May 01, 2009

Faith in Progress



with fewer than a dozen permanent residents remaining in our village, our village of Chukhrai would not seem to be high on the list of priorities for politicians seeking electoral support. However, when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin launched a national project to put a phone in every Russian village, clearly he meant every village.

It appeared one day without warning: a small, plastic, blue oval with a bright red payphone under its protruding crown. The whole apparatus, about the size of a one-mirror medicine cabinet, was perched on a short pole planted right where the forest road opened onto the village. A small antenna entwined with electric wire rose skyward. The bare end of the wire hung lifelessly, a good six feet from the electric pole to which it was destined to be connected. The new installation stood out like a sore thumb against the grey and brown backdrop of the familiarly dilapidated fronts of the village houses.

Passing by one day while out walking with my boys, I did a double take. “What the heck is that?” I thought. Surely I wasn’t the only one in the village harboring the same thought. At least I had seen payphones in my lifetime, albeit far from here, while likely some of the villagers had not. Further hindering comprehension was the fact that I couldn’t figure out why in the world the village needed such a bequest. First, most of the villagers have no one to call. Even the concept of a phone call is foreign to them, a contingency reserved only for dire emergencies – someone is gravely ill, or dead, or has been robbed by roving gypsies.


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