Christ is risen, yes indeed He is risen 🙂 A week ago we celebrated the only Ukrainian holiday that I had really heard anything about, Easter, & that was the common greeting for the day (much easier to pronounce in English, btw). Pre-departure I knew alarmingly little about this country, but after a trip to the Ukrainian Village in Chicago with my mom I was looking forward to witnessing the making of писанки (pysanky), the colorful eggs decorated with some sort of wax technique, firsthand. It’s even the picture on the cover of the Lonely Planet guidebook for Ukraine. While I sadly did not see that tradition up close & personal this year, I did see quite a few others. Rumor has it that people go to church at midnight & stay until 4 am for the service, but I hear things kind of sporadically and fragmented around here so when I asked my counterpart if I could go to church with her & her son she said we’d leave at 6 am. From what I understand (after talking to my host family & other volunteers) you can go to church all night but you don’t have to. Less optional is carting a basket full of Easter goodies over to church to have it blessed by the priest. So I woke up early & tried to assemble my basket (which has sat conveniently on my kitchen table this whole time holding my produce). I thought we were only supposed to bring Easter related treats so my basket was modestly packed with the dyed eggs & special festive…what else…bread that my counterpart had given me. That was quickly deemed not OK by my neighbors as everyone else looked ready for a full day of picnic-ing with baskets stuffed to the brim with sausages, mayonnaisey salads, full roasted chickens, and more so I scrambled back upstairs and grabbed whatever I could find, namely bananas, & called it a day. Luckily my host-babusia from Morozivka had embroidered me an Easter cloth of some sort to cover the basket & protect me from hecklers whose life goal seems to be convincing me to ingest meat.
I also had to borrow a scarf from my neighbor as women have to have their heads covered at church & the end result was a little more babusia-like than I’d hoped as undereye bags were present courtesy of the early wake up call. All in all I think I prefer my days of puffy, frilly Easter dresses that were seldom weather appropriate for spring in Chicago but always pretty. We got to the church & I followed the group into the building decorated with ancient religious pictures of saints, Mary, Jesus, ect. and old books and relics in glass cases. We walked from display to display making the sign of the cross & kissing the relics (I opted to show respect while avoiding the flu by touching the relic with my hand instead of my mouth). Then we were supposed to light candles & say a prayer for people we have lost. I lit mine for America. Next we joined the masses circling the church outside, set down our baskets, and waited. Unsure exactly what we were waiting for, I stood quietly for a half an hour, nodding & smiling at the students & shopkeepers I recognized until the priest came around and flung water at us from a bucket. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but it certainly was not the speed &/or cold temperature of the blessing flying through the air & hitting me on the face…twice. I stifled a laugh & then followed suit as we packed up our now-blessed food & headed home. That was pretty much it as far as my Ukrainian holiday was concerned. I spent the rest of the day celebrating American-style by listening to the church service from Willow Creek while taking one of my now signature long walks by the river. While nontraditional, it meant as much to me as the blessing at church as the holiday’s message of hope was illustrated beautifully not just through my ipod headphones but also through witnessing firsthand all of the intricate detail in the trees and flowers beginning to bloom. That was of course followed by a long and wonderful Skyping with the whole family & another difficult day to get through crossed off the list. I promised my host family that I’d visit them next year so hopefully I’ll have a better account of the traditional festivities then.
Speaking of my host family, Yanna just came to visit me in Yampil 🙂 She came in Thursday afternoon & stayed until yesterday. It started off a bit worryingly as she got off at the wrong bus stop and in only Ukrainian I had to figure out where she was & how I could get there without either of us knowing the name of the stop she was at. Luckily I discovered that the cars waiting at the bus station are actually taxis & not just commuters despite their completely unmarked vehicles & we found her at a stop on the other side of town. While definitely another why-don’t-I-speak-this-language moment at the time, it turned out to be kind of reassuring in a backwards way as a reminder that even native Ukrainians have trouble navigating on less than clear transport. Granted she’s 16 & I’m almost 23, but still. I was wondering why she’d packed a full duffel bag as well as a backpack & purse for such a short stay but then quickly discovered that she’d carted around a full carrying case stuffed with jars of produce, and yet another bag of potatoes for me. Too cute. We bummed around, cooked, & toured little Yampil including a trip to the bazaar, well, & river. On Friday she came to one of my classes with me & then we went with Garrick, the other volunteer, to a disco
at night. Definitely not as crowded or fun as the one in Morozivka but still a good time. She asked if she could do my hair before we went out & motioned braiding so I said yes (because really what else could you say to that) but was certainly fearing cornrows & bracing myself for how I could explain it if I saw my students out. Luckily however, it turned out to be a headbandish hairdo so my worry was in vain per usual.
That brings me to today where the cloudy weather provided a solid excuse to catch up on the local newspaper from home while eating Peeps due to kindness from Mrs. Smith & her wonderful care package (thanks again!) & finally make a facebook album with pictures from my time in town which you should be able to see here. This week will likely be focused on planning our AIDS seminar so hopefully I’ll have a story or two for the next post. Have a nice week 🙂