World Travelers

Josh and I love to travel.  Some of our most amazing experiences have come from the many places we’ve visited.  Here are some of our favorite memories…

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Ukrainian flooding

If my memory serves me correctly, the rain began on Monday. All week long it continued, sometimes heavily, until Friday evening sometime. Although I have not heard of any displaced people in our region, a Fox news article states that these rains have produced some of the worst floods in 100 years. The areas the article describes is actually not too far from here (both in Ukraine and the Romanian border). Please pray for these families. The following is the Fox News article printed yesterday:

KIEV, Ukraine — Severe storms and floods in the Carpathian Mountains killed 13 people in Ukraine and another five people in neighboring Romania, officials said Sunday. Two other people were missing in Ukraine.

Five days of heavy rain near the Prut and Dniestr rivers caused floods that damaged more than 21,000 houses, Ukraine’s Emergency Ministry said in a statement.

Ukrainian officials evacuated more than 8,000 people and reported that over 300 towns and villages were left without electricity. The government said damages are estimated at more than $300 million.

“Ukraine has not seen anything like this in 100 years,” First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchinov said in televised remarks.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko declared the region a national disaster area, leaving festivities marking the 1,020th anniversary of the country’s adoption of Christianity in Kiev, the capital, to fly to the heaviest-hit region of Ivano-Frankivsk in southwestern Ukraine.

The storms will continue for at least another 24 hours and water levels are expected to rise further, the meteorological service said.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who had already been touring the region, called for a parliament session to allocate disaster relief funds.

In northern Romania, five people died in flooding and heavy rain in areas bordering Ukraine, and power outages affected around 20,000 people, officials said.

the state of Ukraine’s medical field

Many people in the states have asked me about medical care in Ukraine. Not having experienced it first hand, I’ve only been able to say what others have experienced. But, based on what they’ve said, I really don’t want to have to go to the doctor here. To read a first hand experience (and see a couple of pictures) click Here.

In a blog she posted yesterday, Sarah (the same blog author as above) describes good care given at a private clinic. I’ve also talked with a missionary friend here in Mukachevo who says that adequate medical care can be found, you just have to ask around and get recommendations from those you trust.

On Sarah’s post she links a recent news article from the Kiev Post that talks about the state of Ukraine’s doctors. I think you will be shocked and amazed at how different Ukraine’s medical field is compared to America’s – especially their monthly wages. To read the article click HERE.

As i have been sick this week, please pray that God and Dayquil will heal me before I have to resort to a doctor!

A stranger’s hospitality

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.

language barriers

Josh wrote a little bit on his personal blog about some of his frustrations with the Ukrainian language, and some of our experience this week. Here’s an excerpt:

Wednesday evening our neighbor came up and knocked on our door. She is Russian and was trying to explain something to us (In Russian). All I could understand was “No gas, …tomorrow…9am…..11am….” Which is all I needed to know, but she was very frustrated I could tell because of our confused looks. They are doing construction on our building and needed to repair some of the pipes.

Yesterday, I had another fun experience. We visited a orphanage as a possibility for future ministry. We took our tutor, Snezhana, to a nearby town (1 1/2 hour – bus ride) where we met her friend and met with the assistant director of the orphanage. Snezhana translated for us. As we were leaving, I thought I would impress my tutor and our new friends by saying “it was nice to meet you, and thank you” in Ukrainian. The assistant director smiled and said something to Snezhana, to which they laughed. She said that we need to learn the different dialects of our region (Transcarpathia) because she isn’t Ukrainian. But Snezhana was pleased.

When we returned home from our outing, our landlord was coming down our stairs. We haven’t seen or heard from her since February when we paid for our first 3 months rent. We knew that she would be by soon for the next three but were unsure when. She is Hungarian, and of course speaks, you guessed it, Hungarian! She quickly had me go with her to the attic area. She showed me that our cistern (water storage device – we only have city water certain parts of the day and the cistern is what we use when the city water is shut off) was leaking and that the surrounding overflow was full of water. She used a lot of sign language to explain that we need to let our sinks run to drain all the water. After about an hour we had drained all the water and refilled the cistern. She told me to check on it to see what the problem was or is. This was a very fun experience trying to figure out what the heck she was saying and interpreting all the sign language.

Needless to say, I have a lot to learn here.

The Valley of Narcissi

Every year, for only about 3 weeks, wild Narcissi flowers bloom outside a small town in Western Ukraine. Thousands of people from Ukraine and surrounding countries make the journey to “The Valley of Narcissi” to take in this beautiful site. Some of the interesting things about this Valley and the flowers:

  • the valley is the biggest habitat of the narrow-leaved narcissus and is situated only at two hundred meters above the sea level, which makes it the lowest known place where such narcissi grow. Mostly, this species of narcissus — out of 30,000 known species — grows very high in the mountains
  • Narcissi gets its name from the Greek mythology of Narcissus (short version: the beautiful man who, when seeing his reflection in the water, fell in love with himself. He could not get himself to leave his reflection, so he stayed on the river’s edge until he died there. His body then transformed into the Narcissus).
  • In the medieval times, narcissi were used in making love potions; its fragrance was believed to inspire love of beauty and bring peace of heart.
  • It has been written about in poetry, and is today celebrated with its own festivals in many countries throughout the world.
  • They are in the same family as the daffodil

If you want to read the detailed history and facts about this valley and the flower, you can click HERE (which is where I got my information).

Josh and I were among hundreds of people that visited the Valley on Sunday. Friends invited us along, and since we really haven’t had the chance to venture out, we jumped on the chance. The hour drive was enjoyable, almost more than the actual valley – as we drove over lush green mountains, past shimmering lakes, and through quaint villages. We realized we were getting close to the valley when we hit a traffic jam (one day I will have to write a post only about the driving here!). After parking on a cow pasture (see picture below) and walking through a labrynth of cars and people, we made our way to the entrance and then on to another long walk to the fields of flowers. There’s only so much you can do in a valley of wild flowers, so after about an hour of walking around and taking lots of pretty pictures, we headed on out. On our drive home, we decided to stop for a relaxing picnic by a river. the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Friends Natasha and Ivan

Victory Day

Today is Ukraine’s “Victory Day.” In short, this day commemorates the Nazi surrender to Russian forces in 1945. It is now a celebration remembering those who fought in the Russian Army in WWII against the Nazis. Although i could not understand the speakers’ words, i still trekked down to the center of Mukachevo to observe this special day. Ukraine definitely does a good job at honoring it’s veterans – a huge celebration and free cars!

Later, on our way home from dinner, we came across a children’s gymnastic show set-up on the street. So, not having much else to do, we stayed and watched. These kids had incredible talent – and no fear considering how their apparatuses were rigged! I realized as we were walking away, that their coach (the man in red) was one of the WWII veterans honored that morning.

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