Thoughts from Kiyv

 

My Underwear and the Green Stamp

We arrived in Kiyv a month ago – Nov. 16, 2009 Today is December 27, 2009. During that time we have waited patiently while the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry putzed around with our residency document s (I still don’t have any as of this writing!) More important I wanted to have a normal wardrobe – a real change of clothes and that meant being able to finally have access to our shipment of household goods which have been in the customs lockup since December 5th. I have been living in two pair of jeans, two pair of underwear and wearing my wife’s athletic socks and three long sleeve T-shirts – alternating shirts or wearing one or all three depending on how cold it was. I’ve now gone to two job interviews dressed in jeans and my seedy shirts. Lucky me, I’ve been called back for follow ups so they ARE looking at my mind and how I can contribute to their organizations and not my wardrobe! Yesterday we slammed into yet another road block on getting our shipment. Seems the outbound expediter in Yekaterinburg forgot to stamp our documents that we were not transporting any pesticides. Well silly us, thinking our honest faces would get us by. Not to happen, we had to visit yet another customs/public health unit and there they extracted a blood oath from Sophie that we had not brought any bug spray or other products that Rachel Carson might find harmful. In exchange a nice but bored lady dutifully affixed the missing green stamp that we were pesticide-free……I am stuck in my limited wardrobe for another 3 or 4 days until the stamp is recorded on a computer system…then maybe some new cloths to put on. In the meantime…I love my jeans; I love my jeans, I LOVE MY JEANS!

Money Matters

We owe dollar denominated obligations back in the States but it is impossible to open an account so we can transfer money to pay our bills. Never had this problem in Russia. We get the royal oligarch treatment………the Ukrainian government quakes in its boots thinking Mike and Sophie’s $1,000 a month we transfer can somehow be as harmful as the  Billions of dollars being spirited out by the ruling elite. Yachts are denominated in dollars too! Our needs are more simple like credit card payments, student loan payment, etc. This too can be remedied like getting my underwear from Customs but we need to find the right person with the right stamp! Colorful round and rectangular stamps are magic here.

The Central Market

Sophie and I journeyed to the Central Market today for “Salo” – the Ukrainian delicacy designed to satisfy your pallet but put you in an early grave via an elevated cholesterol count. Salo, my good buddies is marinated pig fat. This is not on the diet of those fellas looking to find 72 virgins when they blow themselves up. Pity, Salo is divine. You drink a little vodka or cognac with it, eat some dark bread; it is to die for (virgins not included). My favorite salo is marinated in garlic and cherry juice, followed by a garlic/pepper medley.

Speaking of Virgins….

This silly Nigerian guy, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up the Norwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam, as it was approaching Detroit, sounds like he roasted his private parts when the bomb misfired in his lap. What a shame. He didn’t get to be a finalist in the “Search for 72 Virgins” contest nor does he now have the equipment necessary to satisfy these girls properly. Such are the chances you take when working for al-Qa-ida. I’m sure that he will get out of this anyway. He was probably being discriminated against…his own father had told the FBI his son was a radical and thus he went on a “watch list”. Watch lists are easy ways for cops to do their jobs in counter-terrorism but give guys like this a chance to walk when they get to court. But it seems that he won’t be able to produce any little terrorists to follow in his footsteps having roasted his gonads. That’s a good thing! High fives to all the heads up passengers on Northwest Flight 253 who helped subdue this Islamo-Facist Cowboy.

Politics Ain’t Bean Bag”

‘Tis the season. Ukraine is trying to elect a new President and they have enough candidates running to make up an entire NFL team! Our family favorite is Yulia Timoshenko. I call her the "Maniacal Matroyoshka". She has great campaign ads and this mother earth/Ukrainian peasant image she’s cultivated. She’s a nice looking woman, maybe even beautiful but she’s a shark. The favorites in the race are just waiting their turn to harvest as much money as they and their cronies can lay their hands on and reform the country as little as possible.  Those back in the pack like Sergey Tigipko are new faces, have less baggage and want reform thus they do not curry favor from the old guard and reap less money to throw at their campaigns. Control here rests with a handful of oligarchic thugs who want no part of reforms but just keep skimming the gravy. The IMF has poured huge amount s of money into Ukraine with the stipulation that reforms in government processes and bureaucracies happen now. But both the current President Shevchenko and Prime Minister Timoshenko give the bloated bureaucracy a holiday pay raise instead of firing half of them which is exactly what need to be done. And they have the guts to simultaneously tell the IMF they need another $2 billion to keep the circus running.

