“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Huge Apologies

Just wanted to say sorry to those who get aggravated when I post many things at once... I just posted three weeks worth because I've been camping in the wilds and had no electricity nor internet. I tried to get it up earlier this week but of course blogger wouldn't work for me. Will post more soon and get the pics up to match!!

Right now, I'm off to the Belarus State Museum of History and Culture.

P.S. I'm sitting in a cool internet cafe under Lenin Square!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Natalya Posted July 31

You'd think that being in the land of Natalyas, people would finally
start getting my name right instead of calling me Natalie or Natasha.
It's ironic, though, how ingrained one name is to a language, and so
because the Belarusians have both a Russian and Belarusian form of
their name, the fact that my name really is Natalya escapes them. I am
consistently called Natalie, which to me is the most bizarre form of
cultural exchange. They think: she is a foreigner, therefore she must
have a foreign name.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Belarusian Weekend 2 – Berezinski Biosphere Reserve Posted July 31

For the second weekend, we hired a van to drive us to the nearby
Bjarezinski Biosphere Reserve to stay in a hotel there and enjoy some
civilization (mainly in the form of hot showers). A tiny little
village yielded all our entertainment – it was great to bike around
and see storks in chimneys, cats asleep on benches outside the
beautifully painted houses (which is quite a new phenomenon, but
certainly a lovely one). The small zoo had a beautiful European Bison,
a very sad looking bear, some wolves, deer and other small animals in
the expectedly small enclosures.

After an afternoon of simple "insideness" and electricity (i.e.
computer usage for me), although the hotel did offer to rent us
skipping ropes and hoola hoops, I went to explore the "magazin" shop.
Everything here is still bought across the counter (such a complicated
procedure with no knowledge of Russian!), and I was quite amused to
have my baked sweets priced by weight. I am missing the ability to buy
non coke drinks—everything, even water, is carbonated! We really are
in a relic of the past, but what is quaint is that people have not
demanded the changes you might have expected elsewhere, such as in the
Baltic. The hotels, even the new ones built in the last 15 years, all
look like the spartan boring Soviet Intourist ones, with long hallways
with artificial carpets and serviceable but certainly not fashionable

The museum across the street has to be one of the best museums I've
ever seen—for taxidermy. It was extensive, but I do find it incredibly
ironic that in a biosphere, the museum with the biological species are
all dead ones! It's certainly not politically correct to have such
places in the west, but here in Eastern Europe it is a perfectly
acceptable form of education. Personally I can't say that I have a big
problem with it because it's certainly quite handy to see examples of
all the wildlife without disturbing their habitat! The outside was
beautifully decorated with the traditional totem-pole like carvings
that are quite common in the villages around here.

I washed my socks tonight. These are two pairs I've been wearing for
most of the past two weeks. The water was black for three washes. I
turned them inside out and scrubbed my hands as if with sock gloves, I
twisted and turned and scrubbed and squeezed, and even after four
thorough washes, they're still black. This was the point where I
decided that I'd had enough washing, and despite still having a faint
whiff of sweat and dirt, they would do for another week, at which
point I will have to ask dear mum to reinstruct me on how to use
bleach. God, I miss a washing machine!

Pics: Bison, Train, Museum statues

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Week 2 of Dig Posted July 31

The second week of digging commenced relatively uneventfully, but we
certainly can't seem to get any decent weather as "Wednesday" (it was
actually Sunday) was a day we spent the whole day at camp instead of
at the site because we had so much rain. It was my cooking day, and so
I made burritos—yum. Several people asked what's needed, and here's a
brief description of why it was so special: Tortillas need flour,
water, oil, and a pinch of salt, but also it is required that they be
rolled with a beer bottle that has had the label rain cleaned. Flies
and dirt are optional but certainly make extra seasoning. For the rare
Vitebsk bought beans, they must be campfire cooked (so including ash,
yellow river water, whatever strange seasoning the shop had – reading
labels should not be attempted) slowly next to the rice (a whole,
packet, why not??), also on the fire. Sticks must be used as pot
holders and if the pot is not covered with burnt charcoal dust then
they will not have that delicious taste necessary for a true camping
feast. Don't forget the sour cream!

