Hello, my name is Tatsiana, or Tania for short, I’m from Minsk, Belarus. I am a new volunteer at GEAI, but instead of practicing social distancing of 2 meters with the rest of the team, I work at a 2300-something km distance due to a very long visa procedure.

When I first sent my application for the position of an ESC volunteer at GEAI, I finished my motivation letter with the words “With a hope to brave the Irish weather, looking forward to your reply.” I still brave the weather of my homeland, which is, truth be told, not that different from the Irish one. Though it is just a couple degrees warmer here, it rains just as much, so I consider myself to be rather prepared for a year in Leitrim.

I live in an apartment block, which is a typical housing for residential areas in big cities. It’s not common to build detached or semidetached houses in Minsk or other big cities due to high population density, so most of the time you see 5 to 12 storey buildings. The one where I live, for instance, has 9 storeys with my flat on the ground floor. There are bushes and trees in front of my windows and every May the flat is filled with the smell of blooming lilac. What is peculiar about living in such a building though, is that there is only central heating available, with energy coming from a heat and power station, situated a couple of kilometers away. Heating is on only when it has been under +8C outside for a week, so every autumn there is a dreadful period of dealing with cold, and almost every family has a small heater for such an occasion. But when the heat is on, it might get boiling hot inside and it’s not possible to regulate the temperature. Not energy efficient at all, but then again newer apartment blocks are way more sustainable, but there is still a long way to go.

Another peculiar fact is that every summer every household has two weeks cut off from the hot water supply due to repair works on the water main.

Even though it gets mended every year, I would rather advise against drinking tap water without filtering it first, because not every area is supplied with artesian water (mine isn’t), then water gets chlorinated and sometimes has a smell of it.

Summer in Minsk
You call it “fómhar beag na ngéanna” we call it “old woman’s summer”

Other than participate in weekly team meeting via Zoom, I have a lot of time to go through a pile of books, which have been waiting to be read. I also dedicate a lot of time to cooking and baking, experiencing with a lot of new recipes. My family has a garden, where my parents grow not only flowers, but everything from potatoes and paprikas to raspberries and walnuts. One can hardly go any more regional and seasonal with rich harvest in autumn. Almost every family in Belarus has either its own garden and the so-called dacha (kind of a summer house) or relatives with one in the region. It’s common to go and plant potatoes every May and harvest them every August-September, and even if I wouldn’t call it a family tradition in itself, almost every person had an experience of helping with it. Needless to say, potatoes play a huge role in the national cuisine.

And then (especially after cooking and eating a lot) taking long walks does you good. There was no official lockdown in Belarus during the pandemic, but as the days get colder and cases of coronavirus go up, one can see more and more people wearing face masks, but still it has never been a must. I sewed a lot of facemasks this spring, which are really fine, but still I find it sensible to avoid busy places and rush-hour.

Waiting for that golden crust on my new obsession – homemade buns

And talking of crowds and long walks, you might have heard about Belarus from the media since August. The point is, that there were presidential elections on 9th August, with the results of which people were deeply unsatisfied as the majority had voted for another candidate, but the president, who had run the country since 1994, won again. So there were protests on 9th-11th August which were harshly suppressed, and on 12th August women already came up with the idea of peaceful demonstrations against the violence.

Since then every Saturday and Sunday and occasionally on weekdays a lot of people go for peaceful marches and demos with historical white-red-white symbols as opposed to the official red-green flag to have their say against the violence and with a hope to change the government after all by holding new elections. There hasn’t been much change yet, and the demos are still getting suppressed, but the reaction to the protests has united a lot of people, which is important and really new on the national level.

However, my life has been rather quiet while I wait to go to Ireland and I look forward to joining GEAI team and start my time officially as ESC volunteer!