Monday, July 29, 2013

Babies Don't Like the Beatles and the Friend from Moscow Re-Encountered

Drizzly and misty like a superior Seattle Sunday -- that was what Uzhhorod had to offer me this 2:42 PM as I set out for the local hospital where I could, once again, love-on dem wee wonders at the end where they live behind closed doors so you can't really hear when they cry.

Hiking boots tied tight, I tromped through mud and through spooshly puddles. The two mile was pleasant and I shamelessly sang out loud - something you just don't do here 'cept if you're crazy or if you have a jolly heart.

I entered the hospital and got the similar greeting I always get by the staff who hasn't met me yet. "Girl! Where are you going?" I gestured down the halls and pantomimed soothing a baby. After I got her glaring approval, I suited up in the Santa-hat smiley scrubs and teal slippers from the box in the closet.

Flip-flip-flop I went down the hallway to the babies. I quietly opened the door.
Babies sleeping.
I checked the other room and, low-and-behold, there were two wee ones I had never met before... sleeping.

I rocked myself in the broken rocking chair in the hallways, waiting for them to wake. After 10 minutes of prayer and thoughts, I decided I would stroll the wait away.

Raincoat and boots resestablished on my body, I headed back into the rain. In the city, I went to the second-hand shop on the second-floor of a pink building on the corner. There, I saw her.

I saw her!
The lady I met in Moscow!
The lady that slept above me the entire train ride from Moscow to Uzhhorod.

There she was.

Somehow, out of the 118,000 people in Uzhhorod, both of us were in the same room at the same time...

I tapped her on the shoulder.

"Mar... Margaret?!"

And she took me out for coffee (and I got tea). I'm not sure if you've ever had tea with someone when you both can't speak each other's language. It's interesting. See, the point in getting coffee with someone is to talk... so we sat. Sort of talked. Laughed

She wanted me to wait because her son was coming.

We waited.

He came with Google Translate and we conversed a little bit more.

Then they asked if I could wait for his girlfriend to come.... I had to decline. Those babies! It was already 4:48 PM.

Back at the hospital, I got there in time for one of the new-babies to wake up. I quickly scooped her up into my arms. She was oh-so-tiny! She was even younger than dear Artiem (who has since left the hospital).

I called her Peach because she needed some sort of name and she had a furry-fuzzy head.

Peach wanted to be rocked. She wanted to be held. And if it wasn't just right she would arch her miniature back and let out a curdling-hollah! Now, I couldn't have a baby yellin' like that so that left me quite the task to keep her content. I was pretty sure she wanted milk, but I had nothing to offer her. I was pretty sure she wanted to suck on something, but I only had my fingers and they weren't clean enough.

I started to dance with her.
I circled and wove around the floor.

A big window kept the room well lit.

Just the three of us in this room. Two babies and I.

The room echoed as I set the soundtrack to go with the pulsing rhythm I soothed her with. I patted, I rocked, I swung, I hugged, I did whatever I could to keep her calm and comfortable. She let me know with a piercing scream and crinkled up eyes when she didn't approve.

I kept track of what music she approved of.

Approves: Stevie Wonder, Justice ("D.A.N.C.E."), German Disney songs, Sam Cooke (soul), the "Christmas Song"

Indifferent: Scott-Gaelic puirt à beul and waulking.

Dislikes: the Beatles

Can't put that child down.

Until it was time for me to go.

She screamed.

On the walk home, the man (the one who followed me for a mile to the store, waited for me outside of it, and annoyingly followed me for yet another mile till I ran away and walked with this person I had just met) saw me again and yelled. I ignored him.

Rest In Peace, Jonathan

Jonathan passed away yesterday.


That's what we (my two Dutch roommates and I) decided to name him.

Jonathan arrived into the world on the 15th of July and I can tell you the gist of his life story right here.

He was born and taken immediate from the maternity wards to the corner of the hospital that hang out in - the one for all of the abandoned babies.

One his second or third day on this earth, I got to meet him. He was a handsome little guy but oh, oh so tiny. He was the smallest baby I had ever seen - definitely a jaundiced preemie.

Not only was he born a preemie but a Roma (Gypsy) baby as well. Roma babies are some of the most beautiful children -- and also, sadly, terribly discriminated and prejudiced against in Ukraine.

