March 17, 2009
One year ago today was my first day of work as the CLO (Community Liaison Coordinator) at the US Embassy in Belarus. It was an interesting first day on the job. The Ambassador had departed Belarus the previous Wednesday, and now we were being asked by the Belarusian government to reduce our staff in the coming weeks and I was responsible for “morale” at the Embassy. The 20 hour a week job that I was hired to perform quickly, seemingly overnight became a 40 hour + per week position. Needless to say, I felt like a fish out of water, flailing, gasping for air, my own future uncertain.
The days and weeks that followed were no less stressful and emotionally difficult. Our Embassy was downsized YET AGAIN and 10 additional Americans and their family members were declared “persona non grata” by the Belarusian government and asked to leave the country by May the 2nd at 3pm.
The group of us met and caravaned to the Lithuanian border as a group. Just before the border we stopped andbid farewell to those few Americans that we would leave behind.
Today, I’m sitting in Baku, Azerbaijan, waiting and wondering again what the future holds. Our time in Baku is nearing an end and we are waiting to hear about our next assignment. The circumstances related to today and one year ago are totall different, but the feeling is still the same…like a fish out of water.
March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. In the future I may forget to wear green (though doubtful – I have my once a year sweater) but I will never forget the events that occurred in Belarus, or the friends we left behind.
May 16, 2008
As most of you know by now Scott and I were among the diplomats who left Belarus on May 3rd. Ten (10) American diplomats were declared persona non grata and the 11th (Scott) left for administrative reasons.
This news wasn’t widely covered in the United States, but did finally make the May 12th episode of the Colbert Report. We also managed to make it to YouTube. This video was taken on the day we left. Max has a cameo. I fortunately did not make the video. I was probably off to use the restroom as my traveler’s bladder was calling.
What this video depicts is the pre departure and the convoy heading toward and crossing the border to Lithuania. What this video does not depict are the friends and co-workers that we left behind.
Yesterday the US imposed further sanctions so I’m sure this is all far from over. Stay tuned.
May 9, 2008
Well, there’s nothing like being a refugee! We are officially homeless. We are temporarily hanging out in Vilnius, Lithuania waiting on new orders and taking a much needed break from the political craziness.
We left Belarus via convoy last Saturday morning. Crossing the border was uneventful, but I did get a salute from the Belarusian border guard so I guess that’s saying something. Once we crossed the border we were escorted to our hotel by a police escort….AWESOME…except for the fact that I was almost Tboned at an intersection by a guy who obviously wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. That was scary.
So here we are, haning out. Max has made friends with all of the hotel employees and many of the guests. He thinks he is big stuff walking around here.
We are definitely on our way to Baku. Azerbaijan. Another place I never would have considered living and had never even heard of until this experience. I am looking forward to it and hoping that with all the oil and gas companies there maybe I’ll be able to get a job as some sort of corporate wellness professional. They speak Russian and Azeri (?) there so I’ll be able to get by with the basics. I am definitely going to take advantage of the language programs that are available through the State Department to get more proficient. I doubt that I’ll work at the embassy again. This last experience was enough government for me I think. I have finally been paid though which is a plus.
I’m off to the Agriculture Department here to pick up Max’s passport and export paperwork. Pets require a LOT more credentialing than humans which I find just BIZARRE in today’s world.
April 30, 2008
It’s been a whirlwind kind of day. Overcast, cold and windy here in Belarus with this news coming this afternoon.
Looks like it’s official now! We’ll be heading for a new destination in the very near future, possibly Baku, Azerbaijan.
Not really crazy about that, but hey, at least I’ll be able to speak Russian and continue building on the language that I’ve already started. That’s a bonus – I won’t have to stress out about asking for a bag at the market or trying to figure out what is sour cream and what is milk and trying to read labels because I can already do all that stuff! I’ve done a little reading already and it looks like there will be a better variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available there and it’s right on the Caspian sea which likely means FISH! Another bonus is a house over an apartment which means hopefully a yard for the little man! I’m keeping my fingers crossed…of course nothing is for certain until I’m sleeping in a bed in Baku!
I wonder how long it will take for me to get my stuff?
April 25, 2008
It’s Friday, but there’s no game night tonight. There’s no one left to have game night with. Olga did come by tonight to bring some chocolate and to say goodbye. She’s leaving for vacation tomorrow and I most likely will not see her again.
It’s funny, I never anticipated how I would react to saying goodbye to the friends I’ve made here in Belarus, my local friends. It was hard. We hugged, we exchanged emails and we said “пока”…that’s Russian for goodbye. Of course as soon as I closed the door I was bawling like a baby! WOW, where did that come from?
So it seems as though our time here in Belarus is coming to a close, though we still don’t know for sure. Our host government has asked that the American Embassy here in Belarus reduce it’s American staff yet AGAIN. With the numbers they’ve suggested it’s more likely than not that Scott and I will be leaving. I’ve got a few more pictures to take and of course I didn’t make it to all of the places I’d hope to have visited while I was here. I am extremely disappointed about the timing of all of this. My parents were due to visit NEXT WEEK!
