Friday, July 29, 2005

My Belarussian Odyssey Part VII: Wednesday July 13th

Revelation: I read the Bible and think I understand things, then I get an entirely different experience that puts it into a whole new perspective. I had always read about the crowds, and how they pressed in on Jesus. This place brings home a lot more what it must have been like. These kids are so needy, so starved for love and affection, even just attention. They want to touch you, to be near you. So, they press in on me, and I just absorb them. I know now, though, why Jesus rested after he went into the towns.

Today was haircut day for the little kids. They gave Little Сергей (Sergei) a mushroom cut that looked fantastic. I spoke with two teachers, today. The first was Коля (Kolya). The kids seem to like him. We traded English and Russian words, and he already knows quite a bit of English. The second was another teacher the children seem to like, and who manages them with a smile. I had seen her several times, and she really likes the kids.

Today was also sidewalk chalk day. I had several boys (I’m calling them my posse’) watch as I started drawing a picture of the Cross on a hill, with a sunset behind it. Then they understood and joined in. We finished it and I started looking for another place to put a drawing. There is a large wall right next to the entrance of the school. We got started on that, and the kids wanted to do another cross. A bunch of kids joined in and we made a beautiful (IMO) piece of art. In the cross beam I wrote: Nисус любить маленький детие—Jesus Loves the Little Children.

Today, I had to update the weirdest, most surreal experience of my life. Николай (Nikolai, the student) asked me to follow him, and I entered a room filled with children, seated in front of a television. There was a box right in front of the set, the seat of honor, and Nikolai asked me to sit. Two kids, Little Сергей and Оксана (Oksana), came over and sat on my lap. Anton sat on one side of me with Люда, and Николай sat on the other after he popped the movie into the VCR: Star Wars, Episode III (it’s still in theatres in the states!). I sat in a schoolroom with 20 Russian children, and watched Star Wars, Episode III. Юда (Yooda) had great lines like “Я не понимаю” (I don’t understand). I think his Russian is better than mine. It might also explain why he speaks the way he does in English. It was an unbelievable experience, through and through. The whole experience was brought home again when I read this blog from Matthew in Beirut, via Lou's Blog.

The others came back from the church at Krichev tonight, as well. It’s good to have them back.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

My Belarussian Odyssey Part VI: Tuesday July 12th

For some reason, my photo links are not working today...willl link later. My entry...

Brad, Tink, Jon and Roomie (Don) have gone to the church at Krichev. It’s funny how they left and the energy changed. It’s hard to explain, but it felt a little edgier with the kids.

Today was haircut day with the kids. Kathy and Helena cut the boys hair with clippers, which get pretty hot from cutting all of those heads. The haircuts ran the spectrum from tiny Вова (Vova) to a big boy named Сергей (Sergei). Сергей rides his bike in the courtyard and comes to visit quite a bit, apparently. The kids seem to like him, and he them. I think he saw the kids with haircuts, or perhaps knew intuitively (who really knows how information is passed in the orphanage; I just know it takes seconds for information to pass from one or a few children to all of the children) that it was time for a haircut and this was the place to do it.

Small Miracle: Люда (Lyooda) was watching us cut the boys’ hair. We were getting toward the end and Kathy had to go fill out the police forms (see below). She asked me to go fill in for her so I finished Pasha’s hair, which was cool because he was the first person I met at the orphanage it was a good chance to reconnect with him. After I finished, I motioned for Люда to sit down. She said, "Nyet" and stomped off in typical Люда fashion…but then slowly inched her way back as I cut the next boy’s hair. Again I asked and this time she said something loud and gruff, as is her way, which to my thinking was along the lines of "Haircut? Haircut? I don’t need no stinkin’ haircut!!!" So I motioned a third time and put down the clippers, holding up a comb. Then I made a combing motion and said Пожалуйста.…please? She relented and plopped down. I started to comb her hair, to take out the myriad knots that had formed. One by one, they came out. It was a difficult process, and I tried not to pull her hair, though I’m sure I did. I have brushed out Katie Rose’s hair, and even the with small knots of one or two days often cause pulls that make her cry until she can’t take it anymore. Granted, Люда is older and tougher, but she never even moved, much less winced. She was in a deep trance, perhaps far away from here. The time I spent combing her hair was probably less than ten minutes, but it seemed like hours, perhaps to both of us. Then, I shifted the chair, she came out of her spell, and our time together was over.

