It turns out it’s not so hard to get into Belarus, Europe’s alleged last dictatorship – but if you want an experience, rather than the standard ease of the airport, you’ll need to be prepared for a little extra effort.
Over the holidays, my partner and I traveled from Chisinau, Moldova by train to Minsk, Belarus. We left on Christmas, at 10:14 pm, and would arrive in Minsk at 11:30 pm the next day.
The wheels on that train slandered the tracks, tossing staccato insults: “Too rough, unstable, rusted, unreliable.” They ignored their own precarious skid, took no accountability for their work. The ugly but necessary partnership was a painful love affair: wandering wheels rogue, abusing semi-stable tracks for a common goal. Both, it seemed, suffered from age and over-use.
Student Ilie was itching for a challenge during a recent training program to raise awareness about the problems facing people with disabilities. His task was to cross a cluttered room to retrieve an empty bottle – blindfolded. Goaded by fellow participants, he pulled himself along the office table, stumbling a few times and bumping into chairs. The experience lasted less than five minutes, long enough for Ilie to discover what it could be like to be blind for a lifetime.
The Sunday activity, held at the Miras-Moldova office on October 22, was one of several designed to give Comrat students a sense of what it means to live with a disability. The Miras-Moldova Public Association has been working with students from Comrat’s Moldovan Lyceum to combat discrimination against people with disabilities in Gagauzia. In April, the students received a grant for 800 Euros from the Academy of Central European Schools to implement their project.
On Sunday November 5, 2017, the Comrat municipality hosted Gagauzia’s largest Wine Day to date. While last year was a square affair, this year’s festival stretched past the town’s center and onto the newly-paved Pobeda Street just south of the town’s old bazaar.
The festivities included samplings of wine produced in Gagauzia and other regions of Moldova, a craft fair, dancers celebrating outside of stalls constructed to look like traditional Gagauz homes, a concert, a few pig roasts and a “food court.”
Every country has its own complex history, culinary tradition, spiritual expression (or three); its psycho-social reaction to trauma, methods to educate, and medical treatments; dances, songs, artistic oeuvre; political organ, scientific tradition, brick-a-brack house, street food, topiary, dog breed, orchid… This is all just people, us, trying to make sense of what we’ve got.
From my respective box, I offer a solution to my aunt Ellie’s question about ethically depicting another culture to an American audience: characterize the “odd” habits of the “others” as the commonplace. Because that’s precisely what they are – a commonplace you just don’t understand, yet.