A Business Trip to Belarus

In a different life, when I was still working as a Director of the Analytical Division for an environmental hazardous waste company, I spent many hours in the lab supervising chemists who performed analytical tests on water, soil, and air samples. Everything changed when I received a request for proposal from the Department of Defense (DOD) for the refurbishment of a military laboratory in Minsk, Belarus. Excited by the new challenge, I wrote a winning proposal, but I never expected to travel to Belarus as Project Manager of our new DOD contract.

I went to Belarus for the first time at the end of October 1994, with my lab manager and our computer specialist. The long and tiring, twenty-four hour flight to Minsk started from Cincinnati, OH, on Delta, to New York, where we met the other members of our delegation: the program manager and the quality assurance manager from the DOD and their interpreter. We spent three hours before boarding the big jet to Germany, and arrived in Munich the next morning around seven. We hardly had two hours to change terminal. Carrying and dragging a lot of luggage, a couple of suitcases, carryons, and big bags, we rushed from one terminal to another to catch the Lufthansa flight connection to Minsk that flew only three times a week. Missing our connection meant being stuck for two days in Munich or rerouted to Moscow.

In Minsk, we were greeted by army officers who helped us through passport control and other formalities. Outside the airport, a brisk cold seeped through my bones and freezing rain left us drenched until we reached the military cars waiting to take us to the big Hotel Belarus. Colonel Eugene who became our delegation escort–and guardian angel–informed us that the government stops the heating between May 1st and October 31st. I spent several days shivering outdoors and indoors. On my first night at the hotel, I literally froze in my drafty room and stuffed a rolled blanket along the windowsill. During the day, I continuously requested a hot cup of tea (shaye), but was often offered vodka instead.

Our first official meeting attended by officers, chemists and doctors, took place in a government building called the Hall of Officers. After a series of speeches, our Belarusian hosts invited us to celebrate the new contract with toasts of vodka that we were supposed to drink bottoms up while saying Na Dzhrovia.  No orange juice or ice was added to dilute the 40% alcoholic drink. My throat burned and my stomach caught fire. After several trips to Minsk, drinking vodka became part of my job description. I found it a practical way to stay warm. When I got sick, my Belarusian friends insisted on treating me with vodka, their universal remedy against cold, cough, stomach pain, and headaches!

Receiving the American analytical equipment at the Minsk airport with two colonels present to facilitate the customs’ complicated formalities, transporting it to the Ecomir lab in trucks that we had to rent, and moving it to the actual lab by lifting the humongous boxes through the windows because they wouldn’t fit through the facility’s doors was a monstrous performance I never thought we could accomplish.[I will be eternally grateful to the staff of ECC and Ecomir]

The Belarusians are very hospitable people. The colonels invited us often for dinner in their homes. After the inevitable toasts of vodka, we ate the delicious stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, black bread and sausage. The children impressed me with their impeccable manners and fluent English. They often acted as interpreters for their parents.

In Minsk, I used a car with an excellent heating system and a chauffeur who spoke English. My rental car became a haven during the freezing months of winter and the only place where I felt warm and comfortable. Out of curiosity I took the underground train once. It was old and not very clean, a far cry from the magnificent trains of Moscow.

Many of my personal adventures are related in my book, TO LOVE A HERO.

The first chapter of TO LOVE A HERO relates my first impressions: cold weather, gray skies and cigarette smell everywhere. The curious looks of the local people made me feel weird as if I was wearing the wrong clothes. I was one of the only women without a hat. I remedied the situation on my first visit to the bazaar where I bought myself the cutesy mink chapka. I still have it.

I even included my own fall on the broken escalator of the old airport on my very first trip when my pointy heel was caught between the irregular mechanical steps. I was rescued by my lab manager while my heroine fell in the arms of a hero to die for, the handsome Major General Sergei who made her pulse race and stole her heart.

TO LOVE A HERO, highlights the hospitality and warmth of the gorgeous and gallant Belarusian officers who sing and toast and make a woman feel like a goddess. I had a lot of fun writing this book and I hope you will discover a new country and interesting civilization while reading TO LOVE A HERO.

The Russian hero is a perfect example of an alpha hero: a patriotic officer, authoritative and chauvinistic but protective and gallant, honest and loyal.

HEAL MY HEART is another book set in Belarus, depicting the life of a middle-class family, a doctor and widower who lives with his small children and his strong-minded mother, a woman determined to find him a second wife.

HEAL MY HEART: Running away from Christmas celebrations and the demons of her past, Dr. Jillian has dedicated her life to saving third-world children. In a faraway country, a handsome doctor may teach her the true meaning of Christmas, with the help of a baby girl and four little boys. As Jillian and Fyodor work together for six months in his hospital, their fascination with one another surprises them both.

Can attraction and love overcome guilt, duty, and a clash of cultures?


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About Mona Risk

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Mona Risk, received an Outstanding Achiever Award from Affaire de Coeur Magazine. She's a two time winner of Best Contemporary Romance of the Year from Readers Favorite; a winner of Best Romance Novel of the Year from Preditors & Editors Readers Poll; and an EPIC Award finalist. Mona Risk's name has often been posted on the Amazon.com 100 Most Popular Authors in Romance list, and her books have garnered: Top Pick, Outstanding Read, Sweetheart of the Week, and Best Book of the Week from various reviewers, and received two mentions in Publisher's Weekly. Mona lives in South Florida and has traveled to more than eighty countries on business or vacation. She writes contemporary romances, medical romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal fantasy. Sprinkled with a good dose of humor, her stories are set in the fascinating places she visited or more simply at home. If you like to travel and love to read, come and enjoy her international romances. Meet the spirited heroines and special heroes who share irresistible chemistry in stories that simmer with emotion.  View website

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