Thursday, January 22, 2004

Oh, I haven’t got a lot to add today. I am happy to have got this thing tied together. And I am doing some “Advertising” right now, letting a lot of people know I am here and what is going on. Lot’s of lists available. Spreading the word.

If you feel like wandering around the site, just go back to the HOMEPAGE, or you can browse through today’s musings about Belarus and money. As always, you can write to me at
And I would like to offer my condolences for the deaths of several friends in Honduras to Bruce Gaskins, one of my dearest friends.

Haven’t been sleeping well at all. Had an idea for a new play this morning. Don’t get so many flashes of inspiration these days so I took it seriously and made a few notes. I think I have had a lot of the thoughts that are a part of the concept, but I never quite had them fit together in such a way. I don’t know how much time I want to put into it. I really want to do some practical things right now. The financial situation as always is so remarkably bad that I am having to make decisions based upon solving problems that should have been handled two years ago.
And Tatyana asked me to write something about Belarus today. She says that I have been grinding on Poland every day and that I haven’t said something for the locals in a while. She is probably right.
But the problem is that any discussion about Belarus begins and ends with money. There is simply no other way to speak about it. The reasons for this are as obvious as the economic thinking; they have so little money, that the world pretty much revolves around trying to find enough to eat. A friend recently pointed out that he helped to support a fiend’s family in Russia with a $100 a month gift. The word he used was that the girl was “comfortable” on that money. I think that it would be easy to assume, if you didn’t live here, that just because as a group of people they only make $60 a month, that the economy functions reasonably and life thrives on that amount. This is not the case.
How exactly people do get by here is a combination of shrewdness and fear of starvation mixed with some very practical, earthy ways. But it is by no means easy- and they are also by no means like some Papa New Guinea grass skirts, the woman pounding seeds to mush in the center of the village when them men hunt wild boar. Belarus is very much a European place right now in its thinking. And though village life may be very much akin to something from a century or so ago, these folks very much want to have their piece of the pie, just like everybody else.
The problem is that there is simply no money here. And that is a big problem because as I say the economy does not translate adequately from western standards.
To illustrate this let’s look at the cost of food at the market. While it is true that, like Europe, bread costs about 25 to 30 cents a loaf and potatoes, in bulk, can be had for about 12 cents a kilogram- maybe 20 cents at the market, you have to remember what percentage of one’s income must be spent on this food. To illustrate this point, let’s take a normal working class single American monthly wage of say…$2000 a month. Yes, I know there are many, many Americans who would love to see a $2000 income. I am just using this to make the number’s a little easier to understand. Anyway, the mean wage for Belarus would be about $80 a moth right now, perhaps professionals a bit more- maybe as much as $300 in Minsk… maybe… and somewhat less away form there. I don’t live in Minsk so the local numbers are more like $65 a month but let’s go with $80, OK?
2000 divided by 80 equals 25, which means that anything you by is 25 times more expensive to you when figuring your purchase as a percentage of your income.
So our bread, if this situation was happening in America, would be $7.50 a loaf, and about potatoes about $3 a pound.
But, interestingly enough, frozen chicken legs right now are a little less than $2 a kilo, same price as “on sale” in the states. So try paying $25 a pound for frozen chicken and then tell me about your philosophy of life. $20 a pound for cheap baloney and $150 a kilo for some decent salami. $25 a liter for cooking oil, $250 for some cheap ($10) shoes and twice that knock off trainers. And yea, all those copy cat jeans are still $15 to $20 a pair- so multiply that out 25 times as well, and then go and be stylish.
How do they do it? Well, they save food. Everyone does. And they don’t spend money. And they make everything last. And then it still doesn’t work out.
I told you about the bike school. It is just all so… so remarkable. Two friends of mine from the bike school have dies in the last year. Both of them only in their mid fifties. And this is very common here now. The life expectancy now here is slightly more than 60 years of age for men. The medical care, though it has it’s good points, is based on available money too, you know. So when the energy of youth begins to fade people have been tending to give up hope. Poverty will do that to you. I feel this here.
My situation though is simply not good. I am happy to be with Tatyana. But I don’t know how or why we have managed to stay together through all of this. The future is… well, I have little to say of the future. I worry a lot about money, but we are also trying to help the kid to grow and develop into somebody we could all respect a little. And that is something too you know. I’m still trying.
But what is there to do? Well, they say here the phrase “Nada Dzite”. You need to live. And this is the philosophy. You just don’t think about how screwed up it is, because you’ll drive yourself crazy doing so. Of course, what you do to get by, is a little different then life in the states. You simply don’t turn to all of those little extra’s to make yourself comfortable. You simply don’t decide you are too tired to cook and order out. You don’t buy things because they catch your eye. You don’t go to shows very often. You don’t worry about “more space and better texture”. You don’t put dressing on the salads, or sauce on the spaghetti. And you eat a lot of soup.
I am still trying to help out all I can. Maybe I will get lucky and I will make a lot of money from this amazing book I have written. Maybe Poland will wake up, or I’ll get some real outside help and settle a multimillion dollar law suit with them for slandering my name and stealing all my money and torturing me and Tatyana and the boy and the my partners and my family and the kids at the bike school… Or maybe I simply will have to go because it will become impossible to stay longer.
But I have been a little lucky so far. Some friends have sent some money and so we can get by. But this money, as with all things that belong to other people, eventually has to be paid back. I of course worry about this as well. It is what I do, don’t you know.
Feel like getting a pizza? Let me check the wallet a second… Uh…well… back to the house for soup? Yea, that’ll do it.