I don't know the circumstances surrounding his birth. I don't know what was going on with the mom. There are a bunch of cliche guesses. I can only begin to imagine the emotions she went through or how she is now.

He was never given a name that I could learn of. Maybe she gave him a name, but it was never made known to the world.

I remember the day I met him. I scooped up his little body and cuddled him, telling him how much he was loved. He just slept. He was precious. He was perfect.

One of the nurses came in and I got a gentle scolding and was told to put him back.

Chances are, he wasn't really ever held. I've seen the nurses. They don't cuddle the babies. They don't hold them. To feed them, they prop up bottles with blankets.

As for germs -- if only I was the germiest thing he would encounter. The hospitals here are far from sanitary and, to be honest, I'd rather put a baby in the grass than in one of those hospitals. I know a baby with boils had been in the same bed he was in now.

So I didn't feel bad at all for getting in trouble for holding Jonathan. Babies are meant to be cuddled.

At the age of 13 days old, Jonathan died.
Sweet little one.
Rest in peace.

If you're not sure what's up - here's the brief.

I'm currently spending time in Uzhgorod, Ukraine lovin' on babies that have been abandoned at the hospital. Simple as that. The not so simple part? Not only do the babies miss out on snuggles and kisses, the hospital doesn't have enough money for diapers and medicene for them. If we (the volunteers) don't bring diapers, the babies don't have diapers. Simple as that.

The place I'm living at, the Nehemiah Center, is setting up an apartment to be equipped to host three different moms and their babies at once. We're trying to keep the babies from ending up abandoned at the hospital in the first place.

This place is going to be a refuge for moms that want to abandon their babies. This will be a place for them to go and bond with their baby when the "real world" is too much for them - when circumstances don't line up right in a way that they feel that they can care for a baby.

There is a need for baby-furniture (cribs, changing tables, a baby bath) which means a financial need. I'm going to check things out tomorrow. If you feel like donating, here's the button. All the money goes straight to this (even though it goes through my bank account).

Thank you.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

This Blog Is 3%

Here's the crazy thing.

Despite how much I write.
Despite how much I cover.

You should know this:
This blog barely represents 3% of my life, yo.

There are oh so many moments that can't be documented and slip away. There are hundreds of things I want to record and... and... gah. I'm not even going anywhere with this.

Since I last got to write (a while ago) I've been to two new countries, have two new house-mates, went to a wedding and two birthday celebrations, didn't buy pig snouts but ate pig fat, met a west-coaster who felt like home, found a place for September...

Oh so much.
And... I'm tired. It's late. I want to write so much but I need to go to bed.
Frustration occurs when habits meet changing circumstances.

I need to let this one go.

Sunt Fericita

Between onion munches in Romania...

I saw this site about two times too many.

First time was rad! A road boasted a sign saying there was a dapper bike trail. No. No. It was not a bike trail. It was a giant-boulder-laden death mountain. But, I clamoured up it. My land it wast toasty! Luckily, like with all good up-climbs I was rewarded with this view ("Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.") and met a few farmer. This is what they see as they work in their fields and garden all day.

Sadly, somewhere on this hill I lost my yellow handmade-in-Brooklyn hat which helps my dysfunctional eyes see. So, the next morning, I did the entire trek backwards.

I biked down the hill only wiping out once (I've done mountain biking - this made those dirt trails seem like the smoothest, flattest pavement).

An hour later I found myself in a roadside shop where a man was insisting that I drink with him (mineral water, please!) and I decided to engage in that conversation (German really does come in handy).

It's then that I realized I lost my phone. I was told there was no, no hope of finding it or getting it back "in a place like Romania." Ha!

I biked back to where I took the fall (blood is mighty fine stuff) and there it was - my lovely two-sim-card-laden phone.

I walked to the side of the road ("path"), peed freely, and two minutes later a tractor came and drove right over where my phone had been.


Those hills.... so... alive.

That's my first legit-sentence I learned in Romania, this weekend. "I am happy because I have two ears." Not saying I wouldn't be fine with three, but I'm very content with two of them.

Romanian is a whole lot easier to nab up than Russian and Ukrainian. My peculiar Italian (half-learned through Swiss-German before I could even hear a distinction between Swiss-German and Italian) I picked up in 2007-08 in Switzerland actually came in handy as I made attempts at communicating with folks I met on the street who called out after I passed through their small village for the fourth time in a row.

