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Romashki, or a life less ordinary friends version

  1. 1. Romashki; or, A life less ordinary A narrative ethnography into an alternative rurality in Ukraine MSc Thesis: International Development Studies Kloster- Thomas Kloster-Jensen Macintyre May 2010
  2. 2. Romashki; or, A life less ordinary A narrative ethnography into an alternative rurality in Ukraine. Thomas Kloster-Jensen Macintyre Thesis submitted for partial fulfilment of the MSc program: International Development Studies (MID) Supervised by: Dr. Gerard Verschoor (Rural Development Studies) Dr. Han Wiskerke (Rural Sociology) Student number: 840219539120 Master program code: RDS 80433 Contact Information: ilovebrownbread@gmail.com Wageningen University 2010, the Netherlands 2
  3. 3. Acknowledgments I would like to thank a number of people whom without this story would never have been told. First I owe special thanks to my supervisors: Assistant Professor Gerard Verschoor from the chair group Rural development Studies (RDS) and Professor Han Wiskerke from the chair group Rural Sociology (RSO) who believed in my dream to study a life less ordinary and supported me along the way with advice and constructive criticism. Second, I am indebted to my family and friends who have given me their love and support throughout the journey of my thesis. There is nothing better when one is far away from home than to know that there are people who are thinking of you. During the writing process you have listened patiently to my stories as I began to craft my work and gave valuable feedback which has enriched my thesis and, furthermore, given me ideas to personally reflect on. I cannot name you all so I will simply say that without every one of you this story would not be what it is today. Third, I would like to thank the community of life in the village of Romashki, Ukraine that welcomed me to their place and took such good care of me. I am grateful for the inspiring talks we had with each other and the impressions we shared. A special thanks to Marina Odajskaja for the front page painting of this thesis and Pietro Raevski for the rest of the drawings. Last, but certainly not least, I am eternally indebted to Pietro, Olga and Ulyana Raevski who welcomed me to their home as a brother. You gave me the opportunity to become part of a life less ordinary, and this life I will never forget as it has become part of who I am now. I am honoured to have been part of your lives and to have you call me a friend and a brother. 3
  4. 4. To Romashki, 4
  5. 5. Abstract Living in harmony with nature and one another is a dream which many people aspire to, yet nothing appears more elusive to most people than the realisation of this dream. The purpose of this research was to explore the day to day practices in an alternative rural reality where a Ukrainian family is trying to do exactly this. Through employing the ethnographic tools of participant observation and interviewing to explore the past and present lives of this less than ordinary family, the intention is to present an engaging and inspiring narrative which can exercise the moral imagination of those interested in an alternative image of the countryside and its possibilities. The academic lens through which this narrative research was viewed was through aspects of the Actor Oriented Approach (AOA) and Actor-Network Theory (ANT). Through focusing on the possibilities created by the subjects studied, as advocated by the AOA, and their relational position to the community of life they are part of (ANT), this conceptual framework thus positions the study as a focused but connected strand in a greater narrative of life. The study reveals how the subjects are transforming a rural ‘space’ into an alternative ‘place’ in the countryside. Through having forsaken, and now cleansing themselves of the norms of modern urban society, this family gave themselves up to their intuition on how a sincere and beautiful life is to be lived, carrying out the routines and practices of a back-to-nature lifestyle. By following the universal laws – to them the harmonious and beautiful laws of nature – they have entered into their own very real, self described fairytale world where love for people and the natural world provide coherence and meaning in their lives. This fairytale is by no means a purely happy or universal one, but as in any fairytale, the reader is challenged to exercise his- or her own imagination to find the hidden meaning the story holds for each and every one of us. 5
  6. 6. Table of contents ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ...........................................................................................3 ABSTRACT..................................................................................................................5 PROLOGUE: THE WATER FAIRY AND THE NEW ARRIVALS ..................10 INTRODUCTION: JOURNEYING TO THE REALM OF ROMASHKI ..........15 The dream of Romashki.......................................................................................................................15 The Netherlands ...................................................................................................................................18 The Moral Imagination........................................................................................................................22 CHAPTER 1: THE WATER FAIRY AND THE SUNFLOWER.........................26 1.1 Return to Romashki .......................................................................................................................26 1.2 The Water Fairy and a conceptual framework............................................................................29 1.3 The Sunflower and a methodological approach...........................................................................34 1.4 The double rainbow and the fairytale...........................................................................................36 CHAPTER 2: THE STORY OF PIETRO ..............................................................38 2.1 A fairytale and the children’s garden ...........................................................................................38 2.2 University, the potato casualty and Pietro is a doctor.................................................................40 CHAPTER 3: THE STORY OF OLGA ..................................................................43 3.1 Dawn has broken ............................................................................................................................43 3.2 Cleaning the house and fruit galore ..............................................................................................44 3.3 Friendship and America ................................................................................................................46 3.4 Dinner and bedtime ........................................................................................................................48 CHAPTER 4: A NEW LIFE IS BORN....................................................................51 4.1 Love in Lviv and a moped..............................................................................................................51 4.2 A doctor’s wife and European travels. .........................................................................................53 4.3 Anastasia: Image of a new life .......................................................................................................54 4.4 Romashki and a new life is born ...................................................................................................56 4.5 Vissarion and an ecovillage in Siberia ..........................................................................................58 6
  7. 7. 4.6 Time for a summary .......................................................................................................................59 4.7 Reflection.........................................................................................................................................60 CHAPTER 5: FLOWER CHILD.............................................................................62 5.1 The journey continues ....................................................................................................................62 5.2 Birth of Ulyana ...............................................................................................................................63 5.3 To swim or not to swim: not a question for some. .......................................................................64 5.4 Ulyana’s stick dolls and Masha’s Barbie dolls.............................................................................66 5.5 Living the fairytale of Repka .........................................................................................................68 5.6 School and making a fairytale .......................................................................................................69 5.7 Children are selfish.........................................................................................................................72 5.8 Reflection.........................................................................................................................................73 CHAPTER 6: FRIENDS, LOCALS AND A WHEAT HOLIDAY.......................75 6.1 Romashki Natives ...........................................................................................................................75 6.2 The ecovillagers ..............................................................................................................................79 6.3 Those looking for something else...................................................................................................84 6.4 The wheat holiday...........................................................................................................................86 6.5 Reflection.........................................................................................................................................88 CHAPTER 7: THE LAND AND ONES PLACE IN NATURE ............................91 7.1 The Garden .....................................................................................................................................91 7.2 Olga and the garden .......................................................................................................................92 7.3 Pietro and the garden.....................................................................................................................95 7.5 Reflection: Nature calling!.............................................................................................................99 CHAPTER 8: SHELTER, ART AND FIRE .........................................................101 8.1 That vital heat ...............................................................................................................................101 8.2 The magic of cob...........................................................................................................................101 8.3 The arts and crafts........................................................................................................................104 8.4 Wood for fire.................................................................................................................................105 8.5 Reflection.......................................................................................................................................107 7
