After an absence of 2 years, Mary and I are back in Molochansk. We were looking forward to seeing our friends again to see what if anything has changed.
The trip from Winnipeg was uneventful as one would hope it would be. Our flights were on time and we made a good landing at the bumpy airport in Dnepropetrovsk in reasonable weather. I got talking to one of the other passengers as we were disembarking. He was from Canada and was a former resident of Ukraine and obviously knew the local language. He offered to interpret if necessary as we had to clear immigration and customs. There were no questions or issues at the passport inspection station and our passport was stamped with the 90 day visa. After that we collected our luggage and proceeded to go through security. All luggage is scanned at this point. Our luggage contained an accordion which had been donated by a supporter of the Mennonite Centre in Canada who wanted it brought here to be gifted to an aspiring musician. The scanner picked up the metal of the accordion and we were ordered to open the case which we had taped shut to protect its contents. We had added a few items to the accordion case to maximize the weight and now in addition to the accordion it held some peanut butter and brown sugar – important items not available in Ukraine. The customs official saw the strange looking brown sugar and thought he had caught some drug smugglers. My friend, the interpreter, was caught up in his own dispute with officials, but I tapped him on the shoulder and he came over right away and explained to my official that Canadians like to eat their sugar unbleached. This finally satisfied the official but then their focus turned to the accordion. Why was I bringing this valuable instrument into their country and was I intending to play it here and then take it back to Canada? My explanation that I intended to leave it here only heightened their concerns. They would have been even more concerned if I had to play it for them. Eventually they relented and Mary and I as well as our interpreter were allowed to leave the secure area with our accordion and meet our friends who were anxiously waiting.
We were met by Dema and Oksana Bratchenko. They are both on staff at the Mennonite Centre where Dema is the manager. They are good friends from the past and we looked forward to renewing our relationship with them and their family. Dema was amused by our problems with the accordion. This is a very popular instrument in Ukraine and even has its own jokes. Apparently, an accordion is something you give your neighbour’s son if you do not like your neighbour. I have also been warned by a mischievous Dema not to play it after 10:00 PM in our apartment. I did finally play it outside Dema’s apartment just to watch his reaction. I now look forward to finding it a proper home where it will be properly appreciated.
It was great to get to the Kutuzovka Church on Sunday and receive a warm greeting from so many people that we recognized. Their minister was away on a trip to western Ukraine with some of the other church members and they were stuck in a massive traffic jam south of Kiev caused by a snow storm. Praying for safe travel in adverse winter conditions is something that we Canadians understand. When the congregation was given an opportunity to express a concern or give thanks for something in their life, almost everyone in the congregation participated. One gentleman expressed thanks that his eye sight had been restored through cataract surgery. He specifically mentioned his thanks for financial support from the Mennonite Centre to enable this to happen. I recalled seeing his proposal coming to the board a month earlier. It was great to connect a face to the proposal and was amazed at the speed with which the surgery had occurred. Maybe the waiting lists for some surgeries in Ukraine are shorter than in Canada.
On Wednesday morning I was pleased to see a quilting group busy at work at the Mennonite Centre. This group was started by Olga Rubel, the representative of the Mennonite Centre in Zaporozhye. They were very eager to show off their handiwork.
We have been busy getting up to speed on the local issues. We have our own list of things we want to accomplish during our time here. We will be busy. The weather has been very uncooperative. It is snowing outside as I write. This is supposed to be the balmy Molotschna that our parents talked about. Tomorrow we have been promised better weather and hopefully the sun will shine again.
For more information on the Mennonite Centre, please go to: http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/