rides, searched for spiders with some of the boys, climbed the jungle gym, pushed the merry-go-round, helped color, played catch, tried to bless the lives of the kids.
Two steely months in Ekaterina informed me of my re-existence when she suddenly wanted to fish. Sometimes the kids liked to throw a line, which I would catch, and pretend to be a leaping hooked fish. They really got a charge from that game. Ekaterina boldly appeared and claimed her turn as fisherwoman. Not surprisingly, she caught me, after which I paraded around the playground with Ekaterina laughing on my back, as if nothing ever happened.

The events of this post took place in the Spring/Summer of 2013.

Kongar-ol Ondar: Pride of Tuva


The master throat singer Kongar-ol Ondar passed away recently at the age of 51. He was the preeminent throat singer from Tuva, a master performer who represented Tuva, and Siberia around the world and in the US several times. You can check out his performance on David Letterman here: Kongar-ol Ondar

Kongar-ol Ondar. Image found here: http://www.last.fm/music/Kongar-ol+Ondar?v=free&utm_expid=44142428-15.uxR-C0rwSuKQIKnffD_JVg.3&utm_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.ru%2Furl%3Fsa%3Di%26rct%3Dj%26q%3D%26esrc%3Ds%26source%3Dimages%26cd%3D%26docid%3DOVTJJYIifXcOJM%26tbnid%3DOVQMMmWYiNHZLM%3A%26ved%3D0CAUQjRw%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.last.fm%252Fmusic%252FKongar-ol%252BOndar%26ei%3DQHb2UZPwEpCM4gTFjoHoBw%26bvm%3Dbv.49784469%2Cd.bGE%26psig%3DAFQjCNEfBwVM-yWLMMwvaffTKUwdRXIX3w%26ust%3D1375192987232369 (Last.fm)

Kongar-ol Ondar. Image found here: http://www.last.fm/music/Kongar-ol+Ondar (Last.fm)

Reuters Obituary for Kongar-ol Ondar: Obituary

Paul Pena and Kongar-ol Ondar making music together. http://www.missionmission.org/tag/kongar-ol-ondar/

Paul Pena and Kongar-ol Ondar making music together. http://www.missionmission.org/tag/kongar-ol-ondar/

Here is the trailer to “Ghengis Blues”, a cool documentary about Paul Pena, a blind guitarist who learns throat singing, travels to Tuva and gets to perform with Kongar-ol Ondar. You can watch the whole film on Youtube. “Ghengis Blues Trailer”

What the Moscow Times wrote about him: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/tuvan-throat-singer-kongar-ol-ondar-dead-at-51-video/483714.html

It is a sad day for Tuva, and anyone who loves the fascinating and mysterious style of throat singing practiced by herders and nomads across the Central Asian steppes. Kongar-ol Ondar, pride of the Republic of Tuva, and a prince amoung musicians. You are missed.

“All Mongols” Come to Ulan-Ude

Melodic nomads are the norm. Singing passed the time, and kept a herder from feeling lonely. When the steppe opens up before you, clouds towering for sky miles, suede grasses stretching to China, you can’t help but let your lungs loose! And in an instant some lowly pastoral horseman becomes a world famous opera singer, the whole world his stage.

“All Mongols” is riding into town to tickle the ears of the local population. All Mongols is so named because the five young men who make up the group are from the five main areas populated by peoples of the Mongol Empire: Kalmykia, Tuva, Inner Mongolia, “Outer” Mongolia, and Buryatia. Here is your chance to marvel at Mongol voices from the steppes. Enjoy.

Meet Our Friends!

The girls get their game on.

The girls get their game on.

We would like to introduce you to some of our friends. Full of energy, imagination, and emotion, these kids are between three and six years old. When you hang out with them there is always drama. With the boys it’s mostly spider-drama, sticks-as-weapons drama, and monkey bars drama. With the girls, you’ve got hat drama, pay-attention-to-me drama, and that-is-my-candy drama. Discovery, new experiences, learning to trust, this all comes into play when we play. Fun! When we come to visit, we usually get mobbed, it’s part of the deal. After swinging multiple kiddies multiple times till way past dizzy, there still might be four or five kids literally hanging on you. And that’s all good, cause we know they need that kind of contact with people. They don’t get enough.