This weekend I was totally blessed/blissed out as I got to bike around the Romanian country side. I have come to the conclusion that old Romanian farmers are the cutest folks - they where wonderful hats.

I found myself sort of stunned into awe as I clambered up hills amid the Carpathians and munched on a raw onion that had only been in the ground 20 seconds earlier. I felt overwhelmed with delight in conversations in which, really, all I would do with the old lady is take turns laughing as we looked into each others eyes - and eventually laughing together.

I was grateful to find hummus.
I was grateful when Narcisa showed me her life and welcomed me into her home.
Grateful to be able to cross the border by foot without a hitch.

Even grateful for four-hour long bus rides in which the bus is so packed that folks are standing where you didn't know there was standing room.

Really, no complaints. This world is swell.

Thanks, Narcisa, for capturing this moment.

I'm hoping to write more about my time here but I don't know if I'll get to...

So this will have to do for now.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hold On Heart

I wrote this a couple months ago. It's not valid to a full extent any more.

I will not let my heart go.
I will not risk it.
Should I?
Can I?

Lately, one of those moments has come along called “I'm fond of a lad and he reciprocates and we are both aware of that and have discussed it.” Crazy world.

But what good is that?
Is anything to be done?
Nothing. I don't think I can do anything with it.

I have much more practice with keeping my guard up than letting them down and I still have the fences up with my two feet on the ground, firmly routed behind it.

Sometimes I consider what could be. Sometimes I think I'd like a companion.
Sometimes I want someone that I can shamelessly dote upon. Sometimes I want a someone that I can do nothing and everything with.

And that's when I realize that I especially, more than ever, need to go to Ukraine and have some babies to love. Because if I spend all of my time loving babies, maybe then, in loving them, I won't consider the possibility of seeking out the love of another.

See, while I am very content with being by myself (I'm good at it), I do have a strong desire to find another human being who wants to be more than friends. You know romance? (Did I just say that... out loud?) That stuff I see going on in the lives of my other friends? Yeah, I do want it sometimes. I don't seek it out, but I can still want it. Sometimes I want someone to share these moments with. Sometimes I want someone to ride on trains with and then, even better, wander the villages with in the morning.

But, then I remember what happened last time I even considered letting my heart go.
Then I remember how many hours and hours and days have been wasted because of it. I've wasted so much energy on it and still don't feel like I'm even close to where I was before the occurence.

That was me doing things in my time, not His.

I don't want to do that again.
That was crap.
That was awful.
I would be much better suited to be alone in Tobbit
and loving babies in Ukraine.
Safe with my feet on the ground and the fence built up high around me.

I almost let that guard down.
I took the steps that would've led to that.
But they're up and as strong as ever.

I'm sorry lad. I'm fond of you, ever so much. I know we could have incredible adventures and I know that wouldn't just be my will but a result of the collaboration of two beans who prefer a life ignoring the limits that were suggested to us at a young age. I know there would be tents in the forest and music beyond midnight and a lack of gluten and sugar and an abundance of mushrooms.

I'm not closing any doors. I'm not making any ultimatums.
I'm leaving it open.. sort of. But in that time, you'll easily find another and that's just probably the way it's meant to be. I'm ok with being alone – I've got 22 years of experience of it under my belt.

Update: I put this on publish and set the date ahead of time and now, here it is in public. I was thinking of retracting it but, I think I'll leave it up.

I currently in a much healthier state of mind. Not saying I wasn't healthy then. But I'm steady. I'm glad I didn't plunge or take the dive. So grateful. I let things alone to their own fizzle-nesses and didn't dwell on it much. Wait, Margaret, wait.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Positive Thinking vs. the Brambles

"You're so positive," my roommate says as I hauled out a box of my belongings out the door.
"I've got to be. The 'not-positive' side of me is not someone I like," I replied.

What was up?

When you live by the grace of a hotel in a room down the hallway (the one with the kitchen, living room, bathroom, and a few bedrooms), you have to be ready to be kicked out (nicer way to put it - moved) at any moment. Someone had rented out Room 17 (our room) and the hotel needed the cash so out we moved so whoever rented it could move in.

That's how things can work, here. People move around - and you get around one day's notice.

