Did you know?

Only 9.02% of the U.S. population traveled to an overseas destination, excluding Canada and Mexico, from 1989-1999 (Office of Travel and Tourism Industries).

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Different Tune

At 8:00 am sharp, my phone rang. It was someone from the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. It seems as though our "conference call" with the State Department had worked some magic during the night! This time they had changed their tune, they "could" send a car for me and my luggage, but the downside was I had to be ready to go at 4:00 pm the next day! At this point I was in no position to complain, so I accepted the offer.

Now the real fun began.

I had broken the bad news to my beloved supervisor, Ludmila, the night before. So she knew there was no way I could teach my classes. But in their place came a wave of paperwork from the university. Cbeta helped me as I limped from office to office filling out forms, explaining why I was “resigning my position,” checking to see if all my library books were turned in, and a bunch of other administrative stuff. Throughout all of this, I felt really self-conscious. After all the trouble everyone had gone through back in September to officially “hire me,” this was how I had to say good-bye? I wondered what everyone was thinking, did they believe me? What did they really think about the current situation that was brewing between our two nations?

A few of my fellow English teachers shared some tears, or a hug, but for the most part there was not much to say. What was done, was done, and there was nothing any of us could do to change things. Fortunately, there wasn’t much time for sadness. The clock was ticking . . . it was almost lunch time . . . and I hadn’t packed a thing!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Out of the Office

As soon as I got home, I started sending emails, making phone calls, and Skyping my family back home. The English Language Fellow Program was supposed to make my flight arrangements, but they were all in New York for the national TESOL conference. I tried my Regional English Language Officer (RELO), but she was also out of the office/country!

To top things off, the long walk had really agitated my ankle, which was swelling more and more by the minute. Luckily, I had a bag of frozen peas and used it for a make-shift ice pack.

Around 10:00pm, I Skyped my father back in Texas. It was then that I pulled out my Fellowship Manual and saw the contact information for someone at the U.S. Department of State. He called the number, and we had a mock conference call. The man we spoke to knew exactly who and where I was, and he promised to help.

At least the day ended on a positive note.

The Night from Hell

Somehow I managed to carry on with my life. I even met my friend Cbeta for our 7:30pm dance class. As we left the gym I noticed that I had 12 missed calls, most of which were from Peter Young in Minsk. I immediately called him back... but soon wished that I hadn't.

The latest and greatest was that "we had to be out of the country by EOB on Monday, April 7." If we didn't comply, the U.S. government would consider us "persona non grata."

When I told Cbeta, she started to cry. We walked a few blocks together, but had to part as she lived on the opposite side of town. So far I had managed to maintain my composure; but that was all about to change.

A few minutes after I said good-bye to Cbeta, my new contact at the U.S. Embassy called. She basically told me the same thing that Peter had, but of course, there was more. When I asked her if someone from the U.S. Embassy could pick me up and drive me to Minsk, she told me "not to count on it because they already had too much on their plates!" I was the only American in Grodno, but no one seemed to realize this. Her advice was that I consider crossing the border and going to the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Poland!! Yeah right, with all of my luggage, boxes, and no car. Our conversation ended with this: "to plan as if I had to leave the country tomorrow"... even if it meant I had to leave everything behind.

Right when I thought things couldn't get worse... they did.

As I approached the foot bridge to cross the Neyman River (the main bridge was closed due to construction), I tripped and fell. Thank God the steps had recently been removed and I fell onto soft dirt... but my ankle... there was a sharp stabbing pain. That was it, the flood gates had opened and I sat there sobbing on the ground. A lady stopped to help me, but my Russian wasn't flowing too well at the moment. All I could understand was "taxi" because it sounds the same in both languages. I somehow explained that I didn't have any money... I didn't even have a bus ticket.

I eventually got up and started to limp toward my flat, which was a good 20 minutes away. When I was half-way across the bridge, one of my friends (Alexander) from the American Corner called... his cousin had just passed away... he had finally lost his battle with brain cancer.

In Russian folklore, they say that bad luck comes in threes... and I was beginning to believe them.

The Day From Hell

Where shall I begin... Monday and Tuesday were somewhat normal despite the fact that the U.S. Embassy told me to stop meeting with my American Corner friends. It turns out that the KGB thing was true and if we continued to meet, even in a private home, they could get into serious trouble. And that was only the beginning...

Around 2:30pm on Wednesday, right in the middle of one of my classes, my phone rang. It was the U.S. Embassy so I stepped outside and took the call. The assistant secretary of defense had terminated all of the U.S. sponsored education programs in Belarus... and yes, that meant me. The decision had been made late the night before, and as Belaurs was 7 hours ahead of Washington DC, the Embassy had just received the news. Everyone was on stand-by as it was possible we would have to leave within one week!

Needless to say, I was in shock.