Sunday, November 29, 2009
I celebrated my first Ukrainian Christmas, January 7th, 2003, with my counterpart and her family. After a night full of vodka and feasting, I walked 45 minutes back to my apartment with my counterpart, Irina. As we slogged through the foot of snow that continued to accumulate on the ground, I wasn't thinking about how cold I was, but about how lucky I was to be here, walking down a village road lit only by the stars, in what really was a winter wonderland. I was jolted out of my (possibly vodka-induced) reverie by Irina announcing, "Lesia will be there when you get home."
"Um, What do you mean she'll be there when I get home? I'm renting the apartment from her -- she can't come in when I'm there."
"Well, our people sometimes like to stay in the town when they cannot get back to the village," Irina replied.
"Fine," I fumed, "Since she's already there, it's fine. But it can't happen again. I'm not comfortable with this. You need to tell her this."
I soon discovered that "OK, Margaret," really meant something more like, "We've noted your concern, but there's not much we can do for you." So that night I spent the night with Lesia, the landlady, in my second living-room on the couch.
A few days later, still on vacation from teaching, I woke up around 10:00 am to a loud banging on my door. It was Lesia, with her two 20-something sons. As anyone who has ever seen me when I first wake up knows, I don't really comprehend much of anything, nor do I respond with more than grunts. I just stood there, in my bathrobe with my mouth open, staring, as Lesia and her sons barreled their way into my apartment and started setting up camp.
Eventually I composed myself and called Irina to get to the bottom of the situation. Apparently, Lesia's sons had dentist appointments and needed to spend the night there. They stayed for three days.
I kept trying to appeal to my counterpart to talk to Lesia about the problem with her coming over, since I didn't think my limited Ukrainian language skills would allow me to handle the situation with nuance and grace. Irina kept dragging her feet . . . then came the night of the samahon.
Samahon is Ukrainian moonshine. It tastes like lighter-fluid and goes down about as smoothly. Technically it's illegal, but lot of Ukrainians make it. The first time I ever had it was at a wedding. There are many variations, but most use fermented sugar beets. The smell is rather atrocious.
I came home one Friday evening to find that Lesia was back, and this time she was making moonshine in my kitchen. She had a full still on stove, making it impossible for me to make dinner. I called Irina and tried to impress upon her that a foreigner, a guest of the Ukrainian government could not have illegal activity happening in her kitchen. Irina spoke with the regional head of English learning. They didn't believe me! They thought I had mistaken an old washing-machine for a contraption that made samahon. So I took this picture:
That was the last I saw of Lesia making moonshine in my kitchen. Unfortunately, it wasn't the last time Lesia and I had a sleepover . . .