February 15, 2009 Time Spent In Rural Indiana

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


I have not written since my arrival in Russia because I have been spending several days in rural Indiana, about 1955. I have debated whether to even write about my unpleasant experience, but….

Since my arrival in Southern Russia, I have been suffering from what we used to call “Montezuma’s Revenge.” As you know, this is a debilitating and embarrassing condition. It is even worse in a small Russian apartment with poor interior sound insulation, and a commode that has the acoustics of a tuba in a concert hall. I am certain that every tenant in this building, and probably the next one, knows of my condition in detail, time, date, and frequency.

If there is any good news, it is that I have been too miserable to feel much embarrassment. I am also losing a lot of weight.

Then the family, aunts, uncles, cousins and nephews came to dinner yesterday. I can now catch an occasional word of Russian in a conversation, and I learned that the word “diarrhea” is the same in both languages. Apparently, my condition has been one of the major topics of conversation for the past week, with mother-in-law giving detailed hourly reports to her sister, and her niece, and her nephew, and…. It made for fine dinner conversation.

If you are old enough, you might remember 1950’s rural Indiana, or rural anywhere else. The major topics of conversation when women gathered were the gory details of Martha’s last operation and the game of counting the days between marriage ceremony and baby delivery. For a few moments, it felt like childhood returned.

I now feel much better and it’s a nice winter morning. The snow has stopped and temperature is almost shirt sleeve. I sit here on this glorious morning listing to the soft sounds of my mother in law screaming out of the second floor balcony at a woman who is screaming back from the ground about the septic pumping truck.

As there is no sewer system in the village, these apartments have a cesspit, which has to be pumped out a couple of times a week. One person in the complex collects the money from all of the tenants once a month and pays cash twice a week to the truck driver. There are no credit cards, billing accounts, or checks in this republic. Therefore, its cash or keep the poop. The woman with the money is in Nalchick this morning and the driver will not pump without cash. Somehow, the woman in the yard has decided that this is my mother in laws fault.

Turns out that the woman who went to Nalchick left money for the pumping truck with her neighbor, but that neighbor is across the street at the community center and cannot hear the truck. By the time they rounded her up, the truck was gone. There is, apparently, no set schedule for the truck, so some one always has to be waiting breathlessly with money in hand.

All services here are the same. When we went to the Post Office/Phone Company to inquire about internet service, the longest line was people paying their bills – in cash. You bring your bill to the window and fork over the money. No bill? There is now a computer in the lobby where you can print a copy and then get back in line. This is a big improvement from last year. Then you had to stand in another line waiting for a grumpy woman to sort through the file cabinets to find your paper bill and slam it down on the counter in front of you.

Phone, gas, electricity, heating, it’s all the same. Take the bill physically to the office and pay in cash. Of course, people are not stupid. In some larger apartment buildings one person will collect from everyone for basic services like garbage and water and pass the money on.

It makes me realize how wonderful it is in America where companies bill you periodically for services and let you pay on line or by check. The very faint odor of the un-pumped tank wafting through the window will increase my appreciation.

Don’t you love the fact that Edison will send you a bill that you can pay online or send a check back? In my case, Edison bills me electronically and my bank pays the bill automatically. I hear rumors that Moscow now has on line bill pay, but it will be a long time coming to the villages.

How do you know that a Russian is talking on the telephone? Easy, everyone within a block or so can hear them and so can you,

Apparently, the soviet telephone systems were not all that good, so people got the habit of trying to be heard over noisy lines – by screaming at the phone. They also cover the mouthpiece with their hands to keep the sound in.

Of course, the young people have all had real phones their entire life, so they talk normally on the phone.

Do Russians Really Drink A lot?

Is 18 liters of vodka per person, per year for every man woman and child a lot? The Moscow times carried an article today that stated that the head of the national police force was asking the Duma to outlaw drinking on airplanes. They then went on to list several incidents this year where passengers assaulted flight attendants and two incidents where drunken passengers tried to hijack the aircraft. Last month a drunken Turkmanian decided in mid-flight that he wanted to go back to Turkistan, so he handed the attendant a note that said he had a bomb and wanted the plane re-routed. Unfortunately for him, the other Russians on board had also had enough to drink to be combative, so they tackled him, pounded him a little, and sat on him for the rest of the flight,

Only in Russia could we say, “It’s not just the passengers”. A few years ago, three male flight attendants got drunk during the flight and then assaulted a passenger when he complained about the bad service.

It isn’t always funny. A few weeks ago, the passengers on a Moscow to New York flight realized that the captain who was making the welcoming announcements was too drunk too talk straight. They jumped out of their seats and refused to let the plane take off. This is how Aeroflot handled it – step by step.

First, the pilot came back and assured everyone he was not drunk. The passengers told him they were not fooled. They were Russians and they knew a drunk when they saw him.

The Pilot assured them that he would not touch the controls because there were four pilots on board for the transatlantic flight and someone else would do the flying today,

Second, One of the other pilots came back and said that the captain was not feeling good that day, but he would fly plane and let the captain sit it out,

Third, After two hours of cell phone calls to Aeroflot and continued mutiny, an Aeroflot representative came on board and told the passengers that it didn’t matter what shape the pilot was in because the plane flew itself by computer and the pilots didn’t really have to do anything.

Finally, after over four hours of passenger mutiny, Aeroflot replaced the pilots and the plane took off.

Even less funny, about a year ago, Aeroflot had its first serious crash in over a decade. A plane making a difficult landing during a storm in Siberia went off the end of the runway. A lot of people died. It was thought that the storm was the only cause of the crash, and it may have been the major cause. However, the government just released the final crash investigation. The pilot had alcohol in his system, and the flight recorder shows that he asked the co-pilot to take over just before the crash. His last words were “You take over, can’t you see that I can’t land this thing?” Apparently the copilot couldn’t land it either.

This is the airline that I have to fly home on.

I should point out that despite these occurrences; Aeroflot has the best or second best safety record world wide in each of the last 5 years. Don’t want anyone worrying unnecessarily.


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