Europe | Belarus
May 26, 2009
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2008, Monday May 12: Polesia plains, Belarus

Golbitsa, in the Polesje country of Belarus.
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Their faces were friendly, their postures relaxed; I had been wandering their village for an hour, unchallenged but marked. Only now did they beckon my over with easy smiles. Who was I? And what was I doing with that camera as big as a hen?

In simple Russian I laboured to explain that I was a traveller from Britain, a visitor, who thought that their village was beautiful and I'd wanted to look round. The fat woman laughed. The idea that there was anything special about Golbitsa was a very fine joke.

She was right, I could have picked any of the hundreds of little wooden-house villages dotted across the Polesie plain. Each was near-identical, with sandy lanes between fretwork-eaved cottages, each on a plot of vegetables and chickens hemmed by picket fences garlanded with exuberant spring flowers. In Golbitsa, it was hot in the late afternoon sun, with men stripped to the waist and Russian pop blaring through open doors – but the same would have been true wherever I’d stopped. The same too would have been the smells: of sawdust, paraffin, wood smoke and pond-muck. Granted, the batty old lady taking her turkeys for a walk in carpet slippers might not have been precisely replicated, but near enough I didn’t doubt. But then, neither Golbitsa nor any of its hundred fellows had executive housing, Indian takeaways, traffic wardens or even signposts and street signs. Unique it wasn’t, but special it most certainly was.

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