Before the Storm
This trip back home is a complete social, emotional and physical detox. This is a reset of me. It’s stress-test of all the labels I’ve put on myself, of what I made myself to believe I am, of what I made myself to think is important to me. This is the time to meet myself again. This trip is the mirror of me.
Suitcase is packed, everything is ready. I sit at my desk, trying to gather my thoughts around. Only a few hours are in between me and my family. It’s been 5 years and 2 months since I left home. It’s been 62 months since I’ve seen my family. It’s been so longs since I’ve touched my mother, felt her smell and a tight hug. Gosh it feels like forever…
Throughout the darkest moments of my life, the only thing I was wishing for is to be next to my family, just for a moment, just to catch a breath. They only way we could get together, was in my dreams. I would close my eyes and fly back into the happy moments of my careless childhood at the parent house. I open my eyes and still they weren’t there, I wasn’t there for them. I started to hate Christmas and New Years. I was jealous to see all the happy families at the malls Christmas shopping.
Suffering is a resistance to pain. Suffering is optional.
It took me about 3 years away from home to understand it. I didn’t stop missing everyone, I didn’t stop carrying, but I did stop to suffer. Distance between us became just a convention. Since I left home, I never stopped being a son, a brother or a grandkid. Understanding of it allowed me to open up to other people that cared about me. Karp’s and Hackett’s families accepted me as their own, giving me the support and care they could. I stopped resisting and stepped towards them. I didn’t feel anymore that I cheat on my family by accepting help from others. I still struggle with it, but I am better than before.
After all the years spent apart, all the family holidays and birthdays that I missed I am given a chance to reunite. But why am I hesitant? Boy, what do you wait for? Isn’t it what you wanted for so long? Here is a ticket, take it! Timidly I reach out with my hand and take it. Now I just wait to depart, surprisingly calm and relaxed.
It’s not the way I imagined coming home. One of my biggest dreams was to come home with the one I loved. She would meet my family and see the place I grew up in. She would get to know me better, understand me better. She will… but it will be a different person and at the different time. Today my travel partner is Blake, a Scottish terrier of one year old. This dog has been my copilot for the past year. He has seen and traveled to so many different places that a lot of people haven’t in their lifetimes. As it’s important to give your child good education, it’s equally important to train and tech your pet some good behavior. Realizing that I invest a lot of time, putting an effort to train him be well in the car, on the plane, with kids, other people and other animals. Having him by my side adds more to the experience of travel. Whenever we go, I feel like a rockstar, attracting all the looks and attention from people of all ages, genders and colors. It’s a hell of a trip not just for me, but for both of us.
On Top of Tsunami
The closer my plane gets to Ukraine the stronger emotional wind starts to blow.
As expected, meeting my parents and brother at the airport was total shock. I thought my mom would squeeze all the tears out of me in the tight hug. She is so pretty!
Stepan! You’re soooo freaking tall and big. My brother now taller than me, shaking my hand with gorillas size claw. Damn you’re big!
Dad quietly hugs me over the shoulders, saying such short and powerful: We missed you, Son.
Impressions of the Country
Prices are ridiculously high. If not the same, they are higher than in US or Canada. Living and working in America I rarely limited myself while shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, picking what’s good, not what’s left , without breaking a budget. Now, in Ukraine, I felt myself broke. Every time leaving grocery store I had a strong sense that I’ve been ripped off. Even my higher salary, compared to money people make in Ukraine, didn’t always allow me to feed myself with healthy foods I’m used to. Healthy food selection is limited, unwillingly turning people’s heads towards highly processed and packaged alternatives. It became clear, that fresh and healthy foods are not in great demand here. However I must admit that the quality of local vegetables is outstanding. Cutting and smelling simple vegetables like tomatoes or cucumbers gave me the culinary orgasm. There is so much taste to them compared to American options. Rather than that it was an every day struggle for me, trying to eat balanced, clean diet. By the end of my vacation I lost 4 kg (9 lbs), in three weeks.
Three digit prices spread not only for groceries, but also gas and utilities. I began to ask how the hell people can afford to even survive here? I began to ask different people how they manage to survive with such crazy prices. Few conversations with locals gave me an insight into what’s going on. Listen to this: an average/typical salary in my hometown is about $200-250 /month and utilities eat up approximately $125-$150 /month!!! a half of it. Half of your lifetime, you work just to pay you utility bills to keep the water running and not freezing to death in your apartment during the cold months. What’s left is $125 which you should distribute on food, commute and other basic monthly expenses. I don’t even speak about going on vacations, eating out, buying clothing and for God’s sake, putting some money aside. Impossible! Now more questions were running in my head than ever before.