Today was also the day for our papers to be processed at the police station. Carolyn and Елена went into town to the station with our passports and visas. Things did not go well. Apparently, it’s very complicated. They gave them new forms and Елена had to interview each of us and interpret our answers. It was a two-page form and there were thirteen of us. Apparently, it is Very Complicated, and that is all…. Then, we went into town to drop the passports and papers off to be processed, again. While that was being done, we went shopping in Belinichi for groceries: meat and fresh water. Today’s meat of choice was pork: the other white meat.

We also had an opportunity to have bread water, a local drink made from water and bread yeast. It is an amber liquid, with the consistency of flat beer, and has a slightly vinegar-smell to it. Elena asked if we would like to try it and I said, "Absolutely" since I’ve dubbed this trip my own personal Fear Factor. It was mercifully cold (!) and surprisingly refreshing. I held my breath for the next two hours for my stomach’s sake, but no ill came of it. Come to think of it, I’ve not had any problems at all—Thank God! So we went to the meat shop and picked up a loin and some sausages. When you go to the store, they give you the entire chunk of meat in a plastic bag, which you then put in your bag (we had canvas shopper’s bags) and carry it with you, back to the home. We also got a special treat at one of the stores where we stopped: Ice Cream. It was unbelievably cold. The visas were processed, but not without additional diificulties. Suffice it to say it was very, very complicated.

I led devotions tonight and read the story of the Great Commission, where Jesus sends 72 people out into the world, to spread His love and His word, like sheep among wolves. They would sow seeds and prepare them for a time when more harvesters would come. You say you want a Revelution…errr....Revelation: I realized the people who came before us, for the last six years, have prepared the way for us to come here and teach these kids, to love these kids, and tot ell them about Jesus. Likewise, the things we do and say in this week will have an effect on future groups, hopefully laying a foundation for them.

As Craig and I walked to the bathroom that evening, we were talking about something, some process or another, and he said, "It’s not that complicated." I thought to myself that this was perhaps the first time that particular sentence had ever been uttered in that country.
Another revelation: This is the longest I have gone without a suit in almost six years.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

My Belarussian Odyssey Part V: Monday July 11th

An intorduction: This is CBETA (Svyeta), whom I mentioned in yesterday's entry as the girl who got the Bible my daughter sent over.

I woke up this morning and hung out with the kids. It was very similar to my experience working at The Pathway School as a counselor, except the kids there speak English. This experience, along with teaching special education, served me very well during my stay at the orphanage. We then went to a large room for Make a T-shirt with a Kid Day. I made a t-shirt with Spiderman on it and the kids thought it was awesome. As soon as the others saw it, they all started asking me to make Speederman! (How they pronounce Spiderman) t-shirt designs on theirs. I must have made about 40 t-shirts. It was a lot of fun, but I’m nowhere near ready to make a career of it.

Hanging out, I got to spend more time with Николай (student). We talked about many things: clothes, colors, soccer, anatomy…you name it. I would tell him the English name and he would tell me the Russian/Belarussian equivalent. Елена (student, on the right with her teacher) came and sat with us while we talked. She was naturally intrigued. It occurred to me that she is not as hard as she seems, or as hard as, perhaps, she has to seem. I like her because she has spirit.

Now, her friend Люда is truly a hard case. When we made balloon animals with the kids, she took some from the kids, even smaller kids, and stomped on them. At one point, she took a kids sandal and threw it over a fence. Surprisingly, when Brad and I told her to go get it, she did. I see her as a kid who needs a lot more attention than she is getting, so she gets it by being mean to the kids and yelling at them.

