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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Wholesome Cause: 100 Sweaters, Anyone?

We received a letter from the mother of my brother-in-law's neighbor in Holland. She was planning to come to Moscow, she wrote, and over the past year she had knitted 100 sweaters for poor Russian children. Did we know of a deserving address?

Almost every week we receive visits from friends of obscure acquaintances or acquaintances of obscure friends, people we hardly know but who are under the impression that we are starved of social contact with our fellow countrymen.

Often they come bearing gifts which they ask us to distribute among "poor Russians". Nylons, old bottles of nail-polish, pens, key rings, cigarette lighters and other well-meant junk that you wouldn't have the nerve to give to even the most wretched babushka. Such charity, while it might give holiday-makers a warm glow of self-satisfaction, is more often than not taken as an insult by most Russians.

I still remember well the time I strolled through Red Square with Tom in his stroller. We were approached by an American tourist who took us for Russians. Without saying a word, he pressed a stick of chewing gum into each of our hands. Smiling smugly, he awaited our overjoyed reaction, but I was too dumbfounded to say anything. I felt as humiliated as any Russian in my position would have been.

Nevertheless, 100 children's sweaters are surely useful gifts; but whom to give them to? The donor suggested a children's home. I know of only one children's home. Two years ago, the Dutch women's club in Moscow - the Tulips - wanted to sponsor an orphanage. The matron gave us a guided tour of her institution. The dormitories, dining and recreation halls were neat and clean. The children seemed well-dressed and well-fed. The only thing was that they all seemed rather quiet. No crying, no exuberant shouting, no laughter or running. In a room with at least 30 children you could practically have heard a pin drop.

"What well-behaved children", I remember thinking enviously, "nothing like my boisterous Tom". After our tour of inspection, we asked the matron how best we could help. "We are not lacking in toys or clothes", she answered, "but what we do require are medicines".

"What kind of medicine? " we asked.

"Sleeping pills and muscle relaxants", she replied.

No wonder the children were so dull and listless. The Tulips eventually found another worthy cause.

But if you happen to know of a really deserving cause that would welcome 100 hand-knitted children's sweaters, please let me know as soon as possible in a letter or fax to The Moscow Times. As a reward you may choose between nylons, nail-polish, a pen, key ring or lighter.