(Title should be read in Hermione Granger's voice)
Last week, I decided that it was time for me to follow through on a promise I made back in October, to go and visit my friend Anatolii’s mom again. Now, I have been putting this off for almost 2 months, not because I didn’t want to go and visit but because I knew a visit meant that I would have to speak Russian all weekend and I did not feel ready for it.
But last Friday, I decided enough was enough. I was never going to feel ready so I had better just bight the bullet and do it. So, I sent a message to Nina asking if I could come and plans were
I can’t quite purchase bus or train tickets yet by myself. While these purchases may seem easy, I have to be able to speak enough Russian to be able to understand and communicate all of the weird things I might have to communicate. Like, I want a bus and a place to sit, and I would like a round trip ticket. These things are way more complicated than I ever though they could be.
Needless to say, my lovely and amazing Russian tutor accompanied me to the bus station, helped me figure out what tickets to buy and we even agreed upon which lane the bus would be in.
Saturday morning, I woke up exceptionally early (5:30 am!) and finished packing my things before getting on the trolley bus to where my bus was going to pick me up. 6:50 am came and went and my bus hadn’t arrived yet. So, I was excited at 7am when a bus arrived. I was cold and ready to be on the bus and reading my magazine. I handed my ticket to the ticket lady and boarded the bus.
An hour later, after a bit of a nap, a few articles in my magazine read and drinking half of my coffee, the bus came to a stop. I looked up from my reading and noticed that the bus was stopped
and I was the only one left. Ummm, I thought, this is not my stop. Looking around, the bus had stopped in
the middle of nowhere Ukraine…like pulling aside on any far road in or out of Iowa.
I quickly stood up and startled the driver. “Excuse me” I said (in Russian), “Oleksandriia?”. He looked at me with a blank stare. I quickly fished my ticket out of my jacket and shoved it into his hands. After skimming it the driver looks at me and says a bunch of things that I didn’t understand. But I did catch that he was saying “This is Oleksandrivka, not Oleksandriia”
I started hyperventilating and felt tears burn my eyes. Where am I? I thought, what am I going to do? I pick up my phone and start frantically calling between the three
people who I thought would be able to help me. But it was still early in the morning so at first no one answered.
So, after finding out from the driver that he would be going back to Kirovohrad, at some point in the day and agreeing that I could stay sitting on the bus, I sat down and the driver got out to smoke a cigarette. The minute he was gone, I broke down in tears. I was embarrassed and scared and honestly a little homesick. This is a common and understandable reaction to hardship, a deep desire to just give up and go home.
After a little waiting, one of my bosses, Olya, answered her phone. Choking back tears I told her what happened, she immediately went into mom mode. After talking to the bus driver and communicating the situation to both him and I, she got back on the phone with me and told me it would be all okay and that I didn’t have to worry. She had a plan. Not long after hanging up with her I got a call back from my Russian teacher (who went into mom mode, as well) and a text back from my other savior and Ukrainian mom ‘Julia’.
While sitting on the bus, waiting for everyone else to find a solution to my problem, I was taken by surprise by the incredible kindness of some of the people of Oleksandrivka, a small village. I
have always seen the kindness of Ukrainians but the kindness I have seen are from people who care about me for various reasons. But these people didn’t know me and had no reason at all to be kind
to me except our common humanness. Older Ukrainian bus station tenders brought me tea and a pastry and refused to allow me to pay. The bus driver, asked me about myself and listened patiently as
I talked to him in broken Russian, and together they and my ‘Ukrainian moms’ worked on a solution to my issue.
Eventually, one of the station tenders came running to me with a telephone, I took it and on the other end was an English-speaking person who told me they had figured out another bus for me to get on, but it was leaving immediately. Quickly gathering my things, I looked at the bus driver and the ladies and repeated as emphatically as possible thank you.
Somehow, I arrived in Oleksandriia, only about 30 minutes after I had originally planned. But my hosts were very concerned. The bus from Kirovoghrad to Oleksandriia had come and went and I wasn’t on it. My first challenge in Russian speaking was trying to convey to them my misadventure.
Oleksandriia was even better the second time I went. Speaking Russian for over 30 hours was really difficult and I am nowhere near being a proficient speaker. But it was successful, I ate great food, laughed a lot, and worked on my pronunciation. Nina was very motherly towards me, making sure I was never hungry, that I was always warm, and that everyone was speaking Russian not Ukrainian around me. It was a great trip. The Kyryliuk's always make me feel like I am at home. Even though my head hurts and I am exhausted, I can’t wait to return to Oleksandriia (hopefully next time not via Oleksandrivka).