Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fussing at the Fence: Amy's Ukraine Story

Starobelsk memories: With Tonya at her farm, harvesting pumpkins, and those cute pigs.

Amy is the Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) who was assigned to Starobelsk when I left. She keeps me posted on friends and what’s going on. She is living in the same room I had at Natashia's on Kyrova (I call her Natalia), a good place to be with a fabulous host and a perfect location in the center of town. Amy’s tenacious. She’s working with NGO Victoria and its indefatigable director Vera Flyat on the “Know Your Rights” project. She got a Partnership Grant for a new women’s project and does some work with the library and with Natalia Dohadailo who teaches English at the university. Amy has a sharp eye for detail, and a good sense of humor. Here is one of her stories, with some minor editing. It resonated on so many levels and brought back lots of good memories of my time in Ukraine.

"As I was making my coffee and breakfast this morning, I could see Natasha through the window doing something in the yard with Lydia Kirilova,* our neighbor, excitedly fussing at the fence. Usually when they fuss at the fence like that it is in reference to some kind of food delivery. Last one I witnessed was the watermelons.

*Amy's sidenote: Everyone has more or less the same first name. I know lots of Natashas, Ludas, Oksanas, Svetas, Lydias, etc. The same for boys names. So in conversation its normal to refer to someone with their full name, thus Lydia Kirilova, for example.

All was revealed as Natasha bustled into the house with two large plastic bags. She looked at me and said, "Amy, Operatszi Reeboo (fish)!" She proceeded to try to jam the two rather large bags of fish into the (small) fridge, muttering something about "Operatszi Reeboo" (Operation Fish)! I chuckled at that and imagined the "Mission Impossible" theme song playing in the background, knowing that in the very near future there would be a huge production of chopping, slicing, salting and preserving going on on the porch today. She was excited about the fish. Me not so much. Large deliveries of watermelons, amusing. Large deliveries of tomatoes, interesting and colorful. Large deliveries of fish? Yuck. Stinky.

Then she jumped up, washed her hands, put on some makeup and hersunglasses and told me she was going to the market. "Amy! Operatszi Okroshka"(Operation Okroshka)"! Now that is more like it. Okroshka is a cold sour cream-based cucumber and dill soup with finely chopped potatoes, green onions, hard-boiled eggs, and ham or kielbasa. Mighty tasty."

Amy's story, with its keen observations of daily life, reminded me of a pork story. I had visited my dear friend Tonya’s farm with Olga, a long bike ride through the countryside, and spent a day walking around the gardens, haystacks, and pig-pens. We fed the two large pigs and the cute little piggies fresh corn and other leftovers from the garden. “All natural,” Tonya boasted, as do all the women who cultivate their own gardens. Tonya’s garden was bigger than a kitchen garden though, and she made much-needed extra money from selling its produce, fresh fruits and vegetables. I didn't put the pigs in that category.

Then one day, there was a huge commotion at Natalia’s house, similar to Operation Fish. Tonya and her husband were coming with fresh pork to sell! Natalia was helping. She set up a special place on the first floor behind her shop for this "operation." I realized those cute little piggies were now meat for sale. Hmm. Fresh pork. I usually buy meat at the supermarket and don’t think about its origins. But I knew these pigs. People came from around town to buy the meat. Sales were brisk. I was happy for Tonya. And I must admit, the pork was delicious, the best I’ve ever had, before or since. операчина свинина!"

It's sometimes hard to describe daily life in Ukraine. Amy's story is full of the kind of details and observations we experience as PCVs in a new country. It's the little things, like the growing, buying and selling of produce, that make life in another country so interesting.
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