What totally blew my mind and created a cognitive dissonance is the picture I’ve been observing around. Mercedeses, BMWs, Range Rovers, Porshes were frequently passing my bus. At the restaurants, on the public transportation, at the grocery stores – everyone seemed to be holding iPhones of the latest models. Everyone dressed nice, in a good looking and not always cheap clothings. I frequently spot meat, fruits and alcohol in people’s carts at the cashier’s register. WTF?! I don’t understand how can they afford all of that? Someone please explain, because I am really confused at this point. I hear one thing, but I see completely opposite. Who’s lying here?
About two weeks later I opened my eyes. At the exit of big shopping mall I saw a very sick, poor looking grandma. She was holding a curled bunch of dill in her wrinkly hand, offering it for sale. Standing right in front of the door, she was trying to catch people’s eyes, hoping to make a sale that would bring her some few pennies. What do you think she will spend that money on? Alcohol? Drugs? Maybe gambling? I highly doubt. She will trade it for a piece of the cheapest bread or some sort of sugar, that will keep her alive for the next few days. Ughhhh I’m so mad! I went back inside to get few loafs of bread, buckwheat, and some sugars in form of cookies and fruits. She began crying, taking a bag of food off my hand…
One morning, running through the neighborhood I learned another horrific story that curbed in my memory. A lady standing on the side of the road, greeting me as I rapidly approach her. “- Good morning young man! May I ask you for a favor? – Sure, I said, what’s up? There is a grandma in the house. She fell to the floor and can’t get up, even with my assistance. Please, help me lift her up. I promise it won’t take long and I don’t have anyone else to call for help. – Of course! I agreed”. Following her into the house I got shocked of the condition the house was in. Hangout for the homeless would seem as a 5-star hotel, compare to the house of this grandma. Entering the room I saw a lady approximately 80 years old, in her underwear laying helplessly on the cold floor, next to her “bed”. She fell when she was trying to go to the restroom – a metal bucket placed in the corner of the same room. I picked her up and left as fast as I could. I couldn’t feel the ground under my legs from what I have just seen. I realized that for her, something as simple as catching a flu meant death. Breaking a leg – death. Just because she can afford any type of healthcare or drugs. I got scared.
I began to realize that there is something seriously wrong. There is no middle class. There is a huge gap in between people that are balancing between life and death, trying to simply survive and people driving Porshe, living in mansions behind tall fences. You either poor or rich.
Bars & Pharmacies
Every time I travel to a new country, new city or neighborhood I pay attention to the billboards and advertisements around me. Seeing what is being advertised and what kind of audience is being targeted gives you a really good understanding of what kind of people live here, what their lifestyles and average incomes in a given region.
Sitting on the kitchen the other day, I turned the TV on to see what Ukrainians are being fed with these days. What’s in demand and what’s being advertised? Back when I was a kid, there were alcohol and cigarets commercials everywhere. Now that they seem to be banned from television, drug commercials have taken control of advertisement time. There were 6 commercials in about 2 minutes of time and 5 of them were promoting either some drugs or medical services. 5 out of 6! Exploring the town I confirmed that the number of pharmacies and drug stores have dramatically increased since I left 5 years ago. What I’m seeing now are bars, cheap grocery stores and pharmacies along the streets. You either drink or drug yourself to death, or both.
Ukrainian girls are the prettiest. Seriously, don’t just take my word for it and go see yourself. If you’re looking to merry a model for cheap, Ukraine is the place to go. Local women might not always offer higher levels of intelligence and won’t always share your excitement about the book you read and spiritual experience you’ve had, but who cares when she’s so beautiful. Cashier registers, waitresses, bus drivers, nurses – seemed like they all were hired straight from the model agencies. I couldn’t stop enjoying to just watching the pretty faces around me.
Knowing the importance of planning, I’ve made a list of the things to do, places to see and people to meet wile in Ukraine. I have met with everyone I wanted and even more. I also found time for everyone who expressed the interest in meeting and chatting with me. The list of places to visit was almost covered, leaving Chernobyl and mountains of Karpaty unchecked. Considering the time and countries I’ve been to in the past few days I am ok with that. I am leaving it for my next trip to Ukraine. Head to toe health check; Ice swimming and Family photography is marked done on my to do list. The only thing that’s missing is to “Try Escargot”. Should’ve stopped at the French restaurant for the piece of exotic meat. Overall I feel pretty happy and accomplished as I achieved almost everything I planned for myself.
