Thursday, December 10
TGIF Ukrainian Style
He brings the drill out of the closet complete with bits of assorted sizes. It looks strange sitting on the small kitchen counter next to the cheese and bread. Guests are arriving now. Tonight we will crack open an ostrich egg and make a giant omelet.
Actually, you don't crack an ostrich egg. The shell is indestructible. It's maybe more than 1/4 inch thick. That's why Sergey, our host, has brought out the drill. I hold the egg as he drills and drills.
I'm included in a TGIF party (at least that is what we would call it in America - Thank Goodness It's Friday!). Oxanna invited me. She has been in my Leadership English Class and directs Konotop"s social welfare programs. I get to meet her boss and a lot of her colleagues.
All are very friendly hugging and greeting me and one another even though they just left work a half hour ago. I find out that among the 8 people, only one has met an American before. This is typical in this part of Ukraine. Travel is limited, not by the government but by economics, and tourists just don't make it much beyond Kiev.
I easily fall into feeling part of the group. I am always amazed at the warmth of Ukrainian hospitality. It's a great experience to be included in just ordinary day-to-day activities.
I am told that Sergey use to raise ostrich at his Dacha on the outskirts of Konotop. But no longer. I am not certain why. This is the last of the eggs that has been sitting in his refrigerator for a number of weeks waiting for a festive occasion.
The apartment is small. Coats and shoes are piled in the entry way. That's the custom to remove shoes upon entering a home. Streets are mostly dirt and gravel so the dirt that can be tracked in is a housekeeper's nightmare.
I know. Having carried heavy carpets down four flights of stairs and beat the dirt out of them and carried them back up four flights of stairs, I can attest to the wisdom of removing shoes.
Early guests pull out a side board table and get another from the kitchen. Within moments, the all purpose room is transformed into a dinning area. The sofa will seat three or four and stools will accommodate others. Setting up this long table reminds me of Thanksgiving with all the relatives jammed into a small efficiency apartment. In Ukraine, it's normalna (normal).
Other guests arrive. More hugs are shared and the conversation becomes even more animated. Ukrainians may seem reserved in public, but with friends behind close doors, they know how to have a good time.
These folks bring typical foods for a Ukrainian meal. There is dark bread, cheese wedges, kielbasa, sliced apples, and cucumbers (always fresh cucumbers and in season, tomatoes and radishes). Tonight there is also a jar of pickle fish and some kind of cabbage salad. A plate of fresh lemons and oranges gives color to the table setting.
Small plates about the size of coffee saucers are before each place. I have never seen large Texas size plates. That would be shocking to Ukrainians.
All is laid out in duplicate since our make-sift table is so long. I notice that Ukrainians do not typically pass dishes. They reach from their place and spike whatever food they want. They will often fill your plate too - whether you want more or not. It happens to me often - not that I look under nourished, but because of their hospitality.
Traditionally there are a series of toasts - one is for friendship, another for the women, another for the men, another for health and still another but I forget for what! All of the toasts are spread out over the coarse of the gathering. But even at that, I am careful to not drain my glass for it surely will be refilled.
Nearly five hours later, we had consumed all of the food and a good quantity of vodka. We dance and sing and laugh and have another toast. It is a wonderful evening, but it's time to say farewell. TGIF Ukrainian style...until next time.
Oh by the way, we never had the Ostrich omelette. After careful inspection, it was determined to be a rotten egg. A real pity....