I’ve not written for some time but I’m now posting again.
The thing is, I have friends in Ukraine whom I’ve known for a great many years. I visit them once, sometimes twice, annually so it’s been tough watching recent events in the news. I travelled there in October when the signs of war were increasingly ominous and I’ve not stopped worrying about them since.
I’m a teacher and during the recent Easter break I journeyed to Ukraine to see these same friends. This time, however, the trip wasn’t so straightforward as it required flying into a neighbouring country, taking trains, boarding buses then crossing the border on foot.
I didn’t go there as a mercenary. My sole mission was to deliver medicines and other necessities whilst checking on the wellbeing of my friends. Given the circumstances, most are holding up quite well but I’m sure there’s loads they’re not telling me.
That’s because they don’t want me to worry.
Can you imagine that?
After an unforgettable week followed by some tearful goodbyes, I made my way back across the border and flew home.
“I’m being sued by the Catholic Church again,” Laverne announced in the midst of reorganising her purse. “I have no words for that.” “How unlike you,” she mused. “Hold on, I thought you were working on a piece about the East African Lion,” I suddenly remembered. “Turns out all they do is sleep. My son can do that.” “Have you ever been to Africa? I haven’t.” “Yeah, with my sister for her fortieth. We went on safari in Malawi.” “So is that where …“ “… my people come from?” Laverne zipped her purse and placed it on the chair next to her. “Couldn’t tell you; the furthest back I’ve been able to trace our roots is to The Shirelles.” “Ha, ha. Very funny. I was actually going to ask if that’s where your sister went with the Peace Corps.” “Oops, sorry,” she giggled. “No, that was Mozambique.” “I’d like to ask you another question though: when you were there, did you feel any connection to it?”
“Funny you should ask that,” she became more pensive. “I expected to feel ‘African’ from the moment I arrived but the whole time we were there I felt like just another tourist. People are people wherever you go so we had that in common. Culturally, however, I struggled to make a connection and that bothered me. I think maybe we’ve been gone too long.” “I felt the same when I met my Scottish relatives for the first time,” I concurred. “We shared the same name, same sense of humour and some even looked like me but culturally we were raised in two very different worlds.” “Not even close!” Laverne screamed with laughter. “Honestly, are you kidding me with that? Your parents emigrated using their Air Miles!”
“But their journey to The New World was horrific. First, they ran out of headphones and then they gave my mum’s gluten-free meal to someone else,” I explained. “Anyway, cut me some slack – you’re my only ethnic friend.” “Hey, I’m your only friend. I’ve got more in common with those lions than I do with you.” “How so?” “They don’t like to cook either.” “And we have our connection!” “Okay, but back to this business with the Church,” Laverne lowered her voice. “It’s over a certain someone I told you about at Christmas.” “Is this the same someone with the thing?” “Yup.” “And are you telling me they’ve now found the thing?” “Oh yeah, they found it alright,” she confirmed. “Was it on him?” “No, up him.” “Whoa!” I leaned back in my chair. “And the monkey?” “Still missing,” she arched an eyebrow.
I love secrets and Laverne knows plenty. A freelance journalist, she moved to the UK from Seattle over thirty years ago after meeting and marrying Elliot, a sound engineer at the BBC. The three of us first met at The Pu Pu Pot, our local Chinese restaurant, after she’d overheard my accent. “I need some human conversation during our stay on this island! I need someone who doesn’t talk about Bobby Charlton in his sleep!” she blubbered into her chop suey. “Who’s Robby Carlson?” I asked. “Exactly!” she cried. “And do you know where I can score some Fruit Loops because the last people to eat porridge were the Vikings.” That was twenty years ago.
Tonight we were out for our weekly meal at The Pu Pu Pot but without Elliot, who begged off to attend a Bolton Wanderers match. “What’s the viral load of the Szechuan Chicken today?” Laverne asked. “Slightly elevated I’m afraid, so I’d be happy to pee on it for you. We Chinese believe that urine possesses magical properties,” our waitress took her on. “Is that like chlorinated chicken?” I asked. “Well, if you’d prefer you can bring in a pet and we’ll cook that for you,” she smiled, sweetly. “We’re gonna need a few more minutes,” Laverne smiled right back at her. Just then, the kitchen doors swung open to reveal a tiny, sinewy man lifting the lid off a huge cauldron. As he did so, he stepped back to avoid the rush of steam. “What’s that for?” I asked. “We’ll be cooking shrimp in it once we take the shirts out,” our waitress stated matter-of-factly. “Would you excuse me for just one moment? I need to inform on my neighbours.” “She’s good,” Laverne nodded her approval, as she watched the diminutive figure disappear behind the bar. “Is she still in med school?” “Fourth year.” “She’ll have them in stitches.”
