Monday, August 25, 2014

Celebrate Ukrainian Independence - because it's awesome!

Two posts in one day! I know... I've been busy...

I think I'm always going to celebrate Ukrainian Independence Day Weekend for the rest of my life. Because the first one I've celebrated has been amazing. One of the best times I've had all year - and I've had a rather amazing year...

On Friday night, we went again to hear "Ivan Blues" - Ivan Denisenko - a Kyiv musical legend, this time at Porter Pub on Lunachars'koho on the Left Bank - my first visit to this part of Kyiv, on the other side of the river. We met up with a group of people young enough to be our GROWN children - we kept joking, "Isn't it nice that they like to hang out with their moms?" These young people are involved in various initiatives to help their country become stable, prosperous and peaceful, and my host bursts with pride in talking about them. One has even started his own NGO. Being around them and their energy… it's so hard to put into words how awesome they are. However, they kept us out until 2:30 in the morning. I was dead - not from drinking too much, but because my body NEEDS SLEEP. I think they went on for another few hours. Damn kids. 

Saturday, we slept late (whew!), then walked through the solemn, homemade remembrances and memorials for those killed in the Maydan uprising of several weeks ago, and my host explained several key moments in the conflict. Because it was THE patriotic holiday, entire families were out, walking up or down the street, to pay their respects. Everyone was wearing lovely embroidered shirts - except me. I look awful in white.

We arrived in Maydan, had a delicious lunch at a Crimean Tatar restaurant, and then headed up another hill to the artisan fair on Andriyivskyy Descent, a historic, cobblestone descent that winds steeply down a HUGE hill. It was much larger than usual, because it was the weekend of the Ukraine Independence celebration. It took us HOURS to walk through entirely. Some of the stuff was nice - some of it was crap. Just like at any artisan fair anywhere in the world. One of the first artists we encountered - the man who created a lovely piece my host brought to me in Oregon back in December. He rarely comes to Kyiv, and yet, here he was. I almost cried. I bought two more paintings for gifts and had to get my photo with him - which completely embarrassed him. He's a very humble man.

After eight hours of walking - EIGHT HOURS - we were back at the apartment for yet another amazing meal prepared by my host's husband. I AM SO SPOILED HERE. 

On Sunday, I went with my host and a work colleague out to a small village about 40 kilometers outside of Ukraine. We got off the main highway, onto tiny single lane roads full of pot holes, first to a new, beautiful monastery chapel out in the middle of no where, and then to a mutual friend's family dacha (summer home) nearby. I met Artem through my host, and he is a force to be reckoned with, although, if you didn't know who he was, you would think he was just a really polite, mild-mannered person - which he is, but he's so much more. He runs an NGO that first helped people that were permanently wounded in the Maydan conflict, and now is also helping Ukrainian soldiers wounded in the war in the East. We have had long talks about volunteer management and nonprofit management, about mission drift, and on and on. He invited us all for coffee, and it turned out to actually be coffee, barbecue, vegetables, champagne, Scotch, singing, a tour of home made wood work sculpture, walking barefoot on the grounds, talking about motorcycle touring (his father is a champion motorcyclist from way back when), and on and on and on and on. Hell, I even made a toast! I walked out of that place floating to the car in the rain and feeling like I never wanted to leave Ukraine. How in the world do I find myself in these beautiful places, surrounded by lovely people I don't know, great food I didn't cook, languages I don't speak, and laughter? I haven't felt so welcomed in a long while - but I cannot say it isn't the first time I've been so lucky. What a tremendous day. 

Then, today, Monday, a holiday off work, my host and I invited another co-worker, from Barcelona, to join us for a tour of the microminiature museum and the folk art museum at the Upper Lavra, and then back to her place for the rest of the day, for when the people from Mimoza Mobile Spa  treated us to a spa day right here in the apartment where I'm staying! One of us would have a mani and pedi from Oksana while another would be in the guest room being treated to a massage to die for by Nikolai (who is also to die for), and the third waited for her turn at either. They brought *everything*, were on time, did a tremendous job, were really nice, and found my host's cat terribly amusing. The prices were fantastic - you won't believe me if I tell you what we paid.

And after a supper of good European bread and cheese (sorry, Stefan!), I published two blogs in one day...

Three weeks in Ukraine. Six weeks to go. Oh, how will I make it… 

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