A happy birthday indeed!

Happy birthday indeed!

And you know what else? These kids are scarred. Some days a person wonders, “Does my time spent here make a difference?” “Can my little bit of love help them live? Not just survive, but truly live?” All these little pairs of eyes have seen really bad stuff. Stuff we never saw. Sometimes one of the children just needs a quiet hug. Those still moments are filled with a silent prayer that this child will find peace with our Creator. Honestly? I follow that prayer with another; that I will find peace with my Creator.

A lovely someones' daughter

A lovely someones’ daughter

Some days the kid who really needs some love and understanding wants none of it. In early May on a day we stayed indoors, I was spinning kids around in the air. I don’t recall exactly what Katya did, but I told her “No, you need to stop.” She was insistent, and told me she wouldn’t. Then, she got offended, and wouldn’t talk with me. For 2 months. She is 5. Yesterday she jumped in my arms and gave me a forgiving hug. I carried her around the playground on my shoulders. I felt like crying. It was sooooo nice to have the forgiveness of that little girl; it was so sad that a five-year old girl shut me out for two months. Ouch.

One day may all her un-cried tears be eternally expunged, may she shine brighter than a star. So be it.

We are part of a great group of volunteers who visit one of the orphanages in Ulan-Ude.  Not only do we take the kids out to help them blow off steam, we host birthday parties for them, we pray for them, sometimes we put on plays for them, sometimes we teach them things, we help with particular concerns like collecting money for kids who need special medical attention, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. (Yule Brennar, The King and I.)

The sunny disposition of the Sundance kid.

A sunny disposition on the Sundance kid.

All of this is well and good. And yet, if these children don’t find families, their future is dark. With that in mind, together with the director of one of our local orphanages we will host a meeting where interested Russian families can come to learn about adoption. The director will explain the realities of adopting a child, what to expect, where to go, and help them consider if adoption is an option. Historically adoption has been rare among Russian families. But that is changing. Healthy Russian families adopting Russian orphans. That sounds like a fabulous thing to us!

Pretty in pink.

Pretty in pink.

Orphans in Russia: The Facts

Number of children declared to be without families in 2012: 74,724*

Number of children in Foster care in 2012: 516,592*

Number of children in Orphanages: 104,028*

Number of children in boarding schools: 18,323*

61,400 children were either adopted or placed in foster care in 2012*

Of those,

6,500 were adopted by Russian families⁁

2,600 were adopted by foreign families⁁

52,500 placed in foster care of some sort⁁

Put another way, in 2011 there were 25 (25.19) orphans for every thousand children in Russia.‡

Repeat Orphans

A particularly concerning trend is repeat orphans. That is children who have been returned to the orphanage after being adopted, or placed in foster homes. Finding up to date information on this is difficult, here is what I could find:

In 2007, 6,100 children were returned by Russian families.†

In 2009 8,400 children were returned by Russian families, 1 by foreign families†

In 2011 6,300†

If these numbers hold then it is safe to say that most of the children adopted by Russian families end up as repeat orphans. Yikes.

Our goal is to see that change!

*Facts taken from the site of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation. (usynovite.ru/statistics/2012/1/ and usynovite.ru/statistics/2012/2/)

⁁ Facts taken from the Russian wikipedia site here: ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Усыновление#cite_note-st2009-49 (They site the Ministry of Education and Science for their information.)

‡Taken from a report on the “State of the Solution to the problem of Orphanhood” 2011 found at: donorsforum.ru/materials/analitika-po-sirotstvu-v-rossii/

†From an article dated 25 Jan 2013 entitled “Federation Council Decides Who Will be Responsible for Control of Foster Families” by Alyona Sivkova, Izvestia (izestia.ru/news/543654)

Steppes of Summer: Yordinski Games

The Yordinski games stretch out on the Tajeranski steppe, Olkhon region of the Irkutsk territory. In the distance you can see all the way across lake Baikal.