  8. 8. CHAPTER 9: SWEEPING AWAY THE DUST ..................................................109 9.1 Responsibility................................................................................................................................109 9.2 The morning wash and the fly that bit me..................................................................................109 9.3 Medicine as Art.............................................................................................................................112 9.4 Water and information ................................................................................................................114 9.5 Cleaning and washing ..................................................................................................................116 9.6 Deadly disease or a blessing in disguise ......................................................................................117 9.7 Reflection.......................................................................................................................................118 CHAPTER 10: FOOD IN A FAIRYTALE ...........................................................120 10.1 Olga Preparing breakfast ..........................................................................................................120 10.3 What food do they eat, and why? ..............................................................................................122 10.4 The funny market .......................................................................................................................123 10.5 A playful squirrel........................................................................................................................124 10.6 A talk with Mr Sunflower ..........................................................................................................125 10.7 Local food....................................................................................................................................127 10.8 Reflection.....................................................................................................................................128 CHAPTER 11: SEASONS CHANGE, AS DOES THE FAIRYTALE...............130 11.1 A time of transition.....................................................................................................................130 11.2 Dejection......................................................................................................................................131 11.3 Askeladden and the troll: Attempt one.....................................................................................132 11.4 A window between two worlds ..................................................................................................135 11.4 My life in the woods....................................................................................................................135 11.5 Askeladden and the troll: Attempt two.....................................................................................137 11.6 Reflection: The fairytale revealed .............................................................................................140 CHAPTER 12: CONCLUSION OF THIS FAIRYTALE....................................142 12.1 Dawn comes with rosy fingers ...................................................................................................142 12.2 Farewell to the Raevskis.............................................................................................................142 12.3 A fairytale conference ................................................................................................................143 12.4 Creating the dream.....................................................................................................................144 8
  9. 9. 12.5 The everyday life of a fairytale..................................................................................................146 12.6 Ulyana: The fairytale continued................................................................................................150 12.7 A parting gift from Romashki ...................................................................................................151 REFERENCES.........................................................................................................154 9
  10. 10. Prologue: The water fairy and the new arrivals Once upon a time Mother Earth was a place of profound beauty and harmony.1 A canvas of colours covered her bosom and a great ball of fire in the sky provided light and warmth to all life below. Trees and plants resided in the fertile soil, providing shelter and food to the birds, animals and all Mankind. The water which flowed in the oceans, rivers and lakes was crystal clear reflecting and absorbing the sunlight from above and its purity provided sustenance and joy to all life around it. This was a time when people of the earth lived in harmony with nature. They understood her and respected her, taking only what they needed and giving back what they could. They looked after her as a child looks after its mother, recognising that they were but one strand of a greater web of life. The people lived in great gardens which they had tended to with love and all were at peace with their neighbours. War was unknown and Mankind prospered through communication with the natural world around him. But over time something terrible began to happen. A dark force began to shadow the lives of Mankind. This was a spirit of greed which slowly began to enter the minds and hearts of Man. People began to grow jealous of each other, wanting what their neighbour had – a desire to want more and more. Man began plundering the earth in an attempt to extract as much value as possible and started to move away from the beautiful gardens to settlements which he believed would provide security and means for greater wealth. These settlements turned into cities which built factories which released chemicals and bad energy into the environment. Lines were drawn on maps and weapons were made to defend one piece of land from another, or to attack the other to gain its wealth. War became a way of life and people became afraid of each other. Love and peace began to die and so did the harmony of Mother Earth. Man lost the ability to speak to the plants and animals around him. Nature became a means for gain. * In this time of crisis there just so happened to be a water fairy that lived in a little lake beside a little village. From the great rivers which rage beneath the earth, the fairy had once upon a time emerged through one of the channels which connect the depths of the world below with the world above. She made her home in a little marshy pond fed by a spring. Here she found sanctuary and peace to do what water fairies must do. She lived happily her immortal life in the marshy pond and observed the changing world around her. She lived content through the Golden Age of time2 when there was peace, stability and prosperity in the world. This was a time without 1 This story is inspired by “The Message of the Sunflowers: A Magic Symbol of Peace” by Georgianna Moore (2002). 2 These ‘ages’ are based on the narrative poem Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid. See Mandelbaum (1993). 10
  11. 11. seasons and the water fairy observed Man wander the land of Arcadia, feeding himself on the food which nature provided in abundance. However, time passed and the Silver Age came to pass. The supreme God Jupiter imposed seasons on Man and the fairy witnessed Man having to build shelter in the hills around the pond to protect himself from the elements and engage in agriculture to feed himself during the harsh winters. Then the Bronze Age came to pass. The water fairy began to feel the discontent in the people around her. They were jealous of each other. She saw the envious glances and looks of hatred among people from different places. Then the Iron Age came to be. The birds of the sky brought news to the water fairy of great wars raging between Man in not so distant lands. There were whispers of a great Queen of an empire called Russia who was waging war on the people called Cossacks who lived in the area surrounding the water fairy. Not long after a man clad in woven pants, a cloak, and a sheepskin vest entered the community which had evolved around the water fairy’s pond. He was riding a horse and by his side was the Kindjal, a dagger which was the weapon of the Cossacks. His name was Romashko and he was running away from the army of Queen Katherine of Russia. Because of the hills and surrounding forest, the area was a good place to hide. The Cossack settled down and the settlement came to be called Romashki after him. Time passed and the village Romashki grew, but peace did not. One day the sky filled with a thunder so unnatural that the water fairy and the animals around her hid in fright. Planes flew across the sky dropping bombs. A hail of artillery shells bombarded the ground and men in uniforms and guns fired at each other. The blood flowed and the screams of dying men filled the air. ‘Why are people doing this to each other?’ the water fairy lamented to herself in sorrowful terror. Years after the rain of metal had ceased, men driving big machines came and shovelled away the earth between the water fairy’s pond and the new ponds created by the bombs. Water flowed freely up from the springs filling the space. The beavers arrived and dammed the stream of water and the water level rose – a lake was formed. Children came and started swimming in the lake. They splashed around and squirted water at each other squealing with delight. Adults also came to swim and wash their clothes. Oh, how happy the water fairy was! She radiated happiness and energy into the water. ‘This is how life should be’, thought the water fairy with pleasure as she watched the people laugh and bath in the water. But over time fewer and fewer people came to the lake till at last there were none. Reeds grew and covered the entrance to the lake. The lake became forgotten except to the odd fisherman. The water fairy was sad and asked a crane to find out why there where no people. The bird came back and said that people were leaving the village for the city and many had their own way of making showers to wash themselves. The water fairy wept tears for the people who did not want to swim in her 11
