Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fighting Human Trafficking Week #4

Transnistrian region, Department of Moldova:

As I approach the halfway mark of my international summer venture I decided to celebrate by starting my blog - an activity I promised my fellow peers I would undertake once I graduated in an attempt to update them with my adventures abroad. I am currently in Transnistria, a break-away region of Moldova. This post-soviet "country" has it's own police task force, own currency, own boarder patrol, and Moldovan postage stamps. The agreeable weather is forecasted at 102 F next week however until now it's been mildly warm with bleak grey skies and mild showers.

I am volunteering for NGO Interaction, the only non-profit dedicated to fighting human trafficking and domestic violence in this area. During the day I sit in front of the computer (when the internet works) in a basement and look for ways to fund raise for this organization. To find out more about this horrific exploitation of human rights, check out:

To donate to Interaction, contact me directly.

While I love being here, I do have one complaint. Every day I am assaulted with the repugnant and inconsiderate stench of male body odor mingled with tobacco. This happens mainly in public while walking along the streets and while sitting in the bus to and from work (it takes about half an hour to get to the Interaction office). Several times I have nearly passed out in the bus due to inadequate ventilation and close proximity to offending culprits..pits.

Let's jump back to brief overview of my first week:
Getting to Europe this time was a feat in and of itself. After 4 sleepless days of working, packing, organizing, etc I went to the Salt Lake International Airport with bright eyes. The light dimmed as the eyelids drooped due to a 2 hour delay. After touching down in Newark I had to wait on the tarmac a while longer before the plane was able to saddle up to the gate. The perspiration I felt was nothing while looking at my clock seeing that my connecting flight was leaving in 20 minutes. I pushed my way to the front of the plane and took off at a sprinter's pace, backpack bouncing on my back, looking for the connecting gate. I had to run down the first terminal, take the air bus to the other side of the airport, run through the second terminal with a long delay at security, all the while perspiring more and more. With lungs bursting I arrived at my gate and they thankfully ushered me in mentioning that I was the one they were waiting for and that of course they would not leave without me (liars, all of them). No need to fret or sweat. We sat for almost another hour on the runway waiting for air control to give us the go ahead. By then I had regained control of my trembling appendages by snaking on nuts and granola bars that made up half the weight in my backpack. I settled into my flight and watched 4 chick-flicks in a row on the way to Heathrow, putting me at 5 days with only 8 hours sleep. At the Heathrow airport I had to make a few more twists and turns to get to where I needed to be. Soon my waiting area was full of Russian/Ukrainian speakers and we all were herded on board the last leg to Kiev. Made it. But don't worry - once I landed I had to spend a couple hours waiting for luggage, filling out papers for lost luggage, and looking for the people picking me up. My travel companion/translator backed out on me two days before and she sent her brother (who didn't speak English bless his heart) to pick me up. The name Tamara scribbled in pink highlighter on a ripped out lined sheet of paper never looked so good.

The brothers name is Oleg. He came with his wife, work partner, and shuttled us away to his partner Volodya's apartment. They left to get food while I took a half hour to compose myself. We called my childhood friend Bozena who was in Kiev on her way to Lviv that night. She had bought me a train ticket to go with her and so about 3 hours after arriving in Ukraine I was taken to the train staten where I met her and her sister Oksana. We took the gypsy express to Lviv (about 10 hours, full of drunks, I slept restlessly on the top bunk, etc). My extended relative Romano was waiting in front of the train door as soon as it opened at 6am and took us to his house to wash our faces and eat a hearty breakfast of potatoes, sandwitches, a cabbage/dill concoction, the usual. After getting to know him and his family a bit he took me and the girls to Bozena's place (which was actually her polish friend's who was in Georgia for a few weeks). I totally got a matress on the floor to myslelf and kept warm with the blankets I stole from the airplane (meant to be used as towels). The next day we slept through mass, but made it to the bus station to catch the Train to Ternopyl (the town where my relatives are from). Another distant relative was waiting for us nose poking through the train doors practically before then opened. They whisked us away to their home and fed us borsche. Poor Bozena had to keep putting up with my enthusiastic relatives who I didn't know but had to pretend I remembered something about. I felt so lucky and blessed to know there were people here who cared for me and looked after me when a week before I hadn't a single contact in Ukraine. My mother and angels were working overtime and across boarders to help me and lead me to people that could take me around.

After that we met up with Bozena's friends. The group turned into a large one by the end of the night because everyone wanted to meet her sister and myself -the Americanized Canadian-Ukrainian turned Latina. The whole town was in festival mode and there were concerts around the clock finished off with fireworks. After the festivities ended we all hung around the plaza talking, watching prostitutes find their escorts for night, listening to Ukrainian beer drinking songs, and observing the general flow of Ternopyl's community members swarm over the cobblestones until we were some of the last live bodies left out in the open. We spent the night at Bozena's relatives and I ate some of the most delicious honey in the world. Actually Ukrainian honey is critiqued to be some of the finest in the world. The next morning back to Lviv where I spent another day touring and visiting with relatives, and that night back to Kiev with my cousin Vera who was headed into the capital to attend a conference.
Oleg picked me up and drove me to the other side of town where my luggage was waiting for me. AFter 5 days with the same clothes and underwear this was the most heavenly and marvelous thing to EVER happen to me. Oleg dropped me off at the apartment where I stayed with a single babushka who didn't speak English. We communicated with our hands and our hearts. When I left a few days later she said I was welcome to come back anytime. I think she secretly liked having someone to cook for besides herself. Oleg also found me a personal chauffeur and tour guide in the form of a gangly 20 yr old boy named Illia. Bless his heart and his English efforts. He would be dripping with sweat by the time he finished getting a few sentences out. However we passes a few great days touring the capital and meeting up with a few of my cousins. On my last day we got to the internet cafe and I found the email from my m.i.a friend Jaron that I had been waiting for. He would be waiting for me at the train station at 5. It was 3:30. I flew out of the Internet cafe, made Illia take me home, packed, waited while my babushka insisted on making me food, and made it to the train station amidst traffic to meet Jaron before he left for Moldova without me. He already had my bus ticket. We left that night and arrived the next day in Chisinau, Moldova. After a few hours looking for our third companion Matt who came by bus from Bucharest and was not at the bus terminal (where he was supposed to be) we headed out for another few hour car ride to Tiraspol, Transnistria.

To be continued...

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