September in Accra, 2014

MEMORIES OF SEPTEMBER in Accra included a visit to the museum and art centre, three birthdays, several clinic/lab trips, a farewell, lots of reunions and a long-lost friend found; and countless hours on WA chats; a broken water pump and alarm (no thanks to the rain and constant electricity cuts/surge).

Medication madness from our clinic visits… Little Em was down with fever early in the month and skipped school three days while Big M battled with severe eczema this month, a second dermatologist was consulted, and several visits followed. (Sept 2014)

Medication madness from our clinic visits… Little Em was down with fever early in the month and skipped school three days while Big M battled with severe eczema this month, a second dermatologist was consulted, and several visits followed. (Sept 2014)

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As soon as she recovered, Little Em hosted her first playdate. (6 Sept 2014)

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Little Em with her favourite My Little Pony’s Rarity (6 Sept 2014)

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The spouses’ group bade a tearful goodbye to member Koko (who was cross-posted to Chile) on an afternoon that saw all of us sporting Nigerian headgear gele. (9 Sept 2014)

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On Malaysia Day, we were in the news. (16 Sept 2014)

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Food blessings… a friend gave me these huge bitter gourds which her husband grew in their garden (17 Sept); fresh oyster mushrooms from a local friend who also grew them on her farm (18 Sept 2014)

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Made a trip to the National Museum with two ladies (entrance was GHC20 each for foreigners; GHC5 for locals); Gloria the guide took us through the history of Ghana. (25 Sept 2014)

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Prior to that we checked out the Arts Centre, Accra for local souvenirs and handicrafts. (Sept 2014)

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Little Em celebrated her birthday in school with Frozen cupcakes (Sept 2014)

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Back home, September birthday gals included AhYee who turned 50 (15 Sept 2014), photo of her birthday cupcakes with luxury items were from last year; while Kim Kim had a fiesta with the kids on her birthday (26 Sept 2014).

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Back home, September was a winning  month for Mel and Ian who participated in two contests and won prizes. Well done!… reminds me of my contest-craze days too.

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Mel and Ian with their certificates and voucher prize.

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Back home, a school turned 100 in September 2014.

September was a walk down memory lane as my alma mater celebrated its 100th birthday in the SMKPP Centennial Gala Dinner on 20 September 2014. The reunion of old friends back home led me to find a long-lost Standard One friend, our last contact being 33 years ago.

Sergei the Matryoshka-Maker

WE FIRST MET Sergei Koblov on 10th June 2006 at the Ismailovsky market (also known as Vernisazh market), Moscow.

This is a huge market brimmed with Russian crafts and souvenirs. Items small and big – keychains, fridge magnets, napkin rings, Faberge eggs, amber jewelleries, matryoskha, lacquer boxes, gzhel and crystal ornaments, clothings, artworks, paintings, antiques, DVDs (to name some stuff that we’ve gotten) can be found here. While some are locally-crafted, many are also China-made products!

Rows and rows of wooden stalls sell the same items but at prices that could vary quite a bit (rather, I should say a LOT). While it is a known tourist haven, it can also be a nightmare (especially for a first timer) to shop for good bargains, not knowing if the next stall (or the next, or the one after that) might offer an even lower price. Speaking from experience, I’ve bargained for an item priced at Rb4,000 (RM540) down to Rb3,000 (RM405) and happily purchased it, only to find another stall offering the SAME item for Rb2,000 (RM270) even before bargaining! I wanted to kick myself for days!!!

Sergei’s stall stood out from the rest because I found his wares pretty unique.  Among others, he sells unpainted wooden matryoshka dolls carved out in different designs that came complete with a set of paint and brush; ready to paint your own matryoshka! Sergei himself stood out – he speaks English and wears a smile on his face 🙂

I got M a set of 5-piece Christmas-themed matryoshka, crafted into Ded Moroz, Sneguruskha, a snowman, a tree and a gift-box.

Meeting Sergei for the first time at Ismailovsky market; M painting the matryoshka at home days later.

