Thursday, May 19, 2005

The big question…

For as long as I have been here there still seems to be one question that I am always asked when I meet new people. And you have to remember that I have been in and around Belarus, Poland not withstanding for- as of Yesterday- three years. Yes, this is true, yesterday was the third anniversary of Zarmba attacking me with his car and then lying to the cops about the situation and claiming my beating that car up with my bare hands. Yes, three years without money, my credit and my name getting dragged through the mud. Three years of hardship and struggle all because of a greedy little rodent of a man and his greedy little rodent of a country. But this is not something I wish to deal with today and I think that even though ignoring the anniversary yesterday was not planned, as it merits no celebration so will I let it go today as well with only what has been said here to mark its occurrence.

But that question which always comes up is this: “Which is better; here or in America?” Now you know I do not suffer fools well and this question’s repetitiousness does get to me from time to time. But as the question seems so fundamental to the people asking, I try to give the nest possible answer I can every time. However, before I go on, you do need to know that in the imagination of modern Belarussians there could never be any answer other than THERE, hands down, no other questions nessasary. This is true for everyone, old, young, male, female, drunk, sober- everyone.

But to me the answer is not so easy to define. First of all I had never thought about that specifically when I came here. I was only thinking that after September 11th happened, my bike business in New York had fallen to nothing and all things being equal, I had no particular other thing available to me. Secondly, I had always lionized the place I am in now and at least felt the tug of my lineage. My Grandma and Grandpa were from here. And I had wanted to come here for years and had been kicking myself for not staying years earlier when there seemed to be something real to stay for. But I am here and I have stayed here and have been trying to work out the problems so that I could be here for a long time, so as of the moment, I still am not quite so sure what the answer to that pesky question should be.

So what criteria should I use?

If I think only about money, which is what people do here, I think that the answer would be the states. And again, this is universal. People here make no money, the state does all what they can to take what money they do make away from them and the states, even in the currant Bush-as-warlord-nobody-likes-us-the dollar-has-been-crushed-by-the-Euro-martial-law situation we have now doesn’t sway that opinion. When they think in terns of large amounts of money, they speak in ‘bucks’. They still, even though there has been no relative difference in a year and a half religiously trade their rubles for dollars at the banks. And even local movies when depicting killers or gangsters and such, always use packets of American green rather than rubles to show great amounts of ill gotten gains.

But if I think of quality of life, which is all I ever think of when I am in the states, I think that the answer is here. No, I don’t by into President Lukeshenka’s “We live calmly” propaganda line, but I do find that on a certain basic, physical and direct level, I do in fact have a far better deal than I could ever have in the states. And I am speaking of our little farm and of the deals I do and do not have here. These things would never in the American economy ever be available to me. Or in other words, and this very much includes my new daughter, on a day in day out basis, and this includes our below the poverty line situation, I don’t feel half bad. And so you know, I did invest in staying last month rather than in the ticket back to the US.

However, Mine is a subjective opinion. I do not expect people to be willing to trade going out to restaurants for porridge and beans at home. I do not expect people to trade cable TV and easy rentals at the local video place for re-reading the same 12 books over and over. Or to give up travel, or big ticket sports for a bus ride to the dacha or one dollar football (soccer) over at the local stadium.

And don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of tings that don’t work for me here. I don’t like that our apartment has no hot and cold water shut off so we have to cripple the whole apartment every time we need to fix a leaky faucet- which the neighbors all do to us when they fix their leaks. And especially after the coldest late April and May in a long time I hate that there is no thermostat for that matter. They turned off the radiators on the 10th of April and the last month has been torture at night. And while I am into it, I don’t like taxation without representation or no real local authority or petty, shit healed bureaucrats. And I do not like the way the powers that be fuck you first and then ease off as a manner of negotiating- this I suppose creating a direct, physical sense or relief for the person who has just been negotiated. Or cow towing, Uncle Tomming, butt licking and/or groveling, all of which seem to belong in the non-bureaucratic world’s lexicon here as being the ideal manner of deal with the above mentioned shit heals.

But that this is the time in which I have to make that final decision about my daughter’s status, I find I have been thinking a lot about this. And in making the decision as to whether or not I should pull the trigger and ask for a Belarussian passport for her rather than to go to the states and try to register her there, I have been thinking of all of the things I have just mentioned as well as a lot of other things. And amongst them is the fact that the states hasn’t really done a goddamned thing for me either in Poland or since. And in fact, the US Embassy in Poland seemed absolutely to have a hand in the deal against me when I was there and has absolutely seen fit to treat me like shit ever since.

I also have had a ridiculous time trying to get some simple press attention for what happened. And yes, I do think that being tortured for almost a year because of the most obvious and outlandish lies, publicly would be a newsworthy thing. And yes, I believe Americans have a tremendous shortcoming with how they seem to need to keep their collective heads buried in the sands. This has always been the case and was at the root of all of the press’ explanations for not dealing with me. Americans simply don’t want to hear about such things, I was told. They want to be entertained and they don’t want to know about such unpleasantness. And buddy you should have SEEN the look on the Polack’s faces when they saw that the states wouldn’t lift a finger to even ask for some integrity in the legal process against me. Talk about supporting police corruption!!! So you tell me my would be flag waver: What the hell is the difference?

And so my decision is that I am going to go ahead and do it. I don’t know that this is the right thing to do or not. There are some good over-all signs that the economy is improving a little, though it is happening so slowly. But also there are some bad. I don’t the system that allowed for those things that we have that I consider positives will continue and with its inevitable collapse, those things I am enjoying will go away. So, no, I am not so concrete in my thinking, but all in all, I am going to stay the course.

I hope I am making the right decision.

So anyway, this is today’s thought. And in a final note about that tax problem I mentioned last time, I think we have it worked out. I got to be the hero in that. Tatyana was on the way out the door on the way to the tax office and was crying and barking at me in her anguish. Her final words were that she was planning on simply not paying the tax and fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. I know that this meant that she was simply going to pay and that money would have to come out of the food fund or something like that. There was no way we were going to get any documentation from Ukraine verifying the ex husband’s mother’s change-of-name.

“But I mean, don’t you have any letters, or pictures or anything from her?” This was from me and the thought made a flash go off in her eyes. She bolted for out photograph drawer and started tossing paper and pictures around. “Aha!!!” it was a copy of the telegram telling us that that very gift was on the way and that it was for Egor from his dad. The date was a little off, but it was close enough. And so this document, combined with Tanya’s tearful version of the aftermath of her divorce seemed to get to the tax inspector. “Oh, some men…” she said, patting Tatyana’s hand and handing her a hanky. She then asked Tatyana to write a paper explaining how the money was from one relative to another and at least for now, this seems to have wrapped things up.

However, later in the day Egor’s school called and told that we had to make an end of the school payment. There are several of these obligatory payments that must be made into the free education system. This amount was about the same as the tax straff would have been. And then the telephone company asked for another $25 to change the name on the telephone from Her father’s name to her Tatyana’s. However, this amount could have been three times as much but since Grandpa was in the war and we had had the same number since 1984, we only had to pay this money for some one to erase one name and write another in the computer.

I guess we need to be thankful for small favors.

So, I am back in the bureaucracy business again. Lots of stuff to do this week. I guess. Always seems to be anyway. Let’s see how this all turns out.

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