Jersey Roots, Global Reach

About the Festival - Artists and Performers - Sponsors - Vendors - Friends of the Festival
2011 Festival Information
Kalmyk encampment
Traditional Kalmyk tent (Ger) encampment [Date unknown. Wikipedia: public domain]

Response From the Field

A bunch of errors this time …

Angus points out that the name should be William "Bill" Selden.

My apology, Bill.

Dave and Alta were kind enough to point-out that I had two #15 issues. Oops. That’s why this number is #17—hopefully we are now back on track.

Thanks for the help.


Ba-Boo: A Lady of Merit

…the matriarch that
starts it all…

By Pawel Andreev

Late August marks the end of summer, last chance vacations, getting ready for school and the winding down of many outdoor activities. However, one day in August has a very special meaning. It is a day that denotes a closing chapter in my life; the passing of my mom’s mother, Saha Ivanchukov.

As our maternal grandmother, we referred to her as Ba-Boo (a cultural reference denoting respect and lineage). Born in 1893, Ba-Boo lived during —the worst of times". She witnessed two global depressions, two World Wars, the Korean Conflict and the deadly Spanish Flu Pandemic, which by itself claimed fifty million souls across the planet. Meanwhile poverty, pestilence and strife wreaked untold tragedies upon the survivors. During such carnage, Ba-Boo lost her spouse and more than half of her offspring; but 5 made it to adulthood. My mother was the eldest surviving child.

To begin this story, we go back over half a century. I was a preschooler when Ba-Boo passed away. Besides vague images, I recall an overall feeling of warmth and love that always emanated from her; especially on the day she died. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

This all took place at my Grandmother’s house in Ulna Gazur. The date was August 22nd, 1958 and Ba-boo wasn’t feeling well. Something had made her dizzy and nauseous. I remember she was in the bathroom sitting on a small, home-made wooden step-stool. Anxiously attending her was my aunt Chaw-Cha Geencha.

Walking past the bathroom several times, I tried checking in on my grandmother to see what was wrong, but my aunt kept shooing me away. After all, how much help could a 4 ½ year old offer? At least I managed to get a smile from Ba-Boo during one of my passing patrols. Eventually, my aunt made me go outside to play. Shortly afterwards, I was startled to see her running out of the house sobbing. She was heading towards the temple in great haste!

There was someone following her, but they were lagging far behind. It may have been my older aunt Chaw-Cha Kishta (who was 7 months pregnant with Cousin Annie) or it may have been my mom (who was 8 months pregnant with Brother Barry). In fact it might have been both of them: I simply don’t remember. I was probably still in shock from seeing my younger aunt crying so uncontrollably. But I do remember how fast Chaw-Cha Geencha was running. I knew she would be the first one to reach the temple. It wasn’t long before an ambulance showed up to take my grandmother away. Between the ensuing commotion and the panic of indecision, nobody paid attention to me. Not knowing what to do, I obeyed my aunt and stayed out of the way. With all the adults running around, I was scared. Whatever happened, it was bad; because everyone was crying. What’s worse – no one seemed to be in control. Looking back, the only word that could describe that day was sheer pandemonium!

It was quite a few hours later, when somebody drove up the driveway in a brand-new green convertible. Apparently, it was the doctor. In all likelihood, it was the first time I saw a car with no roof, let alone one so shiny and new (is that why I remember the color?). Now the doctor’s arrival only made things worse, because people started yelling at the man for showing up so late. Not surprisingly, the tardy doctor bid a hasty retreat. I decided to urge the doctor along by throwing rocks at his new car. It was just my way of helping out. I should point out that no one told me to do that; but then again, no one told me to stop.

Perhaps because it was my first funeral, many details are sharply recalled. My Mom had prepared all of our dress clothing, because she wanted us to look our best. On that day, there were lots of big fluffy clouds, but the sun still shined through. Since it was quite windy, it took several tries to light the cone-shaped incense my mom had brought. I kept wondering: “Do we have enough matches?” Eventually, my older siblings Ulanki and Roschin managed to get them lit. Then mom carefully instructed us in the proper prayer movements of steepled hands and bowed heads. We each took our turn performing the ritual three times. There were many adults who prayed after us. Quite a few of them I did not recognize, but most of the kids I knew...

Now I’m an adult and my visits to the cemetery include many more grave sites; most notably the resting places of my own mother, father, aunt, uncle, older sister and brother. Yes, my grandmother’s gravesite no longer seems so far back. After my mom’s recent passing, I finally understand at the deepest level what my own mom must have been going through back in August of ’58. What’s more, I can fully relate to my aunt Chaw-Cha Geencha’s desperate sobbing run over fifty years ago...

I miss my Ba-Boo; even though I hardly knew her. My one regret is not having the chance to really know her better; but at least I met her! For that I’m truly thankful, because there are those who have never seen her. Deep inside, her presence lives on through my few cherished memories of her. By sharing what scant recollections I have, perhaps a little part of our grandmother will live on. She had a very hard life, but it never prevented her from seeking something better. She is the matriarch who came to the new world almost 60 years ago. Without her; we wouldn’t even be here!

