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Marty and Peter's Return to Moscow 2003
written by Peter Hagerty, Oct 23, 2003

Peter Hagerty and his wife Marty Tracy, partners in marriage as well as Peace Fleece, returned to Moscow in September. Marty had not been to Russia since before the fall of the Soviet Union and had not met most of the farmers and craftspeople working with Peace Fleece.

It is three o'clock in the morning and as I look out of my window, I see Yaltinskaya Street below dusted with new fallen snow. Across the street in a fourth floor apartment is a man. I have named him Max. He gets up every morning at three, has one cup from something on the stove, then leaves for work. I have decided that he must drive one of the Metro busses north of Moscow.

I have been traveling to Russia for over 18 years. I usually visit once in the summer and once in the dead of the Russian winter. I try and divide my time between our artisans based in Moscow and our farmers who live in the countryside. Thanks to our business, I have opened a window into the lives of these people.And thanks to my inability to adjust to jet lag, I spend the early morning hours of most days in Russia, usually between 2 and 4, looking out the same window down onto Yaltinskaya Sreet.

Luba Haying at Shepelova

Luba, my Russian partner and her husband Sasha have a small apartment in southeastern Moscow. We conduct all Peace Fleece business from the kitchen table. Luba was born in this apartment where she lived with her two parents and brother Ivan. When she married Sasha, they took over one of the three rooms as their own mini flat. When Sergei and Annya arrived, things became too crowded and a small apartment nearby was found for the grandparents. While I am in Moscow, Luba's apartment is my home.
I came to Russia in 1985 to start a Soviet American wool business. Andropov was president and Reagan was rattling the sabers of war. If a small sheep farm in Maine could start a profitable business with a Soviet partner, why couldn't our governments find a way to coexist. It was a bit na´ve and idealistic but it worked. I was born into to an upper middle class Irish Catholic family. Both my parents believed that their two were capable of doing anything. My parents wanted us to be leaders, to accomplish great deeds. So, like the Kennedys, we were sent to Milton Academy and to Harvard College where we were told upon graduation:

"You have received the best education that the world can offer today. Now your job is to go out and change the course of human events and make the world a place free of war and disease"

Armed with this mission statement, I entered the world, eager to make my mark.

But the Vietnam War was waiting for me upon graduation in 1968 and nothing I had learned about human nature from my parents or in the hallowed halls of academia prepared me for what I saw in Southeast Asia. I came home an angry and disillusioned man. But in the fall of 1970, I met Marty, fell in love and found a partner with whom I could spend the rest of my life. We moved to Porter, Maine where we raised sheep, logging horses and a family, and we are still there.

My early morning times looking down on Yaltinskaya Street are often full of emotion. I sometimes feel that I am in a monastery. My mantra, my quest, or better put, my obsessive question is always the same.

"Am I being of any use here?"

"Given the enormity of the world crisis, how can I, visiting a few farmers and craftspeople half way around the world, make any difference to anything."

"This is all so self serving. I come over here, make a few contacts, create an engaging story, sell some product. Who the hell do I think I am fooling?"

Across the street and next to Max's apartment is the school where Luba went as a child. Later her two children would learn to read and write there as well. It is in her old classroom in 1994 Luba first voted in a presidential election. Sometime in the summer young kids hang out late into the night in the school courtyard and their laughter carries up to my open window.

Sasha is the first to rise in the house. It is 4:30. After he gets dressed, he will have a cup of coffee and a cigarette, then he will go out and warm up his car, also below my window, then begin the long and arduous drive to work in the north of Moscow. In the summer the streets are clogged with cars, in the winter clogged with ice and snow. Sometime he is in the car 4 hours each day.

Next comes Annya. She awakes at six to prepare for her art school. She usually showers and then a quick bit to eats before the front door closes behind her. Then her brother due to rise. But now there is silence because Sergei no longer gets up for his job. Sergri is no longer here. The soft spoken son with a speech defect, the brave 15 year old who came to American one fall to live with Mainers and attend high school, is now dead, leaving a wife and a four year old son. He died because, as his mother knows, Russia is now a country with a huge appetite for young men and suffering mothers.

I hear Luba now heading for the kitchen. She will look first at the photo of her children and her husband that hang on the wall by the kitchen table. And as I lay in my bed in the dark, their pain seeps under the door and thru the room and surrounds my own pain, in fact gives my own pain form. For a moment I understand why I am here in the dark, many miles from my own family.

"Am I being of any use here?"

What the commencement speakers failed to tell us thirty five years ago was:

How do you know when you have made a difference?

How can you tell when you have done enough?

I as an American I feel I have a special burden. No matter how hard I work to improve the lives of my family, my community, my country, my world, I feel as if I have not done enough. I who have every privilege, consume more than my fair share of the natural resource of the world, I am especially vulnerable to calling myself up short when it comes to having done enough.

This issue of doing enough was in front of my mind as Marty and I traveled to Russia several weeks ago. I had asked to be a critic of my work, to take a hard, unromantic look at our work with our farmers, craftspeople and friends and give me some feedback.

"What you're doing here is not about sheep or horses or knitting needles or wooden buttons," she told me. It was early one morning and Mart was sharing my stool by the window over Yaltinskaya Street. " It's about Galina's's smile, its about Luba and Sasha and Annya sharing their grief with you. No matter what has happened here, no matter how bad it has been, you have always come back."

"Do you remember when you went to Shepelova Village. It was on New Years Eve when Anne and Josh were with you?"

I did remember. We had driven for hours in the cold. Two cars, one filled with people, the other with food and drink. When we arrived at Shepelova Village, all was dark at Pavel and Galina's even though it was just after 6. No barking dogs, no lights. They had no phone and the mail was irregular in the winter. They had no idea we were coming.

When we came into the house, we knew the fire was out. Pavel and Galina were huddled under the covers, exhausted and depressed. Their cow had died, their dog had been killed by a passing truck, there was little food in the pantry. Soon Sasha had a fire going, Luba set the table and Josh and Ann and I did the barn chores.

Supper was served, followed by the tuning of the guitar and a night full of dancing and song. Gifts were exchanged and tea was served with the dawn.

One dies, two survive.

I realized on this last trip that for me it is not about saving the world, not about world peace and famine. It is about the little things, doing what you can, keeping a thread of hope going no matter how thin.
     It's about:
     -shearing sheep with Pavel in the April sun,
     -bringing Ivomectin to Tamara so she worm her mare,
     -bringing dyes to Ludmilla so she could color her fleece,
     -walking with 30 farmers from Eastern Washington down a 5 mile snow covered road to
     visit Galina's farm,
     -going fishing with Sasha when he needed to be quiet but not alone,
     -standing in the cool fall air sobbing with a man who can not believe his son is
     lying in the ground at our feet.

Thanks to Mart and our time over Yaltinskaya Street, I see my work in a new light. My search for meaning for my work has become less obsessive and more rewarding.

As Mother Theresa says, it is a two way street, my liberation is your liberation, my love is your love.
  Past Russian Newsletters

Pavel and Galina with lambs