Editor’s note: Contributing Editor RaeJean Stokes is traveling around the former U.S.S.R. this holiday season and reporting back to us with occasional missives about life on the other side of what was once the Iron Curtain.
Anyone who’s lived in a foreign country for a significant amount of time knows that going back can be an emotional experience. As an American who lived in a small village in western Ukraine for two years during my Peace Corps days, this particular return trip is also a fattening one.
My husband Nick and I arrived by train in Pidvolochysk at 4:42 a.m. to find my friend Ira waiting for us in the dark. Together, we walked the 20 minutes along unlit streets toward her house, dodging mud and potholes all the way.
When we arrived, her mother lit the stove to make tea and began the one task common to every Ukrainian mother everywhere—trying to feed us. I haven’t stopped eating since. It’s only been four days, but the waist of my pants is tight and my stomach is bloated beyond recognition. While tasty, I’m a bit out of practice eating mashed potatoes swimming in butter and a big bowl of Pepto Bismol-pink borshch (beetroot soup) for breakfast.
Today we’re headed to the town where Nick did his Peace Corps service, Terebovlya. More food is undoubtedly awaiting us. Will it be varenyky (dumplings filled with potatoes or cabbage or cheese)? Salo (smoked pig fat, traditionally eaten on black bread with a clove of garlic)? Or more borshch? Only time (and my waistline) will tell!