Note to Friends &
take off on Wednesday or so for Kiev, creating &
developing new educational programs for Ukrainian TV and
radio networks across the country, under a contract with
USAID. I've been given lots of creative control and
opportunity to "create my own vision," working
with a capable and committed Ukrainian team already in
place. Well, that's their pitch going in. I'll let you
know once I get there.
be sending and receiving mail over AOL, one of the few
connect options in Kiev. My personal mail address is
take a few moments whenever the urge strikes to send me
some words from home.
this finds you happy & well,
Note to Home
digging in and getting to know the top players in
national TV, radio & print. We (i.e., you, me &
the US government) give a sizable chunk of
"grivna" to support the development of the
media here. They in return (of course) cover the sort of
news the US government likes (supporting pro-capitalist
is on the rise. My first night here (April 3), my hotel
phone rang twice offering me a "sweet, young pretty
girl" as a comfort service -- the first call as an
initial offer, the second to see if I'd changed my mind,
I suppose. My curiosity as a newsman swelled for a
moment: how much? how young? how pretty? Or perhaps it
was just my curiosity as a man, period. I politely
declined, as they politely offered. I recall a similar
call at Moscow's Rossia Hotel: "Do you want
SEX?" the caller asked, much more forceful and
direct than the gentler Ukrainians.
biggest difference I've noticed between the Ukrainians
and the Russians: in Kiev the natives actually laugh and
smile, a lot. The Russians here find that odd. I find it
charming. The Russians, no doubt, find me a little odd
too, but I'm getting along great with the Ukrainians --
especially when I drop the few Ukrainian words that I
know into my Russian (Russian by far is still the
move out of the Dnipro Hotel into my own very
comfortable and spacious apartment next week. No more
late-night hooker calls, but I'll miss the great
breakfast buffet featuring creamy & fine Ukrainian
miss Santa Barbara sunsets and kayaking in the harbor. I
dare not paddle into the Dnepr River running through
Kiev, which carries radioactive silt from Chernobyl just
60 miles upstream. They say the river glows in the dark,
but it's just a joke, I hope.
do write me a note and let me know ANY news from home.
Keep in mind though that my AOL connection is VERY slow,
and tends to drop & gobble messages midstream. Please keep them
short, please keep in mind that I may not have received
it if you get no response, but please do keep them
Note to Jeanne
lots of new friends, learning a bunch about Ukrainian
politics, business & media (much of it not very good
news), and -- thus far -- thoroughly enjoying myself.
calls" at the Dnipro Hotel aside (the incidence of
AIDS here is one of the highest in Eastern Europe), I'm
trying very hard not to take advantage of these young,
beautiful Ukrainian girls looking for a one-way ticket
to the USA. And believe me, visiting American women have
the same temptations. Seems most of the ex-pats
(bureaucratese for Americans) here skirt the problem by
simply sleeping with each other.
a new bulk mail "update" is on its way this
weekend (more about work, living & politics in
Note to Home
my family & friends in America!
coming from the USA, even better California, there's a
distinct advantage in Kiev of having Santa Barbara as a
Barbara" the soap opera airs nightly throughout
Eastern Europe, so I find myself somewhat of a
celebrity. I've never seen the show, but evidently it
portrays that all Santa Barbarans are rich and hang out
in beachside cafes the day long while hired help takes
care of life's mundane chores.
a VERY often repeated joke (I politely laugh each time):
to migrating Ukrainian: "So why do you want to
locate to Santa Barbara?"
"Because I know everyone there."
love the Ukrainians -- very warm, gentle, hospitable and
quite a contrast to the loud, rude, obnoxious Americans
strutting through the country as great saviors from the
West. We often offer misplaced and mistaken advice,
while what the Ukrainians need most goes undelivered: a
little respect. They settle instead for our generous per
diem purchases and their salaries as support staff.
settled in to a lovely remodeled apartment, the old
high-ceilinged style building richly adorned with trim
and chandeliers. Satellite TV with English news, space
enough for two families, and my own water heater (a
definite luxury here where centralized heating for
entire sections of the city is periodically shut down
for weeks at a time; then less fortunates have to boil
water for baths and laundry -- as I did earlier in
the corner are several markets stocked with Western
imports (steep prices keep down the crowds), and lots of
street-side kiosks for the locals where I prefer to shop
(my treasure find yesterday was imported Italian silk
ties for 10 grivna each - about $5.00).
be hiring someone to do my laundry, shopping and weekend
cooking for $100 or so per month, a nice sum considering
even top professionals here earn less than that for
full-time work. I rent my apartment from a research
biologist (specializing in oncology) for $1,500 a month
- more than ten times her take-home pay. She comes and
cleans for me once a week, gladly.
wonder Americans become so cocky. I'm trying to fight
the inclination. I know I wind up grating on the
Americans with my tsk-tsking, and friendship with the
Ukrainians is hard because of the stark difference in
our lifestyles. I try to compensate with overly generous
gifts that make them uncomfortable: I'm THEIR guest, and
they want to give to ME. I hope to find the right
starting a few new media programs, including a weekly
radio talk show that could evolve into a simulcast on
national television (a
la Larry King or Howard Stern). That will be fun.
keep the e-notes from home coming. Lots of love,
Note to Betsy, Frank & Johnnie
some good news:
found a little pet food shop in my neighborhood
underground metro station that sells bird seed. I
sprinkled some of it in the planter off my third-floor
balcony, and shortly several sparrows were happily
feeding. I can watch them from the window by my bedroom
desk, where I now write.
makes me really feel at home, having familiar friends
Note to Betty H.
here is quite harsh for most of the people, and the road
ahead is rough. The political terrain changes from day
to day, and it's hard from any vantage point to see
where it will lead. Whenever I wonder how to make it
through another day of frustrating obstacles, I just
walk the street and marvel at the mothers & fathers
& children & old folks struggling for the basics
of survival. What a remarkable people! They certainly
deserve better. I feel fortunate for every opportunity I
find to help.
you so much for your notes. I can't tell you how much it
means to hear from my friends back home. Please pass my
e-mail address on to anyone who cares to drop me a few
of Mid April
television department staff and puppet-show crew were
celebrating a worker’s birthday with a lunchtime
champagne toast, when someone asked why I would give up
Santa Barbara for their harsh life.
It was a sincere, probing question.
I decided to be equally sincere, and explained
how long I’ve felt an affinity with the people in this
part of the world.
How I loved the language from my very first class
more than 15 years ago.
How once, as part of my counseling psychology
studies in hypnotherapy, we had done a pass-life
regression, and I had seen myself as a Russian peasant
fighting the oppressive land owners.
What interesting expressions on their typically
masked faces! “Oh!”
said one kiddingly. “So you are the person responsible for our
present mess!” “Forgive
me!” I replied, in one of the lightest yet closest
moments of my stay to date.
17, 1997 Note to Betsy
(Greetings here tend to end in !!!)
is Ukrainian for Spasibo. I always get a grin when I
toss out a Ukrainian word or two -- everyone in Kiev
(Kyiv) speaks primarily Russian, but Ukrainian is now
the official state language, and they are teaching it in
schools. Some seem flattered I try; others amused;
others seem to feel I've patronized them (or it could be
simply the omnipresent stoically Slavic shrug that says
"so what" to such attempts at friendliness).
I've heard it should be the common tongue within five
years. I better get studying.
little minibike track had been set up on a large parking
lot, offering rides at 3 grivna for 4 minutes (about
$1.50), not a small fee for your average Ukrainian kid. A group of four boys, about 10-years old each,
stood longingly by the gate. One boy offered the ticket man a trade of some
small something from his pocket for a ride, but was
thought to buy them tickets, and the small intuitive kid
(a survival trait, I’m sure) quickly read my intention
with a sharp appraising glance. His raised eyebrow said, “what?” He saw me slip the ticket man the fare for all
the boys, and came up to me. “Tell your friends they can all ride,” I told
wasted no time getting in the gate, and with a few
sideways wondering -- suspicious perhaps -- glances,
hopped on their tiny motorbikes as I sauntered away.
19, 1997 Note to Amy B.
hello in Ukrainian and Russian demonstrates the subtle
differences between the languages -- in Russian it's
"Pree-vyet"; in Ukrainian it's "pre-VEET."
It carries a lot of meaning, which word you use -- like
saying "Ore-gone" instead of
"Ore-gun." People can tell just where you're
equipment we're using is fairly state-of-the-art digital
beta gear. We subcontract with a local production
company, and also use the less modern gear at the state
broadcast facilities (television and radio).
satellite feed includes NBC, so I get to watch Brokaw
first thing in the morning at 7:30, followed by the
Today Show. But, as you know, broadcast offers a
superficial look at the news, so if you see an
interesting tidbit you think I might appreciate, please
send it on.
do get a full day off on Sundays, so I'm working my way
farther & farther from the center of the city, in
concentric circles as my travel confidence waxes. I'm
figuring out the metro system, and my Ukrainian friends
are eager to show me some sights, once I get more solid
footing with the work load.
21, 1997 Note to Betsy
From Betsy: I wonder if it is possible to get that sense
of fulfillment, that feeling of contribution anywhere
but in a society where so much is needed. Is the aim to
create a society like Santa Barbara (well, one more
equalized in wealth) where the pleasures are shopping,
touring, gossiping, getting exercised about homeless or
young folk sitting on the street or unmarried people
living together? I think it is, but when that society
arrives, as it has here, what is there for challenge and
intellectual stimulation? >>
isn't it?, that we are at our best when things are at
His face was a mess of blood, all over his arms
and hands, his stance was very unsteady, but his plea
was walking in my neighborhood shopping district, when I
came upon an elderly man sprawled on the sidewalk, his
face oozing into a pool of blood. A young angel-faced Ukrainian woman was gently
talking to him. Can
I help?” I asked in my broken Russian/Ukrainian. “I think someone called an ambulance,” she
rolled him onto his back, and he looked up in my face,
with a familiar look I recall from my dying father.
"Konets” he said (“It’s the end”).
He still had lots of light in his eyes. “No, it’s not the end,” I said, sure of it.
She, I and a passing kind-looking fellow helped
him to a bus stop bench, and my two helpers quickly
old man asked me to Please, Please
help him to his home, just up the street.
Not a good idea, I thought.
Just wait for the ambulance (I’ve seen them
before -- they look more like a police paddy wagon), if
one should ever arrive.
him firmly under the arm, I helped him wobble down the
his home was indeed just a block away, behind a large
apartment building, he crumbling to the walkway once
along the way for a rest -- me hefting his corpulent
bulk back to his feet after a few moments.
