30 October 2007

last tour

I’m back in L’viv after a whirlwind 13 day goodbye session across the center and east of Ukraine. We went to Kyiv to start the final paperwork to get out of the country. As it stands, we have 20 days left in Ukraine. Then we went to see our host family one last time, and we had an amazing time there. Then Karen went home and I went east to my friend Travis house (read: cabin). After my time there, we all went up to Kharkiv (the 2nd biggest city in Ukraine) for our annual Halloween party. The pictures which follow this post are a smattering of images from the times I’m about to describe.

First off: Kyiv. Not much to say here. Just ran around the office and got paperwork signed. I was unimpressed with the diligence in the office, but I’ll expand upon that thought in 21 days. We stayed in an apartment on the cobblestone street which serves as the scene for the city’s largest craft bazaar (Andrew’s Descent.) We stayed for three nights in Kyiv for a total of $44.80 which is ridiculously cheap for Kyiv. We were just lucky to have friends and other volunteers to share the space, and price, with. The agency had double booked the residence (b/c nothing can really go as planned in Ukraine) so a second group of volunteers, who had rented the place, had to hoof it to another apartment. We met Olya, a girl from my English Club who now goes to Kyiv-Mohila University (pretty much the best Uni in Ukraine), for dinner at Puzata Khata. It’s always nice to see her. She’s so bright and cheery and happy.

Off to Pryluky to see the host family. It was a short trip because Larysa is now a LCF (Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator) for Peace Corps. She works in the Oblast capital (Chernihiv for all those at home keeping score). So, we arrived Saturday morning, helped her make lunch, spoke a lot of Ukrainian, and waited for our host dad and daughter to return home from buying a new computer. We had a wonderful lunch of chicken borshch accompanied by some warming horilka. That night, we had tea with the neighbors, Kris and Jen’s host family, and some family friends. The conversation quickly descended into Surzhik (a mix of Ukr and Russ) that we had a hard time following. The next day, we hung out with the family until the afternoon, when Larysa had to go back to work. Before she left, we decided to do something special….

For those of you who’ve been with this blog since the beginning, you may remember our first few weeks in Ukraine. During that time, our host family took us out to a park outside of Pryluky for a hike. After the hike, our guide took me off into the woods and told me to dig into the ground with a rusty pick. What I dug up was a bottle of homemade horilka. He had buried it because, “It is Ukrainian tradition to bury something special in a place that you want to come back to.” In Pryluky this last time, we told our host family that we wanted to bury our engagement rings in their yard. It was a sign that our time with them meant a lot to us and we looked forward to coming back one day. Our host dad found an old Tic-Tac box and we dropped our rings into it. He then wrapped the box in a plastic back and took us our to the front yard. He dug a hole and we dropped the rings in. Then we all took turns turning dirt onto the rings, burying a piece of ourselves in Pryluky—in the one place in Ukraine we truly hope to come back to.

Our host family means a lot to us and, the next day when we left at 4am with Valera (who is a marshrutka driver between Pryluky and Kyiv), it was a hard leaving. When Valera walked us to the metro, I was unable to say all the things I wanted to say to him—how much he meant to us, how he made us feel safe, how we’ll miss him—because I was spending all of energy trying not to cry. They were a part of our best experiences in Ukraine and we’ll always remember them and miss them.

After Pryluky, Karen went home to L’viv to teach and I, taking the last of my vacation days, went east to my friend Travis’s house. He lives in a small village in Donetskaya Oblast and is known to have one of the toughest sites in Ukraine. When he wants water to bathe or wash with, he has to pull it ten feet out of a well with a bucket and a hoe. When he’s gotta use the bathroom (winter or summer) he’s got to truck out to his outhouse. When he wants to heat up his house, he’s got to cut wood and stuff his stove (petchka) with wood and coal (he buys coal by the ton). When the fire’s burned down, he takes the remnant coal and wood and sifts it outside to get rid of the pig-iron (creating quite the ash storm). It’s tough living for two years, but for the three days I was out there, it felt like I was at my family’s cabin—except we have running water and an indoor toilet there. We had a good time hanging out—only getting freaked out by the locals one time when we met the man on the train who, unknowingly following Kurt Cobain’s words, was so high he scratched himself until he bled…the entire 30 minute train ride.

Onto Kharkiv for the annual Halloween party. [PC Ukraine hemorrhaged about this party…. More about that in 21 days.] It was a good time and people had a lot of fun. Group 29, especially those who organized the party + their friends, made sure everyone was safe. There’s not a lot about this party, I find, that I can write about without setting PC off in a fuss, so I’ll write about this in 21 days too. Highlight of the day, before the party, was a horse-driven cart carrying a two men dressed as skeletons, a stereo system, and a sign advertising a Halloween party that night in Kharkiv. When they saw us, they turned up the music (heavy metal) and headbanged down the boulevard. Seeing that all happen while being pulled down the street by a horse was just too funny/anachronistic to forget.

I took a 21 hour platskart (where the conductor didn’t want to let me on the train and a family was dead set on getting my bed) back to L’viv and now I’m back with my wife. I missed her and I’m happy to see her. Saying goodbye to our friends and family out east was hard, but as we get older we find that it comes with the territory. If you make friends, one day you’re going to have to say goodbye to them. Without their footprints all over your life, even the sets you never see again, make your time here on earth rich and happy.

I am blessed with good friends. I hope you are too.

Kharkiv Cathedral modelled off of Istanbul's Hagia Sofia

Figures at base of T Shevchenko statue in Kharkiv

Weird mural in Kharkiv Zoo

Travis pulling water out of his well

Fountain in Kharkiv

Only statue I know of that has T Shevchenko as a painter, in Pryluky

Our host family--Me, Valera, Larysa and Karen

Me burying rings in yard

Karen on Andrew's Descent

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