After 4pm, when the sun finally stops trying to get higher in the sky and just gives up, the bustle of Beregszasz clears out. Last night I walked to the town center at 6:30pm. It had been dark for over two hours, and though the rain – a steady, almost downpour all day – had stopped, everything was shiny, wet, and drippy. It was almost spooky, walking down the brick sidewalks at that hour: more dogs than people (not many of either), fickle street lamps, a stiff wind blowing receipts and leaves and cigarette stubs across the square. Most shops were closed, lights dimmed and doors locked. The after-dark de-bustle-fication of Beregszasz is a bit mystifying to me, but I clearly remember, at the age of 14 or something, marveling at all these Indiana University students who were layered thick on Bloomington’s night-time sidewalks. I suppose it’s all a matter of what you’re used to.
The reason for my evening walk was a happy one. Several times I have run into another volunteer living in Beregszasz; she’s from Luxembourg and primarily working with homebound elderly folks. Our most recent conversation had revealed our mutual love of Irish music (both listening to and playing) as well as how lonely we’d been feeling, so decided to get together the next time I was in Beregszasz. I met Marielle in the square, and then we walked to her flat to make dinner together with her roommate, another volunteer from Germany.
It was such a delightful way to spend an evening. Just cooking (yummy squash soup), talking (mostly in English with Hungarian thrown in when we couldn’t think of the English words), and listening to music (Irish tunes, Hungarian folk music, Horse Feathers). The language barrier is still present, but the cultural barrier isn’t quite as big. Western Europe is really not all that different from the United States, at least comparatively. So I think we all felt like we could let down our hair a little bit. And give each other HUGS at the end of the night.
This movement from acquaintanceship to friendship is such a gift of Grace. It is exactly what I need right now.
Rain and November go together like snow and Grand Rapids’ Februaries, so I have been picking my way across Beregszasz very carefully. I didn’t realize what bad condition the paths and sidewalks were in until they became one great big puddle. But the constant rain has brought something encouraging to my attention.
Most coats, hats, scraves, and shoes in Ukraine are monotone. And black. As if “at every occasion [they’ll] be ready for a funeral.”
But when it rains … out come the Umbrellas. Pink ones. Red ones. Yellow and blue and purples one. Leopard print. Stripes. Polka dots. Bright flowers. Designs that look like old-fashioned kerchiefs stretched over an umbrella frame. I may stick out a little in my bright green coat. But at least I have a rainy-day consolation.
Speaking of funerals. I witnessed one here for the first time. I was walking back from class when I noticed a cluster of people wearing more dark colors than usual. The women had sheer black kerchiefs tied over their heads. A horse-drawn wagon, completely covered in flowers and wreaths, was crawling down the street. The two dark horses lifted their hooves almost with reluctance; I’d never seen animals moving that slowly. A few people from the crowd moved in behind the wagon, arms linked, heads bowed, following it at a snail’s pace as it turned down a side street.
(Sometimes, I think, death in the US can loose some its solemnity. Of course I believe in the resurrection, and of course the passage into eternal life is cause for celebration. But the fullness of the Kingdom has not yet come, and we have cause to lament the ugly brokenness that separates one person from another and from our Creator and the Creation.)