Travel season is upon us at last & I am packed & ready to go. The span between Easter & the end of the school year is marked by consecutive long weekends thanks to holidays celebrating pretty much anything & everything. In Peace Corps volunteer code that means “It’s train time”. Last weekend’s adventure took me to Morozivka where I was force fed enough carbs to fuel me all the way through this weekend’s running event. I’ve spent the month fighting my way through 6 mile runs in anticipation & then was asked by my friends to be on a relay team which means that my 10K dropped to 5 just like that & some sort of costume/uniforms are involved. Friendship is a beautiful thing. A big group of us are heading out tonight for the festivities which do include running, but I think the main draw may be the wine festival & hot springs that the town is known for. Win-win. The train is a 13 hour-er, but we have Monday & Tuesday off of school for…actually I honestly have no idea why. But I know we’re off, so off I go.
I have about 20 minutes before I head out, so I’ll honor my weekly commitment & touch on the past week of fun. The journalism club is up & running thanks to our new laptop, printer, recorder & camera. Last Friday’s meeting involved interviewing each other & giving our first article assignments. Of course tea & cookies were involved again.
Then it was time to celebrate the season with a trip back to my host family. I opted against the overnight train so my Saturday & Monday were filled with various forms of transport adding up to 11 hours both ways. While I bet there’s video footage evidence somewhere in Cary, Illinois of how much twelve year old me would have whined about that kind of a trip, maybe Ukraine has changed me after all because the all-day journey didn’t even seem that bad. Ebooks are truly amazing technology & I was more than content to take in the beautiful spring scenery through the windows as well as my fellow passengers including the Easter bunny…in a cell phone box. I got in on Saturday around 10pm & was met by my host mom at the train station. It’s always a pleasure to visit with them & it felt like it had been awhile since I’d seen them last so there was a lot to catch up on. We chatted for a bit over tea (& cookies of course) & then were sent to bed early so we’d be ready for our 2:30wake up call. Yes, 2:30am. Tradition has it that the celebration starts in the middle of the night with families dressing up, putting on headscarves, & packing baskets full of food to be blessed by the priest. The timing was never fully explained to me, but I was very grateful to be included & privy to the beautiful sight of what appeared to be the entire town huddled with their famililes in clusters that circled the perimeter of the church. The baskets featured sausage, bread, horseradish, hard boiled eggs, bananas (mostly for my benefit), & the traditional bread called Paska, that looks like a giant cupcake but is actually dry bread. In the pitch black all you could see were the lines of Easter baskets lit up by the sole candles illuminating the Paska bread. I wish I could have taken pictures, but it would have required the flash setting which seemed wrong given the night’s sacred atmosphere. Suffice it to say, it was lovely & I have a feeling I’ll be thinking of the scene every Easter from here on out. We waited a few hours for the priest to whip us with holy water (decidedly not a gentle process) & then trekked back home at 5am to feast on the basket’s contents & immediately went back to bed until 10am.
The rest of the day was slightly reminiscent of a progressive dinner as we traipsed between five different relative’s houses, but the fare was pretty much the same at each stop…lots & lots of meat & Paska bread. Part of the Lenten season involves abstaining from meat, so the Easter celebration involves eating lots & lots of it. This doesn’t sound ideal, but the abundance of creative & gristly meat dishes (i.e. fried pork with mayonnaise, pineapple, & cheese) drew attention away from the usual variety of oily vegetarian options, so I was able to skate by mostly on raw tomatoes & cucumbers plus lots of bread & chocolate. I forgot how good chocolate is during Lent. Now I remember. I’m an idiot & asked about the baby pig that I saw last time I was there & was met with awkward silence followed by someone pointing at the plate on the table that held Maska 😦 His brother Vaska however is doing just fine.
The spree of visiting lasted most of the day & then in the evening I was able to meet up with my friends from training (Thomas & Julia) & make the rounds together to visit all of the other host families. It was very home-esque & a wonderful way to celebrate my last Easter sans egg hunt. Yes, I fully intend to take part in the Cook family egg hunt next year at 24. The following morning I was sent off with the customary bag of carbs that I gave to a homeless man at the train station, a big hug, & a reminder of how lucky I am to have such a nice Ukrainian family.
OK, times up. Miss you much & see you next week!