Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ukrainian Hippies

Beatles Cafe, Kerala, India

I thought Ukrainian hippies were an anachronism, but I just met my first Ukrainian hippie couple. So much for stereotypes. I was given Sonya's name by friends of friends, including a former student of hers, and told I should call her and get to meet her. This was before camp. Now that camp is over, I made the call, and we set up a date to meet.

Last evening, Sonya and her husband Nikita (not their real names) came to Luba's to pick me up and take me to their place for tea. Sonya's family is originally from Siberia. She has beautiful dark brown hair and brown eyes, a retired Ukrainian English teacher who speaks the language really well. Nikita is a tall, lean, blond man with piercing blue eyes, a retired doctor and surgeon. They must be early pensioners because they look to be in their mid-fifties at most, with three grown children between them.
They were both wearing jeans and sweaters, and Nikita was wearing, hmm, could those sandals be birkenstocks? I smiled to myself, because I have many birkenstock stories. We had a pleasant chat as we walked the 6 or so blocks to their place, not far from Luba's. They live on land his mother owns, where she has her home. The mother, whom I did not meet, is in her late 80s, and not well; it sounded like a form of alzheimer's from the way Nikita described it. He is taking care of her.

Sonya and Nikita live next to the mother, in a house they built on the land, brick by brick, wood plank by wood plank. It's a lovely home with home-made furniture, great sturdy bookcases, and beautiful curtains that Sonya crocheted herself. Simple but elegant. A beaded curtain hangs in the entrance to the living room, which has a table in the middle and held a nice computer and sound system. Very contemporary.

While we got acquainted over tea, herbal tea (they wanted to make sure I knew that), and talked a little about ourselves and our families, and about the Peace Corps and what I was doing in Starobilsk, I couldn't help but notice large pictures of what looked like an Indian guru on the walls.

Sure enough, that's who it was: a guru, something like Balshoy Singh, that both Sonya and Nikita believe in, whose principles about enlightenment and the soul they faithfully follow. For the next few hours, I learned all about this wonderful guru from these devoted followers. I learned that Sonya and Nikita both spend their lives meditating and striving to make it to a higher plane of existence. I learned they read the Vedas, sacred Hindu scriptures. They walk and hike and focus on the meaning of the guru's teachings, a guru whose lineage goes way back to maybe before Buddha and other great Indian gurus.

I imagined it was the same line of gurus that the Beatles spent time with on their Indian sojourn all those many years ago. Sonya's earnest explanations felt a little bit like proselytizing, but I just kicked back and enjoyed learning, and listening to English. Nikita understood a little English, but Sonya did all the translating, so my mind had time to wander back to my graduate-student days in Madison, Wisconsin; early family life in Toledo Ohio; the anti-war movement and the Civil Rights movement. Also to an amazing trip I took to India in the 1980s.

Somewhat melancholy reflections, but then I kept remembering that I wasn't home, or at the Beatles Cafe in Kerala, India; that I was, afterall, in Ukraine.
I reflected on the curiosity of the moment and my own reactions to meeting this neat couple. My stereotypes were again being assaulted, and a good thing, too.

There are people all over the world who adhere to the principles of love and peace, who strive to live simple lives, to find the purpose for their existence on earth, to tend to their souls, to embrace the belief that life is never-ending. Like Sonya and Nikita, they want to embrace the unity of the universe, to achieve a form of enlightenment.

I believe there are many paths to get there, and that Sonja and Nikita have found a good path. My brother has found his own, in the Goddess. My children are making their own paths, too. Well, aren't we all? And thus we chatted and shared, until a full moon beckoned us outdoors, and into the night.

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