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The Blog Moves On to Kiyv

Just a short note to put Yekaterinburg behind – at least for awhile. We left Denver in early 2006 – so almost four years since we have been in the USA. Our new home is Kiyv, Ukraine. This is a beautiful city with lots of parks and trees and things seems to work better here. Life is smoother, less hectic and NO POTHOLES IN THE STREETS!!! Mayor Chernensky of Yekat, take note! This is the old Russia with a wonderful history. We have been made welcome by Americans, Canadians, Fins as well as Ukranians.
 
Ukraine is in the midst of a presidential election….plenty of action here from the "Maniacal Matroyoshka" – Yulia Tamashenko. Nice looking lady even with the fake braid of hair. Her persona I think is very cultivated. She wants to look the part of Ukranian history, so she looks like a village girl with the long braided hair and embroidered collars. She is far and aways the most articulate of the candidates. Other candidates abound, some with criminal records….it’s kinda like New Jersey and Illinois politics really.
 
More to follow in days to come.

As We Leave Russia….

 

It’s been about 2 ½  years this trip. We arrived in Yekaterinburg May of 2007 and we are leaving mid-November 2009. I can say what a ride! What an experience! It is the real Russia! It never really changes.

 

I had a comment from my friend Jim Colt in Boulder asking why do this; why live in a place like Yekaterinburg with reduced services, access to nominal conveniences; really putting yourself up for more of a hard life? I told him at the time that life out here has an edge to it. It’s not the comfortable, cushy American existence. Life out here is, I suppose, like life on the American frontier in the 1870’s and 1880’s…after the Civil War when America was expanding westward, new ideas were prevalent, risk takers were abound. Russia is an enigma and the Urals region is the heart of the confusion. Creating a new life in a new country ever two or three years is not so easy. But we like to think the rewards have out weighed the bad.

 

Let’s review:

 

Good Stuff

 

·        We had a new son – Thomas Michael. Born a Russia, duel citizen of Mother Russia and the United States of America, January 31, 2009. A spunky son of Uncle Sam and Daddya Putin.

·        Daughter Nadia has started school here (public school by the way) and has just blossomed. There is lots of homework and she has jumped at the challenge. She has continued her bilingual ways – English and Russian languages. Her hand writing is absolutely beautiful – they actually teach old-fashioned penmanship here. Her sense of purpose and belonging to a group is exemplary. Her self-discipline in taking on her school responsibilities has really shown through. Take note you whimpy American schools…here the teachers use RED pens to grade papers and the students are not having to go for psychiatric counseling. So soft-green pens to change the mood of a graded paper. RED means something and gets attention.

·        I found a wonderful outlet for all my life’s experiences teaching to English speakers at the college level and to selected private students.

·        Sophia excelled at her job with the World Bank and loved every monute of  it.

·        We made incredible new friends that will remain for a lifetime.

 

The Calm of Russia

 

·        I marveled at the fact that kids at my daughter’s school could come on campus with realistic toy guns and the SWAT team didn’t appear and the school didn’t go into lock down and the students didn’t need trauma counseling. Kids are real kids in Russia and they openly play with guns that look real EVERYWHERE!

·        I also was amazed that I could walk into a classroom and not be arrested for carrying my Swiss Army knife. This knife has enough blades to chop up half the planet (thank you Jim Colt for this wonderful knife that I use everyday) but there are no metal detectors by the front doors and most important no WORRIES about something abnormal happening.

  • Banya. The cleansing of the Russian soul. What a great tradition.
  • Dacha. A place to retreat with forests, a small house with spartan services for one’s peace of mind.
  • Family. Russian do it right. It’s the extended family of old.

