I am embarking on a journey. Journey does seem like the right word. “Trip” doesn’t seem encompassing enough,” adventure” a bit lighthearted for what I am undertaking, although I am sure there will be plenty of adventures along the way.
A little background, for those who don’t know about some of my previous adventures volunteering. This will be my fifth trip through Volunteers for Peace. VFP is one of an affiliation of groups around the world that sponsor short term projects in their own countries and enroll volunteers from their country to projects in others. There are thousands of opportunities in many countries. I have volunteered in Thailand, teaching English, in Romania working with children, helping to design a space in the courtyard of a Paris housing project housing mostly immigrant families, and in Peru again with kids, some of whom were boys who worked cleaning graves in either the morning or the afternoon, going to school the other half of the day. All have been incredible experiences, and if there is time along the way I will try to share some details of those adventures .If you would like to read about my experience in Transylvania, follow this link.
You can check out more about the organization at vfp.org. Their role is to promote the opportunities and coordinate registering people. Once you are registered you are on your own to get to the country and place of the project. (Often an adventure in itself!) A small fee covers room and board, which ranges from rustic to even more rustic. The volunteer group usually is between a dozen and 20 people. Most, but not all volunteers are in their early 20’s.
This experience will be similar in many ways (and I am just realizing the similar threads of garden and cemetery. Interesting.) But it will also be different in a significant way. At least that is what I anticipate. I do, however, usually caution people considering volunteering to be flexible, because the experience always has been, in some ways, different from what I had anticipated, whether in the accommodations, the nature of the project, or something else. So I had better . If you would like to read about my experience in Transylvania, follow this link.
I am going to Ukraine, leaving in just about 4 hours on the first leg of the trip, to Krakow, Poland. After a day there, staying in a place called Klezmer Hois, I will board an overnight train to Czernowitz, Ukraine, a 13 hour ride. I arrive, and the project begins, on Thursday the 7th.
Czernowitz (or more specifically Sadgura, a village across the river, now a suburb) is where my grandmother grew up. She and my grandfather left in 1914, leaving an infant daughter behind with my great-grandmother, planning to send for her once they were established. My mother and three uncles were born in the U.S. and grew up in the Bronx, as did I.
My job in Czernowitz will involve clearing graves in the neglected and badly overgrown Jewish cemetery. My daughter looked at me, incredulous, when I told her what I was going to be doing. My husband chuckled, no doubt at least as incredulous. I am not, you see, exactly an avid gardener. The closest I get is picking (once in a great while) and eating (often) the products of my family’s work. And, truth be told, I am not at all sure that I will enjoy this project in the way that I have enjoyed the others, at least the actual physical work. But I am not sure enjoyment is even my goal. This will be a journey, as I said, into the past as well as to the town of Czernowitz. It has already begun.