Blueberries in Belarus | My Family Travels

Picking blueberries in the forest

When I look back, my fondest memory is small, round, and blue. One might expect that a different object would surface in my memory, but my mind always circles back to the blueberry, or chernika, in Russian. And not just a single berry, but bucket after bucket laden with this juicy fruit just screaming to be eaten.

Every couple of years, my family would fly thousands of miles to return back home, to Belarus. The land of nesting dolls, loving relatives, and mile after mile of enchanting forest in which all sorts of wonders lie. My grandma lives in a small town bordering the forest, and a thirty-minute stroll leads you to the gates of nature. As a young girl, I would dread these trips to the woods, an awful place filled with man-eating mosquitoes and forbidding trees stretching out as far as eye can see. A promised “one-hour trip” by my mother would stretch out for eternity as we’d labor without end to fill a cornucopia with fruit. Much like a never-ending car ride, my brother and I would squeal “Are we done yet?!” every five minutes dreaming to see the bucket magically fill.

Last year, the journey was completely different. The same thirty-minute trek flew by in a blur as my family laughed and talked the morning away. The boring countryside was now home to beautiful flowers of every color, and the trees were teeming with caroling birds. The woods were a place of wonder and magic, bushes overflowing with berries and mushrooms hiding behind the trees. The tedious task transformed into a captivating challenge of who could fill their jar the fastest, my family storming in like a swarm of bees every time a jackpot of berries was spotted in the distance. The eternal sentence to the woods transformed into a concert rivaling the Disney Princesses’, all the wild animals scurrying out to hear my world renown vocals screeching along to my ever-present iPod. Sometimes I’d hear a sound in the distance, and my father would lumber out of the woods like a bear, his face stained purple from berry juice. And nothing could amount to the overjoyed look on my grandmother’s face as we brought home the afternoon’s harvest.

As a child, I grew up immersed in the Russian culture; we spoke only our native tongue at home, ate beet soup and minced meat dumplings, and of course watched plenty of Russian cartoons. At first, I was embarrassed of my thick accent and the inability to communicate easily with my peers. But now that I’ve grown older, every single memory and tradition bestowed upon me by my family is a cherished part of my life. I treasure my bilingualism and the special connection it forms between me and my family. I count down the days until our next expedition to Belarus, where I can once again embark on joyous adventures through the woods and visit my loving relatives. In the process of growing up, I’ve discovered the true value in my heritage and the special memories I’ve formed surrounded by family and friends. Life flashes by so fast, it’s important to slow down once in a while and enjoy the precious moments. As I’ve gotten older, I discovered that the bucket is always better half full. By looking at the world with a positive lens, the possibilities for success and happiness are endless.

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