Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Back in Starobilsk

far right, at Michelle's home; my grandchildren at my birthday party.

Hard to say Goodbye
Saturday, 27 March. My visit home has ended. We crammed in as much as we could on my last day, but we just ran out of time. Elissa, little Philip and I made a quick trip to the Toledo Museum of Art to look around, see a Gordon Parks (the great photographer) exhibit, show Philip the Matisse mural, and listen to Matthew, a friend of Elissa's,  play some lovely jazz on the museum's grand Steinway, encased in a bold contemporary design. He played familiar tunes and one of his own compositions, a waltz to send me on my way.

After the museum visit, we drove out to Sylvania to see Josh's Junior High basketball game. Great game. Josh made a three-pointer. "That one's for you!" Michelle said with a big smile. Josh's team ended its season undefeated. The whole family cheered. Then it was time to say goodbye. The kids piled into Michelle's blue Suburu, waving away. I jumped and waved and blew kisses until the car disappeared. My heart sank.

My daughter Elissa drove me up to Detroit with a sleeping Philip in the back seat of the car. We reminisced about our visit, the things we did, our dinners, my birthday party, the books we collected and mailed to Starobilsk, our fun Mary Kay makeover with Alli. We agreed it was all wonderful. We talked about her new space at the Collingwood Art Center and some projects she hopes to work on. It's her time, I tell her. Your children are grown and pretty much on their own. Time for you. No one deserves it more.

We got to the airport and hugged, holding back tears. She drove off, Philip just waking, wondering where Nana is going now. I cry. I am going back to Ukraine to finish up my tour of duty with the Peace Corps. One more year and 3 months to go. I want to do this, and yet, it is so hard to say goodbye. Goodbye to my children and grandchildren and great-grandson Philip.

I wonder why I am doing what I am doing. Why not just stay put? Stay where my condo and friends are in St. Petersburg, stay close to my family in Toledo? Why do I leave the people I love the most? Why am I a wandering Peregrine, as my mom used to call me? Conflicted, torn between loves, I walk alone into the airport for a long five-hour plus wait for the plane to Amsterdam. Just me and my baggage. All of it.

Anxious Travel MomentsIt was a long wait, but I hate long goodbyes even more. The plane finally got off the ground at 10:00 p.m. I settled in, crowded on all sides in the center aisle, and tried to sleep, on and off. We arrived in Amsterdam 7 and 1/2 hours later, on Sunday 28 March at 11:00 a.m. Travel is not without some anxious moments and arriving at the gate at Schipol, with no one to help get us to the next gate, was a bit of a hassle. No one knew anything. I didn't see the arrival/departure board. I kept going and finally found a station where someone was willing to help. Of course the gate was at the opposite end of the airport. I got there as the plane was boarding, and made it to Kiev a few hours later. I'm now half-way around the world, without family, on my own.

I always end up the last in line at Customs, and this was no exemption, but knowing I had to find a way to get to the train station (Voksal) to catch my 6:40 p.m. overnight train to Lugansk added to the anxiety. I had about an hour. I made it through customs, got my luggage, went to an ATM, got some hryvnia, and was hussled by the "taxi recruiter." He's the guy who asks where you want to go and suggests a taxi and says how much, all in English. It worked for me (it usually does), because I didn't want to miss the train and I knew this would be the fastest way. The taxi driver kept upping the price on the way to the station, speeding to get me there on time. I told him not to worry I would give him a tip. He raced on. I held my breath.

Made it to the train on time. I got to the right track with the help of a stranger who spoke some English. I'm getting to know the train station pretty well, so I understood her directions.

Overnight Train
It interesting to take the overnight train to Lugansk. I meet people and have some interesting conversations. This time my 4-bunk coupe was shared by a pleasant middle-aged man and two young college-aged girls traveling in a group with four others who came in and out of the coupe. We smiled from time to time, but they were full of their own conversation, spirited and serious. The man and I were spectators. As soon as the girls left, we called it a day, or two-days. The train jerked along, and I was glad I didn't have a broken arm. An added bonus: a full moon followed us. This night it looked cold, white as a pearl. I see all those I love and miss, and they will see it too.

Doma!I took a taxi from Lugansk to Starobilsk with 3 other passengers. It was a relatively fast trip, just over an hour, faster than the bus or marshruka. I walked from the bus station to my doma (Starobilsk home) with all my stuff. The ground was hard and I was grateful for that. I looked for signs of spring along the path, subtle, but they were there. A few green sprouts pushing out of the hard earth, buds on trees swelling, a freshness in the air. I got to Luba's and saw that she had been working in her garden. She loves to garden and I knew she'd be at it as soon as she could. I spent several hours unpacking before Sergei got home, then Luba. Big hugs and smiles all around. We were glad to see each other. "My Amerikanka," Luba beamed. I felt warm and welcomed. Luba liked her presents from America. I emailed Vera, Natalia and Iryna to let them know I was back. I got an urgent email from Vera at Victoria's saying she and her folk artist daughter Elena needed me tomorrow to help finish a grant for a new folk art project. Sure, I'll be there! I have to go to Severodoneskt this week, too, to sign off on a new bank account for Vera's Human Rights Project, a Peace Corps approved bank. Not surprisingly, there isn't a branch in Starobilsk.

I'm back in the saddle again! Family visit over, adventures ahead, dreams of home swirling in my head.

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