Irkutsk, Russia

  • Date
  • 6 August 1999

Dr. Billy Wireman, my mentor, sent an e-mail encouraging me to meet 38-year-old Olga Onoshko, an economics professor from the Irkutsk Economic Academy. Jim and I met Olga, my height with long, light hair, blue eyes and attired in black, for dinner along with her teenage son, Sergei. Her husband, Serg, a Major in the Communist regime, and now owner of an auto repair business, was working.

Olga talked about teaching: “Women were the only ones studying economics under the Communists. Men had nothing to do with it. But now my classes are divided equally among men and women, but all banking jobs go to the males. My young women know when they come to the university that jobs will be hard to find, but they are eager to learn. Later when they look for a husband the smart women face problems since we have many uneducated men, who feel threatened by bright women.”

I asked if her life was better before or after Communism? “Before Communism fell, there was more stability in my life. Now there are more choices.” She spread butter evenly over a piece of bread and held this up. She explained, “The butter is socialism. Before everyone had a little something spread over their lives.” Using a knife to scrape all the butter to one end, she continued, pointing to the butter spread disproportionately on the bread, “This is life now. For those who have butter, life is grand, even rich. But for most of those without, life was better before.”