Pondering These Things in My Heart
July 30, 2011
On Thursday I took my girlfriend to a Georgian restaurant in Kiev. I orded some dishes for us, one of which was tabaka, but I put the emphasis on the wrong syllable and ended up ordering a male body part instead. A shirtless Georgian man in cut-off shorts and a bow tie came to our table and said, “Did somebody order a…”. No, this is a joke. But I really did inadvertantly order a penis. The waitress kept correcting my pronunciation (it’s pronounce tabakA and I was saying tabAka), all the while my friend was quietly giggling as I proceeded to ask questions about the size of this entrée: how big is it? Is it big enough to satisfy two girls’ appetites? The waitress left and my friend, Anna, explained to me what I had just said. So when the waitress returned I apologized and said that I hope I hadn’t offended her. I love linguistically memorable moments like this.
The Georgian food was fabulous and the toilets were equally astounding. I couldn’t pass up and video oppurtunity. I even squeezed out two pees just to celebrate the occasion. Maybe you won’t be impressed by this toilet but you have to remember that I’ve been peeing in holes in the ground, where there’s urine all over the floor and it’s slippery and stinky, so this struck me as just the dandiest darn thing I had seen in a while.
After we ate dinner we went on a cruise on the Dniepr. It was beautiful. The sun was setting and I was just soaking in every minute. I love Ukraine. I love Kiev. Taking these things and pondering them in my heart.
On Friday I met up with a girl that I met at the wedding in Lviv, Khristina. She is really smart and cool and laid back. She kind of took me under her wing at the wedding and talked to me for almost the whole 8 hours, which I very much appreciated because otherwise I would have fallen asleep. She’s also the one who protected me from the old man who said he wanted to **** me.
We went to Puzata Khata, of course. I got more varenniki(dumplings) of course. In the café an American guy overheard me practicing English with Khristina and he and I struck up a conversation. I told him that I seriously considering moving toUkraineto teach English. He said finding work as an English teacher will be a breeze especially because I speak Russian and Ukrainian. He also told me about the whole visa process that I’d need to go to. I gave him my contact information and he’s supposed to contact me. This was awesome. I kind of took it as a (althought I don’t necessarily believe in them) sign, that I should totally go for my dream of moving toUkraine. From what I remember about Moscow, the expat community all kind of help each other out and give each other advice, so we’ll see what we can figure out. Just have to be bold and take a risk. Fortune favors the brave.
Khristina and I walked to the Mikhailovsky Sobor. This and Pecherska Lavra are probably my favorite places inKiev. She knew her way around really well and knew all sorts of secret places. When I had to pee she just went into an office and convinced the guard to let us use the toilets. And they were ACTUAL TOILETS! And not holes in the ground. There was even toilet paper in there. I felt like a queen. But the rotating plastic on the toilet in the Georgian restaurant still takes the cake.
Khristina is from Lviv and, although she is fluent in Russian, she only speaks Ukrainian. She said that people at her work speak to her in Russian and she just stubbornly answers in Ukrainian. She insists on Ukrainian because 1) out of patriotic principle and 2) because she says when she speaks Russian she speaks with a Ukrainian accent and people treat her like a country bumpkin.
So we were sitting in the park talking and YET AGAIN an old man came up to me and started hitting on me! WHAT THE HELL? I’ve only been hit on twice here in Ukraine and both times have been by men older than 65. This only worsened my old lady complex. What is it about me that attracts these old men? I’ll have to ask my husband.
After my walk with Khristina I went to my Katya’s (Quick orientation: I’m staying with my ex-boyfriends family inKiev. Ex lives in America right now, don’t worry. Papa is Valentin, Mama Lyudmila, Sister Katya, Sister’s husband Roma and their son, Bogdan) apartment for dinner. Katya now lives in the apartment where I stayed when I came to visit them 7 years ago. So it brought back memories of me laying in bed all day not being able to walk after my appendectomy.
Roma invited his sister and brother in law. Brother in law’s (Serhiy) native language is Ukrainian and he ONLY speaks Ukrainian. He’s quite the patriot. And he’s just awesome. He was born inKievbut grew up in the Lviv area. He was so excited when Roma told him that I was learning Ukrainian that he insisted that he and his wife and child come toKievto our dinner and speak Ukrainian the whole time. He brought me two awesome books, one of which is a beautiful coffee table book about Ukraine and the other one entitled ‘Secrets of the Ukrainian Language”. I was very touched.
You can hear both languages going on simultaneously in this video:
So in honor of Serhiy and my learning Ukrainian ex’s family all decided to speak Ukrainian. I was amazed that Valentin could speak really well. Everyone else spoke but sort of mockingly and only fragmented sentences. But everyone understood each other perfectly. It was a sight to behold. Serhiy spoke Ukrainian the WHOLE TIME. He was super helpful and taught me all sorts of new colorful phrases and expressions and corrected me. He left the room momentarily and I switched to Russian to explain something. When he came back in the room I continued to speak Russian and he sat next to me and just simultaneously translated everything into Ukrainian. It was funny.
Roma and his wife, Nadya have a son named Romchik who is about the same age as Bogdan. Serhiy spoke to Bogdan and Romchik in Ukrainian, everyone else spoke to them in Russian. And the kids understood everything. It blew my mind.
The highlight of the night was with the adorable little Bogdan. He’s a month shy of 3 years and he’s just a chatterbox. He took right to me. He loves to flirt and especially loves girls with long hair. So he sat next to me on the couch while we watched a video of their trip to Greece and explained everything. It was just adorable.
On Lyudmila and Valentin’s television they have some special function where you can listen to children’s songs in English and watch a little cartoon. His favorite song is Old McDonald. So last night at dinner I started singing the song to him. Up until this point he had not heard me speak English and didn’t seem to notice my accent in Russian. I sang the song, did all the animal noises and did hand motions. He was just enrapt, his eyes big with slight terror and amazement. After I finished the song he stared for a few seconds in disbelief and said in his little raspy voice OBALDYET’! which could translated here as HOLY CRAP! This was hilarious to hear from a little three year old. We all just roared with laughter.
It was the perfect ending to a dream of a trip. I’m now on the plane to Greece where I’ll vacation for 9 days and then fly home. I can’t believe how wonderful my time in Ukraine was. Although I don’t know why I’m so surprised. I know how wonderful these people are. I know that if you just get in amongthe people and receive their love with an open heart you can’t not have a wonderful time. I will never forget the kindness of everyone I’ve met here. Everyone just welcomed and loved me unabashedly.
I love the King James Bible verse about Mary at Jesus’ birth “And Mary took these things and pondered them in her heart.” It was something so grand and holy and fleeting. She couldn’t possible comprehend the significance of it all but cherished every moment and didn’t let anything slip away.
This trip has been something so sacred and holy for me. You can’t understand how much love I feel for this culture and the people I’ve met here. And in return I let my heart just soak in everything. I knew every moment was fleeting, but I tried to sieze it and grasp the joy of it.
So, I’m taking everything, every steamy marshrutka ride, every hole in the ground toilet, every golden dome, every question about American salaries, every astounded look that people gave me when they heard that an American loves Ukraine, every smile someone gave me when they heard my foreign accent in Ukrainian, every kind gesture, every time someone insisted on paying for me even though I know they don’t have much money, every varenik and slice of sausage that someone insisted that I eat, every cup of tea, every walk around the city, every metro escalator ride, every walk on along the cobblestone roads,