At first, I was a bit frustrated. Before, when Carrie was here, we weren't moved around. She's got this strong don't-mess-with-me personality and knows how to keep things aligned. But, when it's just me and a few other girls living for free, we don't get a say in the matter. I don't have any feelings like, "They ought not move us," at all. I'm just grateful to have a home! However, it's still not the most-lovely-thing to move all of your stuff from Room 17 to Room 7.

That's when I had to do what I do.
I chose to think positive.

I learned this a while back and it's taken years of perfection.

When things aren't so swell, I make a conscious, deliberate decisions to think positive in the situation. I choose to be ok with it.

I say it out loud with conviction.

"Moving is fun. I'm excited to be moving to another room for just 7 days."

Reality is that, when I said that, I wasn't thrilled - I was actually more-or-less annoyed. But, that did me no good. Getting frustrated or unchill was only going to harm me, bring me down, and up the chances I would negatively affect someone else.

By saying it out loud and believing I already felt that way, my body/brain/self started to believe it. By the time I had the first box out and loading it up with the clothes I've accumulated (thank you Racers!), I felt pretty chipper.

Folks, you know this already - getting frustrated and angry generally only hurts ourselves (although there's a chance you can drag someone else down with you). Now, in that, I'm not including the big things and I believe there is definitely a time when getting angry is totally merited, expected, acceptable, and even "good." However, there are a lotta lil' midges out there daily that can easily get you down.

Things aren't always going to be seamless.

And we get to choose how we're going to let that affect us.

One little hiccup used to send me reeling. Something off and I would have a hard time as my head prickled and those broken records started to spin. My room was my refuge, a controlled environment.

I'm proud to say that I've moved well beyond that, in general (still have slip-ups). If you want to travel, you've got to. Well, you ought to. Hold everything loosely. Have goals. Aim for them. But, when things are out of your hands, just keep walking and things will right themselves.

Signing off - the Girl In Room 7

I've been practicing winking... not very good at it yet.

I'm glad I didn't post that yet because, well, the story isn't over yet.

See, it's easy to be cheerful for a day - but what happens when we start to reach our limits.

Yesterday I moved my belongings to Room 7. Today, while waiting for lunch, Nazaar came up to me and told me I'd have to move yet again.

Whaaaaat? That's... that's rediculous. That's... why?

It frustrated the bejiebers out of me.

When it showed on my face and I tried to politely articulate that I wish he had had me go straight to Room 11 yesterday (since it was ready) or at least prepared me so I wouldn't unpack.

"It's funny," was his reply.

That was really, really not what I needed to hear.

This time, getting "positive" took a whole lot longer. It took a lot more effort.
I probably scowled for 30 minutes first as I tried to give myself an attitude adjustment that didn't come with as much ease. I prayed. I prayed again.

I started to think about the things that weren't going "my way" and realizing that I needed to learn to rely on God to help me brush them off and not complain. The "things" have been stacking up over the past few days. I need to let go of them and give them to God. I need to release them. I'm also quite certain I'm PMSing because when everything bothers me, it generally means it's around that time of the month.
I packed up again.

And things were a'ight and righted.

And now I'm one of the Girls in Room 11 & 12.
Tomorrow I go to Slovakia.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hard to Update

Still hard to update with no computer.

Сало - Pig Back Fat

Pig fat.
Wait.. what?

Welcome to Košice, Slovakia.

In Ukraine, Russia, Slovakia, and pretty much all over this area, they consider salo (cало) to be like liquid gold - the most delicious of spreads. They love it slathered on there bread and cooked with vegetables.

I'd heard about salo well before I went to Ukraine. I was curious and was hoping, hoping it would taste like eating butter that's totally bacon. That would be bliss.

Russia came and passed -- no Salo.
I saw salo in Ukraine but never bought it- I couldn't get myself to buy a chunk of lard.

But then, in Slovakia, one of my dear Couchsurfing hosts said he had some, 'cept he called it something that wasn't salo, it was local Slavik dialect.

And, oh man, this salo was legit. I want to type that in capital letters - LEGIT!

This was as legit-of-salo as you can get. This was a happy, healthy pig which means happy, "healthy" salo. I've been told that the salo in the grocery stores isn't worth even being touched.

See, his family buys a cow from their farmer-friend every year. Then, the family uses every part of the pig up. "Very cheap," he explained to me. The salo is the fat from the back of a pig. They sell slabs of it at the local market.

