Same as they’d arranged for my transportation from the airport to the hotel, the company Purple Systems is working with in Minsk set up a driver to pick me up at the hotel Wednesday morning (and every other weekday, for that matter) and take me to the office where I’d be working. The first day, there was a group of three people waiting outside the building to greet me; after matching up faces with the voices I’d heard on conference calls since the project began, we walked up the stairs to the office on the fifth floor. I felt a little off kilter while heading up and wondered if that was jet lag kicking in, but then I noticed the stair treads were not all the same height and felt better.
Upon getting upstairs and past the secured door at the top, I was shown to a big conference room that would be my office for the time I was there, then given a quick tour, then the meetings began. So many meetings, so many people, so many questions. That’s what I was there for, after all. We did take a break for lunch each day and go to the restaurant in the ground floor of the building, and they’d stocked my room with bottled water and pop and snacks, so it wasn’t exactly hardship duty. The restaurant had an English menu, but I pretty much relied on recommendations from whichever people had shepherded me to lunch on a given day. I tried to choose things I couldn’t get easily at home, like salmon pancakes and zucchini rolls and solyanka (a kind of soup) and borscht and draniki (a type of potato pancakes). It was all very tasty.
Each evening, a different person had been volunteered to show me around. The first night included a stop at the Church of All Saints to admire the architecture of both the smaller, more simple wooden church and the large white cathedral with its elaborate decorations. Then it was on to the strikingly modern National Library, where we went up on the observation deck to view Minsk from above. Dinner at a Georgian restaurant capped off the night. The best discovery there was a red wine that agreed with me; unfortunately I don’t think I’ve ever seen Georgian wine here at home, but maybe I just need to look harder.
The second night, the woman I would come to think of as my best friend in Belarus took me around to see various sculptures and other points of interest in between stops for shopping opportunities. I’d mentioned I liked to quilt, so we went to a fabric store, where she helped me buy linen and cotton for my stash. I was very glad she was there, as this was not like JoAnn Fabrics or a quilt shop, where you can pull bolts off shelves and take them to be cut (as was the case when I bought fabric in Japan). Here, you need to look at the yardage samples on display, then go to a window and describe what and how much you want, then get a slip of paper to take to the cash register to pay, then take your receipt back to the window and get your fabric. We also went to a mall that was tucked below street level; I’d actually walked right by it when exploring on my own the day I arrived. While we walked around, she pointed out a few places I might want to have dinner (she needed to get home to her family); I decided rather than do a restaurant, I’d pick up something at the grocery store we’d passed earlier. Among other things, I got a package of what I thought were little cocktail sausages; they turned out to be all cheese inside—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The third work night, Friday, I got to go to a BBQ with a big group from the office. I’d been told the day before to dress to go to the forest, which turned out to be a wooded area that backed up to some apartment buildings. I’m pretty sure we were still in Minsk proper, but I could be wrong about that. The main menu item for the BBQ was shashlik, or shish kebab. I’m pretty sure I ate more than my fair share, at least of the first batch that came off the grill. There was wine and beer and cognac to drink; I’ve never seen cognac at a BBQ before. I got a chance to talk to some people I’d already met and some I hadn’t, and even met a few spouses and children who’d come out to join the fun. I had a good time, though near the end of the night I really wished I’d brought a hat, as it gets cold in the forest after the sun goes down. If I’d had any idea how to get back to the hotel on my own, I might have left earlier than I did, but I didn’t want to be demanding and rude and ask my ride to leave sooner than he wanted to, so I just buttoned up my sweater and walked around a bit more to stay warm. I was very ready to crawl into my nice cozy bed when I got dropped off at the end of the night.
Next time: weekend fun. Of course I was not left entirely to my own devices; my hosts were too hospitable for that.
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