Sunday, March 16, 2008

Camping in Ukraine, 2006

Let me tell you about Ukraine.

I went to Ukraine in the summer of 2006, which is almost two years ago, and I was only there for two weeks, but I talk about it all the time like it was yesterday, and like I was there for months and months. It was fun, because I got to read signs in Cyrillic all the time, and I love that.

We stayed in Kyiv, the capital, for a few days; camped near Balaklava, in Crimea, for a week; only one day in Lviv, sleeping on the train on both nights for that visit; and little times in Kyiv to fill in the gaps. We also spent five hours in Munich, but that isn't much. The camp in Crimea was the main thing, so I'll explain about that.

Every summer, the Ukrainian Military Christian Fellowship has a camp in Crimea, where whole families, whose fathers are in the Army (I'm not sure how their armed forces are structured, really) and are usually Christians, come and live in tents. Most people live there for a few weeks, some for the whole summer; we were only there for a week. This guy at my church, Dick Barnes, is heavily involved with ACCTS, which co-ordinates Military Christian Fellowships, and does a lot of work with the Ukrainians. He took his wife, Linda; one of the college guys from church, Ryan; and Ryan's cousin to the camp one year. And so in 2006, he took his wife and five of us. My friend Adam and I lived in my little two-man tent along with all our bags and my guitar, and it was smelly. This was either the fault of my laundry, my guitar case, or both.

Every morning at the camp, we'd wake up to the sound of someone chopping wood, because the wood-chopping area was right next to our tent. The idea that Kostia is swinging a large axe with an insecure handle is one heck of a way to wake up, I assure you. Next, I would stir, the guitar case would fall over and hit me in the head, I'd groan in pain and Adam would chuckle. Then Dick would come around to tell us to wake up. I think he knew that Adam and I didn't need much reminder. The girls, Kendyl and Nicole, he would tell sweetly, because Dick is like that. Then he'd get over to Paul's tent, which honestly should have held all three guys, but that is another issue mostly stemming from the over-concern of parents and their air-mattress purchasing habits. Anyway, Dick would go over to Paul's tent, and sing "Goooodmorning Paul" a few times, and then shake the tent. Sometimes it worked, but never within several minutes. One time Paul was sick, so that was a-whole-nother can of worms. Not long afterwards, we'd hear Vasiliy walking around, shouting into his megaphone, telling everyone to get up, breakfast would be soon.

Breakfast most mornings was kasha, I think, which meant some sort of porridge-like-substance, with some kind of fruit thrown in here and there for flavor. Also, tea. Kasha and tea were the staples of most every meal, and I'm glad of it. The tea was often lemon, and delicious, while the kasha was sure to fill your belly. Lunches had more food I think, some kind of sandwich maybe. Dinner had meat patties on time, and varenyky another time, which was amazing. At night, a snack time would be had, of which I chiefly remember bananas. They eat a lot of those in Ukraine, actually. In Kyiv, nearly every street vendor stored his wares in boxes which were clearly labeled for the shipment of bananas. I can't blame them, really; bananas are delicious.

I can't remember what order we did things at the camp. At some point in the day, we would do a Bible study. I feel like we read one of the Peters, or James. I wish I could remember where I've put the composition book that contains the meager journaling that got done while there, as it might help with some of the details, but such is life. Dick led our studies, seeing as we don't speak Russian or Ukrainian, and so it was the seven Marylanders, plus Randy and his son Nick, Baptist missionaries from Tennessee. We sat under the same tree nearly every time, I think, and it was nice to have the chance to sit among only people that you could understand, and nice to have the chance just to sit, and nice to have the chance to read the Bible together too.

Swimming in the Black Sea every day was a must. If you didn't swim every day, and there was one day in which we didn't, you felt really dirty and gross the next day. So swimming it was, and thankfully the beach was a five-minute walk from camp, at the most. We could see some ships out on the sea sometimes, and there was always the ferry going to and from town to watch, as the beach was best accessible by boat, but mostly we swam around and threw jellyfish at each other. The Ukrainians were nice and would play with us even if we couldn't talk to most of them, and so it was good to have something we could do together. I was and still am pale and bad at swimming, but I had a good time anyway. Two or three times while at the camp, we used shampoo on our hair while swimming, but mostly we just let the Sea wash us. It's not a real bath I guess, but it worked well enough for our purposes.

We would also go on what was referred to as Excursions. This is either one of those funny words that Dick uses because he used to be in the Army and is involved with the Boy Scouts, or one of those funny words that you use because it's a cognate with Russian. I'm better on the latter. Excursions were fun, and always involved lots of walking. The Black Sea is geologically young, as far as I understand, and so the mountains nearly run straight down into the water, with just little beaches made of rocks at the bottom sometimes. Consequently, we went hiking twice, once up to an overlook with an incredible view to the East of camp, the other time to a fortress that had been used in both World Wars, to the West of camp, right on the mouth of the harbor. This was a longer hike, to be sure, but worth it once we got to go poking around inside an old Soviet bunker, complete with machine gun bullet marks. It had everything you could want except for dead Nazis. We took pretty clearly marked paths to get there, but Vasiliy decided to take a shortcut back. This ended up being more of bushwhacking down steep inclines, and I'm pretty sure Vasiliy was just making it up most of the way, but we eventually popped out onto our beach and made our way back to camp, quite tired.