We did some more drawing this week, which is really quite prescribed.
I found a fantastic fish knife with a hole in it, which we are not
sure what the true purpose is for, but there have only been one or two
other similar items found anywhere in the region. We also found a
couple of really cool teeth pendants, which are easy to mistake for
just teeth (which I still find just as cool) because of the caked
dirt. Lots more flint scrapers (to the point where we don't even find
them interesting anymore), and I must say that I am quite sick of
pottery clusters (i.e. pots that have fallen in one place and broken
into many shards). They are tedious to brush off, and slow down the
process enormously, plus they are so completely delicate that getting
a complete piece out is a trial. But seriously, it's a joy to be
finding so much—I feel honored to have found the most field objects of
anyone, but that's simply because I picked the busiest square.

When a new volunteer arrived for the "weekend" (read, the real
weekend, but our mid week), he brought with him a volleyball which he
proceeded to blow up and invite all to play with him. Luckily, the
machines and men clearing the fields for hay had flattened the area
surrounding the campsite that very day. Honestly though, when we went
out at dusk for a casual pass around, I spent more time swatting
mozzies than hitting, and I swear I killed as many of the apparently
genetically inferior beasts (so easy to kill) as I passed the ball.
Miserable pests, they are! Whoever invented those was obviously in a
bad mood.

After all the crazy rain of the past few days, we discovered our
"bridge" has now become submerged. Still, crossing the precarious
structure saves us at least 20 minutes, so we are still game to cross.
On Thursday, it was my turn to make a sacrifice to the rain gods—I
fell in. I guess I was getting too cocky and crossing too quickly, but
the wooden logs rolled and I was in the water up to my waist before I
even realized I was falling in. Luckily, I had on my quick dry pants
so I had cleared every drop by lunchtime—just in time for the walk
home and a humble apology to the bridge and rain gods again!

The highlight of our week, though, has to be the shop on wheels, the
"auto magazin" which plies the villages with produce a couple of times
a week. We line up for our chocolate bars, bread, pickles and other
odd items, and of course, the archaeologist's staple item: beer.

Pics: Shop on wheels.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Belarusian Weekend 1 – Polatsk and Vitsebsk Posted July 31

Multiple Lenin Statues!!

The first major outing from the site was on the "weekend" (calendar
days Wednesday and Thursday, but it's easy to forget that when you
started the week on a Friday not a Monday). Five of the foreigners and
one lovely Belarusian lady, Sasha, piled onto several buses to reach
Polatsk, the most ancient city in Belarus (first mentioned in 862).
There, we were met by a local archaology professor and many of her
hospitable students, who took us on a walking tour of town. We passed
the center of the world monument, another monument to the letter "w"
(the only letter that Belarusian has different from Russian, and I
suppose when you lack a strong identity, it's important to grasp at
anything to be proud of!), the town's Lenin statue, the place where a
cathedral once stood, the ancient riverside street (which reminded me
of Arrowtown, a riverside town in New Zealand), and the ancient
cathedral. We saw the merging of the river Dvina River and the Polata
Creek, and admired the ancient Pagan stone upon which the lovely
ancestor Prince Boris decided he needed to mark with a cross (but
which is still sought after for fertility blessings). They took us to
see the university (which reminded me a lot of Akhawayn in Morocco
because of its newly renovated-ness) and their dig next to a
fascinatingly decrepit deserted house.

