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Russia: report 2 from the poverty line

About the author
Liza Surnachev is a student of the Moscow University Journalism Department and writes for the Russian e-zine http://www.polit.ru/
liza-2Day ten.

Balance remaining: 920 rubles 50 kopecks.

I'm utterly fed up with what they call the ‘soup selection', and the so-called ‘stewing selection'. But I've not got much option -I can't afford meat, poultry or fish. For those of you who can't imagine what I'm on about, let me explain: when they cut the fillets (200 rubles per kg) off chicken breasts (180 rubles per kg), there are bones left. These they sell separately (50 rubles per kg), and call it a ‘soup selection'. You can make broth from these, but there's no meat on them. A ‘stewing selection' is much the same, with added skin and fat. If you're cooking rice, it'll make it smell nice, but don't give it to your guests or they'll think you're weird.

Sweet things. Until people started asking me how I was getting on without them, I wasn't really missing sweet things. I did buy a kilo of sugar on the way home, along with oat flakes (for breakfast), margarine (which people keep telling me to use instead of butter), carrots and flour. I really hadn't been bothered till then - I hadn't even finished my sweets from last week. Then late last night the craving began. It got so bad that I couldn't get to sleep. In the end I had to get up, haul out the mixer and turn on the oven. I threw in the oat flakes and the margarine (yes, that's what's its for), three eggs, (my weekly quota - no omelettes for me for the next seven days), a little sugar, and hey presto - a whole basinful of raw flapjack. I watched telly as I stirred this mixture and half an hour later I found that a quarter of it had gone - seems I've got more of a sweet tooth than I thought.

There was that loaf of bread I hadn't managed to eat before it got stale and mouldy. I gave myself a hard time for wasting food so recklessly. I'd also spent 15 rubles on a kilo of flour. I remembered hearing about this really primitive kind of bread you can run up in an emergency: mix flour and water then cook in flat cakes in a frying pan. So that's what I did.

During the day I'm at work, so I don't eat anything. I can't afford a business lunch in a café in central Moscow. Yoghurt and cottage cheese are money down the drain (20-25 rubles per pot, and you're hungry again after half an hour), and a bun is hardly what I'd call lunch.

Looking at food in a shop reminds me of that kids' game ‘edible-inedible': rice, buckwheat, peas, cabbage, bones - edible; cheese, eggs, fruit, greens, meat, butter - inedible.

Why I'm not managing

1. I'm inexperienced. This is my first attempt at living on so little money. The worst time in any crisis is the beginning, when you haven't worked out a survival strategy.

2. I'm irrational. I can't even turn the classic female trick of making a salad and a scandal out of nothing. My grasp of energy and nutrition values is weak. 2000 calories still means half a kilo of sugar to me rather than so much cereal, milk and meat. Apparently I even use carrots inefficiently - I've had readers explaining to me that that the body can't digest raw carrots without fat.

3. I haven't got my bearings. I haven't a clue where to get things cheap, or what to buy. In the first week I discovered that a perfectly fresh carrot that's broken is half the price, and that apples that cost 15-20 rubles per kilo do exist - they just don't look so great. For me, the word ‘meat' means an expensive cut, and I haven't yet learned what to do with cheaper cuts, bones and offal.

4. I don't belong to the local network. Those who live on really limited means belong to a sort of informal club, whose members know where, what and how much. The moment cheap dairy products appear on a neighbouring stall or good cheap meat in the market, its members find out about this from one another. Outsiders like me only get to hear about these bargains by accident.

5. I live alone. Of course it's a bit different for families- wholesale is cheaper. I went to this conference on regional poverty a month or so ago. The researchers noted something interesting: people always think of pensioners as the group most at risk of poverty. Actually, the group most at risk are families with children. Without going into the reasons (discrimination against single mothers, tv propaganda about programmes of social support etc) I must admit I made this assumption myself when I took on the role of lonely pensioner for this experiment. True, it would have been complicated trying to simulate being a family with lots of children - I might have had to starve the entire editorial team of Polit.ru.

End Part Two

Part Three:

A young man woos the dwindling Liza with tempting invitations

http://www.opendemocracy.net/Russia/article/life-on-the-poverty-line-third-part

Part One:

Liza, young journalist of the Russian e-zine http://www.polit.ru/ tries to survive in Moscow for 62 euros per month.

http://www.opendemocracy.net/Russia/article/life-on-the-poverty-line-first-part


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