A Summer in Ukraine - My Family Travels

?? ????? fanta ???????” Ukrainian for, “Do you have Fanta with ice?” 
While traveling through Europe one thing that I have noticed about Europeans is, oddly enough, many prefer not to have ice in their drinks. Consequently, being an American and loving ice-cold soda, I always have to ask for ice in my Fanta. Sometimes, I even have to pay extra for it. Ukraine is no exception so I quickly picked up this expression.
During the summer of 2005, I spent four weeks immersed in Ukrainian culture. My stepmother, who is Ukrainian, immigrated with my then 5-year-old stepsister to the U.S.A. when she was 38. That year, our family of five had the opportunity to squeeze into her father’s one bedroom apartment in Gurzuf for a one-month vacation.   I thought I was knowledgeable of foreign countries, but when I arrived in Kiev I realized immediately that I was about to develop some new impressions. My family’s typical European destinations reflected prosperous economies and a lavish cultural history, but Ukraine has clearly not shared the twentieth century Western European prosperity. Everywhere, there were sad signs of abysmal health care and the grinding poverty left by decades of Soviet influence.   I found the contrast between the beautiful buildings of pre-soviet architecture and the almost toxic city streets to be completely disorienting. Worst of all, I was constantly choking on the smell of tobacco that permeated every facet of the city. After struggling to find a taxi that would take us to the small coastal town of Gurzuf, we finally arrived at my step -grandfather’s apartment.
Elevators are non-existent in Ukrainian apartment buildings. I was lamenting this fact after climbing six flights of stairs with two heavy suitcases, but completely forgot my aggravation when I caught a glimpse of the spectacular view from the balcony. The hillside perch looked down over the town, with narrow streets winding down the steep, rocky hillside, and out over the Black sea.   No postcard could ever do justice to what I was seeing with my own eyes. My brother, sister and I immediately went out exploring and happened upon an old basketball court filled with kids playing soccer. The court was in bad shape, the concrete cracked everywhere, but the kids seemed not to notice, playing as if it was the ideal location. Youthful curiosity took its natural course and we were amazed to discover that all of the kids spoke perfect English. We were the Americans, foreign and exciting, and we were welcomed into their games. They were amazed that girls could play soccer! Poor water quality forced us to rely on Fanta for refreshment and during our vacation, we systematically consumed every bottle in town. 
After staying in Ukraine for almost a month, I was able to realize how fortunate I am to have been raised in the United States by parents who could provide my brother, sister, and I with luxuries like traveling.  I am extremely grateful that I was able to visit Ukraine and get the first-hand experience of what it is like to live in a poor country because it made me appreciate what I do have in my life, instead of focusing on what I do not have. Every now and again, I get letters from my friends in Gurzuf. I always wonder about the different paths our lives have taken whether having ice in my Fanta was all that important.

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