1996: My Last Job In Russia

My life in 1996, as it started, was pretty much the same as in 1995. Being a research associate at the University paid very little, and I always searched for additional gigs. One interesting thing in 1996 was that Urbansoft moved to one of Boris’s research lab rooms. John ran out of money (I am not even sure whether he had any investors by that time), and I forgot whether Boris was the first to come up with this idea of it was John, but the idea was the following. Boris and John signed the contract to the effect that Boris’ lab will perform some research for Urbansoft, and Urbansoft will pay for this research, but in reality, it was rent. It’s just that the University was not allowed to lease its space to anybody. It was all the sequence of really awkward situations: John didn’t know that Boris and I were in relationships and that Vlad and Anna were his children. And then he realized that Boris knew all this story about the key and me being fired. So there was a lot of awkwardness!

For several years, however, it was a good collaboration. 

As for me, I still needed some other work on the side. The Smolny thing was over. The bank gig was over. 

I do not remember what I was doing in winter, but it was Stylus, Prompt Corporation by spring. The first Russian Automated Multi-language Translator. Looking back, I have a lot of respect for their leadership. They were trying hard to build a healthy business model. At times, when working for any private company was considered a risky business, they would not hire part-timers. They insisted that if somebody wanted to work for them, they should focus on Prompt one hundred percent. 

It sounds trivial, except that in post-Soviet Russia, it was almost revolutionary. They were paying five bucks to anybody who would find a bug in their product, no matter QA or not. They catered lunch for the whole office every day, and that was unthinkable. 

In terms of full-time employment, they made an exception for me. I had to write documentation for Stylus, yes, documentation again! Once again, I do not remember who invited me there, but apparently, they knew “that I could write.” I brought with me some excerpts from the HighDoc documentation, and it was found to be acceptable. We negotiated the price and delivery schedule, and I started.

The documentation had to be in the RTF format. Once again, when summer arrived, and I had to go to the University boarding house, I was left with my primitive laptop with MS-DOS and Norton text editor and 8K RAM. 

I had some pieces of documentation which I already completed in WordPad. I used them as examples and pieced together the next parts, putting all the markups in manually. Once a week, when I went back to the city, I copied these files to my desktop and tried to correct them if they ended up being non-readable. 

On the second time, something went wrong with my desktop. I can’t remember what exactly, but it was the whole sequence of unfortunate events, and I ended up not bringing the next portion of documentation. I can’t even remember whether only some of the new parts suffered or could not put together anything. In any case, I came to the Prompt office and told my supervisor what had happened. He told me that he was sorry and understood that there were circumstances beyond my control, but since I didn’t deliver what I was supposed to deliver, there would be no pay. I do not remember how I lived for the next two weeks, and where I managed to find money, but I remember my feelings walking down Liteynyi Prospect: what I am going to do?! I can’t say anything in my defense; I didn’t turn in my work, but how will we survive

I worked for Prompt almost until the very last day in Russia. I told them that I am leaving when my work visa was granted. They were mad because their previous technical writer left for America several months before that (and that’s why they hired me). But there was nothing they could do. That was my last contract job in Russia.

As for my position with the University, I didn’t have the courage to quit. After all, I was still in the “I may come back” mode. But since Igor was a special needs child, I had a right by law to go on unpaid leave “to take care of the child” until his 16th birthday. Then theoretically, I could return on any day and get my position back. 

Now, I need to san a hundred pictures from our last summer, because somehow that last summer is very well documented 🙂

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 Event – a Documentary

I just learned about this documentary, although it was produces five years ago. In short, it combines the footage filmed on the streets of Saint Petersburg (then still Leningrad) on August 19-24, during the attempted coup d’etat.

I didn’t even plan watching it today, because I have a book chapter deadline, but I decided to rent in on Vimeo, and just watched in on zoom with Igor.

It is absolute must-see for anybody, because there is close to no footage of these events, because the little which is available is not shown to general public, because of Belarus, and because of many other countries. And because it’s a good reminder that that is us. I do not really like the trailer because of the choice of the episodes and how they are linked, but still – better than nothing.

I was not there during these events, because those were the very last days of my pregnancy, Vlad and Anna were born on August 23. But even without internet and without any information on the television, I knew what was going on, and I was upset that I could not be there.

I rented it here, and I think it worth five bucks to pay for 24 hours streaming. Vlad and @abailliekova – it’s a must-see, and I mean it.

Baby Clothes in the Times of My Motherhood

In August, when my girls were visiting me here, Anna and I started talking about baby clothes when they all were babies. I funny thing is that there was a very little difference between the times when I was a baby and Igor’s times. Things just started to change at Vlad’s and Anna’s time, but a little bit too late for us – I still got a full share of caring for the babies without civilization’s advantages.
When I finished my story, Anna said that I should write a blog post about it because she never understood my challenges before. To illustrate my story, I pulled up a couple of Igor’s pictures when he was 1-2 months old; however, you’ll mostly have to use your imagination :).

