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Chapter 8

I was now ready to assume my duties in the Funduyanu household. On a daily basis, I had to fetch two pails of water from the river, chop the wood needed for cooking and for heating in the winter, sweep the floor daily, wash the floor twice a week, the laundry once a week, which required additional trips to the river for water. Cooking was a fairly simple affair: potato soup with lightly fried onions and flour mixed into it. Sometimes, mixed in carrots, or cabbage soup, same style. Boiled potatoes. If potatoes were scarce, we ate them with the peels. During the summer I did a lot of wood cutting. The forest was practically next door, about a couple of kilometers outside the village. Here is where dedushka (grandfather) was invaluable. It was under his tutelage that I learned how to prepare enough wood in the most efficient manner possible. This skill of handling a saw and an ax remained with me for the rest of my life. It was also dedushka who helped me and instructed me in how to tend the family plot (plots of land were given to anyone requesting it, because the Soviets were anxious to grow as much food as possible to alleviate the constant and serious shortage).

The authorities were well aware of the disproportionately higher yields harvested from the family plots, as compared with the results in the kolkhoz. r grew only potatoes, which were an important contribution to the family needs. The plot required a couple of days to dig up the ground, two-three days to hoe and weed them and another couple of days at the end of the summer to dig them up and bring them in. It was dedushka who lent me the shovel and hoe and the two-wheel cart to transport the sacks of potatoes home. We stored them indoors underneath the beds. In winter the floors were very cold, so that the potatoes were kept fresh for a long time. Every two-three weeks, with permission from the landlord, we used the banya and it was my job to get it ready. I needed some four to five hours to fetch enough water from the river and another hour or two to heat up the place. The first to go in were Mrs. Funduyanu and Dickie, then Mr. Funduyanu; I was the last one. There was always plenty of heat and water left over and I enjoyed having the banya all to myself. My job also required that I stay in line daily to buy the food rations, mostly bread and some form of fat, oil or lard.

Dickie was very helpful with my work, especially going to the store and cleaning the house. Although she attended school she did not have many friends, because the local population did not welcome exiles, in their homes. There were some exceptions. The parents made friends at their

place of work. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. As an accountant he was needed to doctor the books for two reasons: to enable the management to steal food for themselves and to cover up all the rest of the stealing done by the simple workers in the food processing factory. It was the accountant's job to show that the quota was fulfilled and, if possible, to surpass it. Naturally, Mr. Funduyanu had to be rewarded for his efforts. So there was often some cheese, milk and eggs in the house. Everyone simply had to steal in order to exist; it was impossible to feed a family otherwise, except for the high placed bureaucrats and people like our landlord. Dedushka made a deal with me: he offered me two piglets. Let them grow for a few months, in December I will slaughter them, you will keep the meat frozen in the entrance room and if you use it wisely you will have enough meat for the rest of the winter. In return, you will give me a hand with the work in the barn. Just clean up the refuse and bring in fresh straw and hay. I accepted. Within half a year I became an important contributor to the family welfare. Mrs. Funduyanu was very satisfied and did not miss an opportunity to point it out to her husband, who was always on the look-out to find some fault with me.

I learned later on that he had some solid reasons for his bitterness, I was only a convenient lightning rod. He lived in constant fear of imprisonment because of his job and he had to accept his wife's affair with the chief of the local N.K.V.D. in order to protect himself from ending up in the Gulag. His wife though, wanted more than that. She hoped that some day she might extract from her lover the necessary papers that will enable her to move to Tomsk, as a first step on her way out of Siberia. Unfortunately, she succeeded in achieving the first step only and even that many years later and only temporarily.

A year after the war ended they finally moved to Tomsk, with the help of Mrs. Funduyanu's lover, who by then got tired of her and was glad to get rid of her. The Funduyanus managed to get similar jobs to those they had, except that their protective screen provided by the N.K.V.D. was now missing. Within a year they were both arrested, and sentenced to ten years in the Gulag. I found out these details from Dickie herself, shortly after her parents' arrest, when she was about sixteen years old. Their chances of being freed alive were very slim, because of their deteriorating health. I cried for Dickie and for Mrs. Funduyanu.

Dickie used to accompany her mother sometimes to her secret rendezvous with her lover. Her mother's intention was to minimize suspicion as to her activities. On one such excursion Dickie met the son of the chief. Igor was about three years older. Dickie was my age, but very mature looking. The two of them got along very well and became friends. At the first opportunity, she took me along and introduced me as her brother. Igor became my only friend in Bakhchar, even though he was three years older than me and worlds apart socially. It was he who took us along on fishing and hunting trips. There was no pollution in Siberia during the years of the Second World War. The water in tile rivers was clean and good-tasting and the rivers were teeming with fish, and in season there were thousands of ducks. The fishing rods were home-made contraptions. A good rod cut from a tree, cotton thread twisted into a strong line, a piece of wood tied to the line as a float, and a hook fashioned from a piece of wire. The rifle was a different matter. Only privileged youngsters like Igor had access to a rifle: a twenty-two caliber, a very small bullet, but enough to shoot a duck or two. The local population had no weapons of any kind, only the military and police forces had weapons.