Pawel Andreev



Steppe Notes 17-2010

The St. Zonkava Board

St. Zonkava Board
From L to R: Natalie Abuschinow, Purma Muschajew, Gogol & Larisa Kalatschinow, Vera Ulzinow 9/18/10 photo: nolefer

Purma, the President of the Brotherhood of St. Zonkava, the organization that operates the Philadelphia temple, has wanted me to visit with her board for some time. The opportunity for that occurred on September 18th.We had a very good visit and some of the communication problems that manifested during the summer may have been resolved. I did not stay for the complete meeting, but after discussion, of the New Jersey Folk Festival and its needs and the celebration of the 60th Anniversary, the board members allowed me to leave.

Nomin (Prayer) Class


As usual, I arrived for Nomin class early, so that there was time to decompress from the road, and see if this day’s light would give a new interpretation to images. Today, the spire on the temple looks tempting. Soon afterwards a small black car appeared—a couple with two kids in back of the car. These were new folk, Methodists who began studying and practicing Buddhism. We talk; I try to put them at ease.

Geshe Tenzin is walking towards us from his house. As he draws nearer he looks at me and says, “You came all the way from New York?” “Yes, Geshe,” I respond, as I bow in the manner of my tradition. Geshe shakes his head and returns the bow. Then he turns to the couple. The husband asks where he should park, Geshe makes a suggestion. The family gets back in the car to go to the suggested spot.

Geshe and I begin to walk to the front of the temple. “How are you doing, Geshe?” I ask. “I’m getting older,” Geshe responds. “Geshe, that is a good thing,” I say with a laugh. Geshe gives a short laugh. He stops and says, “I like your truck; that’s very useful.” “Yes,” I respond, “That’s why I got it, to do things. It helped me build a stone fence in front of our house. I collected rocks each day at work and after a year, or so, I had enough rocks to build a fence; very useful. I wish I could make an offering of it to you, but then how would I get back home?” Geshe smiles and begins to unlock the temple. “Is the door open?” he asks pointing to the house by the temple. “I don’t know, I’ll go and check,” I respond.

Geshe Tenzin instructs
Geshe Tenzin instructs the kids how to hold hands in prayer position. Image reminiscent of Nesterov’s painting. Photo: nolefer, 2010

I went to the house—checked the door; it was locked. Returned to temple. The family was coming up to it; the kids were standing in front of the door. “Go in,” I said, “Just wipe your feet; the monk is a very nice person.” The kids went in the parents followed, worrying about shoes. I told them that in this temple people keep their shoes on. Geshe was in the middle of the temple when we came in; I told him that the house was locked so he went out to unlock it. The parents and I talked and I tried to share what I knew about this temple. Geshe returned and started teaching the kids how to hold their hands for prayer and how to do prostrations. Then he started a series of prayers with the kids by his side. At the end of the prayers he dabbed both children with the water at the end of the peacock feather and said to the parents: “He should be all right now; the prayers will help. You may want to have prayers said in your house to banish the spirit that is upsetting the child. You know children are much more sensitive than we are.”

Vision to Youth Bartholomew
Geshe Tenzin instructs the kids how to hold hands in prayer position. Image reminiscent of Nesterov’s painting. Photo: nolefer, 2010

Tenzin manyah teaching
Tenzin manyah teaching the kids how to do prostrations properly. Photo: nolefer

By this point other children and parents arrived and Maria and Sharon, also. Both ladies made sure that everyone had their shoes off and handed out the "Taking Refuge" prayer in Tibetan. First, Geshe taught the kids how to do prostrations properly and only after they did about nine of them to his satisfaction, he began his Dharma talk.

Tenzin manyah teachingTenzin manyah teaching
Geshe teaching children how to do prostrations, while adults sit back and look Photo: nolefer, 2010

Since two of the parents who came were Methodists, with the mother studying to be a minister, Geshe became very ecumenical and told the kids that "taking refuge" was simply asking the Buddha or Christ to help them; and, that if they ask the Buddha or Christ to help, he will always answer those prayers.

Children listen
Children listening to Geshe giving Dharma
talk Photo: nolefer, 2010

The ladies wanted Geshe to explain "Taking Refuge," which the Geshe did, but mostly as asking for help which will be given. As Geshe was informed that the nun, who came from Rashi Gempil also had a talk to give he concluded with a statement, after the prayer recitation, that if the kids just prayed to the “Buddha, Dhrma, Sangha; everything would be OK.” And his final injunction was: “The Buddha gave this to me, and I give that to you.” One could feel the ire of the educators rising; they wanted the kids to memorize the prayer, and hoped that Geshe would use his authority to reinforce that position.

Then it was the turn of the nun from Rashi Gempil to give a talk. She gave a Jataka tale (aka Buddha’s Birth Stories). This probably did not work as envisioned, since Geshe Tensing would give his commentary every few sentences as the nun tried to recount the tale. By this time one of the mothers became upset that I was taking pictures, so I ceased doing that, but as luck would have it some wonderful juxtapositions of kids and monastics presented themselves immediately after I stopped. My mind was distracted by that so I had little inkling about the tale and only remember that it was a one that recommends kindness to animals. The talk ended, more prostrations and the kids ran off to get snacks.

