6.13.1997

Chernobyl Children

There is too much to write, and I am overwhelmed by information and impressions. To top it all, I went to Minsk on a Tuesday, which is highly irregular. Through most of this bumpy ride on country road, I sat and typed (in true yuppie fashion) on my laptop. At the end of it, my computer crashed, and I was unable to save what was almost one hour of typing. I wrote about the countryside, and it was spontaneous as I saw it. The rolling fields, the cow traffic, the quaint bus stops, the cops stopping us every half and hour for no good reason... I will have to re-try this some other day.

At the Naroch hotel, there are about a hundred kids on some sort of a summer camp. I have had diverse information about this, one from our interpreter Vladimyr. I was informed that the kids stay here all year around, and they are all children who were affected by the nuclear radiation - The Chernobyl Children. I play ping-pong downstairs, and since then the kids and I have formed a friendship. The kids range in ages from four to fifteen, and occasionally a few of them come and borrow cigarettes off me. I have also struck up a friendship with a couple of the teachers. Though conversation is cumbersome, we manage to communicate and they sort of shrieked when I asked about Chernobyl. "No, No" they said, or was it Nyet, Nyet. Anyhow, I gather that they will be leaving on June 4th and are definitely not staying all year. The children are from Gomil, which is south of Minsk and fairly close to the Ukraine border where Chenobyl is.

The first person in Minsk to be informed about Chernobyl was the director of the Nuclear Institute. He lived in a village about 10 km from Minsk (dare I call it a suburb). He informed the community about the incidents and told them to take all necessary precaution about radiation fall out. The man lost his job, and was expelled from the Party. It was only through some amazing luck that he did not go to jail.

Life goes on as usual at the base. Usual, that is, for us. For the rest, this has to be some sort of a rare experience. Life on an environmental construction site is that one does what one has to do to make it happen. In the US, it is easy with all the equipment, hardware, and tech support. Here it has been a challenge, not without the humorous parts. Today, we broke a landing jack on a piece of equipment weighing 35 tons. Luckily, our mechanics were able to open it up and figure out how to fix it, with novel techniques. Standing in the pouring rain, watching mechanics weld a piece of machinery together is passé for me, but not when there is a lot of grease on the unit and it is shooting flames. At 5:30 pm on a Friday, with a festival in town. The amazing part of it is that many of the trainees stayed back to watch our circus, while the tractor pulling the piece had to idle his engine because his battery was short circuited and there is no way to re-start it. Well, except one, if you can give him a push, and he did have a 35 ton trailer attached. As Allen said, "this is not really the way I wanted to learn how that jack works...” The show must go on.

There is a market in Minsk which sells bootleg CDs. Walking down the lanes of stalls, actually, people with CDS in their hands was a trip down IIT days. The music was 70s. Our driver plays ABBA on the car stereo on the way to and from work. I actually remembered all the lyrics.

Walking down the hotel lobby, I saw Igor and Alexander intensely watching a TV show. "What are you guys watching?"
I asked. Without batting an eyelid, without moving a muscle, they replied in unison "television."

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