August 1, 2010 You Might Live In A Village If…

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |


You might live in village if – there is a major information resource that people trust more than the internet, the Encyclopedia Britannica, Einstein and the Evening News. This resource, whose decisions and wisdom can never be questioned, is “Everyone Knows”


Mother says -“Rodger, I don’t want to use the washing machine. EVERONE KNOWS that they use too much water”

I say, uselessly, -“Tell me how they use more water by filling a small washer tub than you do running water while you are rinsing each piece.”

Mother says, “But EVERYONE KNOWS that they do.”

Rodger says “How much is your water bill?”

Mother says, “About one dollar a month.”

Rodger says, “Here’s 12 dollars. If your bill doubles, you are good for a year”

Mother says, “But EVERYONE KNOWS that it’s bad to use too much water.”

To understand the depth of EVERYONE KNOWS, you have to realize that mother is not dumb. She is a retired school teacher with a slightly higher than average intelligence. She is just in a small village with no room for large minds.

Larisa caught a nasty case of bronchitis this year, and, not wishing to be selfish, passed it on too me and mother.

Mother says, “You have to stop using the air conditioner. EVERYONE KNOWS it makes you sick!

Rodger says “200 million Americans use air conditioning all summer long and our hospitals are not full yet. You lived in my house with air-conditioning for three months and you didn’t get sick”.

Mother does not look convinced. So, next day:

Mother says, “It’s because your houses are bigger than our apartments. It makes you sick here because the apartment is small!”

Rodger says, “We use air conditioning in tiny little cars every day and we don’t get sick and people in motor homes smaller than your living room don’t get sick.”

Mother thinks a minute and says, “The germs are different! Russian germs live in cold air and make you sick!”

My wife, a certified MD now agrees with her. It’s catching.

EVERYONE KNOWS always wins, no matter what!

In fact one moronic Russian morning show even had “experts” on to testify that they had found mysterious germs in Chinese made air conditioners that multiplied in the cold and made everyone sick. No one else has seen these Chinese only germs, but EVERYONE KNOWS.

It gets better, day by day.

Mother says,”Rodger, we are using too much electricity. We have the washing machine, the microwave, the water pump, and the televisions. Are we going to hurt the electricity lines?”

Rodger, unable to explain electrical loads to mother, says “No. There is plenty of electricity and if you did try to use too much, the fuse would blow. You can’t hurt anything.”

Mother says, “(The old Communist) EVERYONE KNOWS that it is not good for the country if you use too much electricity!”

There is NO way to convince mother that this county is now a capitalism and that there is plenty of power available, and that the now private power company wants to sell you more. Everyone Knows is too hard to beat.

The next day –

Mother, dusting the window sill. “All that electricity is making the house too dusty. That’s why everyone is sick!. Everyone knows that electricity attracts dust and we are using way too much electricity and it is making the house dusty.”

Rodger ” “.Why say anything.

When my mother taught me to use a washing machine, she said to separate out the darks from the lights to keep the dye from bleeding. Several years later, I learned to sort out some wash and wear items for the non-wrinkle cycle.

Everyone Knows, that I am 4 or 5 divisions too short. In Russia, the clothes are washed according to the rule of “how dirty is it”, and everyone knows the divisions.

Two days after we installed the washing machine, I ran across my wife washing her underwear in the bathtub. Being a rational and calm male, I sweetly asked, “What the Hell? We just put in a washing machine.”

She said “Everyone Knows that you can’t wash women’s underwear with other things. They are just too dirty!” Apparently women’s panties are the bottom rung, usually washed by hand because there are not enough of them to make a washer load and they are too dirty to associate with more respectable clothing.

There is also the story that EVERYONE KNOWS about the wife whose husband tossed his fungus infected socks into the washer with his wives panties and gave her a fungus infection. Of course, that isn’t scientifically possible, but Everyone Knows, so it is fact.

Next up the ladder are men’s shirts and underwear. They are washed together, just before men’s pants and socks, which everyone knows are number three up the ladder of dirty.

Everyone knows that women clothes, blouses and skirts, are next to the cleanest load and get done together.

The cleanest load of all is the linen. Bed sheets, tablecloths, pillow cases, towels and so on are so naturally clean that I wonder why they wash them at all.

Now I understand why Russians make washing machines with loads as low as 7 pounds. When you make all those divisions, the loads get pretty small.

But, Everyone Knows that’s how you do it, and like a Supreme Court decision, there is no appeal.

August 21, 2010 Home Again, Temporarily – Letter to Delta Airlines

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

I am back in the States a few weeks early. I have contracted a nasty case of Bronchitis, and Larisa cannot bring Sonia, our new daughter, home while I am coughing, sneezing, and gasping. It was an interesting flight home, and this is a copy of a letter that I sent to the office of the President of Delta after my flight back..

Dear Gentlemen.

On Aug 10, I took flight 31 out of Moscow and traveled to LA on the worst trip that I have had in years, and it was all due to continuing policies and practices of Delta. On the plus side, I may be a hit on U-Tube.

I knew there was going to be a problem before I even finished making the reservations. I pointed out to the reservation clerk that she had booked me into JFK on an international flight that arrived one hour and 40 minutes before my flight to Minneapolis was scheduled to leave. I asked her if she was aware that I would have to clear customs, clear security again, and get to the new flight which was probably in a different terminal.

“Don’t worry”, she said. “We do this all the time. They have 15 passport gates and everybody makes it right through.”

She also scheduled my connecting flight from Minneapolis to LA about one hour and 20 minutes after the flight from JFK was supposed to arrive.

I should mention that I am a diabetic. This is not normally a problem, particularly on international flights, because every airline that I have been on serves a meal or a snack about every 4 hours on long flights, which is sufficient for a diabetic to stay comfortable. You also warned me that there was no food on the second leg of the tip. I believe that the phrase was “Food available for purchase”, or, in plain English, “We have the same great level of service as your local city bus.” Having been warned that I would have to be self sufficient on that leg, I planned to purchase some food in the terminal between flights.

The problems began right away. I paid almost $2,000 for the Delta flight, expecting that, at least for that amount of money, I would have the use of your excellent in flight entertainment systems. You’re a lot more expensive that Aeroflot on that run, but 10 hours of watching films and television programs makes the trip go faster.

At least it would, if the system worked. About 15 minutes into the flight, my console and those of the people around me went dead. About an hour into the flight, one of the crew members tried to reset our consoles, but to no avail. For my two grand, I got 10 hours of mind numbing boredom staring at a screen that only showed the flight map and a couple of childish games. That may have colored my later perceptions slightly, but I doubt it.

The next odd thing was that the crew started serving dinner before we even reached cruising altitude. We were facing a 10 hour flight and the crew seemed to be determined to get the service done in less than an hour.

Then they petty much disappeared for over 8 hours. They came around twice with a generous offering of water, coffee, or tea, and once they offered some pretzels or peanuts and a diet coke, but mostly they were absent.

After 9 hours or fasting, you pretty much have a plane full of hungry, bored, and unhappy passengers. Then, as we started our approach to JFK, the crew returned to the galley (which had been totally empty for about a half hour) and announced that everyone was going to get a sandwich! Not a lunch, but at least a small sandwich. Well, almost everyone. When they got to the 32nd row in economy, they announced that catering had not counted the food correctly, and they were out of sandwiches. Not to worry, they had a bag of pretzels for everyone!

Then, as the flaps deployed, a voice from the galley shouted, “I found some more sandwiches!”, and two very nice ladies came running down the aisles throwing sandwiches to people on both sides of them.

It turned out to be an important sandwich. It may have been the reason that I was still conscious when I reached LA.

The lady in reservations assured me that it was easy to get through passport control, and it would have been if we had been the only plane landing at that time, or, if there had been more than one security check line operating past the passport control.

As it was, when I finally cleared the security check, my hour and a half connection time was down to 14 minutes. I had 14 whole minutes to get to a gate so far away that the distance was best described in parts of a mile, rather than feet or meters.

I’m 67 years old, bald, and about 6′ 2″, and 290 pounds. Fortunately, I can still run – not gracefully – but steadily. So, I jogged and sweated and jiggled and pounded and grunted and dragged my carry on through the airport. It wasn’t easy or pretty. If anyone with a camera saw me, I am certain that the video will be on U-tube at any minute, and I sure do feel sorry for the two unfortunate people who had to sit next to me, as there was also no time for a shower.

Of course, I didn’t have time to pick up food from any of the stands. I had a long run and got to the gate well after boarding had already started.

Of course there was the “Food for sale” listed on my itinerary. It turned out that the plane didn’t have the entire advertised selection of foods available. What was available was a choice of two BIG candy bars or a “snack box” with enough sugar and carbohydrates to put a diabetic into a coma. It was a long and hungry flight, but the nice flight attendant did find me a cookie to go with my diet coke.

I wasn’t’ worried yet. Hungry and tired, but not worried. Food had been in short supply and exercise in excessive supply for about 15 hours by that time, but the itinerary showed that on the longer flight coming up, I would get lunch and I had a leisurely hour to stroll from one gate to the other and stop for a little snack in Minneapolis.

What a difference an hour makes, particularly when it is the hour that your flight is late coming into Minneapolis. In fact we were more than an hour late, and the plane was full of passengers who had to catch connecting flights.

I was in this situation recently with one of your competitors. Weather had delayed us about an hour and the airline staff knew it would be hard to make our connections. When we got off the plane, your competitor had an airline staff at the foot of the ramp with a clipboard helping us find our connections and giving directions to the gates. Because one of the connections was a long way off, they had an electric cart to take those passengers to their gate.

Your staff handled it differently. While we were on final approach, one of the staff made an announcement “We are coming in late and many of you are going to have difficulty making your connections. Some of you may miss your flights. If you do miss your flight, come to a Delta counter and we will try to reschedule you for a later flight.” As the attendant passed by my seat, she told me that she had made that announcement too many times before.

We were on our own. Find a monitor, find your gate, and find someone to give you instructions on how to get to that gate. In my case, I had about 12 minutes to get to a gate in another terminal a long way off. You had booked me on KLM, your “partner” on the way in and on Delta on the way out. You may be partners, but not close partners because your gates were as far apart as the airport size allowed.

Fortunately, I can still run – not gracefully – but steadily. So, I jogged and sweated and jiggled and pounded and grunted and dragged my carry on through the airport. If anyone was watching, there was a second chance for a good U-tube video.

I made it just as they were seating the standby passengers. The flight attendants said that the flight was overbooked, but the flight took off with empty seats as other passengers, less nimble than me, had failed to make the connection.

Of course, I again didn’t have time to purchase food for the flight. Not to worry, this flight was four hours long, and the itinerary listed “lunch” to be served.

I am certain that somewhere in world, somebody on a Delta flight was served lunch that day. It just wasn’t us. In fact, in addition to no lunch, there were no foods available for purchase. Not to worry, the nice flight attendant found me another whole cookie to go with my diet coke.

When I got to LA, I had been in Delta’s good hands for 21 hours, comprised of boredom, tedium, exercise, and hunger. You guys give discount airfare a bad name.

May I pass on a few hints to make your passengers happier?

Please inform your reservations staff that KLM and Delta are NOT the same airline. They do not share physical locations and the gates are often WAY apart. I met many passengers with the same connection problems that I had, and Delta staff that I spoke with verified that the problems are common. An hour long layover is good thing only if the gates are in the same location.

When you do screw up, look to your competitors for examples of what to do for your passengers. Announcing, “You’re late. Good luck. Let us know how it works out.” is not good customer service.

Leaving the passengers without food for nine consecutive hours on a ten hour flight is probably not the path to customer happiness, even for the non-diabetics.

If you are going to cheap out on the food service, offer a rational alternative. When Southwest pioneered the food for cash programs, they offered a simple but nice box lunch for purchase before you got on. It was only a sandwich or two and piece of fruit and perhaps a bag of chips, but it was acceptable. Your selection of high sugar packages obviously chosen only for their incredibly long shelf life is a joke. The average gas station has a better choice of foods than your KLM flights.

I have now learned that the ONLY time to take Delta is when price is your only consideration and when you don’t have more than one connection.

But, I got a good story for my friends and neighbors. Not a total loss.

Yours truly, but not affectionately

Rodger Olsen

August 27, 2010 What I Didn’t Tell Delta

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |


It must be something in my personality. I am certain that everyone has moments in their life where they seem to be in a Mr. Bean comedy skit, but somehow, I think that it happens to me more often than most.

One of the reasons that I was late getting through security at JFK was that they had a new employee running the security line and pushing all the rules hard. It just seems to be my luck. The same day that I am late for a flight, they start a brand new supervisor in the security line and she wants to prove how hard ass she is.

I walked a lot while I was in Russia and ended up losing about 5 inches around my waist. One of the effects was that my pants fit like clown pants and I had to wear suspenders. I also wear a flimsy belt for neatness.

Every time I go through airport security, I have to explain that if I lose the suspenders, the pants will go with them. They then wave the magic wand at my suspenders and verify that is the only metal on me, and let me go.

This lady would have none of that nonsense. She insisted that I either had to lose the suspenders or wait until a male staff returned from lunch to do a thorough pat down. So, off they went – and my belt was already in the x-ray machine. For a moment I was certain that she was going to ask me to raise my arms, but then she saw the 4 inch gap between my pants and my belly and grudgingly let me pass.

I then put the belt on and cinched it up to the last notch and prayed my pants wouldn’t fall down. I didn’t have time to re-hook the suspenders and still make my plane, so they went into my backpack.

The run to the gate was made even more exciting by the need to balance the backpack and carryon and still have one hand free to hold my pants up. The belt would probably work, but it was a decorative one that had failed in the past.

The belt, and my spare hand, held and got to my seat safely.

