Eastern Europe

I Crain? No, Ukraine! Day 36

We arrive, and we still can't read a darn thing. Our tiny street map is written in Roman characters, so every street sign we see must be translated.

Alright, what does B - Pi symbol - H - R - Airplane beverage cart - V - backwards N spell?

But, hark! Aimless wandering led us to a woman with a visor, a fanny pack and a camera...an American!

Do you know where we are?

I haven't a clue, but our driver will...though he only speaks Polish...let's give him a try.

The following scene would have fit really well in an Audrey Hepburn movie. The tour group surrounded us on all sides, asking how they could help, where we were trying to go, where we had already traveled, if we spoke Polish, the works. When they realized how aimless we actually were, Roger, the self-proclaimed group leader, invited us to come along with them to see the sights, have some lunch, and represent our generation among his posse of WWII Polish refuges. This wasn't just some Contiki bus tour.

Each one of those 70+ year old tourists were displaced from their homes in Poland during WWII, their houses bombed or seized by the Nazis during their invasion, some even in L'viv. They were shipped away either to Siberia or eventually to London, where they all met. No one had a local friend or contact nor a £1 in their pockets, but they attended school and university in England, building their life foundations from there.

When all had finished schooling, the English government offered them to choose a new home of either the USA, Canada, Australia or Europe, since the UK was off the table. After they parted ways across the globe, they had no contact between each other until fifty years later when an effort was made to have a reunion back in their home country.

For the last couple years, they join together for moral support and socializing as they reexperience the mixed feelings of their childhood. Some of these trips prove to be intensely emotional as they are reminded of the travesties they experienced. The man who asked me, having seen the patch on my backpack, if I had been to Malaysia, was a young messenger boy during the Warsaw Uprising. When they toured Warsaw a few days prior to our meeting, he set his eyes for the first time on a sculpture of a young boy wearing an oversized German uniform. It was the monument for the Warsaw Uprising. He cried on the spot, seeing himself 70 years earlier in the statue.

Our conversations with each person were soaked in history and drama. They were eager to teach us from their personal experience, and we felt quite honored to be on the receiving end. They left us with full bellies at the town center where we found a hostel for less than $15 a night. Our luck left us astounded as the day ended. We surely could have hated our day in L'viv - the hot, complicated city of L'viv - but instead we witnessed such heartfelt hospitality from people who were busy reliving their mixed and painful memories of the past. We left first thing the following morning, knowing we already experienced the highlight and magic of that destination.