Earlier this year, we spoke to Jared Goldman, who was planning a 300km running journey across Belarus in search of his family roots. Now, four months later, Jared has completed his personal and emotive quest, and taking home an experience that proved more than he could ever imagine.
“Busiel” I say, gesturing at the huge nest above our heads. “No home,” replies Jaŭhen, since the nest is empty and no bird is in sight. “Working,” I add. After those words, we trot off again in silence.
Not much more conversation is possible since Jaŭhen does not speak a lot of English and my (Bela-)Russian is even worse. But we do not need words to understand each other and there is no awkward silence whatsoever. From the first few metres that we run together, we have an understanding of the road, the circumstances and of each other that is deeper than words can ever express.
Once outside of Minsk, the real Belarus starts to unfold right in front of our eyes. We fall into a rhythm, our cadence matches, and it is like we had been running together before. The small two-laned country roads turn into village roads, which at times turn into dirt tracks.
Jaŭhen is my running partner. I had chatted with him on Instagram just a few weeks before. We met in person just minutes before we started running.
Little did I know that this would become one of the most important elements on my 300km run across Belarus to find my roots. I had planned this trip for seven months and trained more in that time than my entire 2018 running year.
Why did the ‘Bearded Runner’, as Jauchen is known on Instagram, come with me? I’m sure there are many reasons, but I suspect that I helped remind him just how lovely Belarus can be.
I would have never known about the kolodets or the small water wells that lined the village streets. We would open the doors to little houses and reel down the bucket to the water waiting to be filled. After fetching it back up, we were rewarded with ice cold water for drinking and for taking an ice bath to cool us down in the hot summer sun.
We ran 64km the day before the finish. That night we stayed with Mila, a character from the small village of Lenin. Her mother made draniki (potato pancakes) and it was harvest season, so the garden had a never-ending supply of cucumbers and tomatoes, and the fruit was literally falling from the trees. I got to experience the real Belarus hospitality.
We would coin the phrase: “This is Belarus, baby.”
But like many mornings, we had to say goodbye to all our new friends. The last marathon was on the plan, and the finish line was waiting in the village of my ancestors.
I had to enjoy every moment surrounded by new brother and other people I had inspired to run. It was exactly where I wanted to be, and I knew that soon it would be over. The one main thing I learned to the fullest was to be present and enjoy the moment.
As we got closer, we were joined my more runners and running groups. We stopped to take selfies at the village sign that indicated we were now in the city limits of the town of my forefathers.
The village I had been thinking of for the last seven months was now beneath my feet. I was excited but at the same time I was a little bit sad the we had reached the finish line so fast and we were still so fit.
Those last few hundred meters were a blur as I was lost in thought about where I had come from, where I currently was, and where I would be going. I saw the village waiting for us with women dressed in traditional costume, holding the red finish line. I turned to my new-found brother and grabbed his hand, because this journey was no longer about me, it was about everybody running to their roots.
I spent the next few days in the village of Kozan Harodok, searching for the answers to all the questions I had about my family.
Everyone likes to ask: did you find what you were looking for? But it was not always about finding the proof of my biological family. This would have been too easy, not leaving any mystery to keep searching.
It no longer mattered about finding proof of my family of the past because at the end of this run, I had found the family of my future.
Photo credit: Alexey Skrynnikov and Stanislav Korshunov