Monday began a new chapter in my life here in Ukraine: traveling alone. Josh and I have split up our language lessons 2 days a week due to the fact that we learn at different paces. So, Mondays I venture out solo for a few hours. This first day Josh was sweet enough to walk me to the bus station (about a 20 minute walk). I wasn’t nervous at all, but Josh still is quite protective of me being alone in this still-fairly new environment.
As I was sitting in my seat, waiting for the bus to leave, a small lady in front of me, maybe in her 60s, turns to ask me a question. Not understanding her I said (In ukrainian), “I speak English.” She kind of giggled, then said a slew of sentences. (by the way, this happens so often and It always amuses me – I will tell someone that I don’t speak their language, and then they immediately proceed to talk to me in that language for several minutes – all I can do is stand and smile, or mimic their facial expressions). She then stands up and comes and sits in the empty seat next to me. For the entire 40 minute bus ride, we try to engage in conversation. I struggle to tell her where I am from, why I am here and for how long. Maria tells me about her nephew who is a Medical Professor in New York, shows me where her son is buried, and explains that she is going to visit her sister in Uzhgorod. I’m not sure what was wrong with her sister, but whenever she spoke of Elena, her eyes teared up and she would just shake her head in sorrow. From what I gathered, her sister is diabetic and is having problems with her feet. Also, they are both pensioners, and cannot afford much. Although I was only able to understand bits and pieces of her story, i could feel her heartache and her love.
She gives me her address in Mukachevo and motions for me to give her mine. I don’t usually just give strangers my address, but 1.) I’m a missionary who desires to reach out and meet new people and 2.) I felt safe with her. After we exchange addresses, she tells me to come over anytime.
When we get off the bus, she takes my arm and tells me she wants to buy me coffee. Having arrived to town early, i say okay. We stand and drink our coffee in silence – I feel awkward as she just stares at me and smiles. Afterwards, we walk to the mashrootka taxi realizing that we are going to the same area. During the entire mashrootka ride she talks about me to the women facing us. Even though i did not understand one word, I knew she was talking about me because Maria kept gesturing towards me and the ladies kept glancing over at me. I just smiled (and felt like a complete freak show on display).
Finally at the center of town, I plan to say my thank-yous and goodbye…but no, she is not done with me yet. She pulls me along, through the bazaar, into the market, down an alleyway, into a courtyard, and through the front door of her sister’s house! Oh my goodness, what have I gotten into? I am now late for my lesson, I don’t know these ladies, i don’t want to be rude, but i don’t want to end up like poor Gretel caged up in some old ladies kitchen.
The time with them turned out to be wonderful. We all three chatted as much as we could despite our language barrier. Most of the time they just laughed and smiled and patted my hand. Offering me food, i accepted, remembering that you never say no to a Ukrainian’s offer of food – it’s a major offense. No problem, I can eat a little bread and cucumber. Instead she sits in front of me a HUGE bowl of green borscht, complete with the finest chicken parts, skin and all. Oh my goodness, I can’t eat all this!
“Eat. Eat” they say. So, I eat it.
I finally had to be firm (in a polite way) and say I had my lesson (which started 30 minutes ago). They walked me to the door, telling me to come to both there houses anytime. One of them says something about God, and I, having learned the word for “heart” over the weekend, turn and say that God is in my heart, too. They just laugh. I walk out, wondering why they were laughing at that. Then, I realize why…I just told them that “God is in my puppy!”
Oh well, I’ll try again on Friday when I go for more Ukrainian Hospitality.