June 1995. Our Trip to Poland. Part 2

I have no pictures from that trip. None. I didn’t own a camera, and whenever I tried to use other people’s cameras, the pictures would turn out horrible, so I was 200% convinced I will never be able to produce a single decent shot. Taking pictures, processing films was way bigger deal back then, so I never even asked our hosts. Waldek took these two pictures at home, on the next day after our arrival. 

I haven’t seen Dowgerts for five years. We barely heard anything from them except for that unbelievable humanitarian flight in December 1991 (I need to go back and check whether I wrote about it).  

Back in 1990, Waldek was a laid-off pilot. His wife Marysia was a school teacher (and I got to know her because she was a part of the teachers’ delegation to Leningrad in 1989). When I talked to them on the phone before coming, they said, “They have lots of news,” They will tell all about it when I come. The news was revealed to us immediately after they met us at the train station: Marysia was now a school principal, and Waldek was a Mayor of Pruszcz Gdanski! 

Now, they owned a car, and Waldek drove us home (as usual, everybody except Anna got seasick). The apartment was the same, but they were talking about getting a bigger and better one. Their older daughter Anetka was 17, and the next day she took us to Gdansk. She didn’t speak Russian. My kids didn’t speak English, so I had to translate their questions each time they wanted to ask something. And when Anetka took us to the city museum, and the kids had some questions, I had to translate their questions into English to Anetka, she would translate them into Polish to the museum personnel, and then the answers were translated twice 🙂  

She also took us to Mariacka Cathedra, and we climbed all the way to the top. Funny enough, Anna Climbed all the way up by herself but was scared to go down, and Anetka brought her down in her arms. 

We talked a lot. There were so many new things around, Poland has changed a lot since 1990. They showed us videos from the school plays, and it was mindblowing. They had videos with Disney cartoons. They had Legos. They had a huge collection of figurines from KinderSurprises. Anetka was talking about going to study in America. All of that was from a different universe. 

The next morning, we were ready to go to our destination – a vacation house at Krynica Morska.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

June 1995. Our Trip to Poland. Part 1

Since I am writing my story partially backward, I didn’t write yet how we got to know the Dowgerts family from Pruszcz Gdansky- a small town close to Gdansk. For now, I will say that Boris and I met Dowgerts several years before, and we stayed at their place when we visited Poland in the summer of 1990. Since the www and the internet, in general, were barely emerging, it wasn’t easy to keep track of each other’s lives. The only thing I knew in May 1995 was that they will meet us and will drive us to their vacation home on the Baltic shore. I tried to get an idea of whether there will be warm enough there in mid-June, and they said – yes, it should be fine.
The airfare was expensive, and I decided to take a train to Gdansk. I believe the length of the journey was about 30 hours. The train was leaving in the late morning and arriving in Gdansk at about 6 PM the next day.
The night before our departure Vlad got a high fever, upset stomach, and nausea. And …. I decided we are still going! Yes, I made sure his temperature went down by the time we had to leave, and not just dow, but down without him taking any fever-reducing drugs. He was pretty weak and laid down for most of the first day of travel, but he was fine when we arrived to Gdansk. However, before arrival, there was a night…

I know that what I am going to tell now will sound extremely judgmental, maybe racist, so I will try very hard to stick to the facts.

We were traveling in the sleeping car. The car was almost empty; only one more compartment except ours was occupied. And the car crew was Polish.

Yes, I understand that it is not about nationality; it is about the social norms in a particular society. And I love the Polish part of me, and I love Poland deeply, but by that time I’ve interacted with Poles, male and female, long enough to know about what was considered an appropriate “manly” behavior.
The compartments in the sleeping cars were quite weird from my perspective. In the Soviet sleeping car, each compartment would host four people, two on the bottom bunks, and two on the tops. Here, the were three bunks on one side and none on the other. There were belts to prevent a person who was sleeping on the top from falling. I think that Igor was sleeping on the second bunk, and it would be logical if I would climb on the very top. But I was on the bottom bunk.

And then one of the porters knocked at the door. He said something to the effect that he forgot to give me some toiletries, which he had to provide for the sleeper passengers. I opened the door. He smelled heavily with the cheap perfume. He locked the door and threw his body over me.

I have no idea what he was thinking:). I have two hypotheses. One- that he was sure that I would succumb to his charms, and that no woman can stand them. At least that’s what I could deduce from the fact that he started to kiss me, saying in Polish, that he wants my lips. My other hypothesis is that he thought I would not risk waking up the kids because I would not want to scare them and keep quiet.
Well, it was true – I didn’t want to scare the kids. But, that was not the first rape attempt in my life, and I knew how to stand for myself!

