Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Day 7

So, pretty much yesterday began with the letter that I sent along. It takes some time to write these things, but I don’t mind too much. I am mean, obviously, I like the job of writing, and having something to write about and having somebody to read it is what it is all about I guess. I guess. But I was here for about two hours yesterday, and the main things that were accomplished were the writing of the text you say and then, finally at the end, the accomplishment of the writing of a sign advertising for an actor or an actress to play the part of Robert and Nadia for the play. My best thinking on the subject is that it will not be so hard to find our Nadia in this, because it is quite normal for the girls to study English these days (though there does seem to be an awful lot of them that do not. Not quite thinking like Europeans I imagine.). But it is the finding of a 27-year-old man that is going to be the problem.

Before the referendum, which is a good way to speak of the time in 1989 when the communism stopped, the USSR ended and about 200,000 got fired from their jobs all on the same day. There are other dates, like the date of the first Russian ruble collapse, which was expected, and the far more deleterious crash in 1998, which everyone remembers the way Americans remember September 11th. I could go into the death of hope here, or the loss of the second fortune and/or trust, but then again, this is all I do, so I will let that go here for now. But to stay with the point, because of the history of the place and the economics etc, there simply aren’t so many 27-year-old English speakers to choose from. And this is not Minsk, which has some American stragglers hanging around. And more so, we need Robert to be handsome and not just some loser foreigner trying to get some Russian dressing for his salad. So it is a problem.

So, as I said, I made a sign. Then sign said something like:


The Pinsk theatre is interested in two English-speaking actors; one girl (about 16 to 23) and one man (about 23 to 30) to play parts in the dome kultura’s new play “Pod Kablukom”. All interested people should apply to the Pinsk theatre, etc, etc…

My thinking was that if they could read the sign, they would have enough English to do the job. Any way, this was my thinking. So, after I am finished in the Internet, ($2) and armed with my ten copies (cost $1) I am off to visit two schools to leave these signs around. The first place I went to was the school of the arts, which is only about 50 meters from the Internet place. I went inside and was immediately surrounded by, perhaps 12 16-year-old girls in black leotards who simply thought that I must be the most interesting thing in the whole of the world. I of course, thinking only as a potential teacher of English as well as a patron of the arts, simply asked who spoke English amongst them. This obviously was another interesting thing to them. Now, I did know two of the girls, because I had met them last year when I was here, and they both remembered me, which was even more interesting for everybody. So all in all, this was a pretty interesting moment. So I am trying to explain in Russian how we have a play, and that we are looking for one very good looking girl to play the part of a special girl in a play and that it is very important that speak English and that it is going to be a big deal, and that yes, really, it is true, I AM the author! Very, VERY interesting moment. But all of this interest was subdued by a few faculty members who quickly shuffled me away from my gaggle of dancers and upstairs to the theatre department, where I was greeted by a dramatically unfunny lady, who was department head or other, who immediately started to grill me, and in much too quick spoken Russian for me to understand, something about some rules and or time and or school work from this school, all of which had not the slightest bit to do with the finding of a girl to play the part. I tried to tell the lady that we were only asking for the girls to audition, and that we were not asking for the gift of such a girl. I don’t know, maybe that is the way they think of people here, but all I am hearing is about the red tape, about which I know or care little.

So, just to talk about this a bit, to my thinking, if you see a sign that is advertising something or other, well, if you see it and you think that you agree with what that sign says, then you can do something about it. I think that this is the way things work, and I would be hard pressed to believe otherwise. But, and this is the point of what I am talking about here, in order for one to make the sort of decisions I am talking about, one needs to have some responsibility of personal choice or other. One needs to have the thought in their head that they even CAN decide that they like or want something, or even that something could be their choice. There is an old saying that a dog which is raised in a closet believes that the world is 2x3 and dark all of the time. So maybe this is what I am contending with at this moment. You se, I think, all I need to do is to open a door of opportunity, and see who comes through the door. One would think that this is so. But, to even consider such a movement in ones life here, one must first (and you could read the play if you want to have some idea about what I am talking about) talk about every detail and every possibility, who gets hurt, who gets touched and who would win and who would lose. So, with the daunting task of even thinking about all of this that MIGHT happen, well, I guess one would actually want the part in the play before they would go through all of the trouble of actually trying out for it. So, what I am saying, is that yes, there was an interesting moment, and yes, there was excitement, but no, there was not even one moment where the focus of attention seemed to get over to the sign. So I was somewhat disheartened at this first attempt. And the same thing happened at the college of economics I visited and where there is some possibility that I might teach, if I can ever manage to get some papers to be signed about a work visa. After this, I came back to the Internet and talked to Yelena who is the director of the play, and we didn’t have a whole lot to talk bout either, which really didn’t help. So, even though it was still pretty early, it felt like a good idea to call it the end of the day, I was feeling pretty low.

