Saturday, August 11, 2007

Saturday night, getting ready for the train…

I am on the midnight train to Minsk tonight. Actually, that was not said right. According to the rather humorous ticket agent at the station this afternoon, there is no midnight train to Minsk, only a train leaving at 11:59pm. Who knows, maybe she was trying to get her name on BEING HAD- The STORY.

Getting ready for this trip has been a several month long project actually. In a way, this next week is going to be our autumn festival and in preparing for this, we did a lot of things we would normally never have. I have spoken about a lot of this including the golf holes and the BBQ but there were also a lot of stories along the way I didn't tell. Probably this is not the time to talk about either but the point is that we have been thinking about this next week for a long, long time and we used it as an excuse to buy a lot of things we had wanted to do but didn't.

Preparing for parties is normal in Belarus. People here do like to get together and drink and sit and laugh together. They of course don't "field-golf" or BBQ they do like to go into nature and roast shish kabobs and go fishing or hunting for mushrooms. I mean they do things for fun, it is just that they don't do things on the same sorts of economic levels that people do these sorts of things in the west.

The words "leisure time" have been running through my head lately. If you read essays about the birth of American sports and how they correlated with a time when Americans gained more free time and started to expand their "leisure activities", you get a sense of there being a real feeling of success or perhaps a point of arrival. Surely by now leisure time activities are the inspiration to one of the greatest industries in the world. But though Belarusians do like to party, do we really have the ability to play this game in Belarus? Or better, with incomes as they are, do we even have the time for leisure time? I think this argument must also be connected to the words "disposable income". I have to tell you that at this stage of my life, and especially after Poland and the last few years here, I can't for the life of me imagine having money that could be disposed of for anything other than base necessities. Tanya is even worse about this than I am and still haggles over ten or 15 cents difference in the cost of purchasing things. The concept of something being "not worth it" in regards to spending a few extra dollars so as to allow for comfort is simply not in the lexicon.

Well, normal or not we did spend some dollars these last few months and the residual aftereffect of this, this is to say an incredibly heightened sense of impending economic catastrophe is the inspiration to write these words. At the moment, I am looking back on some choices I have made as being in the realm of short term insanity. "What was I thinking of when I decided to do this?" or "Why in the hell didn't I spend the money here instead of there?". These sorts of things. And then I am into the debate I was into when I first thought to buy something and it starts allover again.

But even worse than this is the thought that we are going to have to go back to the "real world" in a short period of time. Certainly all of this is nothing but transition period, a time of adjustment and nothing more. But for sure, it is going to be painful. And ironically, spending money is one of the best drugs for making the pain of life go away. Having a credit card with an available line should probably be considered economic heroin rather than a safety thing to avoid carrying cash.

Maybe this is where Belarusians were really the "best people" because they agreed to do the soviet shuffle on zero disposable incomes over lifetimes with whole families getting into the act. A big argument when I got here of how it really was for example was over the use of toilet paper. At that time and for ever as far as I know, cutting up newspaper was the standard and other than the political opinions possible to voice when you were deciding which news item you wished to wipe your ass with, this to me was the epitome of frugal culture. So were those damned 25 and 40 watt bulbs. I thought I was going blind here for the first six months. I would yell at them to buy a normal bulb but all they would do is laugh and tell me I would learn.

And so I have…

But here I have been over the last while dropping money like a kid pops caps and all the time with my own head buried fully in the sand about my actual abilities to find the money I have spent again. And believe me, the reality has started creeping back in even before we get started on the "enjoying it part".

Anyway, I have to run. That one minute I lost between the time I thought the train to Minsk would go and the time the ticket taker told me is weighing heavy. I hope I can catch a bus up there because there is about $1.75 difference between taking the bus and riding in a cab. These things are important.

More soon…