the woman at the little ‘anything & everything’ store in my village has taken quite a liking to me. i’ve only been in there a few times, mostly for tampons, toilet paper, and fly paper. you know, the essentials. but somehow she’s decided from our few interactions of me smiling and quickly guessing what she’s saying in russian and my purchases of personal items has convinced her that i’m a very good person.
she’s a larger oldish woman with a rather round shape, double chin, dimples, dyed jet black hair, and a very warm demeanor. jolly i would say. i walk in the store and a smile lights across her face as if her long lost daughter finally came home. i wish that happened to me in every store here, usually their facial expressions make me want to run the other way. but not her. i got the things on my list and then told her i’d look around (mainly to extend my shopping venture for as long as i could because well there’s not much else to do). i looked at this and that and the coffee mugs for maybe a little too long. i wasn’t in need of a coffee mug, but after she so eagerly showed me one after another, calling me ‘sweetheart’ and ‘my dear’, i couldn’t very well not buy one. so i ended up with a coffee mug. but at least one that didn’t have dragons and oddly translated english words on it.
we chatted a little bit longer, she asked where i lived and who i lived with, and signaling to the heavens to ask if they believe in god because if they don’t they’re usually bad drunks. i reassured her that my host family was very kind to me and that i was sure they went to church at least once a year. i didn’t dare tell her they skipped easter service.
she continued to ask the number 3 questions all ukrainians ask ‘have you made borscht?’. THIS time i was happy to say i had. she was glad to hear it and even though i had already won her approval, i think it at least gave me brownie points. our conversation of borscht lead to her taking me by the hand to the cafe that she owns next door.
i pass this cafe (and by cafe ukrainians mean a sort of restaurant) every day on my way to school but the only times it’s ever open is for funerals. in ukraine it’s tradition to all gather at a cafe after a funeral, so i always know when there’s a funeral in my village, and sadly there have been a lot of them.
i’d always been curious as to what the place looked like inside. but i thought, or hoped, rather that the occasion of a funeral would never satisfy that wonder. and i certainly never expected to get a personal tour from the owner. she lead me in through the back way, past her similarly shaped sister in the kitchen, to a large dark heavily wooded room with viking sized tables and benches. she let go of my hand as i stood there and gave out my list of typical ukrainian/russian compliments.
the floor lit up with cast green and red dots from the disco light she turned on…not sure if they use this at the funeral brunch? i kept trying to think of things to ask her about the place, but most of them centered around the awkward question if it was true that it was mainly open for the party of the deceased. i avoided that question all together and went back to the safer conversation of borscht.
the lady said if she knows when i’m coming in next she’ll bring me a pot of her borscht to take home. she hugged, squeezed me into her bountiful bosom, and rubbed my back told me how good i was before i left the store. i don’t think i’ve ever received such praise and hugging in my whole 25 years as i did right then.
so i may not have needed that coffee cup. but to support a very kind jovial hugging lady who promised to make me borscht, and remind me of the exuberant kindness of some ukrainians, was certainly worth the 12 hryivns.