Friday, January 23, 2015

Getting to Belarus

Here are some gently edited Facebook posts from my first days in Belarus...

Jan 21

Greetings from Frankfurt International Airport: my home for the next seven hours. I walked by the nicest group of comfy, comfy chairs. Just walked on by because - as anyone who knows me can attest - I'm a "trust but verify" [Доверя́й, но проверя́й] kinda guy. So naturally I had to go through security first, just so I could triple check my Minsk departure gate. So I got through security - after enduring a 15-minute unraveling and inspection of every cable and gadget I packed - only to discover that there are no such nice seats on the other side. Just row after row of rigid chairs (and no outlets that I can see). I have no interest in going back through security right now. So this is where I'll stay. Oh well. At least they have free wifi. Oh, and the cafe three feet away from my seat is doing brisk business selling something called, lessee... "bier," I think. It's a lovely amber, golden colored drink served in tall glasses. Yes, yes. I think I will try some of this "bier."


Minsk from my hotel room! I'm staying here for the next couple days until I can get into an apartment. I'll be attending meetings and orientations through Friday. My first class is scheduled for Saturday (though I've been reminded how the best laid itineraries can melt like snowflakes). No matter. I'm thrilled to be here. Time to get this adventure started! Well, after I get some much needed sleep. Including the Frankfurt layover, I've been flying for about 24 hours!

My first glimpse of Minsk was the sight of snow reflecting on the aircraft lights. A few minutes later we landed and I was trundling my way through the "obligatory" insurance line, baggage check, and customs. No hassles, no delays. Well, a slight delay as the customs agent scrutinized my passport with the eagle eye of an art historian searching for a potential forgery. She studied each line, sometimes shook her head, and asked her colleague some questions. Then she stamped the doc and sent me on my way.

Jan 22

An exhausting, exhilarating day. Thanks to the masterful (and patient) guidance of Elena X. Karpovich, I selected a swell apartment on Ulitsa Lenina in the heart of Minsk, configured my phone to work with the local system, got a metro/bus pass, and met with U.S. Chargé d'Affaires Scott Rauland. Throughout the day I began to glimpse a much more nuanced picture of life in this country, particularly the complex relationship between Belarus and Russia [There's so much to learn!]. Lunch was a warm bowl of Borscht and some mashed potatoes. The jet lag is really kicking in now, so I will be crashing soon. Tomorrow I move into my apartment and meet some of my new colleagues at Belarusian State University. I'll post pictures thereafter.

Highlight of the day: Sitting in a parked car with Elena, the real estate agent, and my new landlord, figuring the total cost of the rent. I do a quick calculation - and end up overcharging myself by $400. Elena says that the total seems excessive, so the landlord whips out her calculator. She smiles; I can tell she doesn't want to embarrass me (though she's also sure that my math is wrong). "No problem," I say. "Доверяй, но проверяй!" Though my pronunciation of the phrase "trust, but verify" is just as rusty as Ronald Reagan's (from whom I first heard this perfect proverb), we all laugh together anyway.

Jan 23

I'm so totally jet lagged, it's kinda funny. Like I'm drifting through invisible water currents. Still, I genuinely appreciated today's security briefing at the embassy and the chance to meet my BSU colleagues in person. They asked me to start my first MBA class (Silicon Valley Business Culture) tomorrow at 9 a.m. That's right: Saturday morning. I just want to sleep, but now that the internet's been switched on in my flat, I've got my third wind! Even better, my fridge has a huge bottle of beer in it. So far, I think I've stumbled onto the world's coolest landlord. Heck, I might take a walk in the bracing cold to clear my head and think about tomorrow's class. I love the sight of big heaps of snow falling from the roof and crashing on the sidewalk [at least until some lands on me!]. PS: I'll hold off on posting pix of my apartment until I get my stuff organized. But they are coming.

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