· Thursday 30 May 2007
The Bus Smells of Hair Oil
The bus smells of hair oil, human smells, damp air. (The hair oil makes me think of George Clooney and “Dapper Dan” in the film “Wherefore Art Thou Brother?”)
It is 1845 and we
Three hours to go
Janeen dropped us
It rained in the afternoon so we took refuge in an Internet café and whiled away the remaining hours till bus time. We sipped clatter and munched giant choco-chip cookies while we read and sent e-mail.
Around 1600, we
boarded the bus – destination:
It was very cold on the bus so at the first stop I changed into jeans and purchased a blanket. My hair got completely wet when I made the dash back to the bus so I shivered under my blanket and tried to get comfortable in the small bus seats.
At 0600, I was
grateful to step off the bus and have a good breakfast at a “yup-scale”
historic place in downtown
Now we are Crossing Wyoming
We drive across
Some More Brief Passenger Profiles…
A Russian Pair – There are two Russian-speakers two rows
back. We try to strike up a
conversation, but they are not responsive even when we speak Russian and make
· An Asian Couple – They have many tote bags crammed around their legs and feet. They pull wonderful foods from these bags and eat frequently. The food smells are exotic. They smile, but do not interact.
· A Deaf Couple – Fingers fly. He speaks in the unsettling voice of one who cannot actually hear himself. The sound is like a seal barking. She reads his lips and quietly signs in reply.
· Monday,28 May 2007
Memorial Day Memories – Norman “Rockwellesque”!
The annual Memorial Day Parade in Le Mars is, well, memorable. All those American flags flying in the morning breeze stimulate the senses and create sensations hard to pin down. Each flag represents a soldier, sailor, airman or marine who served and died. Among them are my own Father and my beloved son.
This year, there is a new addition. Dog tags have been added to the 1,000 or so flags snapping in the breeze. The tags are like delicate wind chimes and engage one more sense into the mix. The sight of all those flags conjures up complex feelings. Awe may be the best word for this feeling.
Following the parade and the dedication and posting of the new flags, my oldest nephew catches up to me. He and his rider friends (also veterans) have planned a small memorial service for our son Caleb. It has been five years since we dedicated and posted Caleb’s American flag here on the courthouse lawn in my home town. My nephew did not know we would be present when he planned this small event – all the more meaningful.
The chaplain read a few remarks and we surreptitiously scattered a few of Caleb’s ashes on the courthouse lawn. Caleb’s flag fluttered around my shoulders and his dog tags made sweet music.
We miss him.
I am grateful for family and community.
· Saturday, 26 May 2007
Drive West Till You Hit the
I’ve made the trip
She arrives with twins and twin-paraphernalia loaded in her suburb-mobile. She is so efficient in her role as Mom and chauffer. She has thought of everything! She rings the bell, thrusts a travel mug of steaming coffee into my hands, and grabs my bag while I fumble with the door key. We are off on our road trip.
The girls sleep happily while my niece and I chat. My niece is a delight, a treasure.
We crowd into the car wit the twins and all their baby gear and head for my sisters’ farm.
We arrive at the farm and mingle with the nephews…these funny bothers have bought the same make and model car unbeknownst to one another! Lots of laughter over this!
The small grand nieces and nephew scamper around and the nephew’s clever, witty, wives banter and take pictures. It is delightful to be with family.
Who knew being an Aunt could be such fun.
One of the highlights of the day is the tour of the Baronial Hall in the R’s. Mansion! There is a huuuuuuge table with places for 14 guests (no leaves!). This wonderful dining room has consumed my sister and her husband as thy made all the fun decisions involved in making a dream come true. All the room needs is a pair of thrones! 8-) It is beautiful!
Family Dinner at “The Ranch”
My sisters and I had a great time sharing lots of stories and making up for lost time on our visit to “the Ranch”. There were nieces and nephews and small children, cats and chickens, lots of laughter, too much food, and not enough time – never enough time.
I am so grateful we had the opportunity to spend some time together.
We had a good time
donning our “babushka” scarves and pretending to be much older than we
are. My family was kind enough to let
Mark and me babble on and on and on about our wonderful experiences in
Late at night we went upstairs and slept hard. It is god to be “home” – home is where family is.
· Friday, 25 May 2007
We boarded a bus at 0900 (in Anderson, SC) yesterday – almost 24 hours later we are patiently waiting as our stout bus driver recruits people to fill the empty seats on the bus here in Kansas City, MO.
The last vacant seat, in an otherwise well maintained, comfortable bus, has no seat cushion. The springs show. It appears to have been vandalized, but the unkempt bus driver ignores this and booms, “You can sit on this seat or you can just sit on the step, r you can wait 24 hours for the next bus!” He pauses, “That’s all I can do for you!”