Brad just came back to the room and was talking about faith in Belarus. Brad made a statement that I have confidently added to my List of Sentences that Have Never Been Uttered in Human History: “This is the way they do it in Belarus and it’s so much better than how we do it.”

I also got to take my first shower since arriving here. It felt sooooooo good! I don’t even know how much I wanted one. We had tried to take one yesterday, but the showers were all locked up. We even tried to go down to the women’s area last night, but there was a large, angry Belarussian shotputter/night guard who looked at us sternly and kept tapping the face of her watch. Obviously, it was too late…Obviously, she was unhappy. We decided to give up on the dream of a shower for the night.

We did find some open sinks next to the kitchen, so we at least shaved. Cold water, a slim mirror, and flashlights…quite an international experience. Walking back to the rooms, I offered the quote of the day: “Man, it’s so bad, I don’t even remember the last country I showered in.” Hot water never felt as good as it did the next morning when we finally got to shower.

By the way: dinner tonight was an absolute revelation. Sure, there was the obligatory tomatoes and cucumbers with dill (it must come with EVERY meal), but the coup de’ grace was meat-and-vegetable stuffed cabbages. Absolutely wonderful. I went back to the kitchen to thank the cooks personally. They looked at me at first as if to say, “Why are you here?” but lightened up (just a smidge) when I said, “Большой Спасиба!” I think my accent might have been a little better, too…

Saturday, July 23, 2005

My Belarussian Odyssey Part IV: Sunday July 10th

I’m in that dim haze between sleeping and waking and I hear the voice of children…it’s familiar enough. Only, they’re not speaking English. It dawns on me, slowly at first, that I am not home anymore. As I wake up, it becomes more obvious where I am. It’s an odd feeling, but not an altogether unpleasant one.

This morning we got to spend some great time with the kids. We set up three activity stations with them:
1) Picture taking with a Polaroid camera: Instant gratification
2) Making a crafty-style frame to put the picture in
3) Making name tags with the kids

Since I know (most of) the Russian alphabet, I was in charge of doing the nametags. It was general chaos, because the kids didn’t really understand what we were saying…maybe because they don’t understand English! And what is with the assumption that if you talk slower, they're more likely to understand you? It took me one morning to find out--they won't. One kid kept handling the nametags and I kept saying Het (no). I asked him Как вас зовут (pronounced Kak Vas Zavut) and he answered Николай (Nikolai, not to be confused with Herr Direktor). Николай is a good looking, well-natured boy of about 16. I explained in pigeon-Russian, the language of choice for all Belarussian travelers from America, what we were trying to do. The proverbial light bulb went on almost immediately (smart kid!!!) and he started yelling (in a good way--not meanspirited at all) at the kids in Russian. They got into lines at the activity centers and things moved forward as I had initially hoped. He seems like a great kid and I have a feeling Николай is going to be my right-hand man…not sure who will be my left.

The cool thing about being responsible for the nametags is that I got to know all of the kids today. They came up to me one by one and I got to make some small talk with them. I also identified Project Number 1, a hard-edged girl of about 15 named Елена (not to be confused with Елена our translator…Hang in there and bear with me regarding the names. Remember, this is Belarus: It’s complicated!). Goal number one was simply to make her smile. It was easy enough when I simply smiled at her and asked, “как дела” (Pron. Kag Dyela: How are you?). It caught her so off guard she smiled before she knew what she was doing. It was gone almost immediately, but I think I’ll see it again.