About an hour into the flight, I needed to go to the bathroom. I was holding a glass with about an inch of clear water in it and there was no flight attendant in sight. So, I cleverly opened the overhead as I got up, and put the cup in the bin, figuring it was a smooth flight, so the glass was safe.

In the bathroom, I bent down to get a Kleenex from the bin and felt a sudden snap, followed by a cool breeze in places that should not get breezes. The damned belt had broken – and the suspenders were still in my backpack in the overhead bin.

I am certain that the passengers I passed on the long walk back to my seat wondered why I was doing an Al Bundy impression with one hand on my trousers, but I made it too my seat without exposing the breezy parts. Then I had a problem, my suspenders were in my backpack and it is impossible to open the overhead, browse through the backpack, and get the suspenders one handed.

Solution, stand in the aisle and do a drunken lean against the seat back to hold pants up and avoid problem exposure. Unfortunately, I was a little hurried and ended up spilling the glass of water that I had placed there earlier – onto the lap of a well dressed, “pretend high class”, woman seated in front of me. Only a few drops fell on her, but she leaped from the seat as if someone had dumped a bucket of water on her and loudly berated me and demanded promises that I would never do that again to a person like her. She was obviously upset that I would not turn to face her and make a proper apology, but that would have led to another, more serious apology, so I could only say, “Lady, I am sorry that you got water on your outfit, but right now I have bigger problems to deal with. I promise that it will never happen again.”

Of course, because of her uproar, I now had a plane full of people staring at me as I returned to the bathroom, “casually” holding up my pants with my hands in my pockets, to re-attach my suspenders.

All I needed was a director in the background to yell “Cut!”

I did get a letter back from the office of the president of Delta. They apologized, gave me a list of people to whom they had forwarded my suggestions, and gave me 20,000 additional frequent flier miles. They all thanked me for my humor. I guess that they felt that if you have to be criticized, a little humor makes it go down easier.

September 5, 2010 The Three Rules of Finding a Russian Wife, And the Man Who Broke Them All.

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |
The Russian Bride & Leo

The Russian Bride & Leo

I want to tell you the story of one man in Russia. It is a story that could not be told until his death. For those of you looking for my usual humor, you might want to skip this post. This is a tragedy told here only for what it shows about Russian brides, and dating services and the rules of finding a bride and I don’t think that there is laugh in sight.

Leo was a science fiction author who was a good, but only marginally successful author. He made 35 to 45 thousand a year writing fiction for a following of adolescent engineers who kept their adolescence well into their forties.

He was brilliant about most things. When he got an idea for a type two perpetual motion machine, he learned three years of college chemistry in just over four months to build the gadget, which worked but turned out to be worthless.

Brilliant as he was in science, math, history, and having a mountain of useless knowledge, he was clueless about human beings. At forty, he had had three girl friends, all which had left hurriedly. As an author, he was just famous enough to get dates, but he told me one time that had been stood up on every date he had made in the previous two years.

Leo was overweight, overbearing, and about 12 years old emotionally. He was a stone drunk, who claimed that he could not be an alcoholic because he never started drinking before four in the afternoon. As he also smoked constantly, he was obviously born to be a Russian.

We had been friends since college and for all of his immaturity and social limitations; I had learned that he was a loyal friend and a good man to have your back in a fight. Sometimes we didn’t see each other for years at a time, but the friendship continued.

I met my Russian wife here in the States. She was a doctor who was in California doing a research project. About the time we got married, I learned that Leo was moving to Russia to marry his Russian bride.

Leo, having failed miserably with American women, had learned on the Internet that there were beautiful and apparently desperate women available on Russian dating sites. About the time I was going on my first date with Larisa, Leo was sending his enrollment fee to a Russian dating site.

Russian dating sites were extremely popular from about 1995 to about 2005.Those were tough financial years and one of the easiest ways for an attractive woman to change her life was to marry outside of Russia. The sites are less popular now because the Russian economy has improved and women now have less financial incentive to marry for money, but they still do considerable business.

Surprisingly, the marriages that resulted from these sites were statistically no less successful than the standard ones. Many of you reading this story married your spouse because she had great legs, he had a sharp car, you were neighbors, or she was the only one who would date you in high school. Marrying a man because he has a pleasant picture, a good attitude, and is financially secure is no less reasonable. Like most marriages made with more traditional methods, a little less than half of the dating site marriages survived long term.

Russian dating sites work very differently from American ones. On Yahoo singles or similar sites, people create their own profile. Normally American women will post a picture of themselves with two girl friends at the office party, with their dog or some other buzz kill. They’re usually dressed in whatever they wore to the park that day and they write a long, long narrative warning prospective mates that they “aren’t that kind of girl”, but they hope you will “put me on the back of your Harley” and “make me laugh.”

Not on Russian dating sites. The girls are normally charged a fee, small by our standards, but not trivial to them. Part of what they get for the fee is a professional photo shoot designed to present them as attractively as possible. No old jeans, makeup is required, and don’t forget the hairdo. They are after mates and they prepare the bait appropriately. Another part of the fee goes to translating a short message. Normally the women specify the ages of the men they will accept, their marital status, whether she has children, whether or not they will relocate, and a few generalities about themselves.

No one says “Make me laugh.” These are sites for people who are looking for spouses, not weekend entertainment.

Communication between the women and the clients is strictly controlled by the agency. This is a business that makes money on every step of the courtship. Letters are forwarded, and translated for a fee, through the agency. The women are discouraged from giving out their contact information. Phone calls, as well as letters in both directions, are arranged by and charged for by the agency.

Women are encouraged to hint – or outright ask for – presents. For a fee, the agency will send flowers or candy on your behalf to any prospective mate. Of course, the agency normally just splits the money with the woman as cash is a lot more useful than flowers when you are making less than $200 a month.

The first woman that Leo corresponded with fell into that category. She asked Leo for a little money for emergencies. Leo sent her a credit card with a $300 limit “for emergencies”. The first month, she overdrew the card to purchase “a door for her apartment.” Told you he wasn’t too bright about women.

The first rule is don’t send money to a person you have never met.

Then Leo found the “Be Happy” dating agency run by an American ex-pat and his Russian wife. For a Russian dating service, it was on the honest side.

Be Happy was headquartered in Tver, a city about two hours north of Moscow, that is famous as the place where the Russians stopped the Nazi advance on Moscow, but Russian men call it the “city of beautiful women.” For most of the 20the century, it was a major center of cloth production and for all time, weaving has been a mainly female occupation. Tver has always had a surplus of attractive girls who came to work in the factories.

Be Happy’s gimmick was that the web site was only a build up. You could see and contact women on the site, but they encouraged you to actually come to Tver and meet the women. They are still in business, but the ownership and the honesty have changed.

Leo signed up for the tour. For about $100 a day, they provided him with an apartment, an interpreter, and a lot of first dates. For you ladies, I should explain that we men define it as a “first date” if there is no sex.

He returned home after a week with no bride, but with a plan. While in Tver, he had realized that living in Russia was cheap and as long as there was an Internet, an author could work from anywhere. He had decided to move to Russia, where he could continue to earn American dollars, but spend Russian rubles.

It worked. Within six months, he had a Russian wife, a dog, a stepdaughter, a housekeeper and an apartment. He had all of that, smoked like a chimney, ate more than most, and drank a river of vodka every month – and lived on $1300 a month.

He also fit very well into Russia. He was surrounded by an ocean of men who were more emotionally crippled than him, and who drank and smoked more than he did. He was in heaven.

Russians love authors and love people who appreciate Russia, so Leo became a fixture on national daytime television talk shows. His absolute refusal to learn a single word of Russian limited his opportunities a little, but Russians will put up with a lot if you are busy drooling over their country and flattering the female viewers.

Leo even began to build a castle on the Volga River. When the city first sold riverfront lots, Russians didn’t know the value of waterfront property, so Leo bought a couple of lots cheap and then spent happy days calculating the cost of bricks and tiles and furnaces and labor to build the tallest private home on the Volga, complete with turrets, battlements, and a garage door that would drop down like a drawbridge.

Castle Leo Built For Marina

Castle Leo Built For Marina

That was the situation when we visited him in Tver. However, you know it didn’t last. I warned you that this story is a tragedy, not a comedy.

Things began to go to Hell. His life would have collapsed anyway as Leo was a genetically determined depressive personality who was miserable inside no matter how many drugs the doctors gave him or how much he drank, but his misery was compounded by his flagrant violation of the second rule of Russian Brides.

The second rule is “Never marry someone who wouldn’t marry you if they didn’t need a green card.” Of course, that’s not a literal rule. Marina didn’t need a green card, she needed money. She tried to put on a good appearance and took good care of him for awhile, but her heart wasn’t’ in it. In fact, the rest of her body probably wasn’t in it either. I’m not certain that the marriage was ever consummated.

But, back to rule number two. There is nothing about an arranged marriage that makes it likely to fail. Some of the happiest marriages that I know were arranged by parents or happened because two people met on the internet and needed each other.

The big failures come when a portly 50 year old man with the social skills of a flatulent gorilla tries to convince himself that a cute 22 year old single mother has any more interest in him than getting a green card and a home for her child. Another version of Rule two, “If you wouldn’t marry her at home, don’t marry her in Russia or China or the Philippines, or anywhere else.” You will both get hurt.

That does not mean that these Russian-American marriages won’t work. Besides my own marriage, I know several other couples who met on the Internet and who married successfully, but they all married people that they would have wanted no matter how they met.

At the risk of offending a lot of women who read this, there are reasons why American men and Russian women want each other and often appreciate each other, and why that appreciation can turn into a good marriage.

From the man’s side, most Russian women are a breath of fresh air. They don’t ask you to “make me laugh”, they ask you to go to work. They don’t talk about long walks on the beach, they talk about “where will we live” and “can we afford a house” and “what about kids?” They don’t write a man off as “desperate” if he expresses an interest in marriage and no Russian woman has ever asked a man to apologize for the crime of being born in the wrong gender. Most Russian women do not consider “mother”, “housewife” or “wife” to be derogatory terms, and they often actually cook and clean.

Well, “often”, not “always”, and they tend to be very, very bossy.

From the Russian woman’s side, an American man is a catch because he is rarely falling down drunk, normally goes to work every day, appreciates a woman who is feminine, and doesn’t hit his wife.

Of course, those are just averages or “typical” examples. We all know that there are, of course, horrible Russian wives as well as good ones, and that some Russian men are great husbands. It’s a question of averages, not absolutes.

Leo, having broken rules one and two, went on to break rule three.

When he first met Marina, she didn’t want to marry him. He was impressed by her considerable beauty, her high intelligence, and her education so he vowed to pursue her until she agreed to marry him. Big mistake.

Rule three is “Do not propose too, chase or date, and definitely do not marry anyone who is not incredibly anxious to be with you.” Hollywood movies be damned. On that path lies misery. She is “the one” if she is anxious to show you off to the girls at work, and he is “the one” only if he wants you to meet his family and friends.

Marina eventually agreed to marry Leo, but she had such little enthusiasm about it that he didn’t even learn that she had parents living a few miles away until they needed help building the castle. That’s when she told Leo that her father lived down the road and was a professional contractor. That’s also when her parents found out that she was married.

We can compress the next two years into a couple of sentences. Faced with rejection from his wife, Leo’s depression and drinking intensified. He stopped making the television appearances, rarely left his room, and even began to bath less and less often. As Marina had been looking for a man who drank less than a Russian man and who would eventually take her to America, Marina’s misery also intensified. Marina went out a lot for “sport”, but she often wore fishnet stockings and high heels for whatever “sport” she was going out for.

Years later, I found out that Marina had the same boyfriend all through the marriage and only started going out for “sport” when he dumped her. Her friends told me that she initially had no intention of seeing her old flame after she got married, but the lack of affection from Leo and his increasing drinking eventually convinced her to cheat – and her lack of good sense convinced her to be blatant out it.

That’s the problem with breaking rule three.

The last dream Leo had was the castle. However, Cheop’s rule is still valid. Everything you build costs three times as much as your estimate. Leo wrote less because of his depression and ran short of money to finish it. Then when he was hospitalized for a week, Marina got together with the contractor and cut the size of the home in half. That was the last straw.

Divorce – Russian Style

Divorce is the same in Russia as it around the world – mean, nasty, underhanded and no game for the weak at heart – particularly when you are divorcing a very angry Russian woman.

In April of 2006, Leo finally had enough. At the time, he and Marina were trying to start a dating service of their own, one with less honesty than Be Happy. It was just a coincidence that Marina had just tried to raid the corporate accounts. Leo was really just unhappy about her nights out for “sport”.

One day he pulled the plug on the business and left her a message that he wanted a divorce. She stormed into his bedroom where he slept every night with a Samurai sword, grabbed the sword and chased him around the bedroom until he was able to push her out the door. She then gathered dishes from the kitchen and broke them in front of the bedroom door. As Leo was barefooted and, as in most Russian home, all the shoes were near the front door, she figured she had him boxed in until she got reinforcements.

Marina was in a total rage. Her friends told me that the wanted to stay married to Leo long enough to qualify for a widow’s benefit under social security but the real reason was pure emotion. Marina knew she was beautiful. She had nice legs, a well formed posterior, big boobs and a bigger ego. No fat, ugly bastard was going to drop her!

Leo, a brave warrior and man of courage, wisely grabbed his clothes, bolted from the apartment as soon as she left, and moved in with another American in Tver.

It took Marina almost two weeks to find him. Then she showed up at his new apartment in the afternoon with her mother for a two hour scream and bitch session. She wanted the business back, ownership of their unfinished castle, an apology, all of his money and at least a pound of flesh from his bleeding body. Leo was constrained by the dictum “A man doesn’t hit a woman” and could only sit and take it. Me, I would have made an exception to the rule.

