Thursday, December 31, 2009

Melting

Minsk is a lot warmer than I expected. (Around freezing.) We spent most of the day running errands, and I went out wearing my shearling coat. I’m glad I’d been smart enough to leave my fur hat at home because I was too warm anyway. Moreover, I had too much stuff in my backpack because I wanted to have my computer with me in case I had time to sit down someplace with an internet connection. Wearing that on top of my zillion-pound coat, I was feeling pretty overloaded by the end of the afternoon.

There’s about six inches of snow on the ground everywhere except the streets and sidewalks, which are scrupulously clean. My favorite thing about the snow removal job is that they don’t use salt here, so one can wear nice shoes without destroying them.
Amerikanetz, I am wearing rubber boots at least until we retrieve my dress shoes from Gomel.

We had a little excitement along the way. Alla’s favorite was the time I lost her at the airport. She had preceded me as we went through the “nothing to declare” lane at customs. When the inspector saw that she intended to stay for six months, he waved her into the baggage-inspection queue. I walked up behind her, waited in line for a moment, and then realized that nobody had told me to wait there. I asked the agent if I should wait there too. He asked me my nationality, and when I told him I was American, he allowed me to leave immediately. (Belarusians generally take pains to show me that they hold no antagonism toward Americans even though our governments aren’t highly pleased with each other.) Alla tried to weasel out of the line too, showing her American passport, but she was already busted because she showed her Russian passport first and he made her wait.

When I walked out, I saw our driver’s car at the end of the walkway from the main door, so I went out and found him near the car. We loaded my stuff and got into the car to wait for Alla. No Alla. Alexander and I talked and talked, until nobody was walking out of the airport any longer. Puzzled, I went back to see what the customs guys were doing to Alla. There she was, right inside the door, stewing over the fact that I had disappeared. She imagined first that I had gone to the restroom, and then that I had been abducted for questioning by officials somewhere. She even had me paged. After all that, I’m not sure she was actually glad to see me when I came walking back in through the front door.

Her frustrations were compounded by the fact that my phone wasn’t working and she somehow couldn’t manage to phone Alexander either. My phone was our main mission for the evening, because my prepaid SIM card had been canceled and the company had unassigned my phone number. First indications were that the number had been reassigned to somebody else, but when we got to the central office they discovered that it was still in the free-number pool and they retrieved it for me. For bureaucratic reasons this was a bit tricky, but Alla insisted and the woman at the phone company took what she felt was a small liberty to help us out.

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