No, this is not the itinerary for a tour of the Odessa Oblast, along the Black Sea. These are actually the more common names given to Bilhorod-Dnistrov’skyi (Ukrainian for the ‘White city on the Dniester’) where our children were living in an Orphanage. It was first called Tyras since it was first established in the 6th century BC by the Greeks. It has been continuously occupied since that time though the ruins of Tyras are barely visible below Akkerman fortress. This historic centre would be our home until January 25th 2017, Twelve days after I was scheduled to start my new position in Primary Health Care with Southern Health.
The Fortress of Akkerman and ancient historic site, we made several visits. The top photo shows the estuary in mid January after freeze up. The lower photos show the estuary in the first week of December.
On the 9th December 2016, the night after we first met the children, Yana requested that we join her for supper in the Fiesta restaurant. The day had been full and incredibly rewarding. It felt like we literally were walking in the clouds and a celebration supper sounded like it would be appropriate. As the supper came to an end, Yana mentioned something about catching the train from Odessa and returning to Kyiv in the morning. I was a little puzzled and finally found the courage to seek clarification, “What do mean a ticket back to Kyiv?” I asked “we just got here” Yana smiled at my ignorance. “Oh, not you and Sharon,” she said, “You are staying here. But I need to return to Kyiv.”
“What!” My heart sank and I looked at Sharon and she was looking back with an equal amount surprise or shall I say horror. “You’re not staying here with us?” I managed, “We don’t speak enough Russian or Ukrainian to be here alone and we don’t know anyone else here.” “Your driver will be available for you and you can always call me,” Yana replied, sounding like it was all sorted. Wow, I surely hadn’t expected or understood that we would be abandoned here by our facilitator, at least that is how it felt. Wow, Lord we will surely need you now! As I had time to ponder the situation, we could not have expected her to stay while we simply got acquainted with our children, nor could we have afforded it.
Filled with eager anticipation and a little uneasiness we made our first solo trek to the orphanage from the Fiesta Hotel. The morning was fresh but extremely mild compared to anything I had ever experienced in early December. Bilhorod still had not received any snow! We chatted nonstop as we casually retraced the streets traveled by our driver the day before. I have always prided myself in having a very good sense of direction even in unfamiliar surroundings and, over the years Sharon has grown to rely on it. On this, our first morning trek from the Fiesta Hotel to the orphanage . . . I got us hopelessly and totally lost! It was my day for eating humble pie on that morning of December 9th. I ended up guiding Sharon 6 or 7 city blocks, right past the orphanage and was completely disoriented. So much for assuring our driver we were able to walk to the orphanage for our morning visit. A phone call of desperation went out to Yana. She got a hold of Yura and somehow they understood where we were. Yura found us, and delivered us to the orphanage about 20 minutes late for that first day. I was very concerned as to what this would communicate to the staff and little Mykola soon to be Declan. IT NEVER HAPPENED AGAIN!
Our days developed a routine: breakfast at a coffee shop, heated ham and cheese on a bun, 1 Americano coffee; black, and 1 Americano coffee with 1 milk. Then continue to the orphanage and occasionally stop at Bilhorod’s version of Home Depot (Home Goods Store, Metra) to snoop!
Then on to Bilhorod’s version of Real Canadian Super Store (Tavriav) to pick up some healthy treats for the children. Initially it was a guessing game, not knowing what they would like or not like. Fruit was very popular. Banana’s, apples, oranges were the favorites, with a juice box and occasional chocolate chip cookie. We easily averaged 6-7 km of walking a day, as from the Fiesta hotel to the orphanage was a full 2+ kilometers one way!
I remember being very cautious on our first arrivals as we attempted to become oriented with the orphanage and acquainted with the staff. It was no time until the moment the
orphanage children caught sight of us that we were greeted with smiles, hugs and chattered to in Russian, and then with a few hand gestures off they would run, excitedly calling to our children that their “Papa” and “Mama” were here.
While the weather was relatively mild our visits were spent outdoors . . . and did I ever get a physical work out! I am not sure how Sharon was nearly always exempt but as soon as some initial food had been consumed play began: tag, hide and seek, rides on a merry-go-round, pushes on the swing. I do not remember a single visit that I did not break into a sweat from rigorous play. Communication was a challenge as iTranslate would not work for us at the Orphanage as we didn’t have wi-fi access and most the time were out of range of the group rooms with wi-fi.