 

The Bad and the Nutty

 

·        Since my mid-2007 arrival I have been stopped by the “militsiya” (cops)  20 – that’s twenty times. Before leaving Colorado in 2006, I had been stopped 2 times in thirty years in California, Florida and Colorado driving as well as a cross-country jaunt when we moved from Ft. Lauderdale to Denver.

·        Out of my 20 stops I was asked to pay money to the nice policeman 4 times. I resisted each time – actually kept talking English – which most police do not speak and they finally gave up. I come from America –  a place where crooked cops on the take are the exception not the rule. In Russia corruption is so prevalent that cops routinely have their hand out for money. A crooked cop is a crooked cop – kinda like the Obama gang from Chicago or the Corzine mob in New Jersey – leaves a bad taste in your mouth no matter where thugs and corrupt officials are.

·        As we leave Russia, Putin is angling for a way to make a Presidential comeback. We all know how popular the Obamasiah is in the States….can you imagine in the U.S. changing the Constitution to allow him to run for office indefinitely?…that has now happened here in Russia – more corruption and “monkeying around” with things that should be sacred and set in cement. You don’t abuse a constitution like has happened in Russia.

·        Bad roads don’t go away and the government bureaucracy that oversees their construction are painfully slow in getting new roads built. Favorite rear window sentiment on cars here “F**king Roads!” – in English by the way!

 

And now to Kiyv (Kiev)…….

 

New life, new expectations. Kiyv is a bigger city by a million and has it’s own exciting tempo, a large expat community and guess what – NEW OPPORTUNITIES!. Sophie has a new position with the Bank and me – well I’m starting over like I have done so often in my life – teach in the university, asset/facilities management, digital printing, sales and marketing for a winery…….who knows what I might do. No guarantees, just opportunity. How else to approach life. Talesfromkazland will now be offering stories about life in the capital of Ukraine and it’s surroundings. I can’t wait and all of you stay tuned for the further adventures of the Lynn’s – now on the road in Ukraine beginning 15 November 2009………

Sophie Goes to India

The following was a dispatch by Sophia Lynn during her recent trip from New Delhi to the Taj Mahal.
 

Hey, dear……well, we came back after probably 7 hours drive of just 200 km………..big accident with bus coming off the bridge – it completely stopped both directions and they were trying to direct the unruly traffic on just one side that was opened. Crazy, crazy – but at the same time I did not see people getting upset, screaming, tension up – no one was really upset – they were just waiting. Despite people honking a lot at each other, they are not aggressive (again, as russin drivers would), this is just the language of driving on the small 2 lane road with tuk-tuks, animals, buses, heavy trucks, and fast cars – all rolled in one – and all equally share the road. We were amazed that there were not more accidents…………people sleeping in lorry trucks, 10 people riding in one small tuk-tuk. There is also quite a bit of state division so we had to come thru tolls – again, lines and waiting.
 
 We had a native of Delhi in the car with us and it was an added advantage since he commented a lot along the road. Now we know that Taj is situated in one of the poorest states, so poverty that we saw there was quite intense. Also, big trucks have the signs "Blow horn please" – we leaned that this is something bad, not necessarily associated with actual horn signal 🙂
 
 What is interesting that despite very high crowdedness, intense huggling, touching, etc. people don’t seem to be agressive.
 
 Taj – unbelievable crowds first of all – people from all over India come there, they were the majority in the crowds. I developed migrane from bright sun, lowdness of crowds and was not very happy when we were around the Taj. One girl gave me sunglasses and I started feeling better. Yes, we saw the Taj – it is definitely a magnificent structure, beautiful, but looks much more astounding from afar. We also went to the fort where the king who built the mosoleaum lived/was imprisoned by his own son for spending too much money for the Taj…………..he was actually getting ready to build one for himself out of the black marble across the Taj……………
 
 The poverty level is striking……………..begging is intense especially from white girls, I was constantly holding on to guys to make sure they shield me from all the touching and pushing stuff in the nose (selling trinkets). I felt bad for not giving money but at the same time was afraid to get into the purse.
 
