Oil and Gas Industrial zone,The equipment of oil refining,Close-up of industrial pipelines of an oil-refinery plant,Detail of oil pipeline with valves in large oil refinery.

The EXPAT

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29. Carol – Kineshma

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When we secured the training effort with AA, we had many long weeks ahead in Kineshma. The company had a hostel (small hotel) where we retired after after each days labor at the plant.

Carol and I had a flat in Moscow, a small 5th floor arrangement, to which I would journey at the end of each week’s labor in Kineshma. That put me in the train Thursday night to Moscow, then Monday night on the train back to AA. Carol spent some time with me at the hostel. The following is her experience on one of these segments, where she became friends with Irina at the hostel.

“September 10, 1996 To family loved one and all:
Irina and I have become friends. Her husband, Alexander, and only daughter, Marina age 8, birthday January 29 I think, have accepted us with enthusiasm. I have given them several books, for teaching English to beginners. Actually, Irina learned English but hasn’t practiced it for several years. Her diction and pronunciation is very good. They are living at the hostel while trying to build a house nearby. There are problems as they have learned how to do this from a book purchased in Pavek. They also do not have the money needed to get gas into the house, or water or to continue to pay the one worker helping them.

Times were better for them before the fall of Communism. They lived in Pavek, near Alaska, a gold mining town. Alexander was an airplane tech and making good money. The school system there was better than it is in Kineshma. Marina had one excellent year of English. They brought a video to our room to show us Pavek. A town that has died. Their shipment of goods is in storage there and unable to bring to Kineshma as there are no ships or trains running there now. Irina has made belini (crepes) for us to eat while watching the video. Also on the video was a wonderful production of a Miss Barbie contest with wonderful costumes and talent. Marina won the Miss Smile award.

Irina and Marina told me her school teacher had invited me to school to hear the children speak English. I went and realized they spend one hour a week on English. I listened to each child say “My name is … I am x years old, I have a mother and father, I have or have no brothers and sisters…” I am invited back in October to hear how they have improved. I guess I was a hit… they asked several questions and then Sergey ran after me for an autograph.
Alexander drives the hostel car and delivers food provisions for the restaurant of sorts. I don’t think he is paid for this, maybe a trade so they can stay in one room in the hostel. They cook on a hot plate and eat from the garden planted around the home they are trying to build.

Wednesday, Irina came to my door. Her mother, Lydia, was there, (she is a “modern” woman, owns a car and works in a shop downtown). She had come to take me on a tour of Kineshma! Irina, Lydia, Alexander and I drove off. We saw some houses of famous war hero’s and musicians, all empty and in ruins. One of these was overlooking the Volga river. They drove me to the square, two of the buildings there were pre-Lenin and now being used as pitiful stores for electronics or whatever. There is a famous Russian Orthodox cathedral there but it wasn’t open to visits at that time. They took me into a museum, a small room with maybe a dozen paintings, a wall of handmade crochet, and a table with arts & crafts kind of things on it. All things were for sale and evidently made in Kineshma. Lydia bought a carved wall hanging, wrote “to remember Kineshma” on it and gave it to me. It cost 20,000 rubles or $10.00. I know that is a lot of money to her and I was moved.

We walked down to the pier, a ferry carries people each day back and forth. From an island village to work in Kineshma. Funny thing about Russians, they work whether they get paid or not… nice situation for the crime element, taking over everywhere…

We drove to another town, through hills and dales that constituted a collective farm. I asked Irina if she benefitted from the collective farm… she said no. We visited friends of the mother (Lydia). A young couple with four children (unheard of in Russia, most have only one or two). One of the children walked the distance to a sanitarium, we drove and met her at the gate. We walked in the rain through a very sedate forest and manicured lawn area, maybe a mile, (I have learned to be wary of going anywhere with anyone. Stairs and walking are painful and it is hard to convey that to anyone unless they are in the same boat), until we came to the sanitarium.

A five story red brick building built with five sides surrounding a sculptured garden in the center. I was amazed! The inside was marble, expensive wood, chandeliers, large quiet sitting rooms everywhere with magnificent fireplaces on each floor, each one designed in a different way with different materials. I was shown a large round heated pool in a rather grecian like setting. The dining room looked western. There was a dance floor, disco with a live band every night, a billiards room and a bar.

This is a place where ill people come, a place of rest, Irina said. It took me a while (before entering the building) to realize it wasn’t a cemetery. I kept wondering where the headstones were, maybe she was saying crematorium. It was built ten years ago under Gorbachev for sick children. Many Chernoble patients are here. It is now for anyone who can afford it ($60 a night). It has also now been opened up for people on holiday and I was told many tourists come.

