Link members Lesley, Anthony and their family drove from the UK to Belarus over Easter 2008. Read about the Coton family's return visit to Belarus.
The school spring holiday was once more the trigger for a massed family expedition across Europe to Belarus. We had been invited to visit our foster son Sergei in his home village of Berezhnoye, and he was looking forward to travelling with us as we went on to roam around Belarus visiting many of the young people and leaders who had stayed with the Link since it began in 2002.
We drove to Sergei's home, a distance of 1300 miles from our door to his. We stayed in Belarus a total of 12 days, visiting so many people that this could not hope to be a diary of our time there. Having visited as a family in 2005, and by myself in 2003, we were able to notice many changes, and also perhaps to see slightly deeper into Belarusian life than is possible at a cursory glance.
Something that has not changed is the enormous welcome extended by everyone we visited. Even in the poorest homes we were sat at tables groaning with food, and prevailed upon to eat more than we could manage. I vividly remember the day we were booked for breakfast (Sergei's home), lunch (Sergei's grandmother), and dinner (Sergei K, a Christmas visitor from 2006). We then met Vanya and Sasha's mothers on a flying trip to see where Sergei's mother works, and were invited to visit them in the evening. We agreed, but I made sure that Sergei translated my pleas for no food. They agreed, but begged us to visit for coffee. At 7.00pm we ate from a huge buffet. At 9.00pm we arrived at Sasha's - another huge buffet. Shortly after 10.00pm we got to Vanya's house - you guessed it! That is not to say that these families would normally eat like this. It is a national characteristic that it is impossible to welcome someone to your home for however short a period without feeding them as well as you possibly can. It made us feel awkward on a number of occasions that we were sure that the family we were visiting really could not afford to put that amount of food on the table, but they were delighted to have us visit their home, and would be offended if we did not eat as much as possible. It's really hard to face gherkins, salami, pickled tomatoes, rye bread, cream gateau and champagne at gone 11.00 at night, particularly having been forced to eat a huge dinner at 7.30!
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