Later that evening, Marina showed up again. Looking through the peephole, Leo could see that she was flanked by two big strapping body guards. Apparently Marina had decided to use the old Russian negotiation strategy of having someone beat up until they signed the documents. When Leo and his roommate Walter refused to open the door, she rang the buzzer until Walter cut the wires and then continued to pound on the door for almost an hour before she gave up.

Next morning, the police showed up. They had pictures of Leo and Walter and were there to arrest Walter for kidnapping. Marina had told the police that Leo had been kidnapped by Walter and was being held for ransom. It took a couple of hours at the police station to convince the police that they were roommates, not kidnap victim and kidnapper.

The Next morning, the police showed up. They had pictures of Leo and Walter and were there to arrest Walter for kidnapping. Marina had gone to another police station and told the same story. This time they were able to resolve it in a few hours without a trip to the police station.

Next morning, the police the police phoned. Marina had gone to another station and told the same story. By this time, all of the police stations in town had been warned about the crazy woman and the police were just calling to tell Leo that she was still up her tricks.

That was the last the Leo heard from Marina. The divorce went through without either of them showing up in court and Leo moved back the states, where I bought him another Samurai Sword.

There you have it. Russian-American marriages may start differently than other marriages, but when you break any of the three rules, the marriages all end the same way worldwide – in a mean vindictive battle to the death.

Leo died last Christmas. No tears are required as he was weary of the years of depression and anxious to leave this world, and now I can tell his story.

09/07/2010 Russian Dating Sites Today

Many people have asked about the current state of the dating sites. That is also a sad story. There are a few honest ones left, but they are hard to find. As the economy improved, the supply of honest women looking for foreign husbands dwindled. Unscrupulous operators eventually realized that ninety nine percent of the men who wrote to women would never come to Russia to meet them, so they decided that they really didn’t need women. All they needed was pictures of women and someone to write back encouraging letters.

Now a lot of the sites are just filled with stock studio shots of women who have never heard of the dating site. You will, however, receive an encouraging reply from any letter that you pay to send.

There are, I hear, some honest sites left. They mostly feature women from the Ukraine and other ex Soviet Satellites where poverty is still common and where Russian women are now considered too low class to marry now that the Soviet Union is history. If you are single, they are worth looking for, but remember the three rules.


March 3, 2011 They Couldn’t Do It Legal Even When They Tried

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |


Yesterday, Medvedev announced that he planned to end the annual technical inspections for automobiles. You may remember that I talked about those before. Each time we purchased a car, we had to go through something like a super smog test where they examined and tested the car. The first time, we had to wait in line most of the day and then had to come back a second day after we had our illegally dark windshield replaced. The second time was faster. We were in line for less than four hours and then waited about an hour while the office staff decided that the time had come to open the window to accept completed paper work. They only opened that window sporadically, so people could wait for a few hours after their test was done to hand in the papers and get their tags.

Putin had announced plans earlier to close the state run inspection stations and replace them with a network of private stations on a model like California smog checks. Now he and Medvedev just want to do away with them.

The problem – they can’t do ‘em legal.

Several weeks ago, the Moscow police cracked down on illegal “inspections”. Most people, it turns out, never did get an inspection. They just paid the bribe and got the certificate. A few firings and arrests later, everyone had to really do it legal.

The lines at Moscow inspection stations are now four days long. At least 75% of the inspections were never done before the crackdown – and there have never been enough inspectors or stations to do them.

So, yesterday Medvedev said publicly that new cards didn’t need the inspections and old cars weren’t being inspected anyway, so he introduced a law to do away with them all.

How many countries have to cancel a process because they have done it corrupt so long that they can’t do it legal anymore?

March 8, 2011 The Struggle to Raise a Child

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

It is a constant struggle to raise a child here. The children are raised by Mamas and Babas (grandmothers) who feel that it they have the sole responsibility to make certain that the child is raised right.
Of course, they know that such burning questions like “Am I hungry?”, “Am I cold?”, and,” Do I need to pee?” cannot be left to mere children. ONLY BABA KNOWS!
In our house, breakfast and dinner times are a battle with Baba insisting that the child IS hungry and must eat more and the kid saying “Enough. My mouth is full, my tummy is full and I am FULL!” Half of the time Baba ends up angry and the other half, the kid gets too full to walk away from the table. Papa concentrates on teaching the kid to say “ENOUGH!” in at least three languages and tackling Baba before the kid explodes.
Today, I had to stop Baba from feeding Sonia a “second breakfast” at 10:00 after Sonia fought her to a standstill at 8:30 by refusing to eat more than one egg, two cherry tomatoes, a slice of toast, and some cucumber.
Peeing is the same. If Sonia takes a nap at 2:00, Baba will wake her up from a sound sleep at 3:00 because it is TIME TO PEE!, You need to pee! The child normally cries until she realizes that it she won’t be allowed to sleep until she cooperates. Baba and Mama patiently explain to Papa that a three year old has no way of knowing when they have to pee, while Papa asks over and over, then why does she get the potty out every few hours to pee? Answer, “That doesn’t count, because Everyone Knows!”
According to Russian mothers, the deadliest thing in Russia – worse than drunk drivers, tuberculosis, second hand smoke, and criminals combined – is cold air. Any child allowed to leave the house without pantaloons, boots, and at least three layers of clothing before July or after September will DIE BY MORNING! Now that it is May, the weather is balmy and Sonia constantly has wet hair from dressed in a wool cap when the outside temperature is 65 degrees. Papa concentrates on showing Sonia the joy of being barefoot in the house and helping her take off her coat as soon as we leave the house.
Russians refuse to believe that any child has functioning temperature sensors in their skin or hunger nerves or functioning bladder control until at least the age of nine. So, raising a child in Russia is a constant struggle, not just with poverty, but between each child and every parent to decide “When do I need to pee?”

March 11, 2011 We Are Close To the End

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

We are getting close to the end of our adoption odyssey, and every official who has worked on our case had done her or his absolute best to help us – and no one has asked for or accepted a single kopek in bribes.
Anna, our social worker arranged for a great child, wrote a very favorable report for the court, and after the court, has continued to provide unofficial but very valuable support. She never gave a hint that she wanted a bribe. In fact, after she filed her final report and we thought her role was over, Larisa gave Anna’s office a pair of I-phone clones that we had bought just in case a small gift was needed to grease a wheel. It was not needed, but we were so happy with the service that we received, that we wanted to give a little thank you gift anyway. Anna was very upset at any hint of a bribe. Her boss had to calm her down by explaining the gift was for the office and very public, legal and NOT a bribe. She did calm down and has continued to treat us very well to this day.
We thought that the judge was holding out for a bribe because he delayed the hearing twice, demanding additional information from me. However, we read up on the law and found out that he was just protecting himself by following the law exactly. With an American in his court, he was not going to allow any lapses, but as soon as I appeared in person, he granted the adoption immediately and offered Larisa good, if ignored, advice. He did put on a good show of following the law exactly including reading out loud the entire four page single spaced in small print verdict while we stood attentively in the courtroom.
The next person, a lady who had to fill out the request for a new birth certificate, did it in one day rather than the usual three and helped us hand deliver a copy to the central office and save five days of mailing time.
At the central office, the processor had never heard of a one person adoption where the father’s name was left blank and, at first, refused to believe that it could be done. Rather than just refuse, however, she made the effort to contact her supervisor and found out that it was not a problem.
We are almost done, and the only person who has been a problem has been our contact at the American Embassy, She was very slow to respond, secretive, evasive and downright damned useless – but she worked for the American government.
But just as you start to think that things are getting better, The Letter arrives. In this case, a letter from the Russian Income Tax department demanding that Larisa file a tax return for last year. Larisa went to the local office and was told that because we had sold two cars last year, Larisa had to file a return – in spite of the fact that it was only one car, we lost money, and Larisa had no taxable income.
So, Larisa asked for the form. The worker told Larisa that they didn’t have any, but that she could purchase one from the bribe paying, fee splitting merchant across the street, or, she said, Larisa could try to download one from their web site, but would probably fail.
We failed. The web site was almost incomprehensible, but didn’t allow you to download the form.
Larisa went back and demanded to see the workers boss. The boss claimed astonishment that no one gave Larisa the form and instructed her worker to download a copy to Larisa’s hard drive.
The form turned out to be a 16 page Excel spreadsheet that Einstein could not have navigated – and the instructions were worse.
Back to the tax office. Larisa surrendered and asked the worker if there were any paid advisors in town that would do the form for her, and was told, “Nope”. She demanded, again, to see the boss. The boss said that there were three people in Prochlodney, one just down the street, who could help her, and said that one of the problems was that the worker had downloaded the wrong form to Larisa’s flash drive. Larisa suggested that the boss inform her workers better and headed down the street.
20 minutes and 200 rubles ($7.50) later, Larisa had her form done and the tax accountant even put it on a floppy drive so that Larisa could hand it in electronically – in a format that no one has seen on a modern computer in 10 years.
There are some good people here, but some things never change.

November 11, 2011 Russian Adoptions

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

I know that a lot of you are curious about the truth behind the headlines you have seen about Russian orphanages and the terrible plight of Russian children. I haven’t wanted to write about it partly because of the personal nature of our experience and partly out of that age old fear of jinxing something by talking about it.

Unfortunately, most of the horror stories that you have read were true. Fortunately, we can now say “were” in most cases rather than “are”, but there is still a lot of tragedy to go around.

Russia has five times the percentage of children without parents as do Europe or the States and three times the rate of Down syndrome and other birth defects. When the Soviet Union died, 750,000 children were in orphanages with little chance of being adopted and 150,000 of those were sick kids, mentally or physically.

Here, parents were, and still are, encouraged to abandon sick children to the care of the state at birth. The idea of keeping an autistic or child with birth defects at home is virtually unknown. Additionally, the rate of alcoholism is just as high among women as men, leading to a mini-plague of Alcohol Fetal Syndrome children and children whose parents drank themselves to death or into a stupor that lead to the authorities taking the children.

During Socialism, parents were even encouraged to send children away if they couldn’t afford to feed them. One of our family tragedies is Aunt Luda. Even though Larisa’s grandmother was a dentist, she couldn’t afford to keep all three of her children, so the middle daughter, Luda, was sent away to a state boarding school. Larisa’s mother still feels guilt about being the child at home, and Luda still shows the effects of being raised in a state institution. Larisa says that grandma was such a grumpy woman Luda was really the lucky one.

For years after the crash of socialism, little was done. The orphanages were normally just as bad as the horror stories on television showed, and the state continued to graduate a steady stream of ill-educated prostitutes and thieves. What adoptions were done were normally to foreign parents who were sold children for $25-$30,000 in fees paid to “consultants” who passed them on the orphanage officials.

Russians are NOT unfeeling boors when it comes to children, but there was just no money for orphanages and the average Russian could barely feed the children that they had, let alone adopt another one.

About the time that Larisa and I decided to adopt a child, things were changing for the better for the kids and for worse for us as prospective parents.

Some bright people in the government finally figured out that it was cheaper to put kids in foster homes or state supported adoptions that it was to run the orphanages – and it was also possible the kids would come out better. It’s bad for the national supply of hookers and thieves, but good for the supply of future nurses, mechanics, doctors and other successful children.

In 2008, the state started paying money to foster parents and even relatives of the children to care for them and began a program to subsidize adoptions for Russian couples who could not adopt otherwise.

That, and the fact the financial crisis had passed, improved the lives of children without parents dramatically. There are still some horrible orphanages and about a half million too many abandoned children, but things are getting better.

Today, there are 600,000 orphans and abandoned children living in Russia. Of those, only 153,000 are still in orphanages and those are mostly newborns waiting for adoption and physically or mentally ill children who cannot be adopted. Most of the rest are with family members (who are now paid to care for them) or with foster parents. It is still a huge number of parentless children, but better than it was.

There were 13,000 adoptions in Russia last year. 9,000 were to Russian parents and only 4,000 to foreigners. Things are getting better.

When Larisa toured several orphanages looking for a child, what she saw was much better than it was in the old days. There were fewer children up for adoption and we lost out on a couple that were adopted in the few days that it took us to make a decision. There was definite competition to get the healthy children.

Most the orphanages she visited were clean and comfortable. Sometimes there not quite enough staff, and sometimes they were floors in big institutional looking buildings, but the kids had food, toys, clean clothes, and other kids to play with. She did not see any of the warehousing practices (kids left in bed all day, tied to radiators, left in poop filled diapers, etc.) that occurred in the old days. Russia has cleaned up its act.

The orphanage that Sonia was in was a collection of cottages, each housing about a dozen children with two full time staff there all of the time. I was not allowed in, but the rooms were clean, the furniture decent, and toys were everywhere. It was not a bad place to live.

Americans and Russian Adoption

It is still possible for careful Americans with about $30,000 to adopt a healthy child here, but it requires care, because the outcomes for Americans adopting here is still often very bad if you are not very careful.

It works like this. You go to a large city such as Moscow or Stavropol and hire an adoption consultant. Their fee still generally ranges from $25,000 to $35,000. For that fee, they will help you find a child, handle the paperwork, handle the court appearances, and bribe the orphanage officials. I don’t know the normal split, but I have heard that the fee is split about evenly between the “consultant” and the orphanage staff. Do not ever try to bribe anyone here on your own. Last year a couple adopting in Siberia were solicited for a bribe by the social worker. For unknown reasons, she turned them into the FSB and the husband was arrested delivering the bribe. He is currently in a Russian jail.

You also have to actually qualify for an adoption, go through a background check, and agree to year of home visits by American social workers. In the days of confusion following the fall of the Soviet Union, anyone with money could adopt, no, “buy” a child. Those days are gone.

