Diary: Thursday, June 26, 2003
Thursday, June 26, 2003
Egor is having a birthday on July 5th. Everyone has been getting together to buy the boy gifts; Grandma has got him a hat, Tatyana has found for him a game similar tom Monopoly that she thinks he will like to play with. I have been instructed to buy him the second “Gary Potter” tape from the pirate tape dealers at the market. I saw a skateboard at one of the Kiosks for about $10 though, and I might go that way instead. Though the truth be told, it is hard to pass up the $2 cost of buying the movie. Egor though is hard to figure out; his likes and dislikes change from day to day and the if the truth is told, I don’t think he really gives a hoot one way or another. For such a poor family, he is a mighty spoiled child. He is going to be eight years old. Last year I sent along a fairly nice wooden chess set. We have played about 60 games so far and currently I am up by about 8.
I just got a new visa the other day. I had to go all the way to Minsk to get it. It has always been my habit to go to Poland to get these visas but this time was a little different and we had to do some different things to arrange it. As I am sure everybody knows, I am not very fond of Poland and this had a lot to do with my choice to try and stay in the country to accomplish this task. The only place to get a visa without exiting is at the airport near Minsk. I say that it is near Minsk but this is simply not true: The Minsk airport is a long way from Minsk; about 50 kilometers away and I needed the Metro and three busses and three hours to get there. Tatyana was worried that the bus out there might be something like $20, but this was not the case. Once there, the process went fairly smoothly and quickly and my contact there was very nice. This new visa is a 90-day visa, which is about three times as long as what I have been able to get in the past, and at least the feeling of not being tied to a month-by-month regimen is quite a freeing feeling. My time will be up in September and Tatyana and I are currently thinking about what we will do at that time. Among the things we are thinking of is going to the states, or, if we have some sort of luck, we will try and do some of the things we had been trying to do over the last year but have been disallowed to because of what happened in Poland. I plan on doing pretty much what I have been doing: working on the book, doing a little swimming and fishing and, if we can, I am going to try and get a theatre group together to make the Russian language play. I am also looking for clients in need of language or writing help and I hope there is a market for such things here. I can’t do these things however until I am legal to be here, but that will not be for quite some time. So in the interim, I will do what I can.
This visa will, after we pay for the mandatory insurance cost a little less than $250. Prorated the cost is somewhat better than what I would have paid for a series of tourist visas, but not much. It is also plus and minus for convenience: I can stay without having to go to another country, but then again, I can’t leave without paying for another visa. But it was a commitment that both Tatyana and myself wanted to make. I am here specifically as an official guest this time instead of as a tourist. There is no particular difference between the two, except that Tanya and her family bare the responsibility for my actions rather than the state. I think though our living situation with the exception of how little money we have will be about the same. I am simply hoping that the extended time will better solidify our relationship and help to wash away the memory of my Polish experience. And yes, I am planning to sue as well as make this book.
But times are not always easy living and sunshine. We had a horrible fight just before I went to Minsk and I feel that this put everybody ill at ease with each other. The fight was over the child’s learning and studying he has to do over the summer. He was a less then brilliant student last year and we are trying to tighten things up for him. This though is an unnatural activity in the house and the language barrier makes it even more difficult sometime and the fight was a result of this. I don’t think anyone was hurt in this, but if the boy comes away with at least a mildly heightened sense of interest in his studies, it will have been worth it. I don’t at the moment feel that anything has changed, but I also feel that we have cleared the air a bit and perhaps this could be seen as a good result as well. But all in all, I am happy with Tatyana, and also I am not unhappy with my living situation. There are rough edges to be sure, perhaps more then most people would be willing to deal with, but I have not forgotten why I started and I think that what riches I have gained from all of this, outweigh to bad by a large margin. And if there is anything that could have been better, it is our hope to make up for them this summer.
