In a city full of brick walls, you need guide for survival

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

March 24, 1992|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Carole D. Frank arrived here from Columbia, Md., in June and ran straight into a brick wall.

Mrs. Frank works in Moscow as a psychological counselor for foreigners who are trying to make sense of life in this fascinating, but illogical and often maddening city.

Like many of her clients, she is the kind of person who relishes taking on a job and getting it done.

Moscow has brick walls especially designed for such people. Try vTC to get something done in Moscow. Just try it. Try, for example, to make a telephone call, Mrs. Frank said.

"First, there's no phone book," she said. "Then the phone doesn't work." Sometimes you pick up the phone and before you even try to dial there's a busy signal. There might as well be a little sign popping out of the receiver admonishing, "Don't even THINK of telephoning today."

"Then the phone works and I can't hear you, but you can hear me," Mrs. Frank said, "and I call back and I can hear you, but you can't hear me." And then just when you can hear each other you get cut off.

If it's that hard to make a telephone call, imagine the difficulties in clinching a business deal in a country where the banks have more abacuses than computers.

Point 1 of Mrs. Frank's Moscow Survival Guide comes in here: Forget about being goal-oriented; better to drift with the current.

And Point 2: Be willing to fail because you will.

Here, Mrs. Frank likes to tell her briefcase story.

One day, she left her briefcase on the subway. Unfortunately, some honest person found it and turned it in. After hours of traveling to one station and wading through torrents of Russian with the help of a friend who translated by phone, she was told the briefcase had been sent to another station.

Once there, she was refused the briefcase because she had to fill in a form requiring the number of her Soviet passport. Of course, she didn't have a Soviet passport. More shouting. She begged to be allowed to leave without the briefcase.

"It was an inexpensive plastic one," Mrs. Frank said. "I never wanted to see it again."

She was forbidden to leave without it. She couldn't leave with it. Finally, the bureaucracy relented. A beaten Carole Frank trudged home, briefcase in hand.

Mrs. Frank tells this tale with the relish of a survivor. Unfortunately, many of her clients are not. Half of them are so far gone by the time they see her, they give up and return to the countries from which they came.

Personally, Mrs. Frank looks on the bright side.

"I have more friends than I've ever had in my life," she said, enumerating the advantages of being here. "It's wonderful to work in such a fascinating place.

"And if someone told me I could leave tomorrow, I'd be out of here in a minute."

She laughs at this self-revelation. It only proves Point 3 of her Moscow Survival Guide:

Have a sense of humor.

Mrs. Frank is here because of her husband, Tony, who works for S-3 Technologies in Columbia. Mr. Frank is part of a team from Columbia helping Russians build a nuclear reactor simulator to train nuclear power plant workers.

He is here for a year or more (until the contract is completed -- and knowing Moscow that could be a lifetime.)

"He's trying to build a nuclear reactor simulator in a place that doesn't have a copying machine," Mrs. Frank said.

To join her husband, Mrs. Frank gave up a job she loved in the eating disorders unit at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center. In Moscow, she is coordinator for the mental health grant at the U.S. Embassy and provides counseling at a clinic that cares for foreigners.

Life here, she said, is like anywhere else -- only more so: "Anything that would normally happen is exacerbated by being in Moscow."

And it draws exactly the wrong kind of person, she said, the hard-driving Type A personality who runs full speed into one brick wall after another.

"I keep reminding myself this is a time I'll always remember," Mrs. Frank said, managing a cheerful smile -- wiping the brick dust off her brow.

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