Even with the consultant, you still have to be careful. For good reasons and bad, adoption workers often give Americans the worst possible kids.

In some years, virtually all of the adoptions were to American and European parents, and normal national pride caused Russians to hate the Americans that were taking their children away. Worst, those early days of easy adoption resulted in some children, a very small percentage, but some, being abused by parents who should never have been allowed to have a child. It made no difference that the few children adopted by Russians did worst on the average, the newspapers were full of the American abuse stories.

Envy based hatred is the worst kind, and it caused a lot of social workers to “get one over on the Americans” by taking huge money from them for a really sick kid.

For those that don’t hate Americans, but do love their children, giving the really bad children to Americans also makes sense. The belief of many child workers is that giving a sick child to an American with medical insurance and a modern medical system might allow a child to survive who would otherwise die. They are right. A child with a heart defect in America gets an expensive but survivable operation. The same child dies here.

During our adoption search, Larisa saw one American couple shuttled from place to place shown only children “with diagnosis” and saw one Italian couple pay a $25,000 fee to adopt a non-verbal two year old boy.

So, it is buyer beware. A few years ago, you read the international headlines about a cruel and uncaring American adoptive mother putting her adopted son on a plane and sending him back to the orphanage in Russia – alone. Don’t you believe it.

The orphanage knew very well that the boy they gave to the American parents was dangerous. He had a long record of violence and threats in the orphanage, which they hidden from the parents. He was damaged goods passed of to innocent parents as a normal child. They were just dumping a bad kid on a hated enemy.

Every Russian knows it, but they still blame the Americans who sent him back because logic does not stand up well against national pride. Despite the news accounts, the adoptive parents acted responsibly. They accompanied him to the airplane and arranged for a person to meet him at the plane in Moscow and take him back to the orphanage. They did not arrange anything with the orphanage, but people who have been cheated and used may have little incentive to ask permission to stop the disaster.

So, if you adopt a child her, do it because you love kid’s so much that you can’t imagine life without one, but put your heart on hold during the process and act like you’re buying a car from a very crooked car dealer. Spend a lot of time with the child, get him/her checked by an independent doctor, study the people you are dealing with, and THEN take the plunge.

Our Experience

Having given you the required warnings, I now have to point out that there are also a lot of caring, competent, honest people working in the Russians adoption system. Perhaps because Larisa is Russian, we had none of those problems.

There were a lot of infants available, but Larisa and I are a little long in the tooth for diapers and 3 am feedings, so we wanted to adopt a two or three year old child. Because of the great prevalence of mental problems in Russia children, it also seemed prudent to adopt a child who we knew would be able to speak someday.

She visited several orphanages and missed out on a few good choices, but finally she found a great child. Sonia was just two, blonde, blue eyed, and bright, already starting to talk. Problem was that Sonia was not legally available for adoption

Sonia was born to an unmarried 40 year old alcoholic mother and drug abusing father who neglected her terribly. When confronted by the authorities, the mother immediately gave up her parental rights. The father made noises about protesting the adoption, but he had a serious case of tuberculosis, a drug habit, and a new girl friend who wanted nothing to do with his formers girl friend’s kid.

The adoption agency said that they were in the process of terminating his rights and that with his drug and health problems and history of ignoring Sonia that was no chance he would get custody. However, no one had wanted to take Sonia because they could not be certain that they would keep her.

We decided to take a chance. The social workers seemed certain that Larisa would be able to make the situation permanent when the father’s custody would be terminated in six months. In the mean time, we would get her as foster parents.

When you get a Russian child, it’s like buying the stripped down model at the car lot. There are no extras. In fact, there are no required parts. They give you the kid naked. We spent a couple of days at the bazaar buying diapers and pants and tops and hats and a potty chair and even panties. If it isn’t inside the skin, it is not included in the purchase price.

A few days after I had to leave for the States, Larisa took the train for a two hour ride to Minerale Vody loaded down with clothes and diapers and toys and bananas, and took a cab to the orphanage. We got a kid, and since it was a long ride back to Prochlodney, Larisa got her first experience changing a diaper on Sonia.

I got back a couple of months later and got to know my new daughter. She’s great. Since she has a Baba (grandmother), Mama, and Papa all catering to her, she is insufferably spoiled, but so cute that no one cares. We have not had the verbal problems that we feared; the problem is to get her to shut up.

There are some problems that almost all adoptive parents face that they don’t usually tell you about. Many adoptive children who are older than infants have nightmares at first. They’ve gone through at least two wrenching life changing crisis and it leaves a mark. Sonia was taken from her mother when she was 18 months old. One day she had a mother and the next day she didn’t. She suffered the same fate again six months later. One day she had friends, a bed of her own, a place in the cottage and a bunch of familiar faces caring for her. The next day she was alone with two loving strangers.

She had nightmares. At first, it happened as often as twice a night. Real nightmares are much scarier than just bad dreams. During a real nightmare, the child often appears to be awake, but is still sound asleep. She’ll struggle against you if you try to hold her or comfort her. It takes a long time to gently wake her up, hold her until she feels alright, and then, for Sonia, a banana and a pee and we were good for another couple of hours. Fortunately, she woke up in the morning so cheerful that you immediately forgot the pain of the night before.

Neither Larisa nor her mother had seen this type of nightmare and it was very disturbing for them and hard to handle. After four months, the nightmares were gone, but it was a frightening four months.

Now she only has the normal bad dreams of children her age about being chased by dogs, or falling in the toilet, or having mother fail to let her do something. Nice normal, “hug and a banana” bad dreams and very few of them.

The other thing Sonia suffered from in common with other adoptive children was a reluctance to be touched. She liked to be picked up and hugged, but would slap your hand away if you tried to rub her head when you put her to sleep or rub her back while you were watching television together. Sonia was a case of neglect rather than abuse, but apparently the touch of an uncaring parent had not been all pleasant.

With time and trust, that has changed a lot. One of her recent new words is Russian for “back scratch”. Now she often brings a pillow, flops down next to you, and announces “chasat”, and there is not enough “chasat” in the day to make her happy.

She does, however, make us very happy.


November 30, 2011 Meet the Militsia

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

I’ve described the traffic police before. They are basically self employed ruble fishers who stand by the road and do legal extortion. To be fair, most of the people they stop are guilty of a traffic violation and taking bribes is the only way they can make the rent.
I have liked the few that I have met personally, but have dreaded meeting one on the job. I didn’t think it was probable here in Prochlodney because I’ve never seen a cop here more than a few feet from the police station and traffic seems to be a total anarchy, but I learned that there is an exception.
Larisa and I were leaving the car bazaar on Saturday when I saw a car for sale on the other side of the road. I made a particularly wide turn at the next corner and went over on the shoulder to wait for an opening to turn around. Larisa instantly became mildly hysterical, “What are you doing you idiot? That’s a policeman there. Now he wants you to pull over!!!!” (She doesn’t usually call me an idiot, but she has a Russian’s common terror of police).
I didn’t see a policeman, but there was a guy standing on the side of the road in blue coveralls waving something at me with his right hand. He wore a neat little military cap and, oops, carried a neat little short stock Kalashnikov under his left arm. That’s a cop.
Larisa later explained that they stood outside the car bazaar every weekend because there were hundreds of cars going by and most of them were from other jurisdictions. Cops here prefer to ticket outsiders because you don’t have to see them next week in church.
As I passed over my passport and international driver’s license, Larisa said he was stopping me because I didn’t have my seat belt on. The official fine is 500 rubles ($15) and most cops demand 300 to let you go. All bets are off, however, for foreigners.
As the young cop looked at my documents he started to laugh. He looked back at this older supervisor and said, “It’s an American!” By that time I could see the older policeman over his shoulder. It turned out to the husband of our landlord, who also laughed and said something like “Yep, that’s our American.” The younger cop handed by documents back and waved me on. As I left he laughed and shouted out,”American. Next time, one hundred dollars, No, five hundred dollars,”
Apparently a lot of people in Prochlodney/Premalka know that there is one, and one only, American in town. I don’t think that it would have gotten me off from a serious ticket, but being a town curiosity was good for a seatbelt violation.
The “Whew” was premature. That was yesterday. This morning I had to run an early errand, so I left the apartment about 8:00. Little did I know that this would be the day that the police would begin to enforce the new law requiring headlights to on whenever you are driving – including in the daytime.
The police were beside the road less than a mile from the house flagging down car after car whose headlights were dark – including me. This was going to be a day that paid everyone’s rent. I was a little nervous about being stopped a second time in 24 hours and the sun was low enough on the horizon to blind me with glare as I tried to pull to a stop in front of the line of parked cars. My windshield was a complete white out. I almost made it, but the sound of my right side scraping along the front of the taxi parked there was loud enough for everyone, and every cop, in the neighborhood to hear.
I got out of the car and handed my documents to one of the policeman. I didn’t need a translator to understand the phrase that had to mean, “What kind of idiot runs into a car in front of a cop? Are you freaking blind or just completely stupid?” He was definitely NOT in a good mood.
I told him that my Russian was bad and called Larisa on the cell phone. She told him that she would be there in 15 minutes and he told me to sit in the car and wait. I think that if my Russian was better he would have told me to sit in the car and wait, AND NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. While I was waiting, another cab showed up and the person in it looked at the damage to the cab that I had hit and discussed it with the driver.
I sat and worried. I figured that I had done three or four hundred dollars (12,000 rubles) of damage to the cab, but I am an American and I did do it right in front of a cop, so the sky seemed to be the limit on damages.
After about 10 minutes, Larisa showed up on her bicycle and spoke briefly to the cop, and then the two of us approached the taxi driver and his supervisor. In Russia, if the two parties to an accident come to an agreement, it does not need to be officially reported. I figured these guys were going to split whatever the damages were and never tell the cab company what happened. I hoped that they didn’t have any big bills to pay.
The first thing the supervisor said was that he estimated the damages at 3000 rubles ($100). I had to shush Larisa with one hand while I reached for my wallet with the other. She wanted to bargain, but I got off on a stupid accident – in front of a cop – for a hundred bucks and I wasn’t going to argue.
I handed over the money and we waited for a few moments for the police to come over. He stood between us and looked first at taxi driver, “Do you have anything more for this man?” pointing at me. The driver said “Nyet”. He then looked at me and pointing at the taxi driver asked “Do you have any problems with this man?” When I said “Nyet”, he made a hand washing gesture between us, held a palm up to each of us, said “Done” and walked away.
Larisa, never one to leave well enough alone, followed the officer to ask about my ticket for no lights. Just to make things better, she told the officer who was already in a bad mood that we would not pay a bribe, but we would pay a legal ticket if he wanted to write one. Ain’t she sweet? The officer made a sour look at me and said, “He’s had enough trouble for today. We’ll let it go this time.”
So, I got off from one ticket because I am a curiosity and one because they felt sorry for the idiot. I will definitely drive more carefully in the future. I’m running out of excuses.
Russian Travel Tip of the Day
Russian shaving cream and Russian toothpaste do not taste anything alike, despite the fact that they are packaged in identical looking tubes and placed side by side on the bathroom sink.

May 14, 2011 Baba needs a vacation

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

Baba needs a vacation. She has had a 2 year old child hanging onto her 10 hours a day for almost a year, and no one can take that forever.

Baba is an old socialist survivor and, to her, a vacation includes enemas, mud packs and an EKG. This was the standard in her younger years and much of her mind still lives in those years.

I suggested that we send her to Nalchick for a week or ten days. The city is full of Spas that offer mineral water, massage, enemas, warm beds and bad tasting healthy food. They are commercial enterprises now and many offer upper class services. The prices are cheap, too. With all treatments, it runs less than $60 a day.

Baba insisted that she would go to the free pensioners’ spa in the mountains. No need to spend money when there was a free spa that she had heard good things about. I was surprised that any of the old workers spas was still operating. They were a common reward for workers under socialism. You went down the street, up to the mountains or to Sochi depending on how much clout you had, and then you stayed in a nice healthy state run spa.

Baba phoned the spa. They are in the mountains about two hours from here near the beautiful Blue Lakes. The person on the phone said that the spa was housed in an old but beautiful converted administration building. They took 40 people each month who normally stayed for the entire month, but could leave earlier.

They didn’t have massages and enemas, but they had fresh air, scenery and two showers – for the forty people. Ok, maybe the beds were old but there were never more than four in a room, and they also had one television for each 20 person wing so there was something to do.

Baba asked who usually came to such a ‘’paradise” and the lady said it was mostly very old, very sick people who couldn’t afford medical treatment and who came to the spa hoping that the fresh air and healthy life style would cure them.

Next week Baba goes for seven days to Nalchick – to a nice resort with marble floors, and enemas, and a pool, and massage, and an EKG.

May 5, 2011 There’s no AAA here.