I was turning spinning my head so that he won’t get my lips, I was pushing him away with both hands, and I was (very quietly) screaming at him to get in the hell out of here! He was still trying to talk me into I am not even sure what, saying, “please let me” in Polish, but I kept spinning and keeping whispering-yelling, and I think he finally realized that I would start screaming loudly if he persists. He retreated.

In the morning, he was very official, as if nothing happened. Do I have to say that I didn’t say a word to anybody? Neither to him nor the Dowgerts when they met us at the train station. I think that I told Boris only several weeks after we’ve returned. And you know why? First, because I believed it’s a part of women’s life. Women are getting raped. Because if you are good looking, men would want to rape you. That was a given. And because – yea, because “it was all my fault.” Because I wore a short skirt. Because I was so vivacious and so visibly excited about going to Poland. Because I knew, “how Polish men are,” and still talked friendly with them during the day.

That’s how our two-week trip to Poland started 🙂

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Adding Some Missing Pictures

I was going to write a blog post about our travel to Poland in 1995, but when I started to look for the photos, I found two more, which I forgot to scan. One is from Vlad’s and Anna’s daycare from 1993 (it was taken at the same time as this picture). I hope everybody can recognize Anna and Vlad in the first row. A boy sitting between them, Dima Golyak, was from a “socially unstable family,” and I remember the teachers were constantly worrying about him. If I remember correctly, both teachers were Tanias. They were great with kids, kind, caring, and usually added a lot of common sense to rediculous rules. A girl in the red dress in the first row is a daughter of Tania, which is on the right 🙂

Another one is Igor’s school picture of most likely 1994. Because of what I’ve explained about the schools for special needs kids, the classroom size was small. Most likely, two boys wear the same kind of vest because it was a part of a set of clothes given to the boarders as a state provision.

It’s so weird to see that the kids are not smiling on these pictures, but that was a norm at that time.

The last picture I missed is another Vlad’s and Anna’s daycare picture from fall 1994:

I like it a lot 🙂

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

The Story Of My Ph.D.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t go to the postgraduate school for my Ph.D. First, I could not afford to go for several years on the postgrad stipend instead of salary, and second, it wasn’t easy to get in. I do not even remember whether it was Boris or I who first came up with the idea that I should go for a Ph.D., in some sense, both wanted it to happen.  

I registered with the Department of Mathematics and Mechanics and became “an aspirant.” For the benefit of the Russian-speakers, the Russian word aspirant means “a postgraduate student,” and a Russian word “soiskatel” means “an aspirant.” Super-confusing, I know 🙂

So, I became an aspirant, and then my timeline was entirely up to me. I didn’t have to attend any classes, except for if I felt I need it to pass the qualification exams. I had to pass four of them: English, Philosophy, Speciality One (which was Computer Science for me), and Speciality Two (which was Data Management).

I registered in 1989, and the only exam I passed before Vlad and Anna were born was English. For our English exam, we had to “submit thousands.” If you do not know what it is about, you will never guess. We had to take any book, or books, or journal articles related to our specialty, computer science, in my case. There was an official estimate of how many characters are there on each page, and we had to be ready with something like fifty pages. The examiner could open the book on any page and ask us to read a paragraph and to translate it. Also, we had to prepare several newspaper pages, and they had to be actual US or British newspapers, not Moscow News. Only the Communist Party newspapers were available, so in my case, usually, it would be “The Morning Star.”

Continue reading “The Story Of My Ph.D.”

Pictures From Summer 1995

For the benefit of my older granddaughter, I am skipping right to the summer of 1995, so that I could show some pictures. The first two where taken in June 1995.

Anna, Ania, Igor and Vlad in the Summer Gardens (Letniy Sad)

My friend Olga had a daughter Ania, who was just several months younger than Vlad and Anna. We lived in the same building and knew each other since our children were babies. When they grew a little bit older, we started to plan our adventures together. On that day, we took subway (Metro) to the city center to the Summer Gardens, the oldest park in Saint Petersburg

On our way back home, with the Church on Blood on the background. Guess, how I know that it’s on the way back, not on the way there?

The next picture was taken later the same summer, when we were staying in the University boarding house. Here we are visiting the Peterhoff park with the fountains. We met Inna and her daughter Kira when staying in the boarding house a year earlier, and once again, now the kids were old enough to take longer trips.

