Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

Following my latest post about language barriers and related difficulties, I got many a note from friends and family telling me to chin up and come home if I needed.

I guess what I considered to be dry wit was really just coming off as dull complaints… my bad, friends.

The truth is there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be than right here. Many of you know that my journey to becoming a Kiva Fellow has lasted years, and now that I’m here I feel so ready to face the day and its ensuing challenges. And it doesn’t hurt that after one month here in Ukraine, I’ve had more than my share of rewarding kindnesses from strangers when I’ve least expected it.

At Khersones, a small city of Greek ruins, on the Black Sea

Zaporozhye is not home to the kindest strangers I’ve ever met. People are generally annoyed to come into contact with me, which I’ve blogged about more than once before.  But like I’ve said, it’s understandable. Zap is not the easiest city to inhabit, even if you do speak fluent Russian and know where each marshrutka stops and how much it costs to get on.

I visited Crimea with my roommate Colleen this past weekend. It was a lovely, sunny, green-grassed and blooming-flowers,  if not a little chilly, getaway.  I feel a new found apprecaition for the loveliness of Ukraine and recharged to undertake my work as a Kiva Fellow. Here are a few funny stories about strangers who brightened my trip with Colleen to Crimea and helped to renew our faith and love in Ukraine.

Upon arrival in Sevastopol, Colleen and I stumbled off our night train and spent a good 10 minutes looking for our bus stop that would have been easily found had we read our instructions a little more carefully. Instead, we walked through the parking lot of the Bokzal with our backpacks and winter coats, looking very American and probably very lost. “Can I give you a ride!” the Ukrainian taxi drivers yell to us as we wonder aimlessly. No thanks, we say over and over. “I’ll take you for free!” says one man with a smile. A smile? A JOKE?!?! We’re speechless.

Marina awaits at the top of these stairs

Minutes later, as we come upon our hostel, we’re met again with a surprising display of kindness from a stranger as our hostel host Marina awaits us at the top of the street about 10 minutes earlier than we said we’d arrive.  (Whoever heard of a hostel owner coming to meet her guests???) She and her husband spoke to us at length and made sure we had all the information we needed for a successful Crimean vacation, and even offered up cell phone and home numbers for further assistance, free of charge. (Marina & Yuriy’s Funny Dolphin Hostel in Sevastopol comes highly recommended!)

And then there were pickles. Ukraine’s home to lots of pickles. We came upon the stalls of pickles at Sevastopol’s nicest rynok, or outdoor market. Independent as I try to be, I order my own pickled goodies separately from my fluent-in-Russian roommate Colleen. Obviously I don’t speak Russian, and the pickle ladies promptly find out from Colleen where we’re from and why we’re here. … All of a sudden, we’re being handed hand fulls of other pickled goodies. Handfulls of pickled eggplant, cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, and carrots. Then carrots wrapped in cauliflower…eggplant wrapped in cabbage…greenbeans and pickled garlic…you name it, they pickle it. And these ladies hand them to us, refusing our money, as a “Welcome to Ukraine” treat.

Of course, we’ve been in Ukraine for over a month. We’ve had our fair share of pickles. We’ve had our fair share of rynoks. But these ladies have showed us a kindness we will never forget. (Our gassy stomachs won’t forget either, for hours…)

Our sentiments about the Rossiya Mall...

Then there were the marshrutka drivers. Note to wayward travelers: Lonely Planet Ukraine does not have the best descriptors for how to get around in Crimea. So when we got on marshrutka 112, hoping to take it to the “Rossiya” stop to then walk to Khersones, the town of Greek ruins along the Black Sea in Sevastopol, we were shocked when we realized we were the only people left in the van. “Where are you girls going?” the driver yells back as he pulls into his final stop, a deserted gravel parking lot where, it seems, all the marshrutka hang out smoking cigarettes in between shifts. We explain where we’re trying to Khersones (which, btw, is pronounced hair-son-YEZ, not hair-SONEZ…). The marshrutka drivers laugh at us as we try to hang with them and then another very nice driver takes us directly to our stop, which is the “Rossiya”  Mall, after explaining to us exactly how to get to the Greek City.

Made it!

Finally, there were the Ukrainian kids we met our last night. Although they lived in Sevastopol, they’d rented out the entire apartment (a mere $40 for the night) to chain smoke cigarettes and throw a party with their friends. Despite language barriers, it took the kids only a few hours to consider us their new best friends as they included us in their party, shots of cognac (?!?!) and all. It was a great way to end our trip as we stumbled onto our night train bearing random gifts like an Eiffel Tower keychain and a cigarette lighter with dice inside from our new Ukrainian friends. “I LOVE YOU!” they yelled as we rushed out the door to make our train.

Colleen & I with our new friends

“WE LOVE YOU TOO!” Maybe its a southern thing. But it was nice to leave Crimea having had a fun and successful vacation that relied so heavily on the kindness of strangers.


2 responses to “Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

  1. Leah! The exact same thing happened to me in Israel! I took a Sherut (like a marshrutka, I imagine) and clearly told the driver where I wanted to go. I guess he didn’t understand that he had to tell me when we got there… After half an hour, he kept looking at me suspiciously through his rearview mirror as more and more people got on and off, until finally it was just me. And a parking lot. Full of sherut drivers smoking cigs. I had to get into a yelling match with him (very common in Israel) to convince him to let me stay on the sherut (he wanted to leave me there on the exact opposite side of Tel Aviv, a rather large city). When we finally did get to my stop, he made sure I got the heck off! It turned out to have been about the, oh, second stop after the central bus station where he had picked me up. Oops.

  2. You look MAHvelous! And your blog posts are such fun to read. Ben finally washed ashore in Baltimore the other day, all suntanned from his rough life in the Pacific!

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