At one point during the evening Laverne made a visit to the Ladies’. While she was gone, a young woman breezed into the restaurant and joined a waiting friend at a table nearby. Tall, elegant and stylishly attired, she quickly attracted the attention of other diners. “I’m back,” Laverne announced, resuming her seat. “They have the nicest hand lotion here.” “Uh huh,” I replied, looking past her at the young woman. “What’s up with you?” she shot me a quizzical look. “It’s what’s behind you.” “What’s behind me?” “A girl walked in while you were gone and she’s got to be a model. She’s absolutely stunning. Definitely a model.” “On a scale of 1 to 10?” Laverne asked. “Ten.” “Hair?” “Lustrous.” “Make-up?” “None.” “Height?” “NBA.” “She’s got to have a flaw, everyone has a flaw.” “If she does, I can’t see it.” “Maybe it’s hidden,” she chewed on her bottom lip. “Slug feet?” “Killer farts.” “Fifty bucks says she uses disconnect as a noun.” “Another fifty says she has plans to name her first daughter Chandelier.” “Hmm… not even a split end?” Laverne wasn’t having it. “Turn around and see for yourself if you don’t believe me.” “Have I taught you nothing?” she reached for her purse. “Watch and learn, my friend… okay, which shoulder?” “Left.” She took out her compact and opened it, angling the mirror until she caught sight of her quarry over her left shoulder. At that same moment, the young woman put on her reading glasses and picked up a menu. Closing the compact with a snap, Laverne chuckled to herself, then leaned across the table and whispered, “Four-Eyes.”
“Trump’s building a Death Star,” Laverne announced whilst reloading. “Good for him.” “For building a Death Star?” “For keeping busy during lockdown.” “Is it a family affair?” “He’ll fly it and Melania’s going to serve the drinks. “I imagine there’ll be a launch…” “By invitation only in the Space Force Lounge at Mar-A-Lago Int’l Airport.” “Tickets won’t be cheap.” “You could just buy a hat.” “There’s a Space Force hat?” “And a ring.” “How do you know all this?” I was amazed. “Forewarned is forearmed,” Laverne replied coolly, smelling the air. “They’re coming for us, so you and me need a plan.” “Two tickets?” “One-way.” “I just have one question.” “Shoot.” “Why are you firing anchovies into that tree with a catapult?” “Because the squirrel currently residing in it ripped open our garbage bags during the night and left a putrid mess for me to clean up this morning.” “And?” “Two can play that game, my friend. Now get me Mar-a-Lago on the blower because he’s going to need a Rear Gunner.”
Several years ago while travelling around Ukraine I entered the only shop in a remote village to buy a couple of cold drinks. Placing my purchases on the counter, the elderly shopkeeper tallied my bill on an abacus then pushed it toward me. Not entirely up to speed on ancient counting tools which predate our own numeral system, I played it safe and handed him the equivalent of $5 in Ukrainian money. This, apparently, posed a problem and he asked if I had anything smaller. I replied, regrettably, that I did not. Thinking on it, he disappeared into the back before returning with a duckling which he duly handed over as my change.
The problem with holiday brochures is that they rarely cover an abacus/duck scenario. The pictures in them are enticing but the language is, at best, euphemistic and at worst, a flat out lie. And while it’s true that every situation can’t be covered, a bit of a heads-up regarding waterfowl as legal tender would go a long way for novices like moi.
Here then, is a list of terms from holiday brochures with their true meanings:
in-flight meal: UN ration with complimentary poppadom
in-flight entertainment: the sequel to the remake of the original, only this one’s set in the future where everyone can fly and stuff
short transfer to hotel: bring earplugs
car rental: how are you at changing a tire?
bus service: you may be seated next to a goat in labour
local delicacies: if we can catch it, we’ll cook it
chef’s special: cake with a fly on top
all-inclusive resort: venture off the property and odds are you’ll be kidnapped
in-house entertainment: an old man who takes out his artificial eye for the kids
cultural sensitivities: lose the Trump hat
conservative: lose the rainbow flag beach towel
stunning wildlife: pack an anti-venom kit
365 days of sunshine: no redheads
steeped in history: if they ask, tell them you’re Canadian
friendly locals: the waiter has just asked if he can marry your daughter
vibrant nightlife: gunfire
local amenities: you’re sharing a well with two other villages
stunning scenery: ignore the oil refinery
exotic spices: stick to ketchup
unspoiled wilderness: don’t go in unarmed
tranquil setting: abandoned due to an ebola outbreak
health clinic: the vet will see you now
museum exhibits: those artefacts our country forgot to cart off when we left sharpish 150 years ago