Thursday, June 4, 2009

Nature in Belarus

In Belarus, too, I've been so grateful for those moments of closeness to nature that allow me to relax and be myself. I feel naive, in a way, for craving forests and complaining of pit toilets. Am I in love with a sanitized, cartoon version of the wild? Am I separating civilization and the wild in an artificial way? I've decided to appreciate what I can and admit some of my limitations.

Several times in this country I've been able to have a little excursion into nature.

First, Rashed's aunt took us from her apartment building in Mahilyow to a trail through a forest near a housing development and to a sacred spring with an Orthodox church next to it. I was hot and annoyed with the sun in my eyes as we walked on the sidewalk and then on a path in a field. But as soon as we stepped into the cool shade of the forest, I felt myself relax. A smile crept onto my lips and stayed there, reminding me of when I was a kid at Disneyland and I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. The forest made me feel safe and competent and distracted me from the yammering in my head. The spring was interesting, but there were many people there, and I preferred the peace of the forest. I was sad when we went back another route, through the housing development.

For most of our time in Mahilyow, we were staying in the apartment of Rashed's aunt and uncle. On Sunday, May 31st, though, we visited Rashed's great aunt and another aunt and uncle at their house. They live in an old, wooden, village-style house that is reached by descending a long, steep staircase down from the modern part of Mahilyow. In their front yard is a dog chained and barking. Next to it is a stable that they used to use for pigs. Stretching back behind the house is a huge garden, water pump, sheds, small pond, rabbit hutch, and beyond that is a meadow in which they've begun to plant trees and more crops. The meadow stretches far away to a river, on the other side of which are more giant apartment blocks. But this side is peaceful. After a lunch of salad and cheese and sausage and bread, Rashed and I go on a walk with two sets of uncles and aunts. Again, I have that feeling of finally! we're doing something. We walk past goats grazing, people tending the gardens they have created in square plots in the meadow. There are unknown birds and white and yellow flowers. The uncles and aunts point them out and discuss what they are like it is a very important and enjoyable matter. I breathe another sigh of relief at this welcome change from many of the modern city-dwellers, who scorn the old country ways. We reach the river and watch the water flow. Young people are fishing and lighting bonfires. The sun is warm, and the air is fresh. We pause to watch a motorboat hum by (a rare occurrence), then continue walking along next to the water. Someone points out a ditch and old cement blocks, saying they are remains of a World War II trench and pontoon bridge foundations, whether German or Soviet they're not sure. We try to imagine battles in this peaceful place. Rashed hands me a sprig of pink flowers, which I tuck behind my ear. I feel like skipping and running. I can't understand everything people are discussing, but there is goodwill in the air, and the birds are singing. We have the whole field to cross to get back to the house, and I'm happy.

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