Saturday, June 28, 2008

Church Picnic on the River Ros

Church Picnic

Today we got together with a few people from our church and had a picnic at the river. Not everyone could make it, but those who did had a great time of fellowship. Fortunately, we got to the river early and staked out a good spot. Of course we had to pick up all the trash first, but we came prepared with trash bags. We packed out all of our trash and the trash we collected before we left. We all hoped that people would take notice and possibly follow our example. I'm working on some Ukrainian anti-litter posters with Nastia and Maria. We're thinking about putting them up in a few areas along the river and seeing what happens. We have a few ideas, but I'd love to hear if anyone else has any so feel free to comment. I'll post more about that project later.

Singing by the River

Once we got settled into our picnic spot, the men set to work making fires for the shashlyk while the women sang worship songs. It wasn't long before the area we were in was filled with lots of people drinking and listening to loud music. It was interesting to see people notice that our group was a little different than the rest. Some people looked at us a little funny, but a few joined us for a game of frisbee and asked what church we were from.

Maria Tossing the Giant Frisbee
Maria tossing the giant frisbee

Shashlyk Boys
Joshua and Maxime watching over the shashlyk

Our next door neighbor, Olya, couldn't walk all the way to where we met so we were happy to be able to bring her back some food from the picnic. Maria's mother, Vala, was worried that we wouldn't have enough food, but I think we had more leftover than we actually ate. I'm pretty sure the fear of running out of food is a universal fear among Ukrainians. Olya makes sure we are always well stocked with food so it was nice to bless her as she has done for us so many times before.

Kristina and Fedir
Kristina and Fedir

Maria, Edna, and Nastia
Maria, Edna, and Nastia

Ednochka the River Maiden
The necklace that Fedir made for Edna

Church Picnic

If all we did today was to have fun, fellowship together, glorify God, and let our light shine a little bit, then I'd say it was a huge success. We're looking forward to doing it again sometime and so are all the children that kept asking their parents when the next church picnic will be.

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. -Matthew 5:16

Отак ваше світло нехай світить перед людьми, щоб вони бачили ваші добрі діла, та прославляли Отця вашого, що на небі. -Матвія 5:16

Saturday, June 21, 2008

КРАЇНА МРІЙ (Country of Dreams)

Country of Dreams

We spent most of the day in Kyiv at a Ukrainian cultural festival called "Country of Dreams". It was so much fun to see everyone taking pride in the history, language, and culture of Ukraine. You didn't just look at it from a distance, but actually participated. Everyone was encouraged to wear traditional clothing and show off anything that was Ukrainian. Of course Edna and I both wore something traditional.

Edna looking Traditional
(As I took this picture Edna had just spotted Sasha, a girl from our English Club in Bila Tserkva. Sasha was so happy to see us taking an interest in Ukrainian culture.)

Greg wearing a vyshyvanka
Me wearing my vyshyvanka (вишиванка)

Ukrainian Maiden
My Ukrainian Maiden

The festival was very family friendly and had lots of food, music and demonstrations of art, dance, and traditional skills like blacksmithing. I would definitely recommend going if you live close enough to Kyiv. We had to pry ourselves away to make sure we could catch the last shuttle van home. We didn't even make it through all of the exhibits.

Every girl loves a man in a bear skin hat
Every girl loves a man in a bear skin hat

All Natural
"Certified Organic"

The most interesting thing that I noticed was how people from totally different walks of life seemed to all be united by one common factor, a love for Ukraine. Old people, children, business men, and even rebellious youth were all having a good time together under the blue and yellow banner of Ukraine. I hope that as Christians, we can remember to do that in our daily lives. That we can come together as one body undivided by culture or minor differences of opinion. So often we begin to segregate ourselves and wrap ourselves in the banners of doctrine or denomination. Let us not forget that as Christians we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Traditional Ukrainian Clothing

Ukrainian Woman

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. - 1 Corinthians 1:10

Friday, June 20, 2008

How Fresh is Fresh?

Fresh Milk
(That's not pineapple juice but it was fresh squeezed)

The other evening I was sitting out on the bench outside of our building eating sunflower seeds with Joshua and some of the other kids when I noticed a lady I didn't recognize. She came out of our building and then went into the adjoining building carrying a large bag. Later, she came out and asked Anya, one of our neighbor girls, when her parents would be home. After she left I asked Anya who she was. (It's OK to be nosy in Ukraine. I think it's actually encouraged.) Anya told me that the woman comes from the village across the river to sell milk from her cows.

