The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Saturday, April 30

Paska: Goodbye and Good Luck

Maybe it's my imagination, but people seem happier on Paska (Easter). 

I'm watching Ukrainians at the Vokzal (train station). I see smiles everywhere.  A babushka and dedushka hold hands helping each other as they meander across train tracks. A little girl sucks on an ice cream while a little boy races ahead looking behind every few moments to make sure his parents are still watching.  

In a gentle spring manner, the sunshine is beaming down on everyone.  Puffy clouds roll across the day's cerulean blue canvass.  A tender breeze caresses the senses.  It's warm without being hot.  A perfect day.

If Paska means love-unending and I believe it does, then I am in love with Ukraine and the chance to be living here.

I'm at the Vakzal to catch a train from Chernigiv and back to Konotop.  It’s here where my Peace Corps adventure began.  Now two years later, my time is ending and new clusters of volunteers are just starting. 

Last Thursday, I got a chance to share my experience and some tips on networking and community integration at the Peace Corps training.  The new recruits were attentive.  Two years of being a Peace Corps Volunteers bestows some credibility.  Like Woody Allan puts it, “80% of success is showing up.”  I'm a survivor...veteran...or whatever.  I showed up. 

I like developing training presentations.  I always wrap in stories with practical tips that I have either used or gathered from other volunteers.  My presentation went so well that staff invited me to record a DVD so that it can be shared in the future.  I’m delighted.   It looks like I will be able to leave behind a training legacy. 

This time my visit to Chernigiv is also a goodbye to my host family and particularity Luda.  I lived with her  for 11 weeks in 2009.  Luda taught me some of my first practical Russian phrases. 

I remember practicing.

Я хочу купить воду без Гасс.  Proudly back home to Luda, I carried my first bottle of “water without gas.”  Like a kid, I beamed, “I did it.”   

Every week we would make a menu in Russian.  Even if we didn't follow it which was mostly the case, I was learning.  We played lots of UNO and I learned my colors and numbers that way.   Of course, Luda almost always won.  We laugh together recalling our shared stories.

On Paska, we take the yellow bus to one of the historic churches in the center of Chernigiv.  Along the way, I see scores of people strolling with wicker baskets strung under arms.  Each is filled with an assortment of Easter breads, (also called Paska), eggs, kielbasa, and maybe some cognac.

As we approach the church, I see a crowd ringing the ancient domed building.  They wait with their baskets quietly greeting one another in the dawn. 

Luda and I snake our way through the crowd and enter the sanctuary.  

Spectacularly, the front is gilded in gold from floor to highest heights.   A screen known as a iconostatis separates the altar from the people.  Icons are everywhere.  It’s a remarkable sight to see in such a poor country. 

There are no pews.  People circulate through the space pausing at icons to say a prayer and kiss the image.  They begin and end their prayers with the sign of the cross.  Unlike the West, Orthodox Christians cross themselves with broad bold movement – head, chest, right shoulder, left shoulder and a full bow. 

Many people light candles.  I buy one to remember those I have loved who are no longer with us – my parents and brother, Nancy Lee, Gregory, Babushka, Brent, Jessie and Brian. 

I am struck by the theology of the space.  The gold and towering dome is other worldly.  Yet the people milling around is so human.  I think this architecture reflects the miracle of divinity and humanity together in Jesus. 

I don’t understand the words of the Priest.  He chants and I am told that he is reading the Resurrection account from the Bible.  A lovely soprano sings simple melodies.  Her voice reverberates and seems to come from the arches above - almost heaven.     

Later some people come forward to receive a sip of wine from a chalice given to them on a silver spoon.  They have been fasting since Holy Thursday and break their fast with the “blood of Jesus”.   It must be a powerful experience for believers. 

We leave the sanctuary and join the crowd outside.  It has grown denser -  about 3 or 4 deep. 

The priest has a bundle of spring branches in hand.  He dips them in water – holy water – and sprays the people and most importantly the baskets.  

A babushka pokes the priest on the back.  Her basket has gotten little if any water.  He turns and splashes both basket and babushka.   She radiates wet smiles.  

Everyone and everything is blessed. The Easter miracle - Love-Unending - is repeated.

From above, bells begin to ring.  A large one goes bong…bong…bong while strings of smaller ones chirp ding-a-ling… ding-a-ling… ding-a-ling.  The combination is so much livelier than a single bell.  I imagine the heart of Chernigiv brimming over with joy.

After our blessing, we stroll down the walkways that surround the Church and make our way back home.  I try to imprint the sights and sounds into my consciousness so that I can remember this feeling.      

Later that same day, I say goodbye to Luda.  With a smile that keeps tears from flowing, we remember our daily ritual.  Every day as I left for language class, Luda would say, "Goodbye and good luck."  Now we hug and say it for the last time face-to-face. 

What a lucky fellow I have become.  It's like I have gained a second family.   I step into the sunshine and look up at the balcony of Luda’s flat.  She is there waving - Goodbye. Good luck!

Saturday, April 16

For Holy Week and Paska

Again, it’s the dawn of Holy Week. Outside the snow is gone and hope for a resurgence of green grows each day.   Daffodil spikes poke through the black soil.    

In Konotop, resurgence is real and happening now.  Ah, spring!

I will travel to Chernigov next week.  I have been invited to share in the training of new Peace Corps Volunteers.  I want to present a collection of tips for community integration and networking.   It’s so important to take time to understand Ukrainian ways and build new relationships.  

As another Peace Corp Volunteer said to me recently, “Our service is all about relationships first and then projects follow.”  I’ve learned a lot and I’m glad to have the chance to pass it on.
I’ll stay in Chernigov and share Paska (Easter) with Luda and my host family.  It’s my third Paska in Ukraine.  What an amazing story I have been blessed with living these past two years.

Yesterday as I was enjoying a flood of memories, a free verse came to mind.  I sat down and with very little tinkering, these words flowed onto the screen:

the kingdom of god is now 

so he rode into town

the people loved him 

but crowds are fickle

or was it revenge

then and now, money changers remember

they play the future

a kingdom of god is no good when you have plans to profit the whole world  

so with the crowds blessing, they killed him 

just like they always do to those too good for now

just like a common thief for stealing away the right to hate and do daily injustice

then and now, death restores normalcy 

or so it seems

but for those with eyes and ears and hearts and hands that work, the kingdom of god is now

so we ride into town...

Yesterday, I shared the verse with a few friends.  One said she felt inspired and another said she might include it in Easter Sunday worship. She’s a minister.  Amazing, how email sends thoughts around the world.

And now I share the verse here on my blog.  While the context is Jesus and Holy Week, I think the theme is universal.  All religions struggle with overcoming hatred and fear and daily injustice.   Like daffodils, we poke our heads through the dark soil in hope. 

Happy Paska!