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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Back home

Now that I am home, I will attempt to fill in some of the impressions I didn't have time to record before. It will be rather piecemeal, but then, the rest of the blog hasn't been particularly chronological. I hope that hasn't made it too difficult to follow.

When I have recorded as much as I can of this trip, I think I would like to share some of the details of my previous experiences volunteering over the last several years, in Thailand, Romania, France and Peru. Loring says this trip seems like more of an adventure than my other ones. I am not sure that is true, although certainly the personal aspect and discoveries have made it special and significant in ways different from the others. But I am wondering if I just haven't conveyed, to anyone, as much detailabout the other trips as I have of this one, even though it feel like there is so much from Cz. I haven't yet said.

So when I am done telling you about Czernowitz and perhaps some other adventures from my other destinations this trip, I hope you will follow me back in time to some of my other volunteer experiences. Perhaps I might even entice someone to participate in one her or himself!

Well, back to Czernowitz: I recounted some, but not enough, of the Yiddish conference. We attended the opening ceremonies, at a lovely outdoor courtyard of some Jewish center. It was mostly speeches, luckily translated into English. The next night was the first official night. More speeches, and then a performance by an Israeli woman named Ruth Levin. Her father, Leibu Levin, had been from the city. He was a musician and storyteller. Ruth is a singer as well. She performed, in Yiddish of course, so I could not understand a word. She was so dramatic, so passionate, that her performance was extremely stirring, even without knowing what she was singing about. I believe some of the songs were her own, some her father's, some traditional. I recognized one tune and can't stop hearing it now, over two weeks later. But I don't think I could reproduce it outside my own head! Leibu Levin had died in the 1980's. His grandson, Ruth's son, was with her and videotaping the event. I talked to both Ruth and her son a bit.He was about 14, had never met his grandfather. I asked him if he was intersted in music, too. He said he had taken some instrument, I forget now which. But that he was now learning to play the guitar. I wonder if he will carry on the family musical heritage.

At the end of her performance, Ruth showed a video of her father telling a song-story, which again of course I didn't understand. But I was fascinated. His face was amazingly pliant, he reminded me in a way of a more serious Danny Kaye, who I hadn't thought of in years.

I notice that Ruth Levin has posted to the CZ email list extensive info about her father, which I haven't yet had time to read, and I imagine there is other info available about him. I know that he was exiled for many years by the Russians, freed when in his 40's.

On to another incident I had been wanting to recount. In addition to Marina, who I have already mentioned and who volunteered with us for most all of the two weeks, there were several other young local people. One was Costa. He was Jewish, had been born in Czernowitz. I believe his parents had migrated there from elsewhere. He also was a consistent volunteer, although not quite daily as was Marina. Another person I couldn't talk to but was very taken with, just very amiable. He came with us on the visit to the Cz synagogue, where I gather he is a member. (He says he just comes on the holidays.) As we entered, he donned a traditional black hat, like the rabbi's, rather than a yarmulke.There were several there and I guess people had their choice. He looked so cute in it, and that is the image of him that will remain with me.

A couple of days later, in the early evening after work, I was walking thru the downtown and ran into Costa. It was a nice feeling to run into someone I knew, in the street, made me feel like I belonged. Costa tried to say something to me in Russian. I understood not a word. He tried again, much more slowly. That didn't help a bit. Then he said something in German. I only knew that because I understood one word. It was "arbeit".The only reason I know that word is from the wrought iron saying on the gateway at Dachau, and Auschwitz, the ultra-ironic "work makes you free." What were the Nazis thinking when they wrote that? Were they being intentionally, cruelly ironic? Or did that not even occur to them?" So, I understood (I think) that Costa was talking about work, ie. at the cemetery. I decided he must have been saying, see you at work. So I nodded and said,ok, arbeit, a couple of times and we went our separate ways. Of oourse, I might have been entirely wrong.

Another vignette: On the train leaving Lviv, Ukraine at 6 am for Krakow, I shared a compartment with two youngish women. When I entered the train, only one of them was there, and I woke her up. She was Ukrainian, spoke some English, and was very friendly. (I notice I keep saying that about the Ukrainians I met.) She did not mind at all that I had awakened her, helped make room for me and my large suitcase and gave me a boost up onto the middle berth. When I awoke a few hours later, she and another woman were chatting. I never did find out if they had known each other previously, or had met on the train. It sure seemed like they were good friends. But the second woman hadn't been there when I got on the train. Anyway, Ukrainian woman number two was equally friendly, althoush she didn't speak any English. We all got along famously for the many hours of the train ride, with the first woman translating for me and the other. I explained what I had been doing in Czernowitz. And she, the second woman, immediately said she knew about us, had seen us on tv. And she didn't live in Czernowitz. So I guess we were on national, not only local, tv. What a strange feeling, to be told I'd been seen on TV, by a woman on the train!

I don't really know how many tv programs we were on or newspapers we were in. We never did see the newspaper story that we were interviewed for. We did see one tv segment, and at least one other station came and interviewed us at the cemetery. There had been at least 4 tv stations at the press conference at the mayor's office. I am guessing that even the stations that didn't interview us at the cemetery carried the story. So I guess I am a local Czernowitz celebrity! Even in stores we went into in town, when we told people what we were doing, they had already heard about us.

Back to the train for a minute - on the Ukraine-Polish border the train tracks change gauges, I guess it dates back to the Soviet times and not wanting to make transportation too accessible to other countries. So the trains need to stop (for an hour or two) while they switch wheels. (not trains, wheels.) and they do it with all the passengers in the trains. On the way to Ukraine, I wasn't even aware of it, slept thru the whole thing. On the way back, though, it was daytime. They slid a whole series of forklift like things under the train cars, to hold them up while they switched the wheels. And from what I hear, the difference in the gauge is only centimeters.

Because we were there for so long, and you aren't supposed to use the toilets when the trains are in a station (especially while the workers were right there,probably wouldn't be too pleasant for them), my compartment-mates decided they would ask if there was a toilet we could use nearby. I trusted them thru all the banter with the conductors, which I could only guess at, and they sent us down the tracks to the train workers' office and toilet. There, more banter with a bunch more workers, and then each of us took our turn. As we headed back down the tracks to our train, no longer suspended, it began moving, slowly, backwards. There were a few brief panicky movements until we realized they were just separating cars, part of the train to head to Warsaw, the other to Krakow. Actually, if I was going to be stuck somewhere, I wouldn't have minded being in the company of these two jovial women. One of them, the one who spoke English, worked as a maid for a family in the Netherlands, and I think was heading back there. She had a 7 year old daughter who lived with the woman's parents in Ukraine. The daughter's name was Carolina, same name as my daughter. We parted ways, suddenly, in the train station in Krakov, relationship as easily dissolved as it had been made. We wheeled our suitcases off in opposite directions, never even having said goodbye.

Well, that is all the Czernowitz details I can think of at the moment, but I hope there will be more. And I think there are some aspects of our subsequent two weeks in Poland and the Czech Republic that I will also want to recount.

Til then.

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