The next evening I saw the same lady as I looked out our kitchen window. I decided I'd see if the milk she was selling was any good. I ran downstairs, but she had already left. I enlisted the help of Anya and our neighbor Oksana to try and track her down. We ran off through the dark and were able to find the lady at the next building. For a small price, she parted with a 1.5 liter plastic bottle filled with fresh milk. Not knowing what else to say, I asked in Ukrainian if the milk was indeed fresh. She assured me that it was and was in fact still warm as it had just come straight from the cow less than thirty minutes ago. That's pretty fresh.

After chilling the milk I was pleasantly surprised by the somewhat sweet creamy flavor. We've had some bad experiences with milk and the usually less than tasty flavor of store bought milk. You can see one of my previous posts to read about that by clicking HERE.

Now Reesa, the milk lady, delivers milk to our door on what ever days we need it for a lot less than it would cost us in the store. She comes in the evenings around 10:00PM after she milks the cows and always assures us that the milk is still warm from the cow. Edna and I think we've actually seen her grazing her cows down by the river. Edna wants to ask her if she can pet one of her cows.

Grazing by the River

Today we were sitting down on the playground eating sunflower seeds and watching the kids play when our neighbor Olya came and sat by us. She had a bag with her so she put it by our feet before she sat down. We started talking about the normal things like who was doing what and who had a job where, when Olya's bag suddenly sprung up off the ground. This caused Edna to suddenly spring up off of the bench. Olya started laughing as Edna looked at the bag that seemed to be twitching. She said, "Жива риба!" (live fish). She opened the bag to show us and Joshua, who had decided to check out what was making the bag jump around, what was inside. Several sets of eyes peered out at us. Olya promised that she would smack them on the head and then fry them up for us later.

Olya, Joshua, Alyona, and Maryana
Olya, Joshua, Alyona, and Marianna on the far left

True to her word, Olya called us over to have some late night fish and snacks with her after Reesa made her milk delivery to both of us. After downing a glass of the warm bovine juice, Joshua played with Olya's granddaughters, Marianna and Alyona, while we ate the now fried, but still very fresh, fish. He decided to pass on the fish. Just a little to fresh for him. Joshua does his best to help Olya out when she has her granddaughters over. The two cousins can be a hand full. Joshua is spending the night next door with them so that he can help keep them in line for Babusya Olya. We are thankful that he has a Ukrainian grandmother so far away from his real grandmothers in the U.S. We feel that God has truly blessed us here in Ukraine.

All this to say that I now know how fresh, fresh can be. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Joshua Thinking About the Fish
"Those things were just looking at me about an hour ago."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Off to Grandmother's Хата We Go (continued)

Babusya Luda
Babusya Luda, Maxime's Grandmother

Dominic decided to put into words what some of his photos from the village captured. I thought it would be nice to post his version of their trip to the village along with a few more of the pictures that he took.

Trip to the Village
by Dominic Silva

It was a hot summer day as we got on the bus to go to Maxime's grandmother's village to visit her. I paid the bus driver for the ride, and took my seat next to an old man. As we stopped it seemed that more people were getting on than getting off. Because of this, the bus seemed to smell worse and worse. It didn't help when an old lady decided to close the emergency exit hatch on the top of the bus, (which was the only source of fresh air) because she was afraid that the draft would make her sick. As we came near our stop, Maxime motioned for us to stand up. Once we got off the bus I took a look around and noticed that there was a long gravel road leading to the village. Joshua then told me that that gravel road took us to Maxime's grandmother's house. As we walked we got to see all of the different animals in the village. We saw chickens, ducks, geese, cows, and the occasional horse. As we neared Maxime's house, (which was the last house at the end of the gravel road) I saw his grandmother, Luda, talking to her neighbor by her rusty metal fence.