As I put it on my bread, he further explained that this was something he always, always ate with his grandparents, growing up. Salo to the Slovakians is like peanut butter and American to the Americans.

I got a pickle in one hand and my bread with salo and salt in the other, just as I was instructed to do.

I took a bite...


It didn't taste like bacon butter. Sigh. Super-sigh.
It tasted ok -- nothing too remarkable, though. It wasn't enough for me to need to dig in with a spoon. It was fat -- sort of tasteless fat. Slight taste, but nothing like bacon.

Ok, I was stuck on the bacon-idea. I had my hopes up high.

So salo. Would I eat it again? If it was served, sure.
Will I seek it out? Don't feel a need to.
Am I grateful I got to try it?

Sheep-cheese with sausage, though... that I would eat again (even if my body does fully reject it the next day).

Saturday, July 6, 2013

For the Beauty of the Earth :: A Busking Moment

I was busking away on a vibrantly, refreshing sunny day in L'viv when I started to run out of songs to play. My case was only partially full of crinkled hryvnias (say greeve-nah) each worth around twelve American cents.

I mentally flicked through my iPod, trying to come up with a song, when I thought of The Living Room Sessions by Chris Rice. I've listened to this album many a night since 2006 - well over 1,000 times. On this album, Chris Rice plays out some of my favourite hymns on the piano - no words. It almost never fails to put me to sleep.

I started on, "For the beauty of the earth..." on the violin that I've been given for my time in Ukraine. I felt a breeze. I breathed. I felt calm.

For the beauty of the earth,
for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our grateful hymn of praise.
For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light, Lord of all…
For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled, Lord of all…
For each perfect gift of thine
to our race so freely given,
graces human and divine,
flowers of earth and buds of heaven, Lord of all…
For thy Church which evermore
lifteth holy hands above,
offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love, Lord of all…

As I was playing, a group of a-few-year-older-than-my-Mom aged women came and gathered around and started to sing in perfect English. We played together.

It was a Sunday morning.

I felt peaceful. I felt joyful.

The three or four women were from the Pacific Northwest, like me! They were from Bellingham (a few hour drive from my hometown) and Vancouver (across the water from the island I occupied for a bit in British Columbia, Bowen Island).

Here were dear, sweet West-coasters with me in L'viv! I hadn't seen anyone from my corner of the globe in a while - and oh how I missed them. Afterwards, we talked for a bit and they prayed for me.

So grateful.

Friday, July 5, 2013

L'viv For the Weekend :: Day 2 & 3

A week after the happening, this will be a brief account. Perhaps it's better this way.

It took a bit to rouse myself on Saturday morning, but I did it.
I looked around...

Hmm... this doesn't look like Uzhgorod.

The kosmonaut on the wall clued me in tha this was L'viv. I was excited.

I cracked open my guidebook to find a place for breakfast and ended up here. It was a coffee shop tucked into a gallery in some sort of old-something... in other words, it was rad - lofty high ceilings and all. I ordered some eggs and "pearl tea" in honour of the upcoming birth of Pearl Anne Elizabeth (she ended up entering the world and exiting the womb on the 8th!).

From there, I quickly found the city square where I would be meeting up Valiya. Valiya grew up in the same town as Dasha, a friend from Uzhgorod. We easily found each other and started to wander around this beautiful town. Highlights including climbing to the highest point in town, where the castle used to be, and the Apothacary Museum in honour of the bajillion Аптека's around this and most European countries. At one point we found ourselves underneath the city in a dark, damp, cold cavey-tunnel. I liked that.

In general, we leisurely strolled.
L'viv, you've got my heart.

I've seen Europe, yo. Not all of it- but I saw a bit when I was 16-19 years old and living in Switzerland (not a solid three years). I wandered around Vienna and became comfortable in cities like Bern and Luzern. I started to understand the layout of Florence.

L'viv was... dare I say, "precious?" Seriously, L'viv was up there in European cities. I was grateful to be able to spend a few days exploring the nooks and crannies of the cities and I just kept getting surprise after surprise.

And, here's the thing travelers who want to see Europe but don't have many dollars - L'viv is cheap. Super cheap. My hostel was around $11 or $12 a night (too last minute for Couchsurfing). No meal was ever, ever over $5 and I ate quite well. You could easily survive here on $23 a day and be living comfortably (these are my standards of comfort...) and even have a beer or two.

