Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another Typical Day

About a month ago, a woman came to our apartment, handed Julie a small strip of paper and said, “Take care of this write away!”
The paper said, “Dear Valued Customer from Apartment 49. Please come to the central water service office, bring your paid bills for the last year. Our hours or Mon – Thursday, 9:00am to 5:00pm, lunch is noon to 1:00. Immediately.” Julie handed me the paper when I got home and said that the woman said, “Take care of this right away.” Well, I had a bad attitude and I was busy so I said, OK and put the paper in a drawer. I knew that if I went right away, I would just have to wait somewhere else. I took me about a month to clear a day to try to address this issue. Why clear a whole day you ask…I’ll tell you. Last Thursday was the day. Here is what happened.
6:30am: I woke up, grabbed my mp3 player, a couple of books and the documents they asked for. I ate some breakfast and was out the door by 7:30.
8:00am: I arrived at the office. I knew it wouldn’t be open. There were several men and women standing around, so according to the local custom, I walked up the group and said in a loud voice, “Who is the last one?” One man answered, “Which office?” I answered, “Office 8.” “Your last!” He said, then laughed and said, “Your also first…I’m going to 2, he is to 5, she is to 10 and so on.” So we waited. Several people showed up before nine and this little scene replayed itself. I just stood and read my book.
9:00am: Office opens and we walk in to a little waiting room – hallway really. There is another door with a guard. The guard says, “Who is going to 1?” the he lets someone past the door, “Who is going to 2?” lets the next person in, etc. Of course he skips 8 and goes to 10. Meanwhile people keep walking in and asking who is last. They receive similar answers to the one I got but this time from 5 to 7 people at once.
9:30am: Guard comes out and says, “Who is to 8”. I am standing about two feet from the guard and an old man rushes forward (I’ve never seen an old man move so fast), pushes me aside and says, “I am.” As I am saying that I was there first, he is already through the door. Then another woman walks in and asks, “Who’s last”. After some confusion she agrees to go to 8 after me.
10:05am: Old man comes out the door and guard lets me in. But the man at desk 8 is not ready so I wait in a less crowded hall.
10:30am: Woman peaks her head in and says, “Are you still waiting?”
10:45am: Desk 8 is ready. I walk up to the desk, hand the man my papers. He looks at them for about a minute and says, “Let me explain what we need.” I said, “You already told me what to bring, it is on the little strip of paper.” He says, “It’s good that it is written there.” Everyone’s a comedian today. He makes a list of six documents I have to find and bring back to him.
I have most of the documents at home. One of them I have to get from another office about 20 minute walk away. The office is called the Zhek. They are like an association.
11:30am: I arrive at the Zhek. At the zhek office I need to go to the “Passportist”. I walk in the little hallway/waiting room and ask, “Who’s last?” They say which passportist? I answer and there are three people in front of me. Amazingly there is a chair available so I sit down, pull out my book and start to read.
Noon: It’s my turn. I stand up to walk into the office and a woman runs in before me. I guess I’ll wait.
12:10 I make it into the office. I explain what I need. She pulls out a form. Spends about five minutes filling it out, I hand her 2 grieven and I’m off. But wait. The form needs a stamp and another signature. I have to go to the accountant for the signature and then the boss for the stamp.
12:15 Who is last waiting for the accountant? Much confusion and I decide that I’m after that grandmother. I announce that I am after her and sit down to read my book. I start reading and the old man next to me wants to talk and complain about waiting.
12:45 The account walks out of her office and as she is walking by asks, “Why are you waiting?” She grabs the old man’s form, signs it and walks off. Before I can speak…she’s gone. When she walks back, I block her way, hold up my form, smile and say please. She takes it and signs it.
12:50. The boss’s office door is closed. I’m tired and feeling a little bold. I knock and open the door. The boss is on his cell phone and someone is sitting at the other side of his desk. I walk in and show him the form. Without stopping his conversation, he takes the form, signs it, stamps it, hands it back and I’m outta here!
12:55 I walk out of the Zhek office and breath the free air again! But I’m not done. I need documents from home.
