Good News. I have lost almost 20 pounds since coming to Russia.
Better News. The antibiotics seem to be working and I am beginning to regain weight.
Old Russia, New Russia
They’re dying out fast, but the old peasant babushka is still around. They’ve seen Germans, Stalin, starvation, purges, and poverty. They labored on collective farms or in factories for 40 years and ended up with pensions of $20 a month. Now they often sit on street corners or in bazaars selling sunflower seeds. One flagged down our Marshutka (minibus) a few days ago. Like all of them, she was grey haired, bent by age, her few teeth golden or grey, her cotton dress faded beyond belief, feed shod in frayed slippers. Her work worn face was topped with a scarf and she carried a plastic bag for a purse. Until a few years ago, they were entitled to free bus rides and even now few drivers will ask for a fare from them. However, as she sat down the tinny sound of opera came from her plastic bag until she answered her new cell phone.
How to learn to love the DMV
In a moment of husbandly foolishness, I agreed to go with my wife to get her new internal passport. The internal passport goes back to Czarist Russia. Every citizen has one and has to show it constantly. We couldn’t get cell phones without showing passports.
Larisa had hers stolen in the States, so she had get a new one. I figured we’d go to some office, spend a half an hour filling out forms and be done with it. I might as well have figured that there was an honest lawyer somewhere.
Go to the village offices in Larisa’s home village on the edge of town. Spend an hour waiting and an hour explaining and fill out big forms. She was counseled to say she lost the passport, because if she said it was stolen, the police would insist on a 6 month long investigation even though the theft happened 9,000 miles away. It might have been worse, but Larisa’s mother was with us and she knew everyone in the office. Among other things, she is on the committee which counts votes and reports the results that Moscow orders.
Day1 – Afternoon.
The forms have to be stamped by the federal police before they can be processed, so we got a cab to the police post outside of town. Serious place, grey block building with guards, guard posts, heavy steel doors. I had a feeling that an American should not be here. They let us into a dark room where the upper half of one wall was a steel grid dividing the darkened half from an office where four burly, pot bellied, head shaved police were working at desks and practicing their growling.
The office was lit only by light coming in from half windows set high in the wall, and there weren’t any windows in the room we were in. When Larisa complained, the guard explained that there was no light because of the storm last night. Apparently the police had vast social powers, but no electrical power. Tough luck if we couldn’t see the form he handed us. Fortunately, I had a small flashlight on my keychain and Larisa used it while filling in the form, and we had a stamp a few minutes later.
There were no cabs out that far from town, so we waited a half an hour for a bus.
We took the forms, now stamped, back to the village offices. Another hour or so passed while nothing happened. Larisa showed the stamped form to a secretary, she left for a while, the mayor showed up to chat with me in incomprehensible Russian then went on to explain to Larisa’s mother how they planned to replace an unruly group of kiosks with a nice modern mini-mart and gas station. The secretary came back from wherever she had gone. Eventually we left with all of the forms in a nice plastic bag.
Day 2 – Afternoon
The forms now have to be turned in at the local police station. We got to the station on the other end of town to be confronted by 5 or 6 lines of people – about 30 people per line – in front of one window and five doors. The halls were filled with people in lines. All of the doors were unlabeled, and there was no directory, no information window, and no way in Hell to tell which line to spend the next couple of hours standing in. Larisa tried asking people which line they thought they were in, but not all of the people in any line agreed with why they were there. A lot of people were obviously going to be very unhappy a few hours later when they got to the door and found out that they were in the wrong line.
We left. Larisa had a “better idea”,
The police office opens at 9;00. Larisa got up at 6:00 to be first in line. She figured that if she were first in line, she could ask the staff coming in to work which line to stand in. It worked, sort of. Other people started showing up about 7:00 and some of them knew the magic door. By 9:30 Larisa was done – after only two and a half hours of standing in line in a closed office.
Day 3 – Afternoon
The best was yet to come.
The police took the forms, but couldn’t take the 12 dollar fee. For than we had to go a bank on the one side of town that we had not yet visited and pay the fee there. I joined her at the police station and we took a bus to the Berbank – a bank that accepted government payments.
The line there was fairly short, but they took 8 kinds of payments and they only had one general purpose form for recording them. The payer was directed to take the general purpose form and copy about 8 lines of coded numbers at about 30 characters per line onto the general purpose form to turn it into the form needed for their type of payment. Not to worry, there was a bench with 8 sample forms posted on the wall to copy from. No problem if you make a mistake, we have plenty of time to wait for you do to it again.
When Larisa asked why they didn’t just print 8 different forms for people to use, she got the usual “Why the Hell should we?” stare from the clerk.
The lady behind her in line said ‘Why waste our time complaining? Nothing ever gets done.”
Day 3 Even later
We returned to the local police station, pissed off about 20 people who were standing in line by cutting in front and handing the receipt to the clerk inside.
Mission accomplished, and only three days wasted.
All of which goes a long way toward explaining why China has prospered dramatically and Russia has faltered along. In spite of a one party repressive rule in China, the government there admits to over a thousand incidents of civil unrest every year. There are plenty of incidents of corruption and repression, but push a Chinese too far, and he AND his friends will scream hard and let you know they are unhappy. The Chinese Communist party is always aware that they are there because of a peasant revolt and can be removed the same way.
The Russian government has no such worry. Keep vodka, bread, and cigarettes cheap and you can treat the populace like mushrooms. They are a discouraged lot.