This is mainly a description of the events of May 9, 2011, and the accompanying pictures are as well. However before I dive into that description, I feel it appropriate to share two very recent “slip of the tongue” moments that have taken place in the last week. First, please understand that in some languages, stressing the wrong letter in certain words can cause a very drastic change in their meaning. This can happen harmlessly such as in the present tense of the word стоит which, when pronounced STOIT, means “cost” and when pronounced STAIEET, “stand.” Harmless, right??
1) This is not the case of the past tense of пишал or “I wrote” when pronounced PIHSHAL, stressing the “A.” When saying this quickly to my host mother the other night, I accidentally stressed the “I” and said something more along the lines of “PEESHAL” which is the same thing as using the slang term for urination. She repeated the word, I said “Da” to which she literally threw her head back and belly laughed for a good three minutes. Kept repeating “Pete PEESHAL…HAHAHAHAHAHA! Spaceebah Pete, spaceebah!”
2) The most recent event to transpire had to do when I attempted to tell her “I promise.” Instead I said, “I’m offended” and she stopped what she was doing, turned around, asked “schto” repeatedly, referred to herself. She had me completely confused, and finally handed me the dictionary…by this time I should also mention that she was now seated anxiously awaiting my “educational moment.” I am pretty sure I have not apologized more for anything in recent memory than for this particular instance. To this moment, however, I still cannot hear the difference between the two words. That ould be a problem or perhaps I will just simply never make promises in this country. Wait…now, how is that a problem?
May 9th, is Victory Day in Ukraine and, from what I have gathered, most of the former Soviet Union as well – this is a Soviet holiday. The easiest parallel to make is that of Memorial Day in the United States. Specifically though, this is to celebrate the victory of WWII. Like all holidays all over the world, there are traditions associated with the celebration. As part of our ongoing cultural training, we are constantly exposed to the traditions of Ukrainian people (and do they have some great ones too!) and today was no different. We gathered in the city center –where the names of the deceased veterans from Chernigov were read out loud.
Once the names had been read, veterans and current military proceeded to place flowers on a monument commemorating the memories of their fallen comrades – either due to active service or to natural causes. Surprisingly, another trainee, Dave – also from New England and I were able to get rather close to this event. What happened next really caught the majority of us by surprise (and by us I mean all of the trainees). We had initially been told that we were going to go watch the Victory Day parade.
I figured a nice Veterans parade with maybe some tanks, loads of beautiful Ukrainian flowers, a few ceremonial shots being fired, and both active and veteran service men and women marching in formation. This was not what happened by any means. Prior to today, some of the groups had heard a rumor that we were actually going to be in the parade – whatever that meant. I scoffed at this statement and asked repeatedly, “Wait, are you serious or are you messing with me right now?” The correct answer to this question is “a little from column A and a little from column B.”
The next thing we knew, everyone simply started walking. I have mentioned in an earlier post that there is a location in Chernigov where the view has not changed much in over 1,000 years. This was the final destination for the parade. Now, I’m sure that some individuals were already at the location. There are multiple memorial monuments located there, not to mention an eternal flame. However, once the veterans passed by the location, it appeared that the onlookers joined in the parade and made their way down the hill.
Thankfully, this walk was downhill – it was about two or three miles and all downhill – and it ended with a really cool tradition of walking up the steps to the eternal flame and placing flowers around it. Many of us decided to participate and it really was well worth the wait. Not inasmuch that tangible results were acquired, but rather seeing and understanding that sometimes it really is about the celebration of things that are important – whatever that “thing” may be.
Some of our group really had an unbelievable experience as they came across and elderly female veteran, 86 years young. She was struggling to make it to the flame not just because she walked with a cane or that is was up a long flight of stairs. Rather, she was struggling to handle the absolutely insane amount of flowers she had been given from others in appreciation for her service. Some of our group, LCF and trainees, assisted her up to the flame and back to the bus stop. All the while hearing her story which has been sworn to secrecy – not really, it is just very long and therefore I felt bad pressing for it. Although I was told this when asked what her story was like: “Amazing, dude, simply amazing. That is one special woman right there.” I felt that something also needs to be shared is this small yet humbling statement that one of the trainees made when discussing how much information she shared. It is not verbatim but I’ll be able to sum it up pretty well:
“…Man, that was a pretty intense story she told us. The one thing that struck me was how she was willing to share information with us that she was unable or didn’t want to share with her husband or kids simply because we were American and ‘who are we going to tell?’ Crazy thing is, she has probably wanted to tell that story for a long time, she finally got the chance to and won’t ever again…”
If that doesn’t make you think for a second…read it again and imagine the sentences as an exchange between people – it is irrelevant who is saying what.
One thing I realized about the flowers is that they all end up at the same location. During the parade, many onlookers hand flowers to any veteran and typically followed by “spahceebah,” or “Thank you.” Some are large bouquets, some are individual flowers but it does not matter. All – well most – will be placed surrounding the eternal flame in order to remember those who fought on behalf of those standing there today – and a few Americans. Regardless of who we are or what we stand for, we are all thankful for something.
Moral of the story: Don’t miss out on the simple opportunities or gestures. They are typically painless, take very little effort, but will have a profound resonance.