I am not sad that I’m leaving. I hold no hard feeling to anyone or anything. I don’t regret of anything I’ve done or said during these three weeks. I’ve said everything I wanted, I hugged everyone I wanted…I am leaving again, as I did 5 years ago. Same airport, same terminal, but with a different cargo this time. Heavy emotional backpack is resting on my shoulders.
The same melody from the turbines plays in my ears. Three weeks later, me and Blake are on the plane back home. His head is resting on my feet, while I try to make any sense of my feelings and thoughts.
A huge invisible backpack is resting of my shoulders. It feels so heavy. Solid emotional piece of concrete with two handles I carry with me on this plane. I need to brake it into smaller digestible pieces so I can start making any sense of the feelings and thoughts it represent.
I am grateful for my body that handled so much physical and emotional stress. I am grateful for my mind for staying as clear as possible during the times of hardship. I am grateful for all the nice people I’ve met during this journey and the people that supported and believed in me, often even more than I did.
Father. I am grateful for my father and his family for their help with Blake and supporting me so much. I am so happy to see him and his wife living in piece, understanding and mutual respect. You know, when coming into someone’s house you can instantly feel the energy of the people that live there, you sense the “vibes”. Entering and staying at my father’s house, I instantly felt welcomed and warm. I felt so much piece inside of me. I could finally relax and take off my armor, even just for a few hours. I am grateful for my dad taking such a great care of me physically and mentally. I needed that warmth and care.
Mom. I am grateful for my mother, no matter what, supporting me. Even knowing she doesn’t show her love as much as I would liked, I know that she wants all the best for me and will always accept me. I feel that only by the end of my trip, we started opening up more towards each other. She went through some difficult times in her life and I respect the way she handled those situations. I am endlessly thankful for everything she’d given me and Stepan as her kids. I can not imagine how hard it was to raise two boys single handily in Ukraine, working as a military nurse. So much strength and power lives inside such a tiny body, a lady. I am admired by her courage and strength. She is a one though cookie. I am also grateful for the Universe connecting her with Dmitriy – her boyfriend. To be honest, as long as he loves and makes her happy, I don’t care about the appearances, what he does for a living, social status, amount of money on the bank account etc. From what I’ve seen – he does care about her and this is the thing that matters to me most.
Brother. I am really proud of my little brother. He is a one handsome, smart, companionate, empathetic young man. He has the biggest, kindest heart. I am grateful for him being by my side and sharing my experiences with me. He was really supportive during some of really tough times I was going through. He was quiet when necessary and cheerful at the times of happiness. Our Eurotour together will always stay in my memory as one of the greatest times I’ve even had.
What it all worth?
Right before leaving Ukraine I’ve been asked a really tough question. Does it really worth to sacrifice your family and friends, living in foreign country, far far from home? – My aunt asked.
I am glad she asked that question, after I’ve spent three weeks there. I’ve been asking same question myself many-many times, and finally I’ve got the answer. YES! It worth. That magic word – opportunities. Living in developed country gives me the opportunity to grow and develop physically, mentally, spiritually. Living in Ukraine will make it nearly impossible to train for triathlons and participate in meaningful competitions agains best of the best. It would be extremely difficult to follow my training and nutrition regimen, as well as affording necessary training equipment. Access to a clean, nutritiously rich foods is limited by crazy prices, which would force me to search for cheaper alternatives and will directly impact my health. To freely grow spiritually you should at least cover your basic needs for food, shelter and security. Living in Ukraine will shut the door to the spiritual development, as like a hamster in a wheel, you need to constantly be chasing money. I love my job, working on self-driving cars, and I realize how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing for a living. “Find the job you like and you won’t have to work a day in your life” – that is so true, and I am really grateful to be able to understand this quote from my own experience. Entrepreneurship is another passion of mine. So many easy accessible courses, conferences, meetups that help people to implement their passion and dreams into reality. So many more opportunities to develop as an entrepreneur. These opportunities allow me not only grow in those dimensions, but essentially they give me a chance to bring something good into the world. By becoming better I can help and improve the lives of people around me. I can create something great, something better, bigger than me, that will serve others.
Unfortunately I don’t see the same back in my home country. It hurts to realize that the country I was born in, couldn’t provide me and other bright, smart young people with the opportunities for growth. I hurts to be separated from your family and friends, while in search for a better life. Of course I want to be able to just jump in my car and drive to see my mom or dad, whenever I feel like. Of course I want to spend Christmas, New Years, Easter, Independence Day holidays with the ones I love. Of course! But at this point I don’t see how this dilemma can be resolved.