Saturday, May 26, 2007

Maybe I will move to Poland or Ukraine?

There are certain characteristics of the communities in both Poland and Ukraine of which I feel a very strong kinship. I like how they actually embrace the idea of laissez faire in everyday life. There's an intense difference of cultures when you cross the border from Poland to either Denmark or Germany. Much more order and tidyness in those countries. I like the relaxed atmosphere of my host nations.

My friend Deborah and I have had many opportunities to share music with our hosts in many different places. Just now we are at the home of a Vetrinarian in Swinoujsin, the most northwestern point of Poland. Before we arrived here, I injured my back even more (I did something bad to in in November that has caused chronic sciatica) when I fell down some steps on the ferry from Copenhagen. I got to experinece the Polish medical system and am now on some amazing medication that actually stops the muscle spasms from both this current injury as well as the back pain I have been struggling with since November. I will bring the bottles back to KY and try to get my doctor to figure out what actually works for my problem. How funny that the Polish chiropractor immediately found somthing to cure my pain, while I have spent weeks, moths, etc. in KY trying to get just a little bit of relief!

One of my favorite aspects of this trip is that we are making real connections with people, visiting and often living in their homes. I hope to re-visit both Poland and Ukraine again and again, and I most certainly hope that my new friends will come to visit me in the states.

I don't know what my life will be like when I return home, but I know that this will be one of the most important experiences I have ever had. Americans, in general, know so little about the world outside of their own small spaces. There are so many extraordinary people in the world, so many common grounds to discover. I know that for the entirety of my life that I will be a rambler, and this soothes my soul.

Life is short, and we must make the most of it. Love the people you meet and cherish every breath that you breathe.

Today Deborah and I rode bicylces to the German border and back and explored the city of Swinoujsin. Tomorrw we depart for a new home, Wolstyn, perhaps?

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Wanderer's Update from Szczezin

Internet has not been part of my reality for the past couple of weeks, and I am doubtful that it will be in the coming weeks. I will try my best to provide a concise update of my adventures.

It all began with a three hour drive from Judy Branch to Berea where I met Deb and Frank, and Frank drove us another two hours or so to the Cincinnatti airport where Deb and I met up with our fellow travellers. Then a flight to Chicago. A delay followed by a hellacious change of planes which involved leaving the secured area, re-checking in, taking a train to the other terminal where our plan had already been boarding for half and hour. Packed flight on AirLOT (Polish airlines). I watched Night in the Museum with Polish voiceover, very entertaining. Arrived in Warsaw after 9.5 hours and waited several hours for our delayed plane to Lviv, Ukraine (Lvov in Polski). The real adventure began when we landed at Lviv. The airport was one small palace looking building with high arches. Beautiful. We went into the main room of the building and were locked in to go through a detailed customs accounting. When we finally made it through into the open entrance, our host families were there to greet us.

I fell in love with my first host family, and I could live with them forever: Voldymyr, Nadia and daughter Iryna. All musicians and all genuinely amazing people. Voldymyr is a professional musican (rock n roll) as well as a conductor; Nadia teaches at a music school and Iryna is a university student who also sings and plays bandola (a traditional Ukrainian instrument). They live in a small village just outside of Lviv called Navaria and their house was a work in progress, with Voldymyr working on it as he had time. Very nice and a place that both Deb and I could easily, immediately call home. My fondest memories are of the many cognac or vodka toasts (along with chocolate eating)before bed, watching the end of the Eurovision competition (Ukraine placed second. Serbia was the winner), Voldymyr's sister's birthday party (where Deb, Iryna and I were the only English speakers) and a wonderful bbq at their friends' home in a neighboring village in which we played a mix of old time Appalachian and Ukrainian music (banjo, guitar, accordian, spoons) and I taught Nadia and her friends how to flat foot on the back of a work trailer! I learned from them that in Ukraine you must always toast three times: 1. For family/children 2. For friends 3. For love. And then, you find countless more things about life to toast, even when you are so sleepy you can barely keep your eyes open.

Next we were in Uzhohord, south of Lviv and across the Carpathian Mountains in the Transcarpathian region bordering Hungary and Slovakia. I thought that this small city was much more of the type of city I would enjoy living in, with the Uzh river cutting through the center of town and many open spaces, small winding cobblestone streets, theatres, opera houses, etc. I stayed on my own with a "New Ukrainian" family (meaning the new wealthy, which is increasing, but a minority) just outside of town in a very, very nice house. I LOVED the back garden area, but I was a bit scared that I would mess something up in the house, it was so nice and so spotlessly clean. Yuroslav and Oxana (my host family) had a fantastic 3-yr old son, Sasha (nick name for Alexander) who immediately became my best friend, b/c no one in the house really spoke English. Also, I gave him a wooden, magnetic train set first thing, and it became his favorite toy (at least for the time I was there!).

The next leg of the journey involved an overnight train journey with some of our Rotary hosts from Lviv to Szczecin. This was quite a trip. Six people to a car, with six bunks. We had a blast testing our Polish out on our car-mate, a young man from Szczecin who we befriended when we noticed him laughing at some of the things we said in English. We gained an audience from our train mates with our game-show style game with Polish and English language, and then, of course, the Ukrainians got in the mix and it became a total riot with everyone crying from laughing so hard. Our party was cut short when a German woman arrived as a passenger on our car and immediately demanded that it was time to go to bed, which meant we all had to fold dopwn the beds and could no longer sit together. But our new friends from the next car over began a little music concert and everyone gathered in the hallway and sang songs and Deb and I danced a little. Even the conductor got involved a little. He was going to tell us to be quiet, but when the majority of train folks (most were in the hall) said they didn't mind the music, he seemed to dance a little too on his way back up the car.

Our first few days in Szczecin involved some Rotary activities, but we have also had time to really get to see the city, which is beautiful. Szczecin is about as far away from Ukrain as one could possibly get, on the NW corner boarding Germany and not too far from Denmark. The Rotary hosts in the club that are hosting us are much younger than those we met in Ukraine, and all seem to speak English. The city is really sort of cosmopolitan, esp. in the architecture and layout of the streets. The streets are more similar to Paris, with large round-abouts. It's a shipbuilding, port city and the greenest city in Poland with many large forested parks. Very livable place.

Tomorrow evening we will head northwest to the coast and take an overnight ferry to Copenhagen where we'll have a day and then return the next night by ferry. Then we'll spend the weekend on the coast and then head south of Szczecin to some other places. For the most part, we do not know where we are going or what we shall do until it happens.

Do widzenia, for now!