Mom and I got back to Kolychivka late Saturday night, and Anya told us to sleep for a few hours before church started. I asked her what time we needed to get up, and she said she would knock on the door at 2:30am so we would be ready to leave by 3am. In Ukraine, Orthodox Christians (90% of the population) celebrate Easter by going to mass in the middle of the night, and then having the priest bless the Easter bread they have prepared and brought to church.
I barely slept at all before I heard Anya’s knock, and at this point I really was not excited to get up and go to church. So Mom and I get dressed, and Kristin (my host family’s new volunteer in training) comes in with a scarf covering her hair and I realize that I forgot to bring a scarf (again). So Anya goes and finds me a head covering, and returns with a skirt as well (I was wearing jeans). My Mom’s long jacket got her off the hook again, but I was stuck wearing a skirt with my sketchers. I’m very glad we didn’t take any pictures of this ; )
So we all leave the house, with Victor carrying a huge basket of Easter bread. We get to the church and the women walk inside, while Victor parks himself and the basket in front of a tree outside the church. I’ve been to this church before with Anya, so I knew what to expect—a service in Russian where everyone stands the whole time! The service lasted until a little after 5am, and some children were even confirmed as part of the service.
I had a hard time staying focused, but it was fun watching the new Peace Corps volunteers in-training come in with their host families. As I watched them I wondered if I stood out that much during training. I’m sure I did—Kolychivka is a very tiny village (less than 2000 people), and everyone knows everyone else. Peace Corps has been training volunteers there for the last 2 years, so getting a new group of Americans every couple months has become part of the routine.
One of the other host mothers came in to church and said hi to Anya, and came over to give me a kiss when she saw me there too. She asked how things were at my new site, and I said life was good. She told me that my friend Tammela, who lived with her while we were training, had come back to visit Kolychivka a few weeks ago and had had a wonderful visit. I told her that Tammela and I are still good friends, and she said we should come back and visit together in the summer. I’ve got to call Tammela and see if we can make this happen : )
After the service ended, the audience slowly trickled outside and was greeted by a blaze of candles and a circle of families waiting outside. It felt like the whole village had turned out for the service, and those who couldn’t fit inside the tiny church had gathered outside to wait. I thought Victor just didn’t want to come to the service (he’s not a fan of church), but it turned out that he was saving spots in the circle so we could be part of the next ritual—the Easter blessing.
In the early dawn, as the light just began to creep into the sky, the priest came around the circle and chanted as he blessed the baskets full of Easter bread with a flick of holy water. It was a fascinating thing to watch, and the pictures I took don’t really do it justice. But it was definitely worth waking up in the middle of the night to see : )
After the blessing was finished, everyone filed out of the church courtyard and made their way back home. As soon as we got back, Anya ushered us into the kitchen for breakfast, and started loading up the table with plates of food. Her son Vasya was home and everything, so the 6 of us had to squeeze in tight to fit at the table. Victor got out the homemade vodka and everything, and insisted we welcome Easter with a toast. The vodka tasted like rubbing alcohol, but Mom bravely participated in the Ukrainian version of an Easter celebration with us. We spent an hour feasting and talking, and I felt like my skills as translator improved with each toast. It was just like old times, as Vasya tried to talk to me in Russian and Anya would yell at him and remind him that I only speak Ukrainian. So he would ask her how to say his question in Ukrainian, and it took five minutes to get anything accomplished. Oh the good old days : ) Anya was so happy with how much my Ukrainian has improved, and enlisted me to explain in English all the things she wanted to say to Kristin.
After breakfast everyone napped for a few hours, and when we woke Anya insisted on feeding us again (This definitely reminded me of PST—Anya’s wonderful cooking and her stuffing me multiple times a day!). I told Anya that we needed to leave soon, and she immediately started preparing food for us to take on the road. I asked if we could take a picture all together, and she agreed so long as she could get cute first. Oh how I’ve missed her : ) I got my bag packed up, and she came bustling in with sandwiches, jars of preserves, Easter bread, and a bottle of vodka. I told her that this was too much, that we couldn’t possibly eat it all, but she insisted so I tried to fit it all into my bag. She held up the bottle of vodka and informed me that it was for my Dad, as a gift of homemade vodka from Victor. It was so sweet of him to think of my Dad!
After we said our goodbyes, Mom and I headed back to Chernihiv. We were still pretty exhausted, but we didn’t want to sleep all afternoon and not be able to sleep that night. So we walked around Chernihiv for a while, seeing all the sites and taking pictures. I don’t know the names of any of these places, but I’m sharing the pictures anyways : )
When we returned to our hotel room that night to pack and get ready to leave the next morning, I was exhausted but quite content. It was a wonderful Easter, and I’m so glad my Mom was here in Ukraine to celebrate it with me and my Ukrainian family : )
To read about my Mom’s last days with me in Ukraine, see the next blog post.