Open the Other Door

mbfitzmahan. Tanya. Lutsk, Ukraine. 1998

Open the Other Door is a collection of short memoirs.

This section of the Blog is divided into three subsections: post-Soviet Union, Japan, and the United States.  Click on the subsection to find stories and photos of three different parts of the world.

The title, Open the Other, came from my experience of living and working in Ukraine in the late 1990s.

Large buildings in Lutsk, Ukraine were of similar architecture and were built with massive double doors in the front.  Although the doors were impressive, inevitably, one door was always locked.  Lesa Ukraina University where I taught comparative law, had eighteen foot double doors and no matter how many students crowded in and out, they were squeezed through one door.  I assumed this was to save heat in the very cold winters.  However, this theory failed in light of the fact that only one door opened even in the hottest summer months.

mbfitzmahan. Dark halls of university.  Lutsk, Ukraine. 1997

I once asked a friend why the university, the banks, and the department stores always locked one of their double doors.  Looking puzzled, he answered,  “Hmmm.  That is a good question.  I have no idea.  We just know that one door will be always be locked.”

The one locked door, was a metaphor for life in Ukraine.   That is the way things were.   That is the way they have always been.  A broken lightbulb, a shortage of bread, a corrupt leader…these were things that just were.

However, the government realized that it was important that people were allowed to complain.   Admitting that their oppressed citizens can be a fussy bunch of troublemakers, the Soviet government institutionalized complaining.  The government actually set up regular formal meetings where citizens gathered to complain about the government and their life in the Soviet Union.  No one expected change, the people just needed a place to vent.  Without a place to complain, the people might revolt.

The Russian sardonic humor made complaining a whole new genre of humor.  The Soviet anecdotes were still subjects of humor in 1997 Ukraine.

“A Frenchman, a Brit, and a Russian are admiring a painting of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

The Frenchman says, “They must be French, they’re naked and they’re eating fruit.”

The Englishman says, “Clearly, they’re English; observe how politely the man is offering the woman the fruit.”

And the Russian notes, “They are Russian, of course. They have nothing to wear, nothing to eat, and they think they are in paradise.”

mbfitzmahan.  The Arts.  Lutsk, Ukraine. 1998

From my research in Russian history, I know that this waiting for someone else to fix my problems was not invented by the Soviets.  Generations of Ukrainians (and Russians) were oppressed and raised to believe that problems were meant to be endured. The Tsars did not encourage individual initiative.  A well educated, self starting population might ‘self start’ a new and different government.  If the people could solve their own problems, they might wonder why they still tolerated their repressive Russian, Polish, and then Soviet governments.

mbfitzmahan. Four Ukrainian Youth. Lutsk, Ukraine. 1998

With independence in 1991, the people in Ukraine found less and less comfort in the leadership of the Party (which no longer existed) or the Leader (that was not much different or better than the Soviet one). When the dead Soviet system was replaced by a system of private property, the new state failed to come up with a modern infrastructure, and the old infrastructure decayed.  Apartment buildings crumbled, lights didn’t work, streets were cracked, towns ran out of gas, parks became overgrown.   Again, hunger, low wages, poor health, mediocre education systems, and corrupt governments were things to be expected.  As my friend Nora said to me, “We Ukrainian are depressed, so we smoke and we drink coffee.  Unless we drink vodka.”   See, my Open the Other Door memoir.

Back to Open the Other Door.  Remember Open the Other Door?  What if an individual or a collection of individuals said to the university president, “Why don’t you unlock the second door so that more students can easily come in and out of the university.  It would be safer and easier for all.”

The closed door is symbolic of the closed mind.  It is a fear of being judged, of being mistaken, of being viewed as different.  The closed door is a photo of the mind of a victim.  Dark and helpless. It is symbolic of a fear to try something new.  To say something different.

The Open Door is open to new ideas.  Sometimes ‘crazy ideas.’  Sometimes dangerous ideas.  The Open Door is taking responsibility for yourself and for others.

This is my philosophy.  Take action.  Think of ways to make life better for myself, for my family, and for others.  Take chances.  Get on a plane and take your family to live in Ukraine.  Take a photo of a stranger on the street.  Give a photo class in Kyoto.  Get on an air balloon in Napa Valley to see the vineyards in Autumn.

mbfitzmahan. Napa Valley in Fall. 2014

Most of the memoirs in Open the Other Door are collected from my two decades of living and traveling in Europe and Japan. Since returning to the United States, during this time of political turmoil, my memoirs have expanded to include my time het in the United States.