We opted out of a traditional Thanksgiving meal this year, in exchange for a weekend away with our family. The kids days off of school are few and far between and we haven’t seen a four day weekend yet this school year. (Yes, many Americans choose to gather and celebrate here, just as in the U.S.)
So we boarded the train at 10 p.m. for an overnight journey to the western part of Ukraine, to the city of Lviv. The excitement was high. Yours would be too if you got to sleep in a small compartment composed of four beds, two on top! Each room is called a ‘coupe’ and we had two coupes due to our family’s size of six. That equals a total of four top bunks or a child’s dream come true. Everyone gets a top bunk, including Niya since there is a metal guard rail.
Prior to boarding the train, everyone is sent to empty their bladder. Yes, we already did this at home just 25 minutes ago, but you can never be too safe. After all, everyone knows the train bathrooms are less than desirable and we will NOT be using them! As I suspend Niya in the air and try not to touch anything in the “squatty potty” stall, I can’t help but wonder if the train bathroom could really be worse. It is times like these which me think of my friend, Alyssa, with three little girls. She is strict. They don’t use public toilets. Her girls must have been trained to bladders of steel. “WWAD” (what would Alyssa do) in this situation, I wonder?
Back to the train ride. The kids cast their votes for roommate and parent. It is finally settled and we board the train. Aiden and Ellie with Chris. Adeline and Niya with me. The thought of where my shoes have been makes me squeamish about taking my boots off and walking around on the coupe carpet. I just know it has been used a million times by people who also just used the squatty potty, or even worse…the train bathroom. How else can I make the top bunks? I keep my socks on. It is a somewhat fitful night of sleep, but not too bad. There was that stop around 2:23 a.m. and all the usual sounds of a heavy train upon the tracks.
In the morning I weigh whether or not to use the toilet and I break down and head down the hall. It lives up to its reputation and I try not to touch anything. Thankfully Niya is wearing a diaper, so although I don’t endorse using it, it is better than the other option of wrangling her in the train bathroom. Some of the big kids use it too, but they are getting big enough where I just give my “don’t touch anything and don’t forget to wash up” lecture.
Whew. We pack up and take some time to determine which way we walk to breakfast. Our South Carolina friends came to Lviv in August and told us about a cozy place with buffet breakfast. Most establishments aren’t open this early and we can’t bring our baggage to our rented apartment just yet. They say it was close enough to walk so we ignore the men telling us they have taxi services available. Besides, Chris was here last year. We walk and walk. It is cold. We vocalize that our friends were here in August, and it is now a freezing third week of November. It is still dark since it is only 7 a.m. We see people begging. Little old ladies. We tell the kids this will help them appreciate breakfast even more.
It is cozy and warm inside. A Thanksgiving breakfast morning. The sun comes up and we find our apartment with only a minor delay. The lady gives us the key and shows us inside. This is a furnished apartment that we found online. Our friends told us where they stayed and while we considered theirs, we looked at others too. Another one was settled upon. I didn’t cry when Chris paid the money for three days, but I felt like backing out. I didn’t want to make a scene. The kids thought it was great. My bed had a zebra print mattress and headboard. We had to make the beds ourselves. There was a questionable yellow cloth and dish sponge there for cleaning the dishes we used. Thank you, Chris, for doing the dishes and not making me touch that thing. The old windows were cold to begin with, but I found I giant hole in our patio door glass. Chris called them to say we didn’t do it. They didn’t know about it. I was thinking maybe they could come patch it or give us our money back. He didn’t ask. They didn’t offer. It was like camping at Yosemite in October, but we were inside with the zebra mattress and the heat on. Better our room than the kids’.
Moving on. Time to be tourists in this old city. I chose it based on other people’s accounts of loveliness. It was charming. I love historic buildings and modern ones restored to the old look. We toured, wandered, and explored. We tasted yummy treats and fun restaurants. It was cold all the time. I decided I don’t like playing tourist while being cold. Maybe because we were there to sight see, which meant lots of outside walking time.
Repeat train ride home. This time there is a disagreement about who will be with who. In the end Chris has three kids and I just have Ellie. There is a reason the phrase “home sweet home” rings true. Why does it take us going far to appreciate what we have near?
Dear apartment, standing strong and faithful for at least 100 years, I didn’t know I could be so happy to see you! I have complained about you and your location since arriving nearly six months ago. Too big, too cold, too hot, bad kitchen sink, small stovetop and oven, not enough hot water in the shower, poorly placed towel hooks, not enough towel bars, five flights up. Oh my.
When I say I am thankful, I don’t mean just a generally glad feeling. I don’t think I am “lucky”. I am thanking God Almighty, giver of these good things which I don’t deserve.
*For my family and that we can be together in this country.
*That we have a home.
*For warm bedding and layers of clean clothes.
*For enough money not just to sustain, but to go on excursions to other places.
*For fun and enjoyment of food. We are not fearful of where our next meal will come.
*For housing maintenance for when things are broken or items are needed. (They just delivered four oil space heaters for which I am very happy to see!).
*For Christian churches at which we can worship on this side of the world where religious freedom isn’t a guarantee.
*For new friends. Friends who encourage, sympathize, and understand.
He knows me and provides abundantly. For that I am thankful.