I had a blog a few years ago when I studied in Budapest, and I recently discovered the post from my original Ukrainian trip. It seemed appropriate to share.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Ukraine – of mud, frozen toes, land as flat a pancakes, and adorable gypsy children
So, in order of the title:
Mud – I have never been in a country with more mud. The roads were muddy, the paths were muddy, the fields were muddy, the courtyards were muddy, the parking “lots” were muddy, the mud was muddy…
Frozen toes – I never did find out the mean temperature while were there, and I actually think it wasn’t that low. Zero degress celsius maybe. But I was so cold! So was everyone else. I think part of it was that we were outside so much, and most of the buildings we went into were not properly heated. So we never really got warmed up. On the last day there, Deb had on 12 layers. I am not exaggerating at all.
Land as flat as a pancake – the part of the Ukraine we visitied used to be part of Hungary, and Hungary has always been the Carpathian Basin, i.e. flatter than West Kansas. So this land was incredibly flat, field upon farm field, lines of trees, and way out to the southern and western horizon, blue mountains that faded into the sky. I wonder what it would be like to live in a land so flat in the shadow of the mountains. I think I would feel…just short of arriving somewhere. But watched-over, too.
We visited church-run organizations primarily. Robbie and David (the same drivers and leaders on the Transylvania trip) are part of a Reformed church group called Ars Longa, which works with Hungarians in other countries. So we visited a school to help gypsy children catch up with and then stay afloat in state schools. We visited both a state orphange and a church-run orphanage, and, my goodness, what a contrast! The church orphanage was warm, friendly, the food was fabulous (they grow all their own on an ajoining farm). Oh, a story about the state orphange. As soon as I got out of the van, this little boy came up to me, shook my hand, gave me a hug, and kissed me on the cheek. Such a warm welcome!
On Sunday, we visited two churches for their services – the first was a Hungarian Reformed church in Dobrony, where we had been staying, and the second was the gypsy church on the outskirts of town. Such a contrast. The town church was very formal. All the elderly women sat on one side, all the elderly men on the other, the middle-aged women sat in one balcony, the men in another, and so on down the line. We were up in the balcony with all the children, and from where we were, the rows upon rows on elderly women dressed in black coats and black kerchifs tied around their heads were clearly visible. It was a rather imposing sight, actually.
The gypsy church was quite informal, and very colorful. There were a lot less people there (the church building itself was maybe 1 tenth the size). The singing sounded less like a dirge and more like a campfire song. The same pastor preaches at both congregations, but his message is different for each one. After he finished preaching, he had Michael Page greet everyone, and then we had an almost informal conversation with everyone while still in the format of the service.
Karly, one of the girls with us, is an ethnic Korean, and the pastor, who knows a Korean congregation, said, “Oh, your people love to sing; sing a song for us!” (Multiculturalism is such a foreign concept here, by the way. I doubt they would have understood the whole adoption and integration thing very well without a great deal of explanation.) Well, Karly did not want to sing at all, but the congregation kept asking for someone to sing, and our group somehow goaded me into singing.
So I stood up rather awkwardly in the middle of the little gypsy church and sang my gospel-style “Amazing Grace.” I don’t know how people reacted as I was singing because I had my eyes closed (as usual), but there was complete silence. And afterwards they clapped for me and were smiling at me. I felt honored that such a musical community and culture was blessed by my music. On the way out of church, the lead singer of the church – Rita was her name, I believe – came up to me and said some things in Hungarian, half of which I understood, and then took me by the arm and proudly escorted me as we made our way out of the church. We got a picture together, we fellow singers.
And that is a very short synopsis of my Ukranian trip. It was wonderful to see all the work that was happening, to learn about how these sorts of projects function, to learn about some service opportunities in the future. Yes, it was cold and muddy, and flushing toilets with accompanying toilet paper were hard to find, but I would go again in the time it takes for gypsy children to gather around a camera. Not long at all.