On Friday, my beautiful wife Marina left home for the maternity ward here in Ostrovets, a small semi-rural town in northern Belarus. It was the second time she would be giving birth in 4-1/2 years, the official 40th week, or a little over nine months, since she halted use of her birth control pills in the dead of a Napoleonic Era-like winter. When she became pregnant, something to which we were only certain of just before Christmas 2012, I had been home with her only five months following a failed hunt for work in South America. I found a writing gig that appeared to be long-term, and was providing positive reinforcement in my daughter’s life, a life that required our daughter Albina to learn from the start how to communicate her thoughts and feelings in both Russian and English.
We hadn’t really known what the sex of the child-to-be was until sometime around May of this year, 2013, when the first of several gender-revealing ultrasounds showed that we were having a boy. For my wife, she already had plenty of signs foretelling this, including morning sickness more intense than what she had suffered when she was having our daughter. As she advanced in pregnancy, a clear linea nigra appeared on her belly, extending upward toward her chest bone, confirming yet again that we would soon have the perfect two-child family, with one girl and one boy.
Since I first met her in St. Petersburg, Russia, some seven years ago, I hadn’t known it at the time, but Marina was my saving grace. She trusted me that first summer of 2006 enough to stay with me in Azerbaijan, an oil-producing country then at the center of an international geopolitical fight to extract and transport mineral wealth from Central Asia. She agreed to travel with me first to the Republic of Georgia, where I shared with her the romance of ruined castles and ancient churches in the land that archeologists say was the birthplace of wine and song, and then six months later on what was then my most romantic dream, a mid-winter journey on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. At Lake Baikal, we shared a promised kiss among ice sculptures, and then parted ways.
She remained my girlfriend through some of the lowest times in my life, somehow finding confidence in me when I lacked it in myself, and when I eventually found work in the Philippines, she gave up an accounting job in Minsk to come stay with me again in a foreign land. This time, I wasn’t letting her part ways with me so easily. At the end of her three month Philippine visa, I took her to the New Territories of Hong Kong and married her in a civil ceremony in March 2008. When my work was extended in Manila, we arranged her return to that same sun-drenched and humidity-soaked land, during which time, in a pension situated next to my workplace in Makati City, we conceived our daughter, Albina. Marina’s return trip through Dubai and Moscow became Albina’s first international travel, even though she had yet to leave the womb.
When my work in the Philippines was done, I carried through with a plan to marry Marina a second time in a church ceremony at the historic 17th century church in Gudogai, not far from where her family lives here in Belarus. When word came through that several job prospects I had been hoping for were not going to happen, I stayed with her during the 2008 global economic crisis to help during her late pregnancy and during the first days in the life of our little one, who was born a year and a day after our Hong Kong marriage. As Albina learned to smile, to crawl (backwards at first), and got in her first teeth (discovered by her cousin Vladislav), I continued to look for work. Finally, after our daughter learned to walk in December 2009, I found an under-the-table writing job in Buenos Aires. As snows draped northern Europe at the start of 2010, I parted company from Marina, confident that I would eventually find a way of bringing her along to live with me in South America.
For two years, I floundered about on that continent. A devastating earthquake in Chile a month and a half after I arrived at Ezeiza Airport near the Argentine capital drew me to that country’s westward neighbor, where I found a city that Marina deserved, the beautiful town of Valparaiso. However, I never found the civil engineering job that would give me the residency and ability to invite her and our daughter to that country. I finally left, defeated, in May 2012, and after about three months on the road, and an attempt to sell a friend’s property in Hungary (an impossible task, it turns out, in the depressed land market of the time), I returned to Belarus a little more than a year ago.
Through it all, Marina never lost her love for me. When I came back in July 2012, she expected that some things would have changed in the time of my absence, but when we got back together again in Vilnius, we literally picked up where we had left off 2-1/2 years earlier. Our daughter Albina was older, and perhaps she didn’t fully remember who I was, but after reacquainting ourselves with each other as father and daughter, we were all a family again.
When I started on the road of life with Marina in June 2006, living perhaps on too high a perch, I fully expected to be the hero in our story. It’s been a humbling experience, though, to be with a true hero, the Belarusian woman I married. As she gets ready to go into labor just four blocks from our home, and as our baby girl sleeps in the next room, I can only express admiration for who my wife truly is.