National Geographic : 2001 Nov
seven tractors, two heavy trucks, two light trucks, and a $28,000 American planting machine from Kinze Manufacturing in Iowa. This year he is raising wheat, rye, beets, and 270 acres of popping corn, which he has con tracted to sell to an American broker. He expects revenues of $70,000, including a profit of $35,000. He is putting nearly all the money back into his business. "Farming is a style of life," said Chaika, who has a wife and two grown daughters. "Your whole life is tied to the land. I'm used to it now, and there's no other way for me. After ten years I've got something to show for all this work. busiest cybercafes. There are only about five personal We grow what we want, sell it, and if we make a mistake, we are guilty ourselves. I feel bad for those people who have remained on the collective farm. Now they've just thrown up their hands." As I spent time with Chaika-watching him supervise the beet planting or round up a hoist to help reassemble his dilapidated tractor-I came to admire this man and his straight talk. One evening before leaving, I reflected on his outlook, how it differed from mine, and how profoundly my view of Russia had changed in the dozen years since I had first set foot on Russian soil. As a correspondent during the computersfor every hundred Russians, but PC sales are on the rise.A decade after the Big Change,Russia has new toys, new promise, new vices, andplenty of growingpains. Gorbachev and Yeltsin years, I always seemed to be looking at Russia with either optimism or pessimism, to be cheering on the forces of reform in their struggle with Communist reac tionaries. I believed you could more or less graft a Western-style system of capitalism and democracy onto Russia, and I rooted for that system to take hold. Now I realize how naive I was and that the worst prism through which to observe Russia's struggle is one of optimism or pessimism. These days I accept Russia for what it is an enormous nation, with little tradition of democracy or capitalism, undergoing a peaceful revolution in a very short time. There is ample reason both for hope and for despair, and what you find often depends on where you look. Chaika and his countrymen have an intuitive understanding of what has taken me years to grasp. They also possess something I never will: an almost genetic comprehension, based on centuries of wildly swinging fortunes, that things in Russia can easily go awry. "You put all this sweat and energy into this farm and then you worry that all of a sudden, one fine day, someone is going to come along and sweep it all away," he told me. "I don't think it's going to Hate hassling with red tape? happen, but you have Try doing photojournalism in to worry about it. In Russia, says Gerd Ludwig in the depths of my soul an interview at nationalgeo I worry about it." ] graphic.com/ngm/0111.