Small Miracle: There was a little boy there whom nobody knew his name. Colleen had checked with his teachers and his fellow students and no one knew. He was probably about 4 or 5 years old. I asked some of the other kids if they knew his name and they did not know either. I motioned for Colleen to put him on my lap as I did the nametags for the kids. Kids came up to me one after another and I did their nametags and continued to “chat” with them. The little boy on my lap just sat for about 10 minutes, then snuggled in close to me, as close as he could get. There was a brief lull int he nametag assembly line and I leaned down and quietly asked him, “Как вас зовут?” He replied, in the faintest whisper I have ever heard, “Олег.” His name is Oleg. I made him a nametag and now his classmates and teachers know who he is. They could now call him by his name: Олег. I think that perhaps these miracles are all around us, each and every day. In America, we are…I am…too busy to notice them, to recognize them for what they are. It’s so easy to get caught up in everything, to forget to slow down and look at things...really LOOK. I hope Олег has angels watching over him.

After these activities, we played UNO. It was a blast! CЛABA (Slava) was an incredible card-slapper, throwing them down with authority. We jokingly refer to him as Macaulay because he looks (and acts) like Macaulay Culkin.

There was a very sweet girl I mentioned yesterday, named CBETA (Svyeta). She was a little shy at first, but came around quickly. She is a great giver of hugs and likes to smile a lot. We brought Russian-to-English Bibles with us and were giving some of them to the kids. She kept getting a Bible, but she would open it, look at the first page and shake her head. She did this three times before I realized what was going on. The Bibles had been sponsored by the children of our church, and one of the things we did was put the picture of the sponsoring child in the Bible. That way, the Belarussian children could see the kid who sponsored their Book. We also included a phrase: “From your American Friend”. It occurred to me that CBETA was returning the books not because she didn’t want a Bible (she would have just left the room if that were the case). I called her over and pulled out a Bible and gave it to her. Her whole face lit up, because I had guessed what she wanted: A Bible from a girl. And that is how CBETA got the Bible that was sponsored by my daughter, Katie Rose.

It was time to go get some dinner. In Belarus, you walk everywhere, and the grocery store is no exception. On the way out, Brad explained to me that people in town do not smile, especially at Americans. He gave me a mission to make at least one person in the town of Белыничи (Belinichi) smile. So, off to the town we went, in search of dinner and a smile. We went to find chicken and vegetables. The chicken proved the most difficult thing to find. We went to four different stores. The last one didn't even look like a store. It was in an apartment complex and was run out of a room...but, THEY HAD CHICKEN! I was trying to smile at the woman behind the counter when a middle aged woman came up behind me. I smiled at her and she....smiled back! Mission: Accomplished!!! I decided to push my luck...On the way out I said, "Спасиба! Здраствыте!" (Thanks! Goodbye!) My accent is terrible, but my enthusiasm was too much, and the woman behind me and the woman the counter both laughed out loud.

Saturday Afternoon/Evening, July 9...My Belarussian Odyssey Part III, SubSection B

It was raining when our team arrived at the orphanage. Driving up I saw a child in the window, sitting on the ledge of the second floor, leisurely hanging out. He saw us at the end of the road and started jumping up and down. Then he disappeared for a second and more kids appeared. They started running back and forth and there was a huge bustle of activity on the top floor as word quickly spread we were arriving. Then someone went downstairs and the same scene played out, with kids running back and forth on the bottom level. From the outside, it looked like one of those old video games, like (dating myself here) Donkey Kong or Mario Brothers, with activity on all of the levels and people running back and forth.

The kids ran out to greet us in the rain. There were smiles, shouts of “The Americans!! The Americans!!” I understand now how liberating armies must feel. The kids came out, just wanting to touch us, to hold and be held by us. I got the sense a couple of them didn’t quite know what to do, and still others held back in reserve. They grabbed all of our luggage and brought it into the orphanage. It was interesting when we first pulled up because they weren't sure who was going on the trip. As soon as they saw Tink they just exploded, yelling, "TEENK!!! TEENK!!! TEENK!!!"

