August 31 2006
-Where were you born?
New York, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I have a family here.
-How long have you been living there?
Basically for four years, but there have been complications.
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Belarus?
I first came to Belarus in 1997 and thought, at least in terms of society and social interaction that it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen in the world. Also my grandparents were from here as well, so that had a lot to do with it.
However, as the economics were so oppressive, I felt staying was not the best decision. But I never forgot how much I wanted to be there. I was in New York for the September 11th catastrophe and as a result of that, my business fell to almost nothing. I thought I had a business offer in Italy, but when that didn't pan out, I came back to Belarus on a vacation, met someone I liked and decided to stay. Like I say, there have been complications, but basically I have been here ever since.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Not hard but expensive. For a long time I had to buy visas and that was really hard especially because there is not that much money to be made here.
Now I have a residence permit and life is much better.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Not at all, in fact it is required. And the country has basically free medical care and they have been just fine to me. Not that I have used them much, and there are differences between western care and here, but to me things have been quite reasonable.
-How do you make your living in Belarus?
At the moment I have a contract to support an English Language website that pays a few dollars. We also try and sell some good from our dacha farm, mostly apples. I have also in the past translated documents and things like this. We also occasionally, though not frequently enough receive money from my blogs, though this is not really enough to get by with. I also try to sell articles about the country. We could use a bit more. Getting by is tough, the family situation makes things palatable.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I speak passable Russian, enough to speak with people and to read the newspapers and watch TV. You do need to know Russian here, and for sure the customs are quite different from the West's.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Not particularly. Sometimes I have cravings for certain types of food that are not here, but I can usually work it out that we can recreate them here in our own kitchen. I still talk with many friends via the net. But basically I am pretty comfortable here, except for the money.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I just work. I try to keep things together the best that I can and basically, if I have any thoughts for the future it is for my kids rather than myself. I have done enough traveling, and have seen enough of the world to feel that I am not missing anything. Life here is hard but in a way it is fulfilling. I think this philosophy basically is normal for the culture as well.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home?
We have an apartment in town. It could be bigger but it is home. We also have a small dacha farm where we grow a lot of our food. All of this is really normal here. I think we pay abut $20 to $50 a month for the house depending on the season. You can rent out here for less than a hundred still. But again, there is not much money to be made. Most workers still only get about $100 a month, maybe $200 is possible. Some have more but this is usual for workers. The cost of food though is high, too high. It used to be better and more subsidized, but now we pay a lot so life is harder. Also, clothes are the same. It's a tough deal here.
-What is the cost of living in Belarus?
I think I covered this in the last question, but basically, to sum it up in a word, it's impossible. I've been here four years and I still don't really see how it can be done.
-What do you think about the locals in Belarus?
I like them. But I also like my distance. We have friends and I communicate freely with most people. Belarus is a very civilized place so talking to folks is never really an issue, no matter how rich or poor you are. I try to avoid too much interaction with drunks though. I prefer people who work.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Belarus?
If you wanted to come here, you are probably crazy. For sure the things that drove me to come here had a lot to do with frustration and unhappiness. I just feel quite fulfilled here but then again, I do most things myself including the farming. For folks who are do-it-yourselfers, the place has great possibilities. But you really need to forget about having a lot of money or thinking about what you need to buy to satisfy yourself. This sort of thing is simply not here except for tourists.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Belarus?
Please check out The Being Had Homepage or Being Had - The Story. I have been trying to be a resource about Belarusian life and Polish corruption for a while. I think I am into the political argument pretty well and I think I can tell you the truth concerning "The Life" in Belarus. In any case, I can get you past western propaganda on the subject.