Igor contributed also to our cultural well-being. He was somewhat of a technical wizard. He learned as a 12 year old, from the local movie projectionist how to operate the equipment in the only movie theatre in Bakhchar. When the projectionist was drafted into the army, there simply was no one left in Bakchar who could take over the operation of the movie house and so the local party boss had to accept Igor (being the son of the chief of the N.K.V.D. was a big plus). The movie house was an important propaganda tool since all the movies glorified the Soviet system and encouraged the population to contribute more than the quota required. Even in Porotnikov, we were visited by a mobile projectionist, every two weeks or so. He would set his single projector in the meeting hall and project the silent black and white film onto a white-washed wall. He had to stop for a good ten minutes to change the reel, about twice during the film. Power was generated by a hand driven generator.

There were always a few young people willing to do the job; in return they were permitted to watch the movie For free. It was not easy to keep a steady pace turning the generator's handle. The film would become distorted whenever the generator operator slowed down or speeded up the number of revolutions. This would not endear him to the audience. In Bakhchar there were two projectors with sound, a permanent arrangement. Igor would often invite me into his projection room, so I could watch the movie through the small opening in the wall, which was used by Igor to monitor the proper functioning of the machines. From time to time Igor invited me to his home. He lived in a home similar in size and comfort to the one owned by our landlord. I never met his father, only his mother and his younger brother and sister. Although his mother treated me kindly and usually offered me some food, which I gratefully accepted, I was happy that the invitations were infrequent. I did not feel very comfortable in the house of the chief of the N.K.V.D. (or for that matter, in the house of any other member of this notorious organization) and I was always glad when the visit came to an end, especially without the father's sudden appearance.

Igor loved nature and was quite knowledgeable about his surroundings. He loved to go on picnics and even to spend the night outdoors. On one such occasion he enticed me to join him. I knew I would not be able to complete my assigned job at the Funduyanus if I took the liberty to be away for most of the day, but I could not resist the temptation of walking on the shores of the river, fishing for a while and going for a short swim. There were about three weeks, during the brief Siberian summer that it was possible to bathe in the river. Although the water was not really warm, it was fun to splash around for about ten minutes. Igor knew the safest place where to steal potatoes, from one of the family plots. In a secluded place, which he frequented before, we built a fire, cooked the fish over the fire and baked the potatoes among the hot coals. it was a very pleasant afternoon and r particularly enjoyed the sense of freedom, something I did not experience for a very long time.

When I finally arrived home, Mr. Funduyanu was waiting for me. He went into action, first by slapping my face a few times, then he pulled me by my ears and brought me down to the floor, to show me that it was not cleaned. He then pointed out all the other things I failed to do, and shouted angrily that I was the most ungrateful good-for-nothing lazy bum. He slapped my behind a few times and kicked me out of the house. It was turning into a cold night and I had on only a thin summer shirt. I thought at first I would spend the night in the barn with the cows and the pigs, but I knew that the disturbed animals would sound alarmed and dedushka would come to check and I felt too embarrassed to talk to him. So I climbed up the ladder leading to the attic under the roof. The place was filled with little brooms made from birch twigs, which would be used in the banya all through the winter. I covered myself with the brooms all around, felt warmer and ready for a good long cry.

About an hour later, I heard Dickie calling my name: Boryka, Boryka (a derivation from Boris). All those who knew me used my Russian name. I called back to her and invited her up. She sat down beside me, pulled out a piece of bread from her blouse and gave it to me. She told me not to worry because her mother came home and she would not allow me to spend the night outside, and so it was. Mr. Funduyanu mistreated me several more times during that first year of my stay in his house. He enjoyed to slap me around or pulling my ears, even though I never neglected to do my assigned job for a whole day again. I assume that had it not been for the interference of Mrs. Funduyanu and her daughter, he would have done it more often. After my twelfth birthday, in May of 1943, I told him that I was going to work in the kolkhoz during the months of June, July and August and I wanted to see how he would manage without me. He wanted to hit me again, but I avoided his hand and quickly added that if he did not stop, I would find other ways to stop him. Well, that last threat had an immediate restraining effect, because "other ways" could also mean reporting him to the police, a fairly common practice in Soviet society. He never touched me again, but I kept my word and went to work in the kolkhoz for about two months, from mid-June to mid-August.

