Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Here we are in Minsk

The trip was a little harder than usual today. First, Lufthansa changed around their schedule and we left Boston earlier than before and we arrived in Frankfurt at 5:30 a.m. with rather a lot of time to kill before our flight for Minsk at 10:30 a.m. And then the flight out was delayed an extra hour because our plane had a broken window. I’m guessing they hit a bird on the way in. Anyway, we arrived in Minsk at 2:30 instead of 1:30 local time, and we had to get to the University before 4:00 so we took a taxi. Phew! We made it.

Or so we thought. That wasn’t really the half of it. I had no idea what a big task it would be to register for something I was theoretically registered for already. We talked it over afterwards and can’t really explain why we spent an hour in our private meeting with the registrar. And I’m really glad Alla was with me. The folks in the office spoke some English, but not nearly enough.

When we started talking about the dormitory, Alla mentioned that we planned to spend tonight at the Oktyabrskaya hotel. The registrar freaked out and handed her a phone and some phone numbers in the process of pouring out a torrent of words. I didn’t catch most of the words, but understood “very expensive” and realized that she really thought we should stay at a cheaper hotel close to the school. Alla called and found that we could stay there for $14 per night, which would have been a very significant discount from our $130/night room. We stuck to our original plan, however, because we had given our word to folks we knew at he Oktyabrskaya and didn’t want to break our promise.

When we learned that I had to be in the dorm by 5:00 if I wanted to see my room today, we divided and conquered. Alla went to pick up the dormitory pass, and she was gone a long time. I won’t tell you her story, but the most interesting part was the conversation she heard about somebody who was late filing her statement of financial need. Her whole family together was earning about $130/month, which would have qualified her for a dorm room had she filed her application in time. I qualify strictly on the basis of being foreign.

So anyway, we went to see the room. Unable to find a taxi, we jumped onto a tram and got there at 4:55. Well… we weren’t actually there. I took Alla’s rolling suitcase and she ran ahead because her bag was wobbly on the cobblestone sidewalk and we’d never get the bag to the door by 5:00. When I got to the door, Alla was out of sight. The guard at the desk stopped me and I managed to tell him that he’d just seen my wife. He motioned for me to sit down, and I enjoyed a pleasant ten or fifteen minutes watching TV and attempting to chat with the guards. Students came and went, and the guards knew them all. I had a strong feeling of family.

Alla shot by, huffing and puffing, and tossed another bag into my lap. She said “I’m still working on it” and disappeared into the other side of the building. Later one of the guards tested me with a dialog from my first Russian tape and asked me my family name. Vincent. He sputtered something that sounded like it might have meant “Oh, I forgot I had this,” and he charged after Alla.

After a while longer, Alla emerged with a woman named Tatiana. Alla explained to me that my intended room was not available after all. I’d been pretty excited about what they’d promised me; a double room with an Italian guy my age who had married a Russian woman. He speaks some English and I speak some Italian. Unfortunately, there was a Brazilian guy in there and he wasn’t scheduled to leave any time soon. Instead, we saw a tiny triple room fairly well occupied by one Korean guy. He’s pretty tidy, but he managed to do OK at filling the non-bed spaces in the room with his stuff.

Alla was much more horrified by the room than I. Her outlook had been colored by her frustration in trying to get me something that would leave me favorably inclined towards Belarus and mine by my pleasant experience with the guards in the lobby. The room probably hadn’t been painted in thirty years or so, the closet doors were hanging off their hinges, and the place could only be described as crummy. Still, I liked the view from the window and figured I could do it for a month. Alla wouldn’t have it. She’s looking for alternative lodgings even as I write this.

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