We've been in Belarus for a week and a half. It's a land of paradoxes: modern, super-dressy women coming out of old two-room houses with no indoor plumbing; these same houses with backyard livestock and small farm plots nestled next to concrete high rises and the mansions of the nouveau riche; cows and goats grazing next to the bus stop; headscarves and miniskirts; giant bronze Lenins looming over massive squares bedecked with hammers and sickles and red stars in a no longer communist land. I'm tempted to complain about the irritable van driver whose head looked like it would explode as he yelled at passengers and swore at his van when it tried to stall, but he is cancelled out by the busload of helpful ladies who spent 20 minutes discussing with one another what stop Rashed and I should get off at. One minute I'm enjoying the amusement park rides in the many wooded parks, and the next I'm wishing I had stayed home so I don't have to use the questionable public bathrooms. One day Rashed's relatives praise the free dental care, and the next they laugh at the fact that they are eating food that might contain low-level radiation. But instead of complaining, I'll try to focus mostly on the good, including one unanticipated discovery.
Belarus is the land of ice cream.
At every newstand, at almost every bus stop, at every train station, in carts along the sidewalk, ice cream is waiting. In bars and cones and sandwiches. In the hands of passersby. It can be yours for the equivalent of about 35 American cents. What are you waiting for? The ice cream here is less sweet than its North American cousin. It's creamy but doesn't melt and drip out of the cone. Top it with homemade berry jam for a special treat. Look out the 8th-floor window of your Soviet-style apartment block in a major Belarusian city and you might just see, in the untouched field across the street, a cow, oblivious to the concrete towers, ignorant of whether it is a communist or a capitalist, munching tall, green grass diligently until evening, when a bent babushka will lead it back home to the village house in the middle of the city, and the cow will give the lady cream, and maybe she will eat ice cream, too.