Monday, May 26, 2014

Candy from Strangers

You guys. Traveling from Krakow Poland to Salt Lake City, Utah, United States of God Bless America, was probably the most arduous journey anyone has ever taken. I'm including even the time the Mormon pioneers crossed the plains and had to eat doilies to stay alive. Did the Mormon pioneers have to take a train and then have THREE layovers before making it to Salt Lake City?

I DIDN'T THINK SO.

We had to fly out of Warsaw, which meant we had to frantically get ourselves, via a four-hour train ride, from Krakow to Warsaw to catch a 6:00 AM flight. Then we flew across the world and stopped in every country along the way. I'm pretty sure we even had a layover in Palau at one point. I could tell because when I got off the plane I immediately started sweating, I gained 30 pounds, and Leotrix attacked me.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself.

As you know, we started our trip in Kyiv and took ourselves on a self-guided tour of the battlegrounds. We were able to talk with a lot of people there and have one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. I don't know that I'll ever be able to really explain what it was like to be there. But I am certain that this opportunity will change my life forever. I saw freedom, courage, tragedy, oppression, frustration, passion, and fear through a different lens than I have ever known before. I will always be so grateful that I had that opportunity and that we were able to stay safe throughout.

After spending a few days in Kyiv, staying with my good friends Max and Natalia, Brandt and I took an all-night train west, to L'viv, Ukraine.

L'viv is my favorite city on planet Earth. It is as gorgeous as any European city you can find, but without a single tourist. The people are wonderfully pleasant. The food is to die for. And the spoken Ukrainian is beautiful, which makes it extra fun for me to practice the language.

For three days Brandt and I wandered the streets, eating roughly 17 meals a day. We watched incredible street performers on their accordions and guitars and other instruments that I swear they must have created themselves at home. We even performed with some street performers on one piano in the center square.

It was a fulfilled dream for me. I played that piano and actually drew in a small crowd. And when they clapped for me I humbly nodded and was all like, "oh my gosh. Thank you. I didn't see you guys there. I just do it because I love the work." But really inside I was like, "OH MY GOSH ATTENTION!!!"

But beyond being an incredibly famous musician, the best part of being in L'viv was having the chance to talk to people about their lives and what they think about what is happening in their beautiful country right now.

As Brandt and I walked through one art market, we found a little old lady named Olia, who emphatically showed us dozens of table runners and tablecloths she had spent countless hours embroidering. They were beautiful. All of them. And we admired them with her, sincerely, as she spoke quickly and excitedly and told us every detail about every one them, happy for the audience who clearly appreciated her work.

Brandt saw one piece that he thought his mom would really like and he asked to buy it. She happily made the sale. Then she asked me (I was translating the conversation) what he planned to do with it. I told her that he wanted to give it to his mom. She nodded and asked me where his mom lived, so I told her.

She turned and started packing her things away, telling me that she needed to go to the hospital and so had to stop working for the day. As she began cleaning up she mentioned how amazing it was to her that her work was going to be admired all the way in America and how she never thought in her life that such a thing would be possible.

Then she turned to us and tears suddenly welled in her eyes. Her voice broke, in the heartbreaking way, as she said, "boys, my life has been really really hard. You can't even understand how much I needed this interaction today."

And right then, as the tears started dripping down her scrunched up cheeks, I noticed for the first time the deep-seated lines on her face and the old raggedy clothes she was wearing. It seemed ironic to me that she stood among some of the most beautiful, although simple, embroidery I had ever seen while she herself was draped in such weathered clothes.

Then she smiled and said, "this has just lifted my spirits. So thank you."

I wanted to tell her that I was sure our spirits and hearts were lifted and touched much more than hers. I wanted to tell her that while I didn't know her personal story, I did know her country's history and could make a pretty good guess at some her personal story and that as such I had an unbelievable amount of admiration and respect for her. I wanted to tell her that I wished I could do something to make her life and the life of so many of her peers less hard. But in that moment all I could do was hug her and say, "thank you. You're the kind of person everyone should meet."

