The amazing Dusya

First, there’s good news on the Internet front.  Olga finally received a response to her first e-mail last night.  She and Tatiana were so overjoyed that they broke out into tears.  We wrote back a quick note in response and, bingo!  This morning there was another e-mail.  Olga is now officially addicted.  Here she is eagerly researching dishwashers:

olga computer

And, for good measure, here’s a photo of Tatiana (left) and Olga (right) at dinner:


Today’s activities all centered around a community of Old Believers here in Buryatia.  I must explain:

There’s a group of Russian Orthodox Christians called “Old Believers.”  In the 17th Century, reforms were introduced into Russian Orthodoxy in order to make it more similar to Greek Orthodoxy.  Some of these reforms included how people cross themselves, what the cross looks like, the exact wording of the Nicene Creed and the spelling of the name Jesus.  These seem like minor differences now, but at the time this was a HUGE deal.  Just imagine that you spend your whole life worshipping Jesus and then your priest comes in and says, “Now we’re going to spell the Lord’s name as Jeesus.”  And your priest is not just some freak; every priest is saying this.  Plus, the government is saying this as well.

Well, people flipped out.  Religious people thought that the apocalypse was nigh and refused to abide by the new reforms, which they interpreted as signs that the antichrist had come.

Since the government and the church were at that time intertwined, refusing to follow the dictates of the church also meant that you were a political dissident.  Therefore, these “Old Believers” were persecuted in various creative ways throughout Czarist times (tortured, killed, exiled, re-settled, taxed, etc.).

Then comes the Bolshevik revolution and all religions come under attack, including the Old Believers.  The Soviets destroyed almost all of their churches, took their icons (even going so far as to make furniture out of the icons), stole all their valuables, etc.  So the Old Believers had to worship in secret just like all religious people in the Soviet Union.

After perestroika, the Old Believers were allowed to openly practice their faith and this brought a kind of renaissance.

First, we went to the center of the Old Believers’ town, called Targabatai.  There we were greeted by the town’s priest’s son, Sasha.  He showed us the museum that he and his father have created out of all the objects they’ve found over the years.  Here he is with a giant scale.  The scale is super-accurate, by the way.  He demonstrated this with a few rouble coins.


I could have spent all afternoon in this fascinating little museum, which was less museum and more storehouse of found objects.  For example, in the corner was a pile of mammoth teeth and tusks; in the middle was a pile of old Soviet Radios from the 50s; liturgical garments from the 18th century; silver and brass samovars, etc.  However, the building was unheated, and the Russians were cold so they made me leave!! I consoled myself by cultivating a certain smugness about my ability to keep warm.  Out-Russianing the Russians.  Heh.

This is me with the radios followed by a shot of the whole inside of the museum.



After that, we visited their church.  It was built only 11 years ago.  Old Believers baptize by full submersion, so we had a good look at the baptismal font.  Sasha told us that a six-year-old girl had recently been baptized.  As she emerged from the water, she shouted, “Father, you’ve got to heat that water!!”

For me, the main attraction of the day was a woman named Dusya.  She’s an older woman, a widow, who has lived in Targabatai her whole life, as have all the ancestors she can remember.  Her house is over 250 years old.  It’s made of logs (not a single nail!) and is beautifully painted.


The inside of her house is completely modern, except for the traditional Russian oven, which is used both for cooking and for heating the whole house.  She brought us in, sat us down, and filled us to the gills with dish after dish of supposedly humble, but, in fact, strikingly gourmet, food.

This is our little visiting group.  On the far left is Lyuda, the driver and next to her is Dusya herself.  Ordinarily she wears regular everyday clothes, but today she was dressed in her holiday best.  Next to her is Nastya, an intern of some sort, and next to Nastya is Lena, the guide.


Now here’s what made the food gourmet:  everything came from food produced entirely by Dusya.  Pork from her own pig; mushroom pie from mushrooms she herself collected and canned; cheese from her own cow’s milk; cabbage soup made from her own homemade sauerkraut; preserves from berries she herself collected.  Plus, vodka made in her own still!

So we’re eating, and Dusya is pouring toasts all around.  Toast after toast.  Lyuda isn’t drinking because she’s driving.  Nastya, the intern, looks too scared to drink and Lena insists she doesn’t drink (although there is some mumbling about a prior incident when Lena possibly drank some vodka?).  Anyway, only Dusya and I are drinking.  It’s the middle of the afternoon so I wasn’t keen on drinking shot after shot but I felt like I was obliged to drink with Dusya.  Later it turned out that Dusya had been putting us all on and was drinking only water!  So I’m the only tipsy one.  Oh well.

Then she starts pulling out all these old clothes:  clothes that her great-grandmother wore.  And she dresses me up in them.  All the while she’s explaining the style and why things are the way they are.  She stresses that Old Believers’ clothes are excellent for women because they emphasize the bust.  Meanwhile, I’m scared to death I’m going to do something to ruin these precious heirlooms, which include her grandmother’s wedding scarf!  Dusya seems unfazed, though, and handles the clothes as if they were old t-shirts.

Here’s the dressing process:





We’re taking photographs and Lena pipes up and says that we need flash.  No one else thinks so, but we went through this all yesterday and I can’t even figure out how to turn the flash on.  Well, Dusya sits down next to me and takes me through, step by step, how to operate my own digital camera.

Then she takes us on a tour of her little compound:  the guest house, the banya, the summer house (which now contains frozen meat, barrels of sauerkraut, and disks of frozen milk).  Of course we also pet her ancient dog, Jack.






Back inside, I managed to remove the clothes without ruining them.  Dusya insisted that the look was definitely “me” and wanted to fix me up with her matchmaker.  She offered to take me there on her motorcycle.


Add yours →

  1. Very interesting to see inside. First big question: What was that broom-looking thing sticking upside down outside her summer house?


  2. Very interesting. I’m sure you felt you had been taken back in time by perhaps a time machine.


  3. Mom: it’s a big broom for brushing away the snow from the path.


  4. Wow! So much depth and so much love! That was a beautiful read – thank you.


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