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

This is for you gentlemen. Car breakdowns are handled differently in Russia. There is no AAA and there are very, very few tow trucks – and they sometimes refuse to tow you. I’m certain that all those Mercedes in Moscow get first class, American style service, but we are in rural Russia.
Our Lada refused to start when Larisa left the supermarket downtown, so she made two calls – one to me to come help and one too her long suffering cousin Sergey who is her go-to person every time anything goes wrong.
I took a cab downtown ($2.15) and by the time I got there, Sergey, who had borrowed a neighbor’s motor scooter, was already under the hood and had learned that the car wasn’t getting gas. As the gas gauge was very low and as the driver was a woman, it was decided by all of the males present that she had just run out of gas.
Now, in America, you have to use a special red gas can to legally purchase or carry gasoline anywhere, but this is Russia. Larisa went into the supermarket; purchased the biggest bottle of water they had ($1.10) and emptied the water onto the grass. Sergey put the bottle on the scooter and went to get gas.
The gas didn’t help. I suggested that was time to call for a tow, but Sergey is one of the nicest and stubbornesst helpers in existence and he insisted on checking the fuel filter and the fuses for the fuel pump and working for about 15 more minutes before he gave up and agreed with the tow idea.
Larisa called the tow service number on our insurance. It turned out that our insurance didn’t cover the tow, but we could order one on our own dime – or this case on our own 1000 ruble note – about $35 – and they didn’t tow the car the way American companies do. They only send out a wrecker if there has been a serious accident and the car cannot roll – otherwise they send a car, a rope, and two brave men.
Sergey looked puzzled. He asked why we were calling a tow company when there was a cab stand about 50 feet away. Come again? He explained that taxi companies would tow a car around town for about 250 rubles (less than $9) I let him and Larisa do the negotiation, and in a few minutes two competent acting drivers came over to our car.
All Russian cars have tow rings on the front and rear bumpers. They took the tow cable out of our emergency pack (required on all Russian cars by law), and clipped the car to the taxi.
The tow cable is a 5 meter (about 15 foot) long 4 inch wide nylon cable with clip hooks at both ends. You clip the cars together and the front car provides the motor and the rear car provides the brakes. Hand signals coordinate the whole thing. It was the way your grandfather and I towed cars in America – before it was outlawed in 48 states.
Larisa got in the front car to provide directions, and I got in the passenger seat of our car to provide – nothing – it was just the only seat left. The cab driver phoned into to his company to say that he was towing “The American’s” car out to Premalka and we took off at a good speed.
As scary as this kind of tow is, it turned out to be a treat to watch. The two cab drivers were sober, competent, pleasant, and had obviously had a lot of practice. They handled bad roads and traffic lights with casual hand signals and they made the tow look easy. We paid the $9 and added a tip just for the pleasure of watching them work.
We had towed the car home because it was close to 5:00 and too late to get to a garage. I figured that we would call a mechanic or have the car towed to a garage the next day. I had forgotten about Sasha, the family mechanic. He was a professional mechanic and a friend of the family. He came over after dinner to fix the car, and in about 30 minutes, he had the back seat out and a bad fuel pump in his hands.
He called a friend at a parts store and found a new one. The store was going to close in a few minutes, but they would have the part waiting. The only problem was getting there. Our car wasn’t running and Sasha had walked over. He didn’t have a car either.
Fortunately Vladimir, the husband of the German Lady, came to our rescue. He had an old red Lada that he washed about every day and he offered to drive us downtown for the part. Like his wife, Vlad was fastidious about his possessions. It turned out that the car was a Lada Model 1, the first model made, and it was 35 years old. It also hummed. When a motor is running just right, the bearings are noiseless, the lifters don’t click, nothing rattles and it just has a pleasant hum. That was this car. Vlad had driven it to Siberia the year before I could understand his confidence.
On the other hand, while the car hummed, the driver SCREAMED! He didn’t want us to miss the store and was going to get us there if we had to finish the trip in an ambulance and several times I thought we were going to. Good thing we made it, I would have hated to get blood on that immaculate interior.
Sasha had the pump installed in about thirty minutes and charged us 400 rubles ($14) for the job. The pump and filter had cost $950 rubles ($34).
In America the process would have been, call AAA for a tow, use your other car for a day, and pay $250 – $300 for the repair;
In Russia, it took one cab, one motor scooter, two cabdrivers, two friends (one of them a mechanic), a kindly neighbor, a wild drive in an antique car, a store owner who waited for us, and $62. Oh, Hell. It was more fun here.

May 22, 2011 What’s New This Year?

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

What’s new? This section gets smaller every year, as Russia catches up the world. This year, we got grass, mustard, canned kvass, acrylic wall paint, and lots of kinds of spaghetti sauces.

The selection in the supermarkets here is again approaching what is available in more civilized areas. Mustard (with lots of horseradish) is now available for your hotdogs.

Spaghetti and other forms of pasta are finally being accepted. Pasta has always been available here, but none of my family or friends would touch it because it was “cheap prisoner food.” Elvira was insulted the first time I served her my famous spaghetti, Caesar salad and garlic toast meal. She spent 15 minutes scowling and pushing the pasta around the plate with her fork without even tasting it. Now several kinds of pasta sauce are available in every store.

Acrylic paint has been around for awhile, but you had to know where to look for it. The standard paint in Russia is still oil based, glossy, tough, and smelly, smelly, smelly, and always applied with a brush. That may be why very few interior walls are painted here, most are wallpaper. Now, Acrylic paint and rollers are on the counters of every hardware store in town.

The biggest change in the village is GRASS. Of course, it always grew in empty fields and along the road side, but no one wanted a yard full of the useless stuff. The most common decorative plant in the front yards of Premalka was the beautiful potato plant. My first year in Premalka, there was exactly one yard in the village with grass on it – and everyone wondered where the cow was.

No one actually “mowed” grass to make it neat and good looking. It was just cleared like any other weed.

A year ago, Larisa saw a weed whacker for sale at the bazaar, and got an irrational desire to cut the grass around our apartment building and garage. We put off the purchase for months because the gas powered whackers were to heavy for her to handle and she was afraid that she couldn’t get an electric cord all the way out to the yard. When the neighbors heard about her obsession, they, again, concluded that Larisa’s time in America must have driven her mad, but this year she got her dream when we purchased a weed whacker and about 120 feet of extension cord,

A funny thing happened when Larisa tried out the whacker on the space in front of our garage. The garages are in one long building like row houses. After she mowed the grass in front of ours, she started doing the neighbors garages on both sides, but the second garage to the left had already been mowed. It turned out that the owner had purchased a whacker about the same time we did.

When she cleared the grass off of the little yard / playground in front of the building, neighbors began to ask to borrow the weed whacker to mow their little pieces of ground. They may have thought she was crazy, but they liked the results.

Of course, Larisa didn’t cause people to change their minds. It was a trend that had been going on for about a year and which most people didn’t notice until spring happened this year.

The week after we bought the weed whacker from the only vendor that we had seen carry it, I was walking through the men’s section of the bazaar, where men purchase drills and tools and plumbing parts and motor scooters. (and where they wander to avoid standing by while the wife tries on 15 pairs of shoes, 12 blouses, and 10 coats at nine different stalls). Along the newly rebuilt line of shops were a dozen side by side vendors doing a booming business in weed whackers.

The next night, Larisa and I took Sonia for a long walk along one of the few paved roads in the village. Spring has sprung in Premalka and this year, most of the yards had nice, green, trimmed grass in them, and some had hedges and decorative bushes and flower beds. Russians tend to be fancy in their decorating habits, so I predict that yards here will soon be better than in Lake Elsinore.

Larisa says that it’s due to American movies and television shows. Myself, I think that as earnings go up a little, there is more room for pride.

Not all the changes are good. The national soft drink of Russia and most of Eastern Europe has been Kvass. Once it was only a summer drink, but over the past several years commercial producers have made it a year round product.

Kvass is bread beer. It was usually made at home with stale dark bread, raisins, yeast and sugar. During the summer, kvass tank trailers sit by the roadside and dispense plastic glasses of cold Kvass for a few rubles. It tastes exactly like hard cider and since the alcoholic content is less than 1.5%, it is considered a soft drink – and it is very good on a hot day.

Kvass sales came on hard times after every soft drink company in the world came to Russia. American sodas were sold in cans on supermarket shelves, were sweeter, were Modern, and soon had 80% of the market. However, during the past few years, there has been a revival in interest in “Russian” foods and the kvas producers began to offer their product in cans. Coke’s market share in some countries dropped over 20 percent.

Coke struck back. In some places they started to offer Coke brand Kvass and in others, they purchased existing brands. Of course, they had to make modern kvass, so they eliminated the stale bread and raisins and made it with sugar and artificial flavorings. The calorie count went from 30 calories per glass to 129 calories per can and the carbohydrates jumped from 6 grams to 30, but it does almost taste like kvass.

Me, I wait for the kvass trailer and drink the real stuff. Not all modern changes are good.

June 17, 2011 Larisa had a triumph today, and we again proved that “most” is not “all”

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |


For months, Larisa has dreamed of having some benches in the common area in front of our apartment building, and, for almost as long, she has wanted a sandbox for the kids to play in.

There were a couple of problems facing her. The first was that we couldn’t just purchase benches and put them out there. In a poor area like this, they would disappear and become someone’s garage bench in a few days. The other problem was the neighbors. They had criticized Larisa when she paid for gravel in the driveway and put up a shoe scraper near the front door. They said she was crazy for doing things for other people without getting paid. Her own mother agreed with them.

A few months ago, they cut down a large walnut tree in the yard. The cutters left behind a bunch of logs about thirty inches long, and a stump right in the middle of the yard. Larisa and Luba lined one side of the yard with the logs to keep people from parking on the grass, but there were a lot of logs left over.

That gave Larisa an opportunity. She purchased a bag of cement mix, and we scrounged around the basement until we found two old used boards that would make an L-shaped bench around the existing stump, and a small board to put on the stump for a tiny table top.

The next day, we started construction. We gathered up small logs and started to concrete them into the ground around the stump. At first, the only one who was helping was Luba the German lady. We were about half way through the construction of the benches when Luba went into her apartment and returned with an 18” by 36” piece of plywood that was ideal for a table top.

By this time, we had kibitzers. Not helpers, mind you, but advice givers from the neighborhood. Then a neighbor showed up with a bench sized board and a bucket of 8” roofing nails, explaining that he couldn’t sit at an L shaped bench drinking beer and playing cards with his friends. It needed another side so he could sit opposite his buddies.

Another log, some more cement, and boisterous help from a mostly drunk neighbor, and Larisa had her U shaped benches with a table.

It was ugly as it comes, but people were sitting on it before it was even done. Larisa decided to paint it, so I said something about putting lipstick on a pig and took her buy paint.

Larisa and Luba couldn’t paint the next day because it rained, so I took Larisa to a tire store where they replace big truck tires. They agreed to give her an old truck tire to use as a sandbox, but it wouldn’t fit into our car, so we had to leave it there.

A few days later, Larisa and Luba painted the bench and table bright green and brown. When I got out to the yard, I got a big surprise. Larisa had talked a couple of teenage boys into picking up her tire for her and she ordered a cheap but commercial sized scoop of sand. In addition to the truck tire, some of the neighbors had found big limbs from the downed tree to fence in a bigger sand box area.

There were six kids playing in the huge new sandbox. Four or five young teenagers and about five mothers and grandmothers had found paint brushes and a little more paint, and were painting everything in sight with fun graffiti. The table, the posts, and all the logs at the side of the yard were covered with Halloween faces, hearts, flowers, diamonds and other fun stuff. It actually looked pretty good.

That night, Baba and the other women of the apartment building sat at the bench drinking tea and eating cookies in the twilight. It has been in use constantly since then.

Oh, the “Most is not All” thing. In the past, I have noted that generations of communism followed by decades of relative poverty have made most Russians among the laziest and most selfish people on Earth – most, not all. In fact, the percentage of hard workers is increasing rapidly each year as the young post communist generation takes over.

Here in our yard, Larisa motivated people who had made fun of her for working to improve the building, to get off their butts and help out – and they are all happy about it.

Of course, this IS Russia, so we had to have that one old lady. Larisa had told everyone that she planned to put in a big sandbox and everyone had agreed, but once it was in, an old lady next door complained bitterly. She said that Larisa should never have put sand in the yard, because “the wind is going to blow it into my windows and I won’t be able to breath!’. It seems Russia is always going to have “that one old lady.”


June 19, 2011 Will I miss Russia?

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |


This may be my last long trip to Russia. Our adoption is essentially done and I leave in 24 days, possibly never to return for more than a few weeks at a time – if our plans work out. Larisa has been wavering occasionally, afraid that she will miss this place.

Today, her wavering ended.

We had a good morning in the park with Sonia. For a couple of hours, she rode her little bicycle around, played with other kids, begged for expensive rides, and played on the equipment. Good, except for the inevitable screaming, howling, bawling fit that she threw all the way back to the car. She really didn’t want to go home.

That upset Larisa enough to set a pattern for the rest of the day.

As we pulled out of our parking area, there was a new Toyota parked halfway across the driveway and damned near blocking the street. When I beeped at him to move, he waved at us and yelled to drive around. As we drove by, I could see him glaring at us while he talked on his cell phone.

What I didn’t see was Larisa presenting him with a single digit salute as we passed. Remember what I said about her not being one to leave well enough alone?

I got a few blocks away and looked back to see a new Toyota driving about a foot from my bumper and blowing its horn again and again. I ignored him until he passed us, almost running a truck off the road, slammed on his brakes, blocked the road and jumped out of his car.

Oh, I could see that he was tough one. Most men, frankly, aren’t that good in a fight. They don’t stay in shape and they don’t have much real experience. This guy looked tough – and very, very angry. I realized that if it came to blows, there would be two bad outcomes. One of us would be in the hospital explaining where it hurt, and the other would be in the police station explaining why that bastard deserved to be hurt.

I therefore did the manly and intelligent thing. I ignored him, drove around him, and continued on. I don’t care much for Russian police stations and even less for Russian hospitals.

It didn’t work. He passed me again and stopped in the middle of the road. I decided to drive to a nearby police station, figuring that it would be a calmer confrontation in front of the blue suits, so I cut through a gas station, and went back the way I came, heading for the police station. He cut through the same station at about 60, got ahead of me and blocked the road again, this time on a bridge. When he got out and headed for my car again, I decided it was time to play it out.

I could see why he was incensed. He was a Kabordinian man about 30. Not only had been flipped off, he had been insulted by a lowly, worthless female. His pride was mortally, horribly wounded.

