Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tri-ing to win

When I was younger, before my sales career, I had the good fortune to work with a lot of students with special needs, both as a counselor and a teacher. In the end, when alll was said and done, they probably ended up teaching me more things than I taught them.

I was pretty impressed with my triathlon experience this year, competing and finishing in less than two hours. The reason I am writing about these two things is because I heard a story the other day about a father who has found the strength to combine his love for his son, who has Cerebral Palsy, with his love of triathlons.

Team Hoyt is one of the most inspirational stories I have seen in a long, long time. It takes a while to download, but it's worth it. Caution: You're probably going to get a little misty-eyed around the 5.45 mark and have to explain it to coworkers. Again, it's worth it.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Ryan Holt: Tough Guy

One of the cool things about the Internet is that it has the ability to bring like-minded people together. Occasionally, "families" (after a sort) are formed and people look after one another. Because I was learning about cycling, one of the places I gravitated was RoadBike Review (commonly and lovingly referred to as RBR).

I have been witness to some amazing things, including one guy who got hit by a car and people started raising funds for his recovery. This is a community that takes care of its own. Occasionally, they take care of people who are not their own. Such was the case with Ryan Holt.

These guys banded together and built a couple of bikes, including this one, then auctioned them off on e-bay to raise money for the family to help Ryan with his battle. On August 24, Ryan's grandparents came from Heaven to show him the way home. These guys have my respect and admiration for what they did for one little boy. Godspeed, Ryan.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Child of God...

One of the things about the schools in Белыничи, Беларусь (Belinichi, Belarus), just like here, is that eventually, the children graduate. Some go to technical school (learning how to paint walls, make dolls, or the like), some are simply turned out, and others are not so fortunate. Such is the story of Таня (Tanya), a little girl who found the heart of one of our team members, Tink, about three years ago.

To hear Tink tell it, she didn’t know if Таня was a boy or a girl when they first met. She was wearing her clothes and had her hair cut in such a way that left the question unanaswered. After spending time with Tink, she began to blossom into a wonderful young girl, and came out of a deep hole. Таня grew each time Tink and the team went back to see her. They are now so close, she calls Tink Mama, and Таня has become her daughter in Беларусь.

Last year, she graduated. She was sent to an asylum, because her “test scores” showed she was mentally deficient. In Беларусь, the asylums are a portrait of hell, something out of Dickens. It is where the worst of the worst go, and they are all lumped in together. When we went to the orphanage this year, and Tink got the news, I could hear and feel her heart breaking. She went to visit Таня and her fears about the type of place she was in were confirmed. She begged Николай (Nikolai, director of the orphanage in , who knows Таня, to make a plea on her behalf, but alas in Беларусь, it is complicated, and that is all…

…only this time, it is not all. Tink continued to wrote to Николай and also wrote to Pastor Mike at the church in Кричев (Krichev) about the situation. This is what Pastor Mike and the church wrote back:

Tink, hello!
We are glad to receive letter from you.
Tink, please, not apologize! We understand all your works and busy, because we work much too.
Tink, history about these Belarusian young women live in our hearts. And we sincerely want help this soul, because she is priceless in eyes of LORD!
Tink, please, write for us her full of name. We will try to visit these young women and take part in her life in a way. We sincerely want to help her.
If Tanya agrees and she will have possibility to come in Krichev, we can help her with home. And she will can visit our church. God can help this young woman.
Let life these woman will be good and spirit.
Tink, we will call in Belinichi and will speak with Nicolaj.
We try to have visit to these woman.
We have good days. Let God bless you.
Tink, please, give for us all news about Jon! And E-mail.
Let God bless America, your family, your church, and all people, who love Jesus!
Krichev church

Then, members of the church in Кричев made the trip to the asylum. After visitng Таня, Pastor Mike and the church wrote this:

Tink, hello!
We have very good news for you!
After my letter for you pastor Michail organized trip to Tanya.
My brother Volodya-driver, pastor Michail and I go to Tanya. We met with Tanya, her friends and 3 hospital nurses and doctor.
Yes, TInk, Tanya is very shy and quiet girl. But Nicolay from Belinichi said that Tanya is aggressive and not predictive girl. But we see quiet and good girl. One, Tanya needs in Mama’s love!
Tanya is girl, who is in corner and not can do her life.
Tink, yes, this place is very, very bad. She has very horrible! Tanya cry and say that she want to be free.
Tink, we think that Tanya gets into trouble. And we must to help her some way.
I speak with nurse and I know that we can take Tanya in Krichev to weekend.
We write statement and get Tanya 2 or 3 days.
Tink, we try to do for Tanya good holidays and give God’s love in her heart.
Only LOVE can to do this girl good woman.
Tink, all we will do for Tanya, you will know, because you are MAMA.
We try to prepare for Tanya place, where she will be good and free and comfortly.
This is not easy, but we try.
Yes, Tanya needs in Mama’s love and care!