The Yordinski games stretch out on the Tajeranski steppe, Olkhon region of the Irkutsk territory. In the distance you can see all the way across lake Baikal. The hill in front of the man in black is Ekhe Yordo, or Big Hill.

Opening ceremonies at Yordinski Games 2013.

Opening ceremonies at Yordinski Games 2013.

Summertide embraces the Tajeranski steppe, and the land releases a tangible sigh, relishing the ticklish rush of life. Tender blades of grass wriggle toward the sky, petals pop, visual songs all lavender-violet and canary. In Buryat “Tajeran” means something like “summer pastures” or maybe “summer home”; a place where Western Buryats brought their families and herds for the summer. According to legend a multi-ethnic nomadic gathering “Yordoin Naadan” took place under the kindly watch of “Ekhe Yordo” a symmetrical hillock seemingly misplaced on the floodplain of the river Anga. Buryats, Mongols, Sakha, and Evenks would come to browse, contest and carouse. Summertime in Siberia, it is all the relish, drama and swagger of a block party on a hot July eve. Obligatory horse dashes, grappling matches and archery heats awaited their champions’ claim. Shamans beat their drums and sprinkled offerings, children disappeared on all day adventures, mothers chatted in the kitchen fire smoke, and fathers compared horseflesh as they drew on pipes. Nomadic rubbernecking abounded as indigenous cowboys ever virile and all bowlegged, searched the sparkling dark eyes and generous cheekbones of the female persuasion for an alluring steppe mate. The green and the golden alike took up their neighbors hands and rhythmically circled the fire, frolicking like sparks who whirl up into the sky in hopes of attaining star hood.

Grapplers butt heads in their bids to become Yordinski champion.

Grapplers butt heads in their bids to become Yordinski champion.

Yep, they've heard of Jack in Siberia. In a nod to their herding past, contestants shear sheep. Glad I'm no sheep.

Yep, they’ve heard of Jack in Siberia. In a nod to their herding past, contestants shear sheep. Glad I’m no sheep.

Members of the Bulagat tribe take in the opening presentation.

Members of the Bulagat (center) and Khori (right) tribes take in the opening presentation.

Bowman of the Ekhirit tribe.

Bowman of the Ekhirit tribe.

Nomadic cowgirls

Nomads are the original cowboys. They were roping, shooting and riding long before Columbus started across the sea.

Then the red star waxed over Russia’s vast tracts, and the Red Czar dethroned the White Czar. On horsebacked hooves a tidal wave of repression, expatriation and collectivization engulfed Russia and expunged countless sparks. The rhythm of the Steppe and Taiga nomads halted. The song became discordant.

Tying on a prayer flag after opening prayer for the Yordinski Games.

Tying on a prayer flag after opening prayer for the Yordinski Games.

A generation after the dissolution of the Soviet Union the song of renewal has sprung from the lungs of Siberia’s indigenous. The people in their golden years are remembering, and teaching those in their green. And they gather under the summer star to laugh, grapple, shoot, eat, race, dance and sing at the foot of Yordinski hill.

Yohor around the Ekhe Yordo. The culmination of the games come when the hill is completely surrounded with people dancing the Yohor.

The culmination of the games come when the hill is completely surrounded with people dancing the Yohor.

A smiling Yohor round Ekhe Yordo.

A smiling Yohor round Ekhe Yordo.

In the midst of proffered prayers and colored pageantry a summer storm rolled in and towered over the festival. After the rain, around our campfire my friends from Irkutsk with whom I had made the journey to the Yordinski games grasped hands, gathered me in their circle to dance a yohor; a traditional round dance. I felt privileged to dance this yohor in the company of friends. Not as a performance, but for fun, to dance, to celebrate summer, friendship, life, restoration. As we spun around our fire, sparks shimmied up into the steppe sky.

Yohor at Yordinski Games 2013

These Ekhirit friends ring the Yohor ’round the rosie, who happens to be me!

Under the Umbrella Glow. I feel like even now she is protecting my head from the rain.

Under the Umbrella Glow. I feel like even now she is protecting my head from the rain.