Igor, Vlad, Kira and Anna in the Lower Park of Peterhoff

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

1995: Gigs and Odd Jobs

Since I was fired from Urbansoft, looking for some side jobs, which would put bread on the table, became a part of my life. Most of the time, these jobs were very loosely related to my skills. However, by 1990’s standards, I had decent written English, which was a way to make money.

After the HighDoc project, there was one more, which I consider an epic fail on my part.

Boris was a part of the group, which was contracted by Nortel to write a reporting system – I want to say, for their first cellular data, but I need to double-check with Boris. (Correction: Nortel thing was later, what we did in 1994 was a project for GTE Labs, and it happened because of Boris’ connections to Micheal Brodie – more shame on me! ) He incorporated me to write a user manual for that system. As usual, the pay was verbally negotiated. And I failed it unimaginably.
Although I was full-time employed by the University, the attendance was optional, and there was no real research work. I would come to the office twice a week and spend time meeting with people and talking about random stuff. On the days at home, I often started my day going to the city center and checking “what’s new” in the stores. I was still not accustomed to the fact that there were consumer goods available, and I could buy things that I liked. Shopping for produce was another adventure, with multiple food stands on every corner, different prices and different quality.

There were always emails to answer and some cooking to be done at home, and then there was time to go and pick up the kids from the daycare. When I would sit to write my technical documentation, I didn’t progress much and was still thinking that I have enough time to finish. After some time, I realized that there is no way I could finish on time. Boris was sending me the parts of the reporting system, which were already done, and I had almost no documentation. I told him that I failed just four days before the stuff was due. He managed to write up something and had us covered, but that’s the shame I had to carry for many years.

I do not remember how we got involved with Bank Saint Petersburg, there were some connections involved, but I do not recall the details. Somebody somehow talked them into trying to use Oracle. It was Oracle 6, and the installation process was a journey with an unpredictable outcome. The group consisted of Boris, Yuri, and myself. I have a vague recollection that there was somebody else, maybe a person from the bank. We were supposed to install and teach others to use Oracle, and that was the first experience for all of us. I do not know how we managed to present it as if we were competent, but the task was completed, and we got some insane money. I used my portion to take the kids to Poland in summer (I will tell this story later).

The Bank gig happened in spring 1995, when I was finalizing my Ph.D. Thesis, which will be a topic of some future post.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Reflecting on The Rest of 1994, and Welcoming 1995

Once again, there is a gap of several months when I have no pictures of the kids. The daycare picture was taken at the end of September, and the one below – on January 1, 1995.

During fall 1994, I was still working at the Operations Research Lab of the University. That job still paid close to nothing, and I was still in constant search of gigs. Also, I resumed my postgraduate studies and was slowly but surely getting through all of the required exams.

That fall, Anna first developed her chronic bronchitis, which she had for many years after. Nobody could tell me what the reason for that condition was, but one of the hypotheses was that she had an underdeveloped lung because she was a premie. As a result, any slight cold would develop into the obstruction bronchitis within several hours from onset. Most of the time, a pediatrician won’t recognize that bronchitis is coming, and I had to learn how to diagnose it.

It was scary, and it was not something you could get used to. Roughly every six weeks, it looked like your child is dying. There were no children’s versions of the regular medicine for that condition (and no inhalers, if you are curious about it). I would buy the pills, which helped with the spasms and crushed them into powder. I always had these pills both in my purse and on the nightstand. And when Anna would start coughing non-stop and wheezing: “Mom, open my mouth!” I had to manage to get that power in her mouth, along with some water. I knew that it would help, but it was scary each and single time.

I learned how to listen to her breath and catch an onset of yet another bronchitis. I learned to perform a special massage, which would help to get mucus out of her airways.

As a side effect, it would often happen that I could not send her to the daycare, and then I would take her with me to my postgraduate classes. One of the classes was philosophy, and I had to take an exam at the end. Fortunately, that class taught by the same professor Alexeev, whom I had during my undergrad studies, and who secretly taught us about existentialism :). Anna was sitting there very quietly, and I was always allowed to take her to my class. Could that trigger her future interest in social studies?!

Back to the picture below.

Our family tradition continued: everybody celebrated the New Year’s Eve with their immediate families or elsewhere, but on January 1, everybody would gather at the Aunt’s Kima house to celebrate her birthday with the extended family.

