Saturday, May 31, 2003
Yesterday was Igor’s “Lynyeska”, his graduation from this year’s school. All of the boys and girls from his school put on their best cloths and came to school with flowers to be given as gifts for their teacher or the administrator of the school. It was really quite beautiful, all of the kids and the flowers. We stood outside in the yard and listened to speeches from the administrator, a fellow who according to Tatyana loves to ask the parents of the school for money. Igor told her that he has a big house and two cars and there is some thought as to some possible school corruption. We stood and watched while the best of the students received special awards and cards and all of the kids made a parade around the grounds. Igor got no special mentions and in fact got a six (about a c minus) in English, a revelation that stupefied everyone.
We had a kittle scandal the night before because Igor forgot to tell us about when and where the lynyeska would be. He also forgot to bring home his books for next year’s school. This led to quite a bit if yelling and screaming and planning about how we were supposed to do all of the things we had to do to be ready for the lynyeska and to get the books. We had to make arrangements to go to the school early in order to get these books and we needed to decide what I had to do after Tatyana had to leave the ceremony because she had to go to work, her boss having refused to grant her an extra fifteen minutes to see her kid graduate. This all precipitated a series of arguments with Igor about all of the extra work that needed to be done on his behalf when he was irresponsible about his things. Igors forgetting his books added two hours to her workday, which was more stress added to an already stressful situation at her work, where she is having great problems.
Tatyana seems to think that the problems she is having has something to do with the extra vacations she took last year during the times when she came to Poland to visit me. I think that it is probably more directly because of me, because I am an American and therefore everybody thinks that I am rich. Her negative experience begins with the fact that she makes only about $50 a month working at the shop. But, in addition to this, there is a lot of theft that takes place at the shop, and it is the stores policy to subtract stolen money directly from the employees pay in order to make up the difference. This has nothing to do with weather or not the employees are actually at fault. I guess blaming the customers is too difficult because they can’t as readily get the money back from them.
And then a few weeks ago Tatyana found that her register was $5 short at the end of the day. She swears that she didn’t take the money and I believe her. But she was required to pay the five dollars back to the store nevertheless. They made her sign a paper at work stating what her reasons for the money not being there, and all she could tell them was that she was not at the register all the day and could not be responsible for the time when she was not there. Yesterday, her boss showed her an official paper, complete with stamp, which her boss was obligated to give to the people above her (the state) making her officially responsible for the missing five dollars. When Tatyana asked for the extra fifteen minutes so she could look at her non-Englsih speaking kid wear his good cloths and hold a bouquet of flowers, he boss only stared at her in silence.
Tatyana wants a new job.
But getting a job is not such an easy thing to do here in Pinsk because there is simply no money anywhere. The factory apparently is not only not hiring, but also giving their people half days in order to better distribute what money they have. This of course is without deciding that there was theft and/or corruption there as well. Tatyana’s sister Lena works at the factory and Tatyana tells me that Lena only worked maybe 15 days last month because of short days and forced days off. Normally the factories are thought of as well paying jobs because they allow for an income of $60 to 90 a month, which is thought of as good money for Pinsk. I went to see Tatyana at the end of the day to give her some fish and to walk home with her. Tatyana was talking to her friend Alona about the possibilities of working with her at the insurance firm that she works at. Alona is a very attractive woman and she and Tatyana have been friends since they went to the university together. Alona works for an Insurance firm, and Tayana thought that maybe she could help because of her ability to write in English. But Alone told her that she would try and help, but that there would probably be no work with them at this time until the firm manages to “lose” a person or two. So, Tatyana is hoping to find a job with the new jewelry store that is going to open soon on Lenin Street, the most fashionable street in Pinsk.
So Igor’s faux pas added quite a bit of problems to the house, a house with more than a few problems in it, not the least of which is my presence. My situation right now is something resembling ridiculous. When I first came here a little over a year ago, it was simply that I wanted to have a look at Belarus and at Pinsk and to see how everything was and to perhaps look up a few old friends. I had come here the first time about eight years ago and the place had had a profound affect on my life. But that times here have changed and not changed and things continue to be difficult. People still make the same five dollars a day that they did eight years ago, though the costs of living and for food have risen. I had no particular plans to stay when I got involved with Tatyana. I had pretty much decided to go on with my life and was thinking about trying to do some bike work in Europe. I decided to return to Belarus again only because of my relationship with Tatyana. My descision was that even though a bisiness in Belarus would not be anything resembling a wealthy enterprise, that simply doing what I like to do here and being with her would help enough to support the relationship and to give us all something to do. So, after some small thought, I returned again the Belarus and eventually moved in to her place with her. I had a aply I was writing in Russian Language, and In wanted to buy and sell some bie stuff. Really, all of this was quite small at the time.
But then, while I was on my way back with a few thousand dollars of borrowed money, ostensibly for the project of buying some bikes and finishing the work on a Russian language play I had written, I got stopped by that cop in Poland and accused of breaking up his car in broad daylight, all of which was not true.
Poland’s keeping me for a little less then a year of my life pretty much made life for everyone who was connected to me here much worse than it was. Of the people who I was going to work in the bike business with, one was forced to leave the school where he was working as the bike mechanic because of a lack of money, and another partner died at age 56. Tatyana seems to think that her misfortunes at work come from her association with me, again because I am supposed to be so rich.
