Ex-patriots, who are comfort and fast-lane oriented folks like me, have found living in Ukraine particularly challenging. Nothing here is quick or easy.
Open markets in Ukraine look like Tevye, the bad character from “Fiddler On The Roof,” designed and built them himself 100 years ago. Nonetheless, the open market is a curiously intriguing place to visit. A routine adventure reveals butchered, bloody beef and chicken parts for sale on crude old tables, beaded wedding dresses and veils swaying in the breeze, out-of-date medicines along with various brands of snake oil, and homemade Russian coleslaw sitting in huge heaps on old wooden tables, guarded by chubby Babushkas who certainly know how to cook.
One lucky visit to the market led me to a truckload of Tide soap powder. You cannot imagine my joy when my eyes fell on rows and rows of small yellow and orange boxes attractively arranged for Ukrainian consumers with “TIDE” written on the front. Honestly, I do not know how popular Tide is with Ukrainians, but I purchased as many boxes as my bag would hold.
For most of our first seven months in Ukraine, we have lived in a remote village in Mayaki about 20 kilometers outside of Odessa. This was an even closer look into Tevye’s world, and an experience we will never forget. Recently however, we relocated our family to a quaint, old remodeled apartment in the center of Odessa. It has high ceilings and wooden floors throughout, as well as seven window seats with plenty of darling turns, nooks, and crannies when you least expect them. How refreshing it was to make this charming, old-world apartment our new home at last.
Our American sized 22v washer and dryer was the last item to be installed in our new apartment. Days passed and I unpacked boxes and more boxes while the laundry basket filled up. Finally it overflowed and emptied into a large Hefty trash bag. The bag filled up and spilled onto the floor; and stoically I complained not, realizing the distasteful alternative was to hand wash all the dirty clothes.
On the glorious day when our washer was to be finally installed, I noticed in our courtyard a line of freshly washed sheets, pillow cases, and comforter covers blowing in the breeze. Washed by hand I am sure by one of my industrious Ukrainian neighbors. I envied the fact that her wash was finished and drying in the sunshine, as mine took over our bedroom. I hoped our washer installation would occur today for sure without a hitch.
The plumber came and did his part, and some local friends came and added their expertise to the whole effort. Wrenches and hoses flew every which way as well as sandwiches and drinks. After lunch, they had the washer/dyier unit set up and ready to fill with water, dirty clothes, and Tide.
With our work finished, we all sat in my Dr. Zhivago living room resting and listening to the purr of the machine. I propped my feet up on the coffee table and sank into a fleeting moment of comfort such as only experienced in my homeland. “Ah, the dirty clothes will dwindle into nothingness,” I thought. Soon the washer stopped, and I walked into the kitchen to find a tidal wave of water pouring from the pipes and the kitchen floor flooded.
We all mopped feverishly trying to stop the water from dripping to my neighbor’s apartment below. More wrenches and hoses flew, and we stopped the leak. That is until the washer emptied again, and a new tidal wave poured out from the pipes. We mopped and propped, rigged this, and rigged that, and started the machine purring again.
With two tidal waves soaked up in towels that created more dirty laundry and not even one load of clothes washed, I looked out my window for a mini-vacation of relief. In the courtyard, I spied that my neighbors clean laundry had been blown down by the wind. It all lay crumpled on the dusty asphalt, and the courtyard alley cat was curled in a round ball sleeping lazily on top of the once-clean sheets. I chuckled at our common plight. Ukrainians and Americans are oceans away in culture and mentality, yet here we are so closely knit in daily struggles.
It seems that the gallons of water surging through my washer had intruded on the small capacity of the old and narrow pipes and caused a gushing leak. The pipes would need to be enlarged or strengthened to hold the force of so much water. Yes, everything is complicated here in Ukraine; even modern comforts like Tide and American washing machines cannot guarantee success. I believe, however, that tidal waves are not altogether bad; and there is a sort of tidal wave that I am hoping for here in Ukraine; a tidal wave of revelation of Jesus as Lord and Messiah. It will be a joy to see the river of God surging through this land, breaking the hold pipes of oppression and disbelief.
But for now I am wondering if they still sell washing boards at Tevye’s old marketplace? How do you use those things anyway?
This article is a classic originally published in our early print magazines.