Monday, February 16, 2015

Remembering Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov

Map showing Mariupol and Berdyansk (yahoo image) 

Luba, Irina,Luda on a night stroll.
This columned gazebo is iconic.


On the beach at Berdyansk
I have such a special place in my heart for Berdyansk, Ukraine, on the Sea of Azov. It's about 40 miles down the coast from Mariupol.  My host mom Luba and 8 to 10 of her women friends invited me to join them on a vacation.  It was about a seven-hour bus ride from Starobelsk.  I was a new Peace Corps Volunteer.  I was just getting acclimated; just recovering from a bad case of the flu; didn't understand the language; didn't know the geography or the terrain; didn't know what I was doing in eastern Ukraine, but I said sure.  I told my Peace Corps manager it would be a form of "cultural immersion," and he agreed. And it was.

Yahoo photo, overview of Berdyansk.

We stayed in a bed and breakfast, about 4 beds to a room.  Luba and her friends brought tons of food, along with wine and vodka.  We had wonderful meals around a large table outside the house, in a pretty garden.  In retrospect, I think I should have contributed more.  We were a boisterous and joyful group.   We walked to the beach every day through a neat little neighborhood, found a spot among hundreds of other vacationers, spread out our blankets, and enjoyed the sun, surf and compansionship of close friends. I had brought my MP-3 player to listen to music, which I shared with the other women; they had fun with the selections (from classics to Rolling Stones).   There was a place to buy ice cream and treats, as well as a kind of arts and crafts market, where I found wonderul souvenirs and Ukrainian trinkets.

Places where vendors set up and sold their wares.
Such fun to see the lights at night..
I used my dictionary, but it was mostly pantomime and, yes, lots of frustration.  I said Я не понимаю a lot.  I couldn't join in all the jokes and banter, couldn't respond or participate in the lively conversations, but I kept up as best I could.  I called us the Women's Club of Starobelsk.  Женского Клуба Старобельске. The women hugged me and laughed.  At night we walked along the beach into the center of activities, bright lights, ferris wheel and games, restaurants and cafes.  The women were careful about spending money, and very resourceful. But we stopped for a beer and just laughed and laughed into the night.

Such a pretty place.  Such wonderful women.  How kindly they treated a stranger and a novice. What incredible memories.

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This is a blog I wrote about preparing to go to Berdyansk with Luba.

SUNDAY, JULY 19, 2009

My Peace Corps Bikini

I have been invited to join Luba and her friends for a holiday in Berdiansk, a resort on the Sea of Azov, about 7 hours south of Starobelsk. Great excitment. We're taking a bus, leaving on Wednesday, 22 July. Luba asks me about a bathing suit. When I show her my old faithful one-piece suit, she crinkles her nose and shakes her head vigorously from side to side. In any language, that means "no way." OK, well I'll look for a new one.

So here I am at the Sunday bazaar, on a sweltering hot day, looking for a new one-piece bathing suit. They are nowhere to be found. Only bikinis. It's what everyone wears. Everyone. At last I find a stall that has a one-pecce suit. One. Large size. I ask the proprietor, a serious woman probably in her 60s, to show it to me. You want THIS, her look seems to say. Yep, that's the one for me. Well, ok. She hauls it down from way at the top of her displays with her hooked handle. I try it on, behind a skimpy curtain that doesn't provide much privacy. No matter. She looks at me, crinkles her nose and shakes her head vigorously from side to side. The same signal in the same universal language.

She takes down another and hands it to me. A black and yellow bikini. I don't think so. Just try it she urges, and sure enough she gets me into it. A bra and a little bottom. She nods approvingly. THIS is for you. I point to my middle. No problem, she says. "Normal'no." Which means the same thing in Russian and English. OK, I'll take it. Now I know I am in a Peace Corps frame-of-mind: open to anything!

Off I go with my package. The more I think about it, the more I like it. When I get home, Luba, who is in her next-to-nothing bikini, asks what I bought. You want to see? Off I go to my bedroom to try on my sexy black and yellow bikini. Beautiful, she nods with enthusiasm. You're all set for Berdiansk. I point to my stomach. She smiles and says, "normal'no!


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