We were then shown to our rooms by the director, Николай (Nikolai). It seemed like he wasn’t exactly expecting us; Of course, he was, but apparently preparation and hospitality are not his strong suits. After getting our luggage up to our rooms, we had a question and answer period in the Common Room, dubbed the Teacher’s Lounge, with Николай. We were instructed, via our interpreter, Елена, to “ask questions quickly", because Николай was “a busy man who is not even able to take vacation this year and must work very hard. You are privileged to be asking him questions, because he is an important man, and very busy, so please ask now. That is all.” It wouldn’t have been so laughable except that Николай is rarely even at the orphanage, and the entire place is in a general state of disrepair. Couple that with the car he arrived in (NOTE: This is not a link to the actual auto, but you get the idea...)and you get pretty much everything you need to know...and that is all.

Also, the swingset is still in the container. Apparently, they won’t let us unpack it because when we packed it up, we failed to inventory every single nut and bolt used to hold the swingset together. A second inventory was drafted and filed with (no kidding) the President of the country, President Лукашенко (Lukashenko), a man with issues of his own. Thank goodness Condaleeza Rice paved our way with excellent diplomacy just prior to our arrival and that her comments were so well received. To further add fuel to his fire, President Лукашенко was knocked off the Top Ten Worst Dictators. Lucky for us, Николай has some pull with the President….

We only had a few moments with the kids, but it was a great time. Как вас зовут (What is your name)? I met Пaшa and Caшa (Pasha and Sasha)—good boys. I also met two of the girls, a shy teenager named CBETA (Svyeta)and her roommate, Aлecca (Alyessa). We only got to “talk” for a few minutes because it was dinner time, then chores, then off to bed. Still, some of the kids stayed up a little to visit with us.

The “Feelings” incident led to a discussion of the Top 10 Worst Pop songs of all time. Our list:

10) You make Me Wanna Scream (The live version, of course)—Ashlee Simpson
9) Barbie Girl—Aqua
8) Karma Chameleon—Boy George
7) The Legend of Billy Jack—Coven?
6Achy Breaky Heart —Billy Ray Cyrus
5) Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog—Three Dog Night
4) Muskrat Love—Captain and Tenille
3) Mr. Roboto—Styx
2) MacArthur Park—Richard Harris
1) We Built This City on Rock and Roll—Starship (A simple Google search of the song’s title turned up this at the top)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Saturday Morning, July 9...My Belarussian Odyssey Part III

I wanted to get something up. This is the first part of Saturday, July 9th

I woke up at three in the morning and could not go back to sleep. So, I took my very tired and worn out self downstairs so as not to wake The Roomie (Don). There were six guards in the lobby when I got down there. A lot of younger people were just starting to come in from the clubs. The guards would stop and ask them questions, probably about where they were staying, to ensure they were supposed to be in the hotel. From what I have heard, Минск is a pretty safe city, but I suppose it pays to be cautious.

Julia was not able to sleep either and came down little after 4. We talked a while as the sun slowly rose; I’m guessing sunrise in Минск was about 4.30 am. We took a walk out to one of the monuments to the Great Patriotic War, celebrating the country’s victory over the Germans. These monuments are everywhere, and to my mind reinforce the need to have a vibrant, vital and independent arts community. These monuments look pretty much the same: a huge concrete (the building material of choice for modern Беларусь. Almost everything in the country is built with this or white brick) phallus reaching to the sky. There is usually some gold marker, like a star or leaves or the like, and a plaque describing that the monument was erected to commemorate the Беларусь victory in the Great Patriotic War…in case you are either wondering or had forgotten. It’s a country with little else to celebrate in its modern history, and many, many things revolve around the event.