Now, about the money situation… for those who have been reading the diary entries, another statement on the ridiculous poverty that is the normal life of Belarussians, another statement to that effect will simply be redundant. At the moment, for all intents and purposes I have no money whatsoever. I also owe quite a bit of money to several people who have helped over the past year, and I have tried to do the best I can by everybody. It is still my hope to gain some measure of interest in my book and my story, and I think that this is about our sole real hope at the moment. And I don’t think it would be an easy thing to explain also how it is possible to live on as little money as we do. It would also be a lie because in fact you can’t, and the nature of peoples lives here is a testament to that. But there are things that you can do and there are decisions that you make. And we are making them. I think that this is the first year of what some might call economic growth here in Belarus. I think last year was when everybody hit rock bottom. And if human effort indeed counts for anything, I suppose it is possible that something good will happen. I suppose all life is a gamble at best. But today we are going to go walking, and I think that the place is good for that. And perhaps after, I will throw a line in the water for a while and try to catch a fish or two. Egor ran a 1:55, 400 meters for me yesterday and we are working on a 1:52, which is the goal. I am working everyday on a book, which is difficult, but the effort that I expend on it feels good and I think I still have purpose. So maybe all in all, I am Ok with everything. And, the soup this morning was in fact quite nice with some brown bread and fresh garlic picket from the garden and fresh strawberries for desert.
The weather is a bit overcast today and it has been cloudy and rainy for the last week. There has been no beach time or swimming, but the extra rain does have the level of the river up a little and I think that this is nicer. People here, either by nature or by necessity are naturalists and almost all free time activity has to do with being outdoors, either in the forests or at the river or the lake. I guess it is also somewhat appropriate though perhaps unnecessary to remind people of the winters that precede these times. So I don’t suppose that people really mind the mosquitoes.
It has been difficult lately around the house, as almost everybody has taken turns being sick. Grandma Irene went down with an awful flue that bedded her for the better part of a week. Just as she was coming around though, Egor lost a filling and had to go to the policlinic dentist, surly a sadist by anybody’s reckoning. The dentist did some mild cleaning of the now exposed filling whole though did so without anesthetic. The combined shock and the inflammation that followed were apparently unanticipated and had the poor guy lying on the couch in tears for several hours. The family improvised with a borrowing of a tablet of what was described as an effective medication, which was amusing to watch take effect, but that inevitably only sent the kid to sleep for what turned out to be a little over 17 hours. He was much better the next day and has been much less interested in sweets as of late. Grandpa Victor has had two attacks recently. He followed Irene in getting his flue, a situation that put him in the bed for four days without food. He recovered well and went out to tend the garden again but was felled after something cracked during Irene’s massage of his tired back and he lost all sensation in his legs for about 30 hours. He refused doctors in both cases but was back up and around as of yesterday. Everything is Ok he says. I am not a fatalist and the loss of their dacha space nd the several hundred dollars in food that came with it, the theft of 30 banks of cabbage and the impending loss of the chicken house seem to be a likely cause of a additional weighty awareness of a bleak future. Both Irene and Victor are retired, but their income level is very small, and there is more than ample thought that they might not have enough to eat this winter. They are perhaps the most self reliant people one would ever meet, but I also think that practicality has them thinking rather hopeless thoughts. I don’t think the life expectancy in Belarus is very high these days. We have lost two neighbors in the last year and I do in fact see a loss of hope as a prime culprit in that statistic.
I attended the opening, or rather the reopening of a synagogue just a few blocks from our house of Sovietska Street. The temple was founded by a Hasidic sect who’s head Rabbi hubs his flock from Israel. I met a squadron of English speaking Rabbis from Brooklyn and other parts of New York who came to be a part of the opening. The Hasidics have a school and some holding here in Pinsk, and the house that the temple has been made of was at one time, before the war, the home of the original Synagogue, shuttered by the Soviets some 40 years ago. I went to the all-Hebrew service and though I gave my best effort, the 25 or so years since I last studied Hebrew left me quite incapable of following the service. But it was an event to be sure, and the level of devotion practiced by these rather austere gentlemen was extraordinary. The Friday service went until well after one in the morning with endless singing and circle dancing, chanting and blessings of all kinds. I myself found myself arguing quite a bit with a few of the Rabbi’s. I don’t think I went in thinking to make problems, but following criticism of my current life, my choice of girlfriends (non-Jewish), town (anti-Semitic) and disagreement with the distaste and outright hatred some of the Rabbi’s felt for Pinsk, I couldn’t resist the need to offer response. An over simplistic reaction from me concerning the negativity I got from them could be from that simply the life of a Jew these days has no time for happiness as we have been condemned to a lifetime of war as perhaps a necessary replacement of lifetimes of victim hood. Of course, that this was always a p[art of our outward personalities is equally as acceptable. I tried to gain some sense of acceptance from these people who, ironically I saw as outsiders to my home if not for the general idea of forgiveness, then at least to prevent the poisoning of the foundations of the new house of worship. I am not sure I made any more headway in asking for an allowance for warmth as they were in asking for a bit of my soul. I guess in the end, we all have our jobs to do. I lasted the duration of the Friday service, but left after the davening on Saturday morning in favor of some beachside relaxation with Tanya and the boy. For myself, I do find that I am aware of the truths of what life was like for Jews of Russia and Eastern Europe but I don’t feel that this is a reason not to be here. I have been to the camps and I see and hear the anti-Semitism that still exists, though is at least officially unacceptable this year. I am still here. I didn’t go the following Friday, but I think that that was more of a logistical problem that a problem of faith. And I was insulted, to be sure. About this Friday, we’ll see, is all I can guarantee.