St. Marys

St. Mary’s Vladimir's Russian Orthodox Cemetery

Previously I’ve been told that the Russian cemetery that contains Kalmyk graves is at ROVA Farm, and that it is only a few miles away from Tashi Lunpho. I decided to fill the time until Art’s class by making a quick visit and photographing a few headstones.

Three Russian beauties at ROVA Farm
Photo: nolefer, 2010

The GPS did not list the cemetery or ROVA Farm as a Point of Interest (POI) so I decided to drive to the center of Jackson in the hopes of seeing a sign to either destination. Good idea; but it didn’t work. No signage. I stopped at a pizza joint primarily to "powder my nose," but also to grab a slice and ask for directions. The bathroom was nice but pizza reminded me why one never orders a pizza in New Jersey, or crab cakes in a diner. The owner, however, was friendly with a great sense of décor. The focal point of the decoration was a huge poster of Frank Sinatra, a copy of his mug-shot when he was arrested by the Jackson gendarmes for the crime of "seduction." The directions that he owner gave me got me to ROVA farm without mishap. There was no cemetery there, however, the three Russian "maidens" (their first query to me was: “Aren’t you going to take a picture of three beauties?”) whose picture I immediately took, gave me directions.

St. Marys

Unfortunately I followed the directions too literally and wound-up going down some dirt road away from Jackson. The GPS saved the day and I went down Cassville Road and found the cemetery.

I entered the cemetary grounds with a strange sense of exitement. In some ways it felt as if I arrived home; among my own people. On the other hand, I also felt the estrangment of someone who has gone away from the group and intellectually fully comprehended that there was little in commmon between me and the folks here. I kept walking looking for Kalmyk names. I didn’t know if the Kalmyks were buried together as a group, in one section of the cemetery, or if they were scattered among the other graves.

The cemetery was much larger than I imagined; the sun was bright, and as I continued to read the names something happened … Suddenly I was at a summer weekend dance at ROVA Farm. Dark hall with a small dance floor, surrounded by tables; bottles of whiskey or vodka; plates of herring with scallions; men dressed in heavy woolen suits; women in dresses with white gloves; and, enough cigarette smoke for a three-alarm fire. The singer in skin-tight golden dress (which changes hues as the light on the rotating plastic color wheel passes from green to red, to blue, to yellow) stands by the microphone and is inundaded with requests—“Nu, spoj ciganskuju” (“So, sing a gypsy song”). And her husky soprano begins … “Moj koster v tumane svetit …” (“My fire burns in the fog …”). And, of course, there is the dance music—foxtrots, polkas, waltzes, and tangos.

Lienz Memorial Chapel
Lienz Memorial Chapel Photo: nolefer

But, then suddenly, I am among the Cossack graves. A small memorial chapel commemorates the repatriation of Cossacks from Lienz, Austria; my birthplace. Surrounding it are Russian, Ukrainian, German, and "Tartar" names. Here lies "Mohamet," over there a chevalier of three crosses of St. George—obviously a WWI veteran. Suddenly I feel sad and think of great-uncle Basil. But, no Kalmyk names and I rembered about Art’s class. I saw a lady talking to some fellow with a SLR camera, and I figured that she must be working for the cemetery. My surmize was correct, and she directed me to the section of the cemetery reserved for Kalmyks.

Capt. Alexander Stepanow
US Army Capt. Alexander
Stepanow Photo: nolefer

And suddenly I find myself among non-Russian names and with headstones many of which have the Dharma wheel instead of the eight-pointed cross. One government-issue headstone for Captain Stepanow, who survived Vietnam to die in 1990. Many headstones have the names in Russian and English transcription. Many list their place of origin in a particular stanica (Cossack term for village) and not a Kalmyk aimak (Kalmyk equivalent for village). Some writing is either Todo-bichig or Sanskrit, unfortunately I cannot tell the difference without further study.

Don Kalmyk Baksha Sodbo Buruldinow
Don Kalmyk Baksha Sodbo
Buruldinow Photo: nolefer

There are a number of lama gravesites. I make a mental note that the lamas are buried with their compatriots and not with the other Cossacks around the Lienz memorial. There is a story in that.

Tumdod Urubshurow
Grave marker for Tumdod Urubshurow Photo: nolefer, 2010

One name--Boldyrew takes me back to the DP camp; I wonder if these Boldyrews are related to the NTS Boldyrews? Another story?

One of the oldest Kalmyk grave markers is also of one of the youngest members of the community—Tumdod Urubshurow, barely two years old.

Yes, this is definitely a place to visit with someone who knows the community well and who can recount the stories connected to the lives of folks who found their resting place here.

Suddenly, I realize that the time is past Art’s class. One, final, walk around and I head home.

St. Vladimir Cemetery
Small section of the Kalmyk part of St. Vladimir’s cemetery Photo: nolefer, 2010









© 2010 New Jersey Folk Festival, Inc. - Problems? Contact