In the midst of packing up my apartment, my friend Olha called to say my presence was requested (and expected) at the birthday party of our friend Ira in the village of Hrubno. I told her I really couldn’t, because I had a lot more to do before I’d be finished packing, but she assured me that we would only be gone a few hours and that it would mean a lot to Ira if I came. I called my new landlady to ask when I could pick up the key, and she told me they were installing a new lock on the door and still hadn’t moved the refrigerator in yet. She assured me the apartment would be ready by the next morning, if I could wait to move for another day. It seemed like a field trip to Hrubno for Ira’s birthday could be worked into the schedule, so I gave in and soon was on the road to Hrubno with Olha.
We had the typical Ukrainian birthday feast, complete with strawberries and champagne—Ira’s favorites. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but in Ukraine when its your birthday you invite the guests, prepare the party, and pay for everything. So while we brought Ira presents, she still was in charge of the food and party planning. Lots of people came to wish her a happy birthday, and I got to visit with Ira’s daugher Liza, who is my age. I thought that after the feast concluded, Olha and I would be on our way back to Sokyriany and I could finish packing. But Ira had heard about the Battle of the Nations, a medieval sword-fighting/jousting competition that was taking place in Khotyn, an ancient fortress only an hour away from Hrubno. One of the guys at the party had a van that would fit us all, and offered to drive. I tried to gracefully decline, but I was quickly overruled and we soon set off for Khotyn.
An hour later we made it to the fortress, where tickets to the Battle of the Nations competition could be purchased for 80 greven each (about 10 dollars). I got in line to buy my ticket, only to be chided by Ira (in Ukrainian of course) for trying to buy it myself—it was her birthday, so of course she would pay for everything! I know this is part of Ukrainian culture, but I didn’t feel comfortable letting her spend so much money on me. She paid for everyone’s ticket, and then wanted to buy us food there as well! I think I prefer the American way of everyone else spoiling the birthday person, not the Ukrainian version of the birthday person spoiling everyone. I’ll have to invite Ira to my birthday party in July and buy her something ridiculously expensive! : )
It was a beautiful clear day for a sword-fighting competition, but it was hot! It was 88 degrees out, and many people had umbrellas to block the sun. The fortress of Khotyn sits atop the Dniester River, so it was was an incredible picturesque place to have the Battle of the Nations. There were competitors from Moldova, Belorussia, Russia, and Ukraine, all dressed in medieval costumes and looking like they walked out of a time period when the Khotyn fortress was a defended outpost. Some enthusiastic observers even came decked out in medieval garb, but I was perfectly happy in my sundress. It was way too hot outside—it would not have been a pleasant day if I was wearing a full-length gown.
We spent the afternoon watching the sword-fights and exploring the fortress. I also ran into lots of Peace Corps friends from the region who had come to Khotyn for the competition, and it was nice to catch up with some PCVs I haven’t seen for a while. The hot weather provided the opportunity to drink kvas, a national drink in Ukraine that’s like beer except non-alcoholic. I’ve heard that its made from bread, and it has a really crisp, refreshing taste. I actually had my first glass of kvas this time last year, at a folk festival in Pootila, and I couldn’t wait for spring to come this year so I could drink some more : )
Early in the evening, after a long day in the sun that produced many a sunburn, we started the journey home. I texted Erin, my friend and fellow PCV who was planning on coming to Sokyriany to help me move. The road home to Sokyriany always goes through Romankivtsi, which is where Erin lives, so she said she’d come to out to the road and wait for us to drive through so we could pick her up. It was funny trying to explain how, instead of finishing my packing and being ready to move, I’d gone to a birthday party which in turn included a random field trip to see a medieval tournament staged at an ancient fortress. One of the positive effects of my Peace Corps experience has been that its made me a much more flexible, easy-going person, which has come in handy when plans change at the last minute (all the time) and when I have to move every few months.
Back in Sokyriany, Erin and I made breakfast burritos (for dinner, of course), and I finally finished packing up my apartment. I think my fourth home has been my happiest, and I definitely felt a few pangs as I surveyed the empty apartment. I knew when I moved in that it was temporary, because my landlord’s plan had always been to renovate the apartment this summer so he could sell it, but saying goodbye was harder than I thought it’d be. But at least I had Erin on hand to keep me company, and we had enjoyed my last night at home by taking advantage of the high-speed Internet to plan our English seminar, which is actually coming up this weekend. It seems like everything is happening at once lately, and I hardly have time to process it, much less blog about it! So thanks for reading my tardy blog entries 🙂
Next blog posts will be from my new home!