Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friday 10/30

Friday was quiet. I spent some time at a huge market with Jess and Camille, but then went back to the vacant hostel to read and have some time to myself. The market was an incredible maze, aisles and aisles of basically the same products, narrow walkways and junk hanging down from the plastic-covered ceilings, knocking you on the head if you didn't duck in time. We wound up and down the rows, pausing to tell a Ukrainian guy that yes, he looked great in that jacket. He laughed and decided to buy it. We ran across the wedding section, where everything had puffy sleeves and plastic beads and hoop skirts and yards and yards of lace. All I could think of was the wedding dress from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," where she looked like a frosted cake.

Ever since Mika gave us the key to the hostel, we rarely saw her. Miguel had been at the hostel for more than a month, so she trusted him with making sure that nobody wrecked the place. She stopped by in the morning with breakfast for us, if we were lucky. Miguel was not a huge fan of Ukraine. With his conspicuous Jewish attire, he became the target of unwanted attention: He was attacked ten times in Kiev, and four times in Lviv. He's had drunk mobs chase him, but the only weapon he uses to defend himself is his umbrella. He rarely leaves the hostel, except to grocery shop and for short escapes. I can't figure out why he didn't leave long ago. I don't know if he provokes people, but any way you slice it, he gets the short end of the, umbrella.

He and I got very angry with each other; I don't even remember exactly what it was about. I think he was trying to make us pay more than we owed. And he smelled very strongly of my body wash. Not okay, dude. I knew exactly how much we owed, and I showed all the math on a piece of paper, and explained it several times over to him and to Mika. She absolutely couldn't figure out the numbers, but was willing to trust me. Miguel was not.

Jessica, Camille, Del, and I left the hostel for the evening, and I was still fuming. When we came back to gather up our bags before the night train, I found a hand-written note from Miguel:

"Sorry for my angry whit you!!! I have BIG problem in Lviv and It make me angry, nothing to be whit you!! or Hostel, etc. I enjoy your company, you are nice ladys and you, the tree, teach me things, even you don't know. We have diferent windoe to see life, but I apreciate your company!! I like the three of you!!! Maybe aftre travell 7 years I am more madurate and serious person... Anyway I apreciate you and wellcome to Barcelona every time (his email address). Happiness only make happiness, bad moments make you growing up!!! take care, and enjoy each moment in life, like you doing, Because I think you pick up life with Both Hands...Miguel. Kisses and Hugs"

It broke my heart. Although we didn't see him before we left for the train station, I wrote him a note back, but my peace-offering on paper came nowhere close to the apology I felt rotting inside of me.

As we walked through the city for the last time, we noticed several people on the street wearing surgical-type masks. It wasn't until we got back to Kiev that we found out that swine flu (supposedly) hit western Ukraine like a ton of bricks, right as we were leaving. Lviv is the largest city in western Ukraine. That night when we saw those masks, we had no idea that it would thrust the country into utter chaos, closing all schools, businesses, and public places for three weeks. Our one-week vacation was extended to four, but without all the fun of a vacation, since everything was shut down, including the borders.

As we left the hostel, Mika hugged us, gave us each a Ukraine magnet, and said that she wished more people like us would stay at her hostel. I'm guessing she never got wind of our Deaf Karaoke night. My magnet count is up to two. Del had nothing to do and he needed to buy a train ticket, so all four of us went to the station. On the platform, Del hugged Camille and I goodbye, and then I watched in slow motion as he hugged Jessica and went in for a kiss, while Jessica gave him the cold-cheek. Whaaat!? In fact, I didn't fully comprehend what had happened until we pulled out of the station and Camille said, "JESSICA. Did Del just try to kiss you?!" I hate to be one of those girls who laughs at a guy when he fails at a kiss attempt, but we just roared with laughter. What made it so outrageous was that Del had spent the last 24 hours telling us all about this girl he had met in Germany or something and how they were in love and blahblahblah.

The train we took back to Kiev was exactly like the train we left on, except this time I snagged a bottom bunk so I would at least have a shot at getting comfortable. On the last train, I found mouse poo in my sheets. As I unrolled my bedding this time, I noticed that the pillow was covered with blood on one side. So I flipped it over. Because dried blood from a stranger just doesn't matter if you are tired enough. We played cards until the lights went out, and then went to sleep.

I woke up in the middle of the night from what I thought must be a streetlight shining directly into my eyes. Blinking, I sat up on my bunk and looked out the window. Ukraine's dark trees flew by the moving train, skeletal silhouettes against the night sky. Above the trees, I found the light that awoke me. At first I thought it must only be the cabin light bulbs, reflected in the dark glass. It was no streetlight, no cabin light, not even the moon. It was Orion, bigger and brighter than any stars I had ever seen before. I sat there on the narrow bunk, my legs tangled in the slightly-sour sheets, eyes wide in the starlight. I don't remember falling asleep.

We pulled into Kiev with the freezing dawn. I looked bad, but the city looked good:

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