It's easy for me to get caught up in my own little world, addicted to my phone, and comfortable in my hardly-changing, specially-customized social circle. But every once in a while I have little encounters like this one that remind me that it's not so bad to disconnect from the norm so I can reconnect with the strangers. Because, although your first grade teacher may have told you otherwise, sometimes strangers have the best candy.

And now, enjoy one billions pictures of L'viv:


















~It Just Gets Stranger

19 comments:

  1. What a beautiful city indeed! Thanks for this lovely story. :) Happy Memorial Day!
    Country Girl's Daybook: Jesus, Photography, Fashion, & Food

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  2. Wonderful! I'm glad you had such a nice experience. We really can only imagine what they've been through. All of our wars conveniently take place in other countries and even when our military is in danger, we are comfortable and safe. We just don't have a real understanding of it.

    Now, were they gathered to hear you play or was it just an excuse to be able to stand there and stare at your fabulous hair? It's hard to know which they found most dazzling!

    I really needed to see this now. I have been in tears today for my friend in Donetsk. Her husband may not be able to get there in time for their adoption hearings on Thursday and Friday. The airport and train stations are closed. The buses are running as of now, but the station is near the airport, where there has been fighting. Speaking to a friend of my friend who lives there, also, they heard bomb-like sounds earlier today although they are on the opposite side of the city from the airport. They were stopped twice in what is normally a 20 minute drive that took an hour - searched, papers looked through by very scary men. She tried to encourage me that things can change there very quickly and things can be more normal even the next day. I hope she is right. I pray she is right. My friend is frazzled and missing her husband. She just wants him THERE and the way is treacherous, to say the least. I just want them and the boys out of there and safely in the U.S. Scary times in eastern Ukraine. Really scary. Lots of praying going on!

    I'm so glad you were able to avoid all of that and make it home safely. I'm also glad to know that the entire country is not like the east. It gives me hope for them.

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  3. Thank you so much for going and sharing your experiences. I miss talking to Polish babci like your Ukrainian woman. I miss being there for God to help them through me and even more so I miss knowing their country's history and being amazed by their faith, courage, love, and perseverance. They're special people, and they deserve so much better than this.

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  4. Your hair looks INCREDIBLE!!!!! (Brandt has NOTHING on you in that department :-P )

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  5. You are such an amazing person. I've been reading along since just about the beginning of this blog. You're the coolest person I know but have never met. I have laughed so hard I've cried and learned/remembered so many life lessons from you. So thanks.

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    1. 100% agreed! First thing I do in the morning when I get to work is check your blog. Love your stories!
      Travel looks good on you Eli...thanks for sharing your experience with us!
      ~T

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  6. I LOVE the picture of the two ladies laughing. It's just beautiful.

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  7. Eli, I know I'm not the first to say it, but you are a remarkable person. Willing to move to the middle of the ocean, visit wartorn countries, and see so much beauty in the world that you are able and willing to eloquently share with strangers. Thank you for this. The pictures are beautiful and the story is wonderful.

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  8. But, where's the picture of the beautiful embroidery??

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    1. Yes, we HAVE to see it!

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    2. Darn. I knew I was missing something. I'll share a picture on Friday's P&Ds.

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  9. That was a great story Eli, thanks for sharing it with us. I love stories like that.

    I love that picture of the paintings with Brandt in it. Those paintings look awesome. I miss Europe. Thanks for taking us on the journey with you.

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  10. Eli, I think that you have a genuine love for people. God blesses that.

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  11. Can I go with you next time?

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  12. What a beautiful city and a beautiful experience. And your hair has never looked better.

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  13. This is a great post. And you're kind of gorgeous so keep it up;)

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    1. What a beautiful city. It's amazing how little it takes to make others happy sometimes, especially when one becomes entrenched in their own lives. My kids often ask why I take the time to make small talk with other people, and this story is exactly the reason why I do. Not only do you have the opportunity to make someone's day, but in their joy, you will find joy for yourself.

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  14. THIS is why I travel. Yes, the food is awesome and the sights are amazing, but the world is filled with beautiful, fascinating people. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. I was wrong when I pleaded with you not to go. I was afraid for your safety. But you were meant to go, for you and for that woman with the beautiful embroidery.

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