Teacher, Student Study History As It Happens

Countians Visit Soviet Union As Members Of Delegation

December 11, 1991|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW — Kim Frock and Stephanie Wiegel arrived here from Carroll County just in time to witness the official disintegration of the Soviet Union.

They had as good a view as just about anyone.

While government structures quietly self-destruct inside monumental buildings, the effects are plainly visible for all to see on the streets.

Frock, a social studies and English teacher at North Carroll High School, and Wiegel, a 17-year-old North Carroll High School senior, are part of a U.S. delegation introducing Junior Achievement to Russia.

They are traveling with Westminster businessman G. Melvin Mills Jr., chairman of the county Junior Achievement board and owner of Mills' Communications Inc., and are the only representatives from Maryland on the trip. They will return home Saturday.

The U.S. delegation, made up of about 65 people, will tell teachers, students and business consultants in 1,000 Soviet schools about J.A.'s applied economics program. They were to hold classroom sessions in St. Petersburg on Monday.

Much of the previous week was spent sightseeing. And several days into the visit, the Carroll representatives had foundlittle more that they were willing to eat or drink than Pepsi.

"The other day, I paid $1 a bottle," Frock, 27, said after four days of Moscow life. "This morning, we had three Pepsis for 9 rubles."

One day a Pepsi is $1, the next day -- in the same hotel restaurant -- it is 3 cents. The two Americans, who were here to give lessons in economics, had quickly learned the Russian version: No one knows how much to charge for anything, or how much anything is worth.

They almost immediately discovered other contradictions.

"I'm shocked at how open people are," Frock said. "I knew strict controls were gone, but I'm still surprised at how openly people will tell you what they think."

At the same time, the still highly visible trappings of totalitarian times made them nervous. The first person they saw getting off the plane early last week was a soldier. The entire arrival area was thick with them.

"I still get the creeps when I see a militaryperson here," Frock said.

"And you can't take your hotel key out of the hotel with you; you have to check it with a woman sitting at adesk on your floor. To us, that's so unproductive."

But it creates jobs and keeps tabs onguests.

Wiegel was surprised to see the chaos drivers create.

"They drive on the sidewalks," she exclaimed. "They park their cars on the sidewalks."

Russians would be even more surprised if they knew that Wiegel, daughter of Connie E. and Gregory B. Wiegel of Westminster, regularly drives at home in Westminster. It's rare to see a woman driver here; the few women who do drive tend to be foreigners.

Teacher and student were exasperated at the chaos of their trip. A strict schedule had been arranged, with school visits, a tour of the Kremlin and conferences to discuss Junior Achievement.

"Nothing is on time," Frock said. "Nothing happens the wayit is supposed to."

Wiegel suggested they were learning to be patient.

"No, I will never learn to put up with this," Frock said.

This is an essential element of life here now. New pronouncements come out every day about how things will change for people. The people wait, and nothing happens.

The group visited GUM, the department store next to the Kremlin housed in a beautiful Victorian arcade -- beautiful if it were not falling apart. When they see GUM, many U.S. tourists can't help but observe, "Oh, what Jim Rouse (developer of Harborplace) could do with this," the Carroll visitors said.

Frock andWiegel winced at the prospect of actually buying anything there.

"What was for sale was unbelievable," Frock said, adding there were afew sweaters that in the U.S. would be sold at only the tackiest of discount stores.

The Russians were eager to be good hosts, but notmany American 17-year-olds will jump at the chance to eat tiny, glistening, briny fish eggs -- red or black.

"We saw someone coming out of McDonald's and I was tempted to bribe him for his Big Mac," Frock said. "Oh, it smelled so good."

In a city of spectacular lines, the one at McDonald's is truly awe-inspiring. On a typical afternoon,the line goes out the door, down the block and circles around a parkacross the street. There must be 400 people waiting.

"The last good meal I had was at the McDonald's at Newark Airport," Wiegel sighed. The cache of peanut butter and crackers she had brought with her stood her in good stead. "The food is really bad," she said. "Yes, we had raw bacon for breakfast. Yes, we had a hot dog for breakfast."

Frock had brought pictures of her house and car to show people, but immediately realized it would be too embarrassing. Her modest possessions would seem a millionaire's fortune here.

"You don't see any houses," she said. "Only those huge apartments. There's an obvious lackof zoning." Indeed, vast stretches of Moscow are occupied by 1960s-era 18-story apartment buildings that are falling apart.

They are set down at odd angles, as if they had drifted down from space to settle wherever they happened to land. Sometimes, big chunks of sidewalkslie about.

The depth of poverty has shaken them. They can see it in the three-hour lines for sausage, in the shabby hotels, in the dreary apartments. This trip has broadened their perspective.

"How dare we say we have hard economic times," said Frock, who had been caught up in the general recessionary mood before she left the United States.

"How many people do you know who eat meat once a week? How many do you know who can't get sugar?"

For someone who has grown up seeing the Soviet Union as an ever-threatening superpower, the shock of the country's present-day infirmity has been enormous.

"They sure had us fooled," Frock said.

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