Sunday, August 31, 2008

Almost a year ago to this day we were having one of our more frustrating times in Ukraine. Our son Joel and his wife Tracy had found their way over to Molochansk after crossing through Eastern Europe, and now they needed to get to Kiev. The trains were full, you couldn't even get First Class tickets, and so we tried the airlines. Now, it is easier for foreigners to fly out of Ukraine than to fly within Ukraine. The problem is getting tickets. We couldn't buy tickets at the airport (!) and so we were left drive around Melitopol looking for travel agents. One travel agent had one ticket but said maybe other travel agents would have more. And sure enough, at the Intourist Hotel in Melitopol we finally found two tickets from Zaparozhye to Kiev. At this point we were quite frustrated with the entire process, trying to do a simple thing like buy an airline ticket. And no, electronic tickets were not available. Ben was walking the sidewalks in Melitopol with Slava, muttering about the inefficiencies of the travel system, when suddenly a young man said in perfect English, "excuse me, do you need help?" He seemed very friendly; when Slava introduced us, this young man said that he had applied for the job of Ukrainian Director at the Mennonite Centre but that Slava had already been hired. This was Ben's first meeting with Dema Bratchenko, the man who is our current Ukrainian Director. When Slava left to pursue his interest in law we remembered that fortuitous meeting in 2007 in Melitopol. This reminded us that we are not alone in this work!

Dema and his family got introduced to the staff when we rented two "marshrutkas" (buses) and went off to the Sea of Azov. There was lots of sun and skin, and not enough lotion. We found a few shrubs where we could get shade and conquer our jetlag. It was a great bonding time with our staff and their families.

Up until yesterday the weather here has been hot and dry. Then we had a wonderful downpour accompanied with a good sound and light show. Fortunately we were in Tokmak at the market. Linda, convinced that it would never cool down, wore shorts and sandals. We were merrily buying produce when all of a sudden it got dark and it started to rain. The Tokmak market is basically a bunch of makeshift shacks covered with corrugated plastic roofing. All of a sudden the crowded alleys were emptied as everyone got under plastic of various sorts when heaven's hydrant opened. Tokmakians have been through this before. No fuss--they knew where all the high spots were and soon water was running down the alleys like the Chilliwack River. People just enjoyed the change in temperature and the freshness of the air. All those flimsy roofs and plastic coverings were built exactly for this. Every so often there would be so much water collected that the plastic would sag, the water overflowing like a spillway over a dam. At that moment we didn't know where all that water could go. We found out an hour later when we could finally get out of Tokmak, and came to the major intersection which must be the lowest point in town. We took our new Lanos slowly through God's carwash and were happy to get on the main road again.

The big event this weekend is "First Bell" at school, which is the opening of the school year. At the Kutuzovka Church the entire service was devoted to the children. Kids came to the front and led in singing and even presented recitations. Pastor Jakob had special prayers for the primary grade students, the intermediate grade students, the secondary grade students, the university students, and the parents of the students. Children and youth in were given a bag full of school supplies for which they seemed very appreciative. Babushkas collected extra bags for their grandchildren who weren't at church.

Tomorrow we are going to the First Bell celebrations at Dolina (Schoenau) where three years ago they had no daycare/Kindergarten in the community and now, thanks to Lorne and Hilda Epp and the Tiefengrund Mennonite Church, they have an enrollment of 15. The government's program of giving major financial support for the birth of each child, and the parents doing their part, seems to be working...

Ben and Linda


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