Monday, 10 August 2020

When strangers meet….

In Moscow, Soviet Union, in 1988, a Tatar Muslim screenwriter Vakhit Sharipov happened to meet a Russian film journalist Alexei Melnikov. Vakhit described a bridge-building project he wanted to do about the Cold War with any western anthropologist to try to dispel some of the misconceptions of the other. Alexei happened to know me, and introduced us.

Koozma and Vakhit in Kazan TASSR, 1988

I was delighted to do it. We both believed that the Cold War was a foolish and dangerous threat for nuclear war. It was essential to get to know the stranger as a necessity for the human survival of our civilization. We agreed to pay our own expenses.

First, Vakhit invited me to the Soviet Union for one month, then I arranged for him to come to Canada for a month. We hosted each other in our homes. Vakhit lived in Kazan city, the capital of the province of Tatar ASSR, renamed the Republic of Tatarstan. I lived in Ottawa, capital of Canada.

As an anthropologist, in the early 1960s, I studied the Cree and Saulteaux peoples of Saskatchewan and soon discovered that our attitude is an important ingredient for effective communication and human understanding. Becoming friends requires overcoming negative images of the other  and dispelling fear and misunderstanding of the unknown. Rubbing shoulders with our neighbour and stepping into the shoes of the other are useful metaphors in working across cultural boundaries.

Click here to see a large map of all places mentioned.

When strangers become friends, as with Vakhit and I, we were deeply affected. Our lives were changed forever. I experienced this first-hand as we traveled in Russia to Moscow, Kazan, Naberezhnye Chelny, Yelabuga, Nizhnekamsk; and later in Canada to Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal, and Saskatoon.

In each country, doors were flung open as photographers, yachtsmen, hikers, teacher, artists, students, professors, public school administrators, religious leaders, union organizers, peace workers, writers, and even millionaires have come forth to meet the international stranger.

In Kazan, I met Misha and Evgeny, who took us on the Volga river in their small yacht, named 'Tempest 04'. We were together for two-days, traveling by boat (50 km, 30 mi.) east on the Volga, camping on a river island overnight, then to their dacha (cabin) with banya (sauna) at the riverside village of Kurochkino. Living together gave us plenty of time for intimate serious discussions on perestroika, glasnost, Stalin, religion, the nationalities question, and more.

I felt like Saint Exupery’s fairy tale figure of Little Prince who travelled the planets and came to Earth, where he learned finally, from nature, the secret of what is truly important to life.

As a traveller, I learned about the beauty of nature that transcends political boundaries and ideologies. Its colours, shapes, and sounds decorate our gaze and rejuvenate our bodies and minds. That beauty is precious, yet vulnerable to destruction if we pollute our waters, air and soil, and if fail to work cooperatively and sensitively as one family on our common planet.

From Vakhit, I learned that cleanliness is a cultural trait of the Tatar people. When you enter their home, you take off your shoes and are offered a pair of slippers. I have used this practice in my Canadian home.

More profoundly, from Murat, Bulat and Alexei, I learned that war is a human tragedy that few of us in the West can relate to. We need to acknowledge the fact that the Soviet peoples lost over 27 million in defending themselves during WWII.

I learned that gift-giving is an old tribal custom that has persisted through the centuries and has transformed strangers into friends. On my departure home, Vakhit and his wife Galiya presented me with a beautiful handcrafted woolen rug.

From strangers and newfound friends I learned that diverting money from the arms race can provide us with all the infrastructure we need, the architecture, clean water, universal education and free health care to make life livable and make peace possible in the world. Our human family aches for that shift in evolutionary thinking.

Opening doors with strangers is a good first step in this thinking by peacefully bridging two or more realities on Planet Earth.