Galina at the request of pastor Michail.

They are now making arrangements for Таня, though it is very complicated, to come to Кричев and spend time with the church, and begin to live with the people of the church. In short, they have changed a death sentence, into an opportunity for life.

I consider myself both blessed and humbled to know such people, much less to know they are part of my family…

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Put your best foot forward

I was asked by my company to contribute to the newsletter with a sales column. So, I started my column: Ask the Sales Guy. Here is my first installment.

I have seen a lot of salespeople. I work with them. I meet with them. I see them at conferences. And there’s one thing that always amazes me. A lot of them don’t seem to really think much about how they appear. Maybe you’ve noticed these people too. Maybe you know one of them (if so, feel free to slide this article onto there desk—I’ll take the heat). Maybe you are one of these people...

You only get one chance to make a first impression, but if you do it right, they’ll never forget you. There are a couple of areas that you and I should look at if we want to set forth the right image as sales people. Here are my top 10 ways to make a lasting, positive first impression.

10) I know a guy that says, “Your breath is your oral handshake.” Your teeth—brush them. Also, floss is your friend. So is mouthwash.

9) For God’s sake, get a decent pair of shoes. Actually, get two—one black and one brown. They should be fashionable (if you’re not sure, ask a woman—she’ll tell you) and comfortable. When you buy them, walk directly over to the belt rack and get a belt that matches the shoes in shine and color. Also, get yourself shoe polish and use it. Your shoes should be shined—always.

8) Dry cleaners. They are the people that clean and press your suits. Find one and use them. Please. Rumpled does not make a fashion statement...actually, itt does, but not the one you want to make.

7) Suits should be wool. And clean. And pressed (see number 8).

6) A word about cologne. You know how people say too much of a good thing is NOT a good thing. This is where that saying began. If their eyes water when you walk through the door, they are not going to be able to see the contract to sign it. They cry, you cry: it’s lose-lose.

5) A word about jewelry. Men should wear a wedding band (if they’re married) and a watch. Women should do the same, and can add a simple necklace and a pair of regular earrings. Smaller is better. Look, if they are thinking about shooting baskets through your earrings, they’re not thinking about the sale.

4) Carry a decent pen. I hate when it’s contract time and people whip out a Bic pen. No offense to huge fans of French writing utensils, but you are asking someone to make an investment with you. Show them how much you appreciate it. If they like the pen, leave it with them.

3) Your hair should be clean. And combed. It may be chic and hip to have that Hollywood bed-head look. But you’re not in Hollywood. And, I hope you’re not in bed (if you are, you have bigger problems than this particular column can help).

2) If you’ve had the same look for ten years (OR MORE!!!) it may be time for an update...

1) Look around you. See who dresses sharply. Ask them where they shop. When it is time to shop, tell the salesperson what you do and the type of clothes for which you are shopping. It amazes me how many guys (sorry, it’s mostly us, though) have no clue how to dress, and don’t think to ask the incredibly well dressed guy in the store for help (I blame the secret gene that also keeps us from pulling over and asking for directions). I recently upgraded my shirts (if they look shabby, they’re smocks for the kids). I took my suits with me to the men’s shop, paired up the new shirts and ties, and walked out knowing everything worked. That’s the kind of thing that builds confidence.

I’m not saying that having the right outfit is going to close the sale for you. But, if you look good, you’re going to feel good, and if you feel good, your clients are going to notice you are confident and sure of yourself. If you are comfortable, they will be too. And let’s face it, isn’t that the first impression you want to make?

Friday, August 19, 2005

My daily commute....

I was reflecting on this as some people I know have been commuting or just riding. They've been buzzed, spit on, cursed at and had things thrown at them. I have been so much more fortunate. I still don't get why people think it's okay or cool to mess with cyclists in this way...

