This October will mark 14 years since my family and I crossed the ocean for the first time and moved to the United States. It is not an easy thing to leave a life you built and start again, from scratch, in the unknown. And the older I get, the more respect and awe I feel for the immigrants who risk everything in hopes of a better life for their children. It's a big deal.
I was not happy to leave Ukraine and move who-knows-where when I was 22. It made no sense to me, and it was scary and it was stressful. I kept on a brave face but I felt like I was kidnapped and brought to this foreign country against my will. I was not forced into anything, of course, but at that point in my life, I just didn't know I had other options.
So, for the last 13 years, I've wanted to return. The significance and meaning of this return morphed over the years into something mystical. A pilgrimage. A return of the Jedi. A prodigal daughter homecoming.
And then, this May, I did it. My husband tagged along and I'm sure if was very different for him. For me, it was surreal. After such a long time, you begin to wonder if everything you knew from the life before even exists.
We flew out of San Francisco and into Istanbul, with a long layover there and then an early morning flight to Kiev. A similar arrangement on the way back - except, we had a few more hours of daylight to go glance at the Blue Mosque and the outside of Hagia Sophia. I did not have the time to sketch any of that. But during the first layover, I sketched a funky chandelier made out of a car tire and some rope. That's something, right? :)
On the whole, I expected to sketch so much more than I actually did. The trip was 10 days from leaving our house to arriving back to it, with a day and a half spent just on sitting in an airplane. Sure, you can also sketch while on the plane. And I did. Once:
This looked like Greenland to me...but it turns out, it's a Canadian territory by the name of Nunavut. Live and learn!
After Istanbul, we spent a day in Kiev and took a train to my hometown of Khmelnitskyy. I stayed with my best friend...this was also so strange and so wonderful. We met in art school, when I was 11 or 12 and have kept in touch ever since. She is now a psychology professor, married to another psychology professor. She kept trying to feed me. Everything. At once. Apparently, Ukrainian love is expressed with food!
Ah, and the food. I have never been big on household tasks, including cooking, so I visit my mom if I feel the craving for some yummy Eastern European food. But having unrestricted access to cherry strudels and potato pancakes and Ukrainian cheesecake was amazing.
One of the little cafes we visited in Ukraine was also a language club. Which is kind of a perfect combination of uses - study the irregular verbs all you like, while sipping coffee or a special "healthy smoothie" and nibbling on a "zapekanka" - Ukrainian cheesecake. Or strudel. More strudels in my life, please :D