Because of delays,
we will arrive in
We had 4 transfers on this leg of the journey. These involve rousing ourselves in the middle of the night and dragging our bags out from under the bus and scurrying to form a line where we wait to board another bus. It is not a very practical system. Though we paid for tickets, a ticket does not guarantee a seat.
We are grateful
for the food we brought with us (a legacy from our travels in
We rolled across
We are literally elbow-to-elbow with people and in the tight confines of the bus, people open up in surprising ways. People share their secrets. No business men or women with briefcases, laptops, and work. That’s for airline passengers, not bus passengers.
Outside, the houses in the suburbs make me think of the dachas back in Ukraine…country life, close to town, gardens, grass, trees…no children though and no cats or dogs running free.
At the frequent bus stops, smokers spill out of the vehicle and congregate and commune while they share their smoking bond.
Some Brief Passenger Profiles…
· Young Soldier – He graduated from high school Friday and married on Saturday. This week, he deploys. He has trouble managing his duffle bag. Mark helps him hoist it into the overhead rack. The boy/man is too young to be going off to war.
· Waitress – She is a talker and laughs often. She dyes (bleaches) her hair, chews gum and is definitely from the south – her accent is the give-away. She gets up at 3AM each day to work at a diner. She is off by 11AMShe served time in jail. In the bus station, she gave $5 to a young couple with a baby and no cash. She makes friends quickly and knows all about riding the bus. She shares pointers.
· Coke-Baby Grown-up – He is a happy boy of 11, traveling with a relative who is very kind and soft spoken. He makes loud, peculiar sounds and shrieks occasionally. The woman pacifies him.
The Musician – He plays the sax and reads nonfiction
blues history as he rides. He as a
A Security Guy from
· Prisoners – The Waitress (see above) advised us that we would stop here and that prisoners would board the bus. “Don’t let ‘em sit by yew, if yew can help it,” she recommends, chewing and popping her gum. Three prisoners board the bus. They wear white t-shirts and each carries a large envelope with their release papers inside. No one on the bus makes eye-contact with them. Outside the window the three policemen who comprised their escorts to the bus door, laugh and smoke in the dark night.
· Pregnant Girl and the New Army Husband – she wears a Betty-Boop t-shirt that stretches across her bulging belly. She chews gum and wisecracks to her redheaded spouse. He is nervous about meeting her parents for the first time. They talk about just staying on the bus and heading for the West Coats instead of going through with the big meeting.
· Ex-Navy Guy – He travels with a large, black trash bag as luggage. He is dealing with being drummed out of the Navy on a medical disability. He stares out the window. What will become of him now?
· 4’9” Man – This man of such small stature lost his wife to cancer. She lost both her breasts and then died of lung cancer. Life holds many surprises.
The Amazing B&B Twins
We arrive in
baby girls (as pretty as their young Mom and the apple of their handsome
Daddy’s eye) are certainly charmers! We
whiled away a lazy day in the suburbs of
We relish a hot shower and head off to sleep in a real bed. No dreams, just sleep. Life is good.
· Thursday, 24 May 2007
Greyhound Adventures – Heading North & West
We are taking the
bus across the
Since there is
actually no bus service in our little southern town, House-sitter Jim
chauffeured us to
The station itself was a bit unsettling. It adjoins a seedy gas station and the front window is actually a piece of unvarnished plywood (see photo!) with a small cardboard Greyhound Bus sign tacked onto it. The bathroom is in the service station – dirty, dirty, dirty.…and this from a women who has frequently used pit toilets for the past couple years.
Everyone Should Travel by Long-Distance Bus at Least Once…
Adults used to the luxury of air travel and private vehicles could use a concrete reminder of what it is like to be disenfranchised.
Politicians could learn a lot by making a coat-to-coast trip via the bus!
After 27 months in
We are traveling during the highest gasoline prices in US history (over $3.00 a gallon in sunny SC and more in more affluent areas elsewhere no doubt). Taking the Greyhound bus makes economic sense.
Riding the bus allows one (forces one) to step outside privileged middle-class life and see what another segment of real people deal with on a regular basis. Money buys freedom and usually those with money do not have to deal with some of the frustrations of life.
Frankly, I am glad my seatmate is my spouse. It makes traveling easier and more fun of course, but right now I am grateful because if a stranger sat beside me, I would feel very cramped. My personal space would be violated.
Outside my window,
a bright sunny
There are about twenty people on the bus right now. Only one person is reading (Mark). The others have their eyes closed.
No one else looks out the window.
Where are these people going?
