Hey all, I'm going to break my Africa trip story to talk about something completely different...
The most amazing story has been unfolding over the past 2 months.
I was contacted a while ago by a TV researcher in Finland who seemed to know a lot about my family, where we lived and our history. In an inbox I rarely use, completely out of the blue.
My Mum's a historian and we have an unusual surname so to be honest, anyone who can work Google could have found most of it out with a bit of delving. This guy, Timo, said he was a researcher for a Russian TV programme and our family over in Eastern Europe were looking for us.
My Grandma and Grandad (paternal) came across to the UK as displaced persons after World War 2 and settled in Northern England in a Ukrainian community (Grandad was Ukrainian, Grandma is from Belarus).
I asked my brother and Mum what they thought about this family history guy - Stuart was assuming it was a scam, Mum was wary too but we were all curious so I replied to him, giving nothing away. A few emails later, then a long pause, and he puts me in touch with a TV producer (Ksenia) for Russian show 'Zhdi Menya'. It's a strange combination of 'Unsolved Mysteries' and 'Who Do You Think You Are?' where family members can appeal for lost relatives to get in touch, or they're reunited all Maury-stylee. Read about the show in English here.
Ksenia reiterated the story Timo provided, stating that family have been looking for us for a long time. They wrote to my Grandma who ignored their letters, then they found me. Whoring yourself out all over the interwebs in the names of charity and music clearly have their benefits.
Eventually we were invited to Minsk to appear on the Belarus edition of the TV show - whose name translates to 'Wait For Me'. It's one of the highest-rated shows in Russia and is shown on their primary channels. We still thought it was a bit dodgy so instead of accepting a free holiday at only a fortnight's notice, a cameraman was located in London and my Mum and I were interviewed for it in early October. Not long after, the Belarus contingent must have had their filming too as I was sat at home one evening the week we moved house and my phone rang with an international number.
I knew immediately who it was - and answered. We (me and Valentina, my cousin's wife) were clearly ecstatic to hear each other, and Valerij (cousin) too...although there was a bit of an issue. They speak no English and I speak no Russian. They were saying all kinds of things down the phone and I could recognise odd things - my name, my Grandma's name, the Russian word for London (I took basic Ukrainian classes a few years ago), and I googled some phrases...i.e. the Russian for 'I don't understand' and such! Eventually we just hung up but I got their email address from the production team and we are now in email contact thanks to Google Translate.
Not long after, while I was in Africa in fact, the show 'Zhdi Menya' aired - you can see it here if you wish (we're on at about 15:00 in)...
Communication is infrequent as they don't have internet at home. I've been reading lots about Belarus and it's certainly interesting. Similar to the ideas I got of Ukraine when I was growing up, before it left the USSR.
We received some photographs from them this week.
Here is a photo of my Dad, his sister and his parents, that I have never, ever seen.
It's amazing to see my Dad as a child. He has the same eyes, he never changed. I just wish he were here to tell all this amazing history to, although it's good he's not here to get annoyed at Grandma (his Mum) for ignoring all the letters.
I send Grandma a card this week explaining this story, I hope she gets in touch. We haven't spoken in almost two years, and the new family keep asking about her!