  12. 12. lake anymore. The animals and insects tried to comfort her, but she was melancholy. She withdrew into herself. Then, as always at a time of crisis, something extraordinary happened. While the water fairy sat on the bottom of the lake weeping tears of unhappiness, she heard a rustle in the reeds by the lake. ‘That is not the sound of the wind or of any of my friends’, she thought to herself. “Go see what that noise is”, she asked Irenushka the frog who attended her every wish. The frog swam to the surface of the lake and quietly, so as not to be observed, looked to where the noise was coming from. What the frog saw made her croak with surprise and she quickly swam back to the fairy. “Well, what did you see?” asked the water fairy. “The most amazing sight”, replied the frog. “People without clothes are making their way into the water.” The water fairy, hardly daring to believe it, hurriedly swam to the surface of the lake and concealed herself in some reeds. Brushing the reeds aside and wading through the mud came two beautiful people. The first was a man. He had a beard and a lean body with intense blue eyes. Next emerged a woman. She had dark hair, kind generous eyes and a huge stomach. They were laughing and singing a beautiful song. They waded into the water, frolicking as they went and finally, after giving each other loving looks, plunged in. The water fairy was delighted with her new guests. She wept more tears, but this time the tears were filled with joy, not sorrow. The tears merged into the water and the water picked up the energy. Afraid the couple might not return to her, the fairy decided to cast a spell on them. Waving the birch stick which was her magic wand, she chanted the magic words: “Earth fire wind and hail, open the realm of the fairytale!” The sun shone a little brighter, the water felt a little fresher. The couple felt a special energy and spirit in the water touch their souls. They felt happy and at peace and decided then and there that they would swim in this lake every day – summer and winter, rain hail or shine. Curious by nature, the water fairy sent out her attendants to collect information about this most interesting couple. A squirrel came back reporting that the couple had moved into an old mud house which was falling apart. They were collecting wood from the forest and making their food on a fire. A crane reported that they had started to clear away the nettles in the garden and were planting potatoes. A woodpecker announced that the couple had that day cut the supply of electricity to their house. A mouse which had taken the dangerous path from the house to the lake timidly announced that the pantry was being filled with bags of flour, buckwheat and sunflower oil. A hawk swooped down, and perching on a log sticking out of the lake, told the fairy that the couple were using only tools and their own hands to renovate their house and transform their garden. The water fairy listened to all this with amazement. She remembered back to a time when everybody lived like this. ‘Ah, this is too fantastic to believe’, she thought to herself. ‘I have seen this before a long time ago. But can they live like this? Will they continue to respect nature I wonder? And where do they find their inspiration?’ 12
  13. 13. The fairy consulted a wise old apple tree which stood close to the lake. “What do you think of these people?” the fairy asked the wise old tree. The tree thought for a long time before replying: “Today I saw the man with the beard pick up one of my apples from the ground. He examined it intently, then put the apple to his nose and inhaled deeply its aroma. Smiling, the bearded man looked up at me and nodded as if to say; ‘this is a good apple, thank you’. I think these people understand the nature around them and are communicating with us. I pick up their positive energy and it makes me want to live and produce the finest fruits for them to eat”. The fairy thought about this. ‘They speak our language!’ she concluded to herself and was filled with joy. And every day the couple came to swim until one day there were not just two of them, but three. The woman’s stomach had shrunk and she was carrying a little person in her arm. The water fairy, unable to contain her curiosity at what had happened to her Adam and Eve, sent the frog Irenushka, to investigate. Irenushka came across Belka the squirrel whom she addressed. “Yes”, replied Belka, “I saw it all. I had been out gathering nuts in a walnut tree outside their house. Looking through the window I saw a woman lying on a bed of straw and a man kneeling beside her. It was a sunny day and the light was shining through the window onto the couple. I could see their faces: The look of exertion on the woman’s face and the concentration on the man’s. He was talking calmly to the woman. She was not afraid, but looked tense and was breathing heavily. Then out of the woman and into the arms of the man a little person emerged. This little person did not cry. The man tenderly dried the little person and placed it in the arms of the woman. With a cord still attached between the little person and the woman, the couple spent the day with their new creation. In the evening, the cord was cut and the part not connected to the little person was buried under a small plum tree close to the house. The look of happiness on the couple’s faces and the look of wonder on the little person were amazing”. Irenushka listened intently to what Belka said and when the latter had finished, Irenushka hopped back to the lake and related the story to the water fairy. ‘Ah, yes’, the water fairy thought to herself with joy, ‘A new person has been born in Romashki’. A few days passed in bliss. Then, what the fairy had feared most of all in the world happened. The family stopped coming to the lake. Worried, the fairy once again sent out her attendants. Word came back that some important looking men had come to the house of the family, strong words had been spoken by the men and despite the smiles and soothing talk of the couple, the men remained angry until they left. Soon after, the family packed some of their belongings and left the village. Oh! How the water fairy cried! ‘Why have they left?’ she lamented. ‘It was all too good to be true… Will they ever come back?’ And as the months passed the fairy fell further and further into a state of melancholy. Each new day seemed just like the last. All the beauty around seemed dull and bland. The animals around her again tried to comfort her to no avail. But then, just when the fairy was about to give up hope she heard a rustle of the reeds, a splash of water and her heart fluttered as she knew her friends had returned. 13
  14. 14. The beautiful life continued as it had before, but the water fairy increasingly wanted to know more about these extraordinary people. ‘If only someone from the outside world would come and explore their lives’, she thought to herself. ‘Someone with an outside perspective to discover their motives for moving, the way they live their lives in detail, what their philosophy of life is.’ The water fairy looked up into the sky, closed her eyes, and sent a wish to the heavens above. To be continued… 14
  15. 15. Introduction: Journeying to the Realm of Romashki “Develop your imagination. This is a powerful means of truly acquiring the comprehension of Being. The inability to cultivate a fertile soil for the development of the imagination in yourself, as well as in another, is a sign of an inferior mind.” Vissarion: Commandment 393 The dream of Romashki I entered the village of Romashki for the first time in the summer of 2008. Travelling through the vast expanses of the former Soviet Union, I had met a guy who knew a girl who had heard of a guy and through a serendipitous chain of events, I ended up in a small remote village south of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. In a reduced state from the Ukrainian cognac the night before and traumatised from the manic driving of my new friend Max, I sat with Max and my Romashki contact Andrey, eating salo (pig lard) on bread with raw onions. As I forced the fatty salo down my throat, helped by the Ukrainian vodka, I looked around at the new landscape I had before me. It was not quite what I had expected. Andrey’s house seemed to be made from clay, with an earth floor covered in straw, a simple primus on a bench to cook food, and a Russian oven along one side of the wall which served to heat the house with its flat top also serving as a bed. The mud walls were unpainted and earthy brown, but covered in art. A piano stood against the wall, a trumpet rested in the corner of the room. Wandering out into the garden I climbed up a mulberry tree and gorged myself on the ripe purple berries. As the dark juice ran down my face, I looked around the garden. Dotted around with what seemed like reckless abandon were various plants and trees, the only ones of which I could recognise being tomato plants and corn stalks. Around the property was a natural fence of acacia trees, behind which I could see rolling hills with forest and wild grass. As the evening approached other young people started arriving from here and there and someone pulled out a guitar. The merry crowd sat around an open fire and began to sing songs in Russian and Ukrainian. I realised I had arrived in no ordinary village. I felt included but excluded at the same time. This was not something I was used to and I did not know how to act. I was accepted as a friend into the circle of people, but I did not understand the social codes of these strange people around me. That night I went to bed on the oven top not knowing where I was, or what I was doing in this place so far from home. Little did I know that the next morning I was to meet the people who were to change my life forever. 3 This commandment and those that follow in the next chapters are taken from the 61 commandments of The Last Testament, by Vissarion (2009). Vissarion is the spiritual leader of a community in Siberia, Russia. 15
  16. 16. * The next morning Andrey took the bus back to Kiev where he worked. Uncertain what to do and where to stay, my new friend Camilla from Kyrgyzstan suggested I come and meet some of the other people in the village. Following a winding path through the village, we passed traditional Ukrainian houses with square vegetable plots, enclosed by fences. The village was quiet, with few people about. Many of the houses looked run down and uninhabited. Walking alongside Camilla, she remarked how beautiful life was on this sunny day. I nodded in polite agreement, unsure of what she was referring to. Then we turned right off the path, stepped through a gap in the bushes and entered another world. My first impression was of surprise and wonder. In front of me stood a man with a long beard, intense blue eyes, and a smile. His tall lean body was tanned and his long hair was bleached from the sun. The only item of clothing on his body was a cloth wrapped around his waist. He walked up to me and embraced me. “My name is Pietro”, he said. Then the woman beside him introduced herself as Olga. I looked at her and felt the warmth in her eyes and the kindness radiating from her body as we embraced. I 16
  17. 17. looked around me at the simple clay house, the apples Olga was cutting up and placing on a tray. I saw the little child hiding behind Olga’s back and I saw the simple clothes they were wearing and their happy content faces. Most of all I felt a profound sense of something out of the ordinary. Here were people living a life very different from my own – something exotic and unknown. ‘Who are these people?’ I wondered to myself. ‘What kind of life do they live here and why?’ Olga and Pietro exchanged a few words in Russian, and then Olga turned to me and asked in English: “Maybe you would like to live with us for few days?” I looked at their happy expectant faces and said: “Yes, that would be nice”. And that was when it all began. Looking back on that first time in Romashki, it all seems a little surreal. I had met a group of people living a life so different from what I knew life to be. In a simple clay and straw hut, without the modern amenities of electricity or running water, an alternative life had been constructed and was being lived by a very remarkable family. Once a doctor and a lawyer, respectively, in the city of Kiev, Pietro and Olga had voluntarily moved from the city four years ago to live a more ‘beautiful life’ closer to nature where they would give birth to their daughter Ulyana. On their two hectare plot of land they grew their own food and attempted to live as self-sufficiently as possible in harmony with nature and the people around them. For nine days I was to be part of their lives. These were days spent gathering fruit and vegetables from the garden and the surrounding forest, swimming in the nearby lake and cooking food on an open fire. Pietro and Olga were to tell me stories about the native plants and animals which lived around them: Which plants could be used to heal which disease, and the role the various animals played in their lives. They also told me about their relationship with nature and each other: The importance of connecting with the life around you, of living with positive energy, and of living in a space of love. They told me of Anastasia, a woman who lived alone deep in the Siberian forest without a house or any money and they told me about Vissarion, their spiritual teacher who had founded and was living in an ecovillage in Siberia. I shared their mealtimes of simple vegan food, I washed myself with clay in the lake and I walked through the forest barefoot and carefree. Like a tourist being led on a tour, I listened eagerly in the somewhat detached but excited way only possible when on holiday. Everything was different and thus exotic. I revelled in the freedom and beauty of my new surroundings and the exotic nature of Pietro, Olga and their daughter Ulyana. This life was very different from my own western notion of ‘progress’: primitive compared to what I was used to, and based on feelings and emotions which I could not understand. But the life was exciting in its otherness and in fleeting moments of romance I imagined myself living this life. Soon, however, it was time to leave. “Maybe you will come back here to write your thesis”, Olga said. I put my sandals back on my feet, hoisted my backpack on to my shoulders, and smiling to Olga (and myself) replied: “Da, yes, anything is possible!” I was off to study molecular nutrition and economic development in the Netherlands. Romashki was not a place I envisaged returning to for a master thesis. But I wanted 17
