Saturday, June 2, 2007

New faces in familiar places

Have you ever experienced that phenomenon where, as soon as you learn about something new, you start noticing it everywhere? And it always seems as if the new thing just suddenly began popping up in your life, like a freak coincidence, but when you really think about it, you realize it's always been there - you just hadn't been looking for it?

Well, imagine my astonishment when I walked out of my condo this morning and saw this:

In case you can't read that license plate, here it is again:

As you already know from the title of this blog, that word is "Ukraine" in Cyrillic, with the owner taking normal license-plate creative license by replacing the H with an N. And the owner had even applied the umlaut mark on the "I" using two little blue stickers! Who was the owner of this mystery Ukrainian Tacoma? And why was he parked in my neighbor's driveway?
Well, a few hours later, I found out. My mom spotted a thin, scruffy looking man exiting our neighbor's place. She asked him if the car was his - it was - and if he could stay for a minute and talk to me - he could. The man's name is Andrey, and he is a Ukrainian construction worker for a remodeling company who has been working on my neighbor's condo for six months. And I never once noticed him or his car until today. Go figure! I guess Україна simply wasn't on my radar screen six months ago.
Although he was born and raised in Lviv, Andrey is now an American citizen. His "coming to America" story is really fascinating. Fifteen years ago, Andrey was granted refugee status because he is Pentecostal Christian, a faith that was frowned upon as a cult religion in Ukraine back then. (Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic were the main religions - anything else was considered a "sect.") According to Andrey, Reagan and Gorbachev signed some sort of agreement that allowed people under religious persecution to leave the USSR and come to the US, and it was this agreement that allowed him to emigrate. He initially settled in a Ukrainian neighborhood in Chicago, but moved to Virginia Beach eight years ago.
When I mentioned that I would be researching Chernobyl, he had some interesting stories to tell. He said that his friend in the Ukrainian special forces had spent six months guarding the Exclusion Zone after the accident. This friend had written to Andrey about the incredible size of the fruits and vegetables in the area; according to him, there were strawberries the size of apples growing in the fields near Chernobyl. "Did you eat them?" Andrey asked his friend. "Of course! They were enormous!" the friend replied. Andrey also talked about how his friend would walk past crystal clear lakes in the Exclusion Zone and see fish with mustaches, extra fins, giant heads...
Andrey has not been back to Ukraine since emigrating, but he still had some good advice to give about living there. He suggested that I visit a church if I ever needed someone to talk to in English. Since so many American churches do missions to Ukraine, nearly every Ukrainian Pentecostal or Ukrainian Baptist church will have someone who can talk both Ukrainian and English. He also told me to avoid Ukrainian "vending machines," which consist of lemonade on tap that, upon paying 3 pennies, will dispense into a communal cup that one must wash and return after using (but which, of course, almost never actually gets washed by the pervious user).
Andrey was nice enough to give me his e-mail address, so I will probably send him a message before I leave. It's funny how nice and receptive people are when you show an interest in their culture - Andrey talked to me and my mom for almost 45 minutes!
Tomorrow I leave for Pittsburgh. It's a 7.5 hour drive (ugh) and the forecast calls for rain...


Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.

Kiev Blogger said...

I'm sorry, but what your friend Andrey told you about Ukraine, Chernobyl or vending machines is just a load of bullshit. :) I know, I live here :)

If you would like some info on Ukraine - just talk to me. I'll be honest, and it's been considerably less than 15 years since I went there. :)

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