Thursday, July 06, 2006

Everyone loves a good circus...

Interesting if hectic week.

Lately I have been needing almost all of my attention just to remember the responsibilities I have. Probably the reason for this is that I have an overload of computer type work to do mixed with the fact that I have been receiving more than my usual amount of mail. I do not know why I have become so popular lately as a write-to guy but I am a lot more time than usual writing replies. I mean, it is not that I mind; if people are wring to me, this means they are reading me and obviously that is whole point of being here.

But if there is an issue it is that I am being written to about areas which are very unusual for me. One person wrote to me concerning his familial background and implied that I could be of help in an archive search for the village from which his parents were from. Several people have written to me about information concerning Belarusian or Pinsk history. And one couple wrote to me concerning some issues concerning their new adopted son whose birth mother was from here. All very strange and interesting stuff really.

Also along these lines, I had a chance to go around with a Jewish tour group the other day. The group, from near Detroit, Michigan had come over to seek out regional Jewish histories. I joined them for their Pinsk leg and got to gab at them about Belarus and politics and propaganda. This was not the first time I have gotten to debate my political stance, but it has been one of the few times that I got to do this face to face. This is not to say that this is all we did, but people seemed interested and it was very interesting for me to get to gab in American English for awhile.

One of the most interesting members of the group was Professor Zvi Gitelman of the University of Michigan. Professor Gitelman specializes Eastern European political affairs and was as on top of things during this trip as much as our tour guides. He also speaks more than reasonable Russian which also put him on the inside of all of the original statements from our specialists.

But Professor Gitelman is very much not a communist nor does he seem to have any love for President Lukashenka’s having Belarus be a museum for the USSR. "He plies them with circus" was his quip regarding what seems to be local improvements in appearance, “He invests in paint, but not in the economy.”

In general, I got the feeling that there was more than a little fear from the group at being here. I guess that I have lived here for several years this sort of makes things seem pretty normal for me. I got a real reminder when I told a joke at the end of lunch, which was reasonably received for its humor content, but also drew questions as to whether I was frightened for having told it.

The joke by the way goes like this:

G-d calls three presidents to come and speak to him: Bush, Putin and Lukashenka. When they arrive, G-d thanks them for coming and then tells them that the world will end in two weeks. He then thanks them for their time and sends them off.

Well, with this sort of news, there is nothing to do but to tell the people what is going on, so the three presidents go on television to report what has happened.

Bush says: My fellow Americans, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is, as we have always believed yes, there in fact is a G-d and I have just spoken to Him. The bad news is however that He has said that the world will end in two weeks.

Putin says: My dear Russia. I have for you today bad news and worse news. The bad news is that we have been wrong forever in our belief that there is no G-d. I confirm this because I have just had a meeting with Him myself. And the worse news is that He has said that the world will end in 2 weeks.

Lukashenka goes on television and says: My dear fellow Belarusians, I have good news and great news for you. Firstly, G-d himself today confirmed that I am really and actually the president of Belarus. And what is more, He has personally guaranteed that I will remain president until the end of time.

Like I said, it got a mixed reaction.


Monday, July 3rd was Belarusian Independence Day. The holiday celebrates the day that the Nazis were driven out of the region in 1945 and we celebrated just like almost all of Pinsk by heading over to the park for the concerts and speeches. I must say that there were a lot of food kiosks open and lots and lots of people were sitting at tables and eating and drinking and passing the time.

Absolutely the place has gotten much, much better than it was even three years ago. Along the riverfront there is now landscaping and the park seems to be well kept up. But also I say this because all of the rides had people on them which means that people actually had the money to pay for tickets as well as for the food and balloons and novelties. This is a very good thing.

Egor went on this thing called a catapult which is a combination of a trampoline and bungee cords which allow for higher jumping and some acrobatics. He managed a couple of flips. He also won a couple of games at the over sized chess tables. And or Anya had a high moment when she walked her stroller out into the middle of the mini cars for the 2 and three years olds. The little guys turned out to be both good drivers and gentleman and avoided bumping into her though Anya did seem to enjoy the traffic jam she caused.

The party ended with a fireworks display over the river which was attended by what must have been 20,000 people. If I have never mentioned this Pinsk, unlike a lot of modern America and Europe cares very much about its clothes and so having so many really well dressed people out for an event really made an impression. And I guess this specifically applies to the girls who dressed in short, short skirts and cotton tops for the warm weather. I am on a look but don’t touch policy but if a beautiful young girl is a feast for the eyes, I think I gained 20 pounds that night.

Or in other words, Zvi might have been right in calling all of this a circus. But even if he was right, still, there is nothing like a good circus.

More soon…


Anonymous Mike Miller said...

It sounds like the 3rd of July in Pinsk was fun. However, there is one question you should have asked the good professor from Detroit. The question is this: "After having been there, would you prefer to walk across the multiple various neighborhoods in Detroit nicely dressed with your wife and family, or would you prefer to walk across the same random trails in Pinsk?” Or better, what percentage of the Detroit population could use a little bit of "paint" on their homes? Why did he bother to come to Belarus if he already had his mind MADE UP about Belarusian affairs? Perhaps he would have enjoyed a vacation destination with more democracy, such as El Salvador, or India, or Iraq, or Mexico? Or perhaps Haiti would have been a more enjoyable vacation destination for him. After all, they have democracy there........
Michael Miller

Thursday, July 06, 2006  
Blogger BEING HAD said...

Point well taken Mike. But in all fairness, I hope that this essay didn’t come off as if I was dissing Dr. Gitelman, because this wasn’t my intention. Rather, I was trying simply to make a picture of a day spent with some folks who have a western attitude and mind-set juxtaposed against a local summer holiday. Dr. Gitelman was on the tour to see Jewish historical sights. That his job has been lecturing on Eastern European affairs and history for the better part of 30 years had a lot to do with his opinions and his willingness to share them. I would also like to say that he is an incredibly well read and informed man who speaks eight languages and can hold his own in an argument in any one of them and that his additions to the tour were incredible. Really, the guy is an ace without question. His first impression of me was a bit dismissive but I was happy to have made a little headway as far as that was concerned by the end of the day and I think that this also included that there is an alternative thought about Belarus out there. In fact everyone in the group was very inquisitive in interested in things and in one case, when I used my old standard phrase “I think that there is something to be said for Russian culture” several of them agreed that there in fact was.

But really Mike, I was not there to preach Belarus but to add to the tour and if anything I was pitching for Yad Yisroel much more than I was arguing the realities of American democracy. That stuff mostly came about after they heard that I actually lived here. I enjoyed my time with them, they seemed to enjoy their day and at the bottom line, and all suppressed paranoia aside, I don’t think we could have asked for more. So don’t take it so hard. It was a nice day and there was some lively conversation. I don’t hate Americans. I am one.

Thursday, July 06, 2006  

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