We made it to the elevator for his 6th floor
are you from?” he asked as we rode in the small
Soviet-era lift. “I’m
an American.” “Indeed?!?!”
“Yes, I’m an American ... from Santa
I love America.”
It seemed he’d never met one before.
His elderly wife, understandably, was shaken to
find a stranger at her door holding her bloody husband,
shocked even more when he invited me in.
“Who is this man, why is he here?” she
an American!” he answered and insisted I step inside.
Small, aged apartment, still fairly comfortable I
suppose for how most here live.
He made his way to the living room chair, and
suddenly looked much better, in spite of all the blood,
back on home ground and in control once again.
Please sit, he demanded, despite his flustered
really, I must be going, but thank you for inviting me
wife gingerly walked me to the door, and with a wave of
her hand back toward her husband, let me know she’s had to deal with him in trouble before (likely
from drinking). I
walked home feeling better about us Americans ... with
our abundance and relative lack of survival worries, we
can afford to be kind.
Easter Sunday, celebrated here today on the Eastern
Orthodox calendar. I’ve been invited to the home of one of our
Ukrainian office workers for an Easter dinner.
April 28 Note
my friends & family in Santa Barbara and other U.S.
Easter here in Ukraine, a few weeks later than in the
states -- the most sacred holiday on the Ukrainian
Orthodox calendar. Fittingly, our finance director from
Texas and I found our way to the Lavra Monastary, the
most sacred center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Crowds of the faithful worshipped outside and inside the
many remaining and restored churches of the monastery,
several of which were demolished by the Germans or the
Soviets (depending on the version you believe) four
months in to the German occupation of WWII. You can't
help but be moved by the resurrected faith, forbidden
during the Soviet era.
been asked to describe just what it is I'm doing here
(hi Betsy!) -- I'll try succinctly. Our project is under
contract with USAID (United States Agency for
International Development) to assist the Ukrainian
government in explaining to the masses various
components of the economic reforms underway (e.g., mass
privatization, housing subsidies, capital markets,
social assistance programs, etc.).
have a crackpot crew of American analysts that review
the reform legislation and decrees, and pass the
information on to the media department (which I head) to
develop segments in our radio and television programs.
We have three weekly television shows on national
television: a news magazine (somewhat like 60
only it's 30), a 15 minute investigative news program,
and a puppet show (a popular format in this part of the
world -- a recent show featured a fisherman ["business"] arguing with the worms
["citizens"] that they need to cooperate to
land the big fish ["foreign investors"] --
it's cute, if not effective). We
have similar programs that air on national radio. A
recent survey shows we're getting results. Some 85% of
the people attribute their understanding of reform
issues to programs they've seen/heard on
television/radio (that's us!)
developing a talk-show/call-in format for TV &
radio, something along the lines of Larry
King/Oprah/Howard Stern. What fun!
biggest challenge is trying to place the topics within
the context of Ukrainian terminology and experience.
They live in quite a different world than Americans’.
Concepts such as individual responsibility, initiative,
inclusion, democratic representation, are not givens
here. But still I'm often impressed by the sprouts of
entrepreneurialism (e.g., a street kiosk video salesman
-- all pirated films, of course -- didn't have the
Russian movie I was looking for, but promised to find me
a copy within two days).
May 1, 1997
spent the day learning the metro system, traversing the
Dnepr, and hanging out on the main drag (Krashatik
Ulitsa). Lots of young people and lively energy. I found
an English movie theater down the street from my home
(currently showing "Spy Hard") that I might
hit tomorrow (my birthday). I also got some great deals
on pirated CDs today (Enya, Beatles, Elton John, Vivaldi,
Bach, Pink Floyd, Santana, Sade and Louis Armstrong).
It's feeling more & more like a home here.
trees all suddenly bloomed today (May Day), and the city
has turned a marvelous shade of green.
May 2, 1997
a two-day holiday celebrating May Day -- the day of the
worker solidarity. That means no work, and a long
four-day weekend, including with my birthday today.
I walked around the town with Igor, our English-savy
cameraman for the puppet show.
He showed me great historic cathedrals, statues
of Shevchenko and city heroes, grave sites of the saints
and city saviors, and shared much of the horrors and
joys he knows of his home city in Kiev.
He has great hopes for a private film school (he
teaches in a state institution about to go belly-up).
Yet, in typical Slavic style, for every ten
suggestions I had on how he might do it, he had twenty
on why it couldn’t be done.
I told him how when I worked in counseling
psychology, whenever I sought out the obstacles between
where someone was and where they wanted to be (economic,
legal, physical, political perhaps), the biggest
obstacle invariably was they didn’t believe they
deserved better. When
you could get passed that, all the other obstacles often
and sometimes quite quickly stepped aside.
I would sometimes simply repeat over & over
the positive affirmation, “You are a good person, and
you deserve better .... you are a good person and you
Seems to me, I told Igor, Ukraine could use some
of the same. For
emphasis, I told him, “This is a great nation and it
deserves better ... this is a great nation and it
Something inside Igor clicked, and for a moment
he seemed to see the point. Perhaps
rather than so many US economists and political analysts
we should send in a few therapists.
more thought, when I was working with thieves, killers,
rapists for the Oregon Department of Corrections, I
learned to lift people up you had to connect with them
wherever they were at. Sometimes that meant reaching awfully low. I still have yet to plumb Ukraine’s depths.
May 9, 1997 Note
I've been quiet for awhile, but the work here is so
intense it's swallowing every bit of creative juice in
my shriveling psyche. Every inch of gain requires a mile
of effort (Lord, I've got to climb four flights of
stairs just to get to the office, and another three
flights to drag my weary body and laptop back home).
we are finding some success. I just got approval for
five new puppets for our weekly "kukli" show
(expanding storyline and character possibilities), our
journalists are becoming much more comfortable with the
new concept of independent media, and I think it's
beginning to sink in that bribes aren't the only way to
accomplish your objectives (fine cognac seems to be the
bribe of choice among top government officials).
from the (questionable) successes of the regular work, I
sometimes find other ways to contribute, to my own
my tired fingers are ready to stick a frozen fish fillet
in the nuker. Speaking of which, I'm off to Chernobyl
next week with a video crew for an update on what's
happening with assistance programs for the
100s-of-thousands sickened by the fallout. The decaying
sarcophagus is supposedly simmering, ready for another
(and more deadly) blow. Stay tuned for news.
May 10, 1997 from Michele
It sounds as though you're being most successful.
5 new puppets should expand possibilities greatly.
And you've not been
one mode so long that you get tangled in the "What
is" and get blinded to
"What could be".
more puppets to add to the "What can be"
sounds like heaven.
It also sounds as though you are finding ways to
give gifts that will last a lifetime.
Those boys will remember that gift long after they
forget a lot of other events.
I so enjoy your letters!
You're doing all this for (with?) the inspiration
your heart is as big as the sky (who said that
s/he know you?)
May 10, 1997
a popular fable here of Katarina, a Ukrainian peasant
girl seduced, impregnated & abandoned by a Russian
soldier (story by Shevchenko as a metaphor for Russia's
rape of Ukraine -- of course he was sent to prison for
sedition). I feel a little of Katarina's soul in any
Ukrainian woman I'm lucky enough to find reason to hug
here (the doubts & worries of betrayal -- well
justified, I fear).
May 11, 1997
weekend picnic with our Ukrainian staff left me better
acquainted with some of their stories: Ludmilla’s
father gave up the priesthood during Stalin’s purges
and pursued a safer career as a teacher. Not soon
enough, it seems -- he was still taken to die in a
Siberian gulag. Ludmilla no longer believes in God &
television manager Tatyana’s
husband was one of the first photo-journalists at
Chernobyl after the meltdown. He died from radiation
exposure some painful months later.
father was hijacked by off-duty police officers who
stole his car, and left him dead and buried in the rural
followed the father’s ID to Valentine’s home, found
his grandmother & her friend there, killed the
grandma and left the friend near dead.
This was the scene Valentine found, but no sign
of his father. He
later saw his dad’s car being driven in the city,
& followed it to the killers’ hangout, &
notified the police.
The killers led them to where the father was
buried in the melting snow.
our TV assistant, was nearly beaten to death leaving a
public toilet after a late night’s editing.
The doctors had written him off as dead, and if
Tatyana had not interceded with the Minister of Health,
he would not have received his life-saving surgery.
Tatyana still reminds him to use the bathroom
before he leaves the office.
tells me with tears in her eyes how hard she is trying
to send her sick child to a health sanitarium. “All
our children are sick,” she says, a statement
well-supported by the stats (diphtheria, syphilis, AIDS,
radiation exposure ...)
I have the feeling our hiring manager has a soft
spot for hardships and orphans.
How could we have wound up with so many sad
I just don’t want to hear any more.
May 18, 1997
balance I'm trying to find is how to inoculate myself
against the misery, without becoming indifferent to it.
Some charming moments do happen, like yesterday -- the
old woman who was so thrilled when I stopped for a
moment and let her sniff the bouquet of blossoms in my
fist. Or the two young pretty college girls who giggled
and called me a "fantasy man" as I shared some
stories about Santa Barbara and a quick English lesson
sitting by a fountain on Kreshatic.
recall the words, "It’s easy to die for a cause;
the challenge is to live for one."
May 22, 1997
they do better in Ukraine: soap (it lathers and lasts
and lasts); doors (your home locks like a vault); water
heaters (when you have one -- it heats water as you need
it for an unlimited supply); candy, cakes & torts
(yum!); music (soulful & real); churches (these
people are true believers); women (graceful heart-wrenchers);
metros (efficient works of art); pillows (huge &
soft); monuments (they really mean something larger than
life -- usually carnage); poetry (their national heroes
are poets); parties (people say just what’s on their
mind -- “small talk ... what’s that?”); lunch (a
two-hour social affair); movies (no previews & no
commercials); street markets (exciting commerce);
friendships (their true national wealth); lovers
(passionate & erotic); lights & lamps
(functional with a flair); toilets (man do they flush --
but bring your own paper); television (the SECAM format
gives a high-resolution picture if you can make out the
English beneath the bad dubs); Obolon Kievski beer (sure
beats Bud); architecture (design for design’s sake);
time (the days seem to never end, but so does the work).
Others (per Teri Rucker): Street musicians (our
betters are in studios & clubs); surprise factors
(you never know what’s going to happen);
contradictions and juxtapositions (5 foot tall old
ladies & 6’3” young girls); how well they make
something fun out of nothing even in their misery (empty
holidays, a few balloons and some bread).
