Eric Conway, D.M.A.:
Saturday, June 28, 2014 was the Morgan State University Choir's last day in Minsk, the capital city of the Republic of Belarus. The choir and I thoroughly enjoyed this country and its people. They generally were all very warm toward us. Occasionally we might get a Belarusian with stoic face or grumpy disposition, but that was never taken personally but considered their less than optimistic approach to life.
Today, our check-out at Hotel Minsk went quite smoothly. We will miss the buffet breakfasts that we enjoyed, where dessert offerings were served along with oatmeal. We will never forget the sausage, wrapped in bacon that kept you full all day. During this morning's breakfast, a journalist met us to connect and get more information about the choir. Many were trying to get last minute souvenirs as this might be our last opportunity. We had a two hour drive to Mogilev, the third largest city in Belarus who happened to have city festival today celebrating the anniversary of the founding of their city. To be honest, we were not looking forward to the day. We had two outdoor concerts (most choirs hate to sing outdoors) planned at 3PM and 9:30 PM. I was concerned that the day would slowly drag on ending in a long drive back to Minsk to arrive at the airport at 3AM for a 5AM flight to Montenegro. Well I couldn't be more wrong!
The drive out of the city was very comfortable. We had a large enough coach where everyone could have their own seat if they chose. We stopped for a rest stop, where we purchased a few snacks. I was told that one of typical meals in Belarus was the potato pancake. This gas station had these pancakes, which I tried which was very good. I am told that Belarus has the best potatoes in all the world. The potatoes products that I have tasted in Belarus have been very good. You may have noticed in this photos that the colors of Belarus are red and green. The gas station whose color was green happened to have the country's mascot in the front lawn, a bison (bull)s.
An hour or so later we arrived in Mogilev. Although we have never been to Mogilev before, there was an excitement in the city that seemed unusual. The city was overrun with people in the streets, all obviously present to celebrate the anniversary festival of the city. We immediately went to the city square stage and heard wonderful local and international music and dance. See photos of local musicians. We performed our set in the square to huge crowd in the square. After first presentation of the day in Mogilev, we all walked through the center of the city to a restaurant for our supper. Along the way it felt very much like our Baltimore Afram festival with an European bend, but much bigger. Local ethnic foods were displayed, arts and crafts sold, clowns in the crowds, persons on stilts, orchestras playing on the side - I can't say that I have seen a more festive community.
The meal that we had at the Mogilev restaurant was very tasty, but all Belarusian meals have been good. I asked to recommend another typical Belarusian dish, so I ordered Borsch soup, which must have been made from beets, but very good. We have noticed that although not near a sea port, Belarus served some extremely tasty salmon, as we have had excellent salmon at the hotel, and the Embassy. Many of us ordered more salmon, not to be disappointed. Some ordered pizza, which was served like an ice cream cone. For dessert several choir members ordered cheesecake with ice cream on the side with chocolate sauce.
We then went to the site of our second concert in Mogilev. A venue in front of the city's World War II Memorial off the river that dissected the city. Virtually every major city in Belarus has a WWII memorial as almost half the population lost their lives in this horrific war. When we arrived other musical acts were performing. We admired the beautiful views of Belarus from the war memorial. I knew the sound would be good as the speakers were held by cranes on both sides of the stage. Professional lights and effects were part of the show.
Our nine-thirty showtime quickly came and it was time for the choir to present our show. There must have been as many as ten-thousand persons in the relatively close space to hear all the musical acts. They were also in place to see the fireworks show that concluded the festival concert beyond the river. Although the choir sings many different types of music, this was not a place to sing anything that was slow or serious as the crowd just came to have a raucous good time. We chose music that encouraged people to clap their hands and participate. The crowd was thoroughly "into" our music despite the different language. To use an earlier analogy, we felt again like what rock stars must feel lie on a world tour! Afterwards many in attendance were clamoring to tell how much they enjoyed our show!
If you can imagine, Belarusians do not see very many African Americans. Perhaps in the big cosmopolitan city of Minsk, they may see a "brother" or two, however, in the smaller cities, this is a very rare occurrence. Throughout the tour, we did notice that many were staring at us. We did not ever feel threatened> We could tell that the stare was one of curiosity and novelty. If felt like everyone wanted to take a photo with a Black American. If I knew their Facebook names, I am sure that the Morgan State University Choir photos were overrunning Facebook. My Morgan State University Choir members were only too happy to oblige them with a photo or two! This is really what international tours are about - connecting with other cultures, and persons from other cultures, if for only a moment.
The Fireworks show was extraordinary! We enjoyed a spectacular ten minute fireworks display. This city obviously planned this festival to the "T". After the festival we quickly went to the bus for our drive back to the Minsk airport. We stopped to several grocery stores to buy some food for the ride back, but the stores were so full that we either could not get into the store or upon entering could not walk around the store due to being filled beyond capacity - a sight that I have never seen before.
We are on our way back for our 5:00 a.m. flight and on to Montenegro! Is is approximately 2:30. I originally didn't think that I would have time or energy to write this report, but the day was so full on so many levels that I felt compelled to finish the report.