After a trip that embodied Ukraine’s unofficial motto (“Ukraine is not for the meek”), it came as no surprise that departing from the country was, in a word, difficult. Two days before my departure, my host family called the airport to make sure my flight was still departing from Dneopropetrovsk, the city I was staying in.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” I asked.
“Flights get cancelled a lot because the airline is having a dispute with the airport,” my host father explained.
“What?” I said.
“The airport tries to assert its power by refusing to allow the airline’s planes in,” my host father explained.
“What is the dispute about?” I asked.
“Airport officials want more money.”
“Then what happens?”
“Usually, the airline will arrange to have you driven to Kiev.”
“How far is that?”
Sure enough, the next day, we were being driven by a gypsy cab sent by the airport to drive us to Kiev. That we survived the car ride is a miracle in itself, but the real adventure began at the airport.
We moved through the crowds toward the check out counter, and my host daughter Katya took my hand. “Do not let go,” she warned as though I were a child. But while struggling with my suitcase, I lost my grip momentarily and was lost in the chaotic shuffle of unhappy Ukrainians, a swimmer in a rip tide. I tried not to panic, assuming I would quickly relocate them, but there were too many people for this to be easy. It would’ve been easier if they’d noticed I was gone right away, but by the time they figured it out, I was completely out of view. Worried, I tried to stay in one place, but the hordes of travelers made it impossible. Just like I had many times during my Ukrainian travels, I drifted off...only this time I couldn’t blame the vodka.
Realizing how far I’d come from where I first was lost and turned around fighting against the stream of traffic, I hoped that I would somehow cross paths my host family. There was no sign of them, and I started praying I wouldn’t be kidnapped and sold into slavery. Each time I circled the small area, my panic thickened.
Then, in the midst of a message spoken in Russian over the PA system, I heard my name. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but at least they knew I was missing. I kept circling the area. The message was repeated, so I leaned against a column and hoped that I’d be found. Minutes later, I looked up and saw my host family running towards me. They hugged me as though I were a puppy that had run away.
“We thought you were kidnapped!” Katya exclaimed. “Where were you?”
"I thought I was going to be kidnapped. Where were you?”
“We thought you were behind us. How could you be so irresponsible?”
“You lost me! How am I irresponsible?”
“I’m going to need to get you a leash.”
Her parents approached.
“We’re glad you’re okay,” my host mother said.
“We better get going,” my host father said, looking at his watch, clearly annoyed by my disappearing act. This time he grabbed my hand, making it impossible for me to lose him even if I wanted to.
We quickly headed to the check-in counter, where a stern agent with a bad dye-job ordered me to put my suitcase up on the scale. Somehow, I knew I was about to be screwed with again. Ukraine wasn’t going to let go of me without a fight.
U“Too heavy,” the agent said in Russian. (Katya translated.)
“Twenty dollar,” the agent said in broken English.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, me serious,” the agent replied.
I removed a twenty from my wallet and handed it to her rather hastily. She examined the bill as though it were laced with anthrax, then had her associate take a look. I was reminded of the customs agents who looked at my passport the day I arrived.
After several moments of intense investigation, she said: “We cannot accept this.”
The agent pointed to a small rip in the corner of the bill.
“It is ripped.”
“It’s still good.”
“No. It’s ripped.”
“I don’t have any other bills,” I said. “Do you accept credit cards?”
“Not for this. But there is an ATM machine around the corner.”
“I don’t believe this,” was all I could muster as Katya led me to the ATM. I withdrew a twenty (plus the five dollar service fee) and paid my dues.
We then headed to the security line and said our tearful goodbyes.
The rest of the trip was relative smooth sailing. My flight was fine except for the horrible smell coming from what I assumed was the restroom near my seat. According to flight attendant, however, it was the lingering stench of sheep testicles brought on board by a previous passenger for reasons unknown perhaps even to God. This made a fitting end to my Ukrainian adventure.
Bobby Fox's works have been published in the The Naked Feather, The Medulla Review, Lap Top Lit Mag, The Path, The India Contemporary Review, Yareah Magazine, One Title Magazine, The Knotted Beard Review, The Lyceum, Detroit News, Dearborn Times-Herald, TravelMag and InTravel Magazine. This piece is an excerpt from a travel memoir entitled “Love & Vodka” about his travels in Ukraine.