Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2006

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Flag of Ukraine  ,
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Kiev sports the best metro deal in the known world (half a hryvnia, or about 10 cents), and we boarded the underground to the end of the line at Akademmistechko, where Babushka lives. For those of you who haven't read about the first time I or my sister had met my grandmother, please see the Kiev entry in my EuroTrip 2005 travelogue. First stop was by the next-door children's hospital to find Tanya, the woman who helped Babushka (also named Tanya) out. All the nurses there were also named Tanya, so that didn't help, but one of the Tanyas got wise to who we were looking for and with the other lady continuing to intensely question us on our way out, we got on and off the little elevator that didn't work, backwards, and squoze through the narrow bars that ensure that if a child ever tries to run away he will be slightly inconvenienced and no adult will be able to slip through quickly enough to catch up.
Papa had warned us that we would probably scare the little old ladies who hang out in front of Babushka's apartment.
Whatever, we looked good. Mohawks were still poppin and contrasting nicely with the general state of disrepair of all our clothes and gear.
We made our way up the stairs, and for only the second time in my life, I nervously knocked on the padded leather door to meet my Mama's mama. Very strangely emotional to meet her again, the woman I didn't really know and couldn't really communicate with but is one-quarter, and more than that in spirit, responsible for me being on this planet. But first things first, we were whisked into the kitchen by Tanya to be fed until we couldn't move anymore.
Tanya and Natasha, the other woman who helps out, have no concept of "no" ("Do you want this?" "No." "OK, here you go.") and set before us a strange and fantastic feast of a bucket of strawberries, sour cream, 10,000 dumplings, 4 bananas, 2 tomatoes, and a plateful of sardines-but-giant.
I had known and had been trying to prepare myself for the difficulty and frustration of having Babushka physically there and wanting to ask a million questions but likely only getting 2 or 3 in, and simple ones at that. Ones that needed to be yelled into her ear and would receive likely only a stare back, especially without Mama and Papa around to help me get my thoughts across. It was sad and joyful all at once, the brilliance of being there with a living part of my past, but nearly impossible to break through her iconic status in my life and begin to know her as a person. She had not grown into better health since last I saw her. I had been warned by Mama and Lonya that chances were good that she'd not even know who I was. She didn't know her own son at Lonya's last visit.
Tanya later told me that, in anticipation of my visit, which she had learned about a few months prior, she had gone with Tanya through the photo album that Jenny had brought for her last time every single day to point at the faces and tell Tanya who they were. Over the months, more and more strangers appeared in those pages to Babushka's eyes, and it meant so much to me to find out that by the end I was the only one who she constantly recognized and doted over the visage of. I had adjusted my expectations in anticipation of my grandmother's weakened condition, and I believe we were both satisfied with our ultimate arrangement of me sitting beside her, stroking her thinning wispy white hair, holding her weathered hand, and just talking about our adventures even though she couldn't understand my words. She knew at least that my sister and I are where we are because of her and her struggles and difficult life in Moldova and Ukraine and the army, and I don't think we had to not be strangers in some senses in order to be so closely linked in another.
Babushka grew tired again, and we let her alone, resolving to be content and derive meaning from whatever was to happen my last time seeing her the next day.
Ryan hadn't yet seen Kiev and we were taken out on the town by Lida and Artem, the children of Tanya and Natasha, respectively. It was an unexpectedly great time, with the whimsical diversion of the evening helping to balance the intense emotional implications of this visit. Arten had aged six years in the less than one since I'd last seem him when I could have sworn he'd been 13, and we sightsaw, took pictures with just about all the statues in the park and seesaws in the playground, rode the trolley thing, caught the 2nd half of Netherlands-Argentina, and kept the night rolling at a discotheque in the middle of a carnival. Kiev also (who would have guessed it) does not run metros in the middle of the night, and we easily missed our last chance between the loud dancing, flock of Ukrainians dressed in all white, and vodka bottle service to the table. We resolved to hang out by the river until dawn, and spread out to get a little rest and reflection.
Stretching out a bit after sunrise to begin our walk back, Ryan looked a bit out of sorts. And wet. Ryan discovered that in the midst of his slumber (which can take place in any position for any amount of time under the duress of any distraction) he had been robbed by a conscientious hobo who had relieved himself on Ryan's back, by robbing the $70 worth of hryvnia bills and $7 plastic watch he had on his person, but kindly leaving exact fare for the subway home in his other, previously empty, pocket.
By the way, I do like to be subtle here, but in case you missed the innuendo, Ryan also got peed on. He will deny it, but that's to be expected when you're-in an embarrassing story.
One more day in Kiev, and we awoke late to have a legendary time and breakfast until Babushka felt rested enough for us to come back over from Natasha's place. Knowing this would likely be the last time I would ever see my last grandparent, I simply gave myself to the flow and energy of the situation. I sat there with my grandmother, who I don't know but love, and just let the experience be what it was. Few words were attempted or exchanged between us, but an understanding of the intersection of our lives and the blessings that we shared became clear. Then we knew it was time to go.

Moral of the Story: Family is still always a good place to be.

Postscript: Since I had written this post initially sometime later in the trip, Babushka passed on from this world on November 1, 2006. God bless her and thank you Babushka.
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