I know that I had several pictures from that particular gathering, but now I can only find that one. I have no idea why Igor is not on that picture because he was most definitely present.

Vlad and Anna wear animal costumes because, as I’ve already mentioned, costumes for the New Year go back to the old tradition Sviatki – the time between Christmas and New Year. Anna is in a squirrel mask, and Vlad wears a hood with bunny ears, and both of their faces are painted with animal features.

In the back row from left to right: my cousin Dodik (David), Kima’s son, with his wife Alla, then Aunt Maya, Uncle Slava’s wife. In the middle row – I, Aunt Kima, and my mom.
My shoulders were not intended to be bare to that extent, it’s just my dress pulled down, and I was still very skinny back then. I made that dress myself. I got the garment as a fee for teaching English to the son of one of “a friend of a friend.” It required only minimal work to fit my small body, and it looked spectacular, or at least I thought so back then.

Here was the start of 1995, and many things were going to happen that year.

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My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Daycare Pictures

Two pictures taken at Vlad’s and Anna’s daycare (aka Kindergarten)

Anna and Vlad are first from the left in the first row, and their later best friend Kolya is a second from right in the upper row. Vlad and Anna just turned three, Kolya is almost a year older. Interestingly, I remember all of the kids, their characters, but I do not remember any other names.

Vlad and Anna are dressed in “humanitarian aid,” and Anna wears shorts which was not common for the girls at that time. Almost everybody else wear the clothes from the stores, as nice as their parents could get. The boys wear button-downs and dark shorts, which was a standard, and most of the girls wear dresses and tights.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Soviet Special Ed Schools: What was Wrong

After I posted about Igor’s school, I kept thinking about what I considered wrong about that school. As in every other school, there were some good teachers and some bad teachers. The classes were small; the kid’s needs were addressed. Still, there was something fundamentally wrong in how we, the parents, the children, and the teachers were thinking about it. 

On the one hand, it was considered shameful to admit that your child is attending a school “for special needs, whatever these needs would be. A parent would be reluctant to say what kind of school is their child attending. On the other hand, the staff was constantly promoting the idea that these kids are so lucky because “in a regular school,” nobody would take care of them, and they won’t be able to learn. I remember teachers disciplining students saying that if they don’t behave, they will be sent to “a regular school.”

The students felt simultaneously deprived and lucky, being continually reminding them that “the government provides,” pumping up the sense of entitlement. Also, they had limited contact with the outer world, which would be a case in any boarding school, multiplied by their vision disabilities. 

And back then, I didn’t know how wrong it was, and I acted, and though, and felt like all other parents of children with disabilities (except some brave souls, but I was not one of them). I am just happy that the world started to open for me, and that little by little, I started to realize that things could be different. 

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

Igor at the Boarding School: 1992-1994

Since I am writing my historical posts in random order, not following the chronological sequence of events, I didn’t write anything about Igor’s childhood. Not trying to squeeze in one paragraph all his first seven-year of life, I will mention here that when Vlad and Anna were born, he was about to turn six and was attending a kindergarten. I already mentioned that the Soviet and later Russian educational system was very different from the American. At Igor’s time, children would start school when they were seven or were going to turn seven in September (some exceptions were allowed). The school would go from the first to the tenth grade, and all educational establishments for children younger than seven were called Kindergartens. In the Soviet Union and during the early years of Russia, there was no private daycare, and all kindergartens were parts of the state educational system. Inside a kindergarten, groups for children under three were called “nursery groups,” three-year olds were attending “junior groups,” four-year-olds – “middle groups,” five-year-olds – ” senior groups,” and six-year-olds – “preparatory groups.” The latter would be an equivalent of the US kindergarten.

Igor had a vision disability, and inclusion was unheard of in the Soviet Union. Starting from the age of two, he attended a specialized kindergarten for children with visual disabilities. I had no choice there, and I was fortunate that one of those kindergartens was situated just seven minutes walk away from our home. We were even luckier that this kindergarten had two groups for children with severe vision disabilities, and when Igor was four, he started to attend one of those groups. That was a real blessing – since there was no inclusion nobody would address his specific needs otherwise.
Next year, he had to start school. Once again, since there was no inclusion, he had to go to one of two boarding schools for children with visual disabilities. Luckily for us, that school was undergoing some repairs- remodeling, and the dorms were closed. That meant that for the time being, all students had to go home for the night.

Continue reading “Igor at the Boarding School: 1992-1994”