Again, we went shopping briefly, and then went sightseeing. One of the monuments that we did see that was interesting was in the center of Минск. It is dedicated to the women who lost children in the Chernobyl disaster. There is a tradition that newly married couples place flowers at the monuments. Since it was Saturday, there were a lot of brides and grooms, and I couldn’t help but realize how young they all were…

We also saw the old section of Минск. During World War II, the Germans were advancing and living off the land. To slow them down and string them out, the Soviet Army adopted a scorched earth policy and burned everything behind them, so the Germans could not live from the Russian soil. They hastily retreated from Минск and burned a lot of it. The Germans bombed the city as they invaded it, and continued to advance until they were stopped by the heroic stand of the Red Army in Stalingrad. The Germans got caught in the Russian Winter and got obliterated. It was their turn to retreat, and as they did, they took out there aggression, anger and frustration on everything in their path, including, again, Минск. As a result of this, Минск was almost totally destroyed. There is a small city block that remained standing, and does to this day, from the old era. Everything else in the city is 1945 or newer.

Then, a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride to THE KIDS!!!!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Минск (Minsk)...Part II of my Belarussian Odyssey

Friday July 8, 2005

We boarded the plane for Минск, the capital of Беларусь (Belarus). Getting on the plane, the attendant at the gate made us check our bags. It seemed unusual since our bags were okay in the overhead compartment before that. We tried to explain this, but the attendant was having none of it. Of course, they lost Julia’s bag, which was filled with Russian-to-English Bibles, candy and other things for the kids.

Arrival into Минск was an experience. The airport is one of those Soviet-style concrete-bunker-looking designs (honestly, could they not find real architects to design European airports?). It was very dimly lit and you walk through a mini labyrinth to get to the first checkpoint. You are, most assuredly, not in Kansas anymore. If it is possible for a place to feel like it is/was behind the Iron Curtain, this place has it in spades.

Елена (Elena, our translator) and Марат (Marat, who is the head of the Belarus Peace Foundation, which brought us over) met us there. I liked them both immediately. They got us around the first checkpoint and took us via an express route to the passport area. One by one, we walked up to the passport window to face security. When I walked up to the passport window, I smiled at the woman there…then thought better of it. I got the sense immediately that passport checkers in Belarus are not noted for their jovial personalities. In fact, I got the sense that they are not noted for having personalities at all. I’m not sure if it’s a prerequisite for the job or if it’s removed after you get the position…either way, the end result is more than a little unnerving.

So we get through that and go downstairs to baggage claim. We got our bags, less Julia’s of course, and went to the checkpoint area. We knew our bags were close to the fifty-pound weight limit, except for one. One of the things we were bringing in was a horse bridle and harness for the local horse and cart where we were going. The bag containing this was probably 10-15 pounds overweight, and there might be a significant fine for this. We were thinking that if we put the luggage on several carts and had Marat guide us through, it might go easier. It did not, but I did learn an important phrase: "IT’S COMPLICATED"

It seems they train people to say this when things are, quite obviously, not going to go your way. They look down slightly to the left, shake their heads, sigh and say, "It’s complicated." Marat was not able to get us through and we had to pair up with the respective bags we were bringing in to the country. We were all fairly certain we would have to get our bags weighed and possibly pay some fines. At some point, the woman who was making things difficult had a change of heart…I’m still not sure how or why (God does work in His own ways), and how we got through, much less without paying fines, but we did.

We loaded up the van and went back inside for lunch: Chicken and cheese, with French fries, cucumbers and tomatoes. Oddly, the worst part of the meal was the fries. Perhaps because when you come to a meal that is visually recognizable, your taste buds arrive with the same level of expectation. Sadly, in a country such as Belarus, there can be only one outcome: the bitter sting of crushing disappointment. But let’s face it: If I was looking for high cuisine, the airport in Минск is NOT where I would start. It did give me a new appreciation for American airport food, though (REALLY!).

We took the shuttle bus/taxi to the Hotel Planeta. The hotel was very nice, actually. We got settled, then went out and did a little shopping. It’s come a long way since the days of the old Soviet Union, where people had to stand in line (that’s "on line" for my New York friends) for hours for bread, then go to another store and wait in line for chicken, then a third for milk, etc.

