There is a special saying in Russian and Ukrainian culture where you can describe the depth of your relationship with someone by saying that you have “eaten a lot of salt” with them. I have always loved this concept, and have felt like a large purpose of our trip here to Ukraine was so we could share some more salt with old friends. But I have come to the conclusion, after several days of marathon visits and celebrations that the saying needs a slight modernization. Because I think it should really be about eating sugar.
Our days currently are back to back obstacle courses filled with sugared tea, heaping plates of frosted cake, and honey cakes, and wafer crackers with filling, and various cookies, and bowls overflowing with chocolates in shiny wrappers, sliced fruit, boxes of juice. In between these sugary ambushes we have heaping bowls of chicken soup, meat balls, mashed potatoes, assorted salads that are in the Russian line of the coleslaw family, we eat sliced bread and cheese, and enjoy sliced sausages and beef covered in sauces. And all of that was just one meal. We do this several times a day. We eat our delicious meals as the loving gifts that they are and share stories and laughter recounting the times when we were together and the things that have happened since we were apart.
Often the conversations will drift into a discussion of politics. We sip tea and listen to our friends as they think outloud about all of the possible outcomes of this current conflict. One young man that I used to spend time with now works at a bank, and he said his company is able to do well, but other banks are struggling because their core investors are factories that have been forced to halt opperation. Several thousand workers in one town are currently out of work. The factories apparently can’t get the materials they need to continue because they used to be coming from Russia.
Taxi drivers start conversations and ask our opinions. We stay neutral and quickly turn the conversation around to them and they share that they don’t care who is in charge, as long as it doesn’t come to war. Everyone just wants life to continue as normal. But the chances of any sort of “normal” continueing are fairly low. And there is a lot of uncertainty and fear. And no clear solutions, since the question of being under the rule of the Ukrainian government or the Russian government is like trying to decide what cactus you want to sit on.
During one such light conversation while the host was discussing the lies and failures of his political options, I turned to Brandon and said “Yes, but what does he think about Obamacare?”. And we laughed to ourselves about the total arrogant absurdity of even asking people in this situation what their opinion is about a government that gives any interest at all in the health and welfare of its population. I try to stay politically neutral in all courts, but being in the middle of situatins like this really changes your perspective and helps you not take for granted what we have.
But I wish they could have that here. I wish over the past ten years things had become more stable rather than more precarious. I wish there was true peace. And not just peace from war, but a social peace. I hurt for people like our other friend last night who talked to us at length about how difficult it is to live as a Christian in a country where you are required to pay 130% of your business profits to the government in taxes. What does your “WWJD” bracellet tell you to do here? It’s so much easier when your convictions to do what is right in the eyes of your government simply makes you slow down when you are driving on the highway. But how do you react when they want to take your livelihood? Your simple apartment? Your beautiful family? I have no answers. So, I eat another cookie and I give a reassuring smile and silently pray that God will intervene.