Fieldset
Half-time in Minsk

As he passes the half-way point of his time working at an MSF tuberculosis project, psychotherapist Christian reflects on six months in Belarus…

Incredible, how time passes by! Spring is awakening in Minsk. The city shows all its beauty. I have now been in the project for more than six months and can hardly believe how quickly time has passed.

What happens when you spend six months of a project in a country whose culture and language are alien to you, where you suddenly find yourself in a team of new faces and have to find your way?

Sometimes I think that much more could have been achieved in the time. But when I look again at what we have put in motion, I am impressed by the developments.

What happens when you spend six months of a project in a country whose culture and language are alien to you, where you suddenly find yourself in a team of new faces and have to find your way?

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Language exchange

First, contrary to expectations, I have not forgotten my mother tongue, but I have not really learned much Russian. I underestimated both the workload in the project and the complexity of the Russian language. But I can at least order a cup of coffee, pay at the supermarket and exchange some friendly words.

It dawns on me slowly that the return to everyday life and my old environment in Germany will probably be more of a challenge than the adaptation to the project more than six months ago.

But who would have thought that I would polish up my French? We have a Belarussian colleague whose French is excellent and who finds it easier to communicate than in English - our project language.

This has brought up some funny situations, such as the fact that in the Russian Embassy we caused confusion when applying for a transit visa: we were a Belarussian communicating with a German in French to explain a trip to Italy.

Home, and “Home-Home”

Above all, my dear colleagues have become dear to my heart. We discuss a lot, often have different opinions, but most of all we enjoy the work. We spend time together.

With only five international colleagues, of course, the exchange with our Belarussian colleagues is very intense and you do not just talk about work. From most of the staff, I know their personal backgrounds and have got an insight to their culture and ways of life, their wishes and goals.

I would hardly have thought it possible, but after only 10 days of vacation in Germany, I missed the team here in Minsk. I’ve started defining Minsk as “home” and Germany as ”home-home”.

It dawns on me slowly that the return to everyday life and my old environment in Germany will probably be more of a challenge than the adaptation to the project more than six months ago.

Wonderful idiosyncrasies

Due to the project structure and the nature of my role, I spent a lot of time with the team and only a comparatively small amount of time with patients, although I have spent a lot of time on the tuberculosis stations of the clinic.

I have met many wonderful doctors and nurses. We argued and had our fights, but we also laughed to the point of tears.

I'm thankful that I can spend another half a year with these generous and lovable people, and yet here and there, there is a short-term melancholy.

When melancholy strikes me, I take a walk through our office or clinic corridors, whistling a melody, waiting for someone to prod me and ask me to stop immediately. Because in Belarus it’s said that people who whistle inside the house get into financial problems and lose their wealth.

This is another of those wonderful idiosyncrasies I've come to love so much, like clean, shiny shoes (people with dirty shoes are untrustworthy), Draniki (potato pancakes – guaranteed not low in fat) and Zephyr (a marshmallowy treat that is sweet-and-sweet).