Another time, we went to the botanical gardens in Yalta, with a bunch of the Ukrainians, which meant a long bus trip and then a lot of walking around to see interesting plants, statues of Lenin and other famous people, and many group photos at Dick's insistence. That was an alright trip. The best excursion, probably, was to the formerly-secret, former-Soviet Submarine Base. Literally carved out of the inside of the mountain, this giant network of tunnels had room for several submarines, even the ability to repair them in dry-dock. They're getting funding to slowly fix the place up, repairing things and repainting things, so that the very small section you can currently walk through looks quite nice with warning stripes and labels, while the tunnel itself, which is accessible by boat tour, is quite dirty and could probably do with some maintenance. It's amazing how big the thing is. If you're even near Sevastopol, the big city near Balaklava, make sure you see this.

Every night, there was campfire time, or the equivalent thereof, since the fire was fairly well bound within a clay hearth. Everyone would sit around like at a meal time, and there would be singing, and some sort of testimony or sermon or something of that sort. Twice, we did skits that Adam knew from working at Camp Hemlock. When we first got there, there was this big guy leading worship. I feel like his name may have been Aleksei, but I am probably completely wrong. They invited me to play guitar with him and the other guy, whose name I have definitely forgotten. Even though I was unable to decipher their Ukrainian guitar chord notation, the chords were the same once you went to finger them, and so I was able to just barely keep up with them, sometimes. It was incredible, being invited to play with them just hours after getting to the camp, and he was killed in a car accident just a week later. When we found out, I didn't know what to do, other than to just be sad and pray.

It was frustrating to be surrounded by all these people you couldn't really talk to. When people gave sermons, we got whatever rushed translation Dick passed our way, if we got anything. When Yulian, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic deacon, did morning chants and liturgy, we had no idea what the meaning of his singing was, only that it woke us up before Kostia even got started on the wood. The only songs we could all sing together were the ones that exist in both languages, and these were primarily songs that I would bring up, not the ones they were picking. This is most definitely why I'm now in my second semester of Russian classes.

We were not without friends. Roman and Svyeta were two folks our own age who spoke English, and the Army officer whose name we always forgot also spoke English. Really, anyone who spoke English was plenty friendly, and even some of those with whom we had to have translators and gestures. In particular, for me at least, was Sergei, who played the violin. He could play "The House of the Rising Sun", and I could play the chords, or sometimes we would just jam, and so we performed at Camp Fire Time at least once. That was really cool, to be able to hang out with him. Roman taught Adam and I how to say "Я плаваю", which sounds like "Ya plavayu", and means "I swim", but it is hard enough to learn Russian in a class, much less while swimming. Svyeta taught me some things about their alphabet, and was just generally really good at being our friend and aide in crossing the language barrier. One little girl, Rita, who did not speak English, was sometimes annoying in her desire to follow us around, but was also willing to be our friend from the moment we arrived, a rarity, and taught us words like "кошка" (koshka), which means cat. Our other good friend was a kid named Taras, and I can't really say much about him, other than he was willing to hang out with us, and that was enough.

One night, after camp fire, we went out into the woods with some of the other "young people", as Dick would call us, and sat on blankets by a cliff, overlooking the sea. We sat around and talked, as best we could. After we sufficiently made moves against one of the Ukrainians that looked ready to put the moves on Kendyl, they asked us what we thought about what Yulian had preached about that night. Apparently he had talked about the evils of mini-skirts, or something. It was really difficult to try and explain what I think about modesty, never mind that whatever I had said had to be translated.

One of the most remarkable things, I think, was that the camp had Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants present. I am pretty sure it was mostly Protestants, but all three were definitely present. A few times, we even had visitors from some other Bible camp, teenagers that were hanging out with a missionary from New York. Despite these differences, I can only think of one time when I sense any ill-will across denomination lines, when an old lady visiting from another camp started making loud comments at Yulian about something that Catholics and Orthodox disagree on, and Vasiliy had to step in and talk about how we are united in the love of Christ. That was really good to see happening somewhere.

I never really figured out why we went. I am sure that God had his reasons, but he's never told me. We shared our testimonies, sang a few songs, and did some skits. We hung out with some people, sometimes, and talked with them about whatever or nothing at all, when we were able. We saw one of the ministries going on there. I am never sure if we were there as observers or assistants or what. But I am sure that it was Good, I am just not able to articulate the particulars maybe.

I will have to write about the rest of the trip, some time, because this only covered camp. I have, included, below, a video we made while we were packing up, giving a tour of the camp.

1 comment:

Arathon said...

Thanks for writing that, Timothy.

Also...I didn't know Blue Electric Mongoose had a website! Cool!

Speaking of you have a melody for that song you wrote?