We had one hour to do a frantic shop for items we could only get in Ukraine. The list from friends was rather long: Hand carved jewelry, stacking dolls, hand painted spoons …
“Mommy we are going to run out of time. Why don’t we split up?” My precocious thirteen year-old daughter suggested. I scanned the park with booth after booth of items for sale. The park was large and everything looked the same.
“No way!” I said in English knowing that my two girls could be swept away in a foreign land in a moment. My limited Russian would be unheard, my screaming in English heeded less.
“We will never be able to do it all.” My 10-year-old daughter chimed in
“Then we will do what we can, first I have to get grivna out of the ATM.” I heard both the girls sigh as I dragged them quickly to a corner of the square.
“It will only take a moment. ” A moment I knew we did not have.
As I left the ATM machine, an elderly Babushka came into my vision. She was so frail and thin as she carried a woven satchel of groceries that looked like it weighed more than she. With a weak but genuine smile, she looked right at me then at the girls.
Do you ever feel your hand magnetically reach for your wallet when you see someone poor and weak? I knew my husband (8000 miles away) would have growled at me. It didn’t matter. I felt the compelling need to help this frail woman.
I pulled out grivna and gave her the equivalent to several weeks worth of food. I said a few words in my very poorest Russian accent. The smile in her eyes could have lit the pavement. Then this woman put her tissue paper-thin hands on my girl’s heads and said a blessing. I didn’t understand all of what she said but I knew it came straight from the heart. She looked me in the eye with a toothless grin as she placed her hand against my cheek then she was gone! I felt washed with something indescribable.
Now our time was even less than it was before. I looked at my watch, we had to catch our bus to the airport in thirty minutes. The oddest thing happened- As we went to the different tents to check out what was for sale, it was as if a sea parted before us. Each kiosk had exactly what we were looking for and the price was less than we had planned. One man as we were leaving handed me a beautiful handmade wooden necklace. He gestured for me to wear it. It reminded me of the beauty and strength of the Ukranian people and of the old woman. I wondered if he knew the babushka.
I was not looking forward to the trip home. Two days of travel is grueling; add two young girls and an injured mother (I had been injured in Crimea.) We were alone from Odessa to Vienna to New York and finally LA. I felt like people kept looking out for us. A man helped carry all of our luggage to the plane , we needed to hail a taxi in Vienna and someone shared theirs with us to the hostel. All along the way people were unusually thoughtful to the girls and I.
There had been a man trying to escape justice who had hidden in the luggage compartment on our plane out of Odessa. He was subdued (in Vienna) before he could be violent or set off whatever was in his duffle.
When I got home I looked at the necklace hanging around my neck. ‘Oh Babushka you gave me so much more than I gave you. Your blessing got us safely home. Spasiba Bolshoi.’
I just wanted the reader to know that this short story is true. I wrote this piece a number of years ago and archived it. Based on the current turmoil in Ukraine, I hope to send some blessings back.
The Ukrainian people are a strong, beautiful and creative people. How can anyone want to strip that from our world?