May 24, 1997
Note to Michele
I haven't been more chatty, but some of the problems
here are weighing heavily, and most of my (limited)
brainpower has been directed thither. I fear (at least
today) for the integrity of my work, and sometimes my
own safety as I challenge certain forces which don't
like to be challenged. It's all coming to a head in the
next week or so.
miss some of the great ideals and clarity I (thought I)
had so many years ago. As my head gets filled more with
practical learning & "wisdom," it clutters
my mind way too much. Great thoughts need lots of room
to bounce around the skull, I think. I also tend to
qualify way too many ideas I used to speak of with so
much surety. Maybe it's simply relinquishing my youthful
arrogance (e.g., "compromise with what's wrong is
simply admitting defeat" and "belief is for
the timid, truth is for the pure & brave
hearted"). Or maybe it's my older arrogance that
assumes such truth can’t reside in the human heart,
our soiled hearts. Or my soiled human heart, anyway.
secrets, I used to believe (or held as truth) --
"Sorry I can't hear your evasions when everything
you are is screaming at me." I'm now surrounded by
so many secrets and screaming evasions it's hard to find
a quiet spot anywhere. Maybe it's a good thing I don't
see more of the secrets -- if I had more clarity, I'd
probably run from here screaming myself. So many
horrors! So much of it our own American brand of
imported corruption. More than for myself, I fear for
these people, and our own American soul. We, the great
beacon of hope. Ha!
US Ambassador read some words from Lincoln at a
Ukrainian symphony performance the other night: "It
is the eternal struggle between two principles"
-- (principalities?) -- "right and wrong
throughout the world. It is the same spirit that says,
'You toil and work and earn bread -- and I'll eat it.'
No matter in what shape it comes, whether from
the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of
his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or
from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another
race, it is the same tyrannical principle."
we believe that? Do we hold that as truth? Did we ever?
used to know of the white magical forces aligning with
the pure heart. My biggest challenge now is to find that
realignment, and to ensure my heart is worthy. What an
opportunity here. I want to be up to it. Perhaps my
primary fear is that I won't.
May 25, 1997 Note
write of ideals and "realities" (I remember
hating it when some macho guy would say, the real truth
is, or in the real world).
And you write of personal safety and integrity
and challenges. I
worry about you.
think maybe truths are both simple, and not, and that
black and white is nice, but grey seems more descriptive
because perceptions affect how we define colors.
But doubt not your intuitions - they are true.
white magical forces align with your heart.
You are where you are because of your beliefs,
your intelligence and your strength. Worthy with intent
and with purpose, and mistakes are allowed.
affirmation: I am whole, I am beautiful, and I am human: fuckups allowed!
Hugs - Michele
May 25, 1997
Note to Sue
sure they spy on us. I'd be disappointed if they didn't.
Can you imagine a group of Russian
"consultants" in our own country, claiming to
be working for the good of the American people, and we
wouldn't take an intelligence interest in that? The main
difference is our spies are bumblingly incompetent (we
have a hard time tracking down spies in our own CIA
headquarters, let alone on dark street corners) -- these
guys here have it down cold. (Say hi to the nice people,
Sue.) They are smart and efficient. They keep our basic
needs met, so we will stick around so they can spy on us
even more. And spies on the whole are a fairly likable
lot -- it must be part of the job description. Actually,
I'm glad they're watching.
1) It makes me
feel safer -- the streets here can be dangerous.
2) It's good to
know SOMEBODY here cares about what I say.
see that I'm actually here to help. Maybe we can become
friends. Maybe we can just sit down and share some
straight talk over tea & torts. I really do like
these people. This is such a remarkable part of the
world with so much potential. They deserve much better
than they've got now, and I hope they find it. Once they
make their own take on the 21st century and the
evolution of workable social systems, they will have
much to offer all the rest of us -- at least those of us
struggling to find a way to raise humanity from the
May 25, 1997
Note to Betsy
fun to watch these Harvard
shock-therapy-people-be-damned geeks scramble! I was at
a Jeffrey Sachs press conference the other week. Not a
word about how much pain he expects the people to
endure, which is considerable. I, because of my
low-profile position, was not able to ask. And now some
Harvard "expert" has a financial stake in the
shock-therapy treatment. Perfect.
May 31, 1997
Note to Home
work in Kiev is a constant trial, but once in awhile it
coughs up a treat:
are working with one of the top Ukrainian pop singers -
Ani Lorak - to produce a video targeting teens with a
musical message supporting economic reforms. She's an
18-year old songbird, with a powerful & passionate
voice something like Whitney Houston. Ani is signing a
contract with an American recording company, I believe
she'll be a star in the States. My boss asked me to
write English lyrics to the Ukrainian music video she's
shooting with us, and help her with the pronunciation.
We spent a long session together working on the tune.
What a thrill to hear my words in her sweet voice! The
lyrics are along the lines of casting her soul on the
breeze of freedom, in a season of the wind blowing for
those brave enough to fly. Can you believe I get paid to
I accepted an invitation to be a guest speaker at a
conference of reporters, journalism professors, and
government flacks involved in global communications. It
went well, and after my talk a few deans of journalism
programs throughout Ukraine asked if I would give a
similar presentation to their students around the
country. Fortunately, such outreach is part of my job
description. I don't know if I really have anything all
that profound to say, but these educators -- only
earning some $100 a month with very limited academic
resources -- are eager for anything that might help add
to their program. What's more, one of the professors
heads the dissertation committee for the University of
Kiev Institute of Journalism, and invited me to submit a
36-page article on developments in Western news media
for an academic journal, and he'll consider it as a
doctoral dissertation. Dr. Steve -- that's an offer too
good to refuse.
rains have rolled back into Ukraine. The grey skies
remind me of Santa Barbara summertime on the Mesa and
its daily overcast, the fog line ending somewhere just
beyond my house. Throughout June, July & August I
just take it on faith that the Pacific & Channel
Islands are still there. I try to keep that in mind here
-- that somewhere in this grey muddle is something quite
beautiful, and someday the fog will lift.
June 8, 1997
Note to Home
just getting back up from some exotic bug or other that
flattened me for the last two days. Lots & lots of
sleep -- maybe that's what I really needed. The misery
of this place really eats at me sometimes. Seems every
story I hear is even sadder than the last. It's time for
me to take a trip home (June 23 - July 5). Just in time,
believe suffering is like a gas: it disperses evenly
throughout the volume that contains it. So sadness fills
a soul. It's difficult to measure degrees of pain
(whether it's the loss of a loved one to radiation
sickness, or the loss of a job in Santa Barbara).
Suffering is suffering; unhappiness is
unhappiness. Perhaps the difference is in the level of
toxicity to those in proximity. It often just overwhelms
me here. Platitudes like "Everything will be
OK" ring quite hollow when the glaring reply is,
"Oh yeah? Tell it to the 14-million murdered and
buried in our earth still wet with their blood!"
June 10, 1997
I worked the audience of professional Ukrainian
journalists, attending summer courses at the Kiev
University Institute of Journalism.
It took at least 30 minutes of discussion to
start breaking down the barriers.
It helped that the professor had either lazily or
judiciously left the room at the start of my talk.
“Do you know how dangerous it is here for
journalists?” one student finally asked.
I have met reporters here who have been beaten
for simply seeking the truth, I told them.
What it does to the broken journalist is of
The chill that descends on all other journalists
is the true horror.
They skeptically accepted my assurances that we
elsewhere in the world do hear about such abuses, and
that we do care. “Why
should that matter?” one asked. Because such tyranny
cannot stand up long to the light of world awareness.
And because I want so much to believe that this
is true. What
would you like me to tell my colleagues back home about
let them know we’re here.”
And that we’re being beaten, went unspoken.
perked up as we discussed ways to address the perversion
of the powers of press freedom, the media’s
sensationalistic glorification of society’s rubbish
that Solzhinitsyn says “soils our immortal souls... we
have the right of freedom FROM the press.”
How do we address this without relying on
censorship or government controls?
They were especially interested in learning about
the Santa Barbara Media Committee, and how we seek to
encourage responsible journalism by simply recognizing
and rewarding in our small way the reporters and editors
that live up to the highest standards of their
by raising the desires of the media consumer, you raise
the performance of the media marketers.
when I responded to a question on how to become a
First, try to stay alive (laugh).
Then, if you can accomplish the magic of
transmitting a feeling from your heart, through your
head, through your words, through your medium (print or
broadcast), into the head of your audience, then finally
into their hearts, if you can complete that mysterious
communication circuit, then you will be a star.
one cynical soul asked if I was in Ukraine simply to
watch them in their suffering as some rabbits in an
responded, I don’t see them as rabbits, but as heroes
working in horrendous circumstances to help bring about
the rebirth of their nation.
And I predicted that in ten years, perhaps some
of them would come to America to lecture us on how they
covered Ukraine’s rebirth, and how they wrote the
first “rough draft” of their new nation’s history.
In ten years, America will likely be facing its
own rebirthing issues.
It was an honor, truly, to be able to share such
thoughts with such people.
I told them so.
June 14, 1997
Note to Home
heading home (yippee!) for a quick trip to take care of
taxes, catch a Media Committee meeting, read mounds of
mail, kayak, swing in my hammock, check on the nesting
starlings in my attic, sleep in a real bed, eat Taco
Bell, walk the beach, dry clean jackets, buy new socks
& other treasure supplies, see movies in English,
and generally just rest up before I return to Kiev for a
major overhaul of our TV & radio programs for an all
new "Fall Premier."
all goes right, I'll be on the plane Saturday June 21,
arriving in SB the same day afternoon (the flight west
is very time-zone friendly -- though I'll be enroute for
20 hours or so, I'll land in Santa Barbara just some 7
hours clock-time after I leave). The sun never sets
heading home. (That sounds like a great book title ...)
must be the most resonant word in English. So much said
in just four letters.
(also a well-packed four-letter word),
July 4, 1997 Note
off to spend my final full day here on a boat ride over
to the Islands, with a visit to migrating whales and
dolphins. I miss the sea most of all in land-locked
Kiev, perhaps this will sate me. Funny though, I keep
referring to my trip back to Ukraine as heading
enjoyed a drive through the Santa Ynez valley the other
day, the area I spent much of my growing-up time. I
could still hear the mountain spirits in my mind, from
the summits, recollected from infant years when my ears
were still opened to those whispers.
United States is pretty much as I left it, perhaps the
bullshit even more evident compared to the
straight-ahead communication style of the Ukrainians
(they have little time & energy for small-talk in
their survival mode). That, and how much of our social
foundation is based on misery. Why must we maintain such
a vested economic interest in human suffering? Law,
drugs, heathcare, religion, insurance, news, social
services ... we have such a financial stake in misery,
what incentive do we have to pursue happiness? Do you
think we could ever find an economic system that
penalizes misery and rewards joy?
in Kiev, Monday,
July 7, 1997 Note
By now you are home, and hopefully over the worst
of the jet lag.
like your trip back to S.B. was what you needed -
touching that part of
the States that is real:
ocean, whales, dolphins and that sense of
that is the gift of not being in constant survival mode.
