Friday, May 2, 2008

Educational institutions

Yesterday afternoon we visited the National Library of Belarus, though not for its intended purpose. We went for a music festival, which also turned out to be a bit of a food festival. We didn't reach the stage right away because we were distracted by the gauntlet of food stands between the subway and the stage. I went down without a fight. We saw a guy cooking beautiful big shashliki (sheesh kabobs) and asked him how to buy one. He pointed to the booth he served and we joined the queue. I guess it took fifteen minutes or so to get served, but boy were we glad we waited!

After our shashlik lunch, we went over to the stage and watched a few musical groups. Most of the music was popular stuff from the Soviet era, with a strong Belarusian tilt. My favorite group reminded me of Western supergroups such as Chicago or maybe the Electric Light Orchestra.

Standing at the stage, I had lots of time to study the library, which looks a bit like a giant glass globe. The entry has a quote from the Bible about being perfect in knowledge and prepared for all good works. (My rough paraphrase.) It was translated into MANY different languages in a sculptural presentation. I look forward to getting inside to see how that ideal is addressed, but the library was closed for yesterday's holiday. We did walk around the grounds, which include a river, lots of grass, and huge benches. It's a natural and obvious gathering place, which seems to be a theme of public spaces in Belarus. And, of course, we went back for a second shashlik lunch. We really couldn't help ourselves.

Today we finally got into the "school for deep study of English." I think it runs from first grade all the way through high school, and the layout reminded Alla of her own grammar school. We arrived early and started to give ourselves a tour of the building. The head English teacher, Lyudmila Vasilyevnova, spotted us and gathered us for a more official tour. The place felt quiet and scholarly until the break between classes, when the halls turned into a bit of a bedlam. I don't know where the littlest kids were, because they weren't in the crowd, but we found ourselves in the middle of a running rush of kids calling to each other and noticing us as they poured past.

Lyudmila Vasilyevnova combined two classes for our benefit and we were privileged to answer the students' many questions, mostly about ourselves. Then the students put on a little play for us and we all posed for pictures. Everybody was all smiles, and I think we finally got even the officials interested in the idea of meeting a sister classroom in Massachusetts so they could share knowledge and studies together.

Lyudmila Vasilyevnova was honest with us, beginning with a phone call last night, about her initial caution before inviting us in. Apparently she had a bad experience previously with a group who turned out to be missionaries and drifted from cultural exchange to proselytizing. I think she's more comfortable about our intentions now, and I look forward to broader cultural exchange.

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