The next day (after getting an internet fix, and discovering all sorts
on financial pains in the arse), we headed in the rain to the next
town of Vitsebsk, another ancient city, which also happens to be Mark
Chagall's birthplace. We tried to find his art museum, but ended up at
his old house instead. It was barely two rooms, and certainly a
wake-up call to the living standards in this area. I find Belarus'
history quite fascinating. How can such a huge place (half the size of
Poland!) exist that so few people know about? It was the area where
almost all of the Russian Jewry came from (as they were restricted to
this area), and has passed hands from the ancient Rus of Kiev, to the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania, to Poland to Hitler to the Soviets and now
independence! It really is right in the middle of Europe. The two
towns we visited were actually part of Russia, yet with such large
Belarusian communities, so they were added to the new Belarusian
Soviet Socialist Republic when it was created in the 1920s and 30s.

Pics: letter w monument, lenin statues-beshankovich, vitsebsk,
polatsk, learner sticker, decrepit house, Chagall statue
This is an interesting "learner driver" sticker.... required everywhere!

Quick news from Belarus

I've been out of touch in a campsite in rural Belarus for the last week, and I'm heading back there this afternoon, and I don't have much time to tell all about what I've been doing but wanted to send a quick update!!

I'm on a dig near Beshankovich (between Minsk and Vitsebsk) where we're looking at a stone age peat bog site. On the first day I found an amazing Amber pendant and another digger found a flint axe. Very exciting! We've had crazy thunderstorms (thankfully, my tent is just superb!). Also interesting are the microflints, arrowheads and other cool stuff we've found. I'll try and post more soon, but internet is nowhere near the site, so it may be three weeks or so!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bombs Posted July 31

Did you know there were two bombings in Belarus a month or so ago? It
probably didn't make big news, although when my mum saw it she had to
ask me why something dangerous always had to happen in the places I
went to! Belarus has had nothing happen for so long, and then I decide
to go there. Anyway, it was on independence day just before I arrived
here. The government has blamed the opposition groups, but of course
they are certainly not inclined in that way, or even that well
organized, united or so well-equipt, but that did not prevent several
arrests from various (of course, random) factions. This led to several
protests against the arrests, where the protest leaders were beaten.
When the leader took it to court, the police argued that of course
they didn't do it, and he beat himself up. All this because elections
are scheduled for the autumn. What a complicated way to dictatorship!

Camping Posted July 31

When was the last time you went camping? There's something lovely
about going to sleep with the cicadas and seeing the sunset from a
tent. While cooking's a hassle, clean water's a nightmare and let's
not even talk about the showers, I must say the worst thing for me are
the Belarusian bugs. They jokingly said at the campfire that while the
1 ½ year military service does nothing but build homes for generals
now (or maintain their gardens), they don't really need a standing
army because the mosquitoes will do their job for them.

Snuggling in a sleeping bag, with 2 extra blankets and even a
mattress, in my warmest set of clothes got me through the second night
of misty cold. We have delightfully social communal meals and the
campfire is always lovely. The environment is disregarded as we bathe
in the river with soaps and chemical shampoos, and I've already
mentioned that the only thing that isn't burnable waste is a tin can.
It's amazing how I can have two so completely electricity-free
experiences in a year (after all, the beginning of this summer had no
electricity or running water in my home after the cyclone!).

Asaviec Posted July 31

On "Tuesday" I wandered into the local village where we get our fresh
milk and well water from. It's about 20 minutes down the road, and has
the most amazing quaint painted houses with decorated windows. I
managed to disturb every dog in town, and alienate every snobbish cat,
although one skittish new mum let me pet her and her kittens. One lady
extensively invited me in for tea, and one lovely old man wanted to
give me a ride to the next village on his hay cart pulled by his
recalcitrant horse (which I was happy to refuse as it would have meant
a longer walk home, and I watched how the horse stopped half way and
refused to continue). I saw a dead grass snake and a live one, a dead
mouse and several other live farm like animals in the idyllic summer
existence, but I was horrified at the thought of the isolation that
must occur in winter, despite the twice-daily local bus to take
passengers into "civilization" (i.e.Beshankovic, the one shop town on
the main road). With snow piled several feet high, limited clearing of
roads, poverty, winds from the arctic, simple wooden cottages and
nothing going on, it must not be a fun season. Still, it is pleasant
to live a simple life, giving and getting directly from the land.