Photo album, 19 images: Canada — Tatariya 1988 Friendship Project. To see photo captions on a hand-held tablet or smart-phone, swipe image up; on a laptop or desktop computer, toggle the upper-right "info" button shown here in the yellow box: 

This article updated from: Koozma J. Tarasoff. 'When strangers meet….', 150 Canadian Stories of Peace (2017). Compiled by Gordon Breedyk, Mony Dojeiji, Koozma J. Tarasoff, and Evelyn Voigt.
My Kazan trip was mentioned in: Black, J.L. Canada in the Soviet Mirror: Ideology and Perception in Soviet Foreign Affairs, 1917-1991. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, Apr 15, 1998, page 326. — I met Professor J. L. Black when he was teaching at Carleton University, Ottawa. Some of his students came to my Living Room Discussion in 1984-1985. I met Soviet historian and Ambassador A. Yakovlev who borrowed many of my books on the Doukhobors and published a long essay on the group.

Tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Tōrō nagashifloating paper lanterns — began August 6, 1947. It was copied from the traditional August Buddhist Obon festival as a consolation to the souls of the millions of Japanese citizens who perished during World War II. 

Photo by Brent Patterson.

Due to my caution about CoVid-19 at my age, I chose to not attend this year’s annual 1945 A-bombing of Japan Memorial, hosted in Ottawa by the Society of Friends. I only missed 2 since 2009. About 60 people attended.

Photo by Brent Patterson.

This year the event was held at a pond along the Rideau Canal Western Pathway, a few meters east of Queen Elizabeth Parkway, at Third Ave, a few meters north of the new Flora Footbridge that crosses the Rideau Canal. (Google map

The proposed footbridge with labels added and red arrow pointing to location of
the Tōrō nagashi ceremony (Image from: Support Flora Footbridge, Facebook) 

It has been 75 years since the atomic bomb was dropped by the USA on Hiroshima, followed three days later with another one on Nagasaki, resulting in over 200,000 instant deaths and many more injured and dying.

In Special coverage: Hiroshima & Nagasaki at 75, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, warns us that we are all living in a ‘particularly dangerous period of our nuclear age’. Civilization is at stake. Time left in January 2020 : 100 seconds to midnight.

Though there are many fine books and articles for this 75th year milestone, I don’t find convincing evidence for preventing nuclear war. Concerned citizens and world leaders need to stand up and prevent a world holocaust that would take us back to the Stone Age. These are just 6 items online that reflect my thinking:

Robert Freeman. 75 Years On: Reflections and Preflections on Hiroshima. Common Dreams, August 7, 2020. — ‘We cannot change what happened, neither the heinous military nor the tragic moral stains that indelibly mark its occurrence. But we can transcend it, rise above it, by naming it, acknowledging it, repudiating it, and committing ourselves to a greater expression of the people and society we imagine and hope ourselves to be. It is the only option for a sane, safe, and civilized future.’

PBS. 75 years after Hiroshima, should the U.S. president have the authority to launch a nuclear attack?, August 5, 2020. — No U.S. President should have absolute authority to initiate a nuclear attack. Too many were mentally impaired while in office. William Parry, former Secretary of State, concluded: ‘Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev said it best, which is, a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’

Helen Caldicott. The Lessons We Haven’t Learned. The Progressive, August 3, 2020. — ‘... make friends with ... all nations and reinvest the trillions of dollars spent on war, killing, and death, saving the ... world with renewable energy including solar, wind, and geothermal, and planting trillions of trees. ... free medical care for all U.S. citizens, along with free education, housing for the homeless, and care for those with mental illness.’

Gary G. Kohls, MD. Why Americans Believe That Bombing Hiroshima Was Necessary. LewRockwell, August 1, 2015. — The American government was ‘... fully aware of Japan’s search for ways to honorably surrender months before Truman gave the fateful order to incinerate Hiroshima. Japan was working on peace negotiations through its ambassador in Moscow as early as April of 1945, with surrender feelers from Japan occurring as far back as 1944. ... all of Japan’s military and diplomatic messages were being intercepted. On July 13, 1945, Foreign Minister Togo wrote: “Unconditional surrender ... is the only obstacle to peace.” …(BUT) … ‘profiteers … Wall Street, the Pentagon, the weapons industries and their lapdogs in Congress … (did) … what is profitable or advantageous for our over-privileged, over-consumptive, toxic and unsustainable American way of life, …’

