I’m walking down Revolution Street. I’m not far from my destination - Minsk’s TNT Bar. Perhaps you think I’m off to see a rock concert? Or to pick up a big bearded beast of a biker? Nothing of the sort. I’m on my way to ‘Drink. Chat. Love.’ the weekly couchsurfing meet-up that happens every Wednesday. I try to make it every week. The congestion clogging my life right now means it’s sometimes tricky, but I do my best. Even a few hours is ample time to make some amazing connections. This is the kind of event that makes me realise my country exists not just in my eyes, but also in the eyes of Americans, Italians, Australians, French people etc. What has really struck me is that people perceive my country as a special place. This fills me with nothing but pride.
This may sound like a strange thing to say, but spending time in Minsk is not easy for tourists and expats. They find it difficult to penetrate the culture, a problem which is compounded by the language barrier. With the stress and the unpleasant culture shock, staying in Minsk can be tough. So what can we do about it? The ‘Drink. Love. Chat.’ meetings are undoubtedly part of the solution.
The name of the event embodies the way entertainment and communication are synonymous. Chatting is fun! The first time you go you need not fear – Malvina the organizer will make you feel like the most welcome guest in the bar. If you want to speak Russian, or get a feel for the Russian spirit, you better talk to Vitalik, a bloke blessed with the loudest laugh and the deepest thoughts. Vitalik loves these meetings because you can be a social creature, moving easily between groups until you find the perfect people. You don’t have to struggle for topics or companions in an environment like this. You can be a maverick, revelling in conversations here, there and everywhere.
The meetings were initiated by Leandra Bias, a Swiss student who came to study Russian in the winter. She had no friends so she started up the meetings to try and meet locals and find some comrades. The first meeting flopped with only four brave souls making an appearance. But at the next meeting there were more and thereafter it really took off. It was Leandra’s magnetic personality that brought people flocking. She has a special way of making everyone there feel like one of her friends. In this simple way, one Swiss girl has taught Belarusians not to fear foreign cultures. I will openly confess that I only began attending the ‘Drink. Chat. Love.’ meetings after an inspiring conversation with Leandra which made me realise we are on the same wavelength.
The meetings can attract up to sixty people, although forty is the average. A few weeks ago me and my friend, Dojo the designer made a special logo for the meetings which captures the easy-going atmosphere that prevails from 7pm – 11pm. The meetings are held in a different place every week which helps to keep the experience ever fresh.
One of the problems we have encountered is booking tables. You would assume that bar owners would bite our hands off to have forty people brought to their bar on a week night. Forty thirsty people. But many of them refused to help. We want to show them these meetings can benefit the bar as well as us, and anyway, meetings like this don’t block up tables – people are on their feet, darting around between different conversations, sharing drinks, chats and love. A melting pot of different languages, cultures, perspectives and people, these Wednesday nights are singlehandedly pulling Minsk’s social scene into modernity.
What about the future? We hope that one day this joyous ambiance can be crystallised into a permanent premises - a bar called ‘Drink. Chat. Love.’ That way we could guarantee the continuation and consolidation of this social revolution.