There were two tops; both didn’t have any buttons or snaps or fasteners – nothing to hold them together. Such tops were called raspashonks – which can be translated as “no fastener.” The one going under was made of chintz (cotton, but not the stretchy kind). It had short sleeves and was put on a baby with the opening on the back. The upper one had long sleeves and was made of thin flannel, and it was put on a baby with the opening on the front. Both were short, just to the baby’s waist.

Diapers were made of gauze. Most of the time, three layers were sewn together in a triangle. You would fold this triangle twice and put it over the baby’s bottom, between the thighs and over the hips. If you are wondering whether there was anything water-proof, the answer is no. Even when the first leak-proof covers started to appear, pediatricians disapproved of them. They were saying babies develop a rush because of them.

Over a diaper, you would swaddle the baby’s body’s bottom in a small rectangle chintz swaddler (pelenka). Then you could put a small rectangular piece of plastic under the baby’s butt, and then you would swaddle her with a flannel pelenka. For night sleep, you would swaddle in the baby’s arms as well.

I believe this gives a good idea about the volume of washing – cleaning required, and why I was never rushing to change the diaper the moment, it was wet. Oh yes, and multiply by two, and by the absence of a washing machine!

January 1, 1996

One more year, one more set of pictures taken on January 1, at the family gathering on Aunt Kima’s birthday. Once again, I do not remember who took the pictures. I am sure there were tons of pictures of everybody, but I only have pictures where my children are present.

They are dressed in the same costumes as on the photo with a children’s musical cast. Igor is a Vampire, Vlad is a Dwarf, and Anna is a Little Red Riding Hood. I am recycling my High School Graduation dress with all accessories.

Igor, Slava, Petya, Vlad
Aunt Kima with Anna, Iya and Vlad, with Igor on the left
Me with Ann on my lap and my second cousin Ania with her daughter Iya
Continue reading “January 1, 1996”

Saying Goodbye to 1995

The year 1996 was fast approaching, my last year in Russia, although I didn’t know about it back then. To be precise, the first call from Vin.NET International happened in December 1995, but they didn’t offer a job for me then, and I didn’t think there will be any followups. So I didn’t know what the New Year had for me and celebrated it’s coming.

New Year was always a big deal. As I already explained, the New Year festivities were reinstated in the early 1930s to compensate for banned Christmas and Sviatki – the week between Christmas and New Year. Since Orthodox Christmas was celebrated two weeks later than the Catholic one, on January 7, all the festivities would start right before the New Year Eve and would continue for a week or more. The “Old New Year” was celebrated on January 13, and the school winter break started on December 30 and lasted until January 10.

The New Year concerts and parties at schools were usually held on one of the last days before the winter break, and between January 2 and January 10, there were lots of events. Most of the Children’s theaters were running their New Year specials, and also, there were tons of “yolkas.” Yolka means a fir tree or a Christmas tree, but according to an old Russian tradition, Yolka also meant a party, mostly for children, with some New year-themed performance, games around a New Year Tree, and at the end, everybody gets presents. Presents were usually bags of assorted candies and chocolates and maybe a pack of waffles and a mandarin orange.

The first picture, however, was taken at Vlad’s and Anna’s detskiy sad. They had. New Year party and I took Igor to watch it with me. After the party was over, a photographer suggested that he take additional pictures of the children, whose parents would be interested in purchasing more. That’s where this picture came from.

The next one was taken in the Children’s Theater, which we frequently patronized. It was called “Skazka” – a fairy tale. They put on some New Year show, and we went there with two other families. Families meant mothers and children because it was very uncommon for fathers to participate in such activities. A mother was considered to be enough 🙂

I already mentioned, kids (and sometimes adults) dressed up for New Year parties, and Igor, Vlad, and Anna are in their costumes (I have better pictures of costumes, which I will include in the next post). After the show, everybody could take pictures with the cast.

There is a Prince (Tsarevich) and a Princess (Tsarevna) on the back. Next row: a girl who’s name I can’t remember, to my shame, then Igor dressed as a Vampire, and then our friend Ania, who participated in so many activities with us. Finally in the first row: Snow girl (Snegurochka), a granddaughter of Grandfather Frost, Anna dressed as a Little Red Riding Hood, Vlad dressed as a Dwarf and Grandfather Frost himself, is his blue and white coat.

We had more pictures with the cast, but for some reason only this one survived, and I am glad I have it!

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 Rest of 1995

When I think about my life before we relocated to America, I mostly think about the last year before we left, precisely the period I am describing now. I want to describe our “life in general” during this period, rather than specific events.

Vlad and Anna attended detskiy sad – the preschool-daycare ran by the Department of Educations for only a nominal cost, which was a huge relief to my budget. They were lucky to have great teachers, and I invested my time and effort to be in good relationships with all of them, always showing them how much I appreciated their hard work. They were paid little, and their salaries were often late, as with almost everybody at that time.

