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February 13, 2011

I watch as a man dressed in army fatigues bypasses the line with his mother close behind, handing something to an impassively faced lady who marks it with a pen as if a multiple time occurrence for her.  The man, who looks more like a boy, has Hispanic features and is stern and straight faced, staring unblinkingly at his mother who quivers a few feet away.  When he turns to leave, as if left with no other options, a man suddenly appears shouting his name from behind, wrapping his arms around him tightly, to what can only be understood as the unmistakable scene of a father and son parting.  Releasing him unwillingly, he hangs back with his wife, the two standing off to the side now, catching the last traces of their son as he makes his way through the line, removing his boots, his bags, anything extra in his pockets, and finally, disappears through to the other side, invisible to them now.  I lower my head now, as if in reverence, now face to face with my chicken wrap, and listen as Spanish is spoken to my right by a pair of men.  Taking small bites of the tough skin, I look over and watch them as they carry on uninterrupted by the outside world, their words reminiscent to me, and turn my head quickly when they notice my staring.  I watch a family ahead of me now, sitting somberly without a word, and move my attention back to the security line, where people sift through to their various corners of the world.  Standing up now, unable to break into the final impenetrable bite of the wrap, I throw it into the trash can, and join the line, unable to delay it any longer.  I hand my passport to the man covered in badges and look over to find the mother and father now suddenly absent, and turning back to the man we make brief eye contact before he waves me on, already gesturing to the next person.  I stand uncertainly next to the revolving belt, and adjust my eyes to try and catch the attention of the workers, who all seem occupied in conversation, until one spots me and motions to my boots.  I strip them off, feeling a sudden self consciousness at seeing my socks exposed out in the open and walk through the detector, raising my hands awkwardly, and am waved on by a woman looking me up and down.  I retrieve my bag and repack the discarded computer which fits uncomfortably now, and stand with my boots flopping down at the sides and my backpack spread open, a sudden vulnerability about me, and am startled by an employee who kindly points me to a chair.  I walk towards my gate, passing the increasing numbers until I find mine and take a seat facing the administration desk.  I sit across from a woman staring out the window at the setting sun, and feeling a sudden urge I stand up and switch seats to one across, catching the attention of a few people nearby.  As I sit watching the sun lower in the sky, I listen to the sounds that stand out aggressively around me, whose intonations draw me back half way across the world, and quickly plugging my ears, I wait as the music drains them out. 

I arrive in Warsaw groggy, and begrudgingly get up from my seat and walk off the plane.  I step into a large bus with a fellow horde of people and stand uncomfortably leaning again a pole.  Once inside, I wait in a security line again, this time with an irritable group, made nervous by their impending flight connections.  I watch as a woman cuts the line, attempting to get through without waiting, only to be rebuffed by a man in the front, who points her back to her place in line.  An Asian couple stands detained in a small booth to my left, the woman smiling back at the majority of the line that stares at her, made suddenly comfortable by their relative fortune.  The rejected woman stands tall in front of me, voicing obscenities about her upcoming flight and the incompetency of the Polish workforce, and says in a loud, condescending voice, “Why are they putting a flight from America, through security again.”  A man laughs next to her, and says in a thick accent, “You better hide your gun,” the two laughing, unaware of any inappropriateness.  The woman sighs heavily, and looks around as if to show her level of discomfort, and tries again, this time by asking the people in front of her if she might go ahead, to which they shrug their shoulders and allow it.  I look at the screen and notice my flight is soon as well, but decide to keep my spot in the line.  I finally reach security, performing similar actions, and as I walk away, I catch one last glimpse at the smiling woman and wonder if she’ll ever make it through.  I arrive at my gate and stay standing, watching a woman asleep on the floor nearby, when I hear my name unsuspectingly from behind, and turn to see a fellow volunteer, returning from a trip to Egypt.  We exchange greetings and shortly board the plane, sitting separately.  I fall asleep instantly, the jet lag slowly taking its toll on my body.  I awake in Ukraine, to what seems minutes later, and exit the plane, returning to familiar surroundings.  My bag now heavier than before with the added items from home, the weight now feels unbearable mixed with my fatigue.  The other volunteer insists on helping me get to my hostel, sharing the load with me, walking the twenty minutes uphill in the stinging winter air.  We stop in front of an apartment building, dropping our things dramatically, and I get out my phone to call upstairs.  The lady on the other end is clear and unwavering about her words, “No space.” I shake my head, as if uncomprehending of what it means.  “No space?”  I repeat, as if she might not have understood what she said.  “No space.” She says, her accent undetectable under the simplicity of the words.  “Really, nothing, no beds at all?”  “No space,” she says, repeating herself for the third time, the other volunteer looking at me now, wondering what it is I can’t seem to pick up on.  “Oh,” I say finally, “Thanks,” and hang up the phone reluctantly.  He looks at me, waiting for the next direction, and I tell him I will hail a cab.  He grabs one strap, I the other, and we set off to the intersection to perform the difficult task of finding a cab in Ukraine, as they operate differently than most countries, with almost no official markings on the cars, most of them just regular people wanting to make a buck.  I stand in the snow with my hand in the air, waving frantically at the passing cars, waiting for what could be a long time.  I see a car pull up to my right, and a man in front lighting a cigarette.  I knock on his window and say a street name, repeating myself when he gives me that familiar blank look, and giving me the head nod, I jump in, thanking him in a frenzied goodbye.  The car ride is short, about fifteen minutes, and he waits quietly while I gather my things to leave.  I hand him what I think is appropriate, as there are no meters in the cabs, instead people agreeing on a price beforehand, but seeing the state I was in, he accepts what I give him without questions.  I emerge from the car, racked by bags, and taking a step across the sidewalk, I promptly slip and fall on ice that is concealed by soft, benign snow.  A group of locals in front of me stops and turns around, edging towards me, but I wave them away, telling them, “Bco horosho,” looking like the helpless foreigner I am on the ground.  I stand up, a pain now throbbing in my left knee, and continue on, arriving at the front door of the hostel, exhausted, dropping my things all around me.

I take a seat at the kitchen table, joining a group discussing their impressions of Ukraine, a Dutch girl taking Russian language classes, a German and Spaniard traveling around Europe.  The German talks about hitchhiking around Europe, sleeping in his tent when no rides are found, and his interest in seeing small towns in the countries he visits.  Hearing this, I tell him about where I live, and invite him to Svesa, giving him my number, to which he responds, “I’ll call you,” and walking towards the room with the beds, I lie down and sleep. 

(Continued below)

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