You know, I think that sense of injustice, of
questioning misery, of
understanding the insanity we call economics is one of
the threads of your
soul. It is
woven into your being, and though its form of expression
it is a basic part of your identity.
I like it.
July 26, 1997 Note
so long so quiet, but MOI BOG they've been working me.
Budget changes (increases, actually), television program
enhancements, new radio talk show, additional staff for
my departments - it's all good stuff, but it's sure
swallowed all my free-brain time.
nice plus from my trip home -- the office now looks like
Santa Barbara: people wear the California T-shirts &
hats I brought back, and there are Santa Barbara
postcards posted in just about every cubicle and
weather here is turning to autumn already. The midnight
sunglow from the sky is gone. The day grows bright now
at 5:30 a.m. instead of 4:00, and the birds outside my
window are moving south. I don't have to water my
balcony flowers as often.
brought back lots of books (classical lit, language and
even law books). As soon as the winter freeze really
hits, I promise myself I'm going to expand my mind.
That's the big plan anyway. When winter hit Moscow I
economically, psychologically, the country still spirals
down. But the downward momentum seems to be slowing. Or
at least mine is, and things look better because of it.
fun I walk the streets and gather curious looks from
people who can spot right away I'm an American (someone
told me it's in my aura). And I hang out with poets on
an online chat site where we play poetry games. Like
"poet tag": someone gives you a topic
("tag - you're it"), and you have to compose
on the spot. The other night my topic was
"toes," and I typed:
Toes, toes, wonderful toes
They point the way
The rest of you goes.
At least it kills some evening time. Unless you drink,
hunt hookers, play slots, or hang out with mafiosi,
there isn't much doing at night.
enough of my tales. Please send some of yours ...
August 25, 1997 Note
I've been mulling your anti-Semitism question;
it's not an easy one to answer with a few throwaway
lines. There is strong anti-Semitism here yet, though it
was interesting at a recent staff party with giveaway
favors, a dreidel was one of the first gifts to
disappear. It's even worse for blacks. Follow any group
of visiting Africans for a bit, and it's not long before
you seem them stopped by the street cops, harassed for
passports & sometime beaten (as was recently the
case when one crossed the road at the wrong place). I
spoke with a Nigerian not too long ago -- he couldn't
wait to get out of the country. You would think a people
as subjugated as the Ukrainians would be more empathetic
with other subjugates, but in the upside-down
through-the-looking-glass world here, it's just not so.
I guess that's not so surprising. Poverty breeds
poverty, ignorance breeds ignorance, and subjugation
breeds subjugation. Perhaps I'll have a more profound
assessment after I've pondered and lived it more.
the upside, the Ukrainians really love dogs. Any dog.
Even the mangy homeless street curs.
sensitivity to misconstrued sentiments (anti-Semitic or
otherwise), we have a group of fervent American
feminists (USAID funded) here in Ukraine to hold
training programs for journalists (that's only *female*
journalists) on how to inject women's issues into news
coverage. This pisses me off on several levels
-- each of
which gets me labeled as anti-women, pro-pig. I resent
it as a journalist that they're coming in here telling
us how to handle our news. I resent it as an American
that this is one more example of an imperialist
imposition of our morality on other nations. I resent it
as a taxpayer that I'm helping to pay for this. I resent
it as a male that it widens the schism between the
sexes. I resent it as a human that this is not moving us
forward. You can't fight hate with hate, and we
shouldn't fight sexism with sexism (as in women-only
seminars). That was the message of ML King, Gandhi,
& Mother Theresa. These 'feminists' strike me somewhat like the
they're losing their US market, so they target the FSU
for new customers. So I say this and I'm a sexist.
Criticize Israel and you're anti-Semitic. It's somewhat
like patriotism: the last refuge of the wrong.
for letting me vent on that. Do I sound grouchy today?
August 28, 1997 Note
many horrors still haunt this country.
I wonder if these people deserve their pain, but then I
think most everyone deserves their pain. Pain can often
be a useful indicator that we are doing something wrong.
But does self-inflicted pain preclude a need for help to
move beyond it? It's a question I ask and try to answer
often. The Catholics believe one cannot be absolved
until one has confessed and truly repented. The Hindus
believe karma exacts its own justice. Dante said,
"Who is more arrogant within his soul, who is more
impious than one who dares to sorrow at God's
judgment?" Others say better to light a tiny candle
than to curse the darkness.
simply try to drag myself out of bed some mornings.
here is very intense right now, but I constantly find
fulfilling moments amid all the frustration and gloom.
It's the little things I take the most pleasure in. A
worker who shows a rare flash of dedication to duty. A
new concept that suddenly registers, and I see them
incorporate it as their own. An instant where our
distant cultures merge and we can share a mutually
understood bit of humor. That stuff makes me happy.
is fast settling in Kiev -- the leaves are turning, the
temperatures are dropping, the rain is falling. Snow
comes in September.
September 7, 1997 Note
been getting notes from home wondering if I'm still
alive or if Chernobyl has blown again or if I've lost my
limbs or some other such silencing mayhem. I must be
really overdue writing. There have been three prime (and
My connections home have been sporadic lately -- our
international lines have gone down for days at a time,
and my Internet link has been equally flaky. It's a
little spooky losing touch with home. But not so near as
bad as it was in 1990 Soviet Russia, when the failing
and falling Communists were then confiscating foreign
journalists' gear (and sometimes confiscating foreign
reporters) in midnight visits. When the phone lines went
dead then, I *really* felt the separation from home.
Lately I've been a little shell-shocked. So many battles
waging: the Ukrainians trying to milk the Americans; the
Americans trying to milk USAID; USAID trying to milk US
taxpayers. And believe me it's a lonely war on each
front. Fortunately my department workers and I are
forming a solid team. They know I'll treat them fairly
and more, and they help keep our media division running
clean. Not easy to do when there's milk, milk, milk
I didn't want to write a long & whiny note like this
final whine: I get to head home in a few weeks.
Unfortunately it's to move out of my lovely home, which
the owners just sold in the middle of a gold-rush on
property in Santa Barbara. The house sold for a
ridiculously high price, which means the buyer will
likely get stuck with the loss once the prices get real
again. So I get to lose my house, spend a couple of
unexpected $-thousands flying back to the US to move, and
give up my scheduled Christmas trip home.
all is not woeful. I really love my Ukrainian workers.
And it's becoming more mutual as they further realize I
don't want to be just another American overlord invading
their homeland. I've been invited several times to
"lecture" journalism students on concepts of
an independent media. I like to sit my chair right in
front of them, and exercise more of a Socratic Q&A
session, which is a rare communication method here.
These (even at the university) are students who still
stand at attention when the professor enters the room,
and sit silent through an hour of monotonous monologue.
More of an indoctrination than education, really. But I
give the professors marks for at least inviting a
counterpoint into their classrooms. It's like they know
their old ways are gone, and rather than admit it by
changing themselves, they at least offer their students
a chance to hear new ideas even as they condemn them.
remodel of the national TV & radio programs for a
"fall premiere" has gone even better than I
hoped. I budgeted $-tens-of-thousands for the producers
to introduce new segments, new graphics, new puppets,
new jingles, new promos, new sets, etc. Not the kind of
thing they're used to getting money for. They are very
creative, and have heretofore accomplished wonders with
next to nothing. You should see how they create a party
with just a few balloons and some string. I'm really
happy over what they've done with this relative budget
bonanza (still peanuts by American broadcast standards).
My only complaint is I have to interrupt this work with
a trip home at such a critical time.
then I'm whining again.
October 21, 1997 Note
to Dick & Betsy
work here is as consuming as ever, though I had fun
stamping out a few fires when I got back. It's good to
dreary afternoon here ... dimmer and dimmer days as
sunrise and sunset meet more in the middle. My friends
here brighten me up (successfully) with their quirky
humor and tasty little snacks (like these sweet little
poppy seed and dough rings I'm munching even as I type,
crumbs in my keyboard).
October 22, 1997 Note
from the winterlands.
gray muddle is settling in, though not quite so bad and
early as Moscow's. Between the winter doldrums, the
hefty workload, and the hectic trip home to move and set
up a new office, I've really let my regular epistles
lapse. The only thing you've truly missed is my whining
about it all.
there have been some wonderful moments. I recently wrote
and produced a television series of economic reform
spots which were well received (a little appreciation
takes me a long way). My workers continue to perform
wonders against horrendous odds. And the reforms here
are really taking root, though the sprouts are still
fragile and the blossoms a long way off (Ukraine is
prime farmland, so I find myself using more and more
agricultural metaphors). McDonald's is opening yet a
third restaurant in Kiev on a lovely river frontage --
the chain's continuing investment is seen by analysts as
a signal of advancing economic/political/social
stability. One of our Ukrainian staff just became McD's
national advertising manager.
fun I've been seeing more of the local sights and
planning additional trips around the continent (airfare
is fairly cheap once you've already crossed the
Atlantic, like a round-trip ticket to London for $500).
I've been teaching my bright-eyed ladyfriend Tanya some
of the subtleties of English -- what a strange language,
when you view it through an outsider's eyes. It's a big
responsibility trying to decide which words are the very
most important for effective communication, while not
overwhelming with too wide of a selection. One recent
lesson with Tanya examined the slight differences
between hug, embrace, cuddle, snuggle, touch, caress and
fondle. It was a fun hands-on demonstration. Next come
adjectives and adverbs ...
some reason they are drilling a big three-inch hole in
the wall directly above where I'm working, so I better
grab the laptop and head for safer corners.
December 22, 1997 Note
really been hibernating in these dark & dreary
winter days (today 18-below Centigrade ... that's about
minus 1 Fahrenheit). Tomorrow it's supposed to drop to
-25 degrees. But the snow is deep and clean, and it sure
beats sloshing through the muddy slush of a few weeks
ago. I've really got to find better ways to keep my ears
covered, though. Almost lost the ears today when I went
to rub them, and nearly broke both off -- icy &
may or may not head off to Spain tomorrow (where it's
about 60 degrees warmer) for a week of driving around
Costa Brava, Barcelona and the French south coast,
depending on a visa problem which may or may not be
fixed by 1:00, just two hours away from our departing
plane. I'm taking my Ukrainian sweetie, who may or may
not be able to get an exit visa. We meet a travel agent
in the morning at the French embassy, who says he can
fix a problem we had with the Spanish embassy (her name
was spelled two different ways on an internal and new
external passport, which is enough to justify a
rejection -- few countries are welcoming Eastern
Europeans these days, least of all the USA). It's a
too-typical situation here. Nothing works very well, and
when it does, it's usually at the very last possible
moment. If and when we fly, it will be on KLM (Dutch
Airlines) -- Air Ukraine has had its share of problems
lately (like this week's crash over Greece killing 70
Internet connection has not worked for weeks, so I have
not been receiving or sending e-mail too regularly. I
hope the problem can be fixed when I get back (if and
when I get to go), so I can send Christmas greetings
(the Orthodox Christmas break here is January 7 &
8). I'm hoping for a quick connection via a sporadic AOL
access number so I can send this off.
goes on -- an inch of gain for every mile of effort.
