Wednesday, May 7, 2008


OK, we're in Gomel. Yesterday was a big holiday called Radonitsa. This is a religious holiday, but since everybody seems to celebrate it, it's a State holiday too. I'm a little fuzzy on the theological underpinnings of this holiday, and since Alla's family didn't discuss religion (her dad was a Soviet military officer) she didn't really learn anything about Russian Orthodox traditions growing up. As Alla described it to me, it's Easter for everybody else. I asked her if it were some sort of resurrection day and she said yes. So there you have it, at least until I or one of my readers should go out and Google it.

Anyway, the way it's celebrated around here is that everybody visits the cemetaries and leaves flowers and food. Getting to the cemetary was not easy at all. We couldn't get a taxi so we took a bus, which was full when it arrived. The other folks at the bus stop were much more aggressive than we and managed to get on. Wanting to demonstrate our own cultural understanding, we got on too. At least we got our feet onto the bottom step of the back door of our bus. Then the driver tried to close the doors and I realized that the only way our door was going to close was if I pressed into the crowd. The crowd absorbed me, the door dragged shut over my backpack and off we went.

At the first stop, a couple of people got off and we stepped all the way inside the bus to allow newcomers the same door-pressing enclosure I enjoyed. Presently, amazingly enough, the conductor parted the crowd and forced her way through so we could all pay. It reminded me of the progress of a sturdy Russian icebreaker during a harsh arctic winter. I don't know how either of them got through, but like the ships, our conductor moved successfully.

As I stood there imagining the stories I'd tell Alla about supposed invasions of personal space by the people pressing me from all sides, I actually felt somebody jostling the little camera case I was wearing on my belt. I looked down to see some poor little woman adjusting the foolish thing so it would fit into a more comfortable place between her ribs.

Presently we did reach the cemetary. The trip took longer than I expected because of all the other traffic, but in any event we had no problem getting out of the bus because everybody else wanted to get out too.

Our next problem was buying flowers. The store had none that morning, but they told us that any flowers that might be available were to be had at the cemetary. They also admonished us to arrive early because they would sell out. We hoped we were early enough, as it was already 11 a.m. and we still had to walk all the way around to the main gate on the far side to find the vendors, who had plenty of stuff yet to sell.

Alla chose floral arrangements but did not buy any eggs or bread to make food offerings. I discovered when we reached her father's grave, however, that she had brought him some bread and vodka, which she left on a plate and glass still there from her previous visit.

The cemetary was pretty well packed with people, many of whom had installed picnic tables at their grave sites. Although we had a picnic of our own, neither of her parents have tables at this time so we ended up going home hungry after paying our respects to each.

Most of the rest of our time here in Gomel has been devoted to apartment cleanup and other family business. Alla succeeded in collecting her mom's last pension payment and as I write this she's changing over the telephone service to her name. We've also done a pretty good job of preparing the back bedroom for the arrival of a tenant. We have more to do there, and plenty of work to do on the front bedroom and the kitchen.

My next guaranteed outing will be going to the circus. There's some big foreign circus in town and we got (for the first time in my life) ringside seats. Right at the main aisle no less! And this extraordinary privilege is costing about $8 apiece. Belarus is more generous than Russia in extending subsidized pricing to everybody and not just to citizens. This probably won't last if they get a greater flow of tourists, but I'll try to make the best of it now.

That's it, then. I doubt that you'll hear more from me until we finish our apartment cleanup project. Oh, and I seem to have volunteered to paint the fence around her dad's grave site. Do v'strecher ("until later," but I've probably mangled the spelling.)

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