…Well, that’s how Tech describes it. A reputation that preceded him has led here, through the convoluted route of contracts, word of mouth and the handshakes of international business. The domestic Muscovite expertise couldn’t cut the ice. Even if it had been able to, the paperwork said otherwise. Sealing a bond across two cultures, dried ink has propelled this small Western team into a 9-month Moscow-bound commission to fix, cajole and curse the food-packing machinery meant to ease the flow of outgoing units – and, by extension, the flow of incoming wealth – of an expectant oligarch, host and employer. They had best deliver, then.
Well, at least they are “in town”. Tech says that time falls off at the rate of one year per mile as you head into the sticks, where extremes of stereotypical expectation between “us” and “them” are “turned up”, as though the contrast were being adjusted on a monochrome TV set; and where Geiger counters may be brought out, just to determine whether or not metal parts in the machinery Tech has been working on are in fact radioactive after all (a courteous afterthought, I’m sure); where also, a pricing dispute has led to staff carrying firearms, as a cautionary precursor to an escalation that Tech, here in the middle on the shop floor, prays will never occur. Of course, choosing weapons is itself the first step on the path towards an unthinkable self-fulfilling prophecy. Words play in his head: “Do I really want to be here?”.
Here in the city, in cruel traffic lanes, Ferraris jostle 3-wheel tractors, the mechanised living-dead of the old system, nearly 20 years in its grave and counting. A traffic cop stops for a smoke: there’s time. He regards curiously the MPV’s spilled occupant, crawling away numbed and torn as patient engines wait in their rumbling lines. At last, the mechanical digger brushes aside his upturned, now-forgotten vehicle and its other immobile, glass-pressed passenger. The flow must continue, come what may.
Not so different then, town and country? Perhaps there is the feeling that here too, under the veil of civilised modernity, the worst still crouches, waiting to be revealed with a tarry grin: You knew I was here all along… Really, it’s all down to market forces. Let’s say you have a million pounds: losing one or two wouldn’t matter. Likewise people. Ubiquity deflates value, erodes relative worth. Ask any economist. This seems to be the unspoken yet assumed credo of the culture in which Tech now finds himself.
It pays to have the ear and phone number of the oligarch, though, who’ll grease the wheels and remotely push the right buttons should things drift ever so slightly off course, and whose address book spans all stations of society: the good, the bad, the high, the low. All bases covered then. A name for every occasion.
This oligarch’s own name and standing is such that employees would almost sacrifice themselves before him, out of a combination of fear, respect and the prospect of reward. Picture the imported hand of Eastern European origin pacing around a broken Maypole of oversized electrical windings, unravelling the scavenged copper a step at a time, all at the oligarch’s command. Just another herculean task in his three month contract that will ultimately see him return home, able to support his family for the rest of the year. This short-term situation means that Tech’s endeavours at staff training potentially have to be repeated from zero, per employee, per three month interval, as the instilled knowledge disappears regularly, frustratingly, over the border – only to return, in the name of self-betterment, in a higher station at another company. Thanks for the info.
Meanwhile, Tech stays on, with months still to go. And Moscow’s zebra-stripes of contrast on prominent display, side by side.
Next time: Business in the City of Extremes (Continued)
Tech talks about Moscow’s service industry.
[Photo by Dieter Karner]