  18. 18. to return one day to visit of course. I waved goodbye and walked the tree lined path back to the bus that would take me to civilisation, ready for my next adventure. As I now look at a photograph of Pietro, Olga and myself from that time, I am struck by how little I understood of their lives back then. They look calm, happy and in touch with their surroundings. I look excited and somewhat natural, but I could read on my face that look of being out of place. I was a tourist of sorts that had entered this new life innocent and naïve like in a child’s dream and that was how I was to leave it. * The Netherlands Life can do funny things to a person. You travel, you meet new people, experience new things and then the things which you thought were something, are no longer what you though they were. After one week of studying in the Netherlands I changed my mind as to what I wanted to study. I announced boldly to my study supervisor that I wanted to change my field of studies. I persuaded her to let me change from economics and nutrition to sociology. I started studying the sociology of rural development and have never since looked back. I entered this new field of academia with gusto. The countryside I envisioned when I heard the word ‘rural’ held a romantic place in my heart. Where I grew up in New Zealand I was surrounded by a countryside where sheep resided on rolling hills, cows ate grass in green paddocks by the sea and a summer job meant picking apples in an orchard or grapes in a vineyard. What confronted me in my studies was far from the pretty images in my mind. Landscapes of struggling farmers, peasants and urbanites and their complex relationships to the land opened up in front of me like an unfolding drama in a novel: Peasants of the Andes of South America eking out a living growing potatoes high in the mountains and struggling to survive in a market economy; children in Manila, the Philippines, living in (and making a living on) rubbish; mass industrial farms in the Netherlands transforming the countryside in the name of scale and economic efficiency. The landscapes we live on and the people that populate it seemed to me diverse and in many cases exotic. They could also appear to be sad and at times even depressing. These were people from all walks of life trying to exist on the land, but struggling to live with dignity in a rapidly changing world of globalisation and modernisation. ‘But is this the way it has to be?’ I thought to myself. ‘Could it not be another way?’ There were three aspects which captivated my imagination in the field of rural sociology and development studies. First was the notion of modernity and its discontents. As is noted by the anthropologist Arturo Escobar there is an increasing understanding that there are no modern solutions to today’s modern problems.4 This is clearly demonstrated by the ecological destruction taking place on a global scale, 4 See Escobar (2004). 18
  19. 19. the displacement of millions of people from their homes,5 and the inability for western enforced notions of development to provide a minimum of wellbeing for the people of the world.6 We are at a point in history where, as sociologist Zygmund Bauman notes, “the planet is full.”7 By this he means we have run out of ‘undiscovered’ places in the world in which to colonise and exploit for our own means – as places to throw away the waste of civilisation; be it people, physical waste, or outdated ideas. Therefore, whatever waste we currently produce now – and we are producing waste as never before in our consumerist society – will build up in our own backyard. This struck a chord as I looked at my own life, the lives around me, those on television and in the books I read. It did indeed seem like ‘waste’ was piling up around us. Another author who writes about the notion of modernity is the economist Schumacher. In his inspiring book Small Is Beautiful8 Schumacher writes disparagingly about how our obsession with size and efficiency is making us lose touch with the greater beauty in life. He talks about people, not economics. He states that modern economics (the backbone of modernity in its present state) considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of all economic activity. This philosophy leaves no room for artistic creativity or a lasting place-based-identity as people have attached their identities to the consumption of ‘things’.9 Looking at my own life, and those around me, this could not seem more true. Consuming the fruits of modernity, life appears transient, unpredictable and a little bit scary. And this is what we call the path of progress! Consumerism, industrialism and a transient life always on the move to a new job or identity. Is this the way life should be? I became interested in looking for small and beautiful alternatives to our current western paradigm of modernity based on size and efficiency. The second aspect which caught my imagination was the notion of rurality. Rurality for me is a word which describes a certain subjective image of the rural that we have in our minds. This image is different for different people. During my adventures across the Netherlands, I saw physical representation of the rural very different from that of New Zealand. In the former, flat green pastures were flanked by canals and modern windmills towered over industrial scale farming. Whilst in New Zealand there were vast expanses of rugged farmland dotted with thousands of sheep far from civilisation. I was intrigued to hear my fellow classmates from all over the world relate their images of the countryside. Some described rural landscapes as endless deserts, some as great plains with cattle and some of villages with small plots of land. Some talked of the rural with indifference, some with a tear in their eye, and others with barely concealed disdain. I began to realise that the countryside was a lot more complex than I had imagined. Even the same space was envisaged differently. 5 See Bauman (2004). 6 See Escobar (2004). 7 See Bauman (2004:5). 8 See Schumacher (1974). 9 See Ibid. From a sociological perspective this has significance if we derive our identity from ends, and not means. If consumption has become an end in itself, then we are assessed by what we consume and since we are consuming and throwing away ‘things’ at breakneck speeds, our identity linked to consumption becomes transient and unstable. 19
  20. 20. It could be visualised as a place purely for nature and for leisure, or as a space for massive industrial farms to feed the people of the city, or as a place for man and nature to live in harmony with each other.10 What we think the rural is or should be is constructed in our own minds.11 Perhaps not wanting to give up my romantic notions of the rural, I found myself becoming interested in the relationship between man and the land.12 How Man could integrate his activities, needs and desires, with the land, in a sustainable manner.13 In the literature I read about the ‘radical rural’14 which is a very different expression of the possible trajectories the ‘post-productivist’ countryside can take.15 In particular I was fascinated by the ‘alternative’ back-to-the-land social movements.16 Here we have a collection of different neo-rural communities practicing small scale farming with a focus on self-sufficiency and ethics based on a sustainable relationship between humans and the natural world.17 This is a lifestyle which challenges the mainstream stereotype of the rural as being somewhere to go for a holiday, or somewhere simply to produce food. These were people who were moving back to the land as if they were returning to a natural preordained condition in which man was one with the earth: Respecting it, caring for it and making their living with it.18 This was an image of the rural where Man belonged in nature – an image I seemed to remember from a village in Ukraine. The third aspect of my studies which struck a chord was something I first began to feel during the confusing mass of articles, lectures and information thrown at the student. This was the idea of the narrative as a way of bringing coherence into the accounts being told. The more I listened and read about development and the rural, the more I realised that I was taking in stories about people and their lives. The 10 This is based on the three paradigms of development discussed by Marsden (2003): The Agro-industrial paradigm, the post-productivist paradigm, and the integrated rural development paradigm, as cited in Wiskerke (2007: 7). 11 See Murdoch and Pratt (1993). 12 This study will focus on the man-nature relationship of sustainability in the rural sphere. However, there are other movements based in urban areas which address the same issues of sustainable development. See, for example, transitional towns (http://www.transitionnetwork.org/) and urban ecological villages (http://urban.ecovillage.org/index.shtml). 13 This is the third development paradigm: The integrated rural development paradigm, discussed by Marsden (2003). It stresses the multi-functionality at farm and/or regional level. 14 Halfacree describes the ‘radical rural’ as places which strive for the production of truly different forms of rural space, which not just extend the scope of rural possibilities but also concern the issues of the ideological underpinnings of the forms of rural space currently debated. These ‘radical visions’, as Halfacree also calls them, imagine produced rather than induced difference, which challenges the system itself. This would drive rural development in a fundamentally different direction than it is on today (2007: 131). 15 Post-productivism can be described as the emergence of a multifunctional rural regime, represented geographically as an increasingly regionalized rural (Halfacree 2007: 130) 16 See Halfacree (2001; 2006). For other rural social movements refer to Woods (2008). 17 See Halfacree (2007: 132). 18 Schumacher describes those who move back to the land as ‘home comers’; people in search of a new lifestyle, who “seek to return to certain basic truths about man and his world” (1974:129). 20
