Americans Michael, 71, and Debbie, 60, Campbell have been travelling the world since 2013. Since the couple left their home in Seattle, Washington, they have visited 52 countries. Last week Campbells came to Minsk for the first time. We joined them on a free excursion around the city to learn about their experience of Belarus and their incredible adventure.
Four years ago the couple had an ordinary life of an average American family: four kids, a pension, a house, a car and a boat. Then their daughter, who lives in Paris, suggested Michael and Debbie should start that endless journey. She told them about cheap rents from Airbnb.com dissolving their fears about high cost of the adventure.
Another factor that motivated Campbells was their desire to get rid of consumerism typical for the American society.
“In any other country everything would be covered with graffiti”
Michael says he first learned about Belarus from an article in The Economist.
“There was an article called “Lukashenko The Last Dictator in Europe”. That’s when I learned that such a country exists.”
Campbells decided to visit Belarus after they got acquainted with a Belarusian from Molodechno in Paris. “He was so sweet and friendly! When he told me where he was from I promised I would visit his hometown just because he was so cool!”
Michael and Debbie kept their promise and paid a visit to their Belarusian friend’s home.
“His relatives welcomed and treated us. They put Russian salad, draniki, pancakes, a pan of roasted homemade sausages, salo and eggs on the table. We also remember salted herring and tomatoes stuffed with garlic, mayonnaise and cheese”, the Americans recall tasting local food.
Michael is interested in how former Soviet countries developed after the USSR’s break-up. It helps him to understand the Soviet lifestyle better.
“We want to visit all ex-USSR countries. Belarus is number 7 in our list. Then we’ll go to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and we will have visited 10 out of 15. We are interested in two periods — post-war and post-Soviet”.
Debbie points out to the cleanness of Minsk streets. “We’ve been to so many countries, but this is the first city that is so clean! No rubbish, no graffiti. It’s so clean that when I see some small rubbish in the street I pick it up and throw it myself”.
She adds that she was impressedwith how much Belarusians observe rules. For example, they haven’t seen any jaywalking.
“Why do Belarusians say that everything is so bad here?”
Debbie and Michael say that Minsk reminds him of Moscow and Kiev — because of wide streets and Soviet-style architecture.
“And, maybe, Berlin. Because it’s so green”.
As the excursion is walking through the city, Michael points at a Range Rover parked in Kommunisticheskaya street.
“Could you explain one simple thing to me? Stores are full of food, there’re foreign cars riding the roads, it’s clean, people are dressed well. Why do Belarusians say that the country is so poor? We were told that people have no money but we’ve also seen so many queues in shops that we can’t understand why what people say and do differs”.
“Supposing we weren’t familiar with the stereotype of Belarus being a poor country, we would have though that you here have more money than the French. Minsk looks more prosperous than Paris”.
The group stops near a building at Kommunisticheskaya, 4, and the guide tells foreigners about JFK’s killer Lee Harvey Oswald who he lived in Minsk until June 1962. Campbells are surprised to hear this fact and take a picture of the house. But most of all they’re impressed with the stories about WWII.
“We didn’t know that Belarus was so greatly devastated after the war. I’m very sorry for all the countries that participated in this nightmare”, Michael says.
He asks hiw wife to take a picture of him in Victory Square near a memorial sign with the date 1945.
“This date for me has two meanings. I was born in 1945”.
“Why Belarus? What are you doing here?”
As they walk down the Independence Avenue, Debbie draws attention to the Stalinist architecture.
“These big buildings make one feel so small. People here are a little gloomy, but when you smile at them you see how their faces change. Wherever we went, people always helped us to understand your money or find an address”.
By talking to locals the Americans have learned that some people have money problems.
“When people learn that we’re from the USA, the first question they ask: Why? Why Belarus? What are you doing here? If Michael starts explaining our pholosophy they get lost even more”, Debbie notes.
He couple had a bit of trouble with the Belarusian visa. In London the consul told Campbells they would have to wait for a visa for a long time. So they turned to the embassy in the Netherlands.
“We were told that we need an official invitation and a hotel booking. But we use Airbnb. So I wrote to our host asking to send us an invitation and then we got the visa. Actually it wasn’t that easy as in other countries”, Michael recalls.
Before we say good-bye, Debbie shows us a tattoo on the wrist. She says it was Michael’s present for her 60th anniversary.
“Our home is where we are. We also carry along pillows from the house we used to live in. It creates the homely atmosphere”.
The two say they won’t stop travelling until they learn something new, until they have fun and enjoy, and until they are in love.
The original version of this article was published by TUT.BY.