· Saturday 19 May 2007
Ukrainian Mark & Me at Renn Faire in GA
Today we celebrated being back in the
We stopped at the
International Market in
· Thursday, 17 May 2007
Coke Pipe, Cops, Mice, & Bamboo
Today the police
arrived, upon our request. While we were
The truck itself is OK, but it had bamboo stalks growing up through the engine block and a mouse had made a cozy nest under the hood. Despite everything, our reliable Dodge pickem-up-truck cranked right up on demand! So did the Jeep!
· Wednesday, 16 May 2007
Pulling out Boxes & Pawing Through Clothes – Too Much Stuff
Today I try to find some clothes. The weather here is much warmer. I arrived still wearing my Ukrainian snow boots (with jeans). Here in SC, it is hot outside.
I look through the
boxes we hurriedly stowed before we left for
Welcome home – time for a plumbing challenge! Mark and House-sitter Jim end up tackling a plumbing problem on our first day home. Mark is under the sink and Jim supervises. We get a new faucet in the kitchen during the repair operations It is quite nice.
Later we grill steaks, sit on the porch and sip wine while we talk, talk, talk.
· Tuesday, 15 May 2007
Rental Car – Drive to Greenwood, SC with stops at IKEA
Cruising down the
east coast of the
We arrive home and are greeted by our happy house-sitter and his girlfriend and the big, bold cat!
Home sweet home!
· Monday, 14 May 2007
We caught a C-5
and had an uneventful (FREE) flight to
First Impressions of
impression of the
My second impression is equally negative. Americans look like slobs. They dress down or call it casual, but to my new eyes, most of them just lack any style or attention to fit and flair.
Tomorrow we will
rent a car and drive south to sunny
· Sunday, 13 May 2007 – Mother’s Day
Mark gave me a Cinnabon to celebrate Mother’s Day
Yes, it is small
things that make life a pleasure and that humble cinnamon roll was a
pleasure! I munched on it and sipped
While we waited we
observed the military folks transiting the terminal. I was surprised when a major approached me
and said she recognized me from my Ai Force recruiting days back in
She was enroute to
After a few hours, it was clear we would not get a flight today so we checked back into billeting and went downtown to Kaiserslaughtern for a visit to a traditional German beer garden.
· Saturday, 12 May 2007
“American” Breakfast – Wow!
We strolled off to the NCO Club for a typical American breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon plus lots of black coffee. Then we explored the base a bit.
We discovered a terrific used book store. It was hard to get out of there without a stack of wonderful books. After a couple years on a limited diet of books in English we were a bit overwhelmed by the variety of selections and the cheap price.
We visited all the base facilities and wallowed in hearing English and meeting such friendly, smiling people…
Tomorrow we will
try to HOP back to the
· Friday, 11 May 2007
0415 Taxi Call
We take a cab through the sleeping city and arrive in plenty of time to get a cup of coffee and relax at the airport. My luggage is overweight! The excess baggage fee is $300…sigh. And that is not all…
Springing me from
multiple-entry visa for five years does not allow me to stay in country without
leaving for five years…I am in violation.
I can be detained. Eventually cash
resolves the issue. For 600 UAH I get a
reprieve – a little scrap of paper with a very mundane stamp which will get me
So between my visa
and my excess baggage, I leave
We bounce across
No one in
We Stay at the Air Force Base
We take a clean,
modern train to the Air Force Base an hour from
Our delightful host has to be the most generous and kind man I have met in a long, long time! He smiles constantly and insisted we take his tuck for the duration of our stay. He kindly helps us get Mark’s ID card updated and settles us into a comfortable room at billeting.
We were very
grateful and a bit overwhelmed by all the
We indulge in Subway sandwiches, Mt Dew and junk American TV and smile, smile, smile. I took a long hot shower and crash.
· Thursday, 10 May 2007
Peace Corps Office - Faces to Names…
This is our last visit to the Peace Corps Ukraine offices. We hand out a few pens and say our farewells.
A couple of Peace Corps Volunteers in the lounge hear us talking and recognize my name from the Peace Corps 2, Yahoo Group. We talk; they ask questions and give me warm feedback on my advice, thoughts and observations.
We learn that another PCV we know is being Medivaced to DC tomorrow. Her disorder is a mystery and a Peace Corps staff member will actually travel with her.
· Wednesday,9 May 2007 – Victory Day
Parades, Presidents, Communists,Bands, Downpours, Patriots, Politics, & Flowers
The Soldiers Memorial, Motherland Statue,
Lavra & the
Coffee and Brandy under a pergola - This was a wonderful day – our last in
· Tuesday, 8 May 2007
Packing and Sorting –Streamlining Again…
Airline restrictions are extreme…we have to weed out more things. It is hard to leave things behind.
We watch sentimental Hallmark movies on cable TV and take a walk around the neighborhood.
