On the Road

On the Road: 2002

How Long Must We Sing This Song?
4 July 2002

This is not a rebel rant.

The following needs to be taken with a grain of salt, or maybe even an entire salt mine. After all, I'm a kid born in the 'burbs of Detroit. The land of Lions and Tigers and Eminem. (Oh my!)

I'm a bit pissed. I don't mean that as in "drunk," the English use of the word. I mean angry, miffed, irked, irritated. Things are buggin' me. This rant isn't pro-Democrat, pro-Republican, or pro-anything other than pro-Power to the People.

This has nothing to do with cold showers or dirty water or otherwise uncomfortable habitation. That's been sorted already.

It has to do with a disturbing trend, for lack of a better term. A trend that's as old as time.

The stories and experiences are piling up out here in Kazakhstan.

On the riverside, there are brand new American-style houses owned by Kazakhstani civil servants. But how can that be? A hard-working citizen earns $2,400 US annually, on average.

A nice new riverwalk follows the Ural south of The Bridge. Very well done. It starts right in front of fancy new houses and it ends, at least for the tax-paying public, at gates behind which only the wealthy property owners can enter. The taxpayers are also left with shite for roads so the officials can live well.

The Ural River used to be cleaned every year in the Soviet days but now silt accumulates at the rate of 50 centimeters per year and it hasn't been cleaned in the past 10 years. It'll cost a fortune to dredge it now, but children don't mind. They can be seen swimming in it every day.

The fisheries are worse off now than they were in the "good ol'" days of communism; the fishermen are earning a mere 10% of what they used to thanks to a government-imposed contract that forces them to sell their caviar to a specific vendor, who goes on to sell them abroad for a huge profit.

With virtually nothing to live on, those same fishermen will spare the last lamb in their house just in case a visitor comes so they can feed their guests.

In Atyrau, there are incredibly bright women and men who can speak several languages and hold degrees in this or that, but they're locked in to virtually no options. And these are the people that smile. The corrupt government workers, particularly my "friends" in customs, don't know the meaning of the word.

I don't even know how the conversation started, but at one point a Kazakh man stopped us as we walked along the river. The conversation lead to jobs - he needs one. We exchanged information, but it'll be something if we ever make contact again. We couldn't read his handwriting and he doesn't seem to have Internet access.

A very nice young guy working at a small grocery store located off what used to be called Lenin Street spoke decent English and asked me what I thought of Atyrau. He was genuinely curious because he's heard from other people about how they hated it. Doing so in this situation is to display a total lack of sensitivity. There are good people living here and they need some help. Some of them actually want help. But giving children a few tenge here and there isn't the answer; that'll merely perpetuate the problem.

Then there was my "clandestine" evening meeting to pick up the CV/résumé of a waitress hoping to get a job with X. We met outside the gym next to the Chagala, but my innocent plan to pick up the paperwork and go about my business lead to an interesting evening. She thought I would want to take care of a lot more than just her résumé. We had a couple beers and pistachio nuts at a kiosk bar, then walked across the bridge to the "White House" of Atyrau, but I cannot take advantage of such situations. That goes against the Mattopian Manifesto regarding emotional terrorists.

Back at the Chagala, though, my waitress friend tells me others have their stories of entertaining Italian men they know have a wife and children back home. All in hopes of either getting ahead or otherwise cared for.

And in America? Well, I used to work for an insecure bald man with no skills to speak of whatsoever. He couldn't even use his own native tongue properly and form complete sentences with correct word usage (or with words that even legitimately exist, for that matter). Why he's in a position of management is a mystery. There are some possible explanations I shudder to consider. He collected a paycheck and accomplished nothing outside of creating aggravation for those trying to make things happen. The perfect man for a company afraid to look seriously at its faults. His behavior was simply another form of terrorism (career terrorism), this time masquerading as incompetence.

Corporate America is full of stories of decision making by coin toss, arbitrary decision making, favoritism, and egos. Then there are the scapegoats: Shareholder value, Y2K, or an economic slump. At least in America we have the freedom to tell those at the helm to "piss off" and we have the power to, more or less, define our own future. What some call scapegoats others will see as windows to new opportunities.

What the world needs is leadership. What Corporate America needs is leadership - and to lose weight.

There are so many people today who never question. We have these spineless wonders to thank, at least in part, for the latest round of corporate terrorism and financial blunders to strike Corporate America. So much for ethics. So much for a sense of responsibility. So much for a sense of shame. Where is the heart and soul?

President Bush made a great speech about the U.S. not harboring terrorists. But how do you define "terrorist" exactly? Does a person need a gun or a bomb to be a terrorist?

At some point there should be a turning of the tables, a righting of the wrongs. Perhaps all the crap behind the Enrons and WorldComs and Arthur Andersens of the world will finally bring the "average citizen" out of slumber. Too many people are taking drugs to suppress their innate allergy to bullshit. In doing so, they're only addressing the symptoms, not the underlying cause.

In some Asian countries, wealth is seen as a symbol of importance, no matter how the wealth was obtained. And so it is that many Asians do not question the wealthy. They're important, after all. That's a bunch of rubbish.

At the big circle east of Atyrau's main bridge, a couple people in orange vests were in the middle of the street, picking up trash (it actually might have been manure). They were doing their job and I thought it seemed like a pretty dangerous way to go about it. But all the traffic flowed around them just fine as they went about their business. Until a Mercedes came blazing through the circle. One old woman had to run for her life, quite literally. Were the people in that Mercedes really more important? I don't think so. Based on the character demonstrated by the driver, I'd venture to say they're less so.

Don't get me wrong. I like nice things and I want even more of them, including a big house, a nice car, and a beautiful wife. But I will not sell my soul to get them. I was soulless for a while and it really sucked. It took a lot of work to get my soul back, but I'm much happier with it.

My calling, my ideal job, so it seems, would be one in which I can actually make a difference and make good people's lives better. Or, more precisely, one in which I can make miserable the lives of evil people. For me, that might actually be more rewarding - and it would have its own "trickle down" effects, making society as a whole a better place. Mattopia? Utopia?

So, if anybody knows of a position in which the job description says something about "rocking the very pillars of Hell," let me know. Hmmm... Maybe I should check HotJobs.

Pardon me. I just thought I'd share the mental ramblings of a kid out seeing the world.

In the name of love,
Mr. Mattphisto

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