Some interesting observations: a lot of cities have shops that cater to tourists. There is obviously not a thriving tourist industry here because few of the shops have Belarussian things; they seem to have an abundance of Made in China, American-style clothes, knick-knacks, etc. The people in the stores were friendly and forgiving of my limited Russian…except in the grocery stores. The cashiers there are gruff and unsmiling, and just want to get the Rubles and move on to the next customer. At one point, a cashier just took the money out of the hands of one of our party and then made the change. I think they are in training to become passport checkers…. There are a lot of people walking around the stores and looking at things, but very few buying. Back out on the streets, people stop to stare at us as we walk. In America, everyone is different, and if you spent time staring at people who were different from you, you’d never get anywhere. Here, we stuck out like sore thumbs (but I did NOT wear black socks with my shorts…even I have my limits). It is a Twilight-Zone feeling to be stared at by a city full of people…who don’t smile.

We went back to the hotel to wash up for dinner. I took a shower and the water smelled decidedly bad. It had an odor (that’s "odour" to my Canadian and European friends…I’m trying to keep this blog internationally friendly) like dirt, vinegar and sulfur and it burned my eyes. I didn’t stay in for long. I got dressed, hooked up with some people from our mission and walked in to the empty restaurant. This is part of a trend we’ve noticed: restaurants are invariably empty or near-empty…it costs money to eat out.

So, we walk in and someone in the room next door is belting out THE WORST RENDITION OF "FEELINGS" EVER! Let’s face it: There isn’t a good rendition, but this one set new standards for LOW…. There was a divider between where we were eating and where this party was going on. However, the divider didn’t close all the way, so we were treated to Belarussian wedding music all night long. About midway through our meal, the bride and groom arrived where we were and we gave them a big round of applause as they went through to the other side…

Dinner was salad and chicken with cheese. They also gave us a great slaw with meat (I’m assuming pork), carrots, cucumbers and sour cream. It was very good, especially on the homemade rye bread. After dinner, Marat delivered a message to the people of America, the people of Pennsylvania and especially the people of Aldersgate Church. He said that, just like in the Great Patriotic War (WWII), the spirit of cooperation between our two countries would help free people, and that when people who are different find ways to work together, amazing things happen.

Tomorrow afternoon we leave Минск to see the kids!

Off to Беларусь (Belarus)...Part I of my Belarussian Odyssey

One of the reasons I started this blog is to recount my Mission trip to Беларусь (Belarus) with my church. This is where it begins…

July 7, 2005…The trip to Dulles

We said our good-byes at the church. As expected, leaving my wife Joanie and my daughter Katie were very hard. I didn’t want to cry, and I got the sense Joan didn’t either, but she almost did. That, of course, choked me up. It’s hard to say goodbye. I think Katie was easier with it. At seven, I don’t think she yet knows what it is to be gone from people you love for ten days…I’m not sure I do.

We passed Mt. Saint Mary’s University on the way to the airport. On the hill, behind the university, is a giant statue of Mary, with her arm extended in a blessing. I’m glad she was there—it seems a good start to the trip.
Winding down the backroads of Northern Virginia, we almost got wiped out before we started. In on of the logjams typical for the area, an oncoming truck failed to see the traffic backed up and slammed on its brakes. The trailer jackknifed right in front of us. Our driver did an amazing job of 1) avoiding the trailer and 2) staying on the road as opposed to the sizable ditch to the right of where we were traveling. Other than that, it was a rolling ride through gentle, bucolic countryside: farms, horses, cows, a barn or two…

Took My Chances on a Big Jet Plane, Never Let Them Tell You that They’re All the Same (Why not…they’re all the same)
Planes are planes are planes. They’re noisy, dry, stale boxes crammed with people and germs. A good flight is an uneventful one. It was a good flight. There were no storms, no turbulence…nothing.

All of that being said, it would have been nice to get some sleep on the flight. At the beginning of the flight, the man next to me was separated from hi wife. I gave up my aisle seat (!) so they could sit together [I wasn’t sure of the wisdom of that move then, but in rewriting this journal, I remember that more than my own discomfort, now] and sat in a middle seat…eek! Still, other people were dealing with rambunctious kids, snoring and the usual other in-flight annoyances. The people I sat with were a quiet, respectful lot.