I did have a terrible setback though concerning the book. It was not as damaging as I first thought, but it was quite a setback nevertheless. I had been hiding the text of the book in the computer in a place that I felt was safe from people arbitrarily playing with it. I did this because I decided against writing every world publicly as I had in sending out the daily chapters and I didn’t save the texts on disk because of a rash of computer viruses that wiped out some back up disks about my court case in Poland. Unfortunately, while doing a monthly systematic cleaning of the computers, the operator of the Internet cafй wiped out the entirety o the file where I had all of my goods stored. We spent the better part of an hour affecting a recovery process, but in the end, the bulk of the main text concerning my time in Belarus preceding my May 15 attack in Warsaw, some 60,000 words was lost. When I say that this was in fact not as bad as it sounds it is only because an average published book will run about 160 to 170,000 words and my tome, if I were to turn it in as it was, would have run some 1700 pages. So editing was in order, but not in so drastic a fashion. But I did manage to recover quite a bit of the basic premise, though I did lose quite a bit of work, and of course the money that went to pay for that time. I took a few days off, rewrote the time line and my outline for the second part, and I am back at work with a new schedule and a slightly more careful writing approach. I am writing this book, and that is going to be that regardless of any conspiracy theories that have now been added to my thoughts.
I did however have a second event with the Internet cafй when I asked them to allow me some time to pay for the usage of the computer and I forgot to pay them back. This was a legitimate mistake that had more to do with the local banks inability to give me dollars instead of rubles the day before I went off to Minsk. After three or for banks in a row lacked the ability to turn over greenbacks, and the fallout over the war that was occurring in the house at the time, I simply forgot that I owed a little more then two dollars to the internet. Their own feeling that I might in fact be getting even for their having destroyed my work compounded what turned out to be quite a soap opera. For myself, I claim only innocence and a moment of forgetfulness and paid my bill in full yesterday. I was not aware that the workers at the cafй are responsible for the any monies they are short, and this amount of money would be about the equivalent of a little more than half a days pay. Perhaps the shock was enough retribution, even if it as unintentional. However, the relationship is at the moment in good standing if for no other reason that I have no computer of my own (addition thanks to Poland) and that the computer cafй is the only place in town to go to for computer time.
And finally, as of late I have been drinking a little coffee. I found at a local Kiosk a rather inexpensive brew that has a little smell and tang to it. It comes from a Russian distributor and is finely ground in the Russian fashion. It is served without filtering with the grounds left in the cup and has all of that delightful cafeination that is the aim for such activities. The water in the house is brewed in an open white pot with a too short black handle and stirred in the cup with an aluminum spoon. If you have never had the experience of picking up an aluminum eating utensil, it is quite an experience because you are simply not prepared for it not to weigh anything. I suppose this is also a metaphor for life her as well. I sometimes allow myself stray thoughts as to my thinking process at different times in my life. I have had friends who have lived abroad and have had large sums of money reminisce with me from time to time about what that was like. But at the moment, this is simply not the case and these thoughts simply do not do me any good. I suppose this is also the same as any local having his bout of nostalgia about the good old days when everybody was together and everybody worked and everybody was at peace with one another. Practicality pushes these thoughts away as well. Indeed, what can you say and what can you do? My answer to these questions is the same as all of the people around me: You must live. And, at least for the next three months, this is what I am going to try and do.