Friday, July 13, 2007

They just don't understand…

A map of Pinsk, Belarus,
my... uh... home town?
One of the comments in the previous post hit home with me. My friend Yuri from Kiev wrote a comment saying that people here were not afraid of me because I was American, they just didn't understand what I was doing here.

I guess this is an obvious question really. Sometimes I can get complacent with my situation out here and forget that I wasn't born here or that I don't work for a specific local company- the two most obvious reasons to be here. I forget that I came here out of the blue, not quite on a whim but as close to that as is possible, I guess. And I also forget that tourists, legitimate or not, do not stick around for half a decade without an apparent physical purpose. I am speaking here about what this all looks like to people who don't know me, not what it looks like from my own perspective.

So without getting too specific, I guess I could try and explain what I am doing so as to make it clear. It's not all that big a secret really.

My first thought is that I am simply living my life here. There are lots of ways to define one's existence. There is no law that says that what one does for money is the soul definition of their lives. Of course there is also the Pulp Fiction quote on the subject that says that a man without a job is a bum regardless of the level of spiritual enlightenment he might attain. But probably what I mean by this is that I have a family here; there are children and their futures to worry about. I consider it my duty to try and help them to find the best paths or opportunities that might be available for them. We also have our house and dacha to keep up and I have my daily chores to accomplish. I mean, just being a man means you have responsibilities to uphold, right?

You could also attack this question by focusing on the here, as in location: Why am I, an American specifically, living in the beautiful and interesting Republic of Belarus? Well, I have often said that I had a familial attachment to the region and that I associated Belarusians as being "native people", as Tanya would put it. I am a little past the nostalgia phase but I still have a little bit of the "air smells right" going on inside of me. I am comfortable here. It could be that America has an inherent feeling of displacement about it because of the mixed races and culture that is not here. Belarus is pretty homogenous so the level of how people understand each other is much different. And then there are the basic cultural differences. I guess I should say cultural/economic differences to be more accurate. But said briefly, there is such a thing as "The Life" here and simply being here and trying to live it has its own satisfactions in a way.

But obviously the question referred to what I do for money. And really: What do people see? I am not heading off to work to a specific location every day and, as I was today, I am often on the busses out to the villages on weekdays. Obviously this adds to the illusion as if I have nothing to do- or that what I do is illegitimate.

One way to answer this question of what I do here is to say that I am doing this. I don't necessarily mean that I am writing blogs, I mean that I am maintaining my presence here, via the internet, for the purposes of both being available to help folks who wish to have something to do with Belarus and to keep the issue of why I am without my original plans to simply be involved and have a little business here. There was no reason for me not to have had the chance to try and do what I wanted; there was nothing bad or inherently wrong in what I wanted to do. I was simply and unlawfully prevented from doing this and my name was so badly slandered that this, this ongoing, five-year harrasment became the only viable choice. Well, I know I could have left, but I wanted to be here so i worked with what I had to work with.

Before you get to criticizing this last statement or saying that I am simply bullshitting, you have to take a step back and look at the perspective.

When I came here, I was interested in trying to stay. The actual choice of coming here, and I am speaking specifically of moving to Pinsk, came from five years before this when I got to come and see my grandfather's home town for the first time. At that time I had met some unbelievably wonderful people with excellent manners, endless social graces and kindness for each other. The actual choice of coming back (in 2002) had to do with my bike business getting wiped out from the 9/11 attack and deciding that if I was ever going to give Belarus a real try, something I had regretted not doing five years earlier, I might as well take advantage of the post attack economic catastrophe and go for it. My goal was to write a Russian language play for the local theatre and to make a bike shop with friends I had met from the bike racing team. The business was to support several relationships, it was doing what I loved which was putting people on bikes and keeping those bikes running and the playwriting was a way to allow myself a chance for social relationships with some intelligent and creative people.

But then of course there was Poland- and that was a year sitting there getting my head played with and my available funds depleted. After I finally got out of there I tried to come back to Pinsk but after a year away, and all the money gone, nobody wanted to believe my story or work with me any more; nobody wanted to listen. When I went to the universities and offered to teach English, I was denied a chance to do so. When I went to the theatre to try and at least get the play going, I no longer carried the sort of face which inspired people to wish to work with me, (I was no longer an American with a vision of living in and doing something for Belarus, I was just a con man who could just as easily disappear for a year at a time after breaking everybody's heart) so they all just decided to try and take what they could get and get rid of me. So in effect I went from a situation in which people wished to be friends with me to a situation in which I was a pariah. Funny how that worked.

But rather than leaving, I had already by now waited six years to try living here, I decided to stay and try and do something about the problem. If they wouldn't allow me to simply work (The school, the bike school or the theater), I could at least try and use the situation to do something constructive. So I wrote the book and then tried to market it, and then I made this blog and tried to keep it public. And now, because of all of that work a lot of people know me or my story or my writing and I have something of a face. Unfortunately, not a whole lot of those people are in Belarus.

So ok, I know I haven't answered the question yet. Basically, business-wise I get calls to do services for people. These services are for people outside of belarus who need things done indide Belarus. I have also gotten a few web contracts from time to time. There have been also a few opportunities to make some money because of my association with Poland and Belarus and also I have had some people invest in The hope there is that I might finally get through to people that I have a legitimate claim against Poland, that fighting that case would require a certain amount of… of… capitulation as to what exactly they had done to me. This is probably true for the Americans as well, but at the bottom line, I don't know too many people who have done what I have done. So you know, any success: The book sells, we get a settlement- anything like that at least this is the dream.