But, I realized in a few seconds that he didn’t really want a fight. He jerked open my car door, stood next to the car and yelled first at me and then at Larisa. I have had a lot of fights in my life and I knew then that he didn’t want one. If he had wanted a fight, he would have reached into the car and grabbed my arm or shoulder to provoke it. When a man stands back and yells, it is because he wants his pride healed not his fists and face bruised.

Larisa told me later that he called me a lot of dirty, awful names, but I don’t much speak Russian, so I just sat calmly looking at him. The gist of the conversation was that Larisa was telling him he was parked illegally and he telling her he was legal and she was an uppity bitch. Larisa was obviously scared, but she didn’t back down. (Maybe the fact that I was between her and the idiot helped, but she was brave.)

I didn’t catch much of it until she told him she was going to the police to report his reckless driving. At which point he said he was a policeman and dared her to go to the station. So we drove to the station with him following us. By luck or skill, Larisa had given the man a way to salvage his pride without anyone getting hurt.

When we got to the station, there were several policemen out front. Larisa grabbed Sonia and marched up to the first cop she saw. Brilliant move, what could be more sympathetic than a mother and her child? I hung back, thinking that the man was not going to do anything in front of the cops unless my presence put too much pressure on his pride.

The Kabordinian guy came up, made a show of shaking hands with a couple of cops nearby, and then Larisa and he yelled at each for a while in front of the probably confused cop. I have no idea what was said. I don’t speak enough Russian and I was busy following another police officers’ instructions to get the car out of the police driveway, NOW!

After less than a minute, they ran out of insults and arguments, but the man’s pride was apparently salvaged by the argument and we all left – after he offered me sympathy for being married to Larisa and telling me I should control her better. Right. You ever try to keep the tide from coming in?

I am certain that over the coming years I will occasionally wake up at night wondering if I was a perfectly mature man making a rational decision to defuse a potential violent situation – or if I was just too chicken to fight a tough 30 year old Kabordinian. However, I can say for certain –

Miss Russia? Not much. Even Larisa is in a hurry to leave.


June 22, 2011 A few more days in Russia

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |


I am writing this on my laptop because the power is out. There is nothing wrong with the electricity, but it is raining and the administration of Premalka feels that the electrical wiring is so bad that someone could get electrocuted if they left it on during a rain storm. Once the rain passes, they will turn it on again.
Of course, the electric water pump is out, so there is no water either.
It has been a typical few days in Russia.
Sonia was in the hospital for three days. She had strep throat and a fever of 39.5C, so we took her to the local hospital. As you know, the hospitals here are not the same as in the States. They wanted to give her an infusion to lower her temperature, so Baba and I went to the pharmacy for an infusion kit while Larisa and Sonia got settled in the room.
We had to provide a little more for ourselves than you do in the States. Sonia got a room with three beds, three horrible mattresses and one set of sheets for Sonia (they don’t provide any for the mother.) Baba and I went back to the house and got mattresses for both of them, sheets and blankets for everyone, pillows, toys, clothes, Sonia’s portable CD player, an electric teapot and food and drink. The hospital did provide food, but the nurses warned that it was so horrible that most patients refused to eat it.
It was an infectious ward, so no one was allowed to visit, and Larisa was stuck alone in the room for two and a half days with Sonia. Baba and I visited twice a day to bring supplies, offer sympathy, wave though the window at Sonia, and go for meds.
The toilet in the room was broken. The nurses said that they had repairmen on staff, but they couldn’t fix the toilet because they didn’t have money for the parts. Larisa called Dimitrti and he fixed it a few hours later. We paid the 300 ruble cost.
As you know, patients are required to provide their own medications and supplies in Russian hospitals but unlike Tver, there are no medicine runners here. The last hospital I had a friend in had runners who would run errands to the pharmacy for a small fee. Larisa said that they didn’t have such a thing in Prochlodey, but the nurses would often run down to the pharmacy for you. She also said that the nurses would try to scrounge a little medicine from the hospital supplies for those that had no money at all.
Yesterday, Elvira (Baba when I am not mad at her) fixed meat balls. They smelled a little odd, but not bad. When she set out a plate for Sonia, I asked what they were. She answered “meat!” After several tries, she still wouldn’t say what kind of meat, so I asked Larisa, rather loudly. Larisa said it was a traditional meat, nutria.
I looked it up on the internet. Nutria is a SWAMP RAT! The Latin name translates as “rat beaver.” The Elvira who had lectured me angrily and tearfully because I fed Sonia hot dogs and baloney with preservatives in them, was feeding Sonia a RAT raised in someone’s back yard.
Larisa said it was alright because it was “tradition”. I noted that at one time infanticide was a tradition, but we were not going to continue it! We terminated the rat meal and I let Elvira know that I was not about to listen to any of her advice on preservatives, sugar, lunch meat, or much of anything else about food.
There is a six foot wide, eight foot deep hole in our driveway. It’s a long driveway. We don’t go straight out to the street. We have to drive over a dirt road past the apartment next door and between a tiny outpatient medical office and the paramedic station to get to the main road. A few days ago, a huge hole took over half of the road in front of the medical center. It’s still there.
The story around town is that the hole is to get access to the water system for the paramedic station which badly needs repair. Unfortunately, once the hole was dug and the repairs started, the city found out that it didn’t have enough money to finish the repairs, so the hole just sat there.
Some citizens went to a local philanthropist and asked if he would provide enough money to finish the job. He said he would, but he asked for a letter from the city stating that they were out of money to finish the job before he provided any.
There was no letter forthcoming. Apparently no one at the city hall wanted anyone to question what happened to all the money they had in the budget. However, to avoid more complaints, city officials scrounged up enough used bricks to finish the repair and found some funds to pay for it. Work seems to have started again.
Yep, a hospital without food or medicine, a rat meal, a power outage, and officials so dumb that they dig a hole before they find out that they haven’t got money to fill it in. “Same-old, same-old” just a typical few days in Russia.

October 25, 2011 Pavel and his wife are dead.

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |


“Pavel and his wife are dead.” Hell of a way to start a letter and even worse way to start a visit to Russia, but this has turned out to be an interesting story, and we don’t have the end to it yet.

Pavel was Larisa’s uncle. Well, actually the ex-husband of her mothers’ sister. But “uncle” covers a lot of ground around here. He was a nice guy, particularly in his later years. At 61, he had beaten TB and suffered from cirrhosis and had learned from it. He quit drinking, quit smoking, and became an excellent grandfather and by all accounts, had always been a good friend to have.

Monday evening, he was returning from a day in the mountains with his family when a drunk driver swung into his lane and hit his car head on.

Lesson #1 for Americans. In an American car, they might have survived.

Occasionally even congress gets it right. Every American car made since 1968 has a collapsible steering column. Before that, over half of all car deaths were caused by steering wheels spearing driver’s chests in an accident. There are still a lot of Russian cars on the road without that feature – and Pavel was driving one of them.

Lesson #2 for Americans. In an American hospital, Pavel would probably have survived and his wife certainly would have – at least in a pre-Obama care hospital.

Shortly after his arrival at the hospital, it was decided that Pavel was dead. He was breathing, but everyone decided that he was going to die anyway. He was, after all, an old man of 61, he had had TB, had cirrhosis, and his chest was crushed. Major medical care consisted of putting him into a medical coma to die without pain. Even his relative, who worked in the intensive treatment ward, said that there was no point in wasting effort on a man who was going to die anyway.

He was still alive 36 hours later and from my reading of popular medical literature, that usually means that he could live indefinitely because there is time to repair his injuries. His surgeon said that there was a doctor in Nalchick, about 30 miles away, who could stabilize Pavel’s chest injuries to keep the broken ribs from doing more damage, but no one was anxious to begin treatment.

It required a consultation with his primary care physician and the family to arrange the treatment. In the States, seconds count in trauma situations. Here, the family doctor said he would meet with Larisa and Victor (the two doctors in the family) the NEXT DAY. By the time the surgery was approved, Pavel was much too sick to be moved, and he died the following day.

His wife had died the day before. Her injuries hadn’t seemed that serious. Her ribs were broken by the seat belt when the accident happened, but when we visited, she was sitting up in bed and chatting. Unfortunately, the instrumentation in intensive care here consists only of a blood oxygen level sensor. There was no monitor for her blood pressure and other vital signs, so no one noticed when she began to bleed internally – and died in the middle of the night. There had been no x-ray, no ultrasound, no MRI to see that she had dangerously broken ribs inside, and no real treatment.

Be nice to your HMO. They keep you alive.

Lesson #3 for Americans. Be nice to your police. The drunk driver will probably get away with it here.

Be grateful for the cops and courts in America, where they actually put bad people in jail. The drunk driver was a young Kabordinian man who suffered only a fractured jaw and a feigned leg injury that he claimed kept him from walking. The maximum sentence here for vehicular manslaughter is 7 years, but his influential family, rumor has it, has already been negotiating with the police on the size of the bribe needed to make the charges go away.

Lesson #4 for Americans. Forget lesson 3.

It turns out to be not so simple as a police bribe. Justice has an older face here. Much older. You may remember that when I was in a minor traffic accident, the cop stood aside while the owner of the other car and I negotiated a settlement between us. When we were done, the policeman asked if either of us had a problem and then did a little hand washing ceremony and declared that there was no problem that concerned the police.

Apparently manslaughter works the same way. Prosecutors don’t work the same way here as they do in the West. They don’t stand for election and therefore answer only to themselves and their bosses in Moscow, so they do not want to prosecute unless there is an interested party – or an order from Moscow.

Since the aggrieved parties are the relatives of the two victims, it is up to them to decide whether or not there is a prosecution. Frankly, I am not certain whether this is custom or law and Larisa is reluctant to discuss things that she thinks are embarrassing to Russia, so I plan to ask Oleg about it first chance I get.

I do know that throughout history this form of justice has been common. Before prisons were everywhere many cultures practiced compensatory justice. Pay up or get out. That is why Eric the Red discovered Greenland. He killed a man, couldn’t pay his family the usual price, and had to get out of town fast.

However, whether custom or law here, the families set a price on the crime. If the perpetrator can pay the family the agreed price, he either goes free, or gets a VERY short sentence. While I am not certain of the mechanics, I know the police are involved because they advised our relatives that their asking price was too high.

Ira (Pavel’s daughter) and the family of his wife have set a price of 600,000 rubles on the two lives. That’s about $20,000 , or $10K for each life. It will take awhile for the negotiations, so I don’t know the end of this story yet. I guess I misunderstood when I heard that the family was concerned that the drunk driver might not have to “pay for his crime.”

Pavel’s family will not have loved him less if they accept compensation rather than revenge – and may be it make more sense to break the bastard rather than put him in jail.

(I asked Oleg about this blood money custom. He said the he never heard of it in Siberia.)

I’ll let you know how it comes out.


October 30, 2011 Things you can’t fool a Russian about

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

As I mentioned before, every TV based con job that was pulled off the air in America by the FTC found a second life in Russia. With the advent of commercial television, Russians were bombarded with offers for magic reducing machines, miracle abs developers, copper bracelets and miracle gyms that made you a new man (or woman) in 5 minutes a day.

It worked for awhile, until Russians began to realize that you can’t strap an electric vibrator to your waist, have a huge meal, and lose weight, and that the man in the commercial already had great abs before he began to do sit-ups with an expensive piece of bent pipe in his hands.

However, some American con jobs never flew here. There are some things Americans are fooled by that Russians won’t fall for.

For instance, if you tried to sell an American cell phone plan to a Russian, he would say. “You mean that you want me to buy hundreds of minutes a month that I don’t need, thousands of minutes a year, because you’re going to rip a huge hole in my bank account if I guess wrong and use 20 minutes more than I purchased? That is a dumb game. You very funny, American!

Wait a minute. You say that you are going to give me a ‘free’ phone that I can only use on your network and that if I get tired of your bad service and high prices, you will charge me a fortune for the ‘free phone’ you gave me that I can’t use now because I canceled your service? You not just funny, American, you are very crazy.”

There are no cell phone “Plans” in Russia. You buy the phone that you want for a lot smaller price than the “list price” from Verizon and you can use it on any network. There is no such thing as a “locked phone”. You buy the minutes you want at any of dozens of kiosks in town and they are cheap. It is less than a cent and a half a minute to call other cell phones, two cents to call land lines, and long distance costs more – but is still reasonable. You buy what you need, use what you have, and then purchase more.

Even families that make less than $300 a month can afford a cell phone. Little Luda only makes $250 a month, but her daughter, Elona, has a cell phone because she only has to pay about $2 a month for the 10 or 12 emergency calls she has to make each month.

Campbell Soups also found out that you can’t fool a real housewife. Virtually every Russian family has soup almost every day. Borsch, chicken soup, noodle soup, potato soup, cold vegetable soup, “what we have left in the ice box today” soup. Italians have pasta, Americans have meat and potatoes, Mexicans have tortillas, and Russians have soup.

The Campbell Company saw dollar signs in Russia. They sell soup! Lots of Soup! And Russians eat Lots of Soup! They spent millions of dollars over five years showing Russian housewives the joys of canned soup. No cutting, no dicing, no shopping, just open the can, heat, and eat!

They bombed. I guess that I should mention that in rural Russia, most homes don’t even have a can opener. The response was underwhelming. They just couldn’t convince Russian women that they should spend ten times as much money to get a soup in a can when they can make it themselves in a few minutes. Campbell also failed to understand that a Russian wife couldn’t brag about how good her canned soup turned out.

Russian woman are still proud of their wifely skills. My wife and my mother in law still argue frequently over who makes the best soup. Your grandmother probably made a great apple pie and a potato salad to die for – and she would have been insulted if you ever hinted that either one came out of a factory. That wonderful attitude still lives here.

Campbell also failed to understand that soup really is a meal here. You make it and eat it by the pot, not the cup, and you serve it with a loaf of bread next to it on the table. A wimpy can doesn’t feed a hungry man.