  21. 21. turning point in my studies came when I made that fundamental connection between the words in the books, and life ‘out there’. I was reading a book called Wasted Lives, by sociologist Zygmund Bauman.19 This book on ‘modernity and its outcasts’ begins by stating that there is more than one way in which to tell a story.20 His is a story of modernity and the waste it has created in the wake of economic progress and globalisation. Bauman’s story is a grand narrative of modernity, where all its constituents are products or agents of waste. For him, waste is a metaphor for the redundancy of people – a side-effect of modernity – where people possess multiple and transient identities, with no permanence or belonging.21 It is a decidedly pessimistic and fatalistic story of society and does not leave much room for alternatives or hope. It is persuasive and passionately written, and reflects the despair increasingly felt by the outcasts of a modernizing society, aspects I recognised in myself. However, the words: “there is more than one way to tell a story”22 echoed in my mind throughout the book. Bauman then sets forth the challenge to the reader: “This book ought to be read as an invitation to take another and somewhat different look at the allegedly all-to-familiar modern world we all share and inhabit”.23 And indeed, after reading this book, I accepted Bauman’s invitation and I did take another look at modernity. In one of those unexplainable moments of clarity, I remembered another story I had once experienced. This other story was a very different expression of the ‘modern world’ argued against by Bauman and even the one he was describing himself. I thought of Romashki and I thought of the Raevski family: Pietro, Olga and Ulyana. Theirs was another story of how people live in our ‘modern’ world and the more I thought about their story, the more I felt it was a story which needed to be told: not necessarily for their sake, but for the sake of those of us who do not hear about these stories – those of us looking for something to inspire us in life at a time when there seems little else than despair. Remembering the parting words of Olga, I sat down with pen and paper and wrote a letter to the Raevski family asking if I could come and live with them and study their lives. A few weeks later a letter arrived from Ukraine saying: “….You are welcome to stay in our house as long as you like. You may describe everything you see and feel. We are happy to share our experience with people…” After preparing what needed to be prepared I jumped on a train and headed due east towards the land of borsch, Chernobyl and a village called Romashki in Ukraine. * 19 See Bauman (2004). 20 See Ibid: p.1. 21 See Bauman (2004). 22 See Ibid: p.1. 23 See Ibid: p.8. 21
  22. 22. The Moral Imagination As I sat on the train crossing Slovakia into Ukraine, I reflected on the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of my research. My research was to be an exploration into an alternative rurality in Ukraine. By alternative rurality I was referring to a lifestyle being lived in a rural area, based on a set of images and ideas, values and principles, which would generally be perceived to be outside the cultural norm of the west. The Raevski lifestyle I believed to be exactly this. Yet unlike the master narrative of society put forward by Bauman, my research was to be a mini narrative based on research into just one family24 and the myriad of surrounding human and non-human actors which give them meaning. It was not going to be a comparative study. Although I planned to talk to the community of life around the Raevskis, it was predominantly their reality I wanted to explore. I surmised that as we live our own personal and unique realities, it was more important to explore these realities in depth and gain a real appreciation for them, rather than compare and contrast at a more superficial level the different realities in the hope of discovering trends in these alternative ruralities. My research would not focus on the political or economic aspects of this environment. Although the historical context of Ukraine as a post-communist state which has moved to a market economy is a backdrop for this research, it is the actors themselves which will be the focus, exploring how they construct their own lives away from the conventions of modern life. The reason I wanted to study this alternative life in the countryside was because their story inspired me, and because I believe it will act as an inspiration to academics and the general public in the notion of what the rural can be by providing a very unusual and poetic account of a rurality which most people are unfamiliar with. There has traditionally been a lack of research into these alternative ruralities,25 though there are now emerging studies into more unconventional narratives of rurality in the countryside.26 These studies are an exploration into the ‘otherness’ of the rural that has generally been ignored in research.27 However, although there is an increasing fascination with ethnographic research in rural studies,28 situated ethnographic research into the construction and lived day to day reality of a family in an alternative back-to-nature rurality is missing from the literature. On the one hand, research into 24 The Raevski household is the unit of analysis for this research. 25 Cloke and Little (1997) make this point by citing the review article by Philo (1992) which discusses the neglected rural geographies of the countryside. Philo discusses the danger of portraying British rural people “as all being ‘Mr. Averages’, as being men in employment, earning enough to live, white and probably English, straight and without sexuality, able in body and sound in mind, and devoid of any other quirks of (say) religious belief or political affiliation (Philo 1992: 200). Apart from highlighting ‘forgotten’ items for the rural research agenda, Cloke and Little (1997) further point to the “discursive power by which mythological commonalities of rural culture will often represent an exclusionary device, serving to marginalize individuals and groups (Cloke and Little 1997). This study seeks to explore a more specific representation of a minority vision of the countryside. 26 See, for example, research into lesbian communities in the rural U.S.A (Valentine 1997), and religiously charged rural area of a shaker community (Philo 1997). 27 See Cloke and Little (1997) and Little (1999). 28 See Cloke (1997). 22
  23. 23. back-to-the-land movements are a means of engaging with the critique of mainstream rurality in the productivist landscape29 broadening our notion of the possibilities provided by the countryside in a time when alternatives are being sought.30 And on the other hand, ethnographic study into real lives reveal the decision making processes taken by individuals in constructing and living the life they imagine, including all the challenges and contradictions, hopes and fears of the lived everyday life.31 How I wanted to explore and represent the life of the Raevskis and Romashki was, as mentioned, through ethnography. Ethnography is an in depth exploration of human interaction and culture which is both a method and an end product. As a method, the main pillar of ethnography is participant observation, which involves the anthropologist being immersed in the social setting to be studied for an extended period of time. They participate in the activities performed by members of the setting, make observations regarding the behaviour of the group, listen to and engage in conversation, and try to understand the culture of the group within the context of that culture32. More specifically, the type of ethnography I wanted to engage in was narrative ethnography which in this case will refer to the critical analysis of representational practices in ethnography. This aims to work against the objectifying practices of ethnographic description, highlighting the researcher’s narrative practices in crafting ethnographic accounts33. It will thus be a reflexive account, as is emphasized in contemporary anthropology34 where the author is a positioned character with an important role in the story.35 I believe the ethnographer is an active part of the process of transferring knowledge: both in his interaction with the subjects of the research, and in the multi-stage process of crafting these experiences into a 29 See Halfacree (2006; 2007) and Ploeg (2006). 30 Halfacree (2006) asserts that unlike back-to-nature movements in the 60’s and 70’s, today’s movements are historically positioned at a time when the productivist alignment of rural spatiality is being sorely challenged, thus providing a scope for these movements to critique more seriously the emerging mainstream rurality. 31 Halfacree makes a calls for engaged research which will report on how these expressions of the ‘radical rural’ evolves, stating that study into these ‘real lives’ be not just concerned with people explicitly attempting to live a ‘radical rural’ life but also with neighbors and those farther afield. (2007: 138). 32 The main pillar of ethnography as a method is participant observation, which involves the ethnographer immersing him- or herself in the social setting to be studied for an extended period of time. They participate in the activities performed by members of the setting, make observations regarding the behaviour of the group, listen to and engage in conversation, and try to understand the culture of the group within the context of that culture (Bryman 2004: 293). 33 See Gubrium and Holstein (2009: 24). Another way to refer to narrative ethnography is as ‘a method of procedure and analysis aimed at close scrutiny of social situations, their actors, and actions in relation to narratives’ (Gubrium 2008: 250). This focus on the narrative activity as it unfolds in everyday day within situated interaction is not the focus of this ethnography, though it is mentioned. 34 See Goodall (2000) and Mascia-Lees et al (1989). 35 Cloke and Little describe reflexivity as the concern for the intertextualities of the situated author-knowledges of the self (1997: 3). This is a means of addressing the issue of subjectivity in ethnographic research which a more detached realism genre has traditionally tried to overcome (Goodall 2000). 23