· Monday 7 May 2007
Peace Corps Office
A dull day of administrivia at the Peace Corps office…
· Sunday,6 May 2007
House of Chimeras, Andreyevsky Spusk,
We packed the day
with sight-seeing. Slava played tour
guide. He climbs like a mountain goat
and enjoys seeing every hilltop vista.
He is happy living in
At days end, Mark and I are very tired.
We will miss Slava.
· Saturday,5 May 2007
It’s all Happening at the Zoo
Mark and I paid an early morning visit to the Kiev Zoo. It is being upgraded, but there is still a large section of the old Soviet-era cages. There are many children in the park and there are zoo employees providing sidewalk chalk and soap bubbles and other activities to engage the children.
We hook up with
Slava, a friend formerly from
The gardens are
fabulous. We take lots of photos of the
beautiful lilacs and views of the city and the river.
· Thursday, 3 May 2007
The flat we are staying in for the next week has cable TV – including a couple English-language channels. I spent most of my day indiscriminately watching cheesy movies on the Hallmark Channel and shorts on Animal Planet. I am mesmerized by this TV that speaks in English!
Outside, it is cold and windy and rain falls intermittently.
Mark is at the Peace Corps office – a medical exam, then off to a dental exam and a few appointments with staff members. There are more appointments tomorrow and Monday. It’s hard to believe in a few short days Mark will officially be a Retuned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV).
· Wednesday, 2 May 2007
Kiev is Cold, Cold, Cold…
There were snow
I m glad I have on snow boots!
We walk to the Peace Corps office. The streets are deserted. No cars or people about. The city has the feel and look of a movie set for some disaster film where all the towns’ people have mysteriously vanished. No one seems quite sure of what the holiday is. Of course the First of May is a holiday, but this is the second.
Notes on Checking into our Temporary Flat…
We take the metro to the flat we reserved for our stay in the city.
T, our temporary
landlady, and her husband welcome us.
“You look like movie stars!” she says as we stand in the middle of the
one-room flat we rented for our ten days in
T. bustles around making us feel comfortable. She tells us where to shop, shows us how to use the washing machine and how to operate the TV and the phone. Then she meticulously demonstrates how to lock and unlock the various doors. Typical of soviet-ear Ukrainian flats, there are two doors at the entrance and each door has two locks. These open onto a hallway shared by several flats. At the entrance to that hall, there is a large metal door with a pair of locks. The flat is on the third floor so there is yet another door and more locks!
“If someone knocks and you don’t recognize them (through the peephole), don’t open the door(s),” T advises. “Even if they say it is the police, do not open the door.”
conversation moves to work, T. is delighted to learn about Mark’s computer
background. She turns to her husband and
draws him into an animated conversation.
He teaches business and economics and is interested in getting up to
speed on using computers in business.
Conversation dances around that topic – no textbooks or materials
available in Ukrainian, and no experience…Mark mentions possibilities and says
something about working at the
T’s husband chimes
· Tuesday, 1 May 2007
Mark piles all our baggage outside on the babushka bench in the warm spring sunshine. We take photos of this embarrassment of baggage and then wait patiently for L. and V, who will drive us to the train station. A small boy, curious about the unusual activity in this quiet courtyard, wanders over and engages us in conversation. He prattles away, asking questions in Russian, and has a fine time coaching us on ours. He teaches us new words, patiently spelling them out as his teacher might.
Mark gives the boy an American flag. The boy dances around in circles and the flag flies, enjoying the dance. . I take photos of the boy. The boy and I wander around the courtyard feeding stray cats from a small stash of cat chow I had. The boy tells me the names of the cats he knows
At last our friends arrive. We pile our luggage into the car’s trunk. It takes two trips to get us to the train station.
We trundle all our various bundles (amazing how much you accumulate in 27-months!) into the station café and sip bitter coffee. At noon, L. buys a bottle of cognac and a plate of cheese. From my handbag, I pull out a chocolate bar (I am so Ukrainian!) and put it on the table. We make toasts, nibble and take photos.
The train arrives. Several members of our English Club arrive. A large, sunny-yellow, beribboned, bouquet is thrust into my arms and several small gifts. More photos. Lots of hugs. Every one on the rain is curious: is there a celebrity on board? We pose with the conductors. We settle in for our long train ride.
Later a retired Ukrainian Army Colonel joins us in our coupe and spreads a small feast of salo, radishes, and dark bread on our table. We sip wine and swap ”war stories,” alternating between Russian and English. Outside our windows, we pass charming dachas, each with an assortment of chickens and geese, cows, flowers and fruit trees.
Can we really be
leaving Crimea and our cozy nest on the
TO READ APRIL POSTS OR OTHER OLDER ENTRIES,
RETURN TO THE ARCHIVES ON THE LEFT.
FYI: If you want to read about our initial Peace Corps
adventures, start with January 2005; that’s when we received our invitation