The Coton family first visited Belarus in 2005.

We spent this Easter driving 4500 miles across Europe to visit Belarus. It was an amazing adventure, and a wonderful window into the lives of some of the children who visit us. Last time I was there, two years ago, I was struck by the poverty and by how basic many of the people’s lives are. I had seen villagers working together to plough narrow strips of sandy earth, using a single bladed horse-drawn plough prior to planting their staple food, potatoes. We were too early for the ploughing this time, but we met the pigs, chickens and cows living in back yards which provide a major part of the population’s diet.

We visited Dasha, one of the girls who came over with the Reigate Link and stayed with us in 2001, providing the impetus for the start of the Mid Surrey Link in 2002. We were offered a form of salami and assured it was home made – then shown the photo of the pig-butchering to prove it!

In Druzhnuy we visited the family of Ksenia (Kshusha), the 14 year old who will be visiting Mid Surrey this summer. There her mother was proud to tell us that everything on the table was home-produced – gherkins, potatoes, pickled mushrooms and more. Everywhere we went we drank compote: summer fruits are preserved by bottling them in large quantities of water and sugar, then throughout the year people drink the juice (compote) and eat the fruit at the bottom. We met “wood juice,” a delicate, clear drink which turned out to be the sap of the silver birch: “Very good for you, very healthy.” We saw salted fish being sold from strings at the side of the road, and old ladies with prams full of apples for sale. We saw people sitting on stools in the middle of frozen lakes fishing through holes in the ice: “It is very dangerous, every year many people are killed.” We saw the River Pripyat in flood from the winter melt water, with the water lapping at the walls of log cabins, and haystacks surrounded by water.

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