For forigners, there is one NY baseball team: the Yankees. I have seen hundreds of Yankee hats around the former USSR...in large part because it represents to them NY, not a baseball team. So, when I saw Alexander standing against a kiosk near the Minsk tractor factory in this hip Mets jacket, I had to find out his story. He said he was a good high school student and thus got to study in college for free but with the obligation to work his first two years for a state-owned company. He is working for a machine building factory and likes to spend his time rapping. He said he raps for friends and his 'neighborhood,' a word that I rarely hear people here mention. So I asked what he meant by neighborhood. He said the tractor factory area where he lives is like an old, forgotten ghetto. That is why I was there - I heard it was a depressed area in Minsk. Alexander said he was inspiried by Onex's 'Slam' and wanted to recreate something similar incorporating his reality. He said he would love to visit the US to experience first hand rap and hip-hop culture, but said it was too hard to get a visa. He thought if he tried to explain to the embassy his reason for visiting the US, "they would think its total bullshit."
Roman, a barista at a Minsk coffee shop, had a lighthouse tattooed on his neck. He said "a lighthouse is a symbol of hope to sailors" and for him it is a reminder to see hope around him 'and not to despair.' He said he studied medicine and then worked in physical therapy, but didn't stick with it as the pay was so low. I asked if he made more as a barista. He said as much as double.
I will post a few portraits from a short trip to Minsk, Belarus that I hope will shed some light on the people and the country. I will start it off with Vera, whom I randomly met when I lost the keys to the flat I was renting in Minsk.
Vera told me her great grandfather left Czarist Russia to work in a Canadian mine to help pay off land debts. When her g-grandfather returned, he discovered that his wife had left for Moscow with the money and a lover. He remarried at 40 and had six children, one of whom died in a concentration camp during WWII, which took the lives of at least 20% of the population. One of the six - her grandmother - is still alive, age 90, and lives alone in a village, something not uncommon. Vera commented that Belarusians still migrate abroad for work much like her grandfather did a century ago. Indeed, quiet a few of the people I spoke with in Minsk considered working abroad as salaries at home are quite low.
As for the lost key, it had the address written on it. When the flat manager arrived to give me a new key, I raised the question of paying for a new door lock. He was relaxed 'Minsk is quite safe. The person who finds it will be too scared to try robbing the flat.' Four days later, no one but myself entered the flat. Minsk indeed seemed to be a safe city.