Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cheap fun

It’s amazing how much fun I can have in Minsk for not much money. My readers already know about it, but I’m enjoying things so much I wanted to summarize a few of my recent pleasures.

At the top of my value-for-the-money scale still stands the main market. Considering that I need to buy groceries anyway, my pleasure comes at no additional cost. On Tuesday I started at the indoor market because I wanted an éclair and my favorite bakery sells out early. Coming from the hairdresser, I arrived too late. I tried somebody else’s product but the éclair I bought was too sweet, too hard and made my hands sticky. I decided I needed a drink of kefir to counteract the sweet crud I had just ingested, and I went looking around in the dairy section.

All of the dairy people with kefir sold the stuff in plastic bags or in huge bottles, neither of which I wanted to drink while walking around. I kept looking, and finally found on the periphery, at stall number 30, one vendor selling kefir in little plastic bottles. I bought one. The vendor, hearing my American accent, spoke to me in English. I asked her, in English, if she speaks my language well. “No!” she laughed, but she persisted in trying. She struggled, but clearly enjoyed the struggle. And I enjoyed the kefir. “Wow!” I said in Russian, “this is really good. Please sell me two more bottles.” Delighted, she gave me a discount and urged me to return.

When I went outside, I decided I’d better go see the lady from Dogestan because I hadn’t visited her in two or three weeks. I found her stand, loaded with salad and vegetables, but couldn’t find the lady. Her neighbor told me that she’d stepped away and wouldn’t be right back, so I returned to Arminya. Arminya brightened as I approached, excited to see me in a Belarus hockey jersey. (Our weather’s been like that: I needed a second layer.) She imagined I might be sufficiently important, somehow, that somebody gave me the jersey, but it pleased her just as much to know that I liked her country’s emblem enough to pay money for the privilege of wearing it. As usual, she discounted nearly everything and sprinkled the whole transaction with unrestrained smiles.

The other cheap fun I’m thinking about right now is dance classes and dancing. There are a few special activists among the Lindy Hoppers who put together events and activities for everybody. I should have written a separate post about the picnic Nadya Klementenok organized for our dance class and the group right behind us. It included barbecue, getting-to-know-you games and a dance lesson. I had a great time. Now she’s talked a friend of hers from Norway into coming to teach us how to dance to rock-n-roll music. This fulfills a shared dream quite a few students chatted about on our group’s Facebook page, but Nadya didn’t even stop there. She, presumably with help from other activists, just announced her intention to hire a live band to play for a party after we’ve all learned the basics of the style. We’ll all pitch in for the cost of the band, of course, but it’ll be reasonable.

Everywhere I turn I see people and opportunities like this. Belarusian people welcome strangers and know how to make their own entertainment. It makes a very sweet situation for me.

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