This is such a difficult land. I hope to have a brighter
outlook after a Spanish respite.
let me wish you happiness & good cheer, and good
things for us all in the fresh year ahead.
January 5, 1998 Note
to Dick & Wendy
so very, very much for the Christmas care package from
home -- it arrived today fairly intact. Tanya (my
Ukrainian sweetie) is especially fond of the biscotti
and butter toffee pretzels. She sends a big "spasibo."
I especially loved the Santa Barbara newspapers. Sorry
about the heavy postage hit. For what it's worth, they
hammered me for yet another 20 kopecks (about 10-cents)
to pick it up (after we were sent to three different
post offices to find the delivery). Of course, customs
rummaged through it quite carefully, and perhaps snagged
one or two of the more tasty items. Perhaps not. Such a
great treat! Let me reciprocate with another dinner on
the town when I come home in March.
never made it to Spain (visa problems), but instead
wound up in Prague, which is more user-friendly to
Eastern Europeans. Actually, I'm glad we did. It's a
beautiful city, and an exciting example of what can be
done with a sincere effort at post-communist
transformation. I'll bring back some photos. While
there, we got to nosh at Planet Hollywood, TGIF
"Fridays," Dunkin' Donuts, KFC, plus a
marvelous assortment of domestic world-class eateries.
Plus they have first-run films (Czech subtitled) -- we
saw "Bean" (a good laugh) and the new 007.
still not sure what's next here. A contract extension,
an early closure, US foreign policy ploys, or ??? Maybe
I'll head to Prague, if I can find similar work there.
The Czechs are a people really trying. The next few
weeks should tell.
I'll tell in a few weeks.
January 11, 1998 Note
in Ukraine goes reluctantly on, today in a gleaming of
fresh snow. Cozied up indoors, I've been pondering some
of the amusing ways our two cultures do certain things
completely the opposite of one-another. Here's a few
funny customs in Ukraine (and most of Eastern Europe,
for that matter) that run counter to ours:
& wedding rings are worn on the right hand, rather
than the left.
- The written
equivalent of "I" (as in "I am") is
used in lower case ("i"), while
"You" is frequently capitalized.
celebrants here are required to throw their own parties,
rather than have parties thrown for them (spending a
good chunk of their pay and day putting together a party
"table" of sweets, fruits, and lots of booze).
bananas from the bottom (which makes sense, really: it's
easier to peel the banana that way, and it gives you a
convenient handle to hold).
- They use
double, triple, even quadruple negatives without
changing the meaning of the sentence (e.g., "I do
not never nowhere work no how").
- When asked,
"How are you?" we Americans will answer,
"Fine, thank you." Their response here is,
"Thank you, fine." (Or, "Thank you, not
too bad" or "Thank you, I'm awful".) The
point is, first they acknowledge the asker before
talking about themselves. It's a rather revealing
contrast, when you think about it.
Orthodox calendar, first they celebrate New Year (with a
tree and gifts), then Christmas (January 6 - kind of an
awkward holiday only recently rehabilitated).
Men often walk
on the inside of the street beside a woman (a European
custom I'm told, dating back to the days when chamber
pots were dumped out of windows).
- Marat, my radio
department manager, offered his suggestion:
"Everything they do in America is right, everything
we do here is wrong."
February 16, 1998
Note to Home
home? I need to remind myself periodically that
“home” is indeed the USA, not this excellent
Ukrainian example of how far a nation can go astray
without some very fundamental values (Democracy, press
freedoms, safe food, water pressure) ...
I just returned from a wonderful long-weekend retreat
with my Tanya to Krakow on the overnight train. Rail is
a great way to travel, I learned -- we stretched out in
a private cabin, munched on our packed sandwiches and
chocolate, and really saw the land as full-dimensioned
and distant, rather than the flat take from an airplane
Polish taxi driver worked as chauffeur for Steven
Spielberg during the shooting of Schindler's List in
Krakow (he had lots of photos to prove it). He pointed
out some of the movie's shooting sites, including the
restaurant scene and the factory. If you saw it, perhaps
you remember how Schindler got in trouble for kissing a
young Jewish girl on her birthday. That woman now works
as a hairdresser at our hotel (“Forum” -- Krakow's
best with a view of the river and the Wawel Palace ...
room service! Satellite CNN broadcasts! Banana splits!
Water pressure!) Still, there is a gloomy air about the
city. You can sure feel the ghosts of pogroms.
of Poland's most noticeable features is the lifestyle
level outside the cities. The village roads are paved,
the farms look well cared for (pride of ownership?), and
the villagers have a light air about them. The contrast
was most obvious as we crossed the border -- one minute
Ukrainian storm-trooper customs goons were rifling
through our stuff (one especially odious thug made a
quick exit when I flashed my diplomatic card -- a USAID
fringe benefit); just a few more kilometers down the
track smiling & polite Polish passport control
officers were welcoming us.
so much for the travelogue. Now back into a work mode.
I'm not too eager to let go of the “on-the-road”
February 24, 1998
finally accomplished at least one of my goals in Ukraine
-- I completed Dante’s Divine Comedy (a three-tome
series of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso corresponding
to the themes of punishment, penance and perfection). I
found in each volume a canto especially significant to
the experience here:
we should not grieve too much at the suffering:
There is no place for pity here. Who is more arrogant
within his soul, who is more impious
than one who dares to sorrow at God’s
(Inferno XX 27)
we should help the unvoiced:
He does for us what men in the world’s
do only for themselves; for who sees a need
and waits a plea, already half refuses.
(Purgatorio XVII 58)
we should be cautious of our dogmatic solutions:
Thus she began: “You dull your own perceptions
with false imaginings and do not grasp
what would be clear but for your preconceptions.
finally, mystically, everything in its place:
Brother, the power of love, which is our
calms all our will. What we desire, we have.
There is in us no other thirst than this.
Were we to wish for any higher sphere,
then our desires would not be in accord
with the high will of Him who wills us here;
and if love is our whole being, and if you weigh
love’s nature well, then you will see that
can have no place among these circles. Nay,
the essence of this blessed state of being
is to hold our will within His will,
whereby our wills are one and all-agreeing.
And so the posts we stand from sill to sill
throughout this realm, please all the realm as
as they please Him who wills us to His will.
In His will is our peace. It is that sea
to which all moves, all that Itself creates
and Nature bears through all Eternity.
February 14, 1998 Note
a small problem: the USAID contractor -- who is also my
"employer" -- has opened up a commercial
office in Kiev. The lines here are becoming quite
blurred on what of our taxpayer supported resources are
being used for USAID purposes, and what are being used
for private-profit ends. I'm trying to help define the
difference and create some boundaries (without seeming
too sanctimonious), but it's becoming increasingly
difficult (an understatement). This is the kind of thing
as a journalist (or Grand Juror) I would hope to expose,
not perpetuate. It's a lonely battle. Of course, our
Ukrainian staff watch us closely so they might learn the
American Way of doing business. This is not a lesson I'm
March 16, 1998 Note
trust you haven't been washed away by all the El Nino
piddling (according to news reports airing here on
satellite, all California is awash and ankle-deep ...
and popular movies at the local theaters have the rest
of America pounded by meteors, or volcanic eruptions, or
tornadoes, or sex scandals, or some such misery). I hope
you're surviving it all.
this side of the sea, we just returned from a quick
weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary. It's a grandiose
city, at least in the old Buda & Pest districts by
the Danube, with castles and cathedrals on the hill, a
pompous Parliament building, and (my favorite) lots of
caves & labyrinths weaving through the subterrain.
You wander too far from the center, and it begins to
look like most every other city in Eastern Europe:
shell-shocked and seedy. Mafia and decay. Hungry (no
pun) for a little TLC. But there's a very real sense of
how great it once was and may yet be (also like most
other EE/FSU states). We ate well, anyway; and the hotel
water pressure was like a fire-hose (very refreshing
after my dribble-shower in Kiev).
hope to head home for a quick visit around April 1. Lots
of hanging out on the beach. And breakfasts. And
lunches. Real salads and Taco Bell and actual mail with
US postage stamps (e-mail just lacks a certain charm).
March 26, 1998
get to make a quick trip home next week. If all the
planes connect (four of them), I should be landing in SB
on Tuesday evening. That's the nice thing about flying
westward: even with six hours of sitting in airports and
lots more hours spent on planes, you still get home the
same day. And the sun never sets. They just keep serving
you lunch over, and over, and over.
have enough time to take care of taxes, make bill
payoffs and pay-aheads, upgrade some computer hardware,
eat Mexican, get a good sunburn, and just about recover
from jet-lag, before it's time to fly back.
the time I return to Kiev, spring should have settled
in. Already the evening snow is melting off earlier in
the day. And the twilight lasts long enough to light my walk
home after work.
April 13, 1998 Note
return to Kiev was held a night in Zurich after some
foul weather delayed our flight. Swissair picked up the
hotel and meal tab, and I walked a bit about the city.
Even got a peek at the Alps once the clouds lifted.
here is like always, though the time-change now sheds
sunlight until 8:00 pm, and the days are shining
evermore into the night (Springtime dusk lasts till near
received word this morning that USAID wants to extend
our contract through August (which means five more
months for me at minimum in Ukraine). I've very mixed
feelings at that news. I'm about done searching out
heroics in high political offices or sweeping social
reform. There is more humanity in the small kindnesses:
the unassuming man slipping a loaf a bread to the
underpass derelict; the young lady herself toppling on
the ice as she helps a freezing drunk back to his feet;
the pensioner sharing her limited food supply with
starving street dogs. These are the people that inspire
me as I trudge the city. Such goodness may not only be
the best salvation, but perhaps the only.
the trees are budding, the birds are singing (too loudly
too early near my pillow-side window), and my
winter-darkness-induced blues are diminishing. Even the
Ukrainians seem to be smiling more. And I still wish I
could do more. Maybe that means I should.
stay tuned for more whiney notes from me (likely) in
April 14, 1998 Note
to Betsy: Majoritarianism vrs. Proportionalism
final election analysis: For the first time, Ukrainians
voted (March 29) under a new election law (passed in
September, 1997) which introduced a mixed majoritarian
and proportional system, in which 225 Rada (Parliament)
deputies are elected in single mandate districts, and
225 from party lists per percentage of votes garnered
(as answered to Wendy's question: do they vote for the
party or the candidate? Both.)