After five years of loses (and Russian laughter), Campbell gave up this year and left Russia.

Another great thing that you can’t fool Russians on is you can’t convince them toy guns and all games boys want to play are “evil”. Young boys play with guns. They chase each other around in mock battles, shooting imaginary bullets at Germans, terrorists, mafias, and other bad guys. They dream of winning and prepare for manhood. Even my sweet little three year old daughter asked me for a toy gun so she could chase the boys around. (I gave her a water pistol so she could practice making boys miserable.)

You also can’t convince a Russian that bullying is the teachers fault and that a kid killing themselves over “bullying” is anything but crazy. A boy who comes home and complains to his father that he was bullied is not sent to the teacher to complain about how unfair the world is. He gets a lecture on manhood, lessons in self defense from dad, and is told not to lose so easy next time. It’s tough, but it grows men and women who whine a lot less than Americans. They drink more, but they whine less.

Did I mention that Russian kids do not get trophies for losing? If you win, you get a big trophy, come in second and get a small trophy, lose and mommy says “Maybe you’ll get a trophy next time if you try harder.” Remember those days?

Some things you just can’t fool Russians on.

November 2, 2011 A very Russian day

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

We had a very Russian Day, today. I was going to write earlier, but I had to take Larisa and her mother on a dirt stealing trip.

In the past, Elvira has ordered manure for her garden. Now that we have a car, she decided that it was cheaper to take dirt from a fertile field at a nearby farm. As Larisa explained to me ‘The communists stole all the land here and mother is getting her share back, a bucket at a time.”

So, we loaded Alona, Larisa, Sonia, Elvira, me, a shovel, a bucket, and bags for the dirt into a Lada the size of a roller skate and went dirt stealing. We snuck down a side road next to the farm and parked while the women all got out and dug dirt. Me, I sat in the car trying to look inconspicuous.

Elvira wants to do it again tomorrow. I’ll pass.

It was an interesting day. Its Halloween here, well, not HERE in the sticks. No one here knows about it, but in Moscow…. Russia has never had a Halloween holiday, but they saw it in American movies and the costumes looked cool, and what’s better than a chance to dress up as a witch, get drunk, and have a party? So, some of the day time talk shows in Moscow had guests in costume and had carved pumpkins on the stage. Maybe the holiday will catch on here after the PC freaks and religious nuts kill in it in the US.

In Moscow, a Moldovan taxi driver went on a rampage, hitting at least seventeen cars and missing a group of school children only because a police car managed to get between him and the kids. When the police finally stopped him by shooting out his tires, he stripped naked, yelled something like “I’m flying on the wings of LOVE”, and jumped out of the car. He was yelling “Don’t cover me!” as the police finally did cover him up as he lay handcuffed on the street. LA car chases are boring compared to Moscow chases. Here there is none of that “just let him drive until he runs out of gas” nonsense. An AK47 makes a very effective tack strip.

The other very ‘Russian’ thing was day light savings time – or actually a lack of daylight savings time. The concept has never been popular in Russia and this year Medvedev announced that Russia would no longer turn the clocks back.

We all knew it was going to happen. It was on television and in the papers when it was announced. However, unlike in America or any other sane country, there were no public service announcements as the day approached no billboards, no posters, no in school announcements, no reminders as the fateful day came close.

It was today. No one in Moscow knew what time it was. Half of the clocks in the country, on computers and cell phones, automatically adjusted to daylight savings time and the rest stayed unchanged. People went to work early at places that were still closed, showed up early to schools, missed appointments and generally experienced chaos. Even the railroads weren’t certain what time it was.

Stealing dirt, celebrating a foreign holiday no one understands, crazy drivers, and everyone in Moscow totally confused. A very Russian day.


I was not going to write anything today, but Larisa insists that I correct my last letter. Her mother, she says, didn’t actually steal dirt from a farmer’s field. She took it from the small wooded area on the edge of the farm and next to the road. It was better dirt there she said, because it had so much mulch that it was almost “greasy” dirt. Her mother didn’t steal, she said.

After I agreed to the correction, Larisa reached for her car keys. When I asked where she was going she said, “Mother needs a ride.” “Where does she want to go?” I asked.

“A couple of months ago she saw where someone left a big pile of manure in the middle of a field and…”

I kid you not.

November 29, 2011 Ten reasons why Russian elections are better than American elections

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

November 29, 2011 Ten reasons why Russian elections are better than American elections

The election for the Duma is next week. The Duma is sort of like the American House of Representatives, but with much less corruption and far less independence.
The election is a lot better to sit through than American election for several reasons.
1. It’s short. The election is next week and last month the campaigns had not even started.
2. It’s polite and calm. Russians are not in agreement with me on this one. They used to enjoy the televised political debates because they all included loud nasty insults being shouted back and forth and occasionally included fist fights. They miss that. However, only parties approved by the Kremlin are allowed to participate now and they know that if they make too much noise, their approval will evaporate, so courtesy prevails.
3. It doesn’t interfere with prime time television. Most parties can’t afford television ads and the ruling party doesn’t have to run them.
4. No one campaigns for “gay rights”, “understanding for transgender individuals” or “gay” marriage. Homosexuality is ignored in Russia as long as you do it in private, and it is totally legal, but no one is going to court the queer vote. Like most Americans, I am suffering mightily from Homo-fatigue – I’m not “phobic”, just tired of hearing about it – so this is a relief.
5. None of the candidates claims to have talked to GOD before he ran. Any candidate who claimed that he consulted God or had a prayer meeting before making a decision would be quietly led away.
6. Parties are not allowed to show pictures or caricatures of their opponents in the ads. In Russia, politicians do not give up their rights to privacy when they run. In specific, a politician has the same rights to his own image as all other citizens have and you cannot use it without his permission. It keeps off the air those stupid ads in which clips containing phrases taken out of context are rigged and blasted onto the airwaves.
7. Not one male politician has been disqualified because he asked for a date or made a pass at a woman. Male politicians are expected to be men and are not criticized for it. They are even allowed to have girl friends.
8. Since the parties are not allowed to actually criticize or really disagree with the current government, some of the platforms get very silly. Of course, every party claims it will oppose United Russia and end corruption – and then they vote 100% with United Russia after the elections. However, two of the smaller parties are running on a platform promising to re-establish the USSR. They claim that all the countries that spit off from Russia really didn’t want to go and are just waiting for a strong Russian government to reunite them. I guess reality checks are no more common here than they are in Obama’s campaigns.
9. It provides a lot of unintended humor.
For instance, the mayor of one city ordered all of the businesses that had city contracts to collect signed blank absentee ballots from all of their employees and turn them into the city to be filled out. The businesses complied, but called the newspapers. When questioned, the mayor said with a straight face that he was just concerned that those who could not get to the polls would not lose their right to vote – and he kept all of the ballots.
In another city, the mayor called in the Orthodox priests in the area and “suggested” that they support United Russia (Putin’s party) from the pulpit. The priests suggested that he put his suggestion where the sun don’t shine and called the newspapers. When questioned, the mayor said he hadn’t done anything illegal, because it was “only a suggestion.”
In Moscow, one political party tried to run ads in the Metros that read “Don’t vote for vegetables, vote for us.” (Referring to the fact that the Duma has been a rubber stamp for Putin). The same day, the manager of the Metro “discovered” that there was a rule against political advertising in the subway – an unknown rule that no one had seen before that day – and all of the ads were removed.
Yesterday, A Just Russia (a liberal party opposing Putin) tried to purchase advertising time on television. Their advertisements and every other ad from every party except United Russia were ordered off the air by the Commissioner of Elections – who has absolutely no authority over advertising. His reasoning was that ads that were “extreme or fostered hatred” were illegal in Russia. For instance, the ad that A Just Russia tried to run pointed out that the ruling party had raised utility bills faster than it had raised pensions, and the commissioner said that it could “foster hatred against the people who raised utility bills.”
And then there was my favorite “foot deeply in the mouth” moment in Sochi. The head of A Just Russia made a speech a few weeks ago in which he called United Russia “a party of thieves and crooks”. A few days later his party placed ads on several marshutkas in town proclaiming “Don’t’ vote for crooks and thieves, vote for us!”
When Putin saw the signs during a trip to Sochi, they were immediately ordered removed from the marshutkas, the drivers of the marshutkas were fined for “accepting illegal advertising” and A Just Russia was told that if they wanted their advertising money back they could damned well sue. When questioned about why the ads were illegal, the mayor of Sochi said that advertising insulting or denigrating to the other parties was illegal in Russia and “any ad criticizing ‘crooks and thieves’ was obviously insulting to Putin’s party.” I kid you not. He said it in front of the cameras.
10. Finally, you don’t have to wait until the polls close, or even to when they open, to know the results of the election.

December 1, 2011 Rules of the road

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |


The number of cars in Russia has more than doubled over the past few years. That means that half of the drivers on the road have driven less than five years and most of them are dead set on proving that they are just as manly and important as the “crooked, arrogant, rich people who had cars when no one else could afford them.”

They have their own idea of the rules of the road.

Russian Driving Rules

Never pass on the right, even on a four lane road. All drivers prefer to pull out into oncoming traffic and exercise their God given right to scare the crap out of everyone. After all, we all know that the coward in the oncoming car with swerve to miss us.

Remember that the police do not patrol the roads, so drive like Hell.

Speed limit signs are for pussies. Drive as fast as you can at all times.

Never park in one spot if you can park at an angle and take up two places. Extra points are given for each additional space you can occupy.

A safe pass is one where you can pull into the oncoming traffic, drive like a demon, and get back into your own lane without actually taking paint off of the front of the car you are passing. Extra points are given for each foot that you can scare the other drivers into swerving.

Remember that the police do not patrol the roads, so drive like Hell as fast as you can.

If all of the parking spots are taken, you park behind the other cars, blocking at least three of them by parking parallel, jump out of your car, wave, and yell “I’ll only be a minute” and then do some leisurely shopping or drinking or both.

Remember that the police do not patrol the roads, or give parking tickets, so drive like Hell as fast as you can and park creatively.

If you are waiting for a person to pull out of a parking spot, calculate how much room he needs to get out and then stop one foot too close to him and glare at him for not getting out of your way faster.

Remember that lanes are big. There is no reason that you can’t make a third lane in the middle of a two lane road.

You don’t really need to wait for a light to actually change. If you charge into the intersection a few seconds before it changes, you can get ahead of other cars, make everyone swerve, and get extra points for scaring oncoming drivers.

If you haven’t passed anyone in the last 90 seconds, you are just not man enough to drive on these roads!

Most cars in Russia are stick shifts that roll back a little when started on a hill. If you stop behind someone on a hill, remember that two inches is plenty of room for him to start up. Don’t spoil him with extra room. Extra points are given for glaring angrily while he struggles to get moving without rolling back into your car.

A real man never shows his feelings or reveals his secrets by signaling. It’s none of their damned business if you’re turning!

If you see cars stopped a light ahead of you, speed up, pass them all, and then suddenly swerve into the head of line just as the light changes, before anyone else has a chance to move. Extra points are given if you can time it to make cars from all four directions swerve out of your way.

Remember that the police do not patrol the roads, or give parking tickets, and you are a REAL man, so drive like Hell as fast as you can, park creatively, and never give another driver a break.

December 4, 2011 Russian Democracy

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

They just held the Duma (congressional) election here, but it’s hard to figure out why anyone cared.

Voting is fast here. There are no pages of candidates for offices like senator, mayor, school board member and head dog catcher. It is one page, one check mark required.

Russians don’t define “democracy” the same way Americans do. They’ve never had anything like our system and after seeing our “vote for the one you can stomach” elections and the messes that Italy, Greece and other European democracies have made, they have no particular interest in emulating any of us.

Since Russian “Democracy” is a little different than American democracy, the Russian election is a little different than the American election. You are not allowed to vote for your representative in the Duma. You only vote for the party. The party then gets to select the number of representatives that their election percentage grants them. If they get 25% of the vote, they (the party) select 25% of the Duma from the legions of the faithful.

Therefore, even if your party wins, your district may be represented by someone you hate, someone who can’t even find your city on a map, and very often by someone you have never heard of.

This guarantees that all Duma members are much more faithful to their party than they are too you. There is no problem in Russia with renegade representatives or blue dog Democrats. If you are in the Duma, your ass is owned by the party. The rule is “Sit down. Shut up. Vote like we told you.”

Now, I don’t want you to think that a Duma member has no function. His jobs are:

  1. To vote the party line.
  2. To snarl Moscow traffic as much as possible by using his special blue emergency flasher light.
  3. To occupy for free an otherwise unused luxury apartment in the middle of Moscow.
  4. To drive his free luxury automobile (with the blue flasher on the roof).
  5. To enjoy the fact that he can’t be arrested for anything as long as he is a Duma member. That makes the job very popular among crooks, con men and heavy debtors.

Mayors are elected the same way in most cities. You have no idea who you are voting for. The big exceptions used to be the governors and the president. Then the president stopped that crap by giving himself the right to appoint governors.

It does result in a “representative” government. Everyone represents the needs of the ruling party and no one else. We have had two new mayors in Premalka in the past two years, neither one known well by the citizens or particularly popular. Uncle Victor wanted to rent an office space in a city owned building, and he spent almost a month trying to find the new mayor. His office is close enough to be seen from both our apartments, but no one has seen the mayor in over a month and no one knows where he is. He just doesn’t feel like coming into the office.

That’s democracy, Russian style.


March 1, 2012 Russian facts for visitors

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |


Russian light bulbs cost about 15 cents each and considering how long they last, they are way overpriced.

