About a month ago, we were having dinner at a friend’s house when she proposed that the following day, we take an excursion to a village called Rozumivka. Unfortunately, the next morning, she was not feeling well enough to go, and our excursion was postponed. The other day, Yulia mentioned that she wanted to get out of the city and get some fresh air. Sounds like a good idea, I said. Luckily for me, she is a native Ukrainian, and knew where Rozumivka was, how to get there, etc. I was told we would take a bus to get there.
So Saturday morning we met at the store, got some lunch supplies, and set off to meet Anna at the bus station. Our bus was actually a bus/marshrutka hybrid, and we are lucky we got seats, because there were people standing in the aisles – not uncommon here in Ukraine, but not especially comfortable when you are going on an hour-long (or longer) ride. We also noticed people bringing hot dogs and other lunch items on board to finish, which did not please Yulia in the least, and I understand why, because in a hot marshrutka with a lot of people and then to add food smells, well, it makes a short ride seem long.
We got off the bus and I saw a road. A long road. Hmm…Rozumivka, I was told, was about 12 kilometers down said road, but certainly we would find a ride there. So off we went down the road.
It did not take too long for a car to come along. We waved it down, it stopped, and we (they) asked if the driver was headed toward Rozumivka. No, he said, and took off. So we kept walking. Then a taxi arrived, and I thought “a taxi?” None of us had a lot of money on us to pay for a taxi, but since he was headed to the next village, he told us to just give him whatever we wanted to for the ride.
This is so not like the United States.
He let us off in the village, which was not Rozumivka, but a village on the way to Rozumivka, and I heard the sound of chickens and roosters, something I have not heard since training last year, when I lived in Kyinka. We also saw something I do not see often in Ukraine, which was sheep – one black and one white.
So we continued along until we came upon two men in the road, one of whom had a moped. We asked if we were on the road to Rozumivka, and how far it was. He told us that we were indeed on the correct road, and that it was another 7 kilometers.
Wow. I did not anticipate this village being so far off the “beaten path”, but why not? This is Ukraine! But as I was already on the road with them, I could not very well say “you know, I changed my mind. Let’s go back.” So I followed along. After all, what else did I have to do that day?
Apparently the buses that way only come once an hour, or once a day – It was once a something (probably once a day). We kept walking until the man came up and offered to take us, first two of us and then the third, on his moped. Weeeellllll…we took him up on the offer. It was not a comfortable ride, because I was on the luggage rack thing on the back. Hmm. But we got to the village, with surprisingly little walking done on our part.
The village was a typical Ukrainian village, or a typical small village. There was one store, no bank, a school, and a church. Seeing as the church was the most attractive thing in town, we walked around the grounds for a few minutes, took some photos, then crossed the road and saw the river.
We ended up not crossing the footbridge that was on the river – I took one look at it and said “oh hell no”, as did Anna and Yulia. So we stayed on the one side of the river, took some photos, had our lunch, relaxed, and then began what we thought would be a somewhat long journey back.
As we were on the road and nearly to the first village we had encountered, a car came along, stopped, and asked us where we were going. As it turns out, he too was going to Kirovograd, and so not only did he give us a ride back to the main road, but all the way back to our city.
As we were in the car on the way back, I sat and thought about how very different our cultures are, the U.S. and Ukraine. The man who stopped and gave us a ride stopped of his own volition – we did not flag him down. He was very nice, and would not take any money for giving us a ride. The taxi driver who had picked us up on the way in told us to just pay what we wanted. This is not uncommon here – people are walking along, and someone with a car stops if they have room. People get in cars with strangers all the time. This is just part of the culture – what I would call still somewhat of a collective way of thinking. If someone is walking and you have a car, you stop and offer the person a ride. It is common.
It is also completely mystifying to most Americans. I know that for a time, hitchhiking was a common way of getting around in the U.S. Nowadays, however, it is not. We are brought up to believe that strangers are scary, and we have horror movies about hitchhikers who turn out to be murderers or the people who pick up hitchhikers who also turn out to be murderers. We are told not to stop our car for someone on the side of the road, especially if (x, y, z scenarios).
Granted, Ukraine is a much smaller country than the U.S. But I think there is much to be learned from my experience on Saturday. I did not seek out these rides – they were offered to me. As an American, if I was alone, I probably would not have been in that situation, and if I was, would not have taken rides from people with whom I cannot communicate very well. Although I was part of the experience, it was as though I was watching, once again, as an outsider who was given a glimpse of insight into how Ukrainians think and live. It is not something that I can easily explain in a blog. It is not something that is easily understood. It is something you have to experience, time and again, after which you begin to have an understanding of this country and its people.
Photos from the excursion can be found on Picasa.