In Igor’s boarding school, the building remodeling was finally over. He stayed there from Monday morning till Friday afternoon, which was also a relief for monetary and time budgets. I was a research associate at the University, which still paid close to nothing. Besides, after many thoughts and hesitations, I applied for government child disability payments for Igor. That was a small but reliable additional income, in addition to Igor having room and board for five days a week in his boarding schools. Still, more than half of my income had to come from some side gigs, which I was always searching for. I never requested child support from Igor’s father for several reasons. When we divorced, my earnings were higher than his, and I didn’t feel it fair to ask for more. I have to mention that the way the child support amount was calculated in Russia, it didn’t take into account mother’s income, it was plain 25 or 30 percent of the father’s income (I forgot the exact number, I think it was 25% for one child, 30% for two and 50% for three or more). Second, I felt that because it was my initiative to divorce him, I could not make it worse. And lastly, I told him that the only thing I want from him was to visit Igor often and never ask for money if he will keep in touch with his son. He ended up visiting way less than I would hope for, but that was my intention.

Continue reading “The Rest of 1995”

Pictures From September 1995

I promised several people, including my children, that I would post more pictures. I am always trying to combine pictures with stories, but I can’t say much about these, except that it was a family gathering in our house. Judging by the guest list and the fact that this picture was taken in fall 1995, it must be Igor’s tenth birthday.

We lived in extremely crowded conditions. This one room of fewer than 200 sq ft was the place for everything. All four of us slept there. All our belongings were stored there, all the desks, including mine for working from home, all the toys, the piano – everything was packed in this one room. Our beds and the desks were folding, the jungle gym, which you can see on that picture could be lifted up.

From left to right: Aunt Kima, her son Dodik, my Mom, me, Igor Sr (Igor’s father), Sasha – my cousin’s husband.

The next two pictures look almost identical, but I could not choose one, so I decided to post both. On the first one, you can see me in the far left corner. The older kids from left to right: my late nephew Petia (my cousin Ania’s older son), my half-brother Slava (my father’s son) and Igor. The smaller kids from left to right: my niece Iya, Anna and Vlad. (Vlad has a cold sore on his lip).

Everybody is dressed warmly because all the houses had (and still have) a centralized heating system, which was usually turned on only in October, so September would end up being one of the coldest months.

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.

Smolny in 1995, Part 2. How I Didn’t Meet Putin

Boris’ part in this Smolny project was installing the software Dr. Conrad was trying to sell. And my part was, as usual, writing the user’s manual. In this case, it was more like a persuasive essay. I had to present a use case and show how this software will make the life of the City clerks easier.

I remember how I was inventing the names and ages of people and their addresses. But the most memorable were the letters I was scanning. Scanning was a very new thing then, at least in Russia, even the copying machines were rare. And I was given a whole bunch of real people’s paper letters to Smolny. And I read them while scanning. I can’t recall any particular case or any particular problem from these letters, but the overall impression was desperate. You could hear people crying, searching for words that would be convincing enough, pleading for help, from necessary surgery to pensions being delayed, to broken heating pipes. I could not help but think how the City clerks can read such letters and put them aside. I knew that all these letters were not processed yet, and some of them were dated two-three months before the day I was reading them.

Continue reading “Smolny in 1995, Part 2. How I Didn’t Meet Putin”

Smolny in 1995

The last gig I wrote about was the project in Bank Saint-Petersburg, which earned me money for our trip to Poland. 

Later in 1995, my employment situation continued to be the same as I described in the above post. I was a full-time researcher at the university, working in the Operations Research Laboratory, and Boris was my boss, which was wrong on all possible accounts. The university jobs were still paying very little for both of us, but the way we thought about it back then, it was unimaginable to leave a university position. It was academia; we were researches, and even if we aren’t paid anything, we could not drop these badges of honor. 

And still, we needed money. Maybe, some people can be happy being poor together with their loved ones, but it was never our case. We were on a hunting trail all the time. 

The next gig came one more time from Dr. Conrad, and that was my last encounter with him. The gig was huge – working with the city government. Dr. Conrad, as usual, wanted to sell something to somebody. That time, this “something” was a document flow system that would allow all the city government departments to process the letters from the public more efficiently. My job would be to interview the city government employees from all departments, analyze their needs, the existing processes bottleneck, and produce a report explaining why the proposed system was the best possible solution. Then I had to make a presentation to the whole bunch of officials. 

Continue reading “Smolny in 1995”

A Girl With a Monkey

I’ve scanned lots of photographs from 1995, and now I can continue with our family story. Here I want to show just one picture to illustrate “how things were” back then.

I am coming to daycare to pick up Vlad and Anna, and their teacher tells me that there was a photographer with a monkey (?!) and that he took a picture of Anna with a monkey – see below.

I do not even know why and how, and why anybody would find this idea appealing. Anyway, I didn’t know anything about that. Anna said she wanted a picture with the monkey, but then she got scared, which is also visible on the picture, and then she didn’t want to back out of that!

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.