Amy Goodman and David Goodman. Atomic Bombing at 75: Hiroshima Cover-up -- How Timesman Won a Pulitzer While on War Dept. Payroll. Consortium News, August 4, 2020. Enhanced from: Hiroshima Cover-up: How the War Department's Timesman Won a Pulitzer, Common Dreams, August 10, 2004 — By boldly disobeying US military orders and censors, Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett was the first western reporter to get to Hiroshima, 30 days after the bomb, and have an uncensored eye-witness report published about an ‘atomic plague’. Burchett was extensively bullied by US agents. To negate the story, the US War Department used their hired propagandist, William L. Laurence, the Pulitzer Prize-winning science reporter for The New York Times, to deny massive deaths from radiation. ‘“Atomic Bill” Laurence revered atomic weapons.’ In 2003 the Times discussed removing a 1932 Pulitzer awarded to their Moscow bureau chief (1922–1936) Walter Duranty, but did not. This prompted the authors to recommend that Laurence’s prize be ‘stripped’.

Setsuko Thurlow. Hiroshima survivor, anti-bomb activist, and 2017 Nobel Prize winner living in Toronto, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on June 22, 2020, urging him to ‘acknowledge Canada’s involvement in and contributions to the two atomic bombings and issue a statement of regret on behalf of the Canadian Government for the immense deaths and suffering caused by the atom bombs that utterly destroyed two Japanese cities.’ She also urged him to sign the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

My Conclusion

Prevention. Prevention. Prevention of nuclear war is the key to world survival. Atomic wars must never be fought. Hiroshima and Nagasaki warn us of the danger if we do not act urgently and sensibly to prohibit atomic weapons development and wars.

I was 13 years old in 1945. I got the censored news on radio and newsreels at cinema. Let’s give hope to our children and grandchildren and everyone else that atomic wars must never take place, and that wars be banned as criminal behaviour.

I want an international War Prohibition Treaty! — like the 1920 League of Nations, the 1928 General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy,  the 1933 Anti-war Treaty of Non-aggression and Conciliation, and the 2017 United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Every country should have a well-funded Department of Peace and a nonkilling foreign and domestic policy.

Ancient Ritual of Kurban

It’s been 3 years since my Bulgarian-born wife Kristina Kristova suffered a stroke in July 2017. Her recovery progressed well so far. She is walking and continues to get stronger from daily exercises. Periodical dizziness remains. She thanks the Divine (God) for her healing.

To ensure that this forward progress continues, she thanks the friends who helped in her recovery, and needed to make kurban soup. Kristina says that in Bulgaria, this traditional thick soup was made when people want to wish someone good health, especially after a person suffers from an accident and needs time to recover, or to pray for good harvest, fertility of the animals and good clean nature.

Photos from: Classic Kurban Soup, TastyCraze.com; and
Simple Bulgarian Banista, Recipe by mis liz, Food.com.

She prepared a large pot of kurban soup — with many pieces of lamb and fresh veggies which I cut up (carrots, tomatoes, green onions, peppers, parsley). She also made banitsa, a Bulgarian filo pastry baked with cheese, which she baked rectangular on a large cake pan.

We prepared kurban gifts for 4 Bulgarian couples who are close friends, and delivered to each a quart of soup, several banista, and nice handwritten thank you card of love and good will.

After the last delivery, Kristina invited me to a nice restaurant for seafood to thank me for my help as her caregiver and to celebrate her recovery. This was our first visit to a restaurant since the mid-March closure of all restaurants in Ottawa due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Stage 3 of Ontario's COVID-19 regional reopening plan began July 17. As we enjoyed our food, we talked about the kurban soup and its meaning and history.

From Kristina’s understanding, kurban is an ancient ritual going back to paegan times, when the people looked for ways to thank the Gods for giving life to humanity, for healing, and for good fortune. As village people got together to eat and celebrate, an elder or priest would bless the food before the meal began. Today this could take place without a priest, as we have done.

For an extensive history, see: Kurban in the Balkans (Курбан на Балкану), editors: B. Sikimić and P. Hristov, 2007, Belgrade : Institut for Balkan Studies, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. 302 pages.