L'viv is beautiful. I know I overuse that word but I mean it in sincerity. L'viv has charm. L'viv hasn't been taken over by tourists. That's something I read and heard over and over again and then experienced myself.

L'viv is still L'viv. There's a lot of European towns (Warsaw and Kiev, for example) that, any local will tell you, doesn't really represent the country or culture at all. Sure, they have the big buildings, but it's been tourist-ized and filled with expats and is jumps away from what real, for example, Ukrainian life is like. Ukrainians are proud of L'viv and for good reason too. It was a clean city that was easy to navigate and really satisfying.

I have yet to hear someone talk down L'viv. I have nothing negative to say.

The evening was ended in two blissful ways.

One was in the this winding tunnel basement cave area below a coffee shop at a Couchsurfer meetup. We managed to fill up a few tables with a combination of travelers, locals, expats, and students - English, Turkish, Ukrainian, Russian, and probably a few other languages were heard.

My favourite connection was with a lad named Peter. Peter of New York. When Peter walked in, he had the familiar haecceity of a programmer - something that years of socializing in Seattle have grown me to become accustomed too. Indeed, he was a programmer to the core. It was comforting me to talk to someone that shared a lot of the mannerisms I'm used to from home. I've seen Americans here (the Racers, for example) as they come through the Nehemiah Center (where I live), but they're all, eh, different - not what I'm used to. Although he was from the East coast, he programmed and that was enough for me.

Later in the evening folks went up for a smoke and I followed (not to smoke). Upon hearing music I didn't hesitate to follow it and found a wooden platform filled with folks salsa dancing. Although I hadn't done salsa since 2007 with Jorge, I hopped up, set my purse underneath a stranger's table (trusting, eh?) and worked to find a dance partner.

I tried to explain, "nuvo" to my partners (I think they thought I was Czech) and started to get whirled about. Sweating was bliss and I was grateful for the experience - although I wasn't always thrilled with my partners. See, though I don't salsa dance, I do dance and I know what a good lead is verse a poor one who is showing off for the new person.

I got sweaty enough and then headed downstairs again to the group. I settled down. Wiped off the sweat... and then went and danced again. Back at in the cave, I was crafting up a plan to go to Poland the next morning and got Peter on board. We both left a bit early (I got caught up in dancing, again) in preparation to catch the 6 AM bus to the border where we could walk across.

That night, I slept like.. crap. Lies! I didn't sleep like crap because I'm sure crap sleeps quite well. I slept like someone who isn't sleeping. What' I'm trying to say is that I didn't really sleep much at all that night. In the middle of the night, I heard dogs barking and the screech of tires and then oh so much yelling. For about 10-15 minutes, the yelling continued and all of the neighbourhood poked their heads out of their windows and stepped out onto their balconies to watch the scene unfold. A lady was furious. I was not thrilled to not be sleeping.

My stomach hurt and I prepped myself to vomit. Joy, right? At around 1 or 2 AM, Peter texted to say he wasn't feel well and was going to skip on Poland. This was a relief to me.

In the morning, I packed up the violin and busked for a bit in the city square, making enough to pay for my two nights in the hostel. (This is where I just need to finish this post). I met up with Peter. We had a splendid day together.

Then I got on the train and thought about how, for me, the train-traveling-part of a trip tends to be my favourite... especially when my train is muchly made of wood.

L'viv For the Weekend :: Day 1

Thursday evening, I realized I should start to think about what to do with the weekend. My plans to go to the  mountains (I was told there was a gathering of "hippies" I would enjoy) fell through and I needed to do something.

Friday afternoon came and I packed my small purse with all I needed - camera, Kindle, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and comb. At 1:02 PM I left Nehemiah with the idea of going to L'viv that day. Maybe I'll be able to find a train to catch.

I ambled on, asked a question, hopped on a bus, and ended up at Uzhgorod's train station. There, there were four lines to choose from. I picked one at random (the last one) and started to plan out how I would buy my ticket.

"Moschne billietah na L'viv?"
When they asked for when, I would shake my head and say, "Nie zaftra," and then point down and try and imply that I wanted to go today.