Meeting Sergei for the first time at Ismailovsky market; M painting the matryoshka dolls at home two weeks later.

Ismailovsky market is such a colourful and lively place, come whatever season. We went back numerous times during our stay in Moscow, by which time we had earmarked a few favourite stalls.

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We also learnt that Sergei is one of the local artists featured in a book “The Art of the Russian Matryoshka” (by Rett Ertl and Rick Hibberd, Vernissage Press, 2003). He was featured on pages 165-167.

The Art of the Russian Matroyshka; the page that featured Sergei which he autographed on.

The book cover of “The Art of the Russian Matroyshka”; Page 165 that featured Sergei which he autographed on.

“He graduated from the prestigious Bauman Higher Technical School in Moscow as an electrical engineer. Unable to find work after graduation, Sergei remembered how his father had taught him to carve, so he returned home to try to make a living using his childhood hobby. He began to carve and paint a series of designs.” (page 165)

The authors credited Sergei’s matroyshki as “some of the most original in Russia. There are a few other artists who carve matroyshki but most of them carve only superficially, adding lines to beards or faces. Sergei carves the actual figures into the wood, thereby creating a completely different effect.” (page 165)

Like many folk artists, Sergei is proud of his techniques. He makes his own carving tools. He also makes his own paints which are non-toxic and harmless to the environment, using ancient recipes that he would not divulge the ingredients not the methods.” (page 166)

We returned to Ismailovsky numerous times as it was a “welcoming” place; we met Sergei again on 15th July 2007, where we bought the book and he autographed it for us.

We returned to Ismailovsky numerous times as it was a “welcoming” place; we met Sergei again on 15th July 2007, bought the book from him and he autographed it for us.

Russia’s Victory Day

PARADES, FIREWORKS AND remembering history mark Russia’s Victory Day every May.

Every 9th May since 1945, Russia (then Soviet Union) celebrates its victory over Nazi Germany and the end of World War II. Russians have traditionally called the Soviet Union’s war with Germany, from 1941-1945, the Second Great Patriotic War, the first being Russia’s victory over Napoleon in 1812 (The Moscow Times, May 6, 2005). It is a time the nation remembers the dead soldiers who fought for freedom and celebrates the war veterans and survivors.

For non-Russians, me in particular, it only means one thing – a public holiday. And for three Victory Days in Moscow, we celebrated the day in our own way.

We arrived in Moscow in 2005, the year the nation celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the end of WWII. Moscow’s Victory Day was celebrated on an especially grand scale. There were a series of official events for three days that weekend that were attended by more than 50 world leaders. The highlights were a military parade in Red Square on Monday 9th May, followed by a reception in the Kremlin. During that period of 8th – 9th May (Sunday and Monday), the entire city centre was practically closed to all except a select number of VIPs, veterans and officials.

While official VD celebrations are off-limits to the public, there were other forms of entertainment – concerts and fireworks display – in parks away from the city centre. As there were heightened security checks (police stopping people to check their documents) and traffic delays (due to road closures), the police had advised people to stay home during the long weekend to avoid all the hassle.

And we did just that. Well, we remained within our backyard and had a BBQ picnic at the park with our new neighbours-colleagues. It was a chilly day but the BBQ pit kept us warm. After that, the whole group adjourned to our barely furnished home (we had just arrived a month before and our container of personal belongings hadn’t even arrived) for a karaoke session (the set belonged to Pak Hamid) while finishing up the abundant leftover food from the afternoon BBQ. Together we witnessed a spectacular show of fireworks from 33 spots (details below) around Moscow city, clearly visible from the windows of our apartment.

Celebrating Victory Day 2005 our own way with a picnic in the park.

Celebrating Victory Day 2005 our own way with a picnic in the park.

Good fun for all … the guys, the gals and the kids.

Good fun for all … the guys, the gals and the kids.

The following year, 9th May 2006 fell on a Tuesday. Once again, we stayed home, other than taking M down to the park to roller-blade in the afternoon, and watched the fireworks display again at night.

