Ulan Ude: Finding Buyanto, the Gentleman Farmer
In 1995, Gary and I met the "gentleman farmer" Buyanto Tsydypov thanks to a network of Buryat connections. Oleg, our host in Ulan Ude, introduced us to the poet Tsyren-Dulma Dondogoy, who hand-wrote a letter in Buryat and instructed us to catch a bus to the village of Khoshon-Uzur, where we'd find her friend Baldama Shagdanova.
We arrived in Khoshon-Uzur and yelled over Baldama's fence that we had a letter for her. She was surprised and excited, exclaiming that we were the first foreigners she'd ever met -- "except for Mongolians, but they don't really count!" After reading the letter, she and her husband took us to Galtai, where we met Buyanto and his family.
The next three days were amazing. Buyanto caught and slaughtered a sheep in our honor, and performed a Buddhist prayer ceremony high on a hillside. He also took us to the school, where the students performed traditional dances for us.
At the end of our visit, he asked for one thing: He wanted us to mail him a printed photograph of his family. He and Gary shook hands on it, and with that we left the village.
The photograph, I regret to say, was never sent. After the first Russian Chronicles trip was over, Gary moved on to other things, and I suspect he didn't look again at the hundreds of images he'd shot for a good long while. Ten years later, as the time drew near for me to make this trip again, I asked Gary to please make a print for Buyanto. Gary sent four, with his apologies.
On Sunday morning, David and I set out for Galtai. The rickety old municipal buses don't run there anymore; now private "microbuses," or vans, run the route in half the time. As far as we knew, Buyanto still didn't have a phone, and we hadn't had any luck contacting Tsyren-Dulma or Baldama, so we decided just to show up.
I was nervous, first because -- despite our "ten-years-later" project -- it's weird to just show up at someone's house like this, and second because I felt terrible about the photo. In fact, on Saturday night, I had a dream that when we presented the four photos to Buyanto, he looked at me and said, "Well, what am I supposed to do with these? Put them up on the walls?"
When we arrived in Galtai, it looked exactly as it had in 1995: there was one lone intersection, and a small cluster of wooden houses with brightly painted shutters. All around us, the land stretched on for miles, with gently rising hills meeting blue skies at the horizon.
An old woman directed us to Buyanto's house, but no one was home. I peered over the fence of the house next door, and shouted to a woman who was inside cleaning. "Hello! Do you know where Buyanto Tsydypov is?"
She invited us in, made us some tea, and told us she was Buyanto's sister-in-law. "He's at the farm," she said, "and his wife is in Ulan Ude today." When I asked if she remembered the Americans who came to visit ten years ago, she said, "Oh, yes! They were supposed to send a photograph, but never did."
Tomorrow: Buyanto's reaction to our arrival.
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Posted by: oleg | September 28, 2005 12:28 AM