I took several photos of the beautiful windows they have here, and
have shared a few.

Pic: painted house, windows, outhouse

Friday, July 11, 2008

Belarus and week 1 of the dig Posted July 31

After a very quick turn of Minsk, I have arrived at the dig site of
Asaviec 2 2008, near the town of Beshankovic (which translates to
'crazy town', while Asaviec is 'place of horror') on the highway
between Minsk and Vitebsk. So far the digging has yielded a fantastic
amber pendant and a small flint axe simply from the top soil. It looks
very promising! The dream is to find figurines. We are digging a 12
square meter trench and going down in 10cm increments. The site is
smack dab in the middle of a huge field of stinging nettle, so I have
reacquainted myself with the joys of nettle stings, which I'll have
you know, are strong enough to sting through pant legs!! The
mosquitoes and other vicious biting bugs are also good friends with
the site, so I lather myself with spray every time I go out. Oh, how I
wish I had my mosquito racket with me now! I do hope it survives the
journey to Azerbaijan, as it has been hell living without it. Several
campers also discovered ticks sucking on their juicy flesh, and after
removal were then sent to the doctor for testing, as we're in an area
of tick-borne encephalitis.

The foreign volunteers are a much more international bunch than those
in Romania, and the dynamics are quite different. We have one
Lithuanian, Mantas, one Dutch, Aulky, one Brit, Toby, myself, the
kiwi, and four Americans: Maureen, Lee Ann, Alec and Sam, not
forgetting Olya, the Belarusian-Canadian! Almost all are affiliated
with archaeology in some officially academic way, except me, of
course, and many are in the process of masters, so overall it's an
older group, and we all get along well. There are also two Belarusian
State University archaeologists on board: father and son, Michael and
Max, many Belarusian volunteer students, and the Belarusian
"first-years" many of whom are history students as everyone in the
entire department is required to complete a dig. Their English levels
vary and overall, they are a welcoming, friendly, social bunch. We had
a friendly campfire introduction early on this week, and sang songs
with the two guitars!

Camping has added another interesting element to the trip. The last
time I went camping was when I was still in NZ, so it's a been a long
time. I bought a camping shower because cleanliness was the thing I
was most worried about, but after one attempt, I have abandoned it, as
I got more bug bites than is seemingly possible, in all sorts of
unpleasant places, and finding a tree high enough to hang it from was
quite a trial! In terms of food, we have a rotating cooking schedule,
and without a fridge, this has led to interesting concoctions! Sour
cream plays a big part. Trash is interesting, and the idea of
environmentally conscious rubbish has flown out the window! We have a
burn pile and for a while I actually wondered about what I should and
shouldn't burn—aren't burning plastics a big no-no? Not here!
Everything goes on the pile! I have endeavored to keep the compost pit
free of plastic bags, which has been mostly successful, but I will
draw a personal line at attempting to keep the ladies from throwing
their pads in our dug toilet. Too much of a communication confusion,
not to mention cultural exchange!

The walk to the site from camp is around 20 minutes in the morning,
and we wander through a field of yellow flowers, which are apparently
used for some type of oil fuel. The Belarusian students built a bridge
across one of the small canals that was dug in the 1970s to drain the
peat bogs so that we can get to the site more easily. It's an
impressive structure of 4 logs! We also had a visitor this week—a mole
decided to dig a narrow trench through our trench.

I must say the rain here has been insane!! Why have I managed to take
this bad weather with me for so much of my trip? We had a huge series
of thunderstorms on Sunday evening, where at least 7 rounds of
whipping lightning-filled gargantuan storms passed over the camp
soaking us all and shaking every tent to breaking point. (I never
realized that you could repair a tent crossbar so many times, although
I have to say that the person who rigged an entire plastic tarp tent
on top of their other one has to have the best idea!). We also had a
quick hail storm and amazing fog drifting in on what proved to be a
freezing night!

