Learning to live and living to learn

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever."  
(Mahatma Gandhi)
We’ve been in Belarus about a month now; we’ve had some really great experiences, and we are learning a LOT!  Sometimes that learning comes about the hard way, sometimes by trial and error, sometimes by mistake J  Today I’d like to share with you some of the more humorous and sometimes humbling learning experiences of the past few weeks.

Our arrival in Belarus was quickly followed by a flurry of activity: looking at apartments, signing lease papers, moving in, paperwork to get registered with the government, figuring out how to buy food, getting cell phone service, and lots of other overwhelming and complicated things.  It all went surprisingly smoothly though, with one exception: I couldn’t figure out how to open the exterior door to the apartment building. The first time I tried to leave the building, I tried several things to get the door to open before calling Steve to see if he knew how to open it.  We have a key with a chip that we scan to get into the building, so I thought it might work to get out too. I finally got out, but the next time I tried to leave, I couldn’t open it again!  I tried putting the chip against the button by the door; I tried pushing the door; I tried pulling the door; I tried turning the knob that seemed stuck.  Nothing.  I finally stood off to the side and pretended to talk on my phone until someone else came by and I could watch how to open the door.  The trick?  PUSH THE BUTTON.  No chip, no turning the knob.  Just push the button.

There is a smallish grocery store across the (busy) street from us where we go often to get bread, milk, cereal, and fresh fruits/veggies.  To get across the street, we go down under the street where the entrance to the metro is.  There are also lots of little shops underground, lining the walkway under the street.  One of the first shops is a little café that sells coffee and baked goods.  I went once soon after we moved and got a latte with chocolate syrup in it which was amazing.  Soon after that, I tried to order the same latte with chocolate syrup, but apparently I ordered some sort of coffee and this dessert.  I have no idea what I said that made them think I wanted this, but whatever it was, it was a mistake worth making!  This is a waffle crust with carmelized sweetened condensed milk in between the layers.  De-lic-ious!  And even better?  It cost 77 kopeks.  That is about 39 cents.  Needless to say, I have a new favorite store.  This week I finally figured out that it is called a segment (сегмент).
Cafe is on the left with the chalkboard sign (even here!) and the stairs on the right go up almost to our building's front door)

Occassionally, I take the metro two stops west of here to a bigger grocery store called Green Hypermarket.  I’ve been able to find most things that we need for cooking, but several items have stumped me.  When I get desperate, I pull out Google Translate to ask a sales associate to help me fins something.  So far I have not been able to find ranch dressing.  The last time I asked for help, the worker responded with a question, and this is how Google translated it:
Is it for the sushi? Is it too dry to put in your ears?

Milk here is sold in 1 liter bottles, which is roughly 1 quart, the size of a large mason jar.  This poses two problems for us.  In the US, I typically buy milk 4 gallons at a time.  That might last us one week, but sometimes I need to get more before the week is up.  4 gallons of milk is about 16 of the bottles here!  There is no way I could carry 16 bottles of milk, and there is no way we could fit 16 bottles of milk in our fridge.  I’m also kind of a green/crunchy mama, so it kills me to just throw away all those bottles without recycling.  The solution to part of the recycling problem is buying milk in bags!  It makes much less waste; I just refill a bottle with the bagged milk.  I was at the store buying milk (with 4 kids at rush hour in a foreign country) and when I put the bags up on the conveyor belt to pay, I realized that one was leaking.  I figured out which one, and thought the cashier would take it or something.  She just told me something and went on scanning our other items.  I explained in Russian that I don’t understand Russian, but she just kept talking a mile a minute and I just kept standing there holding a dripping bag of milk with no clue where to put it.  I tried gestures to ask what to do with it, but she just looked annoyed and kept scanning items.  Finally the man behind me said something and took the bag from me and walked away.  I have no idea what he did with it, but I’m sure glad he did something!  That was the first time I (almost) cried in public.  It’s such a helpless feeling to stand there with a bag of dripping milk and have absolutely no clue what to do.

Last weekend, we went to an American football game by the Minsk Sea, a lake about a 25 minute train ride from the central train station in Minsk.  We had a great time, and when we got back, Steve posted a bunch of pictures of our day.  Facebook has the option of including your location in the pictures, so Steve included the recreational complex by the sea where the game was held.  Or so he thought… two days later, a local friend sent Steve a message telling him that he had marked our location at the Minsk Sea Nude Beach.  Oops.

I’m starting to recognize some of the words for the foods that we eat regularly.  Since they are in Cryllic letters, though, saying them takes effort and I sound like a kindergartener sounding out words.  I realized that I have been saying the word for rice (рис) in my head without really thinking about it.  If I sounded it out, it would be R-EE-S (makes sense).  For some reason, though, I’ve been subconsciously calling it puk (puke). 

I am a bit amazed at how much we have just naturally learned in such a short time.  I can find most of the food we need at the grocery store.  We confidently run down to the metro and jump on a train without second guessing if it’s the right train, and we easily know which stop to get off  (Although I am still paranoid about losing a kid in the crush to get on and off).  

We also know how to navigate the underground passages to cross the busy streets.  I can “read” some street and informational signs (at least the most important stuff!)  Today we went to a park and I was able to look at the map and locate the restrooms (no English or symbols).  When the kids wanted to go on a ride at the park, I was able to look at the sign and see how tall and how old they needed to be. I feel almost comfortable ordering food in quite a few restaurant settings.  I can even decipher some of the menus.  Today we went to Dominoes for pizza; I ordered a new pizza on their menu called “belorusskaya” and I knew what all but two of the ingredients/toppings were without google’s help! 
In case you were wondering, it is a fresh cream sauce, mozarella, double bacon,  veal (didn't know that one!), onion, potatoes, and cucumbers/pickles.  These are some of Belurussians' favorite foods.

The kids have been learning some Russian and adapting to life spectacularly.  Of course, they have their moments, but I am proud of how flexible they have been and how much they have learned about life in the city in another country.  Mikayla especially wants to learn the whole Russian language as well as lots of other languages so that she “can help people who visit our country and don’t know English yet.”  

It’s not always easy, and I must admit that sometimes I question whether it is worth it.  But when I look back at how far we have come, I have to also admit that I’m pretty proud of the whole family.  Life is all about learning, right?

Oh, and Johanna is learning a lot too! So many adventures...


  1. Thanks for allowing us to follow your adventures in a land I will probably never get too. Have a good weekend. Linda


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