The Human Side: From Russia, with love

At a time when every value of their society was being questioned, we were there to teach “better” ways.

“Yankee, Go Home!” The voice, high-pitched and far away, caught me by surprise. I wasn’t a Yankee, but a noble Canadian — far different! I found the child attached to the voice on the fifth floor of another crumbling apartment building.

We were there, as far as I knew, providing a way for the nation to improve its quality of life. I hadn’t been expecting anyone to respond so negatively.

Naively, perhaps, I expected praise, not anger. Living for a while just below the Arctic Circle in the Russian city of Usinsk, I was spending twelve-hour days, seven days a week, trying to teach people, in a Canadian (gentle) way, how to lead the team who crossed the Circle daily and used old and old-fashioned equipment to drill for oil, supplying the energy needs. The praise didn’t come — certainly not from that childish voice floating down from the fifth floor balcony.

Living in an apartment over the open square, his was probably a superior home compared to mine. Cockroaches in mine fell out of the space under the wallpaper every time the door to the darkened hallway was closed.

Once I was over my shock at the shouted directives, I wondered. Questions rose in my mind. Who was the adult who created the anger in the child’s voice? Where had the English words come from? Why criticize a helper?

It was only then that I began to look at our presence through Russian eyes. I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. At a time when every value of their society was being questioned, we were there to teach “better” ways. They were incensed and humiliated.

We had brought the latest technology from Canada to the Joint Venture partnership, as did the British who were the third part of the deal that included a Russian company. The Russians had been using out-dated ideas and equipment we had long surpassed. The workers were doing a good job adapting to the increased level of technological understanding needed to effectively manage more modern stuff.

They had also been doing the difficult job of getting over their school history. They had been told they were morally and economically superior to all the other people of the world. That was a blind spot in their thinking when they looked at the several centimetres of oil that covered the earth, the rivers and the lakes, for kilometres all around. The absence of wildlife was never discussed. The dumping of old nuclear material into the waters around the nearby island of Novaya Zemlya, the world’s largest nuclear waste dump, was never mentioned.

What is it about us humans, that we maintain almost total blindness to the effects of our own behaviour? We only criticize those aspects of our own culture that create little inconvenience. Yet, we manage to remain aware of the faults of others from around the world.

I am fortunate. I have had the opportunity to see how people from many places live, to see their blindness and compare it to my own.

After all, we are all humans, making our way in the best way we know. We are all blind in our own way — there is more similarity than difference between us.

Fred Elford is a retired international organization development consultant, living in Invermere, where he spends his time with bonsai trees. He can be reached at fredelford@ shaw.ca.

Just Posted

The end of an Echo
The end of an Echo

Invermere Valley Echo shuts down operations in Columbia Valley

Creating a new narrative for Canal Flats

Economic development consultant hired, lists vision for next 90 days

Princeton wildfire phots courtesy of Debbie Lyon.
UPDATE: Crews battle as wildfires rage in B.C. Interior

Crews brace for another day on B.C. firelines as no let up is likely

VIDEO: B.C. wildfires by the numbers
VIDEO: B.C. wildfires by the numbers

Wildfires continue to engulf regions of B.C.’s forests and communities.

Aerial view south of Williams Lake Friday afternoon shows dry lightning storm passing over, leaving fire starts behind. Lightning sparked more than 100 new fires Friday. (Black Press)
VIDEO: More than 180 wildfires burning across B.C.

Firefighters from other provinces called in to assist

DTSS Grad March 2017
DTSS Grad March 2017

DTSS Grad March 2017

59 cats seized in Chase
59 cats seized in Chase

59 neglected and injured cats were seized from a property in Chase

(Flickr/Andreas Eldh)
Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell dead at age 52

The singer/songwriter passed away early Thursday morning in Detroit

Paying tribute to a primeval passage
Paying tribute to a primeval passage

Uninterrupted celebrates the Adams River sockeye run in an extraordinary way.

UPDATE: Pemberton Music Festival cancelled, no automatic refunds
UPDATE: Pemberton Music Festival cancelled, no automatic refunds

In the past, the music festival located in Pemberton drew large crowds last year of 180,000 fans

Photo by: WeissPaarz.com
Medical wait times cost B.C. patients $2,300 each

New Fraser Institute report places B.C. at second worst in costs associated with long wait times

UPDATE: 22 killed at Ariana Grande concert
UPDATE: 22 killed at Ariana Grande concert

Witnesses reported hearing two loud bangs coming from near the arena’s bars at about 10:35 p.m.

A university study finds that about nine per cent of Canada’s Grade 11 and 12 students – roughly 66,000 teens – have driven within an hour of drinking and 9.4 per cent drove after using marijuana.                                 Photo: Now-
Leader file
One in three Canadian high school students have rode with drinking drivers, study reveals

Nearly one in five rode with a driver who’d been smoking pot

Top court to hear federal government’s appeal on residential school records
Top court to hear federal government’s appeal on residential school records

A lower court judge ruled to destroy the stories after 15 years unless consent is given to preserve

Most Read