As I got closer and closer to the front of the line, I wasn't too sure how it would work out. I asked the young man in front of me if he spoke English. "Nie." A girl behind me sort of did... and as we started to sort things out (I mainly wanted to know what line to stand in), in walked Dascha! Dascha the German-speaking wonder girl. A short conversation and wait in line later and I had my tickets to L'Viv and back.

During the break, she also hooked me up with a mobile phone. I payed a bit extra at the shop to get a phone with slots for two sim-cards. Why? Uzhgorod is served by two phone companies and calls within each service is free. So, if I go out and pay a bit more at the beginning (maybe $8 extra?) I pretty much never have to pay anything again. I'll blog more on that later.

Cell phone, bottle of water, and small bag packed, it was time to get on the train. I waited by the train. And waited. It seemed odd that they hadn't lowered the steps yet... until it was 7 minutes till departure. Then I saw some folks making a beeline for the front of the train and running around to the other side. I followed their lead and made it onto my train within minutes of departure. Phew.

As for the train ride? I thought train rides in Switzerland couldn't be beat... wrong. Ukraine baffled me to bits as the sun set and we went through the hills (I think they call them mountains... not sure). There were farmers stacking up hay into mounds and small villages and, sigh, I fell in love with this country all over again. Ukraine. My heart. Fine, take it.

My company on the train was, at first, this gal. We never spoke a word and she closed the window. Gah! She closed it! The Ukrainians have a great-all-mighty-fear of wind. According to many-a-Ukrainian I've spoken to, "Wind makes you sick." So, on blisterig 86 F days (which, for a Washingtonian, is sweltering) they proceed to close the window on moving forms of transportation, turning them into a moving form of green house. I took a sweaty nap and scribbled in my agenda.

After five months of traveling and changing beds every two nights on average, I had lately settled in Uzhgorod. This was my first time to leave town in over a month. I started to mentally prepare for all sorts of triggers that would (and did) occur. I know "travel bug" sounds peculiar - but it's the best way to describe it. It's something that I have to work hard to fight against. I have to say, "No. Margaret. Stay, girl, Stay. Down." That's why Alaska was perfect, because I couldn't just up and leave anywhere at any time. I was pretty well stuck (and happy at the same time, oh so content).

A men arrived, joined us, and proceeded to give me a short monologue of his day before I was able to sputter out that I wasn't exactly fluent in Ukrainian. "Deutsch?" he asked. I was able to speak back fluently only, turns out, he was less than fluent. Less than beginner. But we made do with what we had.

Finally we arrived in L'viv where a babushka who had been eyeing me across the aisle way finally made her move to make sure I was alright. And.. I know she meant well. At first it was sweet and helpful, but, eventually, it got to get old. I had directions to the hostel (from the hostel) and she kept telling me that I woul take the long tram and it was toooo long. I told her it was ok. We babbled back and forth. She followed me onto my tram and kept talking and laughing in a seat behind me. Meanwhile, I was stressed because, since she was always there,  I hadn't had the chance to orienteer myself.

After 5 minutes of this, I got off the tram at a random stop. She yelled at me to get back on. I told her I was fine. I was ok.

Ok if you think being in the middle of a city at night without a map or a clue where you are is ok.

I started to walk, tried to ask a man for a clue. He ignored me (I even used my Ukrainian!).
The next lady, though, was rad (see! things go right, they always do). She spoke fluent English and helped me catch a cab. Why catch a cab? Because it's only some 30 hrv which is less than $4. I'll spend $4 at night to get myself to a hostel safely.

Kosmonaut Hostel was where I would be spending my weekend. For last minute travel decisions, I prefer not to do Couchsurfing - especially in a country where I can earn the amount of money a hostel costs in around 1-2 hours of busking next to a fountain in city center.

Kosmonaut Hostel was charming -- 'cept the sketch entrance which, luckily, Moscow had already introduced me to. It was behind door number 4 and completely unmarked. I made my way up the unlit stairs. So dark. Finally, I saw a paper sign for the hostel. On the top floor I knocked and a young man let me in. I was instructed to take off my shoes and given a pair of slippers in exchange. Of this I approved.

I would have the dorm room to myself - something I also celebrated because it meant my lack of pyjamas wasn't a problem at all.

It was at this point that I realized, "Oh yeah... my body needs food." I slipped my shoes back on, trotted down the steps, and walked out into L'Viv on my food mission.

Gotta find food.