In knitting news I ventured to my LYS (local yarn stall) today and actually had a decent conversation (of course it consisted of …how much is this? do you have yarn made from flax? do I knit with one strand or two? I’m making a bag, knitting, not crochet and may I have 3 skeins please?) with the shop owner….in RUSSIAN. I was impressed with my skills and of course she was too. Funny, that the conversation ended with her speaking ENGLISH to me. LOL. It always amazes me that once you really attempt to learn the language they decide that they want to practice their English on you….She would talk to me in English and I would answer her in Russian. I ended up with 3 skeins of a cotton/viscose blend in an off white, not quite beige color. I’m going to make a market bag. I saw one made from linen the other day while out shopping and it was really nice. I thought about buying it, but thought to myself….”why when I can make it”….then I thought…”Oh, my God I’m turning in to my mother”. LOL Now, my task is going to be to finish the darn thing before Tuesday. I need to get it to Anya to have her put a liner in for me. Since my time here is limited I don’t want to pass up the opportunity to utilize Anya’s skills. She is a WONDERFUL seamstress.
In other news, I’ve done it again. I said I wasn’t but I caved. I’ve decided to join the HSKS5. Sign ups aren’t officially until next week, but I’ve been on the Ravelry group forum chatting away and it really seems like it will be more fun for me this time around. I’m going to change houses though. I’m going to venture to the dark side I think and put Slytherin as my first house choice, followed by Ravenclaw then Hufflepuff. I just may be the only person on the planet who doesn’t want to be a Gryffindor! I guess good old FDH burned me out on the red and gold! LOL
Finally, I have to have some medical care (routine, nothing serious) that cannot be provided here in Belarus so I’ll be going to Germany for a few days soon. I’m going to try to meet up with a Ravelry friend while I’m there. We’re hoping to meet for beer and pretzels (and yarn shopping of course). I have been told to pack my elastic pants! LOL
Well that’s all I have for now. I’ll keep you all posted on the “status” of the situation here as more information is available.
April 20, 2008
I finally got the appropriate drivers installed and was able to get the pictures from my camera! When my computer died many of my pictures were lost so I’m really thankful that I still had the pictures from Germany on my camera. I can’t remember when the last time I backed up my photo files was, but I’m pretty sure it was before Germany. My new promise to myself is going to be to store the pictures on a site like Flickr so that I don’t have to worry about this stuff anymore.
Ok, so last Tuesday was the day the movers came to crate up our boxes. You remember the ones. The ones that had to be packed in case we are leaving, but we are not sure we are leaving, but we need to be prepared in case we are leaving, so we are ready to leave if we need to leave, yeah those boxes. Thankfully it was a nice day, because I really needed to walk to relieve some stress. I was glad for the opportunity to take a few pictures on a nice, blue day. So here they are:
This is a picture of Take Away Sushi. It’s about a block from our apartment and best of all they deliver! It definitely isn’t the best sushi I’ve ever had, in fact, it’s pretty darn near the worst, but it’s sushi and it will do in a pinch especially during these “cupboard is bare” times. There is also a pizza place/restaurant nearby. We haven’t tried this one yet, but maybe one day this week. We’ve heard good things about it. It’s called Ziopepe.
At the end of the street is the Stella statue which I’ve posted pictures of before and on the other side of the street is this billboard which always has something festive. This says Republic of Belarus:
the sign is what I say marks the entrance of the park. The park is nice and there are several statues and later in the spring there will be many flowers. One of my favorite things in the park is this piece of graffiti which I’m surprised is still here:
This marks my half way point in the walk (I think). Since it was such a nice day I didn’t take my usual route. I wanted to take pictures of the statues and walk down around the water. A friend from work also suggested I see the peacock, so I went off in search of the bird. I was a little disappointed that his tail was not blooming. She said that later in the year his tail is in full bloom with so many beautiful flowers. Here he is, minus the splendour:
This gazebo type monument/statue is really pretty from a distance, but up close it has been heavily vandalized with graffiti. One of the things we comment on here is the lack of graffiti ( I know I’ve reference two pieces in this post). The city is really clean and beautiful. I personally think there is a group of Oompaloompas who go around and clean up the graffiti, though they have never been seen. They must not go in to the park though! Here’s a picture of the gazebo statue
In the distance behind the gazebo you can see the river. Once this is in my sight I’m on a mission. Up to this point I still hadn’t walked around the river because the weather just hadn’t been nice enough. This was the perfect day. Here are a few pictures:
I didn’t walk to the Island on this day, because I’d been there the day before. I do want to post a few more pictures of the Island because it was such an interesting place and such an important part of recent Belarussian history. As you are walking over the bridge you have an excellent view of the island (which is man made just for this memorial) and the memorial
The memorial itself is beautiful. There are four groups of women. To enter the memorial you walk through these iron gates. Each gate door has a handle which is inscribed with the name of a major city of Belarus. Inside the memorial the inside of each group of women is an altar with the walls containing the names of the fallen with a place for a candle next to each name. The ceiling has a light which from the outside you can see. They say this is illuminated at night, but I’ve never seen it (never been that close at night).
Also on the island is a statue of an angel boy who is rying. This statue is at the end of one of the paths leading from the memorial.
If you look very carefully you might notice that the penis on this statue is a little shiny. Apparently many brides come to the island on their wedding day and rub the angel’s penis. This is supposed to bless the marriage with fertility and a male son. I don’t know if that is true or not, and my friend doesn’t know how this story orignated, but we have witnessed many brides crossing the bridge to the Island of Tears.
This picture is taken heading up the hill to the American Embassy. You’ll notice the American Flag showing through the trees.