Again in frozen Saigon, it’s all going a little bit wrong. What started out as a celebration of the American festival of Thanksgiving, promptly turned into chaos in Lviv. I managed finally to ship my military rucksack back to England. Because my kidneys and ribs are bruised, my fine friend and colleague was so kind as to carry the rucksack in question to the local branch of the Ukrainian Post Office (again), just as yesterday. The staff entertained this depressed, despondent air as they saw me back in the Post Office and they realised that they were going to have to go through the same tedious and monstrous process as yesterday and without any hope of success that the national Ukrainian postal service computers would withstand the challenge. Nevertheless with grim determination we all made it through the procedures. We got there. I had to lay out the contents of the rucksack on the desk, once again, just like yesterday, and the staff had to make some sort of electronic note of it all. My maps were less of interest than yesterday, and my doormat with Vladimir Putin’s face on it got through the system without aggravation. We all just wanted this bloody bag to get shipped to England without further ado.
The price was heinous: over 200 Euros for a shipment to England. I can’t carry the bloody thing on my back, so I was a hostage to whatever price they quoted. I have to go to Poland this weekend, to renew my visa and other procedural stories. There is no way I am going with bruised kidneys on some clunky old Ukrainian Railways train with this damned thing strapped to my back. So I had to pay whatever price they came up with. Rather alarmingly, they didn’t weigh or measure my military rucksack. I have no idea where they came up with this price. But on this occasion at least the Post Office staff were mercifully brief. The whole procedure took barely half an hour, but when I reviewed the completed documentation I harboured more than an abstract concern that, based on the misspelling of my name and address in England, they were going to send the whole bloody lot to the Special Air Service in Hereford. Well, let’s see. Que sera, sera. At least I got rid of the damned thing.
My friend and I had a couple of beers in a local bar, to celebrate getting rid of this damned bag. It took a bit of effort. The first bar couldn’t serve any beer. The second had no staff. In the third, the bar stools were so jam packed together that it was virtually impossible to pull them out from the bar and actually sit on them. We sighed, philosophically, understanding that all these complications are just part of the daily routine in wartime Ukraine.
I went to a Thanksgiving dinner in an apartment in central Lviv. I had to bring a gift. I went to the supermarket. I bought a whole chicken. The lady behind the counter thought I was insane. Why did I want a whole chicken? Well, I explained with my rudimentary language skills, this was because today is a national holiday in the United States and I was joining some American friends. She looked at me, disgusted, and virtually threw the chicken at me, wrapped in a plastic bag. I went to the checkout, with a bottle of some local wine, only to have the bottle taken off me by some officious type because I was wearing a military jacket and sales to people in military uniforms are prohibited. So I proceeded to my Thanksgiving party without even a bottle of booze as company. Thankfully my friends and colleagues there, saints to the last, were extremely understanding. I had a wonderful couple of hours with them.
After some time, I took my leave, as I was worried about another friend of mine and I wanted to go meet her. I went back to my usual bar, but my were the drunks piled up in this place. I immediately regretted my decision to depart prematurely from the Thanksgiving party. Some beautiful and totally sloshed girls decided to talk to me about the Opera and asked me to buy them some Limoncello. Naturally, like the damned fool foreigner I am, I agreed, and my bar bill hurt accordingly. Nevertheless, amidst the mists of the concentrated alcoholic fog, I somehow kept my senses.
My new Colombian friend, that you may have read about in prior diary entries, turns out to be a sympathetic and kind guy. I have no idea really what he is doing here, but he is not a bad person. He is not here to cause trouble. He just doesn’t quite yet understand this place. This is a war on ice, and he has somehow dropped in here from the equatorial paradise of Colombia without the slightest idea of what is happening. I decided to stay in contact with him. He has some good qualities to his personality. I don’t know him yet, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and I don’t like to write people off as bad people just because they are out of place.
The two girls I met tonight very much want to go to the Opera. Of course what they really want is free glasses of Limoncello, paid for on my bill. They are charming, cute and sweet, telling me of their latest grades in their English language classes. They gave me their numbers, and we promised to stay in touch. I know how this game works: when they wake up in the morning, they are sober, and then they forgot what they are talking about. But I see it in their eyes that they are nice people, doing their best to become accustomed to the daily horrors and nightmares of war, and I have every time for them.
When people are living through Sheer Hell, you must adjust your perspectives and your evaluations of them and you must disregard or put to one side what might, on first instincts, seem to be unreasonable or crazy behaviour. These are nice and decent and cultivated and educated people, living in a moral vacuum that we call war. One of the roles of the international community here in Ukraine is to remind the Ukrainians, to reach out and connect with them, so that they recall what it is to be normal in a civil and ordinary society. We foreign Emissaries are, at our best, beacons of home, normalcy and representatives of a stable future to come.