Thursday, 9 October 2003

Searching for Magic in Minsk


I am writing to you from Warsaw.

I arrived in Poland some hours ago after travelling by coach from Minsk in Belarus. The journey was one of the worst of my life. Ugh! I travelled on a bus with no heating, no proper lighting and two rude bus drivers.

For some reason the drivers decided to stop the bus in the middle of nowhere for four hours and we sat there, the passengers and myself, in complete darkness, shivering our socks off. It was awful and it will be the LAST time I ever travel by bus from Belarus!

However, as uncomfortable as the journey was, it has not spoiled what was a wonderful time in Minsk.

This was my 8th visit to Belarus. I arrived on the 19th of August, after spending two days in Riga in Latvia, and lived in the Belorussian capital until yesterday. In less than two hours I will board a coach that will take me back to jolly old England.

I sometimes ask myself why I continue to return to Belarus. The country itself is often very backward, though the people are often very wonderful.

I guess you could say that I have been searching for something, something that I once had but lost three and a half years ago. I don't know the name for this "something", so I simply call it magic.

Each time I return to Belarus I search for this magic, this sweet reminder of my youth, and yet each time my search has been in vain.

Until now, that is.

While I still haven't found the true and pure magic I have been looking for, during the past two months I've come pretty darn close...

I realise now that I lead two very different lives; I have my life in England, which is difficult and dominated by work, and then I have my life in Belarus, which involves visiting the ballet, helping kids, throwing parties and meeting pretty girls.

I've spent time with some wonderful Belorussian people, like Katja, Sasha, Lena, and especially my dear Emily, who is simply the kindest and most caring person I have ever met in my life. You could never find somebody like her in the West. Never.

These months have been very good for me and they have restored my faith in Belarus as a place I can go to, where I will find acceptance and kindness, when my life in England turns to crap, as it so often does.

When I first came to Belarus four years ago I had one of the best times of my life. True, there were some difficult days (this is Eastern Europe, after all) but overall they were six wonderful months.

I found compassion and kindness. I also found friendship, with an Italian boy named Michele and a multitude of Belorussians. I even found love, with a beautiful girl called Katja.

The days that I spent with Katja were beautiful and utterly perfect in every way. She never felt the same way but that never mattered. And I really was quite happy.

I've always wanted to be the centre of attention but sadly I was not blessed with the wit or charm to draw others unto me. So instead I became the centre of attention because of my clothes and my nationality, which was enough.

Coming to Belarus and working with children was a good decision I made at a time in my life when I was making bad decisions.

Not that it's all been sweetness and light, of course. Belarus is often a very difficult country to live in, for a variety of reasons.

I remember some time ago when a hole appeared in the pavement close to where I lived. Repair men were were called out and they came and filled the hole with sand until it was almost waist high, thereby creating a danger almost as bad as the hole itself.

But they didn't stop there. They then stuck a piece of wood in the pile of sand. Then some bright spark had the idea to tie a piece of thick wire to the piece of wood and stretch it across the pavement and tie it to a lamppost. Eh???? I cannot understand that mentality.

That's just one example of the way people in this crazy country think. Another example is milk in bags. Milk in bags! What's that all about? They don't stand up. You can't put them back in the fridge after you've opened them. Yay! Milk in bags!

And, finally, zebra crossings on corners! ON CORNERS! So cars zoom around the corner and knock you over as you cross the road. How wonderful. How quaint. How Belorussian.

So, yes, this is indeed a crazy and backwards country. However, one redeeming feature that Belarus has is its people - if you look carefully, and ignore the bureaucracy and the rudeness of some of the people, you can find an openness, an honesty and a kindness here that I've never encountered anywhere else.

It is for this reason that I will continue to return to Belarus for years to come, possibly for the rest of my life, and it is for this reason that I will continue to think of Belarus as my private, beautiful, special place, a place where I can find sanctuary when my life falls apart in England, as it often does.

Until my next entry, it's time for this wandering Englishman to leave Poland and head home.

Stay safe and stay well. Enjoy the winter months if you can and remember to wrap up well.


Goodbye Belarus. We shall meet again.


PS: I miss you, Emily. xxx.

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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.