I’m in that dim haze between sleeping and waking and I hear the voice of children…it’s familiar enough. Only, they’re not speaking English. It dawns on me, slowly at first, that I am not home anymore. As I wake up, it becomes more obvious where I am. It’s an odd feeling, but not an altogether unpleasant one.
This morning we got to spend some great time with the kids. We set up three activity stations with them:
1) Picture taking with a Polaroid camera: Instant gratification
2) Making a crafty-style frame to put the picture in
3) Making name tags with the kids
Since I know (most of) the Russian alphabet, I was in charge of doing the nametags. It was general chaos, because the kids didn’t really understand what we were saying…maybe because they don’t understand English! And what is with the assumption that if you talk slower, they're more likely to understand you? It took me one morning to find out--they won't. One kid kept handling the nametags and I kept saying Het (no). I asked him Как вас зовут (pronounced Kak Vas Zavut) and he answered Николай (Nikolai, not to be confused with Herr Direktor). Николай is a good looking, well-natured boy of about 16. I explained in pigeon-Russian, the language of choice for all Belarussian travelers from America, what we were trying to do. The proverbial light bulb went on almost immediately (smart kid!!!) and he started yelling (in a good way--not meanspirited at all) at the kids in Russian. They got into lines at the activity centers and things moved forward as I had initially hoped. He seems like a great kid and I have a feeling Николай is going to be my right-hand man…not sure who will be my left.
The cool thing about being responsible for the nametags is that I got to know all of the kids today. They came up to me one by one and I got to make some small talk with them. I also identified Project Number 1, a hard-edged girl of about 15 named Елена (not to be confused with Елена our translator…Hang in there and bear with me regarding the names. Remember, this is Belarus: It’s complicated!). Goal number one was simply to make her smile. It was easy enough when I simply smiled at her and asked, “как дела” (Pron. Kag Dyela: How are you?). It caught her so off guard she smiled before she knew what she was doing. It was gone almost immediately, but I think I’ll see it again.
Small Miracle: There was a little boy there whom nobody knew his name. Colleen had checked with his teachers and his fellow students and no one knew. He was probably about 4 or 5 years old. I asked some of the other kids if they knew his name and they did not know either. I motioned for Colleen to put him on my lap as I did the nametags for the kids. Kids came up to me one after another and I did their nametags and continued to “chat” with them. The little boy on my lap just sat for about 10 minutes, then snuggled in close to me, as close as he could get. There was a brief lull int he nametag assembly line and I leaned down and quietly asked him, “Как вас зовут?” He replied, in the faintest whisper I have ever heard, “Олег.” His name is Oleg. I made him a nametag and now his classmates and teachers know who he is. They could now call him by his name: Олег. I think that perhaps these miracles are all around us, each and every day. In America, we are…I am…too busy to notice them, to recognize them for what they are. It’s so easy to get caught up in everything, to forget to slow down and look at things...really LOOK. I hope Олег has angels watching over him.
After these activities, we played UNO. It was a blast! CЛABA (Slava) was an incredible card-slapper, throwing them down with authority. We jokingly refer to him as Macaulay because he looks (and acts) like Macaulay Culkin.
There was a very sweet girl I mentioned yesterday, named CBETA (Svyeta). She was a little shy at first, but came around quickly. She is a great giver of hugs and likes to smile a lot. We brought Russian-to-English Bibles with us and were giving some of them to the kids. She kept getting a Bible, but she would open it, look at the first page and shake her head. She did this three times before I realized what was going on. The Bibles had been sponsored by the children of our church, and one of the things we did was put the picture of the sponsoring child in the Bible. That way, the Belarussian children could see the kid who sponsored their Book. We also included a phrase: “From your American Friend”. It occurred to me that CBETA was returning the books not because she didn’t want a Bible (she would have just left the room if that were the case). I called her over and pulled out a Bible and gave it to her. Her whole face lit up, because I had guessed what she wanted: A Bible from a girl. And that is how CBETA got the Bible that was sponsored by my daughter, Katie Rose.
It was time to go get some dinner. In Belarus, you walk everywhere, and the grocery store is no exception. On the way out, Brad explained to me that people in town do not smile, especially at Americans. He gave me a mission to make at least one person in the town of Белыничи (Belinichi) smile. So, off to the town we went, in search of dinner and a smile. We went to find chicken and vegetables. The chicken proved the most difficult thing to find. We went to four different stores. The last one didn't even look like a store. It was in an apartment complex and was run out of a room...but, THEY HAD CHICKEN! I was trying to smile at the woman behind the counter when a middle aged woman came up behind me. I smiled at her and she....smiled back! Mission: Accomplished!!! I decided to push my luck...On the way out I said, "Спасиба! Здраствыте!" (Thanks! Goodbye!) My accent is terrible, but my enthusiasm was too much, and the woman behind me and the woman the counter both laughed out loud.