I get yelled at every once in a while. I try to think fast and come up with something helpful. A guy in a truck yelled at me this week. As he drove past, I saw he had Marine stickers in his window, so I shouted "Semper Fi!" Might make him think next time, might not...

I got run off the road by a guy pulling out from the left about two weeks ago, so I just yelled "Hey!" He had to stop at the light and I pulled up behind him and said, "Watch the cyclists, please!" in a loud voice. The light turned green and he went through it, then pulled over to wait for me. I'm thinking "Okay, let's see what this idiot wants to do" (I'm not built like your average cyclist: I'm 6 feet tall and go about 195 lbs). I pull up next to him and he rolls down his window....and starts....APOLOGIZING! "Hey man, I'm really sorry I didn't see you back there...."

We had a nice chat and I told him how cyclists have to ride on the road because it's illegal over a certain speed to ride on the sidewalks. He was totally cool and then we went on our separate ways. As he passed me the last time, he gave me a wide berth and a wave. I'm fairly certain he'll keep an eye out for cyclists next time...I'd appreciate it if you would do the same. Thanks.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

He's not bad, he's just drawn that way...

My friend Julie sent me this interesting story from the Moscow News. Everytime I want to complain about our government (read as: daily), I realize how truly fortunate we are. I mean, these guys were arrested for drawing freakin' cartoons.

Still, it's enabled me to be less cynical about the Belarussian government. At least they have identified the problem. It's those out of control kids and their cartoons. I'm sure that is what contributes most to the lack of resources, poverty, despair and rampant cancer rates in the country. Relax, Belarus--things just got a whole lot better.

By the way, as a bicyclist, and a huge fan of irony, I love the sleeves on his shirt in this cartoon--they look like knockoff LiveStrong bands he's wearing. Hey Al! You can find the real ones here, from an organization doing something about cancer.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I come to give you gas...

Gas prices keep going up. I just got this site, which, if you live in PA, might help you find cheaper fuel. All in all, it's enought to make people consider riding their bikes a little more. You remember riding your bike, right?

These guys had a boatload of great experiences and advice, and helped me set up my commute to work. It's ten miles each way, which sounds like a loooooong ride. It's not. Bonus: It doesn't take much longer than driving and it's not half as wooly. And, it reduces my stress, increases my fitness and makes me happier. What could be better than that?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Good morning....

One of the things I realized when I came back from Belarus, and indeed, I think one of the things we all realize when we travel, especially abroad, is how fortunate we are. This often manifests itself in little things. For me, it was the morning after I came home, and I set my feet down on carpeting. It was warm, spongy...soft. It made me appreciate getting up in the morning. It reminded me of something I found a long time ago, from one of my people...

Lorica (Morning Paryer)

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

St. Patrick

Pray for Andy Reid...

He just found out he has a horrible, untreatable disease....

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Welcome Back, boys!

If Leroy Neiman and Hieronymus Bosch were to collaborate on an artpiece, they could do worse than a painting to commemorate today's immortal sports moments. Item 1: Major League Baseball welcomed back artificially enhanced, finger pointing Rafael Palmeiro to the rapidly disintegrating Orioles organization. Welcome back! Item 2: Kenny Rogers had his suspension for assaulting a cameraman shortened by an arbitrator...he's back today to face my Red Sox. Stop me if I'm wrong, but the last time I looked, assault was still a felony in most states. Speaking of felons, this brings me to Item 3: Todd Bertuzzi. Todd, you may or may not recall, crushed an unaware Steve Moore from behind, then slammed him to the ice and broke two of his neck vertabrae. Bertuzzi's back today, with a $5.2 million contract. Sweet.

Moving forward....

Part of why I haven't added to this is because it will all seem so anticlimactic. How do you follow up a trip to Belarus? I suppose I’ll just start writing, which seems a logical place to start/continue, and perhaps find the Divine in the every day of this Suburban American life…it could happen. So, with that, I will forge on. I hope you enjoy the ride.

I just finished a book by Mike Magnuson: Heft on Wheels. Ostensibly, it is about his transformation from fat man to thin, fit guy. It’s an interesting read, but I have some reservations. First, there is no way this guy can be an English teacher. I am certain, he meant for his colloquial style to draw the average-Joe-reader into the world of cycling, but it is often overridden by poor grammar and usage. “Me and him” as the subject…as in, “Me and him went to the store.” He misuses words...example: inertia. Where was this poor man’s editor? Couple that with the often disjointed and clumsy nature of his writing style, and it was a tough read.

