Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA)
Posted on September 12, 2002
By Valerie Williams
Although the Cold War has long since ended, many Americans think of Russia as a gray, frigid, mysterious land.
On Tuesday night, about 50 people at the Bettendorf Public Library learned otherwise.
The library held a reception for a group of Russian delegates visiting the Quad-Cities as part of the Open World 2002 Leadership Program. The program, which is sponsored by the Library of Congress, began in 1999 to encourage free enterprise and democracy on the former Soviet Union.
Since its inception, 4,200 Russians have visited 700 communities throughout the continental United States, said Russian facilitator Leeza Orlova of Perm.
The representatives are comprised of municipal workers, journalists and educators. They are here to study the three branches of American government: executive, judicial and legislative, and how these branches work with our business and civic communities.
Since arriving in town, the delegates have visited the Scott County Courthouse, Bettendorf City Hall and the Quad-City Times. They have also met with local dignitaries, such as Davenport Mayor Charlie Brooke, U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
The reception included introductions and presentations from the visitors, followed by a question and answer period.
"I feel like I am standing here getting an Oscar," said delegate leader Vitaliy Sheremet from behind a podium in the front of the room.
Sheremet spoke at length about his homeland, Krasnodar, Krai, in the southern region of Russia, often eliciting laughter from the audience.
"The Krasnodar region where I am from is one of the warmest in the country. Our region is very much like Iowa in that we grow a lot of agricultural products, wheat and rice, and we have cattle. Krasnodar region is perhaps like California and Florida combined because it's the only region in our country that has two seas: the Black Sea and the Asov Sea. People often say that Krasnodar region has five seasL the Black Sea, the Asov Sea, the sea of wheat, the sea of beautiful women and the sea of wine."
Sheremet further explained that the average climate in the winter is about 50 degrees and that in October, residents can either swim in the Black Sea or ski in the mountains.
"And I hope now you understand that Russian is not a cold desert where there is no sunshine and people wear only fur coats," he said.
Sergei Kurt Adzhiev from Samara in Central Russia is the chief editor of the local newspaper. He joined in on the fun by stating that Samara is known for having the best vodka and the most beautiful women.
"I will not be able to describe to you my city in this short period of time. There is much in common between us. You live on the Mississippi River, we live on the Volga River. But the best thing would be for you to come over and see for yourself."
During the question and answer session, a member of the audience asked the delegates in Russian to describe family life in their country.
"First of all, I was very much impressed with the number of children in American families," said Viktoriya Gabeyeva of Vladikavkaz, who is five months pregnant. "I was surprised to see families with three, four, five, six children. In Russia, the average size of the family is two children.
She also said that because of this low birth rate, the Russian government sanctions paid maternity leave for working mothers during the first 18 months of their baby's life. An additional 18 months non-paid maternity leave is also given. When mothers return to work, they return to the jobs they had left.
Gabeyeva is optimistic about her country's future.
"Economy is on the rise; the situation is getting better and better. We're not starving now. We hope that the most difficult times are over."
During their stay, the delegates are living with members of the Friendship-Force of the Quad-Cities, a local chapter of Friendship Force International, or FFI.
FFI is an Atlanta-based, non-profit, global exchange program that was established in 1977 by then-President Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn, and the Rev. Wayne Smith.
Connie Carlson, a member of the local Friendship Force, said that the creation of FFI was "predicated on the fact that world peace would be established people to people, not government to government."
Orlova is enjoying her time in the Quad-Cities, and has learned much about America during her visit.
"It's been quite exciting," she said. "We are getting a very warm welcome. We learned that Americans do a lot of volunteer work, and they help each other. This helps society a lot. This is very unique."
Copyright ©2002, The Quad-City Times. Used with Permission
[Reprinted with Permission]