Monday, January 11. After dropping my parents off at Zhulyani Airport in Kyiv for their return flight to England, I took a taxi to Borispol Airport for my flight to Vienna. My only experience at Borispol had been coming into Ukraine back in September, so this was my first time to really see it. It was surprisingly deserted. This was the middle of the day on a Monday, at the main airport of the capital city of the largest country in Europe. And here is what the terminal looked like, in one direction and the other:
Not much activity out on the tarmac, either: It’s clear that this is not a bustling tourist destination. I had a piece of mandarin cheesecake and some tea and looked out at the late-afternoon winter light as I waited for my flight.
Vienna had been chosen as this year’s site for the European-region English Language Fellows mid-year conference. We had three days of workshops, but not wanting to waste my ticket on just three days, I felt it prudent to tack on a few days at the beginning and end to round it out to a week. It was a wise move.
I found it to be an absolutely glorious week, for a number of reasons. First of all, it was Vienna. It really did deliver: it looked and acted as Vienna should. Everywhere, on every street, were grand, old, beautiful facades standing watch over cobbled sidewalks and streets, classy restaurants, and elegant cafes. Tea was served with sugar-crusted swizzle sticks, cakes were full of layers, and tempting international restaurants abounded.
The experience was made even grander by being with my colleagues: talking about our fellowships during the conference sessions at Amerika Haus; deciding which kind of food to have for our next meal; exploring the streets, sights and grocery stores (soup mixes! German chocolate!); and relishing the sympatico that comes from shared understanding. Anyone who has traveled in a foreign land knows how it is to meet a fellow countryman abroad; there is a bond even though you have never met before. This was like that, magnified. We had met in Washington, D.C. in August and have all stepped into the same boat, albeit docked at many different harbors. We were all hungry to hear from each other, to listen to stories of life at each other’s posts. What was it like in the corner of Estonia? How do people react to Americans in Belgrade? Can you choose your own class materials in Ankara? How do you greet each other in Kosovo? What is life like in those far reaches of Russia: in Irkutsk (Siberia) and Vladivostock (by North Korea)? Could you in fact get tired of the food in Georgia? Is the language in Moldova a dialect of Romanian, or not? (Best not to get into that!)
And then – add to that the love I have for the German language and food. How wunderbar to be able to communicate with others in the restaurants and shops, to read the product labels, signs, and menus, and to eat some of my favorite foods! Place your cursor on the pictures below to read what they are.
On Monday, I flew back into the snowy land of Ukraine: The marshrutka ride from Kyiv to Cherkasy was treacherous. The wind was blowing the snow around like ground-hugging cirrus clouds skidding across the ice, and it was hard to know if the snow was coming up or down. Our driver just kept plowing through, favoring the center line of the highway until another vehicle would come along. I was very thankful when I suddenly realized we were on the bridge crossing over the Dnipro into Cherkasy. I got off the bus a block and a half from my building and lugged my baggage through the drifts home, home…home. I’m home.