Eight parties passed the 4% barrier for
representation in the Rada: the Communist, Rukh
(reformist), Green Party, Social Democratic Party,
Hromada, Agrarians, National Democratic Party, and the
Socialist/Rural bloc. The communists took the largest
cut: 25% of the votes. The commies now control some 30%
of the Rada seats.
biggest election day problem: the lines were so long
from the strong turnout, many people simply gave up
& went home without voting. At our precinct, the
biggest problem I saw was the crowd blocking the buffet
table prevented buyers from spending their kopeks on a
tasty or two, much to the loud consternation of the
ladies "manning" the table.
April 16, 1998 Note
from John Wiley
toils bring a new perspective and hope of freedom to a
culture, and I believe the feelings in your heart right
far beyond you into history.
to me the better you do at keeping clear on motivations
greater will be your contribution to this
into democratic republics.
Lucid hope might be your most important
April 23, 1998
people are damned because they choose to be.
may be free to choose, but we are not free from choice.
we realize our capacity to choose, we can never go back
to choicelessness. This is maturation.
are spiritually liable for our choices.
There is great power in our choices ... It is not
so important *what* we choose, as *why* we choose, says
April 25, 1998 Note
being recruited for a World Bank public education job in Moscow. It's a one-year
contract, similar to what I'm doing here (producing TV,
radio & print campaigns on rule-of-law). Lots of
questions & issues; I'll spare you most the details.
Primarily, I don't want to leave my department workers
in a void. And I've just been given additional
programming latitude here beyond our boring USAID Task
Order requirements of Capital Markets, Privatization,
Deregulation, Tax Reform, etc., so we can now produce
more personal-empowerment/self-help kinds of stories on,
e.g., how to conduct a job interview, how to feed
families nutritious meals on $10 a week, self-esteem
building, etc. But still pondering a move ...
had a dream last night about returning to Moscow -- a
reinvigorated city stocked with consumer goods, street
lights (in Soviet times they only turned up the lights
once or twice a year, like on Revolution Day; a
remarkably beautiful city when lit so), Taco Bells ... I
hear you can now even get touch-tone phone service on
fiber optic lines.
is still using this horrendous pulse phone system that
causes countless wrong numbers, too often ringing my
phone at all sleeping hours of the night. I've shut my
bell off because of that.
after a year here, I'm becoming remarkably Ukrainian in
my ability to cynically shrug away such inconveniences.
I heard an adage the other day I like: "Ukraine is
the land of forever green tomatoes" (coined by
Odessa writer Mikhail Zhivonetsky). The more I think
about it, the more it sums up the general state of
affairs. Events unfold to a certain immature stage, then
resolutely stop. I told one local how in the US we
sometimes ship our tomatoes green, but before putting
them on the market, we gas them red. Hmmmm...
April 26, 1998
remember a lecture in my physics class, where professor
Amit Goswami was explaining the effects of gravity
body and motion generates gravitational influences,
however infinitesimal, on the farthest reaches of the
I know for sure: our psychic and spiritual motions also
have a universal impact. Everything we do, think and say matters. This is a great responsibility, also a tremendous
May 4, 1998 Note
just got back in (7:00 train this morning) from my
birthday weekend getaway to Moscow. I haven't been back
since 1994, and even then it was just a quick
pass-through. What a contrast to my "home
city" of 1989-90 ... McLeninland incarnate and
the three-story underground shopping mall on Manezh
Square at the Kremlin's gate; refurbished, replicated,
neon-enhanced Soviet & Orthodox monuments; friendly
Red Square militsia (who struck me more as Disney
ticket-takers than the old Red Guard).
it was May Day, a few-thousand ragtag Communists paraded
about waving flags and slogans, though grossly
outnumbered by the mall shoppers and bemused tourists.
("Death to the bourgeoisie" we could hear from
our quite bourgeois room at the Metropol Hotel.) The
demonstrators were actually a great photographers' draw
... if they had charged $5-a-pop for a photo-op with an
authentic commie, they could have made a bundle. So out
with a whimper goes the socialist ideal. Marxist
aphorisms just can't compete against coupons for a free
beer with lunch at the fluorescent plastic restaurants.
The "New Russians" buy from the jewelry,
cosmetic and fur stores; the still impoverished
"Old Russians" enjoy an affordable scoop of
can remember my Muscovite friends near a decade ago
bemoaning that such a shoppers paradise would never
NEVER happen in Russia. (It's hard to be too happy they
were so wrong.) One thing about the Russians, though,
even as they scarcely believed the possibility, they
never doubted they deserved it. Maybe that's why the
reformers finally found their way: frustrated public
desserts make for an unstable social sauce.
how in current-day Kiev you can still hear the old
refrain again, "It will never, NEVER happen
here." The main difference from the Russian
framework though: the Kievites seem *not* to believe
they deserve better.
strikes me so much as the "battered woman"
syndrome: they've been beaten down and subjugated so
long (some 350 years), their demolished sense of
self-worth and strangled voice keeps them meek, and --
almost lovingly -- returning home to the strong hand
that ruled them with an (at least familiar) clenched
fist. Maybe instead of sending in so many economists and
political pundits, the West should ship in a force of
it's fun to be 40 and wondering what the next bi-decade
8, 1998 Note
knew I had seen it somewhere; after a bit of a hunt, I
found it in Article 14 of the 1977 Constitution of the
state exercises control over the measure of labour and
of consumption in accordance with the principle of
socialism: "From each according to his ability, to
each according to his work."
little reworking by the editorial committee, perhaps?
June 14, 1998
Note to Betsy
an interesting side street down by the KGGA building
today (the Interior Security Safeguard Agency --- rather
interesting ominous building with lots of video cameras
following our steps), and wound up in an ancient but
well-kept home/museum of Taras Shevchenko -- worth every
two grivna to walk through and see where he wrote, which
room he was arrested in, his clothing, his paints, his
"to-do" notes & etc. The dozen or so old
ladies working there seemed surprised to have actual
visitors, and shepherded us from room to room.
June 23, 1998
Note to Betsy
to swing a visa for Tanya my next trip -- lots of fun at
the US embassy today. I stood in line with Tanya for two
hours so I could get a taste of the emigrant experience.
So many hopeful faces. Wouldn't it be nice if we could
see America with their wonder? Nicer still if America
were as wonderful as they hope.
June 24, 1998
Note to Betsy
What kind of a visa? When? Lots of luck!!! >>
for the luck wish. It worked. Out of the hundred or so
that applied in our line yesterday, they issued a
handful of visas today. Tanya's was one. Maybe they were
touched by the honesty: a simple note saying I'm heading
home for two weeks, and I'd like to take Tanya there and
back (as compared to some of the elaborate ploys people
use to get visas).
the LAX Delta flight arrives at 2:00 a.m. with no SB
flight till morning, I'm thinking of entering the US in
Las Vegas (must be easier customs & immigration),
spending a nite or two, and flying direct to SB from
there. Tanya loves bright lights (compared to dim Kiev).
She's like a child at Christmas today ... only more so.
Nice to see, warm to bask.
August 24, 1998
Note to Home
so long so quiet, but we've been so preoccupied. I'm now
using "we" because "we" (Tanya and
I) got married about a month ago. (After 40 years of
using "I" it's a bit of an adjustment getting
used to the "we" pronoun.)
was one of the fortunate few Ukrainians able to get a
tourist visa to the United States (hundreds apply -- and
pay the $45 application fee -- only a handful get one).
We had a layover in Las Vegas, found out how easy it was
to get married there (only a 20 minute wait for a
license), and so did at our hotel chapel in the
Excalibur. It's an idea we'd been kicking around,
somewhat put off by the weeks/months of hassle in
Ukraine to weave through the bureaucracy. Vegas was a
breeze. I've attached a wedding picture, if you're
configured to read such things.
was Tanya's first trip to the US, and the first-stop
bright lights of Vegas dazzled her, understandably.
Nothing like that in all of the former Soviet states,
for sure. She quickly figured out all the glitz was just
a great seduction to the omnipresent casinos parting the
people from their money. She loved more the drive to Red
Rock in the nearby Nevada desert. And when we were the only two passengers on the
early morning shuttle flight from LAX to Santa Barbara
(with our own private attendant), giving Tanya the
impression that all American’s travel in such
was a quick trip home in and out, with long overdue
visits with my family (my sister and niece joining us in
Las Vegas from Arizona for the wedding, and a drive up
to Oregon to introduce my mother). Sorry I wasn't able
to contact you and many other overlooked loved ones
during our stay, but we were just so rushed, no more
than a day stay in most stops. Next time in will be more
of our itinerary (to give Tanya a first impression of
the Land-of-Oz America):
Vegas, Santa Barbara, Madonna Inn, Pismo Beach/Morro
Bay, Highway 1 up the California Coast, Big Sur, Carmel,
San Francisco, the Redwood Forest, Oregon, Disneyland,
Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive ... and lots of
shops, restaurants and motels along the way. What fun to
see home through a foreigner's eyes. We are such a
golden society, too often taken for granted.
hard as it is for me sometimes to get back on the plane
"home" to Kiev, it was so much sadder this
time to bring Tanya back. She'd only begun to taste the
American buffet. We've started the immigration process
(a pile of paperwork ... the US has really drawn in the
"welcome" mat). Maybe we'll have her
immigration visa in time for a Christmas trip home. Even
though I plan to be working in Ukraine for another year,
spouses are unable to travel on a tourism visa. She can
only travel on an immigration visa, whether we plan to
migrate now or not.
current USAID work contract expires on September 20, and
five or so companies have applied to carry on with a new
1-to-3 year contract. Of the five (including my present
employer), three have asked if I'd stay on if they won
the bid. If it works out, I'll stay an extra year and
finish up what I've begun, obtain Tanya's visa, and try
to position myself for some kind of related work back in
the meantime, I'm polishing my Russian and Ukrainian
skills, helping Tanya master English (American movies
are a great teaching tool), and doing whatever I can to
make any kind of contribution to the overwhelming
reconstruction of Ukraine. Our radio and television
programs are doing great, reaching larger audiences than
ever (around 10-million Ukrainians each week on National
Television and National Radio). This country has all the
brains and resources it needs, now it just needs the
mindset that good things can happen here, too. That, I'm
afraid, is the toughest obstacle of all.
is Independence Day in Ukraine (celebrated much like our
Fourth of July, with more of a military flair). We're
off to see the sights.
