Friday, January 25, 2008

What We Don't Have in America (#1-5)

After reading some posts by our friend Anya Knotts (the first of these posts is dated October 19th, 2007) about what they don't have in Ukraine as she spends an extended stay in California, I thought it was time to post about some of the things we see here in Ukraine, but not in America (or at least California). I realize that there might be some things in Ukraine that they do have in the United States that I've just overlooked, but for the most part I'll try to point out the usual stuff.

#1 would have to be the outdoor market, called a rynok (ринок) or bazar (базар).



The Rynok

Yes, they have "farmers' markets" in the U.S., but the bazar is everyday, all day. You can pretty much find everything you need there without going to a regular store. It just takes a little longer as you have to shop around for each item. It's usually cheaper to shop this way and the quality of the home grown produce is usually very good. During winter most of the produce is imported or has been canned in jars during the summer. The meats, dairy, and honey are sold in the indoor part to protect them from the heat of the summer. I don't think the meat vendors would pass any safe handling requirements in the U.S., but hey, at least you can tell it's fresh.

#2 is salo (сало), raw pork fat.

Joshua thinks the strips of rolled salo look like cinnamon rolls.

Salo is salted and sometimes even smoked, but the most common way to eat it is to eat a cold raw slice with a piece of garlic. Most vendors will slice off a sliver of their salo for you to sample before buying it. A chunk of salo thrown into a frying pan works good for frying eggs. If you fry up several pieces until they are crispy, it tastes just like the fried pork rinds you can buy in places like Louisiana, called cracklin.

#3 is kvas (квас), a refreshing summer time drink.


Kvas is made from black bread and has a unique taste. During the summer they sell it from wheeled yellow carts scattered around the city. People either love it or hate it. The boys and I love it, but Edna says she'd sooner drink pond water. On really hot days I'd carry jugs to get filled with kvas so we could enjoy it at home. I have some recipes to make it at home, but it just seems to taste better out of the little yellow tanks.

#4 is live fish (Жива Риба).

Риба (Fish)

Жива Риба (Live Fish)

Why buy fish that are already dead when you can insure freshness by killing them yourself in the comfort of your own home. You can find tanks of live fish scattered around the city with people eagerly lining up to buy them. Coming from a city in California near the ocean, we aren't too fond of fish from rivers and ponds. I never cared for catfish in Arkansas or Louisiana either. I guess it depends on where you grow up, because Edna's mom, who grew up in Croatia, loves this type of fish. Sorry, Mom, but if you ever come to visit, we're having chicken (and no you can't buy any fish and eat the eyeballs either).

#5 unattended babies.

This is something you won't see in the U.S. at least not long before someone calls the police. It's not as bad as it looks though. Small shops usually don't have enough room to bring a stroller into and it would be an ordeal to remove a baby from a stroller in the winter. The babies are all bundled up and very well protected from the elements. Taking the baby out or trying to take the stroller into the store with you probably wouldn't be too comfortable for the baby. A strong sense of community here also means that nearby people are probably keeping an eye on your baby and would most likely pop their head into the store to tell you if your sleeping baby woke up and was crying. That's just how life is here.

The strollers are pretty heavy duty as you can see from the photo. Unlike the U.S., most people don't have a car so if you have a baby you need something that resembles a light all-terrain vehicle to navigate through snow, mud, and broken sidewalks. Most businesses and public stairs have little metal tracks that line up with stroller wheels as well as hand carts, but sadly, I've never once seen a wheelchair ramp.

Hopefully this gives all of you living in the United States a glimpse of what life is like here for us. I wouldn't say Ukraine is better or worse than the U.S., just different and it's our home. I'll try and post more of these as I get time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Baptism of Jesus

On Saturday, we visited our sister church in Kyiv. It also happened to be the day that most Ukrainians celebrate the Baptism of Jesus (January 19th). We saw lots of people taking the plunge into the Dnipro River through holes cut in the ice to celebrate the occasion. Even the President of Ukraine jumped into the icy water on national television. And yes, Christmas trees and decorations are still up all over the city.

This excerpt from a Ukrainian website best describes what we experienced and why.

