There was no single over-riding event in the last week and I will use the blog to comment on numerous smaller events that have occurred during our time at the Mennonite Centre.
On our first Sunday, we were walking home from church when we were warmly greeted by a lady and her young grand daughter. They had not come from our church but seemed to know us and wanted to stay something. We finally figured it out. Four years ago, Mary had given the young girl a small spinning toy when she encountered her in the town square. The young girl had remembered Mary and just wanted to say thankyou. That was our blessing for the day.
We had some friends from Canada visiting this week. They were Al and Linda McBurney. Linda’s father, Victor Derksen, came from the village of Schoeneberg in the Chortitza settlement. Of course, we had to visit the place. It was a good reminder that tourists coming to find their ancestral homes can never bring too many clues. Maps can help but it is difficult to orient a 100-year-old map to the current landmarks. Linda’s father had come to visit 16 years ago and had a picture of himself with the resident of the house that Victor had left in 1943. We were not sure of the location and stopped a babushka (grandmother) walking down the road and asked for help. She could not orient herself to our map but instantly recognized the man in the picture and knew where he used to live. The man has since died, but his daughter now owns the house and is in the process of renovating it for herself. The daughter (Luba) received us warmly as she was fascinated with the picture of her father taken in 2003. Linda was given the full tour of her father’s house. The encounter ended with an exchange of gifts, a warm embrace, and the promise to stay connected.
|Luba on left looking at pictures of her father|
Linda is a retired schoolteacher and we gave her a tour of the local daycare facilities (known here as a Kindergarten) as well as the local school. The principal took us into every classroom, and we could disrupt the class for a while. Linda was impressed with the good behaviour of the students. She found them to be very respectful. For example, when we entered each classroom, all the students would stand. Having four foreigners and the principal entering a classroom may also have been a bit intimidating. One girl in grade 9 spoke up in English and told me I had spoken to her when she was in grade 5. She even remembered my name. I have long since forgotten that conversation but felt honoured that she had remembered.
|Linda on Left in a Classroom|
Mary and I had the opportunity of voting this week in our upcoming federal election in Canada. We had followed the prescribed procedure for voting by mail and were looking forward to our ballots being sent to the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk as the web site promised. Last Tuesday, we got an email that the courier was unable to deliver our ballots as Molochansk is too far off the beaten track for courier service. We drove to Zaporozhe on Thursday and found our ballots at the courier offices. We had to write in the name of our candidate with no room to indicate which riding we live in. We were told that the ballots would be delivered to Ottawa next Tuesday, October 22. The process for mail in ballots required that they be in Ottawa on the date of the election, October 21. Mary and I can console ourselves that we tried to do our civic duty of voting but have no idea if our efforts will count for anything.
After many years of tripping on the raised threshold of every doorway in Ukraine, I finally received an explanation on why they exist. Crossing a threshold in Ukraine is a statement that you are entering a house or a room. Without the raised threshold, there might be an ambiguity as to whether or not you really were in the house. A traditional Ukrainian house had a threshold that was over one foot in height. This was useful in keeping out water that is running over the ground and it was very clear when you were crossing the threshold. Now the one or two-inch threshold is just an annoyance and makes it very difficult for people in wheelchairs to move about freely. The only time it has been useful for us is when the washroom flooded, and the raised threshold kept the water from flooding the entire apartment.
There is increasing interest in Mennonite history from the people now living in the villages once occupied by our ancestors. For example, the village of Waldheim (Vladovka) in the Molotschna settlement has a private museum dedicated to preserving items from Mennonite times. The curator and owner of the museum asked me for a book. He wants the P. M. Friesen book on the History of the Mennonite Brotherhood completed around 1910. He wants the book in English as that is the preference stated by his wife. The book is over 800 pages and is not the type that you would take to bed for some casual reading. I have promised to get this book for him. I am sure there are many unread copies of this book in Canada.
The museum in Waldheim contains numerous items from the Neufeld factory. This factory founded by I.J. Neufeld in 1889 manufactured threshing machines. There are many tools from the factory as well an emblem which was the logo for the company. Numerous paintings of the Neufeld family and buildings are also on display. These have been created within the last 15 years. It is worth the visit if you ever get to Waldheim.
|Neufeld Factory Emblem|
|Painting of I.J. Neufeld|
I was disappointed this week to find out that some old behaviours from the past still exist. The police in Ukraine had a tradition of being corrupt. Three years ago, there were large scale changes made in the police force. Many police were dismissed, and a smaller number of better paid police were appointed. Two years ago, I happened to break the law while driving and entered a round about in the wrong manner. I was stopped and received a severe reprimand in Russian and was allowed to proceed. In the last year, I heard of someone else being stopped at the same location for the same infraction. He was taken to a private room with no witnesses where he was given the ultimatum of paying a bribe or having his license revoked on the spot. I attended the Ukraine Reform Conference last July in Toronto and heard about Ukraine’s efforts to impose the rule of law in the country. I was disappointed to hear that the system is reverting to the old way. Police still feel that in addition to policing, they are also the judge, jury, and executioner. That is not the way the rule of law works.
On a more pleasant note, I experienced something beautiful last weekend in a Ukrainian restaurant. It was not the food so much but rather the presentation. I had ordered a Greek salad and it came with a beautiful mixture of sliced cucumbers, red onion, olives, red peppers and tomato, topped with a large cube of feta cheese which had been dipped in a mixture of light and dark sesame seeds. It was a magnificent sculpture.
If you wish to know more about the work of the Mennonite Centre, you can check out our web site at: http://www.mennonitecentre.ca/ or follow our daily activities on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Mennonite-Centre-Ukraine-735361069838076/