 Cows are feeding on trash along with wild dogs – since you cannot kill the cow after it becomes obsolete (old), they just let them starve. It is very perverted notion of the sacred animal.

Baptism in Bingy

Thomas Michael Lynn became part of  the Christian family today, Sunday August 2, 2009 in Bingy (that Bing as in Bing Crosby or Bing the Browser and "y" or "ie" on the end) – or "Bing-ghie.. Bingy is a small village 6 minutes by car from Nevyansk and Nevyansk about 70km from Yekaterinburg.
 
Sophie’s Uncle "Daddya Alosha" was our choice for Godfather. Seems that Godfathers do ALL the work during the Orthodox baptismal ceremony. He was a very busy man presenting baby Thomas to the Priest and drying him after immersion and then puting on his baptismal white gown after the event and parading Thomas behind the golden door of the main alter. Thank you Alosha taking on this God-given responsibility of helping watch over our child!
 
The Church is currently under major restoration both inside and out. It dates from 1797 and remained virtually untouched during the Soviet period. It is one of those out-of-the-way Orthodox churches that just holds a very special magic – a sincere feeling of "Spirit" exists here and thus our decision to have Thomas baptized in this wonderful old church. The church architecture is Russian Baroque and layed out in the configuration of the Cross. The church is the artistic heart of the Nevyansk style of Iconography.
 
Welcome to Christ, Thomas.

Moscow and Novo-Pokrov Trip

The Yak Exam

 

What do you do if you are promised a Boeing 737 and get a Yak (Yakalev) 42-D? Yes the venerable Yak is still flying and we took our life in our hands to make the journey from Yekaterinburg to Moscow after our Sky Express flight was scratched. The Yak is in the fleet of Tartarstan Airlines – the only game in town if you are from Tartarstan. They apparently were flying the same time as the Sky Express flight but nearly empty. The Yak 42-D is a virtual carbon copy of the old and long ago retired 727-100. There were a scant 185 of all Yak models manufactured from 1979 until 2002 – so it is a relatively young fleet but a very old design. It holds about 120 passengers very uncomfortably witness my getting stuck in a center seat;  I found my legs in a position not unlike a woman experiences during a ObGyn exam – I call it the “Yak Exam”! The seat pitch is a skimpy 29 inches with most modern aircraft sporting 33 inch pitch for greater comfort. For a guy my size it was very uncomfortable being spread-eagle for two hours, but such is the Yak Exam. We endured and made the trip safely, though our ears were fried from the high pitch engine sound after the two hour trip.

 

Apartment with a View

 

We made the journey to Moscow for the annual meeting of Sophie’s employer International Finance Corporation. I was along as Nanny-in-charge of Master Thomas. We lived at #10 New Arbaht a fully furnished and nicely appointed apartment located in a 24-story, 30+ year-old apartment building. It was about 4 blocks from the Kremlin and even closer to Sophie’s office. New Arbaht Boulevard is an un-delightful combination of a strip mall and New York’s Times Square; and the thoroughfare itself is like a freeway except when the official motorcades of Putin or Medvedev are coming or going from the Kremlin. I experienced absolute silence on Wednesday around 11 am as one of the ruling elite sped past comfortably in their Mercedes 600 limo at 80 mph. Muscovites dutifully pulled over for their royalty to pass unobstructed. I can imagine how Washingtonians feel with similar White House excursions.

 

This was my first time back in Moscow since 1996. I didn’t like it then and I don’t now. Too big and noisy, too glitzy for my taste and the city like the rest of Russia is overwhelmed by cars without sufficient roads and parking being developed to keep up with demand. They have however done a very good job of maintaining and upgrading many of the old 3-7 story buildings in the center of the city. These all have a nice human scale, not as big and impersonal as many of the new high rise buildings.