The Road to Grandmother's House

Once his grandmother was done talking to her neighbor she came and greeted us and asked if we would like some tea and potato soup that she had made for us. We all agreed, and she motioned for us to sit at an old green table. Shorty after we sat down his grandmother came out with a bowl of honey, and a jar with something inside that had the color of peanut butter. I took the jar and read it, and it said that it was milk caramel. His grandmother came out with two spoons for both of us, and a slice of brown bread. Maxime immediately took a big scoop of the milk caramel. His grandmother then came out with tea and potato soup for all of us.

Little Baby Duck

As we all ate his grandmother explained that she wanted us to pick off most of the potato bugs on her potato plants. We all said yes and thought that it would be fun. She said something to Maxime and he went inside and came out with three plastic bottles for us to put the potato bugs in. As we gathered up potato bugs we couldn't help but sometimes squish the bugs with our fingers, leaving greenish goo behind. Once we were done we went inside and washed our hands with a wet cloth. I asked Maxime while we were washing our hands what we were going to do with the potato bugs. He told me that we would probably throw them in the lake. We then took all the potato bugs and put them in one bottle. Maxime then directed us to the lake, and we threw them in.

Bottle of Bugs

After finishing our work for the day I asked Maxime what they do for fun in the village. He answered that he mostly fishes in the lake. I asked Maxime if we could go fishing. He told me that we first had to ask his grandmother if we could. When we got back to the house we all asked if it was OK to go fishing since we had finished collecting potato bugs. She nodded yes. Maxime then happily ran outside and got his fishing pole, which was made from a long thin piece of bamboo with fishing line attached to the top. Maxime then remembered that he didn't have any bait. He told us to follow him to his grandpa's tool shed where he came out with a shovel. Maxime told us that I could dig for the worms, he would look where I was digging to see if there was any worms, and Joshua could put them in a glass jar. We did this for about half an hour before Maxime said that we had enough.

We headed to a dock that someone had built out of an old door. Maxime then attached the worm to a hook on the end of the fishing pole, put a blueish basket into the water and attached it to the dock with a piece of rope and casted into the murky lake. I told Maxim that I didn't think that any fish actually lived in the lake. He argued with me that yes, there are fish in the lake and that he'll prove it to me by catching one. 10 minutes later we had a nibble. Maxime then waited until the timing was right and then yanked the fish out of the water! I was amazed. The fish was small with a yellowish belly. Maxime then plopped the fish into the basket. By the end of the day we had caught 3 fish!

Hanging Out on the Dock

Catch of the Day

The only reason we went home was because we were constantly being bitten by mosquitoes. We headed home and showed his grandmother all the fish we had caught (I was hoping that she wouldn't serve them to us for dinner!). She took the fish and fed them to the kittens. We then washed our feet and went to sleep. It was very hard to sleep because we were constantly itching our mosquito bites.

Time to Relax

When we woke up in the morning his grandmother had already set out tea for us. She told us that we would be leaving at 11:00 to get on the bus to go back home. Once we finished our tea and talked for a while his grandmother told us it was time to go. Before we left his grandmother made sure that all the baby geese, and chickens were fed. We then headed up the gravel trail for the second time. Once we reached the place where we had gotten of the bus we sat in the shade of a nearby tree. We didn't have to wait more than 15 minutes before the same old bus arrived. We all got on and I paid the driver again and took my seat (this time it wasn't as crowded). It only took us about 30 minutes until we reached Bila Tserkva. When we got off, his grandmother told us that she had to go to the market to buy things. So we headed home. When we reached the playground where we lived we saw the same kids playing outside with the same clothes on. It was almost as if we had never left.

One worm, one fish
Last Catch of the Day

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Off to Grandmother's Хата We Go

Joshua and Maxime in his grandmother's village

Dominic, Joshua, and Maxime returned yesterday from Maxime's grandmother's house in the village of Mykhilivka (Михайлівка). Dominic did a great job of documenting all of their exploits in the village. The only real work they did was ridding the potato plants of little bugs that destroy the plant. They collected them in a jar and then disposed of it. How's that for organic. The rest of their time was spent watching over the chickens, ducks, and geese as well as pursuing every boy's dream of fishing like Huck Finn. With just a long stick, some fishing line, a hook, and a worm, they managed to catch enough fish to satisfy Maxime's grandmother's cats.

Dominic was able to capture the spirit of life in the village and I'm pretty impressed with the photos. Here are a few of them. Feel free to let Dominic know what you think of his new found talent.