Many kolkhoz children worked during the summer. Every additional income was crucial to the family's existence. The mere fact that children were given food by the kolkhoz, while they worked there, was of substantial benefit. The job was not easy, but the youngsters were well trained to do hard work from an early age. I was assigned to do weeding in the wheat fields. We had to rise at five, have breakfast which consisted of kasha, a cooked cereal with some fat in it or some milk, a fixed portion of bread and a hot cup of boiled water, they called it kipiatok. I usually kept the bread for later, since we got a generous portion of kasha. There was drinking water in the fields, so we had to spend twelve hours in the fields, pulling the weeds out of the ground by hand, one by one, row after row, field after field. There was a supervisor who kept count of the area covered by each boy, as well as of the thoroughness of the weeding. It was very stressful to spend so many hours bent down, pulling weeds. Since I did not care about the extra income, especially for the benefit of Mr. Funduyanu, my effort in weeding was not very productive. In the evening we had our second meal of the day (we all had some bread during the day, otherwise the hunger would be hard to bear). It consisted of a potato and cabbage soup with some fish or one or two morsels of meat and some boiled potatoes. We were hungry enough to consider such a meal delicious.

When the weeding season was over (we were all happy to see it come to an end), we were transferred to work in the forest, cutting wood for the winter. Wood was also used in running the various agricultural machines and the vans that were transporting the goods to Tomsk. My job, together with another boy, was to load the wagon, hitched to a pair of oxen, with logs and drive it to the kolkhoz storage area and unload it there. Except for handling the oxen, which was done mostly by my co- worker, the rest was fairly simple and not too hard. It took about an hour to load and unload the wagon and another two hours for the round trip, so in the course of a working day we made at least three trips. On our last trip of the day, driving on a narrow path in the forest, we wanted to speed up the tempo of the oxen, so as to get back to the kolkhoz in time for supper. I knew from past experience that the oxen were afraid of the buzzing sound of bees. So we made the z-z-z sound and the oxen raised their tails somewhat and went faster. We were satisfied with the speed and stopped the buzzing, however the buzzing was resumed, not by us, but by a real bee. The oxen raised their tails very high and went into a gallop.

We knew right away that we could get into serious trouble, because there was no way to stop oxen on the run. The only thing that held the oxen attached to the wagon was the yoke. There were no reins to restrain them. They were much too excited to listen to our shouting orders. We had no control over the situation, we were sitting on top of the logs, hoping that the entire load would not come crushing down right on top of us. Suddenly the oxen moved sharply to one side and since there were trees on either side of the path, the center of the yoke collided directly with a large tree forcing the wagon to a crashing stop. We went flying through the air, like circus performers shot out of a canon, and landed farther on, on the forest floor. Our good fortune was that we did not collide with a tree and that the ground was covered with a thick layer of foliage softening our landing. Just the same, we had quite a shock and we were dazed for quite a while. Although we were aching all over and sustained some bruises, our limbs were intact and we could at least walk back to the kolkhoz. The wagon was damaged enough to render it immobile, some of the logs were also on the ground, but the oxen seemed to be fine, so we unhitched them and led them back to the kolkhoz.

My career as a kolkhoz worker came to an abrupt end. I went into the office a couple of days later to collect my wages, which were usually paid in the form of grain, and I was told that I actually owed the kolkhoz a "pud" of wheat (a pud is sixteen kilograrns). When I inquired as to the reason for such a discrepancy I found out that it had nothing to do with the accident, it was based strictly on my productivity. My landlord who happened to be in the office came over to me and said with a big roaring laugh: "So you want to earn wages? Be happy that we don't ask you to make up the missing difference." I found out later that I certainly was not the only one who worked for free. I went back to my routine in the Funduyanu household and immediately noticed a change for the better in Mr. Funduyanu's attitude towards me. He was not much kinder in words, but he never hit me again. He even accepted the fact that I needed a new pair of felt boots for the fast approaching winter.

During the summer, for about three months, I walked barefoot. The soles of my feet were quite hardened and I was used to it, up to the first frost on the ground. Now, I had to wrap my feet with some pieces of cloth (usually from some clothes which were not repairable any more) and push them into felt boots. The boots were second hand, of course, and not the right size. During the winter while I carried the water from the river to the house in quick succession, a layer of ice was formed inside the pails in a short period of time. I had to carry a hatchet with me so as to chop the ice, in the specially cut out opening in the river, every time I returned for another load of water. Even under such weather conditions, my feet were kept warm inside the felt boots. This was my second winter without my mother, the winter of 1943-44, and I had learned a great deal and acquired many skills in the struggle for survival.

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