Pics: Campsite kitchen, Hail, campsite in fog, bridge, dig site 2791,
yellow flower field

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What to do in Belarus? Posted July 31

I asked Olya to recommend the best things to see in Belarus. Mushroom
picking was high on her list, as were the castles, forts and forests.
Everyone says it is a relic of the soviet past, yet it really is
prosperous in many ways. How would I describe it? There are beautiful
rolling hills and forests, with quaint small towns, and generally,
space. I can see very clearly now why Poles, Russians, Belarusians,
Latvians and other eastern Europeans all chose to settle in the
Midwest and Canada as it really is very similar in climate and

Outside of Minsk it's like one continual farm, with no fences and
livestock in large herds still tended by a shepherd. Collectives are
still very common and village-centered farming is the norm. The
government still owns all the land and country villages are extremely
poor but picturesque.

Belarus has a bit of an identity crisis which means than many will
identify with Poland, Ukraine or Russia more than Belarusian, and the
passivity from so many historical poundings means that the will to
fight for their Belarusian language and identity is limited. Teaching
about wars against Russia is illegal, despite the fact that 2 in 1
Belarusians died, which is twice the number of WWII when 4 in 1 died.
The president hates Belarusian language and culture and is notorious
for not being able to even speak the national language—instead
speaking an uneducated creole of sorts called treshanka. Under the
Soviet Union, no military service would be undertaken in one's own
republic, which is why so many Belarusians fought in Afghanistan and
Chechnya, rather than protecting their own people. This was done so
that if shooting against the population needed to occur, the "foreign"
troops would be less hesitant at protecting the populace as they
didn't identify with them. An effective oppression system, really.

The dig is a fascinating site—a Neolithic peat bog just like the
amazing bog-men collection I saw in the Dublin museum, except that no
bog men have been found in Belarus. The site has been excavated
several times over the last 100 years, but unfortunately, one
archaeologist was executed for being an "enemy of the state", and many
of the items found not to mention journals and records from before
WWII were of course destroyed completely when Minsk was completely
flattened by bombing. Many things changed in the 1970s when the
government put in a huge melioration project of canals which drained
the bogs and marshes. The second dig, which unfortunately I can't go
to, is of a flint mine, which would also have been amazing. Because
Belarus is on the front lines for so many wars, there are so many
possible sites. In fact, Olya was saying that very near the dig site
was the area of the biggest tank battle of World War II and several
planes went down in the bogs which children use as playgrounds now!
Many sites have been gone over with people using metal detectors, but
when they find someone, they tend to just strip the treasure and leave
the body, instead of helping to create some kind of memorial. As it's
a crossroads from Sweden to Ancient Greece, there are many trade route
treasures to be found!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What are you afraid of?


This was a really interesting quiz... I knew when I was doing it that it wasn't supposed to be as you'd expect, but what you expect is not always what you expect! :)

Latvia - people you meet

To be added soon... check back.

Stolen from Rama

The Challenge:
- Post 3 things you've done in your lifetime that you don't think anybody else on your friends list has done.
- See if anybody else responds with "I've done that." If they have, you need to add another!(2.b., 2.c., etc...)
- Have your friends cut & paste this into their journal to see what unique things they've done in their life.


1. Spent more time out of their home country than in their home country and still been under 30.
2. Flown across an ocean and a continent to be somewhere 2 days just for a wedding.
3. Lived in at least 2 places that most people have never heard of--Myanmar, Azerbaijan.

I've decided that these are completely unimaginative, but that is my mood I guess. Interesting thinking about it though!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Ballet shoes

To be added soon... check back.

Switzerland and Basel conference

To be added soon... check back.