Anyway, you know all of this; it's all over on the website. The problem is that not a whole hell of a lot of this gets through to Pinsk. I do have some people who read this site from here. Several students I met through speaking at the colleges read me and know what is going on here but generally, regardless of the output, people simply do not see any of this. For sure they don't see the writing but also, they don't see the phone calls, the letter writing, the translations, the people searches or the document transferring. They don't see the private teaching either. They just see me heading off to the dacha with my black Chrome messenger bag and my dog-eared Hemingway; they're not scared of me, they just don't understand what I am doing here.

Hopefully things will change this September. After years of not being able to acquire one due to extreme and on-going financial incapacity, I have finally had the chance to study for a teaching certificate and hopefully will join the faculty of one of the schools here come the next term. You know, like a real job. This possibly will open the doors to a more normal lifestyle with a better social life, a bit more financial stability and perhaps with that, perhaps a chance to do some playwriting again. That would be nice. If success leads to more success, maybe there is even a little bike shop in it for me somewhere down the line. And who knows, maybe by that time people will understand what I am doing here: Working to make things better for a place where I decided I wanted to live.

Hope this clears things up. Have a good weekend. Be back Sunday.

More soon…


Blogger politiques USA said...

This is what I'm afraid of, I'm afraid that if ever I go back to France, people are going to see me as somebody who is not french anymore, and people in France are judgemental.
It took me lots of time to be accepted as an American here, I finally lost my french accent, but now I have a german accent (LOL) and when I talk in France, they think I have an american accent from East Texas. Cultural integration is very important for me, but I wonder sometimes if this thing does exist in the US :) I had read somewhere on a blog and it is very true, that in the US you are kind on your own. It took me some time to get used to this concept of "freedom" because the soul feels lonely and a soul needs to be fed. On the other hand I met a few Russians here and even people from Kiev, and they always told me they felt free in the US.
So I guess the concept of freedom is very different from one country to another one, it all lies down in the experience based on your 1st country.
For your case, well it seems like you want to go back to the roots of your family, and since 911 nothing could attach you anymore to the US, so why not. I always encourage people to travel and even move out; it's a good experience. In the US we are all spread out, so not as many people get to travel abroad. That said I don't think I will stay permanently to the US, I will go somewhere else later on, within a few years, IF my wife is ready, and I would even take into considerations other countries, completely different from the US, such as India. Not the middle-east though, too scared to be beheaded with what happened in Iraq LOL (where are the wmds?)

Well, I'll be back later, I am going to swim a little bit, I need to take care of my back problems, and I'll come surf again later tonite if my brain is not fried.
Cheers folks.

Saturday, July 14, 2007  
Blogger politiques USA said...

Of course there is also the Pulp Fiction quote on the subject that says that a man without a job is a bum regardless of the level of spiritual enlightenment he might attain.
Be careful I still can see the american side of you lol. This sentence is very true for the USA, it's completely false for Europe.
It should not be the clothes that dress the monk (french citation). It means that appearances are often betrayed in the french case, thus materialistic importance does not have the same priviledge compared to american civilization In Europe people are more attached to knowledge, but even knowledge nowadays does not warranty you a job in Europe. The american example is better in terms of jobs, the system is easier, not as much elitist than the french system, and I love it, because nobody is perfect, and nobody should be perfect, but people should be able to get close to perfection.

Saturday, July 14, 2007  
Anonymous Bill B said...

I disagree. What he is saying is that people are misunderstanding who the man is because they cannot see him work. This is not a matter of what is right or what is wrong and it is also not a matter of his being American or Belarussian, it is only that people don't understand how much work he does or how much money he makes. And because he is an outsider, this plays with him socially.

I think that you have a right, Adam, to live where you want and how you want. As long as you are not hurting others by what you do, you should be free to live as you like. I have been reading this blog for years and you have said many things about Belarus that indicate your love for the country. And you have also said many things that show that it can be disappointing as well. I am not sure you will ever get what you really want from a place where people only make 100-200 dollars a month. There are just not the same business opportunities that you would get from the same business in America. This probably also should have been in your thinking from the start. But no matter what you have the right to try. If this is what you want, you should just keep going for it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007  
Blogger politiques USA said...

I did not think it was a matter of social integration unless I missed something; Adam wants more recognition, but working from home in Belarus is for many people not a job. Is Pinsk a worker class? It seems like it is. Before his misadventures in Poland everything seemed better, but you are right I have been reading this blog for a few weeks only so I do not have much of interpersonal experience to define a clear opinion :)

Life is very tough in the eastern countries, but I have not been back since the collapse of the wall. I am wondering if quality of life improved or just got worse.

Good nite folks.

Sunday, July 15, 2007  
Anonymous John Q Law said...

Money talks and bullshit walks. I say the hell with them. If they are not paying you, if you don't have any family relationships or responsibilities, let 'em say what they want. You got to take care of business. Just worry about yourself.

Good post BTW

Sunday, July 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the above, it is no-one's business but your family's what you are doing there. You have a right to live in Belarus. Good on you. You don't have to explain yourself to anyone.

Anyhow we love Belarus as you know and the prime difference between Belarus and the "West" are the people in Belarus. They have beautiful souls, are mostly loving and a real difference between the people that live here. Money-grabbing baxtards! My people I mean.......Peace and rainbows....... Jenny

Sunday, July 15, 2007  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home