And, while the book is about his transformation from fat guy to fit guy, there is little about the process. When the book begins, he’s fat. He starts to pedal furiously. He gets dropped. He pedals more. The next thing you read is his adventures doing Three Mountain centuries (100 mile rides). As a cyclist I was amused by this book, and his coverage of the different aspects of the sport are fun and entertaining. As a fan of the English language (I admire those who use it correctly…I loathe those who do not), I cannot help but think someone should have proofed this before it was sent out to the publisher.

I have also been sorting through some of the pictures from Belarus. Here is one I thought was cool.

Monday, August 08, 2005

My Belarussian Odyssey Part X: Final Day....Saturday July 16th

Time to say goodbye. I was actually doing okay until Оксана и Вика (Oksana and Vica) came up with tears in their eyes. I gave them a big hug and told them to look after each other, because now they were sisters, and it's what sisters do.

We drove out of the orphanage with, of course, Rosa and Mumu, chasing the bus and barking all the way. We circled the orphanage and the kids ran to the far side to see us one more time, and then they were gone. On the way out, we drove over the bridge of the river where we swam, and in the distance, I saw our beach.

I am told that in Russian, there is no word for goodbye. Literally translated, До свидания (Pronounced: Da Svadanya) means "Until we meet again." That's how they do it in Belarus, and it's so much better.

22 hours later, I was in my own bed, with my beautiful wife and my daughter, who was sleeping on my side of the bed, hogging my pillow.

Friday, August 05, 2005

My Belarussian Odyssey Part IX: Friday July 15h

The swingset has been released. We said a prayer at the beginning that everything would fall into place, then got to work. We had to hurry because we only had one day to put the whole thing together. Linda and I measured the holes, then triangulated them to make sure they would be square. Some kids joined us to help on the project, so we had them start digging the holes. I was surprised at how easy it was to dig, and the quality of the soil. It was almost black about eight inches down, and there were little to no rocks in the soil—a sharp contrast to the clay, shale and granite composite of Pennsylvania.

While the kids were digging holes, we began assembling the swingset. We went through a bunch of ideas as to how to build it. The original plan called for a five foot step ladder to be used. The only ladder we had available was a rickety old thing that would never hold the entire swingset (This thing is huge!). We eventually decided to build it upside down, lift it up onto a cart, and then rotate it as we dropped it into the holes (lifting it onto the cart would alleviate some of the pressure on the legs as it was turned into the holes. We dragged a very large tractor cart over to the area. It was no mean feat, even with the kids helping. To top things off, it was also the hottest day of the trip—easily in the mid 90s.

So, we’re struggling to put this thing together, and we’re doing it in a way that was, quite obviously, not intended. The paparazzi recorded our every move, and Brad maintained or escalated his sense of humor, as the situation dictated.

We got the legs attached to the main beam and then it was time to transfer the whole thing to the cart. The more we looked at it, though, the less sturdy it seemed, and the less likely it seemed the set would survive the trip. The legs were just too floppy and, as we rotated it off the cart, all of the weight would be placed on three legs. Surely, they would snap. We made an executive (think: battlefield) decision to put on the crossbraces and hope/pray they were a) strong enough to make a difference and b) level. We put the braces on and then opted to pull crossbraces from a second swingset to further strengthen the assembly for the turning over. We put those on as well, which is good because a major storm was rolling in. I learned another new word: гром (Grom)...thunder.

It was time to roll it over into the holes. We said a prayer that everything would (literally) fall into place without breaking. I explained in my Pigeon-Russian to the kid how I wanted them to push up on the swingset. Jon, Brad and I were at the top of the beams, where they met the crossbar. As it went over, our plan was to run around to the other side of the swingset where it was coming down and basically catch it and guide it into the holes. I counted: один, два, три and up we started...

I was reminded of the scene in the Ten Commandments where they raise the obelisk to Seti (it could have been a Monument to the Great Patriotic War!) and it’s jut going up on the strength of the people moving it…and they hope it doesn’t shatter when they drop it in. IT DOESN’T!!! The legs of the swingset drop in to the holes perfectly. Then, Don takes out a bullet level and puts it on the crossbraces and it is dead center. A direct hit! Meanwhile, the others had similar success in putting together the monkey bars.