So, I stopped by the marked and got some stuff to eat: some Kefir and some cheese, some yogurt, which the kid likes a lot, and some butter. I was supposed to get some apples, but I was too late for the bazaar and the shop that sells the fruit was closed for their break, so I was out of luck for that. And because Victor said that he was going to buy the bread (I didn’t mind this because the ladies in the bread store always give me shit about my Russian), my day was done and I went home. It is nice to say these words: I went home. And of course, it is nice to have a place to go to. Igor had come home from school already, and he greeted me at the door. He had set up is army of sour crиme containers all over the floor, so I had to step over the second flank to get in and slip off my shoes. Irene asked me if I would buddish soup, and I though that a little soup would be a good and practical thing so I staggered into the kitchen for some thick potato soup with bread and cheese and a little chicken. Everything of course tastes exactly the way you might imagine it would taste if you allowed yourself a moment to dream of such fair served by baba with the normal implorings of “esh, esh, esh, te busddish sil? Chai? Kushets kushets…” (Eat, eat. eat… would you like some cheese> tea? Eat, eat…) I have said this before, but really for a man my size, I really don’t need someone to ask me twice if I would like to eat. But still, it does feel nice. Irene runs her kitchen in a very severe and practical manner, there are a lot of us in this house and all of us need to be fed, and the kitchen is really small. Also, there is only one chair in the kitchen to sit down in and then two small stools to sit on. Because of the logistics of size, I get the chair at night and I the morning when Tatyana and Igor and I eat breakfast and dinner together. And… I like this! But, sometimes Irene will put a clock in your face and tell you that someone else has got to come and get some food for the day and that there is only maybe ten or fifteen minutes left in terms of chair time. I suppose it is poor form to argue this, so I try to be cool about. Esh…esh… bistro, bistro (Eat, eat, quickly, quickly).

Irene had a seat at the table with me though because she wanted to talk to me about their dacha situation. I told her that Tatyana had already mentioned to me that the state had pulled their dacha from them, and that now they had only their back yard garden to grow some potatoes, onions, carrots, beats, cabbage and tomatoes, all of the staple vegetables that they use. My figuring, based on a quick breakdown of market costs of a kilogram of potatoes and the size of the dacha, told me that the loss of the dacha probably accounted for a loss of something like $400 a year in food. Maybe less and maybe more, but Irene agreed with this number as probably being true. So, we talked about it. I grabbed my copy of the Gazette I got and I showed where in the ads there were some dachas that were now for sale. Irene reads kind of slowly, but wherever she saw a good dacha, or where one was close, she would rub her fingers together and say it was so bogati (rich). She told me things I already knew about how she and Victor are on stipend and about how both Tatyana and her sister makes such little money. I agreed that to buy a new dacha would cost, probably in the nature of at least a few thousand dollars. This may seem like a lot, but they have discovered real estate here in Pinsk. The flats here are for sale, as with all real estate based upon location and size. The adds are pretty small and don’t tell you very much information, but then again, they don’t need to because, you know, all of the flats are the same, right? To buy a flat is about $10 to 12 thousand, but to rent is still only about $50 a month for everything including gas and electric. Now, this is crazy, of course, but if you are thinking that it is crazy because it is so cheap, remember again that the wages here are only $60 to 80, and that that money, the 80 to $100 is high wages and good money. Often Tatyana is looking at some number like $50, which is about what my friend Victor (the guy who killed me the other day) made at the bike school. So the breakdown of cost verses how much money you have left over for unimportant things such as food and clothing can be (no lie) as little as $10 a month. Irene helped herself to a cup tea that I bought. I thought that this was strange at first because Irene would never allow herself such familiarity, but then, this was a business meeting, so it made sense (I was at first scorned a bit for having bought TWO boxes of tea…tsk, tsk, tsk… such a display of wealth!).