  24. 24. narrative to convey the impressions. As the ethnographer is the window into this ‘other’ way of life, why should he then not then be explicitly part of the story? Ethnography is also the term given to the written product of the research – a written representation of a culture. In light of the narrative methods mentioned above, and with the focus on reflexivity, the representation of this alternative rurality will be what has been labelled the ‘new ethnography’36. This refers to ‘creative narratives shaped out of a writer’s personal experiences within a culture and addressed to academic and public audiences.’37 The narrative then becomes a framework for understanding the subjects and their stories.38 Considering the fairytale landscape of Romashki and the poetic nature of the Raevski lifestyle, I wanted to capture a chapter in the story of their lives by entwining my life story with that of theirs, giving it the context afforded by deep engagement in their lives, and representing the story in an easily assessable narrative. And so it is time to outline the questions I was hoping to answer in my research. First of all I was interested in the motivations behind the Raevski’s move from the city to the countryside: What are the motivations behind a change in life-style from an urban to a rural space and place? To make such a fundamental change in lifestyle was to me amazing, and so I wanted to explore the reasons and context of this change. Second, I wanted to explore what it meant to live an alternative life in the countryside: What are the routines and practices of an alternative rural reality, and what is the philosophy behind these? It is easy to talk romantically or disparately about some ‘other’ life in the countryside which one has no real connection to. I wanted to experience first hand the day-to-day practices and routines of an ‘alternative’ life in the countryside, and the philosophy behind it. Lastly, I wanted to explore the dynamics of this new life: How are these routines and practices constructed, and developed over time? In other words, how did this family craft a lifestyle which reflected their philosophy of life and how does their day-to-day life transform over time as a result of trying to live the image of the life they imagined. * Feeling tired with my abstractions I sighed and gazed up at the brown floral curtains above the train window. My eyes wandered to a wooden cupboard which held three 36 See Goodall (2000). 37 See Ibid: p. 9. As an example of this, I was inspired by the ethnography The Broken Fountain, by Thomas Belmonte (2005). In this ethnography Belmonte describes the poor in Fontana del Re, an impoverished neighborhood in Naples, Italy. By employing vivid portraits of the characters he meets, for example: “but if Giorgio was lean like a bird of prey, Carlo was massive like a bull” (Belmonte 2005: 10), Belmonte creates images which allow the reader to imagine the scene the ethnographer is describing. He also writes in a reflexive first person voice, describing his personal thoughts: “Sometimes, if a family quarrel was especially brutal, I found myself trembling and speechless, but my attempts to judge, in a moral sense, were invariably foiled.” (Belmonte 2005: 22). Both the images created and the reflexive approach act as a window for the reader into the world Belmonte is describing. Both these techniques are employed in this research. 38 See Gubrium and Holstein (2009) and Sandelowski (1991). 24
  25. 25. metal hooks: the first hook was naked, the second held a plastic cup and the third a plastic bouquet of flowers. I smiled at the tackiness, glad I was on the way to a place where the flowers would be real – away from a world where the beauty of nature had to be expressed in the artificiality of plastic. The train was shaking and so was my hand as I finished the words in my diary. I sat back and looked out the window at the greying dull blandness which would only get blacker as night time and Ukraine approached. I had a nervous feeling in my stomach which the beer was only slowly helping to quell. I was imagining how it was all to be. Beyond answering research questions, the intention of this journey was to craft a narrative from the lives of the Raevskis which would provoke the imagination of the reader. By using a bit of imagination and placing ourselves into a story and reflecting on the decisions and actions taken by the characters, I believe we can forward our understanding of the motivations of humanity to dare to challenge the norm of society and create their own place and reality far removed from that considered sane and enviable.39 But here I was on the train, not even in Ukraine. The possibilities appeared endless and I had no idea of the different worlds I would soon to enter. 39 An important aspect here is what Johnson (1993) calls the moral imagination, broadly defining it as an ability to imaginatively discern various possibilities for acting within a given situation and to envision the potential help and harm that are likely to result from a given action. This is in the same tradition as the ‘sociological imagination’ of Mills (1959), which describes the application of imaginative thought to the asking and answering of sociological questions. 25
  26. 26. Chapter 1: The Water Fairy and the Sunflower 1.1 Return to Romashki I arrived back in Romashki much the same as I arrived the first time, a little over one year before. Max’s driving had not improved, but as we sped through the countryside in his little match box Ukrainian car, I had a feeling I knew where we were going this time. Andrey was sitting beside me just like last time and his easy going nature and that ever present hint of a smile on his lips put me at rest. Correspondence by mail with Pietro and Olga had taken place a few months earlier, and I knew many things could have happened to complicate my research, but Andrey assured me that Pietro and Olga were expecting me, and that everything would be fine. Upon entering Romashki I saw the familiar house of Andrey and although he had made changes to the garden, it was basically the same. I felt like I was coming back to a place that was a mystery to me – this time to become better acquainted with it. After drinking tea with Andrey and Max I walked the path to the house of the Raevskis with increasingly busy butterflies in my stomach. I was now in Romashki and there was no turning back. If the living conditions of the Raevskis had changed, or if their expectations were very different from mine, then there would be nothing for me to do but accept and adapt. But when I turned into their house, saw Pietro, Olga and Ulyana, and saw their smiles as I approached I knew everything was going to work out. I was welcomed as a brother into a family. Pietro’s beard had gown a little longer and Ulyana has grown taller, but they were as I remembered. After presenting my gifts of Dutch wooden shoes, klompen, I took off my own shoes and declared that I was going for a swim. I remembered the ritual of the swimming from my last stay: every morning and every evening, every day of the year. As a participant in their lives, their ritual would therefore become my ritual. Pietro nodded his head with a beaming smile and said: “Yes, absolutely, go for a swim”. It was summer and warm as I made my way down to the lake. Running around my legs were the two dogs Reven and Bozina who were only puppies the last time I was here. Now they were fully grown, running around playing and hunting mice in the fields. The path from the Raevskis to the lake winds up and down two little hills, and as I walked the path I marvelled at the scenery. The village Romashki is situated in a nature reserve, close to the Dnieper River in the province of Kiev. Being a nature reserve means there is no industry in the area and wildlife is protected. Unlike much of Ukraine, the region is hilly with parcels of forest and fields of wild grass which cover the rolling landscape. The village Romashki is spread out over the hills, with many of the houses and gardens, including the Raevskis, on a slope. The village is made up of four sections which occupy the different slopes of the hills. The four sections are connected by a gravel road, but also a myriad of paths which wind 26
  27. 27. through forests and past swampy lakes. The house of the Raevskis was one of the closest to the lake and the only traffic was the tractor of their nearest neighbour and the odd person walking to the lake. I made my way down the final hill and caught sight of the lake. It was about a hectare in size and surrounded by reeds on its banks. It was still and the perfectly calm water reflected the forest on the other side of the lake. Around me on this side of the lake were apples trees in an orchard. On the little flat piece of land just above the lake I took of all my clothes, and made my way down to the water. Up close I could see water rings at different places in the lake. ‘This water is really magical’, I thought to myself. ‘I wonder what hides beneath the surface!’ I stepped into the water and waded into the mud and water to my waist. The lake has springs which feed it fresh water, which means that although the top ten centimetres of water is heated by the sun, everything below is cold. I summoned my courage for that first shock and plunged in. I swam across the lake and then lay floating on the surface gently kicking my legs to stay afloat. Then I swam to the shore, got out, and did a variety of exercises to dry myself. Pietro and Olga did not use towels and so neither would I. The sun was shining on my naked body and I imagined that this was the way life was supposed to be. Searching on the ground under an old apple tree I found an apple to munch on and walked back to my new home. Dinner was the staple of gretchka – buckwheat, which had been soaked overnight in water to soften.40 I watched Olga prepare a plate of food for Pietro, and I copied what she did. First I poured sunflower oil on a plate and added a pinch of salt. To this I added a raw chopped onion. I then took a piece of the bread and dipped it in the oil and onion. This was the appetizer, so to speak, and was to be my appetizer for the next 15 weeks, with little variation. I then added more oil and salt and then the gretchka. Depending on the vegetables in season, or what was left in storage, the main course beside the gretchka could be anything from baked potatoes to squash and millet. This first day it was potatoes baked in an iron pot in the outside fire pit. We stood around the simple outside table in the garden and ate the food. I looked around with excitement. This place and this life were really different from where I had come from. Here we were outside eating simple food mostly from the garden, with birds singing in the trees, wearing only shorts and a t-shirt and eating with wooden spoons. I decided to breach some difficult issues I knew I would have to bring up sooner or later. These were the issues of anonymity, privacy and informed consent. I had thought of waiting, but I was too excited and impatient. However, I was unsure how to proceed and perhaps a little worried what their answers would be. I looked at Olga, then Pietro. I opened my mouth to speak, but closed it again, unsure what to say. What if they had misunderstood what I was planning to do with my research? What If they did not want some aspects of their lives studied. What if my mentioning the 40 All foreign words in this story are Russian unless otherwise stated. 27
  28. 28. research would distance myself from them on the friendship level?41 What if…what if…? Olga saw my hesitation and laughingly said: “You want to say something, don’t you?” I gave a little grin and started speaking. “Well, there is something I want to talk about”. I paused to make sure they were listening and continued seriously: “I am here with you for two reasons which are equally important. I am here because I want to be part of your lives as a friend, and I am here to do research into your lives and write about it.” I paused, and observed their faces. Pietro was gazing over my head into the distance and Olga was helping Ulyana chop some onions. Having started I falteringly went on, hoping they were at least listening: “It is therefore important for me that we are clear about what I can study in your lives, and what I can write about. Can I for example use your names, or do you want me to protect your identity?” Olga looked up from Ulyana and, giving Pietro a casual glance, looked into my eyes, smiled, and said seriously: “Tom, you can write about anything you want. Write about all your impressions about Romashki and about us”. Not daring to believe these words I tried again: “But what if I write something you do not like. Maybe I will offend you?42” Again Olga smiled: “But you must write what you feel Tom. If you write things we do not like, then that is a refection on ourselves, not on you. We must deal with that”. She turned her attention back to Ulyana. Her words were serious, but it was clear this was not an important topic of discussion. Pietro simply nodded and did not say anything. Olga’s words opened a new door to what lay ahead. I could write exactly what I saw, heard and felt about these people and their lives. There were no restrictions. I tried to let this sink in and the seriousness of the project began to dawn on me. My abstractions on the train all of a sudden became much more real as I now stood here 41 See Agar (1996) for a discussion on the different relationships a researcher can have with their subjects. 42 Issues of informed consent and anonymity are very important in research concerning people. An example of the difficulties which can arise is demonstrated in the ethnography Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics. Mental Illness in Rural Ireland (Scheper-Hughes 2001). Anthropologist Scheper-Hughes discusses the bad feelings displayed towards her when she returned to the community she had lived in and described in her ethnography. Scheper- Hughes employed anonymity as a tool to protect the identity of her informants as an attempt to prevent potential embarrassment and humiliation on the informant’s part if people knew who provided the information. However, the way she wrote her ethnography clearly did not accomplish this with angry villagers claiming they recognised themselves in the text and some were very unhappy at how they were represented. This highlights the importance of what and how to represent in research, raising many ethical dilemmas for the researcher. In my case, Pietro and Olga clearly gave consent for me to write what I felt, but it also lurked in the back of my mind as to what and how I would represent their invisible cultural world in the written form. 28