It has many famous medical doctors, therapists, and when I asked if computers were available, the woman at the desk said only for the medical personnel here. I only saw a dozen people in this humongous place until dinner time, one young couple came down the hall with 8 giggling, screaming, running, unruly children on the way to the dining room. i guess most of who was there were in their rooms, maybe too ill to come out. The few people I saw were probably visiting family staying there. It was truly a beautiful building. The beds weren’t western, however, more like cots. The bathrooms were very modern (no toilet paper… we always carry our own!).

On the way home, in a steady drizzle, up ahead I see a military checkpoint. An official vehicle and two men in Russian military uniforms. I’m sitting there, in a car with three Russians, in a car you would only see in an old spy movie, eyeing the “police” that are motioning for us to pull over, and checking my wallet for my passport. It was easy to imagine that I was “CIA” and my companions were underground and trying to smuggle me across the border to safety.

Just as we were about to stop, the one in the car shouted to the other who was approaching us. He turned and leaped over the hood, got back into their car and peeled out after an old military truck that had failed to stop to be checked. We pulled back onto the road, the police swerved around us chasing and stopping the truck. We were off the hook, I guess and away we went, un-interrogated, un-searched, un-detained and on to safety. I had narrowly escaped a KGB Gulag (prison). Actually, Irina, who has told me in the past that police are useless and usually sleeping, said they were checking car registrations or something. I know differently! They were after me because I am a Mormon and considered CIA… Bob says I’ve been reading too much Tom Clancy.

We made it home just 20 minutes before the dining room closed. Damp and disheveled I hobbled up the stairs, down the hall and down the stairs where Bob and his Russian Synchron friends were eating. I met Leonid (Bob’s favorite, a true friend and guardian) for the first time. He had been on vacation. He dashed to the kitchen and brought me a plate of steak. Smyshleyev (SS), the General Director of Avto-Agregat (AA) was there with some business men, hence the steak, I’m sure! What one gets everyone gets at this dining room. Usually its a chicken leg, fried potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers. I was so excited to tell them about the sanitarium and the tour I had been on.

Bob didn’t know where I was when he returned from the factory that evening. Novikov knew of it but had never been there. He and Zaitsiv also travel back and forth to Kineshma. Novikov’s wife is very angry at all his traveling, so he will take a vacation and said he will take his wife to the place of rest for a holiday. I don’t know how he can afford it. Maybe SS, the general director has arranged it. Actually we now have further information as to why he didn’t want to be at the plant during this week of the business conference. More on that later. The factory owns the hostel, a sports complex, all of which are almost bankrupt and everyone working at these places whether or not they get paid.

I am at the flat in Moscow, typing this. I stayed here alone this week as the Synchron, Lucas, Avtoagregat conference in Kineshma would see 6 – 8 men coming in with no place to stay. One of them will bunk with Bob at the hostel. We have hot water in our flat in Moscow, Kineshma hasn’t had hot water since I’ve been here. They turn it off in sections for 30 days at a time for repair. (And to remind the unpaid working class who is still in charge, I think). So I have enjoyed hot baths while everyone in Kineshma is freezing.

Thursday 9/12/96. The Russian Branch President’s wife, Irena is here cleaning our flat. Oleg must quit his job because of the corruption there and because all government employees must state allegiance to the Russian Orthodox church. He is in a very bad situation now job-wise. No one wants to hire a former government employee. Paying Irena to clean our flat isn’t much but she was willing and it will hep them a little.

Bob called, he will be hosting two gentlemen from Lucas Corp. One from England and one from the Czech Republic, all day Friday after they arrive with him at 5:30 am on the train from Kineshma. He will see that they get on their plane Friday evening. Alex, our driver, will be here shortly to drive me to the market. Maybe I’ll luck out and be able to find what I need to prepare breakfast. Food I can find, a pancake turner? That is more challenging. I also want a samovar, a traditional Russian vessel to boil water for coffee and tea (che’).
Sunday, Bob is getting ready to leave for Kineshma again. I will stay here. I feel like I need to spend time with Irina in Kineshma but need the hot water here more. I am a soft and spoiled American.

