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"You are experiencing the Russian variant of getting your Fulbright grant extended," said Olga Kuznetsova, vice president of academic affairs at the Academy. "The result will be the same whether or not your State Department approves the extension in time. You will still be here."
Olga was referring first to the fact that I have submitted a request for an extension of my Fulbright grant to enable me to implement the various arts programs being started in four children's hospitals in Ulan Ude and one in Orlik, a request supported by the various hospitals, Academy of Culture, Dartmouth Medical School, and the U.S. Fulbright and Embassy offices in Moscow. Traditionally decisions for such requests are not made until after February and based on funding availability, at which time I am currently scheduled to be home. Thus requests have been made for an early decision so activities may continue unabated and so I can give my house sitters timely notice.
Second, Olga was referring to the fact that I have no access to funds in my U.S. bank account to cover my daily expenses for food, transportation, translators, internet use, cell phone and what have you. About a month ago cash machines stopped allowing me to withdraw funds. After attempting several different machines affiliated with differing banks a meeting with Buryat bank officials and a call to Moscow confirmed that my US bank was denying access to my funds. "Nonsense," responded my branch in Lake Placid, "We show no such refusal." Yes, they are responded the Russian banks. "No we are not," came emails back to me. Why don't you call each other and work this out, I responded. Meanwhile, such communications have dragged into the holiday season with first the US Banks going on holiday and now the ones in Russia. Meanwhile, I have had to borrow funds from friends here, while my friend Jerry back in the US seeks creative solutions. These same holiday challenges have, of course, complicated communications and decisions about my grant request.
Olga's point was, because I have no access to cash, leaving for the states is impossible in any case, and thus represents a Russian variant on getting a grant extension.
"This will be good news and bad news, as is traditional with the Russian variant," said Olga.
"Which is?" I said.
"For our Rector of the Academy, the good news is you will still be here. Bad news is she'll have to pay you a salary. Good news is you will get some income. Bad news is you will not earn enough to cover you airline ticket, indeed meeting your basic monthly expenses will be a challenge. Good news for the hospitals is that you will be here, bad news you will have to work two jobs just to make ends meet. These are variants on the Russian variant. It often has such levels."
I have, or course, come up against the Russian variant before, as indeed so have most of my Russian friends. It is not quite the same as Murphy's Law, which states what can go wrong will go wrong. The difference is in the black humor of seeing the positive side of being in such a situation, coupled with a bit of that old Maine adage, "You can't get there from here." Perhaps Catch 22, is closer.
Russian healthcare is near free, generally one just has to pay for consumable supplies such as the food you eat, needles and drugs used, but sometimes not even that. So while the doctors and nurses are skilled and the costs are relatively low, the Russian variant is that the amount of medicine and supplies is limited, and the older hospital wards can be crowded, cold and rather depressing, thus the variant highly motivates one to get well as soon as possible as a means of leaving such a situation say nothing of staying healthy in the first place or trying every home remedy suggested by friends and family, no matter how exotic, before heading for a hospital. This is not to say that health officials are not doing all they can to improve hospitals and health safety, and patient family members grateful for the care given, but to say that while such efforts are being made, the Russian variant does its part to reduce patient stays.
"So Olga, what are some other examples of the Russian variant?" I said.
"Well, when my husband and I were first came here we were both teachers. With Perestroika, neither one of us got paid our salaries for nearly two years. Can you imagine? I do not know how we survived such times. Now I am no longer afraid of anything. Such are the benefits of the Russian variant. You will find it toughens you. But I don't think Russia or Russians could survive another Perestroika, which helps insure we will not have one."
2006 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475