  29. 29. in person pondering how I could possibly represent these special people and their less than ordinary lives. The moral decisions in my story would not just be those of Pietro and Olga, they would be mine as well. For now though the dinner was over and it was time for the dishes. Olga showed me how to wash my plate and spoon using a cup of water from the well and nettles picked from beside the well. I then followed Pietro to the bottom of the garden to collect the drying sliced apples which were lying on asbestos-concrete plates to dry in the sun. We collected them into baskets, and took them in for the night. Dusk was approaching, and following the rhythm of nature, dusk meant bedtime. Pietro, Olga and Ulyana prepared to head down through the garden to their blankets under the sky which was their bed during summer. “Na dobranich” we said to each other, Goodnight in Ukrainian and we parted. My bed that first night was made of straw, inside the house, with logs as a frame. The bed was surrounded by wild flowers and their sweet aroma accompanied my journey into the unconscious land of dreams. * 1.2 The Water Fairy and a conceptual framework The next morning I awoke up from the sound of a bell. I opened my eyes and saw Olga carrying a little metal bell which she was ringing. I tried to avoid looking at my watch but caved in; it was 8am. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and went outside to welcome the day. Pietro came walking up from the garden with a spade. “I am going for a swim”, I said. “Very good Tom”, he replied. “Absolutely good” I made my way cheerfully down to the lake. My back was a little stiff after the sleep on the straw, but this feeling gradually eased as I moved about. Reven was running around my legs, the sun was shining and the air was fresh. I reached the lake and took off my clothes. Just as I about to step into the water I heard a noise. It sounded like music, and it was coming from somewhere a little way off in amongst the reeds. Intrigued by what I recognised as singing, I waded through the marshy reeds following the sound. At last I stopped. The singing was coming from behind a clump of reeds a few meters away. Not wishing to make a scene I crept slowly up to the clump of reeds, and crouching down, quietly brushed the reeds aside so I could peek through to see what was going on. In a little clearing sat a beautiful female creature on a log. She was holding flowers in her hands out of which she was making a crown and while she was doing this she was singing a simple song with a clear radiant voice: Spring is green, Summer is bright, Autumn is yellow, Winter is white 29
  30. 30. I crouched silently not daring to make a noise, spell-bound by the scene in front of me. The creature was short, with long red hair and beautiful dark eyes. A frog was crouching beside her. Suddenly she stopped singing and looked up in the direction of the reeds I was hiding behind. A smile appeared on her face. “Irenushka”, she said, addressing the frog beside her, “would it not be very rude to be spying on an innocent water fairy like myself without her knowing?” “It would be very rude indeed!” replied Irenushka with a stern croaking voice. “It makes me recall”, the water fairy continued, “what happened once upon a time to a certain young hunter called Actaeon in the Greek myths who stumbled upon the goddess Diana while she was bathing naked. Diana, the goddess of the hunt, was so embarrassed and offended that she punished the unfortunate Actaeon by turning him into a stag and he was subsequently hunted down and killed by the jaws of his own 30
  31. 31. hunting dogs.43 I would hate to have to resort to such tactics on one who was spying on me. Of course, if the person was to make himself known and come up with a very good excuse, I may be persuaded not to turn him into a mouse to be hunted by his dogs”. She laughed at her own words and her eyes twinkled merrily. Rather sheepishly and with flaming cheeks I coughed loudly and emerged from the reeds. “I was, um, looking for mushrooms,” I uttered, pretending very hard to be surprised at seeing the fairy and the frog and desperately searching the ground. Irenushka the frog looked at me severely and said: “Do you really think mushrooms grow in marshes amongst the reeds?” “I am from the city”, I replied weakly, “I do not know these things”. The water fairy looked at me for a second and then laughed heartily: “It is in our nature to be curious of life around us. You are new here. Well, let me introduce myself. I am the water fairy of Romashki. I am the guardian of this sacred land and this is my attendant Irenushka the frog. And who are you?” she finished, addressing me with her eyes. “My name is Tom”, I replied trying to look her in the eyes. “And what are you doing here Tom?” “I am here to live with the Raevskis of Romashki and explore their lives” I replied. The water fairy looked at me with wide eyed interest before she looked up at sky and mumbled a few words of blessing. The water fairy motioned for me to sit down on a dry log beside her and I sat down gratefully. “Tell me more about what you are exploring” she asked. I thought for a second before beginning slowly: “I want to explore the world the Raevskis live in”. I paused, surprised at how general this statement sounded before continuing. “I intend to focus on how the Raevskis use the resources around them as a means to reaching the ends they desire: the way they create and restrain their own possibilities in life.44 There is a lot of talk about how we are losing our identity in modern world where great forces of Modernisation and Globalisation are determining our lives.45 I do not deny that these forces are important, but I want to explore how people themselves create opportunities from how they perceive the world around them, overcoming the constraints of the modern world”.46 The water fairy nodded thoughtfully and asked: “And how does this relate the Raevskis?” 43 This story is from the Greek tale Diana and Actaeon (Bulfinch 2004). 44 This is referring to the notion of agency, referred to by Long as ‘the knowledgeability, capabilities and the social embeddedness associated with acts of dong (and reflecting) that impact upon or shape one's own and other's actions and interpretations’ (2001: 240). 45 The fluid modern world of Bauman (2004). 46 This is referring to the Actor Oriented Approach (AOA) which according to Long entails focusing the study on actor-defined issues or critical events. It also takes into account issues of social heterogeneity with a view to understanding the differential interpretations and responses to circumstances (i.e. we have to deal with 'multiple realities') (1992; 2001). 31
  32. 32. “Well”, I replied, “I find it fascinating how the Raevskis are creating their very different reality based on how they perceive the countryside and world around them.47 They seem to be living in a very simple way, in a world I always thought was very complicated. It strikes me that we live in the same world, but they use the ideas and material objects around them to make a very special reality for themselves. I want to explore how they experience the everyday life on the land and the notions upon which these experiences are based on.”48 The water fairy looked at me intently and nodded before challenging me further: “But Tom, instead of just perceiving the Raevskis to be different from you because they dress differently and brush their teeth with mud and live a simple life, you need to get further below the surface. You must look at how they are organising their reality below the surface of their actions, try and reveal the hidden in their rural life” Irenushka had been taping her leg impatiently but could suddenly not restrain herself any longer: “But are you only looking at people in your study”, she croaked. I had expected the water fairy to be annoyed by this interruption from her attendant, but she just nodded at the question. Irenushka continued: “You know, Tom, humans are not the centre of the world. There are other animals and plants which are equally important”. I looked at Irenushka and could not help smiling when I answered: “That is true; there are also very important talking frogs”. I reflected for a few seconds on what Irenushka had just said, before continuing: “Yes, that may be true, but how would I give voice to all the life around which I would be studying? That would be impossible and is it not people I want to study?” The water fairy smiled at my confusion and spoke: “You do not need to give voice to all of life around you. But perhaps you should think about taking a more holistic approach in your study. By just studying humans you are creating a divide between nature and people. This reinforces the notion that humans are beyond the natural world, instead of the idea that they are inextricably interconnected to it. In other words, by only focussing on humans you are not taking into account all the other forms of life which you depend on and which depends on you.49 I was about to speak but the Water Fairy cut me off. “Tom, listen: Everything in this world is connected – it is all one. We cannot do anything which is not dependent on something else.50 If you take this into account in 47 This has to do with how they produce the life around them, rather than being induced to live this way. This relates to the ‘radical visions’ of the rural described by Halfacree (2007). 48 The construction of the alternative rurality will be studied from the perspectives of lived and imagined space (Halfacree 2007). 49 See Murdoch (1997). 50 Agency in this case is not centered in any one object (unlike the Actor Oriented Approach in which agency is centered on the subject), but is created through the changing relations between objects. This is referring to the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) which states that the world around us is made up of interrelated actants (human and non-human actors) which are defined, and only have meaning, in their relations to each other (Latour 2005). 32