Changing a light bulb in most vintage apartments and houses is no joke. Half of the “fixtures” are not actually attached to anything. They just hang down from the ceiling on wires, and since the cheap Russian bulbs often break off in the socket when you try to remove them, it can turn into a “dodge the 220 volt” game.

Russian lamps are also good for ghost stories. In an American lamp, the socket is made of metal so that here is a good contact even as the bulb and socket heat and cool. Russian lamps are made with all plastic sockets that have a little piece of brass sticking out to make contact with the bulb. As the lamp heats and cools, the little piece of brass can lose contact with the bulb, so the lamp can go off and on by itself. You can tap the bulb, screw the bulb tighter, or just go “Woooooooo” and scare the wife and kids.

They just built a modern pool in a nearby city. In order to get access to a public pool, I had to get a certificate from a dermatologist and a syphilis check.

During the check, I found out that all drivers have to have a complete physical every three years to keep their license. They have to a physical exam by a doctor, a psych exam, and a syphilis check. Women are also required to have gynecological examination to keep their licenses.

This means that the Russian authorities have very little idea how syphilis is passed, and absolutely no idea how a woman drives a car.


March 7, 2012 Putin wins, Really!

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |


I don’t usually write about politics unless they’re humorous, but I’ve been watching the American reporting on the recent presidential elections here, and figured it was time to provide a little look from the outside. What happened here shows almost as much about America’s image as it does Russia’s.

Despite what you have heard in the States, the count was about as honest as it could be. Not the election, just the vote count. The election wasn’t any more honest than the typical American election.

We know that the count was basically honest because the pre election polls, exit polls, and vote count all agreed. In the previous election, the differences between the exit polls and reported results were as high as 25% of the vote.

Of course, there were exceptions because here in Russia we are living in the middle of the biggest concentration of dumb criminals in the known world.

Putin’s no fan of democracy but he’s no dummy. He was polling over 62% and he didn’t need any more hassle, so he set up new rules requiring polling places to accept real observers, including 700 from Europe, hired a new federal elections manager, replaced almost all of the ballot boxes with new transparent boxes, and spent $400 million installing at least two cameras in every polling station in Russia. In every location there was at least one camera looking straight down on the ballot boxes and one camera streaming sound and picture from the registration tables.

Technically it was slick. Sonia and I were even able to watch Larisa vote at the local precinct and Baba watched some of the Moscow polling stations to see how the women were dressed.

Being Russian, the techs didn’t mention that the cameras went live almost as soon as they were installed – and there was no off switch, so people who tuned in early saw things like a drunk sleeping in a polling booth, a young couple sneaking into the gym for a torrid make out session, a night janitor taking a nap on the registration table, and one store owner sleeping on the couch in the store that would be a polling station the next day.

There is also clear evidence from (a US funded election monitoring site) that election workers were told by Putin’s people to keep it honest. No chance. These people should be on Leno’s list of really dumb criminals.

The count was honest overall, but in St. Petersburg and a few other cities, the local party decided to run a carousel. That’s an old favorite of the Democrats in Chicago. You get a few bus loads of voters, pay them a few bucks, provide a lot of vodka, and take them from location to location to vote over and over again. In St. Petersburg they used students from a nearby university and carried them around in bright yellow marshutkas.

Bad idea when there were real poll watchers at each location who noticed all the bright yellow mini busses. When confronted by the poll watchers, the perps tried the Old Russian tactic of intimidation. “Don’t you dare notice nothing! Nothing is going on and if you notice it, I’ll pound you!” Another really bad idea when there are several cell phones recording you and streaming it to the internet. In one case, by the time they reached their second location, the TV crews were waiting.

These people also had to be the only people left in Russia who didn’t know that every location was being video taped. The tapes showing the same people voting in several locations on the same day would play well at trial.

Well, they actually weren’t only ones. In the Far East there were several shots of election officials blandly standing under the cameras and feeding 15 or 20 phony ballots at a time into the boxes. How do you describe this without using the term “moron”? They weren’t even “candid” cameras. The entire region’s votes were tossed out.

Dagestan may suffer the same fate. There were 1487 votes cast in the Republic (1486 for Putin, 1 for the Communists), which had only 1350 registered voters. The governor of Dagestan said the problem was that people got more than one absentee ballot and voted at different stations – like the Democrats did in Illinois and New York, where people were allowed to register at the last second, without ID, and could vote in multiple locations.

In some rather remote regions, the election officials didn’t seem to get the message at all. Chechnya reported its usual 99.8% of the vote for Putin and in Astrakhan the poll managers let the cameras and observers watch while the polls were open and then threw out the observers, took the ballots into a private room to count, and reported that their mayoral candidate had won. In Arkhangelsk, people conducting exit polls at several polling stations were approached by young men who pushed the pollsters into a car and tried to snatch preliminary results from their hands

Last election this was ignored. This election it made the evening news.

Unfortunately, the fact Putin won the honest count so easily says as much about your government as it does him. You see, Putin was down in the polls until the found the magic bullet. He was never in danger of losing the election but he was in danger of being forced into a runoff until he re-started the cold war.

As you probably know, America was very popular here ten years ago, but it’s now increasingly unpopular around the world due to our high handed interference in everyone’s business. Putin seized on the three things about America that Russians hate most and ran with them.

The first thing he railed on was Americans stubborn insistence about putting new missiles on the Russian border. It’s an old issue, but the US has refused all offers of cooperation from Russia and has even refused to sign a treaty guaranteeing that they won’t be used against Russia and the arrogance is pissing off Russians.

Putin also blamed the US for the recent protests. Of course it was crap, but America is famous for funding opposition groups and butting into elections in foreign countries “for the good of DEMOCRACY!” so it was easy for people to believe. I suppose it could even have had a little truth. We cried bloody murder when we thought the Chinese were contributing to American politicians, but between the CIA and the State Department, America has purchased more political parties than Jay Leno has cars.

The third button was the Middle East, particularly Syria. The Russian UN ambassador keeps warning the West that the Arab Spring has been an Arab Nightmare installing Muslim religious governments everywhere and causing massive cruelties. They show evidence that the uprising in Syria is an attempt to instill Shari law on the rest of Syria and suggest that the UN specify that BOTH sides stop shooting, and instead of meaningful dialogue, they are treated with scorn.

So, with 45% support, Putin began to promise the Russian people that he would protect Russia from outside interference and build up the army and navy to demand respect from the West. Because Russians are getting very tired of American arrogance, his approval ratings jumped almost 20% overnight.

It did not go well for the States after the election either.

Other leaders sent congratulations to Putin, some grudging, but all polite – except Hillary and Obama. Before the polls even closed, Hillary was blasting Russia for a “crooked” election, and Obama settled for an insulting letter to “the Russian People”. Coming from a president that used ACORN to register “Donald Duck” and “Mickey Mouse” and whose poll workers threatened white voters to keep them from voting, this did not go down well.

It was made worse by the fact that many of the groups inside of Russia that Obama’s people and the American press were quoting (such as GOLOS and the League of Voters) were openly funded by the US – inside Russia.

The average Russian is just tired of the US butting in, and the more sophisticated ones are tired of being criticized by a party that refuses to let anyone check their voters ID. These people have been doing election fraud for a hundred years and they know it when they see it and they are sick of being lectured by people who do it.

Fortunately, as soon as the election was over, Putin and Obama seemed to remember that it is hard to conduct a cold war with a fellow member of the World Trade Union, so the rhetoric calmed down on both sides.

Maybe what Americans should take away from the Russian election is that it’s time for us to shut up until we fix our own problems. The whole world knows, as we do, that we have massive debts and secret prisons and that our politicians are for sale to the highest bidder. We haven’t got a single leader in office with the guts to stop spending and make tough decisions and no way to get one past the two parties that have a monopoly on political power.

Maybe we need to stop preaching to the world until we earn enough respect to be listened too. We certainly aren’t making friends now. I didn’t learn that from the Russian election, but the election certainly clarified it for me.

March 10, 2011 Time to End The Book

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

March 10, 2011 Time to End The Book


It was the plastic bag that made me realize that this book is done.

Larisa and I were walking down the main street of Prochlodny the other day when she pointed at something and said “Look how much better the economy is doing.” She was pointing down at a small public trash can in front of a business. The “amazing” thing was that it had a plastic bag as a liner. “A few years ago, someone would have stolen that bag in a minute.” She was right. Things have changed even here on the frontier of nowhere.

Some of the change is because of money. Salaries have tripled in the last 8 years. There’s been inflation too, but real earnings are still way up. When I first got here, the average monthly wage was between two hundred and three hundred dollars. Now the average wage in Moscow is about $1700 a month and down here it is close to $700. Unskilled labor like floor washing and store clerking pays about $300 a month and mother’s pension has risen from $120 a month to $200. It doesn’t sound like much to the average American who gets $4000 a month, but it’s the difference between grinding poverty and being poor with enough money to buy an occasional cheap TV or make the payments on a motor scooter.

But the change is bigger than just a little more money. During my first or second visit to Prochlodny/Premalka about eight years ago, I decided to buy my mother-in-law a microwave. It took about a half an hour to get to the bazaar on the Marshutka; most of it spent waiting at the bus stop. The bazaar was the only place in town where a microwave might be found because there were no appliance stores closer than Nalchick.

I spent over an hour wandering from booth to booth searching for anyone who sold microwaves and finally found one vendor that had them for sale – at only twice the Best Buy price.

I had to get a cab to get the thing home because the box was too big to fit comfortably on a Marshutka.

There was no need to rush. Elvira had never owned a microwave before, but she knew that it was worthless, dangerous, and used too much electricity while it fried you with radiation. It was days before she agreed to try it, and weeks before she began to actually use it.

Last month I needed a new microwave for the apartment that Larisa and I are renting for this visit. Mother said that of course we had to get one before we moved in, because she used hers every day. We jumped into the car and made the 10 minute trip down to the new Techmart that opened a few months ago. Aside from CD’s it has everything that a good Best Buy has and at about the same prices. We purchased a simple model for about $65 and took it home in the car.

On the way home we stopped at the supermarket for microwave popcorn, diet Pepsi, tea, and some cheese.

That’s also a big change. There was only one “supermarket” in town when I got here – and it was about the size of a 7-11. Small items were purchased at kiosks and all serious shopping had to be done at the bazaar. Diet Pepsi and popcorn were seen only in American movies, never on the shelves.

Cooking is very important to Elvira so most days began with a trip to the bazaar. Even after we got a car, she would stubbornly march over to the bus stop in the morning because it was “silly” to use a car when a perfectly good marshutka would get her there for 10 rubles.

Now, several mornings each week begin with my wife asking “Are you going to take mother to the store this morning?” (Did you ever notice that women always act as if you already knew what they wanted and they can’t understand why you haven’t done it yet?)

Not only does mother want a ride in the car, she also prefers to shop at the supermarket. Now that there are several Magnet supermarkets in town, she even prefers to shop at the big one. The only time she takes the marshutka is when she wants a rest from all of us.

Besides the microwave, her apartment also has a washing machine, air conditioner, and a flat screen television. She uses them all.

Uncle Victor, the last die hard communist in Premalka was forcibly retired from the hospital last month. Now, the man who told me that “There wouldn’t be any Chechnyan problem if Stalin was still alive. He knew how to handle those bastards.” is renting an office of his own and has started life as a capitalist, self employed physician.

There are still fewer cars here than in the states, but it seems like more because the roads are rotten and the cities were designed without parking spaces. When we first got here, no one in our apartment building had a car, and when we purchased our first car a few years ago, virtually all of the cars in town were Ladas. They were cheap, unreliable, cheap, small, and cheap. Now Ladas are still the most common car out here in the sticks, but Toyotas, Audis and Chevys are everywhere. The explosion of good cars has been helped by increasing incomes and that great American invention “Kredeet”.

New pieces of civilization show up frequently. Our local bank has seven or eight windows that handle different types of transactions. People have always stood in line for up to an hour waiting for a window that often turns out to be the wrong one. Arguments and fights about places in line are constant. Yesterday they installed a new computer kiosk. When you walk in, you select a service type and it assigns you a number. A board on the wall works like a California DMV gadget. When your number comes up, it flashes on the screen along with your window number. It has totally civilized the bank.

Of course, as I said, the change is only half money driven. Most Russians are still the aggressive, inebriated, pain in the ass, lazy, the “world will never get any better” people that inhabit so many of the pages of this book, but there is a new generation coming. Communism has been dead for twenty years now and it is beginning to wash out of the country. Every person under the age of 35 graduated school in a world without Lenin. A lot of them are joining the middle class and they aren’t scared of their government any more, they’re angry at it. These people expect to make money and don’t expect the government to steal it.

They use the internet to bypass the biased press, flash mobs to circumvent demonstration restrictions, and they complain – loudly – through bullhorns and signs and internet blogs.

Russia still isn’t really in the Western world, but on the personal side it is close enough to stop being constantly humorous. There are still big changes afoot for this county, but they will be played out on a larger stage and the proper venue for talking about them is elsewhere.


Maybe I’ll see you there.

About The Author

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

Rodger Olsen was born in 1942. He lives in Lake Elsinore, California and Premalka, Kabardino-Balkaria in Russia. In addition to his two grown daughters and two ex-wives, he has a Russian wife and a three year old daughter.

Mr. Olsen was a pioneer in the computer games industry. In the early days of PCs he founded Aardvark Software and published dozens of games and utilities of his own creation and others.

He was particularly well known for creating adventure games that took days to play in an era where computers had very little memory, no hard drives, and virtually no storage.

When the early games era died, he worked in the music industry, creating software systems for EMI, Warner Brothers, and Capitol Records.

In addition to Rodger’s Russia, he has also written The Empire of Texas (science fiction, available through Amazon), and co-authored Conrad’s Crusade with Leo Frankowski (also science fiction available through Amazon and

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