Thursday, February 21, 2008

Letter from America…


Your comment about people not knowing how challenging life is in Belarus reminded me of my father's description of life in Pinsk in the old days. Hunger. Difficult to find a job. Low paying jobs when found. Shortages of heating fuel. He said in winter mornings the frost covered the heads of the nails in the floor. This was during Polish times. Then came the regime who preached that workers were exploited by the capitalists. During Soviet times, before the Nazi invasion in 1941, he collapsed from hunger once. At least things are better now. But westerners are a pampered people. Unless you live according to their set standards, they consider you deprived and impoverished.

Best wishes.

Well, if what I get from people is here is pampering, I would hate to think what being treated badly could be. However, all what you say is true. And in modern times, though it might seem to be better from a distance or through the gauze covered lenses of official state propaganda, it is funny how Belarusians keep their lives going without ever really having any money.

Sometimes I forget and open my mouth about trying to do better or how I am treated at my job. I keep thinking that I would only be commiserating but this is never really the case because whoever I am talking to also receives ridiculously callous treatment and has to eat crap and go through hell just to receive their own repulsively low wages. So in the same moment, though it would surely seem that I am just trying to service the community and do what I can to get by, I am not always sure that I am actually doing anything for anybody here even with the English class showing great results and even some potential signs of success. I mean, you would think someone would be happy that the students are doing better or that their language skills are improving, but to me it seems as though all anybody really wants is to figure out a way to take whatever money which is being generated. And it isn't even that much!! Sometimes I think that there really is no point in even trying to help because the locals simply can't or at least refuse to see beyond their situation. But then again (the third hand?) how could they possibly even dream of having any hope for their lives after so many years of absolute nothing?

I mean, you ask anyone how is business and, if you imply that you are seriously asking and not just making a black humor joke, you get this detailed answer in which they basically are running on fumes because every possible percent which can be taken from the business is taken from the business. And I hear this and I understand that it is true but what can I do but to nod my head and say I understand? Even if they did believe me, even if they could fathom what my last six years have been like or if they could know that I have not been sitting on a pile all this time or playing the role of baron out here, they still could not or would not divorce themselves from their own deprecating life's reality. And it is not even jealousy! Not mine or theirs. It is just how the motions are gone through out here. It is just the functions being served.

But then again, I don't see skeletons walking around. Back in 2002 and 2003 folks were a bit on the skinny side, but people here do have some girth to them. Not like Americans have girth (I know, I am the last to be talking about this) but it doesn't look like we are having mass starvation. There are also a lot of cars; most are on the busses but there are cars and satellite dishes and people have computers and pretty much everybody has a cell phone. I can only imagine where the money for these come from, but yea, you have got to have your cell phone. Still...

But no, people's lives really are that hard and getting harder every year. The dollar is down-hilling and prices are going through the roof right now and wages are absolutely not keeping up. And these days, everybody has to pay. Even students and pensioners have got to pay full fare. And me? I am supposedly in the middle of a little business intrigue right now and aside from its taking most all of my extra time (all of the hand shaking and deal making- yea, right) it is amazing to me that it requires so much effort just to try and find a lousy $100 more a month.

But hey, like the locals say, if you don't like it, why stay? This of course supposedly would be my option and not theirs- well, it would be my option if in fact I have not been banned myself. This is always a possibility and as usual, I simply don't know. But you hear something like this a few thousand times and you know, you start to wonder a little.

More soon...