16 July 2008

Onward to Ukraine

BUDAPEST— There was a bright yellow half-moon over Budapest when I landed a minute after midnight. I have had a lot of experience closing up my house and getting a ride to the airport and going away, hoping that perhaps I would meet the love of my life or at least a brief approximation of her. I had a lot of experience leaving a failed or failing or otherwise impossible relationship. I had no experience leaving a woman I loved, who I had never left before since finally I found her again and I was scared. I was nervous about a lot of things. I was working on a major project again for the first time since El Salvador, almost exactly a year before. I would be working with the same relief group but almost all new people, in a country I had never been to, in a language I spoke none of. But it was the leaving of Lena that frightened me despite all her reassurances. But the day finally came and I was ready and she was gentle and loving and when she finally drove me to the Malmo airport in the bright Swedish evening I didn’t feel so bad, just restless to go a little bit so I could begin to get it over with and come back. It was a feeling I didn’t like much as it interfered a little with my own self-image of an independent man who has previously put his work and travels and adventures over any woman.

She saw me to the metal detectors and when I was through I waved and waved as I watched her finally walk away, turning back to see me there until finally she turned one more time and waved in return and then was gone through the outer doors and I was alone.

The plane touched down on the moon-bright runway, two minutes into morning. I was meeting a Hungarian man named Csaba who worked with the SARA group. That is all I knew about him other than the picture he had e-mailed me. He had a sign with my name on it and we got in his car and we drove into early-morning Budapest. We stopped and ate some Hungarian pancakes, more of a crepe, filled with ewe-cheese curds and green olives. Csaba (Cha-Bah), a slim, neatly mannered man in his 40s is a plastic surgeon who SARA sent to Cincinnatti for special training in burn and trauma reconstruction. After eating he took me to his friend’s Tomas and Bebe’s (Elizabeth) apartment, where he had arranged for me to stay. All but Bebe were asleep and she again offered me food and drink and I think I hurt her feelings a little when all I wanted was a water but she let it go at that and showed me to my room. I slept hard and long and around noon Csaba came back and he and Bebe and I walked up to the long hill beginning near their apartment to the memorial of freedom, a monumental statue of a woman. It is irreverently called the “big can-opener” because of the scythe-like wreath she holds over her head but is very much a matter of pride to the Hungarians. Bebe left us soon after and we continued our walk through the city, seeing things through his eyes, small details and Hungarian perspectives Lena and I had missed on our visit to that city a month before.

That evening I showed “News From El Salvador: The Children of the Mangroves” to my host family, including their children and it was a good moment to see and show the lives of the Salvadorans so far away and to attempt to answer questions about them and their country.

In the morning Csaba picked me up again and we drove to the airport. Soon the SARA team was coming out of passport control with the usual suitcases filled with donated supplies and medicines. I greeted one old friend, Ernie Hollenbecker from Wappakaneta, Ohio whom I had spent time with twice before in El Salvador. Ernie is always a joy to have on a trip, his joyful irreverence always adding the right degree of humor to what, on these missions, can at times be an overdose of caring and sharing and tragic poverty. The rest were new to me. I had been in e-mail contact with a few, Drs. Mettens and Mikesell and had briefly, I think, met a few at SARA meetings in Columbus, Ohio, but knew none but Ernie. So we loaded up the two vans and headed East and North, across the great plains of Hungary towards the Ukrainian border.


Blogger Lena said...

I can almost smell the Budapest-air, and feel the excitment of moving further on, further into Eastern Europe.

4:20 AM  

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