September 8, 1998
those watching the currency crisis in Russia (the
ruble-to-dollar exchange rate today is more than 20-1,
compared to 6-1 one month ago), here's the hryvna-to-dollar
rate today in Kiev: 2.6 to 1, compared to about 2.25-1 a
month ago. The Ukrainian currency is holding its own,
though the rate is pegged to rise as high as 3.5-to-1
(under a newly expanded "currency corridor").
This economic "stability" has been fortified
by a IMF credit to Ukraine of $2.2 billion last
the good news.
bad news is 25.9-million Ukrainians (51.4 percent of the
population) are earning less than the minimum welfare
level of Hr73.7 per month (about $28.34), according to
the State Statistics Committee figures for the second
quarter of 1998. Only 3.5 percent of the population
earns Hr200-300 per month, and only 1.3 percent earns
more than Hr300. The balance of Ukrainians (69.3
percent) earns more than Hr73.7 and less than Hr200 per
month. The average monthly income per Ukrainian is
Hr101.89 in urban areas (about $40), and Hr51.1 (about
$20) for rural residents.
course these official figures don't account for all the
bartering and undisclosed income, like pensioners
selling farm eggs and milk on street corners.
modest lunch for two at McDonalds runs about Hr18
(around $7), featuring cheeseburgers, fries, juice and
fruit pies (deep-fried & tasty like they used to do
in the US).
September 10, 1998
interesting news items today from Eastern Europe:
Russian architect remarks on the ruble crisis: "You
call this a crisis?
When it's 40-degrees below zero, and the heat is
off, and you have to saw a hole in the Moscow River to
get water, and the enemy is just 5 kilometers outside
the city, you can call THAT a crisis!"
(is this a hint?) in a district not far from Kyiv, the
government has been unable to pay pensioners their due,
so offered instead coffins and headstones from a local
plant that bartered the items for its back taxes.
September 19, 1998
we're now paying our Ukrainian staff in dollars, it's
interesting how some of them sit hungry at lunchtime
with hundreds of dollars in their wallets, because
they're afraid to exchange their hard currency for
grivnas, since one day's change in the unpredictable
exchange rate could cost them 20 or more grivna. Hundred
dollar bills are common enough, but it's hard to get 20s
and smaller denominations. So the choice is exchange the
full 100 dollar bill, or sit on it, without enough
grivnas in their pockets to even buy a 3-grivna lunch.
29, 1998 Note
big news: they've now made me director for the entire
project (beyond and still including my directorship of
the media programs). The downside is I'm now the only
American on staff doing all the managerial chores that
had earlier been divided between seven ex-pats, and yet
three other Russian managers (also now gone). I don't
know if it's a vote of confidence, or a sucker's
assignment, but I'm plugging away at it.
5, 1998 Note
What's up with you, out of town?
the sole managerial responsibility for a 40-Ukrainian
staff, a pile of petty messes to clean up from my
predecessors, extension budget allotments to calculate,
a September report and October-November plans due to
USAID tomorrow (a weekend full of work), a mandatory
full-day USAID retreat chewing up my Friday
(surprisingly interesting and productive), a meeting
with USAID sector managers on Thursday (somewhat akin to
an inquisition), and the daily chores of getting our
programs on the air and in print -- I've got a 7-day
cold that just won't let go. Not that I'm whining (I
really loathe whining -- so much wasted energy that
should be spent fixing problems). But thanks for letting
me vent. That's what you get for asking. I would really
feel silly complaining to the Ukrainians about how hard
*my* life is.
should get a trip out of here by December (once I add up
my tax exempt days -- no more than 36 in the US in a
given tax year). We may have to settle for Spain.
got a complete package of materials together (after a
couple of Fed-Ex packages from the states) for Tanya's
immigration visa. They sure make you work for it.
Everything's done now except for an interview in Warsaw
sometime in the next month or so, just a routine motion,
16, 1998 Note
is homesickness like for you? What do you miss? What
aches in its absence?>>
is a surprisingly hard question to answer. Easy to throw
off superficials like refried beans, clean water,
English bookstores, good movies. But that can't be it --
I vacillate too much between missing everything and
missing nothing. My first thought is I ache from the
absence of absence, those days at a time when I did not
have to do anything, think about anything, feel driven
to be doing something (in the face of so much to be
done). This is not such a matter of place, as it is of
position. What I really need is a month vacation of
doing nothing. That could well be coming up soon, as our
contract wraps November 30. Still no word from USAID on
what's beyond that.
25, 1998 Note
contract may yet be renewed by USAID, but I'm not so
sure they will stick with us, or if I would want to stay
under the new conditions: lower operating budget,
greater political agendas, a new emphasis on
Ukrainian-American management (however PC that might be,
the people most critical of selecting management based
on Ukrainian heritage are the Ukrainians themselves:
they resent the fact that American managers would be
selected based on their Ukrainian ancestry, rather than
their best ability to contribute; plus there is some
undercurrent of resentment -- perhaps that Slavic
jealousy thing, or a mistrust of Ukrainians returning
home as saviors who first bailed out when things got
goal? Extended periods of peace and reflection, with
sporadic moments of productive activity. I enjoy public
affairs/educational programming. There are opportunities
for various such USAID projects (more and more involving
public education components); short-term contracts
designing media programs (program format, broadcast
agreements, selecting local staff/journalists). Not
exactly pure journalism (if such a thing exists), but
interesting and fairly well-paid. Plus all-expense
travel. Not so different from what we all want, I
suppose: a comfortable life with a sense of purpose. You
see anything suitable in that area, please do let me
know (if you don't snag it first, of course).
have not really experienced Gershwin until you've seen
Porgy & Bess performed by the actors of the Kiev
State Opera Theater in black-face and afro wigs, singing
in Ukrainian such show stoppers as Summertime,
and Porgy I'se
Your Woman Now.
was our treat last night at the neighborhood opera
house. Such wonders only a three-minute walk from our
door, at only 5 grivna a ticket (about $1.25). What have
I got to complain about?
12, 1998 Note
on the visa front: seems our application got lost
somewhere in the State Department diplomatic pouch
shuffle from Kiev-to-DC-to-Warsaw -- and, if it doesn't
turn up soon (it's already been six weeks for a delivery
that normally takes two), they say we'll have to reapply
all over again!!
At some point, I may try to involve a
congresswoman or Senator (all my national reps are
two feet of snow yesterday in Kiev. And the temps today
are predicted to start dropping to around 15-minus
surprises me is not that we see so much corruption here
given the stained history of this strange land, but that
there are so many sparks of decency and honesty.
example, I gave a hefty tip to a sandwich delivery boy
who made his way to our door on snowbound streets (about
ten grivna on a 20 grivna sub -- or a $3 tip), who
counted the funds halfway down the stairs and came back
to see if I'd made a mistake.
the hairstylist that refused a tip, saying the best
bonus for her would be if we came back again. That may
not sound so unusual to we Westerners used to a
service-oriented economy, but in Ukraine this rare
attitude really shines.
the book I loaned to my secretary on alternative health
tips (the only affordable health care here is self-help)
-- she constructed her own little book cover to keep the
book in pristine condition, and returned it looking
unread. (I then gave it back to her as a gift.)
the taxi driver, low-paid and lowly, who declines to
shaft me with the typical hiked rate for an obvious
American (usually double the going fare), and drives me
across town (and Kiev is a big city) for about a buck.
the pensioner living on $15 a month who still stops to
buy a sausage for a starving street dog (thousands roam
the city -- some "entrepreneurs" round them up
to make cheap leather goods -- dogs, that is, not
makes me feel the best about my work, and increases my
efficacy and palatability with the Ukrainians, is when I
see myself not as an omniscient source of hegemonic
know-how, but rather as a conduit for the flowing
goodwill and generosity of (some of) the American
people. We are, I believe for the most part, a decent
nation. I know I'm slipping from that when my successes
dwindle and Ukrainians rankle.
20, 1998 Note
to Sister Sue
here in Kiev -- our contract was extended another year
with an option for two more. I've been managing the
program all by myself since September (our Texan ex-CFO
used to say managing our staff of 40 Ukrainians is like
herding cats -- only less controllable). I've
semi-promised to stick it out another six months, while
we're waiting for Tanya's visa to be processed in
Warsaw. Things are moving along with that.
December 25, 1998
Note to Home
dear Ukrainian staff welcomed me this morning with music
on tape of American Christmas songs (I'm not sure how
they found it ... Christmas was only rehabilitated here
in 1990 and they haven't quite figured out yet just how
to celebrate it let alone our own icons of Rudolph,
Frosty and babes-in-a-manger. They put their gifts under
the "yolka" tree for New Years, with a
December 31 visit by "Ded Moroz" -- the Slavic
Santa Clause. Their own Christmas falls on the Orthodox
January 7, marked primarily with a visit to church and a
day off from work). Then they all huddled around and
presented me with good wishes, a lovely Christmas
candle-basket, and a special mug of coffee on a
poinsettia-red doily. They are so sweet, so concerned
how unhappy I must be as the only-remaining-American in
Kiev for the holiday. I hope they saw in spite of my
failing words how much they mean to me.
my lovely wife, also served me up a special Christmas
Eve treat of Ukrainian tort and a gift we placed under
our own yolka to open on New Year's. Everything she
knows about American-style Christmas she's learned from
watching movies. Maybe next year she can see it for
herself. Oy. The Ukrainians -- in their poverty spared
the consumer-excesses of the American holiday orgy --
settle instead for simple expressions of kindness and
good spirit. And they're the richer for it.
back from Warsaw (think of an upscale Kiev: obviously
shell-shocked but on a definite upturn. More on that
later). Good news is Tanya got her immigration/permanent
resident/green card papers. Once we make it through INS
review at LAX she's home (so to speak) free.
got grounded in Warsaw for an extra day due to bad
weather in Kiev, so we took in more of the sights.