I learned that ‘Kurban’, kourbania in Greek, korban in Hebrew, and Qurban in Arabic, all refer to ‘ritual animal sacrifice … to bring man back to God, or rather to facilitate this approach.’ Some use it to venerate Saints, and it evolved into secular traditions, as Kristina was inspired.

For me, kurban is a kind of superstition of hope, an opportunity to give thanks to the powers that be, to bring people together to commemorate and honour and pray for improvement in their lives.

Twice in my younger life I witnessed ceremonies and traditions similar to kurban.

In the mid-1950s in Saskatchewan, during my field work as an anthropologist for a couple of years, I studied the local Native Canadians in 4 reserves. After their rain dances and sweat lodges they held communal feasts, with meat dishes and rice as a staple.

In the 1980s in Azerbaijan, during a trip with the USSR-Canada Friendship Society our group was hosted by locals. They honoured us with a surprise feast of a barbecue lamb slaughtered and roasting as we arrived, but did not know that most of our group were vegetarians. It was an embarrassing experience for all. Upon understanding their custom, we expressed grateful appreciation to our hosts.

I grew up among nonkilling Canadian Doukhobors who abandoned any animal sacrifice rituals in Russia. I learned that it continues in forms today, around the world in many other cultures to celebrate health, appreciation, a religious holiday, the fall harvest, friendship, peace, blessings, etc.

My webmaster, Andrei Conovaloff in Arizona, USA, grew up with the tradition of animal sacrifice among Spiritual Christian Dukh-i-zhizniki. He says in Russian they call it zhertva (жертва: sacrifice, offering), similar to ‘sacrifice in Judaism’ (жертвоприношения в иудаизме), and ‘korban’ in Hebrew.

His family lived on a farm west of Phoenix colonized in the 1910s by his grandfather's generation of immigrants from the Caucasus. They raised and butchered their own animals for home consumption, and for communal (obshchiy) meals at their rural congregation when it was their turn to prepare the feast. 

Their religious communal meals are 4-course traditional Russian feasts with large bread loafs, tea (chai) with vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon squeezed), borshch (soup) or lapsha (egg noodle soup), roasted meat and boiled eggs, and fresh fruit in season. The eggs are for the very few vegetarians, who also get postni borshch, without animal broth. Besides cube sugar for chai, other sweets could be dates, raisins, pastries, and whatever else the severs provide.      

Hymns are sung between each course, and speakers lecture while congregants eat. Doukhobor meals in Canada are similar, but much shorter in time without meat, or continuous singing and speaking.

The Dukh-i-zhiznik meat offering is preferably a lamb, slaughtered similar to Jewish kosher and Muslim halal. Urban Dukh-i-zhizniki typically pay select community butchers to do the task for them. For large gatherings, beef is cheaper. Since the 1970s, concerns about cholesterol and cost allowed offering meat to be chicken or fish. When the meat offering course is served, often the most zealous elder(s) will be ritually ‘seized by the Holy Spirit’, jump with both hands raised to the end of the song, and sometimes deliver a message from God in Russian. Since the Holy Spirit is always present, jumping and prophesy can be expressed anytime during meetings, most often when fast loud spiritual songs are sung.

The Dukh-i-zhiznik communal meal is typically closed to outsiders, leftovers must be given only to Christened members, to their homebound elderly, to their own animals to be eaten (chickens, sheep), and discarded animal fat and bones buried. Nothing is fed to non-kosher pets (dogs, cats). People not Christened in the faith should not eat their zhertva food. Some zealots in the faiths may chase outsiders away as unclean pork-eaters. A few liberal congregations tolerate outsiders (ne nashi), particularly at large weddings and funerals.

In 1985 the practice of burying zhertva bones in the city created a media frenzy for a few weeks in a suburb of Los Angeles which scared most of the Dukh-i-zhizniki in Southern California to this day. Neighborhood kids who saw bones being buried outside a meeting house after meals imagined that the strange people were eating human babies. See: Borshch Bones NOT Human Sacrifice.