As we're doing this, the storm has been coming in fast so we have to get the concrete poured. Only, the box cutters to open the buckets are still quarantined with a bunch of other stuff. I took a breaker bar and busted it open the buckets we had and the kids started pouring cement. It is then that Julie realizes we are short four buckets of cement, which we need to finish the project. There was a gruff, severe looking gentleman (in the middle with the blue shuirt) watching the whole project. He was the head maintenance man (I think) at the orphanage. I made a point of saying good morning to him every day. He would grumble back. This morning, though, I was up early, and as he came in I saw him. He actually said good morning to me before I could get it out. In a cynical way I thought about he chose the very last day we were here to make any effort at friendliness.

So he’s watching the process (and probably thinking, “Those silly Americans”) when he takes a bunch of kids and leaves. So now we have a storm roiling, we’re short four buckets of cement, and the maintenance guy has just taken a good portion of our help. Oh yeah, he took the biggest kids, too. Great! About ten minutes later, he came back with the kid, and the buckets of cement! He walks over to me, puts the bucket down, and walks away, cool as a cucumber (with dill!). He never said a word...just dropped the bucket and walked away. The kids that went with him had the rest of the concrete we needed to finish the project. I don’t know how he got into the quarantined area, what moved his heart to even do so (it’s, at the least, a dangerous proposition to do so), or how he got out with it. I was just grateful he did. We poured the concrete then got a bucket brigade for the water, as it started to rain. I was tightening bolts as the lightning arrived, but I couldn’t help but think God wouldn’t take me halfway around the world, let me go through all of this, then strike me with lightning, before it was finished. In retrospect, rationalizing the mind of God might not be such a great idea. And then it was finished. Brad put our sign on the swingset, from John 15:12..."My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."

Mom always said, “Put things back where you found them.” I got a bunch of the boys together and we pushed it back to where we found it. These boys are very strong. After everything, it was hard work. That’s okay: Tonight is Disco night!

Little Нина (Nina) asked me to dance with her: very cute. I spent some time with Николай and Миша. The music was really good: Belarussian Techno, which sounds very similar to our own. These kids can dance! It was awesome…and, praise God, no Chicken Polka! Even the tough girls danced with us for a while. Николай and Марина (Blonde Marina) are very good dancers. Николай tried to show me some steps, but my three left feet could not find the rhythm, which amused him to no end. They were all patient in teaching a bunch of clumsy Americans to dance.

The last night is always the hardest. I wanted to give some of my new friends gifts. I gave a Spiderman do-rag to Миша, and my Alaska shirt to Николай. I gave my sunglasses to Рослан . At night, Николай hinge out with us in the room. Other kids were knocking on the door, so I used a falsetto voice of “Olga” to pretend I was a woman and there was no one home. We were laughing as this went on for about 5 minutes, then it abruptly stopped on the other side of the door. There was one more knock and I did the Olga voice again. The voice of Николай the director came through the door…OOPS!!!

We opened the door, but he was busy sending the kids to their respective rooms. He turned and saw our Николай in the room and motioned for him. They had a quick conversation, then he was allowed to stay. It was, in my opinion, the coolest thing the director did the whole time we were there. We hung out with Nikolai (student, not director...I know: it is complicated) for a little while longer, then he went to bed and we talked into the night.

Tomorrow is goodbye.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sorry...it's been a while.

Life has a way of catching up. I'll be posting more in the next couple of days. If you're anxiously awaiting the next installment, stay tuned...and thanks.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My Belarussian Odyssey Part VIII: Thursday July 14th

Today was kind of an odd day in that we didn’t have any planned activities. One of the things we did was put the bridle on the horse. We had brought over a tack and bridle system for the horse that carries the wagon around town. They use it for everything, from taxi to dump truck. Carolyn was a little disappointed that it was a little too large, and I understand that, especially in consideration of everything she and Tink put into getting it. That having been said, one thing I’ve noticed is the industriousness of the people here, and their knack for making things work. Further, once they get things working, they keep them working (which makes me hideously aware of the disposability of our own culture). I think he’ll not only have the bridle on the horse and fitting next year, he’ll be rocking with it!