Returning here last month, I had literally no money for anything. But I did have my play, which was accepted by the theatre, to try and get moving again. However, because of my unstable financial picture, that the theatre wanted to do the play at a later date created a situation that did not work for me. My visa’s are expensive and to agree to stay here for many months or to live here without a project simply did not work for me. I bade them to simply get started on the project, so that we would at least be on the stage in timely fashion. The theatre did agree, but the new play schedule created new money problems. Because we were going to play the play more quickly then expected, we needed to get actors from outside the theatres normal, paid staff. The problem was that the theatre had no way to pay these outside actors for their work. I argued that this situation was the same situation as another play, “Black Milk”, that was in production here last month. In that production, the outside actors were grated a percentage of the plays earnings as payment for their work. But for some reason, probably because of the problems with taking money from the shows ticket sales (this is a state theatre, not a commercial venture) and this created another problem for the theatre in terms of paying the actors for their work.
There is some possibility that the theatre didn’t want to work out this problem, hoping that because I was American that I would help to finance the play. And in fact, when I was expecting some money from the states, I had in fact offered to help support the play with some money for advertising and supplying the actors with their scripts. But when this money didn’t come, I was no longer able to even guarantee something like $150, an amount that could have gone to the actors instead of for the advertising. And so I lost face.
This stopped my involvement with the June production of the play, and being in ridiculous financial shape myself and not even knowing if there would be anything for food, instead of staying directly in Belarus, I went back to Poland where I needed to write my appeal for the situation with the police officer anyway. I had some plans to try and go back to Europe, but I couldn’t find enough interest to make anything worthwhile. Eventually, the money from the states did come through, and with at least this book I am wanting to work on about the whole of my situation, Tatyana and I made the decision for me to come back again and to give the writing of this book a try.
So this is what is happening. However, at this time I find that my situation remarkable interesting because I literally have nothing to do here but to work on this book. There is no bike shop, there is no play and there is not really any money to do either. I paid back to Tatyana the money that I borrowed from her for my trip to Poland and the return visa, and there is enough left for food and for internet time for this writing, though not for very long, but now, I find that except for writing, I have nothing to do here. And because I no longer have a computer to work on (another thank you to Poland) I am at the whim and schedule of the internet cafй for typing time. Now, perhaps this situation will get better. I did get some interest from some people who might help with some money for the shipping of my tools here from the states, and, there is always hope that I can find a publisher for this book or even that Poland will own up to what they did to me, but for the time, things are in fact very, very difficult… again.
This morning I talked about this to Irene and to Tatyana. Everyone seems to understand what all is happening. I need to find a publisher and or some press. I need to get some more words down and in the can. I have resubmitted the play to other theatres, but I fear that my history might just be marked like Tatyana was marked for her $5 mistake. So, I am doing what there is for me to do. I am long-handing my notes during the day. I am looking for things to do to help the town, just as I wanted to from the beginning. We try and not to spend any money if we can. Nada dgit, as I was taught by Irene- We must live. And, I am not much for prayer, but I could see how people would take some comfort in this activity at times like these.
I am told that the reason that I am seen with some comedy here now, is not that I have had such bad luck, but simply because I even want to live here. The general thinking is that this is a place to be abandoned if one can and it is only the bureaucratic restrictions that is keeping anyone here at all. But this is not news to me. I knew about all of this is the first ten minutes I was here a year ago. No, the reason I wanted to stay was because Tatyana is from here and I am from here too. She sees this place as home, and now I find that I do too. When I first decided to try and stay, it was my feeling that what I was going to do with the bike shop and with the play was to try and open some doors to some new thinking. I hoped that with new ideas might come some new hope for all of the people that live here that all is not only a desert of groveling for peanuts, but there still could actually be some life in this life.
When I first came here eight years ago, I actually thought that Pinsk might just be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I say this not because of the architecture or the landscape, but because of the people and the way that they lived together. Perhaps now I can think of myself as more than a little naпve about things. Perhaps all I was looking at was the residue of the former Soviet Union, and it was simply the “living together” part that made it all seem so special. But the thought was born in me that something like that, something that seemed to be so smart, should be preserved in some way. I wasn’t ready to dismiss all of this a simply waste. Perhaps I was only lost in the romance of trying, like I suppose I have been lost in all of the other lost causes that I have believed in: Stone masonry, theatre, bicycles- The beauty and simplicity of these direct ideas should not be made to give way to the pollution and ugliness of the machine. At least not without a fight. And in this fight for this little corner of the world, perhaps in my mind was the salvation of the rest of the world, so quick now to forget as we all are. I thought that life was supposed to mean something after all, and the very idea of “hope”, nadedgda in Russian-Nadia, in the play- comes from the belief that in fact it does and that someone will actually care. So this is why I am still here. This is why I stayed. And this is all Tatyana ever told me: She cared, and I have never had one minute to believe yet that she was lying to me. And believe me, the world, like a wrestler going after a bruise on an opponents leg, has been working on this hope of ours with all of it’s might. But I have not quit yet.