Sunday, July 10, 2005

Our Trip: The Town; What We Did On The Trip

We stayed with Mr. Goldie’s family in a small town in the middle of nowhere in Western Ukraine. The town is pretty unique in that it has been built around a nuclear power plant, and most of the town’s populace work there, including one of my BILs. The work is extremely hard and stressful (his stories made me feel a lot better about my own job!), but the pay is good, for those parts anyway, and puts him into the “fairly well-off” category (kind of like our family here – nothing spectacular, but more than enough to cover all expenses and then have some left over).

The power plant, i.e. I guess the management, takes good care of its employees, and consequently of the town as a whole. The town is very clean, green, there are a lot of really nice playgrounds for the kids, and quite a few daycare centers. Daycare is free of charge. Before you die of envy, I’ll tell you why it is so – it’s because the town officially belongs to the third level of the Chernobyl zone (the area that was affected by radiation when the Chernobyl plant blew up in ’86). All education is in Ukrainian, which is a tad inconvenient as at least 50% of the town’s population are ethnic Russians that came from Russia or other former Soviet republics to work at the plant (that includes Mr. Goldie’s family). But at least, people are used to the fact that their kids don’t speak Russian at home, or to each other, and so were not fazed when they saw my English-speaking kids. The quality of education, I haven’t figured out yet, because my oldest niece is just starting school. I’ll tell you in a few years. One thing for sure, she won’t be spending her first year of school learning about the “Letter People” at the rate of one letter person per week – because she already knows how to read and write, as apparently do a lot of kids over there when they start school.

The town is small, so there is no public transportation, so we walked everywhere (even to the dacha, which is about 40 minutes away). K9 also found out that he’s afraid of elevators there, because they are so small and old-looking and he was afraid they’d get stuck, so we always took the stairs to our 5th floor. That was a lot of exercise and we really enjoyed it, and have a hard time trying to keep it up now.

There wasn’t much to do in the town, so we spent a lot of our time outdoors – we went to the dacha, to the river, the guys (including my kids) went fishing, and one day, we rented a mini-bus for a 30-minute ride to the White Lake, which is sort of a resort area for the plant workers, as well as everyone else. They have cabins, but we just camped out at the shore for one day. The lake is famous for its clean water, rumored to have healing qualities, and rich in glycerine. The story has it that, during WWII, the Germans used to ship this lake water to their Faterland in cisterns. We had a great day at the lake.

A few hours after us, another group arrived at the lake, and parked their new Japanese minivan next to where we were. Out came about half a dozen guys and three women. The guys quickly stripped to their Speedos and ran into the water to play some water polo; but the women, in their long skirts, long-sleeved shirts, and head covers, stayed on the shore watching the guys. I asked my SILs about the group and found out that they were the shtundists – a branch of Protestantism popular in those parts. In the 90s, a lot of shtundists emigrated to America, but now, they are coming back.

The local swimming attire gave K9 a culture shock. First, he pulled me aside and asked me how come his cousins – girls age 6, 5, and 2.5 – weren’t wearing any bras. I told him that it is the custom, girls don’t wear bras until they actually grow something bra-worthy; and added that, in my day, kids under age of 5-6 used to run around the beach naked, so K9 should consider himself lucky. Sure enough, soon, K9 and I ran into a family – Dad, Mom, and two girls about 5-6 years old, - where the girls weren’t, in fact, wearing anything. My poor kid looked away with a muffled “ewww”. Neither was he able to get over the Speedos that all the guys were wearing. In fact, I did see a few teen boys in longer trunks, but where they got those from, I have no idea – all you can buy at the market is Speedos, and bikini suits for the women. The women do use cover-ups.

The lake itself was gorgeous, cool, clean water, and best of all, no limitations on how far you are allowed to swim. Of course, no lifeguards means that you’re on your own, but that didn’t bother me – I’m a good swimmer, and besides, I could always count on Mr. Goldie and his brothers to rescue me if something went wrong. In fact, one time, when I got too far away from the shore, he sent a rescue party after me. Poor Mr. Goldie had never seen me swim farther than fifty yards away from the shore (in our parts, if you try to get any farther, the lifeguard starts whistling and yelling at you to turn around and swim back), so, even though technically he knew I’d grown up by the sea, he didn’t know I could swim farther than that.

No matter how much I tell you about the lake, I won’t be able to hide the fact that in general, the trip was pretty boring, and that really brought our family together. We all shared a small room, so the kids had no other choice but to stay there and talk to me, or to each other. This was especially true of I12. Poor I12 couldn’t speak any Russian and was, besides, too old to play with his cousins, so the only people he could talk to were myself, Mr. Goldie, and K9. He spent a lot of time goofing around with K9; brotherly love abound.

On top of that, we all read a lot. I brought three Terry Pratchett book on the trip (The Color of Magic; Equal Rites; and Mort). I was going to read them myself, but then to my surprise I12 decided to try them too, and finished two of them before the trip was even over (he didn’t like Equal Rites). Before, I had never seen I12 reading a fiction book that wasn’t a school assignment. Of course, now he swears that I’ll never see him reading fiction again, now that he’s got the Internet back. As for me, I’m now hooked on Pratchett, and have ordered a few more books.

I know you’re all bored by now, and asking yourselves, “where the heck are the funny kid stories?” Those will be in the next installment. I am also told that the pictures are on their way. Mr. Goldie just needs to resize and balance them. Please be patient.

The Goldie has spoken at 3:26 PM

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