“I love New York, as it’s my native city. I received my education there, working as a programmer and earning good money. However, at a certain point, I understood that this city and its lifestyle weren’t right for me. New York and its outskirts lack much of a natural environment, where you can go to relax from the urban bustle. If you want a green corner, you need to purchase it. Land is privately owned, as are forests. Many city children never go into a forest at all, only seeing berries and mushrooms in the shops. I didn’t want to have to buy my own slice of nature, so began to look for a place to live abroad,” John says.
Having travelled a great deal, he eventually settled upon the Soviet Union, moving to Leningrad for four months before the USSR collapsed. John continued to live in St. Petersburg for 13 years, and then lived in Protvino for a further four: the city of physicists, in Moscow Region.
Living in Russia, he had many times visited Belarus and had grown to feel an affinity for our country. In 2008, John moved to Minsk permanently, explaining, “It’s a safe, clean city with so many trees and large parks. I haven’t run a car since living in the USA, preferring my bicycle. In this respect, Minsk is very convenient, having wide pavements, which allow you to cycle away from the traffic. It’s a great advantage for me. Moreover, Minsk’s bicycle infrastructure is still developing.”
John has founded a company involved in software development and, in his spare time, cycles round Belarus, enjoying its landscapes and sights. "It’s wonderful that Belarusian nature isn’t privately owned, remaining open to the public. There are a great many beautiful places and wild corners, with no influence of civilization. I love to gather berries and, although I’m not fond of picking mushrooms, I know them well. I’m also impressed by Belarusian marshes. I once became bogged down but escaped safely. It’s lovely that Belarus has preserved its marshes, as most are gone in the West. They help preserve the ecological balance, which is very important,” he stresses.
John makes most of his trips (his ‘pokatushki’) round Belarus by bicycle; he believes that this brings far more vivid impressions than in travelling by train or bus. “Nothing similar is possible in America,” he comments. “Local land is private and travellers need to go by road. In Belarus, I can cycle through forest roads and villages and fields. It’s great.”
John cycles all year round, as he believes it to be the most effective way of getting about and keeping fit, while preserving the ‘health’ of the environment.
The only time when he had difficulties was during Hurricane Xavier, when he had to carry his bicycle through the snow. Of course, it helps to have special tyres to cope with the wet.
The American admits that, in winter, in 20 degrees of frost, he receives some odd looks from Minskers. “Most feel that a bicycle is a summer mode of transport. Actually, I`m much warmer on a bicycle in winter than those standing waiting for a bus!” he smiles.
Mr. Rosman is not merely an ardent bicycle lover: he has been helping develop Belarus’ cycle movement, heading the Ecological Transport Fund and being a member of the Minsk Bicycle Society public association. John aims to develop better bicycle infrastructure and supervises the Bicycle Kitchen: a Garage 38 project. This free public workshop for bicycle repair, in Minsk, allows any cyclist experiencing difficulties to drop in for repairs and advice.
The former New Yorker is now seriously learning Belarusian. “I’m not progressing fast but I’m persistent,” he explains. John attends language lessons once a week, and also listens to Belarusian radio, as well as reading books by Belarusian classical writers.
While putting down roots in Belarus, John hasn’t lost ties with his three sisters in the USA or with his brother, who is in France. They chat by email, and sometimes visit each other. John saw his sisters in America four years ago while his younger sister and brother have come to Belarus. He hasn’t started a family of his own. “I’d always planned to do so, but haven’t gotten around to it yet,” he answers shortly.
The American plans to apply for Belarusian citizenship, explaining, “I’m truly happy here. I only regret that I failed to come to Belarus earlier. I love Belarusians and their tolerance: it’s such a very wise attitude. Belarus doesn’t make war with anyone — as other countries do. There is no race or religious intolerance. There are no ethnic ghettos, or areas off-limits to others. It’s a calm, promising and peaceful country.”
By Oksana Mytko