Alex, my driver, arrived last Thursday and we went shopping. I found what I could use for the breakfast and we searched for a Samovar. In the process I saw a lot of this beautiful 850-year old city. The Kremlin and Red Square are magnificent. We didn’t find a samovar I could pay for, (not enough rubles in my purse) and so we went home. On the way, Alexi in his wonderful Russian accent said, “Kerrol, Ve go on a leetle exCURsion today.” He is trying to re-learn English. He hasn’t used in 15 years since learning it in school. You would all like him.

Breakfast at 6:00 am went okay. The englishman was from near Leeds near where Lori went on her mission. Hearing his accent and that of the Czech was great. My name can be pronounced so many different ways… I love it.

Friday, after Bob and Alexi had given the Moscow tour to the Booz guys (their first time in Russia, and their LAST, they emphasized), and got them on their plane, Alexi presented a samovar to Bob to give to me… (he can’t afford this!). What a wonderful gift! Bob gave him a Book of Mormon. We have to tread lightly here but set a good example. The government makes announcements on TV for people to report “harassment” from foreign religions, they pound the airwaves with “Orthodoxy is the STATE religion.” People here know how important the “state” still is.

I have made applesauce and dried apples and given them to two of Bob’s work associates and Alexi. Then, Oleg came over and wanted to know how to do it. He had never tasted applesauce before or seen dried apples. He is so interested he will try to dry many things. They “can” things using jars they have bought over the years with jam or whatever, and the kind of jars jam comes with. They reuse those over and over, processing as we do and claim the old lids will keep resealing. Hmmm… He brought me some carrot and pepper relish and some apricots his wife had canned.

Inflation is terrible here. Last year Bob bought a printer for their office for $200. They need another and now want $500… Didn’t get another printer. I’ve found popcorn. Now to find a popper. Russians don’t know what popcorn is. I think all there corn is used to make vodka.

This is a sick country. Eighty percent are alcoholic. Seventy percent of woman having babies have difficulty with delivery or ill babies. 40% of all school children have mental illness. KGB thugs are running the government. A rumor is that since Yeltsin is having a heart bypass this week, (his kidneys and liver are shot), Helmut Kohl of Germany came to visit and Yeltsin entrusted him with one of the old suitcases that contain the combination to their nuclear capability. I guess each of three people have one suitcase and all three are needed in case of war. Suitcases?… One of Yeltsin’s advisors said maybe the rumor isn’t true but since Yeltsin isn’t that organized, it COULD be true. I think this guy wanted the suitcase and is ticked it wasn’t given to him. He probably started the rumor. Who knows where the third suitcase is.

The prevailing attitude here, Oleg, people Bob works with, Newspaper editorials, etc., is that Americans don’t understand and we expect too much making ourselves look stupid. I’m getting impatient with it… after all, this was a closed society, what do they know about the vast and diverse people and situations in America. We, on the other hand, have more information about Russian life than they had, because of the controlled info they were constantly fed, due to defectors and our spy system. We understand more than they realize, “the fact is if they want an open society as they claim they do, it is going to take more than our understanding… it will take them willing to change.” A few intellectuals try in pleasant conversation to educate us and lacing it with information and comparisons of America which are myopic, and stereotypical.
I can see why it is wise to come home every six weeks. Further, Bob and I are speaking pigeon English to each other and not even noticing it.

This is an INCREDIBLE experience! I hope we are worthy of the privilege of finding one of the 20% who may want the gospel. That we are even here and able to place the scriptures with people is a blessing I wouldn’t have even imagined.
Still, I acknowledge I am a slothful servant and can’t seem to help it. Oh, to have the energy of youth along with a little wisdom of age. I am so grateful for the heritage and the knowledge I have of the Savior and the truth he has given us. A foreign experience hits you hard with that… we are all blessed. It is hard not to take that for granted.

Each day we ask the spirit to be with all of you. That in righteousness you will prosper, and will have the peace and the help you need. Each of you are constantly in our thoughts and we want you to know how much we love you.
Bob & Carol, Mom & Dad, Babuschka and Dyeduschka.

P.S. Bob just arrived with 6 pairs of white shoe laces. He’s lost it! As I look at him with sadness and concern, he exclaims – “Clothesline: You sent me after clothesline! Parts is parts!”

 

Funditty #29

“Find a purpose in life so big it will challenge every capacity to be at your best.”
David O. McKay

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson is a retired professional quality engineer and educator with extensive experience in manufacturing environments throughout the world, including Singapore, Indonesia, Russia, and various locations throughout the United States. Besides all that, he Leslie Householder's admired and revered father, and she is pleased to spotlight his "Expat" stories here on her Rare Faith blog.