Within two blocks I heard the articulation I know oh so well after over a decade's experience -- American English. It rang out clear from a circle of folks near the entrance of a bar.

I hadn't just "heard" English on the streets since... since... since New York City back in April.

I walked over. Listened. And joined the conversation. The man telling the story was Mike of Colorado. Mike's purpose in L'Viv? He owned and was running Tex-Mex BBQ (Текс-Мекс Барбекю). I've been told it's delicious. There was also Sarah (I think?) of Portland, Maine. There was also a beautiful selection of locals and folks from Lebanon, Greece, Italy... I was in good company.

One man welcomed me inside, telling me I could have as much as I would like to drink for free.

Do these things happen?

I thanked him but told him it wouldn't be wise for me to drink as I had nothing in my stomach.

"There's food in there too. Eat all you like."

Free food. Free alcohol.

Free Scotch.

I ate food. I drank within moderation, but stayed well away from being tipsy.

Turns out the man co-owned the bar and it was his birthday. I was grateful.

Before it got too late, I wandered back to the hostel....
Oh L'Viv.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

First Time Busking Alone

I’d never busked by myself before.
Tonight it was me, the river, and a violin.

Last week, I gave a shot at busking with Mario and Igor and that when amazingly well (that’ll get its own blog post). This afternoon, we met at the Chocolate Shop, drank something amazing, and then headed over to busk for a bit.

While I enjoy making music with them, I wasn’t feelin’ it this night. My fingers wanted to play different tunes in different chords but, with the group, all I do is follow. When they were ready to wrap it up and go back to the Chocolate Shop, I told them I’d meet up with them later. Together we made 60 Ukrainian hryvnia‎ (₴ - UAH – so greeve-na).

And I began to play.
On my own.

I played contra tunes, old time, broadway themes, hymns, Christmas songs, Disney, anything that came to mind, I played. I played the old song that used to play on a little music box that used to make music every time you opened the front door to my grandparents house. I played Ashokan Farewell.

I thought, “Maybe I”ll make a few hryvnia‎,” I thought. I was hoping for ₴ 24 UAH at the most, the equivalent of $3.

I played and played and smiled and people smiled back! I looked people in the eye and felt wonderful to be doing what I loved to do – making music. And they started to walk over and put money in my little violin case.

I loved the children! I loved it when they would stop and dance. I loved it when they would sheepishly toddle over to put in the kopiykas their parents had given them to give to the girl making music.

In the end, I made 251 hryvnia‎ and 60 kopiykas.
That’s equivalent to $31.45 in a bit over an hour.
Add in what I made with Mario & Igor and you get 301 hryvnia and 60 kopiykas ($37.7)

I also got a SUPER-snickers, a bag of candied nuts, a yoghurt, sparkling water I was told that Stalin likes, a chocolate, and a chocolate covered marshmallow. I guess, since I was barefoot (not common here) I must’ve looked hungry…

Let me explain what those numbers (251.6 UAH) mean in this country (because I really like numbers and I like numbers with words to 'splain-em).

I’ve talked to a few people and each one has said that they make around 8 UAH per hour (around $1). I don’t know what the average wage is – one site said that the average Ukrainain salary is $381 a month. Let’s say that’s with them working 20 days in a month – that’s around $19 a day. If they work a 9 hour day (although everyone I’ve met works more than that) then that’s around $2 an hour (19 UAH).

If we take the wage of 8 UAH an hour (what my friends make) – I made the equivalent of 31 hours worth of wages in just a little over an hour. That’s over 3 days of working smashed into a short bit. Divide that in half-ish if you want the $2 an hour wage.

What especially blows my mind, though, is how many people gave ask I busked away. I couldn’t see my case as I played. But, when I finished up, I looked over and it was full. People usually give one or two bills. There were a lot, a lot of 1 UAH’s in there – each one of those is a person who said, “Hey, I approve of you and I recognize what you’re doing.” One lady gave me 50 UAH which is totally unheard of here.

I am just grateful.

Ukraine. You are so good to me.
You’re so good to the American girl who is just amusing herself on the bridge for a bit.

One lady asked where I lived. When I told her, she thought I was paying for rent and told me I didn’t need to do that. She offered me a free bed in her home! A stranger heard my music and offered me a place to live.  Once again – blown away by kindness.

And that’s the first time I busked alone.
This world is full of so much love...
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