Our third Victory Day was spent with friends again. That Wednesday, we offered our place again to those who want to view the 15-minute fireworks display which again did not fail to impress. A few turned up, and even stayed till midnight while enjoying coffee and curry puffs which R made.

A shot from my kitchen balcony of the main “stage” of the fireworks, Sparrow Hills where the Moscow State University is; gigantic fiery flowers light up Moscow sky (9th May 2007).

A shot from my kitchen balcony of the main “stage” of the fireworks, Sparrow Hills where the Moscow State University is; gigantic fiery flowers light up Moscow sky (9th May 2007).

Here are some interesting facts about fireworks in Russia, according to an article in the May 2005 issue of Where Moscow magazine…

“Fireworks in Russia were first mentioned at the end of 14th century. Under the ruler Muscovy Dmitry Donskoy, they were staged occasionally, and gunpowder was imported mostly from Germany. (In the same article, it was noted that black powder – one of the greatest inventions of the Chinese – was initially meant to fight off spirits.) During  the reign of Peter the Great, he turned what was called “fun lights” into an indispensible feature of all festivities, including celebrations for New Year, Pancake Week, military victories and the birth of a new child in the royal family… In 1699, he decreed that on the first day of January, people must make merry and wish health to each other, fireworks would be let off on Red Square, and all must have fun… 

Arranging festive fireworks is one of the few traditions that survive up until this day. On Victory Day in 1945, Moscow witnessed the mightiest festive salvo in Russia’s entire history – 30 shots from 1,000 artillery guns… 

Moscow’s 33 sites for firework mortars were chosen by special groups of firemen, military and city authorities so that the display could be watched from practically any spot in the city. Trucks are fixed with firework mortars, each mortar consists of several ordinary round metal pipes sitting on one platform. One truck may carry up to 25 units. 

On the evening of the celebration day, the trucks move to the sites. Sparrow Hills is the centre stage of all fireworks.  The commander of the antiaircraft defense of the Moscow Military District arrives at the control point located opposite Moscow State University, towering into the sky, and calls every firework installation one after another. With all the sites checked, at 10pm sharp, the commander orders “Fire!” All at once comes the cracking sound of a salvo, and the Moscow sky lights up with gigantic fiery flowers. Salvos keep coming every twenty seconds. And the lights of fireworks break through the darkness of the night…”

My lacquer box painting of fireworks at St. Basil’s Cathedral, in commemoration of VD.

My lacquer box painting of fireworks at St. Basil’s Cathedral, in commemoration of VD.

Serene Sparrow Hills

SPARROW HILLS IS a place that brings back many fond memories.

The header picture was taken at Sparrow Hills on 8 April 2007, after it snowed. Grey never looked more beautiful than in those photos we took that day!

Sparrow Hills is located at one of the highest points in Moscow and an observation platform there provides a panoramic view of the city, where one can clearly see Luzhniki Stadium and Moscow River.

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View from Sparrow Hills of Luzhniki Stadium on a snowy day.

Year round – especially during summer months – Sparrow Hills is busy with traders selling Russian souvenirs while busloads of tourists are dropped off to enjoy the view from the top, snap photos as well as shop for souvenirs. Locals flock there for leisure and it is also a point of interest for lovebirds and couples.  

Top: Luzhniki Stadium as seen from Sparrow Hills on a lovely sunny day; Bottom: A couple captured their wedding photos here; M with Russian souvenirs galore; one can’t miss taking a picture with the Moscow State University.

Top: Luzhniki Stadium as seen from Sparrow Hills on a lovely sunny day; Bottom (L-R): A couple captured their wedding photos here; M with Russian souvenirs galore; one can’t miss taking a picture with the Moscow State University.

With the backdrop of Moscow State University, daughter and mother (and with her friends) stood… 15 years apart.

With the backdrop of Moscow State University, daughter and mother (and with her friends) stood… 15 years apart.

Sparrow Hills, lovely to walk through, whether in summer or winter.

Sparrow Hills was our occassional weekend playground, a place that provided relaxation and sparked inspiration too.

Fond memories of Sparrow Hills immortalised on these lacquer boxes.