Monday, April 5, 2010

Going to Severodonestk

I had to go to Severodonestk last week to sign off on a new bank account for the Peace Corps grant to Victoria for its “Know Your Rights” project. Not surprisingly, the Peace Corps-approved ProCredit bank does not have a branch in Starobilsk.

Severodonestk is a medium-sized industrial town about 60 miles from Starobilsk. It is not very attractive, with lots of Soviet-style buildings and belching chemical factories. Maybe I just didn't see the nicer parts of the city. Or perhaps it's that Spring hasn't arrived there yet. The town square is pretty, however, with a majestic cultural center, and the town features a huge bazaar covering several blocks between the center of town and the bus station. A pleasant walk. Dozens of plastic flower vendors added color to the scene, an irresistable lure for me, and I bought some pure white calla lilies as an Easter present for Luba.

But it took two hours to get there, on a crowded bus without shock absorbers on one of the worst roads in Ukraine I think. We bumped along at 30 miles per hour, hitting every pot hole. They were hard to avoid. The ride was jarring and jolting. People and packages went flying. We were on top of one another.

The bus ride back to Starobilsk was even worse. Travelers outnumbered buses, and people outnumbered seats. Instead of lines, there were crowds of people pushing and shoving, including babushkas with huge packages and bags plopped everywhere. One large woman shoved me aside and put her gigantic bags at my feet to block me even further. It was a different woman than the one who shoved in front of me at the cashier's counter when I bought my ticket. These shoving babuskas kept multiplying. Where were the sweet kerchieved-babuskas when you needed them?

My lilies stuck out from my shoulder bag, looking very pretty and perky I thought. But the pushing and shoving to get on the bus knocked off the white flowers so I ended up with long green plastic stems looking as forloin as I was feeling. Some passengers were kind enough to pick the callas off the ground and give them to me, not as pure white as they had been, but I managed to salvage a few. I was pushed onto the bus by three or four people and ended up, discheveled and disjointed, at a window seat.

On top of all this Ukrainian surrrealism, the jet lag from my trip home sent me drifting. I couldn't keep my eyes open, even with the shoving and pushing. More people threw themselves onto the overcrowded bus as I unwillingly slipped in and out of sleep. My tiredness took over. I awoke at one point to find a big bag on my lap. There was no room for it any place else. Such are the perils of a PCV in a far-away village in Ukraine.

By the time we got back to Starobilsk I wondered about the joys of travel. But it's not just here, I reminded myself; bad roads and obnoxious people are everywhere. I added another notch to my Peace Corps adventure belt, and saw the Calla lilies smiling at me.

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