A tribute to those who took us to Shalanki

Trip Start Oct 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 27, 2011

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Flag of Ukraine  , Zakarpats'ka,
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On the way out of Shalanki we hit rush hour: a mixed herd of cows and goats heading into town. They must have been working in the suburbs, and were on their way back home. 

Once free of the traffic jam the blue van picked up speed and slalomed toward Berehove. We invited the whole crew to have dinner with us, or at least pastries and coffee. Because it was getting late they opted for the latter. 

The driver led us to a nice old café and we ordered up rounds of espresso and fancy pastries that tasted as good as they looked.  I asked Boris where the pastries—Napoleons,éclairs, and all sorts of tarts—came from. He said they were baked by various people in their homes and brought to the café.  It worked for us!

As we sipped and munched I replayed the extraordinary events of the previous few days. My frustration and impatience at the Byzantine ways of the Ukrainians melted away.  I suddenly appreciated the blindingly obvious: they knew their culture better than I did!  Who was I to demand an explanation for the "damaged" tires that to my eyes looked fine?  Or that Boris kept being delayed?   Or to be impatient that our trip to Shalanki was disrupted by an interminable stop at the Customs Ministry?  

When Boris said, several times, “we have a little problem,” I guess I should have focused on the “little,” rather than the “problem,” since subsequent events proved him eminently capable of solving each of them.  Now I realize how hard he worked and how supportive he was of our crazy mission. As he himself said—and clearly meant—“Not crazy.  Beautiful. It's beautiful that you are looking for your roots.”  And also beautiful that he and his associates worked so hard to help us.

Igor lived up to his claim to be “an expert in the Ukrainian system.”  And the Hungarian system as well!.  He provided vital and mysterious help that we’ll never understand in getting us to Shalanki and in finding Grandpa Klein’s house.  Boris' friend, the communicationless driver, was also essential; driving in Transcarpathia is not for sissies, and he did a really expert job.  Even the guest house worker, who never said a word, may well have played an important, though obscure, role in the success of our mission.  Relative to us these people have very hard lives.  They live and work within a system that's antiquated, arcane, and corrupt.  Yet they delivered far more than they ever promised.  I’ll never forget them.
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julie on

I love the pic of Ken at the table, eating pastry with the locals. He IS one of the locals.

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