I didn’t expect this to be my first post, I thought it might have been a ‘settling into city life’, or ‘first impressions’ kind of a post. I had an amazing week and met some fantastic people but there’s almost too many stories to tell and I want to do them justice. These are just my thoughts on one particular part of my week.
This week there was one main theme, Women’s Day. So here we are..
We arrived in Minsk on Monday evening not really sure what the week had in store for us. Our supervisor told us that we would have the day off on Wednesday as it is the 8th of March and the country celebrates Women’s Day.
“Great!” we thought, how nice, a day off to explore the city and a chance to get our bearings.
A little context: I’ve travelled to Belarus before and among all the stories that were told was the celebration of Women’s Day. Once, we were actually presented with a huge decoration from the celebrations – in August by some of the older boys in Goradische Orphanage. Lots of laughing ensued. Anyway, I always thought it was nice that the children got the chance to celebrate and thank the workers on this day, the women who care for them and educate them, some they’d even consider as family.
So the next day we went to the office to meet the team, none of the men were there. Shortly afterward they arrived back from the shops with lots of food and they worked away at preparing a beautiful spread. They even had lovely presents for each of us. They wished us all a happy Women’s Day, we all sat, ate and enjoyed their efforts. Both myself and my EVS partner/ flatmate/new bestie Aino were surprised by the celebrations but lapped it up – sure why not!
In the afternoon we got the opportunity to head into the city center with our mentor Olia – or our mammy as we call her!
There were tulips and roses being sold on every corner, underground, and stairway you came across.
There were women and men carrying little bouquets wrapped in cellophane or more beautifully, brown paper, headed home to give them to their mother/wife/girlfriend etc. even little girls had balloon flowers.
I thought it was quite beautiful, it’s quite a romantic holiday here in Belarus. The men prepare the house and the food that day and give their loved ones flowers. Some businesses close. It’s a lovely family day out too. Quite like Mother’s Day I was thinking.
Wednesday: с праздником восьмого марта!! Happy 8th March!!
We thoroughly enjoyed our lie-in. We explored a bit more with Olia. There were even more flowers being sold today!! The romantic image continued throughout the day.
We travelled to Petrikov on Thursday to congratulate the girls on Women’s Day.
Petrikov is a closed institution for young girls in conflict with the law- I’ll explain it better in another post. For a little insight – these teenagers wouldn’t have come from the most stable of homes or best of backgrounds. They are very impressionable.
The stage was beautifully decorated. There were a few speeches about the history of Women’s Day and the various traditions and customs from around the world that occur on this day. There was a game of charades and a quiz.
But the part that niggled at me was the “roles” they were miming, female orientated – pregnant, on a diet, a model, a babushka(granny) etc. where were the business women, the scientists, the politicians.
After all this we, myself and Aino were to say hello and congratulate them, give them well wishes.
I gave my cúpla focail in Russian and then wished them all the best for the future- to follow their dreams and be what they want to be, work hard. Some of the girls looked a bit taken a back.. was this the first time they were hearing this??
I read an article on a page about Belarus during the week. I follow this page because it seems to be current, and wants to portray Belarus to the western world and promote the country as a place to be visited etc.
Unfortunately, though other than briefly commenting on the intelligence of Belarusian women, the entire piece was about how beautiful and charming they are. What fantastic mothers and housekeepers they are. How tall they are. How they are like super heroes because they raise the family and keep the house in order all while looking like supermodels with fantastic taste in style.
What was more frustrating was that the majority of the comments were loving the article – men and women alike.
Everywhere else online there were so many strong women from around the world making their voices be heard, fighting for the rights of women and equality.
And I was here wishing these young girls – in all of Belarus – would realise their ability, their dreams, ignore what society was telling them, and chase them.
I guess I was taken aback at how the end of the celebrations looked and felt so much more different to how they started.
For me personally, it all started with this image of celebrating women, telling them how much they are loved and appreciated – as I said, like a second Mother’s Day but it ended with the realisation that women are still so strongly pushed into this stereotypical, outdated role of a woman in Belarus.
I guess I’m going to adopt this as a little project and make sure our girls in the institutions know what opportunities are out there and that they CAN chase and CAN achieve them. With this powerful group of strong independent ladies beside me I think we can do some good.