So, I asked her if it was possible to rent some dacha space. I though that one could do this fairly quickly and locally by simply going out to where there was dacha spaces and seeing if there was anybody who didn’t want or need to plant this year. If they would take $50 or so to let the space, then, the eventual value of the food would only be diminished by the cost of the rent, and there would still be some $350 in food for the family that would not need to be paid for with money. Irene reminded me that the money was actually more then this, because they always had extra (this included the honey from the bee house in the back yard) that they could sell at the market or barter for other goods. I asked Irene if she actually liked the dacha work and she smiled and said no. That $400 in food takes a lot of hours to actually earn, what with the weeding, planting. Fertilizing, shooing of bugs, pruning, harvesting and schlepping everything around. Irene is older, and even if Victor is feeling better these last few days, nobody is getting any younger, and so the really, it was not hard for her to agree that not planting in the garden this year was, at least physically, not such a bad thing. So, as there was nothing to do at this moment, I agreed that I was aware of the situation and would try and think about things and to see what I could do. This was a reasonable thing to say, and so the meeting was adjourned, and I went to the other room where Igor was working on his homework. I picked up a cope of Hemingway’s “the sun also rises” which is my only English language book at the moment, after maybe two minutes of Jake’s swell narrative, I passed out cold for an hour.

After I woke up, I helped Igor with his English homework: I am you are he is she is we are they are, the boy goes, the boys go, the book sits on the table, the books sit on the table, etc, and after that got to be food for another scandal, we went out back and kicked a football back and forth for an hour or so until Tatyana came home from work. Had blintzes and sour creme for dinner and talked about education theory and learning. I had some ideas about Igor as a student and about his future and some issues of what things could be done. Tatyana just wanted to sleep after a day at the bookstore. She had seen several beautiful girls who could be good for the part of Nadia, and she thought that she might have possible seen one of my ex-girlfriends, which was certainly of conversational interest. But is was bed time, and the day was over for everyone with the only problem remaining that Igor had forgotten to do some of his Russian language homework. This was a big deal, because the boy gets very nervous when he doesn’t finish things. We set up a light near the bed, got him under the covers, but after maybe the first 16 bars of the Beatle’s “All you need is love” on the guitar, he was off, and so were we. The kid was up though in a panick at 5:00 because he had forgotten his homework. So he did this, and after we had three quick games of chess (one for me, two for him; we are 7-6 my favor at the moment, but things are looking bleak for me) and then had a bike ride this morning to get over the anger of losing twice to a seven year old who makes chewing and slurping sounds when he sees that a mate is innevitable. When I got back, I ate some soup, and told Irene that I had thought of a story that describes her use of crushed glass (true) in the feed that she gives the chicken. She says it is good for the eggs because it makes the shells thicker. The story went like this:

Once upon a time on a big farm there lived a farmer and his wife. Now, as this farmer was a normal farmer, he liked to drink a bit (click of the neck) and as the farmers wife was a normal wife, she objected to his drinking. So for years, the farmer would try and sneak off for a little vodka and the wife would always try and catch him at it. And after a while both became better and better at what they were doing: The farmer became better at finding a drink, and the wife got better at catching him. But one day, the farmer was awakened by a frying pan being brought down on his head in the middle of the night. It seems that the wife had found that the farmer had been hiding all of the empty vodka bottles under the hay in the barn, though he had told her that he had not been drinking. When the bandages came off a few weeks later, the farmer had thought of a plan: After hen finished drinking, he would crush up the bottle into tiny pieces. And then he would mix it into the chicken feed and feed it to the chickens so that there was no evidence of his drinking. And this worked fine for a while until one day the wife noticed two things that were strange: The eggs that the chickens were laying had much harder shells then before, and also the chickens seems quite happy these days. So she told the farmer about what she saw and asked him what he thought. And the farmer, being a normal farmer realized that he had discovered something about chickens and eggs: If you feed a chicken crushed glass, it makes the shells harder, but if the glass comes from vodka bottles, there must be some vodka left in it and the chickens must like vodka as much as he! And so all he could say about the situation was the truth:

My darling, I love you, and believe me, it is better this way.