Last Tuesday morning, after Natasha and I had fed the chickens ~ actually, Natasha did the work and I trotted along behind, navigating piles of crusty snow and snapping photos ~ just 30 minutes before our planned departure for Minsk airport, Natasha announced that the front door wouldn’t open.
|The hen is also wondering: What's with the pile of feathers here on the ground? And two fewer chickens in the coop today? It's a mystery of country life.|
In a typical house, one would simply head to the back door, right? Thing is, Natasha’s house is not typical. There is no back door. If we were to exit, we would need to get through that front door. Or use a window.
Weeks earlier, I had arranged for a 24-hour layover in Minsk and invited myself to Natasha’s new place in the country. I’d wanted a taste of country life adventure. The nearest neighbors were miles away, so it was up to us to solve this.
|Natasha fires up the wood-burning stove each morning. So glad I could help her ~ behind the camera.|
The two of us could not budge the front door. Seems the door lever had detached from the latch so we would need to take things apart. Natasha found her late husband’s electrical screwdriver and a short-handled Phillips-head screw driver. We managed to get 3 screws removed from the lock plate, but there was that pesky 4th screw. In desperation, Natasha pressed her chef’s knife into the action. No luck.
|There she goes: Out zee window!|
On to Plan B, the bedroom window. Natasha stood on the bed in stocking feet and then sitting on the window ledge, had me hand boots to her before she hopped down into the snow. Then she circled around to the front door and tried opening it from outside. Still no luck.
Back inside, we both tried all the door-opening tools one more time. We soon realized that the window would be our only option. We had no time to waste, needing to head to the airport in 10 minutes. But first, we needed to get ourselves and my luggage out the window.
Natasha put a child’s sled under the window to make a step down. She went out again in her stocking feet and eased into her boots. Next to go out was my duffle bag. My upper body strength has its limits but, between the two of us, we managed to hoist that 45 pound bag up and out the window.
Next was getting Yours Truly outside. Being a plus-size person with joint issues and wearing a long, down-filled coat, I was anxious about the gymnastics of getting myself from bed to window ledge to sled to ground. We took it slow. We transferred my oversized purse, boots and carry-on bag. I would be the last out. At least that was the plan. I eased myself to sitting on the window ledge, stocking feet dangling outside. We were so focused on getting outside that I overlooked a critical part of my departure routine, which we discovered shortly.
I dub Natasha Pioneer Woman of Belarus because she knew how to jimmy-rig the window shut from the outside. She tied the twine around the handle inside, brought it outside and secured it with a nail wedged between the window frame and siding.
As Natasha wrangled the window shut, the wind was whipping around and I dug around for my earmuffs. They weren’t in the purse. They weren’t in the carry-on.
“I can go back in and check.” Natasha said. “It will be easy.”
“Oh, Would You?”
Now That is a Friend.
Natasha pulled herself back inside and eventually found those earmuffs under the living room table. Hoorah!
With the drama of getting ourselves out the window, I had forgotten to stop and look back before leaving. I like to say, “Remember Lot’s wife: Stop and look back.” It’s not the perfect metaphor, of course, but it is a part of my departure routine, one learned the hard way. So after everything’s packed up and at the door, I go back and have a quick look around for anything forgotten. Most often, I come up with a little something ~ the travel alarm, an umbrella, an electrical charger. Or earmuffs.
|The front door: It just Looks innocent.|
* * * * *
Heading to the airport, I assumed the adventures of Belarus were behind me. Imagine then my surprise after smoothly navigating airport check-in and security clearance to get flagged at passport control and then to be pulled into the questioning room for some one-on-one conversation.
“Do you speak Russian?”
“Yes, if you speak slowly and simply.”
They went with the English. (Why Not practice ones English?)
“So why Don’t you have your boarding pass for yesterday’s Moscow to Minsk flight?”
“Well, it’s in the trash at Natasha’s.”
“So where Were you in the 24 hours you were in Minsk?”
Silly me, I hadn’t managed to scribble down Natasha’s address out there in the sticks north of Minsk. Nor did I manage to document the restaurant where we had lunch. Nor the Soviet-style department store...
|With Svetlana and Natasha: We were so busy smiling and posing and wolfing down delicacies that I failed to document the name and location of this fine establishment. It might have come in handy the next day...|
While these uniformed young men turned to their computers, producing documents about my trespasses, I practiced deep breathing. I texted Natasha unobserved except, one might assume, by those ever-present video monitor bubble things.
“Will this plane wait for me?”
“We have contacted the airline.” (Translation: Yes.)
In the end, I signed several documents in 25 places promising that I would never, ever again fly from Russia directly to Belarus under penalty of a very big fine.
“And how much will that fine be? Enough to buy you a new car?” (Girlfriend, listen to me. Don’t. Just Don’t.)
“Oh, that’s how much a visa to Belarus would cost.” (Throw in expenses for a trip to the embassy in Moscow).
Except now visas to Belarus are no longer required for 30 days, or so.
Unless. . .
. . . unless you’re arriving from Russia. Then you do need a visa for Belarus. Or unless you’re arriving on an international airline, not a Russian airline. One could fly, say, to Riga, Lithuania or Warsaw, Poland so as to arrive in the international flights section of the airport and thus get that precious entry stamp in the passport. Arriving from Russia is seamless, for a citizen of Russia or Belarus, that is. For a foreigner such as myself, arriving seamlessly from Russia ~ the big no-no, we now know ~ means time in the questioning room and lots of documents to sign. And possibility of a very, very big fine.
Gotta say, kudos to the passport control officers at the Minsk airport. They were professional, respectful and helpful. One young man escorted me to my plane, pulling my carry-on, while continuing to lecture me, probably for my own good. Ahem.
Once on the plane, one more text to Natasha.
“I’m on the plane.”“Plane door wouldn’t open. Crawled in through the window.”