"Why are all those Ukrainian politicians jumping into the icy Dnipro when you turn on the news this month? What’s On has the scoop on a bone-chilling local tradition. If you’re a Westerner living in Ukraine, the Christmas season might seem to last forever. After all, you’re probably oriented toward a Western calendar and following the Western media, which starts carrying Christmas advertising and content in late November at the latest. Under normal circumstances you’d expect the holiday season to be over with the New Year, but of course in Ukraine, which follows the Orthodox calendar, that’s when it’s just starting. Right when you think the decorated pine trees should be coming down, some are still going up, and grocery stores keep playing Christmas songs until the third week in January.

Still, even the holiday season has to come to an end some time, and in Ukraine it ends with the upcoming feast of the Epiphany on 19 January. The Epiphany in general celebrates the presentation of the infant Jesus Christ to the world – hence the fact that it’s also called the Theophany, which combines the Greek words for ‘god’ and ‘showing forth.’ The holiday also takes into account Jesus’ christening in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, which is why the blessing of water remains a core part of its observance in all churches. In the old days, and even today, Christians (at least those who lived in cold climates) would cut a hole into the ice of their local river or lake, through which to bless the water. Locally, this body of water was called a ‘iordan’, after the Biblically important river, and a religious procession was held annually around it.

In Ukraine over the past decade, not only water blessings but bathing in icy water has become very popular. Every year you can see top Ukrainian officials, including most illustriously President Yushchenko, jumping through a hole in the ice of the Dnipro – what he calls the ‘Ukrainian Jordan’ - and taking a fast swim, gasping and grunting like a walrus and wearing nothing but a regular bathing suit. The event is usually held in Hydropark, and generates its share of media attention. Before the celebrity ice-swimmers arrive, musicians perform a holiday concert for passers-by. Despite the terrible frosts that typically befall Ukraine every year in mid-January, hundreds of people who wish to take a dip in the frigid Dnipro waters assemble near the entrance to the Hydropark metro station, ready to strip down and suffer for the fun of it."

The church we visited in Kyiv is a Messianic church and most of the congregation are ethnic Jews who are Christians. We had a great time and feel blessed to have met so many people with a genuine passion for Christ. Dominic was even presented with a kippah as an honorary Jewish member of the congregation.

Dominic wearing his Kippah
Dominic wearing his new kippah.

On Sunday, we were blessed with our youngest member to attend our children’s ministry. Little Andriy is two years old and full of energy and smiles. Edna had fun helping Andriy make his craft.

Edna and two year old Andriy at church
Edna with two year old Andriy at church.

As usual, Maxime went to church with us and through Dominic we discovered something that broke our hearts. When the boys went Christmas caroling, Maxime had said not to tell his parents about the money he had gotten because they would keep it for themselves. We thought that he had some toy or something in mind for the money. Instead, Maxime used the money to buy himself a new pair of pants and shoes. The pants he had didn’t fit anymore and were falling apart. The shoes he had were a pair of used ones that someone at church had donated. I guess we take it for granted that parents will feed and clothe their children.

Maxime asked if he could spend the night at our place so of course we said yes. He shocked us when it came time to pray before dinner. He eagerly asked if he could be the one to pray. He not only thanked God for the food, but it touched our hearts when he thanked God for us. He even prayed that God would help us to continue learning Ukrainian. Edna and I still can’t believe that this is the same boy who six months ago didn’t understand why we needed to pray before we ate.

Maxime asking to pray over dinner
Maxime letting us know he wanted to pray.

Another surprise came when it was time for bed. Maxime wanted to have a Bible study with Dominic. Dominic would read a verse in English and then Maxime would read the same verse in Ukrainian. In this way, Dominic and Maxime read through several key concepts about the life of Jesus. Maxime happily told us that he understood that if we trust in Jesus then even if we die, we won’t die. Maxime then asked if we could all pray together. He began and then we all prayed in turn with Maxime closing by reading a prayer for Ukraine that he found in our Bible.

Bible Study with Maxime
Maxime reading the Bible with Dominic and Edna

Maxime had asked to sleep in the living room instead of the boys’ room saying that Joshua would keep him up talking if they all slept in the same room. After everyone was in bed, I saw the light go on in the living room. I crept in to see what Maxime was doing and I realized why he had wanted to sleep in the living room by himself. He was reading the Bible.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Old New Year's Day

As I write this Maxime, Joshua, and Dominic are off amid the fireworks singing for candy and money again as they celebrate old New Year's Day according to the Julian calendar. Once again children have been showing up at our door singing. This has to be the longest holiday season we've ever experienced. Dominic and Joshua love it. It has been a wonderful experience for them to be able to be a part of the culture here. We are so grateful to call Bila Tserkva our home.