Joshua Doing Some Laundry
Joshua doing some laundry

Breakfast on the Porch
Breakfast on the porch

Kittens in the Kitchen
Kittens in the kitchen

Digging for Worms
Digging for worms

Maxime with the Catch
Maxime with the catch

"Whadya mean there're leeches in here?"
"Whadya mean there're leeches in here?"

Joshua and Maxime out for a walk

When the Cows Come Home
When the cows come home

The boys all had a good time at Babusya Luda's khata (хата), or village home. No running water or toilets, no stores or conveniences, but lots of ducks, geese, chickens, and kittens running around, including in the house.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Encounter at the River

Last Days of Summer

Edna and I just got back from the river where we often go for walks together in the evening. We had an encounter that left us completely broken inside and still unable to fully process what had happened.

It began when we noticed a couple with a little girl who seemed to be arguing. They appeared to be intoxicated which isn't an uncommon sight. What was unusual was the punch that the man threw that knocked the young mother to the ground. He followed it by kicking her in the face and leaving her crying and bleeding on the ground. He scooped up their daughter and then headed home.

Edna and I both stood watching as several people passed this girl on the path doing their best to avoid her. All I could think of was the parable of the Good Samaritan. I was actually watching the story unfold. No one on the path or around us offered to help. We went to her and Edna offered her some wet wipes to wipe the blood from her face. Through tears, she thanked us and began walking in the direction her husband/boyfriend had gone.

I had a feeling that there was something else we should do for her. We caught up to her as she stumbled barefoot down the rocky pathway. We asked if she needed help to get home and again she thanked us, but declined. I still felt something bad was about to happen to her, but I didn't know what. I convinced Edna that we should follow her to make sure she makes it to where she's going.

From a distance, I noticed that a man along the river had taken an interest in her. We watched as he seemed to be stocking her and watching to see where she would end up. Our suspicions were confirmed when she sat down along the pathway in some tall grass that hid her from view. He began to make his way towards her, looking around to see if anyone else was watching. Edna and I both met his eyes and stared him down until he decided to change course and head quickly back down the trail where he had come from. His intentions might have been to rob her or worse, but our accusing gaze seemed to change his mind.

The girl decided to make her way back on to the pathway, but managed only to loose her balance and fall face first on to the gravel sustaining several more cuts and now a mangled lower lip. Edna took her by the arm and led her to the grass where we proceeded to clean her cuts and stop the bleeding in her mouth. We couldn't help but notice other signs of abuse, a black eye, healing cuts, and several burns that looked like they had been made with cigarettes and lighters.

As she sat crying on the grass and in obvious pain, she asked if we were Christians and then she asked us if we would pray for her. She told us that her name was Darina and that we could call her Darinka. She told us that her name meant "God's gift". She said that she was 23 years old and that her daughter was 2 1/2. She said that her husband/boyfriend (the Ukrainian word for man is also used to refer to a husband so we don't know if they were married) was a bad man. My heart broke as I looked at some of his handy work on her body.

We asked if she had some place she could go, but she didn't and she didn't want to go home either. There is a hospital near our home so we convinced her to walk with us towards it. Her lower lip was in obvious need of stitches and the many scrapes and cuts on her shoulder and elbows needed to be cleaned up. We slowly made our way back down the river making sure that she didn't take another fall.

The whole time, people kept looking at us as though they couldn't understand why we would want to help this bloodied and abused woman. They seemed to look at her with no more pity than they would a stray dog. I've seen people in Ukraine come to the aid of people who have been injured or have fallen down, but somehow the fact that this woman was drunk and most likely a heroin addict as well, made her something less than human in their eyes.

We had made it to the point where we had started and only had a short distance to go when suddenly a blow from a fist landed across her face knocking her to the ground and again causing blood to flow. I stood in shock as her husband/boyfriend repeatedly beat her in the face while he held her by her hair. I grabbed him by the arm so that he turned his attention to me.

He began yelling about how she had a child at home that she needed to take care of and added lots of words that I won't translate. I told him that she needed to go to the hospital and that we were trying to take her there. I asked him to please take her himself, but he said she didn't need to go to the hospital and as if to punctuate the point he backhanded her spraying blood across her already swollen face. I pleaded with him to stop and to look at her injuries.