It was hot today. Николай and Миша (Meesha, who has become my left hand man) taught me a new word today: жаркий...Hot! I was getting the idea across while we were putting the bridle on the horse. Николай grabbed my hand and led me across the field (always taking me to new places, new experiences…as well as being my right hand man, he is my Joe Rogan on this adventure). We hopped a fence and walked down a dusty road to a black pipe sticking out of the ground. Attached to this was a second pipe, which Nikolai pushed down as water poured out. He and Миша grabbed a quick drink and then I stuck my head under it to cool off. The boys thought about for a second, then they did the same thing, while I pumped the water. Julia asked me to stick my head under the water again so she could snap a pic---I suppose the water was coming up from the belly of the earth, because when I stuck it under the faucet again it was FREEZING—take-your-breath-away-and-shrivel-your-head-freezing!

Then we had a break for lunch and Tink had a funny thought. In беларусь, apparently, the easiest vegetables to grow are cucumbers and tomatoes and the easiest spice to grow is dill. They put dill on everything. If they don’t put it on something, they put it in it. So Tink began calling it, "Our Daily Dill…"

After lunch, it was still hot, and the kids wanted to go плава—swimming. I had heard it was a long walk, but who cares. Brad and I said "плава?" to a couple of kids and they ran through the place, telling their friends. We had about 20 kids and started walking toward the river. One of the things I love about Brad is I can say, "Let’s go swimming" and he doesn’t even think about. He just says, "Okay, let’s go" and off we go. So Brad and I are walking out with the kids and we are stopped by a teacher who starts pulling out kids, at random and telling them to get back to the orphanage. It seemed kind of random, so I asked what was up and the teacher said "не плава"...she was pulling out the kids who could not плава. Brad and I quickly agreed it would be a good idea if they did not go along on this particular outing.

On the way to the swimming hole, we passed a guy building his own house. He had built a form out of two to four inch wide boards and was pouring the cement into the form. Then, he was smoothing it with a trowel. We also came to the top of a huge hill. The kids apparently have a tradition of running down it as fast as they can. Some of them did it, then started shouting, "Rob! Rob!" which is the Belarussian equivalent of, "I triple dog dare you!" So I did it, and it was GREAT!

We walked across a huge open field and came to the riverbank. The kid got down to bathing suits, a couple to underwear, and started jumping in. I put on Jon’s swimming shoes he had loaned me and also jumped in. The water was cool, but not cold. When I put my foot on the bottom, stuff crunched a little—glad I had the shoes. Some of it felt organic, but I got the feeling some of it was not. Рослан (Rooslan, pictured here with Linda) dove to the bottom (the river was about 5 ½ feet at its deepest) and brought up some sizable river clams. We swam for some time, then Brad and I took turns throwing some of the kids into the river. The older boys were squatting down and getting on each other’s shoulders, then jumping up and launching them. It was the purest kid experience of my stay in Belarus: no pretension, no fear, no guardedness…they were just a bunch of kids, swimming in a river. It was absolutely beautiful in its simplicity, and it remains the favorite thing I did with the children on this trip. Walking back to the school, I said to Brad, "You know, swimming in that river probably knocked about a year off my life. But it was so worth it."

When we got back it was time for dinner, then the kids had their nightly meeting. The meeting consists of the kids getting together in groups of their peers, with their teachers. They stand in a three-sided square while Tatiana stands at the open end and recounts the day. The kids motioned for me to come over and I stood in with the older kids like I was one of them. Tatiana looked at me, smiled, then started the meeting. It lasted about 5 minutes or so. I noticed Elena (our translator) in the corner of the room and, after the meeting dismissed, and I had said goodnight to the kids, I asked her what had been said.

She explained it was a review of the day, and they go over what happened as well as which kids have behaved and which have not. Tatiana had also said that it had come to her attention that a bunch of kids had gone to the river to go swimming without the knowledge or permission of the teachers. She stated, "this is not allowed and will not be tolerated.......next time." Adding, in effect, "I hope you had fun" she sent everyone on their way with a wink, wink and a nod, and we were all off the hook.

Word has it the swingset will be released tomorrow. The government officially quarantined it because, when we provided a list of everything going over, we did not account for each and every nut and bolt that holds the swingset together…it is very complicated…. So we will have one day to put up the swingset and pray it all works out.