Examples of the Orphanage antics with Papa
By December 10th we had discovered the “Open Market” with its vast selection of produce, fresh meats – goat, unlimited fish, textiles, hardware, virtually everything that you could imagine. Morning shopping at Tavriav and then down to the “Open Market” for lunch treats for the next day for the children. We found that the market had a much better selection of fresh fruit and healthy treats. Tavriav was where we purchased cookies, juice boxes and toilet paper (which always had to be carried as none was provided anywhere!). The “Open Market” became a genuine reprieve for the long afternoons, even with our limited Russian, the bartering was fun and the shop keepers enjoyed the interaction.
The central market of Bilhorod. Each vendor was allotted not more than 10′ X 10′ space to market their wares!
After only a few days in the Ukraine I realized that I was going to have some problems with my bionics . . . hearing aids. I had brought enough batteries for about 10 weeks which was far more than I should have needed, but as soon as we arrived in Kyiv I was going through a set of batteries every 3-4 days compared with 8-10 days at home. Not sure why? Initially I had hoped it was just faulty batteries and that the next set would be better, but not so. Sharon and I began to make battery hunting a priority in our afternoon market walks. Several days passed with no sign of those pathetic little things anywhere. We tried asking with iTranslate in variety of shops but would get a blank look and shake of the head. Batteries were added to our daily prayer list!
On one of afternoon trips to the “Open Market” we walked to the northwest limit of the market and along Izmail’ska Street. We rounded the corner and headed southeast down Moskovska Street. It was a sunny but very chilly day. We walked past a shop selling computers. I said to Sharon that I wondered if they would have batteries . . . like most computer shops in Canada carry hearing aid batteries right . . . NOT. I have no idea other than the Lord was prompting and leading. We cautiously stepped in. The shop was dimly lit and as our eyes adjusted, we saw it would not have been more than 8′ X 16′. One wall was lined with computer monitors and behind the door that we entered was a desk with a man in his late thirties maybe early forties. I tried iTranslate, then showed the shop keeper one of my batteries. He asked me in English what it was for . . . can you imagine the excitement we felt … We had just met Vitali, the first of three English speakers we would encounter during our stay in Bilhorod Dnistrovskyi! That alone was an answer to prayer and a rich source of encouragement. He quickly turned to a younger man at the far end of the shop who could not have been much more than out of high school. I had originally mistaken him for another potential customer. The shop keeper gave some instructions and turned to Sharon and I. “Come with me.” Just as we were about to leave another customer entered with a question. He briefly listened then directed him to the younger man and we left the building together.
Initially I was thrilled, as he led us down a narrow alley back into the “Open Market.” He was talking and walking rapidly. We learned that he had a sister in Toronto, that he was from Bulgaria and hoping to one day get to Canada himself. His visa application had always been denied so far. Conversation dwindled as we walked down the narrow walkways between the shops and I started questioning the wisdom of following this perfect stranger at such a fast pace into this congested area. Sharon and I had walked these narrow allies many times ourselves. But now I had visions of being taken into some shop and being robbed . . . . given the security warnings both Yana and Inna had given us. Suddenly he stopped at what appeared to be a mini “Radio Shack” booth or so it appeared by the products on display. Our guide handed my battery to the shop keeper and turned to me, asking how many did I want. Unbelievable! I don’t remember how many I purchased at that time but I was so thankful. I offered to pay our new friend for his trouble but he would not hear of it, pushing the notes I offered back at me. He shook our hands and wished us the very best and hurried back to his shop. I was so touched that tears filled my eyes . . . he gave up about 30-45 minutes of his time to a perfect stranger and maybe even lost a sale in his absence. Who in Canada would do the same? God is good and faithful. Because of our extended stay in Bilhorod-Dnistrov’skyi, I visited this booth several more times. Needless to say the shop keeper was reaching for batteries as soon as he saw me! The strange thing about this encounter was that Sharon and I had actually passed this electronic booth multiple times before being escorted there but it was one that we had never thought to ask about batteries. The day we found the batteries was actually Christmas Day! What a gift!