Saturday, January 20, 2007

My trip, and why I love Ukrainians

I finally got back to Vladimir last night. I had been on the road for just less than a month... I was ready to come "home".
From the time of my last post, I also traveled to Lvov (Lviv) and back to Kiev (Kyiv). It was a really neat trip and I met a lot of very interesting people.
Being an American in the Ukraine is still a pretty cool experience. Most people have never seen an American, and so they are very excited to meet one (i.e. my mother got asked by a group of Ukrainian girls if they could have their picture taken with her).
In my last blog I stated that I would further discuss my overnight train trip from Moscow-Dnipropetrovsk... This story exemplifies the extreme of Ukrainian hospitality.
My overnight train trip from St Petersburg-Moscow was sleepless. The stupid drunk in the bunk next to mine decided he wished to sing through-out the night. (The only justice for his obnoxious behavior was his wining about his headache in the morning).
As I said, I spent all day in Moscow, killing time in the train station. The Ukrainian I met there was delighted to meet an American. She kept giving me things. She wanted to give me her entire lunch. Even when I said that I was full, she said I could take food with me. I am sure that one day she will turn out to be like my hozaika (host lady).
As I sat around all day in Moscow, I realized that I only had 100 roubles ($3.90) left. I reasoned that going to the ATM was silly, as I would soon be in the Ukraine, where I would then need Grivny and not Roubles. Well, I spent all but 48 roubles in the train station. I knew that I had to save 45 roubles for sheets for the Russian train.
Once I got on the train I found that I was in a coupe with 3 other Ukrainians. A (approx.) 40 y.o. mother and her 10 y.o. son and a 25 y.o. Ukrainian construction worker, who works in Moscow.
Well, a short while after we all became acquainted, the conductor came around the train collecting the 50 Roubles for sheets. I had thought that I needed 45 roubles. I was $ .08 short.
I, very sheepishly, asked the kind 25 year old if I could borrow 2 roubles.
He smiled and gave the conductor 50 roubles. I told him that I had 48, but I only needed 2 roubles. He said not to worry about it. He refused (really refused) to take the money I offered him.
I was, of course, very thankful, and so I gave him some souvenir things from DC... Which he took... Though only after I pleaded with him.
I was exhausted, and ready to go to bed (though it was only 4 pm), but my coupe-mates wanted to ask questions... Which they did until 11:30 pm. They were fascinated by all things American. They asked me about ever imaginable aspect of American life (i.e. US policy, schools, cars, cameras, planes, beliefs, culture, jobs, "Why are Americans so fat", and (as always), "So, do you think that American girls or Ukrainian girls are better looking?")
They also asked if I wanted to eat. I really wasn't hungry (as I had been nearly force fed by the Ukrainian in the train station), but they wanted to feast.
From their suitcases came more food than I can describe. There were buterbrodi, cheeses, salamis, hams, grapes, eggs, apples, tangerines, breads, crackers, tea, chocolate, cookies, etc.
It was really remarkable how much food these guys had brought with them. I had nothing to contribute, though they wanted to feed me. They kept asking if I didn't like X or Y, and if that is why I wasn't eating it. Guilt can make one eat more.
In the end, having been well fed, I went to bed. I got awoken an hour later by Russian immigration. My coupe-mates defended me from the questions of the immigration services.
After going back to bed, I was awoken an hour later by Ukrainian immigration services. The agent asked the purpose of my trip. When I said, "tourism", he seemed rather suprised, though very excited that an American was coming as a tourist to eastern Ukraine.
In the morning, when we were all preparing to deboard the train, the 25 y.o. construction worker (his name was Yuri), gave me a wad of roubles. I told him that, despite my lack of 2 roubles on the train, I was not poor. I just needed to change some money. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, and I then left the train.
Later that night, having arrived in Marganets, Ukraine, I began to undress. When I reached into my coat (which had hung next to Yuri's bunk), I discovered 430 roubles ($16... Or about a day's salary).
Yuri had stuck it into my pocket at some point.
I can only say that I have had many wonderful experiences with the Ukrainians. They are similair to Russians. But Ukrainians have maintained some of the Slavic hospitality and culture that has become somewhat lost in the westernizing, materialistic Russia of today.

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