We landed in Frankfurt at 7.45 am their time. It’s a little weird flying out in the afternoon, through the night and arriving first thing in the morning in a foreign country. Frankfurt is a little odd, but I suppose any place could be, in it’s own way. Flying in, Frankfurt looks a lot like Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Someone said it is, which is why so many Germans settled in Pennsylvania when the emigrated America—it reminded them of home. The airport was your standard steel and concrete bunker affair. Inside, weirdness abounds. You can buy a Rolex, any kind of perfume known to man or woman (no small feat, I assure you), even a RANGE ROVER duty free. I went up an escalator and there was a brand new Alveston Red Range Rover in the store in the airport—duty free. The reason I was on the escalator in the first place was because I was looking for a cup of coffee. Good luck. I was with another guy who was looking for a diet coke. After half an hour of searching, passing twenty perfume stores and half a dozen newsstands, which don’t have coffee either, we finally found a little Haagen Dazs kiosk. Coffee!!! I am reasonably convinced that coffee is proof of the existence of God, and that He is a beneficent God…and it was gooooood coffee, too. Bonus: It might be strong enough to keep me awake for the entire trip.

Another oddity: Everyone smokes here. And, there is no distinction between smoking and non-smoking areas. The entire airport and everything in it, including me, smells like a cigarette.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

My Curd Odyssey

I did it. After many fits and starts, I finally finished an entire tub of the curd. In the past, I would buy it. I might eat a quarter cup....then return a month and a half later to toss it out. This time I set my mind to conquering my fear. This is my story:

I approached the fresh tub and pulled it out of the fridge. Carefully, I pulled back the lid, then the foil wrapper, both with a 4-1-1 Tempo, as recommended on JP Fitness. It's hard to say which hit me first, the smell or the appearance of those little curdled globs, quivering. Were they shaking? Yes, I convinced myself. They were afraid, for this time they knew none of them were going home.

I mixed a quarter cup in the blender with milk, fresh berries, and yogurt. I quaffed it down like a guy on a hot summer day with an ice-cold :PEEJ. Surprisingly, not bad.

The next morning I went back...for more. Disaster! My wife had finished the milk. That left only yogurt. I mixed the two. The appearance was ghastly. The smell was horrid. I started eating. Crushing tiny curds between my teeth, battling dry heaves, I forced the curd down into my stomach with the passion and fervor of a religious zealot. It was, as anticipated, awful.

Day 3....the lessons of Day 2 had been learned. The more ingredients you had to pair up with the Food of Hades, the better. Again, I went with milk, and decided to mix in a little Vanilla wasn't bad. Hmmmmmm, I thought. Perhaps there is something to the Cult of the Curd.

Last night, I picked up the last of the curd and placed it before me on the counter. I was going for a PR, and I meant to have my day. The curd was afraid, but it had the quivering fury of a caged and cornered animal...and then I went to the cupboard and unveiled my secret weapon: Pineapples!!! I looked at my daughter and told her today was my day that I was going to finish the vile tub before me. She looked at me and said, "Daddy. You don't have to do this." But we both knew I did. I spooned some pineapple into the curd-tub. I rosined my hands. I got into position, and began. Sure enough, the pineapple quashed the foul stench, the bitter taste of angry curds. Halfway through, I let forth my barbaric, "YAWP!", signaling to all the world that today, I would be victorious, that had the very hordes of Hell sallied forth to protect their kinsman, I would have nonetheless thrashed them back to their black inferno and had my victory!

And so, I stand before you, a man assured of himself. I have joined the ranks of those who have suffered, but who know the limits of their own suffering, and have found themselves no longer wanting. The curd is now mine, trained like a wild beast to do my bidding, to build my body, to nourish my muscles, and yes, to remind me of the power that is inside of me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Lorem Ipsum know the drill. This is a test.