Though the people seem lighter, the neons are brighter,
and the reforms are tighter, it still takes no guess to
figure you are very much in Eastern Europe. The extremes
of new Poles versus forgotten Poles are as pronounced as
in Ukraine, though the percentage of the former is a
much higher number. There were some police-suppressed
farmer protests during our stay reported on CNN. No
blood that I could see. Plenty of Western investment
evident – a good sign. I liked the Old City section,
even if it is a Disneyish reconstruction of the
war-ravaged past. (That's what I love so much about
Prague – the
wars pretty much passed them by and left the old city
just got back from two weeks in the US –
highlights: Magic Mountain, Universal Studios
with a spectacular nighttime view from the nearby
Hilton, Hollywood Blvd, taping of the Tonight Show,
Santa Barbara beach walks, and a permanent resident
visa/green card for Tanya. As crazy as things are here,
it's all mitigated knowing at any second we can *both*
get on a plane out (weather, tickets and customs control
1, 1999 Note
still wintering away in Kiev -- hasn't been too bad this
year. Some snow, some ice, some dark freezing nights,
some power & water outages, some stumbles on the
slippery sidewalks, but nothing life-threatening. Yet.
It should be over by May.
for all the news on work & studies & concerts
& birthdays & graduations. Great to hear about
normal lives full of all the above. I know it's hard to
balance work & school, and hearing about places
where life is harder still doesn't mitigate it. But I'm
sure you'll make it through with all the good humor
& success you always seem to muster.
keeps developing her expertise in web site development
and English (her newest creation is at www.umrep.kiev.ua).
She'll probably be more employable than I will. She can
work while I kayak & write poetry, I tell her. She
thinks I'm joking. But she says she agrees, as long as I
keep cooking her favorite foods (French toast, pancakes
& peanut-butter sandwiches).
could tell you more about work & life in Ukraine,
but I can't think of much cheery to say. So I'll spare
you that, beyond things are not getting much better
here. But you can see that in the newspapers there, I'm
probably one reason my updates have dwindled: if you
can't say something nice, don't say anything at all
(wise words from Thumper the skunk).
now it's time to run home (across the street), eat some
chicken & beans, and watch a little of Alien (found
it yesterday in a kiosk -- Tanya hates that her new visa
refers to her as a "resident alien").
came home shaking last night after visiting her mother. Their 60-year old
neighbor in the relatively-rich Podol district just got
an immigration visa to Germany to live with her son, and
began selling off her possessions for some exit cash
(you can take up to $1,000 out of the country). Seems a
thief found out she had some dough, broke in and
pummeled her to death, and even bashed the teeth out of
her mouth for the gold. Tanya talked with the police
evidently not too concerned with solving the murder of
an emigrant. Tanya worries for her mother, our own
safety, her country. What can I say to that? It happens
everywhere? Be glad it didn't happen to us? Don't think
about it? We cuddled and watched another escapist movie.
4, 1999 E-Mail
a message dated 3/2/99 7:24:36 AM Pacific Standard Time,
also think of our conversation when you were expressing
doubts about bringing a then-unnamed Ukrainian here, the
disruption problems for her that would cause. Would
she be able (psychologically) to leave
family behind and not suffer all sorts of disabling
is something I/we thought and continue to think a lot
about. One significant impact on my thoughts was a good
friend's scolding, when she said: "Don't be a boob,
Steve. What is America if not a country peopled by those who (natives and slave trade
aside) left behind their families and cultures and
everything else dear but a carry-on bag to brave out a
new way of life?" Or something to that effect. Familial guilt & such is something that
all relationships have to resolve &/or endure, in my
experience. This one may be more of a challenge ...
March 8, 1999
noticed four tiers in the credibility hierarchy of
advisors and trainers to a Ukrainian audience:
Ukrainians who don't know what they're talking about;
Americans who don't know what they're talking about;
Americans who do know what they're talking about;
Ukrainians who do know what they're talking about: the
issues, the steps to success, and the context.
March 10, 1999
contrast of the individual American psychology to the
Ukrainian wants the living standards of the West,
without having to exercise the initiative and discipline
to get there. The
Ukrainian is happy to accept Western charity with token
lip service and perfunctory pseudo-performance toward
Western expectations. Ukrainians want to be treated as a Western
partner, without behaving to Western standards. Ukrainians want to weasel their way into the
West, instead of earning their place.
American wants to fuck the beautiful, eager and willing
Ukrainian – a subservient, docile vassal. The American
says: Ukrainian, suck my dick!
March 11, 1999
sitting here pondering this thought: what is the
semantic difference between a “rescuer” (negative
connotation) and a “healer” (positive connotation)?
go about trying to “save” people, healers go about
helping to “heal” people. Is it the motivation? The
end result? Rescuers coming from a more egocentric
place; healers tapping more into external forces (e.g.,
medicine and therapy)? Or what?
wonder what I am doing here: is it trying to
rescue or help heal
a sick nation? I prefer to think the latter.
March 17, 1999 Note to Betsy
who I got to meet today? P.J. O'Rourke. He was in town
to participate on a Freedom House / World Bank
roundtable discussion on fighting Ukrainian corruption
(I was also a panelist). We had some interesting side
conversations about the government’s (ours and theirs)
effectiveness/ineffectiveness in dealing with
corruption, the role and rue of media, and off-the-wall
innovative strategies. He actually took notes on some of
my thoughts, which may find a way into a report he’s
writing for Congress (he’s on the board of Freedom
House). He seemed a tad bored with the body of the panel
(mostly bureaucrats saying the way to fight corruption
is with more grants to their respective programs), but a
few of the braver souls actually spoke some truth (e.g.,
“the more we spend, the worse it gets”).
I had brought his book (Eat
the Rich) back with me from Santa Barbara, so I had
him autograph it. (“To Steve, who knows the Russia
turf in here all too well”)
a smart, if somewhat cynical and caustic, guy (looking a
little jetlagged and hung-over).
in an outpost like Ukraine does a lowly functionary like
me get to hobnob in these circles. One of the fringe
March 18, 1999
not *who* you know, or *what* you know that ultimately
determines success, but what you *are*. Hitler and
Stalin knew plenty, and the right people, but it was
what they *were* that led to their inevitable
land of stillbirth
Small stunted lamb
Denied a baby's breath.
Infant eyes bright with visions
Swallowed by the shadows.
How I would hold you to my heart
Sate your consuming hunger
Respire your spirit
If I only had the cure.
S. is a perfect metaphor for Ukraine: not especially
naively corrupted, spends every day cleverly finding
ways to avoid work and most every night drinking while
his family responsibilities go neglected. Yet he has
learned a valuable lesson. Sergei took a 10-day
Microsoft certification course (Administering Microsoft
Windows NT 4.0, and Support of Microsoft Windows NT
4.0). For 10 days he did nothing but attend grueling
courses, and each evening digested the day's lessons.
For two weeks he drank not a drop. At the end of the
program he passed the certificate exam, much to all our
pleasant surprise. With this certificate, his work
prospects are profoundly enhanced.
There are several lessons here:
1) It doesn't take a lot of brains to be successful,
just a lot of hard work.
2) Ukraine can find its way with some directed
3) Even Sergei S. can do it.
September 3, 2000 Note
back from Amsterdam, probably the most charming city
we've visited and certainly the naughtiest. Naughty, but
not nasty ("nasty" being along the lines of
Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard). Amsterdam's sex and drug
bazaar seems more playful than prurient. Tanya, for some
reason, got a special kick out of walking up and down
the "red light" alleys where women in windows
tempt the tourists. Likely -- as she was so amazed by
the UCSB students rowdily debating and insulting the
provocative elderly evangelists in the quad -- it
represented such unrestrained freedom.
saw "XXX" inscribed everywhere -- on flags,
T-shirts, church towers, the remarkably phallic parking
posts. We learned that it's not the city's pornographic
rating, but derives from the Amsterdam coat of arms,
representing the three dangers to protect themselves
against: fire, flood and the plague. The plague seems to
be under control, perhaps tourism should replace that X
as the modern danger.
-- much like Santa Barbara -- claim the central streets.
There was a football (soccer) game yesterday between the
Netherlands and Ireland. Ireland won, and hundreds of
drunken stoned Irish, loudly banging Celtic drums, took
to the streets and to the window women. What a zoo. But
the locals seem to take us transients with perspective,
knowing we'll drop our disposable incomes and soon go
home till the next weekend batch comes in. (The average
tourist stay is only two days, says our guide book.)
was great to see so many Dutch faces like mine, hair
color like mine, people who look like my father and
grandparents did. I felt a bit like Kunta Kinte. I can
think of worse soil for my roots. (My pre-Ellis Island
name was "Van Hoek" -- we ate breakfast at the
neighboring De Hoek Cafe -- "Hoek" means
Dutch we saw appeared possessed by a profound sense of
belonging and self-worth. What an egalitarian community.
Pay grades much more in line with one another, not the
vast income schisms of the US (or Kiev, for that
matter). Shopkeepers and hotel maids and maintenance
workers with heads erect and eye-contacting confidence.
Businessmen in suits bicycling and sharing right of way
with the "common folks" -- no evidence of
class resentment we could see. Tanya says they achieved
the true communist goal she was indoctrinated in.
only sense of class distinction we saw was the clutch of
Ukrainians huddled about their tour guide, timidity on
their faces, bewildered by the boisterous and free
bustle about them, as if someone was going to arrest
them for being low-class Ukrainians misplaced in a
country where they didn't belong.
of the best assessments of the state (as we always get
where ever we go from the most astute social observers)
was courtesy of our taxi driver. Yes, all the foreigner
tourists and businesses have driven up prices --
especially housing -- to the point where most Dutch
working people can't afford to live in the city center.
Yes, taxes are high. But the Dutch seem to take it in
good-natured stride as the price they pay for the fine
life they live.
loved the canals and could imagine spending entire
weekends kayaking the waterway mazes.
begin preparing for my final exit at the end of
September. I've got several freelance prospects, enough
to live on depending on our overhead. Maybe we'll give
Santa Barbara a try, if I can find a reasonable place
preferably somewhere on the Mesa (that's where my
mailbox is, and I like the relative sense of isolation
up there -- fewer tourists make the trip up the hill).
I've got enough socked away I can mull it all over for a
few months, or longer if necessary.
September 28, 2000
speech at staff picnic:
occurred to me while I was taking a shower this morning
that when Tanya and I fly home this Saturday, I will
have worked in Ukraine with you good people for exactly
42 months. By
coincidence, I am also 42 years old.
me share with you what I’ve learned over the last 42
months: You Ukrainians are remarkably strong survivors.
When I think about all you’ve overcome in your
history, I have no doubt that you will survive us
Americans passing through. We are just a minor plague.
let me share with you something I’ve learned over my
42 years: good things happen when you expect good things
to happen. If I could ask you for a parting gift, it
would be that every once in awhile, you pause for a
moment, and expect good things to happen.
One gift I am
taking from you is my lovely wife Tanya. I ask to you
accept our marriage as proof of my ever enduring love
for the people of Ukraine. Do
svidaniya, i vsego khoroshego.