Click below to read the first part of this story.
“Oh, those Americans!” (part 1)
We were very upset. Nobody of us wanted our teachers punished due to actions of any boy from our school. We loved and respected Boris and Nasir. Every day showed all of us that they cared and did everything possible to help us.
Nikolai, who was on the Uzbekistan’s boxing team, expressed common opinion. He said: “There will be no more cheating!”
Several days passed. On the ninth day three boys picked more than 40 kg and proudly shared their prizes with their classes. We found that butter was not edible and pita was too small to satisfy 20 or more hungry guys. Still we hoped that more boys will pick 40 kg next day.
However, night brought bad surprise. Temperature dropped substantially and it became very cold in our large room. We slept on the thin mattresses on the floor and had only thin blankets to defend us from cold. It became windy outside and there were many holes in the floor and walls of the building.
So during the night we suffered from cold. It was even worse on our way to fields. We did not have warm clothing and the closest field with unpicked cotton was already about two miles away. Many guys took their blankets with them and it helped a bit on the way to the field but nobody could keep blankets on when picking cotton. So we suffered from cold until sun was high above our heads and then we continued to suffer from reflections of sun rays from cotton bushes.
However, we worked and did not complain. Our teachers worked and suffered even more than we as they slept very little caring for sick boys at nights. We knew that there were only several days left before coming home and this knowledge lifted our spirits.
Two more days passed. Then several boys complained that they had severe abdominal pain. Greg was one of them. He told us that it was very painful for him even to touch his abdomen. He and some other boys also had fever and they vomited. Two boys said to teachers that they had frequent and painful urination.
Many of us caught cold and started to cough. The only medicine from all problems was hot tea but everyone suspected that together with bad food it could be also a reason of stomach problems.
Nasir asked the local healer to check boys with severe abdominal pain and the old man said that it was possible that Greg had appendicitis and needed an operation as soon as possible.
In the morning of the last day Greg and six other sick guys stayed in the room helping each other. All others went to work in high spirit. We were proud that we were able to overcome all difficulties and picked a lot of cotton. We also thought what a pleasure it would be tomorrow to meet our families, to take shower, to eat decent food and to relax a couple of days before going to school.
At about 3.00 pm we heard a very strange noise. All of us stopped working and turned to see what it was. A dark dot appeared in the sky. Then it grew and it became clear that it was a plane. Soon it was near and then it landed on the road close to us. A pilot climbed down from the plane and started walking towards us.
Boris and Nasir told us to continue working and went to meet the pilot. They spoke with him several minutes and then they came back. We could see that they were very upset.
Nasir told us to stop work and to come closer as they had important news for us. Then Boris told us that government of Uzbekistan decided that all boys and girls from Tashkent must continue to pick cotton two more weeks. The pilot also said that our parents bought for us food and sent it and our warm clothing with him.
Teachers also told us that they convinced the pilot to take with him to the city three very sick boys (he could not take more). They told us to walk back to our building and then they flew with the pilot.
On the way back from the field some guys were very angry. One said: “We volunteered to go to pick cotton for only two weeks. What right did government have to force us to stay here two more weeks?”. Another guy wondered why we did not get good food from the beginning and why the government did not provide food this time. He added: “We are not getting money for our work. Why should our parents pay for our food?”
Yuri said to me: “I hope Greg will get necessary treatment today and will be in good shape when we return to the city.”
When we reached our building the plane was gone and Greg and two other boys were gone too. There were food and clothing in the room.
We continued to work. Temperature continued to drop and we suffered from cold very much. Some guys and our teacher Boris had bad dry cough, more guys had stomach problems. We counted days and worked. Finally, thirteen days passed. We were very tired but satisfied with results of our work.
Before going to work on the last day teachers told us to prepare our things for departure. They asked sick boys to clean the room and to gather all mattresses in the corner of the room.
We worked this day with great enthusiasm. However, at about 3.00 pm we heard that a plane was coming again. It landed, the pilot climbed out and stayed near plane. Boris and Nasir went to him. All of us stopped working. We felt that something was very bad.
Teachers talked with the pilot and then called us to join them. They told us that Greg was dead. They also told us that Stalin ordered all boys and girls from Tashkent’s schools to pick cotton two more weeks.
Yuri and I could not believe these news. Greg, our closest friend for six years, was dead. He was dead only because our leaders did not care about us. We were only fourteen years old but we understood the simple truth: Stalin was our leader but he was not our friend.
In two weeks boys and girls from Tashkent’s schools returned from the Hungry Steppes. However, four girls and one boy died very soon. Nothing was in newspapers or on the radio about it but people knew everything. When we heard this terrible news Yuri told me: “You know our teachers. They love us and they teach us to love others. If Stalin is a teacher he is a teacher of death”.
We did not believe propaganda from that time. We did not believe that Americans wanted to conquer the world. We also found out that in 1947 International Harvester produced a mechanical cotton picker. We did not want to compete with Americans, to compete with machines.
However, three more years we picked cotton until middle of October. Nobody asked us to volunteer. Our government decided everything for us.
Oh, those Americans!