  33. 33. your research then you will better understand the relationships of life around you and how these relationships influence the lives of the Raevskis and vice versa. “That all sounds very well”, I said, “but I still do not understand what that really means”. “I will give you an example”, the water fairy said. “Once upon a time there was a lot of fighting here in Romashki. Men fired at each other with guns and people died. But when they left I found a gun lying in between the reeds. It was so innocent. The gun had no meaning without a bullet, or a person to pull the trigger, or somebody to aim at. Everything is relational – nothing has meaning outside of these relationships. Not just people are important, but also the plants and animals around them; the sun, moon and stars above them; and the invisible energy inside and around all life. But although everything is connected, the relationship between the elements can and do change. Perhaps we enact the reality we want ourselves by deciding how these relationships are to be perceived and lived” “This all does not make sense!” I said feeling bewildered. “Guns without bullets – everything being one – enacting realities: This is all just a big mess!” “But that is exactly the point!” cried the water fairy excited. “Everything is mess!51 We can try to pretend to make life’s processes easy, but that is really just distorting it into reality. It is better to accept that life is very complicated and instead think of novel ways of expressing this mess. Your perspective is of course on the Raevskis as actors, with a focus on their reality and you will take a holistic look at the community of life around them in an attempt to break down this artificial divide between Man and nature.52 But most importantly you must think of the metaphors and allegory you can use to articulate the ‘mess’ of your impressions and experiences”. I pondered this. ‘How could I understand and represent all this mess?’ I thought to myself. As if reading my mind the water fairy exclaimed in sudden excitement: “How about you write a fairy tale. After all, your tale will have a fairy in it”. She looked at me with a playful expectant frown, her lips curled halfway up for a smile as she spoke the last words: “You will include me won’t you?” I looked at her coyly and replied: “It depends. Tell me more about what it means to write a fairytale”. “That you will have to find out yourself”, she said sincerely. “All I will say is that you have to tap into the magical mystery of Romashki and develop your imagination”. * The water fairy and Irenushka followed Tom up the hill with their eyes as he left. “I think he still needs to be taught a lesson for interrupting your song”, Irenushka said at last. 51 This metaphor of ‘mess’ is discussed by sociologist John Law (2004). The metaphor describes a world where social relations appear increasingly complex, elusive, ephemeral, and unpredictable. This is a world where life processes are in a state of flux and where there are no provisionally stable realities. 52 See Murdoch (1997). 33
  34. 34. The water fairy thought for a moment: “How about we make his swimming experience a little more difficult? He seems to be a little too comfortable in the water. What do you say about throwing some extra challenges at him so he can prove how much he really wants to live this life? Perhaps we could make the water a little extra cold for him?” Irenushka looked up at the water fairy and replied with a smirk: “Splendid”. The water fairy pulled out her magic wand of birch, and chanted the magic words: “Earth fire wind and hail; open the realm of the fairytale”. A soft breeze blew over the water and the spell was cast. * 1.3 The Sunflower and a methodological approach I sat on the bench outside the hay barn, opposite the house, enjoying the sun. With a pencil in my hand and a book on my lap, I sat looking out over the garden and the house of the Raevskis. Olga was baking bread on a grill on the outside fire and Pietro was down in the garden with a scythe cutting the grass. I continued looking out into the blue, my mind blank although I was attempting to think some very anthropological thoughts. None appeared. So I tried again a little harder, frowning and placing my chin on my fist in posed concentration. “What are you thinking so hard about my friend?” a voice came from behind my right shoulder. I turned around and saw a plant with a tall stalk, a black head of seeds and large yellow petals. “Was that you Sunflower?” I asked. “Indeed it is” replied the Sunflower. “I was observing you thinking so hard about what you were looking at”. “Well, yes”, I replied, “I am thinking about how I am going to study the lives of the Raevskis”. “Ah” replied the Sunflower, “and what have you decided on?” “I figure that if I observe Pietro and Olga in their daily routines I will understand a little about their lives. I will participate in their lives: swim with them, eat with them, and work in their garden. Basically become part of their lives.” The Sunflower was silent for a minute. Then it said, “Yes, as I follow the sun through its journey across the sky every day, so must you follow the journey of Pietro, Olga and Ulyana”. “But you do so in blind faith”, I said. “No matter what else is going on, you only follow the sun, every day of your life. I want to be more critical and perhaps take different paths, different perspectives, of the Raevskis”. The Sunflower replied thoughtfully: “Yes, some say that I symbolize infatuation or foolish passion because I blindly follow the sun. However, I think of it more as loyalty and constancy. These are good traits in studying life. You must be careful not to lose sight of what is important. You are here to study the lives of Pietro, Olga and Ulyana. They are the most important 34
  35. 35. part of your life now. Look around at what there is to see, but never lose sight of your goal, for some days there will be clouds in front of your sun and sometimes there will be rain”. Without turning away from the sun the Sunflower asked me how I was to carry out my research. “Apart from participating in their lives, I plan to conduct interviews with both Pietro and Olga and I have books with ideas which I will read” I replied. Remembering the words of the water fairy I continued: “I hope to begin understanding the world they live in by exploring their imagination: The unique reality of the different life they are living: where their ideas come from and what they imagine life to be”. The Sunflower swayed gently in the breeze thereby nodding its head. “That sounds good. But remember, the path you take to explore their lives – the methods you employ – are never innocent. You are enacting a reality through your method.” 53 Confused, I replied: “But am I not simply looking at the world in another perspective? What do you mean ‘enacting’ a reality?” “Ah”, replied the Sunflower, “yes, perhaps different perspectives, but what if there are in fact multiple worlds? The world you enter will depend on the path you take. You create this world through the questions you ask, what you choose to look at and the impressions you thus take in”. This made me pause to think. This all seemed rather messy. Should there not be a cleaner way of going about research? I thought to myself.54 “And”, continued the Sunflower, “if there are multiple worlds, which one do you want to produce through your method?” At last I gathered my thoughts and replied: “If this is true then I want to produce a reality which best represents that of the Raevski reality, the one that is most morally appealing to them and to me”. “That is a big challenge young man”, replied the Sunflower. “The world we live in is slippery and ephemeral, unpredictable and elusive. You will have to think hard about the window into the reality you want to enter. And remember, these realities change over time. And this is the interesting part. If the way we live changes over time, then so would our reality. We can therefore choose the reality we like better and make that one real – we can choose the world we live in”. “Pietro and Olga are from the city, I noted, “Their worlds must have changed a lot”. “Then perhaps you should begin by exploring their past lives to understand how their world has changed and to get an idea of the reality they now want to live”. 53 This is based on the idea of the performativity of method (Law and Urry 2004). Law and Urry state that all methods “involve forms of social practice that in some way or another interfere with the patterns of the physical or the social” (2004: 402). See also Law (2004) who states that methods do not just describe realities but help to create them. 54 Law discusses the need to divest concern with method of its inheritance of hygiene. He calls for new ways to explore the complex and messy world, for example, through embodiment and through the researcher’s own private emotions (Law 2004: 3). This call for reflexivity will be embraced in this study. 35
  36. 36. 1.4 The double rainbow and the fairytale. Getting off at bus stop Romashki, one is surrounded by large golden wheat fields. Like stories and pictures I have heard from the cornfields of Iowa in the USA, these stretch to the horizon, as far as you can see. One could be tempted to think of this as a rather boring view; monotonous fields of semi-parched earth. Yet I found the scene very pleasant when I stood there in real life. There are gentle rolling hills, and the country road is lined with trees and should one be lucky enough to come along this road in June or July, then the dripping fruit of mulberry trees will be at their disposal. Across from the bus stop is the sign which reads “Pомашки” (Romashki).55 An asphalt road then winds down between the trees towards the village. Following this road there are birch and acacia trees and a derelict house with a large walnut tree outside. Further down on the left hand side one comes to the house of Andrey. This is the start of the village and meeting point of the many who come and go from Romashki. From Andrey’s house it is a hop skip and a jump down a muddy path, a gravel road, and into the gap in the bushes to the house of the Raevskis. It just so happened that Pietro and I retraced this walk back to the wheat fields by the bus stop mentioned earlier. These fields are partly owned by the villagers who rent out the land to big farmers who pay rent through bags of wheat to the villagers.56 Now big combines come to harvest these fields of wheat, or whatever else is growing. What is left over are patches of straw and stubble. It was this straw that Pietro and I had come to collect to use as material for repairing the house and to sleep on. We each filled up a large bag and balancing them on our heads began to walk back home. It had started to rain, obscuring the sun, but the temperature was warm. Soon after it started the rain stopped. For some reason I felt the desire to stop and look around. Looking back at the path we had taken I saw one of the most extraordinary sights of my life. Two complete rainbows. I just stared in wonder and amazement. I could not believe it and could not speak. Like two beautiful and vibrant lovers spooning in heavens above, the sight evoked a profound sense of harmony in my mind. Petro stood beside me and nothing was said. Then he looked at me, smiling and spoke with a special note of contentment: “We live in a fairytale”. I looked at him but could not read his face, though I felt something profound tingle through my body like a shiver. We put the bundles back on our heads, and barefoot, continued walking across the hills back to our little cob house. Lying in bed that night I thought about the rainbows and I thought about what Pietro meant when he said: “We live in a fairytale”. 55 This is the Cyrillic way of writing the name Romashki. Cyrillic is the writing system used in Ukraine and many other Slavic countries including Russia. 56 This system of landownership is left over from the time of communism. Nobody I spoke to could explain why it was still like this, but it was accepted with the expectation that it would one day change to private ownership. 36

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