People, not a Population

Looking back over my life there have been so many times that I felt incredibly uncomfortable, and even asked God to change the situation immediately because I couldn’t handle it. As you can guess, God did not change any circumstances to make me feel more comfortable, and as i look back I couldn’t be more grateful. Another one of those situations arose yesterday afternoon. Eric and arranged for us to spend a night with a host family here in Ukraine. Some of the students were going together, but 3 or 4 were on their own, guess which group i was in. To further my level of discomfort, Liz and I would leave earlier than anyone else, and Eric would not be dropping us off, I know this sounds a bit juvenile, but I was nervous, and my mind wouldn’t let me settle down.

As we walked around Tiszapeterfalkva (Krisztina’s hometown which I am sure I butchered the spelling of), I began to remember the uncomfortable times in the past, and how much I had appreciated them later/ With that mindset, I did my best to look at the experience as an opportunity! As we waited for our ride, Mark (the sophomore student I would be staying wit) and I made some minimal small talk, he was nervous and so was I, but I tried to remember what I felt like when I had to speak Spanish, and I understood his shyness. When his mother arrived to pick us up I began to feel much more comfortable with the situation. She tore in in their VW hatchback, we walked up, threw our things in, and we tore out of that school yard again!

The ride home was exciting. The roads in Ukraine are lacking in quality, and when I say lacking I mean they look more like a post WWII minefield than a road. However, that does not slow the Ukrainian drivers down, and Mark’s mother was no exception. When we arrived at their home I got a quick tour, with many apologies for he renovations that they are doing in their home, I tried to explain that my home is often the same way, but I am not sure it stopped Kate, Mark’s mother, from worrying one bit. We soon sat down for lunch, and thus the fattening of Riley began. She had two kinds of chicken, potatoes, and tomatoes which were all fantastic, and I was encouraged to eat plentifully. Then, when I thought I was done, she brings an entire plate of Ukrainian pancakes which I was supposed to eat as well, and it would be rude not to, so i did.

Mark’s two siblings and cousin joined us for a walk around the town. His sister Rebecca is 12, and Patrik is 10. They are both awesome and fun. They speak a little English, but their facial expressions and tone were often enough to communicate what they were saying. On our walk we stopped for ice cream and the fattening continued. They showed me their town, and their father’s brickyard, before we got back to the house and fought me how to play soccer, which was fun, but not very effective, and not because they aren’t skilled. After our soccer game we came inside and hung out for a while, even took a nap (typical Arkema things, and apparently Hungarian as well. I should explain the Ukrainian/Hungarian dilemma. The border has moved so much in the history of Ukraine that the people in western Ukraine are primarily Hungarian, and even go by Hungarian time. They don’t really appreciate the Ukrainian government either, and it can be a cause of some noticeable tension between people groups.)

After our nap, because Mark wanted to sleep too, we had a pre-breakfast snack. It was pancakes and cottage cheese baked in a pan, it reminded me lasagna a little, but it was sweet and one of my favorite dishes I have had while in Ukraine. Plus, a strawberry cake that was made with their own strawberries. I hope you’re starting to understand why I feel as if they are fattening me up! We watched a futbol game for a bit, before we left for dinner in Mark’s dad’s Mercedes. If I thought his mom drove quickly, I was in for a surprise. That car was often doing around 140 kph on back roads that were worse than anything we see in Michigan. However, he was a pro. He could slalom those obstacles like they were nothing, and the car responded incredibly well. Before we went to dinner, they showed me their church, which is 500 years old. They had just redone the inside of the church, and it was gorgeous, and the outside was magnificent as well. It had been a Catholic Church for some time also, and they showed me the door where only priests could have entered. I am constantly reminded of how small and brief both the United States’ history is and my own while I’m here, and I realize the trivial nature of my problems in comparison to theirs.

Dinner was fantastic. We laughed and they asked about the farm and all things having to do with that. We ate shashlik, the national dish of Ukraine, and it was fantastic, but I think the Czechoslovakian beer and whisky that Mark’s dad bought for me took the cake on the best flavors for the night. Mark’s mother drove home, she was the DD I suppose, but I was alittle disappointed I wasn’t going to have a ride-along in a formula one car on the way home (okay, it wasn’t that fast, but I have never ridden like that before, and I loved it). We pretty much just went to bed when we got back to their house. I was tired and grateful, but I so enjoyed the family that I would have happily gotten up and done anything!

This family is amazing. They sit and laugh and talk and while I cannot understand anything they are saying, I felt so blessed to be taken into their home for 24 hours. It was a good reminder of the nature of the data that we are going to be working with this summer. If anyone reading is not in the know about why I am traveling, it is for a research project for using on mental health that my peers and I will continue when I get back to Iowa. I think that I had begun to see the data as numbers, not people, but that is wrong. The people are so much more, and this family showed me that in a way I could not imagine. Each number in that survey data represents a living breathing person. Someone who has a family, a job, has a home with repairs and children off at school. They have a church renovation to supervise, club futbol games to attend, and family dinners to be had, and forgetting that is the worst thing I could do to these people. Throughout history, they have been reduced to a people that have become a commodity, and to put them in that category again does nothing to help them at all. It does not show them love, it does not bring Jesus to them in a real way, and it is not what our father in heaven modeled for us when he sent his son to earth. These numbers are not just participants of a population, they are people, with beautiful lives just like anyone else.