1:00 – 1:15 I gather documents from home.
1:25pm I go to the copy place and have copies made.
1:45pm I arrive back at the first office.
They are on their lunch break and there are a lot of people waiting. I can’t even get into the hallway/waiting room. The man said I could go to the front of the line but this crowd does not look very friendly. If I walk in and go to the front there could be bloodshed. What to do? Ha…I see the guard standing outside talking on his cell phone. I go to him and explain that I was told that I can go to the front. I even show him the note. He looks at the crowd and says, “Don’t worry, we’ll figure something out.” So I stand near the entrance and read my book. About 10 minutes later, I hear a voice. “Did you bring everything I asked?” It’s the man from desk 8. “Yes I did.” “Follow me”. He leads me through the crowd…they probably think I work there so no harm done.
2:05pm Back at desk 8. He looks through the documents, asks me some questions (boy he talks fast), fills out some more documents and then says, “Did you bring the current readings on your water meters.” “No, you didn’t ask for those.” He looks at his list, “No problem.” He shows me some documents and says, “sign here and here, date here, wife name here, sign here and here and here and there and here…… “Now, when you get home, call this number, it’s an answering machine, say your wife’s name, address and the water meter numbers.” “OK” then I ask, “Why are we doing this?” He answers, “The law says that we must have a personal contract with each household.”
3:00pm Home. There is a piano lesson going on in the living room. Julie walks out of the girls room and says, “Where have you been all day.” All I have to say is, “Water office” and she fully understands. No details necessary. I gather the water readings, call the number, leave my message, and then file our new agreement with the water department.
3:30pm I’m hungry, time to get something to eat and start my day.
The funny things is the book I had with me is called “Russka” and as I was hurry up and waiting all day a passage caught my eye. This part of the story took place in 1844. The setting is a little fictional village of Russka. Two brothers are talking late into the night. Sergei is a lighthearted Slavophile and an optimist. His older brother, Ilya is an intellectual, loves Europe and wants to transform Russia into a country that has European efficiency. The conversation ends with Sergei explaining why Ilya’s grand plan to change Russia will never work.
“…Which brings me to my second objection. Your prescription for Russia comes from the head. It is logical, reasonable, clear-cut. Which is exactly why it has nothing to do with the case. The Russians will never be moved by such things. That is what the West will never comprehend. It is the deep weakness of the West, as we see it, that it does not know that to move Russia, you must move her heart. The heart, Ilya, not the mind. Inspiration, understanding, desire, energy – all three come from the heart. Our sense of holiness, of true justice, of community – these are of the spirit: they cannot be codified into laws and rules. We are not Germans, Dutch or English. We are part of Holy Russia, which is superior to all these. I, an intellectual, a European like yourself, say this to you.”
“You are one of this new group then, who claim a special destiny for Russia, apart from the rest of Europe, who people call Slavophiles, I take it,” Ilya remarked. He had read a little of this group lately.
“I am,” Sergei said, “and I promise you, Ilya, it’s the only way.”
And so at last, their minds full of these grand and universal thoughts, the two brothers affectionately embraced each other and retired to their beds.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Day 31

Well its day 31 of the 14 day remodel. So far all has gone pretty well. We have had a couple of electrical glitches but nothing serious. The major work is complete. The arches are in place, Joseph’s new door is installed and yesterday, the walls were painted. Today, we realized that we didn’t have enough floor boards. Went to buy some new ones and of course nobody sells them anymore. We ended up purchasing all new ones. But Julie likes them better. Today the floor boards were installed, the paint was touched up and the ladder was put back.

During construction, life has continued. We took a trip to Kotovsk (a city in the north) with our team, Micah got sick, the schools were closed (not because of our remodel) and Alfie continues to teach at the seminary. We are beginning to feel like we live in a house and not a construction zone again. That is indeed a good feeling.