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

Tuesday, May 17

Ukrainian Proverbs and Folk Wisdom

All day I’ve been stressed.  It started when I read my morning emails.  Last night as I went to bed, I thought I had finalized buying a condo in Washington DC.  I was set for a smooth transition from Peace Corps Service to my new adventure in retirement.
Soviet Block Apartments

But now as I am sipping my coffee, I read that my real estate agent is still waiting for scanned documents to be emailed.   And a second email ominously warns that another offer from another buyer is possible, maybe before the end of tomorrow.  

With 7 hours difference in time, tomorrow is now. 

For the next 5 hours, I’m glued to my computer.  My neck aches from hunching over and my mind floods with worse-case scenarios.  Increasingly frantic, I‘ve try everything.  I look out the window and think, “I can’t do this anymore.  I got to get away. “

Interestingly, I recall some Ukrainian folk wisdom.   “When life is hectic and times are difficult, we go to the land.”  Rich dark fields and sweet cool forests restore.  I think that’s why so many Ukrainians keep a dacha returning to the village of their childhood. 

For a glimpse at dacha life, click Ukraine Dacha.  For generations this land has rejuvenated spent spirits.  I need it now. 

Outside I walk away from my stress and Soviet style apartment block, across a field and stroll down a dusty path.  The spring rains and mud have left behind a fine dust where footprints now track the walking of others. 

One of the remarkable things about living in Ukraine is the number of people walking here, there and everywhere.  Without so many cars whizzing by, everyone walks.  The paths and roads are alive.  Somehow it makes me feel connected even if I don’t know names. 

Visually Ukraine is all about people and not so mechanized with cars.  It’s refreshing. 

Ahead of me, a babushka herds a few goats.  They are munching on fresh spring grass.   I wonder what they eat in the winter.  I ask if I can take a photo.  She smiles and I do. 

I turn up a dirt road.  Barking dogs announce my approach.  They run loose, but thankfully, behind high walls which surround each cottage home. 

Many of the homes are in a state of ремонт.  That’s repair, pronounced remont.  Ukrainians love to repair, decorate and extend their homes.  The process can go on for years.  Money comes, money goes and the remont keeps everyone dreaming.  I pass several lovely homes.  They are small, but ever so quaint.  The lilac are starting to bloom and the air is perfumed sweet.   

In the distance, a man works a field.   He turns the sod one scoop at a time.   I think it’s a linguistic coincidence, but the Russian word for garden is сад and it’s pronounced sod.   I have only seen one roto-tiller in Konotop and it belongs to the City.  They use it to plant flowers along a mile or so of the main street.  Everyone else uses a shovel one scoop at a time.   

Already, the man has turned an area approaching the size of a football field.  It’s not unusual.  For many Ukrainians, a large garden is a necessity, not a hobby.  With work spotty and monthly pensions averaging around 700 UAD (less than $100), this dark soil literally feeds the body.
The road opens to a broad field leading to a village.  While fences surround individual cottages, no fences can be seen dividing the land. 

I think it may be a holdover from years of collective farming and maybe represents a different approach to the land. 

Instead of individual homesteads plowed for free market production which created American agribusiness, Ukraine has workers in small villages (many under 500 people) who comprise a work force for the land.  Once they were called serfs, then peasants and comrades and now they are simply workers. 

For an interesting report on Ukrainian agriculture from an American viewpoint, check out this USAID Report.  

I breathe in the colors of the grass and earth.  I feel a calm joy soaking into my spirit.  The sun plays hide-n-seek behind stacks of clouds.  The artist in me wishes I had brought some supplies so that I could capture this rejuvenating image.  Ukraine is so beautiful. 

Of course, we have expansive areas like this in America’s mid-west, but seeing a horse drawn cart or men and women traveling by bicycle on the make-shift roads adds a human dimension missing in my more prosperous and mechanized homeland. 

I knell down and grab a clump of dark earth.  “From earth we came and to earth we go,” lingers in my mind.  I imagine all the suffering that this land has absorbed on behalf of Ukrainian people - hungers, wars, oppression from one generation to the next. It’s humbling to think these thoughts as the earth slips between my fingers.  I can only hope that Ukraine will see better days while keeping its warm human spirit. 

Gradually as I walk along the edge of the field, I gain a new perspective.  My condo problem is small stuff.  A faint smile replaces worry.  I’m mostly okay. As an old proverb says, “Only when you have eaten a lemon do you appreciate what sugar is.”  

Take a moment to browse a few more Ukraine Proverbs.

Rainbow over Konotop
My story ends with a taste of sugar.  Finally the documents appear on my agent’s computer thanks to the help of a third party in America.  The deal is sealed. 

As another proverb puts it, “The only thing certain in life is birth, death and change.”  Soon my life will change again in Washington, DC.

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