Today we had church at the invalid center as a combined service with the church there. Presents were handed out to the children to celebrate old New Year's Day so Maxime, Joshua, and Dominic were blessed once more. One of the items in Maxime's box was a pair of Groucho Marx glasses. Maxime thought they were the funniest thing he had ever seen. He insisted on wearing them after church when we took him out to eat. He even wore them on the bus home.

Maxime wearing a disguise after church

After church we met with the pastor and some of the members of the church to discuss how we can best reach out to the community and evangelize. Everyone agreed that an English club would be the best option, which is what we have been praying about. Thanks to our good friend Fedir, we can use a room in the Palace of Culture where he works. We are planning on meeting on Saturdays from 6:00pm to 7:30pm maybe once or twice a month. Eventually we would like to meet every week, but we are going to first see what kind of response we get. We have several people who are already interested or have friends who would be interested.

We want to reach out to people in the community who have an interest in speaking English. Our goal is to lead as many people to Christ as we can by our actions and our words as we build relationships based on the love that Jesus first showed us. Please pray for us as we begin this outreach and please pray for the people of Bila Tserkva as more come to know Christ.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Merry Christmas (Again!)

Dominic and Joshua looking over their haul of candy and money from Christmas caroling
З Новим роком та Різдвом Христовим!

We awoke to Orthodox Christmas (January 7th) by having Maxime ringing our door bell in the morning ready to go Christmas caroling. Maxime, Joshua, and Dominic spent most of the day and evening, going door to door singing and reciting Bible verses in exchange for money and candy. I was shocked by the amount those three brought in by the end of the night.

And this was just the beginning of the food on Christmas at Olya's
Joshua, Alyona, and Marianna inspecting the beginning of what was to come

Edna and I were also awakened by the smell of delicious Ukrainian foods being prepared next door by our neighbor Olya. It wasn't long before she was knocking on our door and inviting us over. We wisely decided to skip breakfast and not eat anything before going over. Her three daughters, son-in-laws, and four grandchildren all treated us like part of the family. This included insisting we eat a little of everything and then a lot of everything until we thought we were going to die. Just when we thought we couldn't possibly eat anymore, they took the plates of food away, made the table smaller, and then crowded it with desserts, again expecting us to eat.

Dessert after Christmas dinner

Some of the neighborhood kids singing for candy and money
Oksana (far right) lives below us and is taking English lessons from Edna. Anya (behind Oksana) lives in the building next to us.

Throughout the evening we were treated to children and adults coming to our door to sing beautiful Ukrainian songs. We feel extremely blessed to have experienced such a wonderful celebration of our Savior's birth in the country of Ukraine.

Christmas Carolers at Olya's

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year from Ukraine!

Yeah! 2008!!

Maxime has been staying with us for the last three days so we decided to make sure he had a nice Christmas and New Year. We weren't sure if he was going to be in town for Christmas so we decorated our New Year's Tree and opened Christmas presents on New Year's Eve. We celebrated Christmas a little early by Ukrainian standards, but traditionally presents come from Grandfather Frost (Did Moroz) and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden, on New Year's Eve anyway. Christmas was forbidden to be celebrated under the Soviet regime and was only brought back in the late 90's although Sviata Vechera, or Holy Supper, was still celebrated among families. It makes sense that New Year's Eve would be the most popular holiday in Ukraine as we've been told.

Joshua, Maxime, and Dominic opening presents on New Year's Eve
Maxime seemed surprised that he was actually getting such cool gifts.

We decided to let the boys go wild in their room at midnight since the rest of the world outside was exploding in colorful fireworks and explosions. I've never seen so many fireworks going off all over a city at one time in my life. No matter what direction we looked, we were treated to amazing displays of pyrotechnics. The explosions of sound and light went on for over three hours.

The Boys Celebrating 2008

Dominic, Maxime, and Joshua celebrate the New Year