6.17.1997

Bill Gates won't be happy

I spent the last two days wiring. What that basically means is that I connected cables to electrical motors, and terminated them on the control or power panel. Quite a low brainer job, so it gave me plenty of time to sit around (the days are nice and sunny) and dream about Chandreyee. Occasionally, I thought also of the situation in Belarus:

Belarus has been de-certified by the UN for human rights violation. The reasons for this are mostly due to the action by the governments on people who organize rallies and other forms of protests. In particular, a newspaper editor and her father were brutally beaten and this was demonstrated on State TV. The European community is willing to let Belarus back into the fold if they have an elected parliament, but Madeline Albright, the US Secretary of State has put down her foot and said "NYET!!” Human rights violation.... China has an extremely similar track record, but has a most favored nation status. But China has to offer cheap organized labor. Belarus has nothing to offer but poverty and complete chaos. Oh yes, and pirated software.

I bought software here that easily cost a few thousand in the original, for six dollars. I am sure Bill Gates considers that as human rights violation.

The big show for us is on Wednesday. The US Ambassador and a whole bunch of Byelorussian officials will be here. Lukashenko has declined the offer. Our friends from Arthur D Little are doing the most significant work of the project: they are setting up the outhouses. That is a mighty strange thing. I forgot to mention this earlier, but the entire Kostinyi base has no running water. No wash basin in site anywhere. This is sad. It used to be a grand place; I am sure, in the soviet times. The Russians left and whatever they could take went with them. The rest were scrapped by the locals. The few buildings that are intact form about 10% of the total. It is like a ruin, with gawky Soviet architecture. The silos stand like huge white elephants. And there is no running water. I have as yet never washed my hands before lunch. The trainees use gasoline from the can. I am bracing myself to do the same, wondering which is worse...

But now the outhouses are here, and the show is almost set. We have entered the last phase of this three year project, which is usually "praise and honor for non-participants." It is ridiculous, as all the equipment will be scrapped for material value the day after we leave. And rightly so, for Belarus cannot have an agenda for soil clean-up. What they could have done is to form a crack team and go after projects in East Germany or Poland for they can offer competitive labor rates. But the problem is that the Soviet Union produced Physicists, Mathematicians, Chemists, and other learned men, but unfortunately no managers.

Our trainees keep talking about the strangeness off it all, about all this effort and money being invested for a demonstration lasting probably one hour, because all these guys want to do is hit the vodka bottle as soon as possible. And so it is -- a strange thing. The absurdity of life once again. But we go through the motions, and as my friend is wont to say "the pay's the same...”

We were supposed to go to the ballet tonight in Minsk, but unfortunately could not due to work. We did go to the opera one night a few weeks ago. It was Tosca, by Puccini. I actually managed to stay awake through the whole thing; although I must say that it got pretty exciting by the third act. Of course, everyone died, including Tosca, who leapt off the turret. We had sparkling Byelorussian wine, and were unfortunately dressed as Americans (slacks/sneakers).

I like to end each piece with a humorous episode, but cannot recall any at this time. Either I am losing my sense of humor or the cabbage at breakfast is really getting to me.

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