Thursday, 10 June 2004

Mission to Minsk


So I'm back in the USSR.

Back in the land of milk in bags, zebra crossings on corners, juice that comes from trees, wonderful people, beautiful girls, communism, stupid drivers and pointless bureaucracy.

Back in the country the BBC describes as "a giant Soviet playground...a place where time has stood still." Back in the place that has been part of my life now for almost five years.

This is my 9th visit to Belarus. I arrived a month ago with my trusty backpack and my usual assortment of titbits and wacky clothes in tow. But this time I brought something else too...this time I have brought three young Englishmen with me to Minsk.

Those three young Englishmen are Ben, Craig and Tim.

Ben's mission was to meet girls; pure and simple. Belorussian girls are among the most beautiful in the world and they are mostly very shy and friendly and really quite sweet. There are of course exceptions but generally the girls here and far nicer than the cold and vile girls you can meet in the UK. It's very nice to be able to walk down the street and have beautiful girls smiling at you and waving just because you are foreigner. It's shallow, but great!

I am happy to report that Ben has been successful in his mission. As I write this, Ben is in Vitebsk - a small city about a three hour drive from here - where no doubt he is spending time with girls who are in awe of the fact that they are talking to a genuine young Englishman!

Craig, who left Belarus last night, was here on a similar mission. He also visited this little corner of Eastern Europe to meet the world's most beautiful women but he also wanted to see something new and to take a break from his life in England.

Tim, who has a girlfriend, is here on a different mission. He has come to Belarus to visit me and to see a country that most Westerners never visit - a mysterious and confusing place that is closed off from just about everywhere else in the world.

And I too have a mission. My mission is to meet new people, spend time with Emily - who remains the most wonderful and giving person I have met - and to visit the children that I first met last August.

But as much as I enjoy spending time with Emily, I don't feel that I have accomplished my mission yet. I haven't enjoyed my time in Belarus as much as I did when I was here for two months last year. The main reason for this is the living arrangements.

For the past few weeks Craig, Ben and Tim and I have been sharing a very nice but very small flat together. This has been difficult for me. I visit Belarus to get away from the West, to have my own space, to be treated like I'm special and to lead a very different life to the one that I lead in the UK.

Tim and Craig are really nice guys and I like them immensely and Ben is funny but I think that we all needed our own space. I hope they all visit again but next time I think we'll get our own flats.

When I arrived in Minsk I was disappointed to discover my favourite restaurant, Patio Pizza, was closed. Apparently they weren't paying enough tax so the government shut them down!

Patio Pizza is my place of a million memories. Not only do they serve damn good pizza, but I've been there with every Belorussian girl who has meant something to me. I only hope that Patio Pizza reopens soon because Belarus just isn't the same without it.

I have noticed that Belarus really brings out the best and worst in me. The best because I visit kids and try to make a difference in their lives and the worst because I become quite arrogant and angry when I'm here. The Belorussians are tolerant and hospitable people - perhaps I take advantage of this.

This is indeed a frustrating and perplexing country. Common sense didn't visit Belarus - it couldn't get a visa. There is absolutely no logic here. I think that even Gandhi would eventually have lost patience.

If you ever take a ride on the Metro here, be prepared to hold on tight. The Metros zoom around the city at breakneck speed and when they approach a station the driver breaks suddenly and everyone falls over! And this happens every damn time!

Just to enter Belarus you need an invitation letter from somebody in the country. The visa then costs about forty pounds. When you arrive in the country you then need to pay six dollars for medical insurance even if you already have worldwide travel insurance!

As if all of that wasn't bad enough, you then need to register as a citizen the country and pay £1 for every day you are here. I find that particularly irritating. I come here to pump money into the economy and to help kids and I have to pay just to be here?

This is why few people visit Belarus. It's a backwards Soviet system. It does however have its plus side - Belarus has resisted America's corrupting brand of capitalism. And I've said this before and I will say it again and again: the people of Belarus are the finest in Europe.

A few days ago was quite a historical day for me in Belarus. On Sunday, for the first time in five years, I visited a new city - I stayed for a couple of days in Vitebsk with Ben and Craig. I encountered a few incredibly rude province people, and lots of skinhead beer-drinking morons, but otherwise it was quite enjoyable. Alyssa and Olya, two girls who looked after us, were also very nice.

And that's just about it for now. I can't think of anything else to write. Perhaps I'm running out of inspiration - blame a diet of pizza and vodka!

I have about two weeks left in Belarus. Tim will leave tonight and Ben leaves next week.

I will spend these weeks visiting the ballet, visiting the kids and hopefully enjoying my time in this crazy, wonderful, beautiful, forgotten little corner of Eastern Europe.

And now it's time for more pizza and vodka.

Until next time, take care and stay well.

From the memory box of a Professional Englishman.

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London, ENGLAND, United Kingdom
This is me. Read a few entries and they will tell you more about me than I can fit into these few paragraphs. Many of these entries started their lives as mass emails. That was before I discovered blogs. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for visiting my blog and reading about my life. Both a work in progress.