Men that hit women like that are always cowards, and he was no exception. I could tell that he was afraid of me, but he wouldn't back down. He asked me if we were friends as though to ensure that I was going to let him take his woman home without a fight. I just looked at him with disbelief. He then pulled out a knife from the waistband of his pants. I looked at the knife and then I looked at him in a way that said he was pathetic and better off using his knife to peel an apple. He sheepishly put the knife and away. Then I did something that even surprised me. I extended my right hand and he shook it. I looked him in the eye and said, "I'm a Christian".

His rage then seemed to subsided a little and what was left of it he again turned on Darina as he forcefully took her back the way we had just come. Edna and I both looked into her eyes and saw that they were pleading with us to help her, to save her. She had trusted us to take care of her and while we had walked with her, her mood had lightened considerably. We had given her hope, and now we watched helplessly as her eyes begged for us to rescue her. There were at least 20 other people around us, but we were the ones she looked to in desperation. We stood there silently until she was out of sight. Life around us continued as though what had happened was just a passing curiosity. We did the only thing we could do at that point, we sat and prayed for her.

I know domestic violence is a huge problem here, but I was shocked to see it so openly in public. I was also angry and saddened that not a single person offered to help. I know that Edna feels the same as I do. We did everything we could for Darina, but I have never in my life felt so utterly helpless to prevent human suffering. If God can give us the strength to overcome, I believe He can also give us the strength to concede defeat or at least my perception of it. I pray that He grants peace to Darina and the strength to overcome.

"We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you." Psalm 33:20-22

Monday, June 09, 2008

Maxime's 11th Birthday

Maxime's Birthday
"Can we eat now?"

Saturday was Maxime's 11th birthday. We celebrated by taking him to McDonald's in Kyiv on Friday. It was just the five of us, so we had a little cake and kept it simple. Afterwards, we walked through the mall in the center of the city and let Maxime take in all the sights that a mall has to offer. That was of course until Security asked Maxime and Joshua to stop riding the escalator after about the tenth time. It was all worth it to see the wide-eyed look on his face as we walked around the city.

Joshua and Maxime in Kyiv
Joshua and Maxime trying to look cool

Maxime and Joshua in Kyiv
Maxime and Joshua, two boys in a fountain

On Saturday, the day of his birthday, Edna took Maxime and the boys to the amusement park in the center of town to go on a few of the rides. We did our best to give Maxime a nice birthday. His parents didn't do anything special for him except to give him the equivalent of about six dollars. We made sure he got some new clothes and a new pair of shoes. Our hearts broke to know that in the two months we were gone, he hadn't bathed or had his clothes washed. Instead of going to church each Sunday, his parents had been sending him to work in the village where his grandparents live.

Joshua and Maxime
Joshua and Maxime sharing a roller coaster ride together in the center of town. Of course it's safe! They had chains around their waists to hold them in, I think.

Maxime sporting the Old Navy look.

Maxime had to go to the village today to work at his grandparents, so we decided to send Dominic and Joshua with him to help. Earlier we got a call from Dominic saying that they had spent the morning picking all the potato bugs off the potato plants. He reluctantly admitted that they were having fun despite the work. I let Dominic take our camera with him so that he could go on "photo assignment" for us. I'm expecting some good photos to share once the three of them come back on the bus tomorrow afternoon. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Airport Fitness Center

While we were waiting for our flight in Los Angeles at LAX, Joshua discovered something interesting. It seems that all over the airport they have installed these long tread mills that will accommodate several people at once. It seems that someone is finally doing something about the lack of exercise that most Americans get. Simply genius. Unfortunately, most people didn't have the energy or interest in getting a good workout before their flight and apathetically just stood on the tread mill until it pushed them off, but not Joshua. As you can see from the video, Joshua met the challenge and burned off a few extra calories.

Last Bell

When we got home at 3:30am from the airport, I was able to get about three hours of sleep before bright sunlight and Joshua's excitement woke me up. He slept on the plane, I didn't. Anyway, Joshua and I walked to his school to see all of his friends participate in Last Bell, the official last day of school. Last Bell is always on May 31st and First Bell is always on September 1st. Everywhere we turned someone was waving to us and of course all the girls were hugging Joshua. Schools here have all the grades combined at each school so Last Bell is also like a high school graduation.

Here's some video of Last Bell at School 16