This story was a submission to EntertainingYourself.com’s first ever “Best Running Story in a Foreign Country Writing Contest” – April 2011. Our story’s author, Tammela Platt, is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a town in southwest Ukraine. She writes “I have been in Ukraine since last September and at my permanent site since December.” She heard about the contest from a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Runner, Oberlin Graduate and EY Writer: Samantha Kyrkostas.
This is a story about an incomplete run. An incomplete run thanks to the incredible openness and hospitality of the Ukrainian people.
While doing a speed workout at my town’s stadium – 100-meter repeats, sprinting down the straightaway and jogging back – on the first day of February, I kept running by a woman taking a toddler for a walk – rather, he was walking her. On one of my recovery jogs, the woman called me over and asked me something – in Ukrainian, of course – about my running that I didn’t quite understand (upon reflection I think she asked how fast I run 100 meters; that day was not an especially fast day). When I told her I didn’t understand (Я не розумію/“Ya ne rozoomiyoo” – probably the first three words I mastered in Ukrainian), she said, “Oh, are you Polish?” It’s the blond hair and blue eyes. Or the assumption many Ukrainians make that anyone here who doesn’t speak fluent Ukrainian must be from Poland. When I told her I’m American and talked a little about the Peace Corps and why I’m here, she asked me to wait until her daughter (mother of the toddler) came back and then invited me directly to their apartments in the building across from the stadium. “Right now?” I asked. She answered in the affirmative. What could I say but yes? Sure, I would have liked to finish my workout, but it would have been stupid to refuse this offer from such a genuine woman.
So off we went, Zhenia (Женя, short for Yevhenia (Євгенія)), the not-so-old grandmother, and Tanya (Таня, short for Tetiana), her daughter, guiding me across the street and up the stairs of their building, chattering the whole time about how glad they were to meet me and how I would be welcome anytime and must come see them. They showed me around their apartments and then, in typical Ukrainian fashion, sat me down with tea – despite the fact that I was sweaty from my run and surely did not smell sweet – and offered me some delicious cheese pancakes (called сирники/“syrnyky”) as we talked for a while about Ukraine and America. When it started to get dark I pleaded work to do and, full of snacks and happy feelings, jogged slowly home. Meeting Zhenia and Tanya was a great cap-off to what had already been a great day: I had talked with my 11th Form about Romanticism in art, had sung “My Favorite Things” to my 3rd Form, and had gotten three boxes in the mail. Days like that make spending two years in Ukraine a little less daunting.
And it all started with a run.