Passing Long Nights in Winter Pasture

From Winter Pasture, by 李娟 (Astra Publishing, 2021), Kindle pp. 41-42:

Come evening, even when it was already late, we were reluctant to sleep. By the dusky yellow light of a solar-powered bulb, Kama embroidered, Cuma read old Kazakh-language newspapers aloud, Sister-in-law spun wool, I read and took notes, and the cat pounced here and there practicing its hunting moves. The kettle had been whistling for a long while when Cuma sighed, “Let’s drink some tea.” Sister-in-law put down her handiwork, laid out tablecloth and bowls, and everyone gathered in a circle to sip in silence. The light grew dimmer and dimmer. Suddenly, Cuma screamed while pointing to my feet. I looked down—to pour the tea more easily, I had put the milk bowl by my feet instead of on the tablecloth. In my carelessness, the pink kitten, Plum Blossom, had snuck over and was lapping up the contents of the bowl with relish. I screeched as I swiped at the cat, much to everyone’s amusement. The last of the milk was ruined by the kitty, what a shame! But no one seemed to mind. They kept ladling the milk into their tea as usual. Indeed, how could that little pink mouth be considered dirty? He was still just a kitten after all.

Our tea drunk and newspapers read, Cuma pondered for a moment before retrieving his iron box from the nightstand. Then, for the hundred and first time, he made an inventory of his little treasures. Inside the iron box was everything of value the family owned: superglue, a spare light bulb, nuts and bolts of different sizes, as well as a stack of wrinkled papers, forms, notes, debt receipts, and the like. I grabbed a sheet to take a look. It turned out to be a prepaid phone plan receipt. What use is that? Rummaging some more, I discovered a plastic bag sealed with several tight knots on top. When I finally managed to untie it, I found a packet of Mohe tobacco! Cuma rejoiced, grabbing it and hugging it tightly. He barked, “Mine! It’s mine!” And so, it was a fruitful inventory check after all.

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Filed under Central Asia, China, economics, food, labor

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