Bobby and I meet up in the Vienna airport. We nervously camped out in a corner directly by the gate we would be leaving through at the end of our 5 hour layover. Neither of us wanted to even walk around the terminal in the fear that we would accidentally leave security and not be able to get back in, but eventually we were forced to explore in search of a bathroom that took entirely too long to find due to being called a “WC”. At one point an apparent celebrity drifted through the area followed by a loud circle of excited fans. The person at the center of the circle was something like a flamboyant cross dressing clown.
We touched the ground in Kiev just as the first rays of light were breaking the sky. The plane taxied to a large concrete structure and the passengers were poured down a ramp into a dungeon of dense foul smelling cigarette smoke. In the fog creatures moved roaring at each other in chaotic and aggressive tones. We collected our bags and were immediately grabbed on the shoulders by a strange man that rolled out of the haze. He wordlessly dragged us to the customs and immigration window where he proceeded to explain our purpose in the country and reassure them on the contents of our baggage. He had been hired by our friends in country to retrieve us, and everything he told the check point agent was a complete lie. As we stepped out into the open air of Ukraine, we met with Brandon, and avoiding the constant static of taxi drivers offering rides, dragging our bags through the dense crowds of busses, we tethered ourselves to the person in front of us and choked back the fear and nauseating confusion. The expanse of Ukraine layed out in front us us down a hill, and it roiled like an angry ocean. The three of us looked at each other, panting under the load of our individual belongings. We noticed the comradery of exhausted fear in each other’s eyes and began to laugh.
That was over twelve years ago.
Yesterday, Bobby and I meet in Amsterdam. I had already spent six hours exploring the airport, and eating breakfast, and was at a charging station when I saw him moving through the crowded terminal. I threw my things in a bag and ran after him. After the length of 10 gates we frightened every traveler in the room when we instantly dropped our baggage and loudly embraced as brothers. Our mutual tensions concerning our trip melted away. We spent the next several hours sharing the accounts of how we each struggled through the agonizing decision about whether to return. It was a relief to be understood.
This time we entered Kiev shoulder to shoulder with quiet confidence. We were braced for what we would find, but it seems we were over prepared. The new international terminal is bright, with high ceilings and glass walls. Regular announcements are made in both Ukrainian and English. A British man stood to one side talking loudly on a cell phone. It was already obvious that things had changed. We cautiously approached customs and were greeted by a young man in an over-sized military uniform. He wordlessly glanced at our passports and without comment, he stamped them and motioned for us to enter the country. He never even looked at the myriad of additional papers we had collected to support our entry.
We stepped out onto the street and were met once more by the roiling ocean of Ukraine. A sea of busses and cars, gruff taxi drivers leaning on collums and families with small well dressed children rushing to shuttles. An elderly Ukrainian woman passing in front of us briefly stopped and asked for directions. Without hesitation Bobby explained to her where to go. She thanked us and moved on. We looked at each other, here, on the sidewalk once more, and laughed.
A short flight to Kharkov reunited us with Brandon and his wife Katie. And we were surprised to find they had come in their own car, a thought that would have been impossible to consider in a previous time. The newness mixed with the sameness of everything is surreal.