Thursday, April 26, 2007

More letters from April 2002…

Here are several more letters written on April 22 and 23, 2002. These letters are from the period immediately before my experience in Poland started and were written to friends trying to explain my situation. I am printing these to go along with the upcoming five year anniversary of my "being had" experience.

Mon, 22 Apr 2002 00:30:41 -0700 (PDT)
To Peter "The bicycle man" Stull
No problem Peter, but this thing was really pretty good! You should check it out if you have not already thrown it away.

I am still in Belarus and things are going well. I made friends with the cycling team from a school here in Pinsk. Their shop here has of coarse nothing, and the mechanics for the bikes (steel frames, cottered cranks) is more magic then is bike knowledge. I got a chance to go to a conference in Minsk last week, and while there I picked up some ball bearings and axles and cones and break cables as well as some helmets for the kids. It all cost about a day's wage from New York, but it could help keep them going for at least several months. Also, while I was there, I met a cycle club that has produced a world champion (Sprint and crit) as well as 10 European professionals. Pretty cool considering there is no money here at all, and that the riding season is pretty short.

So, here it is always a crazy time to be a biker. There are no replacement parts here, so when I go to Warsaw Poland to get a new visa, I will have to buy everything I need and carry it all back with me. Eventually, I probably would have to give up on the sport bike unless I figure out how to open a bike shop in a place where the average worker earns about $100 a month. Well, you know how it is, if there is an answer, it'll probably take a biker to figure it all out.

Anyway, just thought I would check in...

Mon, 22 Apr 2002 00:19:05 -0700 (PDT)
Uladsimir (Viasna),
Ales Bialacki and the Belarussian organisation Viasna recieves the the Homo Homini Award.
Viasna is a civic initiative that defends the rights of citizens in Belarus and provides assistance to the victims of politically motivated repression. Mr. Bialacki and Viasna have carried out projects in the past, regardless of the danger and recriminations posed by the political regime.
Here are some thoughts about a new essay. If you can just read this and tell me what you think about it, I think it will be better and I’ll see what we can do with this later.

What I am seeing is that the problems of Belarusian society might be of a cyclical nature. What this means is that one thing is connected to another, and to another and so on, until the ideas eventually form a circle. So this is what I am thinking of. First, nothing works. I think there won’t be any argument about that, and more so, that to try and work in a place, and in a system where nothing works, one would really have to be a pretty special kind of person. So, where is this person?

Well, let’s just say that this guy is not a normal Belarusian. He would really have to pretty strong and smart: he would be a thinker, but also a real doer, because everybody knows how hard it is, right? I think in America, we would call this fellow “go getter”. And really, this is not a normal guy, and this is what I am talking about. Because if a normal man wants to do anything, he is going to run into the money problem, the system problem and the “nothing works” problem, all of which does nothing but to slow everything down to a crawl. So, our “go getter”, being a smart guy, is going to realize, right at the beginning, that whatever it is that he wants is either not going to be here, or if it is here, it is going to be broken, old and too hard to get because of all of the reasons that everybody talks about all of the time. So, he knows that to fulfill his destiny as a go getter, he’s got to go. And not only does our go getter know this, but so does everyone else.

So now, we have a situation, where “there” is good, and “here” is bad. And this is what is being said to anybody who even thinks about being a “go getter”. And it is ironic, that the biggest insult that could ever be said to a person here in the old day (you go!) is the thing that is said to anyone who seems like someone that Belarus would actually want to keep! And so, in this model, you don’t even get to keep the very hero’s that you need, want and cry for, because all they, or anybody thinks about, is that it is better, richer, easier and more sensible to be elsewhere.

So what is left? And after all this “if you are worth anything you would be elsewhere” thinking, what happens to the people who simply just want to stay and say that this is home? The outside world is better, everyone knows this, and if a person wants to stay here, they better be careful no to be identified as someone who actually wants something, or at least might be good enough to actually get it, because the first this that is going to happen is that the people around him are going to ask him to leave. So a local now has to learn that if you want to be here, you have to fit in. But again, this place has problems and doesn’t seem to work. So, if you catch my drift, a person who wants to call Belarus home, or to even acknowledge that this home might be a thing worth defending or appreciating, they actually have to agree to be…broken. And when this happens, you actually damage the very thing that this, normal, wants-to-stay-at-home Belarusian wants to stay at home for. Or, to use a sports metaphor, Belarus becomes nothing more then a minor league football stop, where the games really do not matter, and all of the players want nothing more then to find their way elsewhere to the better clubs. And in Belarus, the thinking is that the real clubs are in Germany, or in England or Poland or America. And this is the biggest problem of all, because when this cycle is completed, there really is nothing left to defend. And no good people left to defend it.

Now maybe some of this is fear left over from Stalin’s day. Might be. I mean in the old days; the go getters were…removed. And maybe it is an irony that in the time of new freedoms, the same thing happens now to the good people as it did then, effectively: they are just not here anymore.

So what is the solution? Well, if things are going to get better, Belarus is going to need some good people and for regular people to be good. And when Belarus finds these people, there has got to be some adjustment made so that these people actually think that there might be a reason to stay, and that their time here is not wasted.

So, this is a crude thought, meaning that I am not quite sure that this is all what I want to say, but this is the basics. So, what do you think? Let me know when you have the chance,

Yours, Still here in Pinsk and doing fine,


Tue, 23 Apr 2002 23:21:08 -0700 (PDT)
Hey Rudi,
I guess we haven’t spoken much in the last while, so I thought I would send you a little note to catch you up on what is the story with me. I have been in Belarus for about two months now, and I am getting close to the end of my second visa, and I don’t think it would be very practical for me to look at a third. There are some money problems with hanging around here, and though I have been staying with a really nice lady and her family, I think that there would be problems if the relationship was to continue. I mean, the average wage here is about five dollars a day, so for me to stay here, and without hope of having a business that would make things for me better, would be a lot to ask. And also, I fear that Tatyana would not do very well with me in what there is of my life away from here. Her situation here is quite normal for her, she has her parents and her sister to help her with her little boy, and if there is not a lot, there is enough, and I don’t think there is anything away from here that I can offer her that would be better, really then what she has here. It is a difficult problem, and a knotty situation. And I just can not think what else is there to do?

It is an interesting place here. The political situation they have devised is an interesting one: they are no longer communist and they are not together. However, the government owns maybe 80% of all of the businesses, and the red tape for getting through them is remarkably difficult. Due to this, the average wage is about $100 a month. And though there is enough food, there really isn’t enough for anything but basic survival. As a for instance, when I was living with Tatyana’s family, I would spend, maybe ten dollars or so a day on food; mostly fresh fruit and bread and things. And you may say that this was not very much for a family of six including myself, but you have to understand that this represents double wages from everyone just to be spent on food! Usually would not be such things as fresh fruit; they would simply never eat these things because they would be too expensive and out of their budget range. I think the kid ate a kilo of fresh grapes the first day I brought them for him and so I fought this by buying two kilos the next day, and really, they ate all of this too. So you know, a human body can put up with anything I guess and call it normal but I think things are really bad and I have been trying to do what I can to make things better. I made friends over at the Viasna office in Brest. I am trying to write essays and things and to try and translate for them into English their situation. I am also trying to work on a play in Belarusian language that I hope can get performed here. After that, I don’t know what all else because I really can’t see the joy in being a bike man in a country that has only one bike.

So I guess this is the story. If there is anything different, I’ll know about it within a few days, but my experience is that this is what it is and that there is nothing to do but to just go the hell on and see what is next. Have you heard this story before? I know I have.

Anyway, just a few thoughts and I hope all is well with you.