 

Dinner Companions

After her second day of meetings, Sophie and I loaded Thomas up in the stroller and found a lovely out-of-the-way Japanese restaurant on a quiet residential street. We had ordered and while we waited for the first course, in staggered our dinner companions. Two intoxicated fellows Alosha and Gherik (he called himself Garry Potter – like “Harry Potter”, I know not why except he was pretty drunk. Garry was fascinated to watch as Thomas had his dinner ahead of Sophie and me – I’m talking breast feeding here. He raised his glass in toast to Russian Motherhood and to our stout son and the magic elixir that is Russian mother’s milk! Alosha chimed in that he was sure that Thomas would be on the Russian National Football team in future years. Garry meantime kept making reference to Russian women providing the best milk in the world for babies – he surely was a boob man! He decided to call Sophie “Tanya” – maybe an old flame from his past whom maybe had been breast feeding as well.

 

Sophie and I maintained our composure and smiled at each other. I tried to keep quiet as I usually do not want to attract attention as a foreigner. Finally Aloshya mustered courage and tapped me on the shoulder and asked me where I was from; they had talked between themselves and though I was either Czech or Hungarian. Alosha did his first “genuflect” when I told him I was from the U.S.; he literally got down on one knee, grabbing my hand and was pumping it wildly while congratulating Sophie on getting a rich American – I want to give Aloshya my bills! We then pinpointed that we had come from Denver, Colorado and genuflect # 2 in honor of Patrick Rau and Joe Sackic and the Colorado Avalanche! He was a fan of American NHL hockey and had only great things to say about the Avs. We finished dinner and walked away having a good laugh over the encounter. Good luck gentlemen – I hope you both find nice “Tanyas” of your own.

 

Mini-Vacation to Novo-Pokrov

 

Business concluded and Saturday morning we are off for a four-day getaway. We took an inter-urban train north of Moscow two hours to Mazheisk and then on to Novo-Pokrov by car to visit one of Sophie’s friends she had worked with in Kazakhstan. Marianna, her husband Andre and two boys Kolya and Petr live in this small village of Novo-Pokrov some 50 km from Mazheisk. I’m not sure that you would find it on a map. Marianna just finished an MBA through The Higher School of Economics and now what to do? She and her husband live a rather idyllic life in a old log cabin "dacha" house from May to October. Andre commutes for his work and Marianna enjoys the country life. Temperatures are moderate in the winter no more than 15 to 20 below Celsius. Their boys are living the Tom and Huck life, so she’s not sure if she will even use this new degree she’s just acquired.

 

Areas around Mazheisk and Novo-Pokrov are hallowed ground. During WWII there were trenches dug particularly around Novo-Pokrov to hide Russian soldiers until the advancing Germans that were trying to reach Moscow, were in close range to shoot. This was a major battle zone with Russian troops trying to stem the advance of the Germans in 1941-42. The Russian military was generally unprepared for the Germans betrayal of the Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact; thus the high loss of life, mostly inexperienced young conscripts were thrown to the early test. But by March of ’42 the Russians were pushing the Germans back.

 

Novo-Pokrov may not be for everyone but the life here seems “connected” enough. The village embraces a cluster of 42 houses. Most people practice the Orthodox faith in a new church – the center piece of the village. A modest two story monastery is nearby. The house lots are very large with plenty of room to grow and expand. We are talking 1, 2 and 3 acre plots which is very different from my in law’s small dacha plot outside of Yekaterinburg. People make the drive to Mazheisk to shop. And, the world is only an internet/satellite uplink away. Novo-Pokrov grows on you.

 

On Monday we had a wonderful banya. Andre has a nice 8 person banya with adjacent relaxation area. The second story is being developed for entertaining after banya. Our banya included some ever-clear with wild strawberry jam mixed in. Great way to “calm” the ever-clear’s hi-octane hotness.

 

The Moscow River is nearby – a wonderful swimm’en hole. In the winter I’m told, the fields are great for cross country skiing.

 

The hospitality of Marianna and Andre will long be remembered. Wonderful host and hostess in their beautiful cabin home.

Residency Status at Last

Mark this day June 24, 2009 on your calendar. Today Nadia and I were granted residency status in Russia for 3 whole years. Over the next year we will be working toward a regular Russian Greencard. At any rate we can come go – or stay as we choose. No more hassel with visas in order to remain in-country. As far as I know, I am the only non-U.S. Consulate staffer who has this status in the region.