Originally posted April 29th, 2008
We’re getting ready to move (we fly back to Canada on Sunday). Most of our belongings are in a big steel box, hopefully on a ship somewhere that left Odessa on Friday. But, for now, life goes on here in Ukraine.
Life, in Ukraine, is a bit different than what I’m used to in Canada. Some days are more different than others. Friday was one of those days…
A friend asked me on Thursday evening if I could help him and his mother out by providing transportation to a village about 160 km away (over 2 hours of driving because of the roads), south east of here. His stepfather had died, and they were having a funeral on Friday. Seems that his mother was still legally married to the guy, even though she hadn’t lived with him in 7 or 8 years (and has been living with another guy for the past few years).
Anyway, my friend said he needed to get things arranged once we were there, and didn’t know anybody with a vehicle there, etc., so I agreed to help out.
We left here at around 6:00 am Friday morning.
Well – once we got there, it got a lot more interesting. First, we went to the morgue (at around 8:30). Seems that they didn’t have the proper papers filled out for the dead guy yet. They said they didn’t know when they would get the autopsy done… the relatives paid them a little money, and the morgue people said they would get the papers done and we could pick up the body at 11:00. Don’t think they actually did any autopsy. This guy was a heavy drinker, and had all kinds of health problems as a result. It was no surprise to anybody that he died.
So – we went off to various stores, picked up bread, food, flowers, etc… Then we went to several Orthodox churches to find a priest that had time to come to the funeral (not an easy thing to do – since it’s Easter weekend here, it was Friday, and Easter is the biggest religious holiday they have…). Anyway, finally some priest said he could come at 2:00 pm.
So – went to the dead guys house, where a collection of village people were already consuming large amounts of home brewed Vodka. Nasty stuff… Dropped off the flowers, bread, and everything else.
Then, along with a few other guys (dressed in whatever they could find laying around) we were off to the morgue. A couple guys went to the building next door and came out with a coffin. They brought it into the morgue… A few minutes later, we flipped down the seats in my van and loaded the now-occupied coffin in the van. I’ve had more hassle and paperwork picking up a video camera from the repair shop! Guess a dead body isn’t worth as much as a video camera… Then we were headed back to the house, me and 5 other guys (one of whom was dead in a coffin). Very strange.
Stopped at a store on the way to buy some more bread – seems that the bread we bought earlier was the wrong kind for an Orthodox ceremony.
At the house, we unloaded the van, they lifted the lid off of the coffin and put the guy on display in the yard. At around 2:30, an old Moskvitch (really bad Russian car) came sputtering up, with the priest in the passengers seat, and a couple of women in the back seat who came out carrying his books and bags of stuff.
He went in the yard, recited some prayers, a few Babushka’s tried to sing something (not sure if they couldn’t sing, or if they were just too drunk), and then the priest got back in the car (along with the two women). The driver got in and tried to start the car. Wouldn’t start. So, a few guys just push started the car, and off it went, backfiring down the street (I use the term street loosely).
Then, they loaded the coffin back in my van – this time with no lid.
Then we started the funeral procession. Fortunately, the cemetery was only about 1 km away. The procession consisted of one guy carrying a cross with a plaque nailed to it with the guys name on the plaque (I never did hear what his name was). Followed by a few people carrying wreaths. Followed by 4 guys carrying the coffin lid with a loaf of bread balanced on it. Followed by me and the dead guy in the van. Followed by the rest of the people. They stopped for about 30 seconds at every road intersection. I thought I was going to fry the clutch in my van, trying to go that slowly (and not run over the guys with the coffin lid). Sorry, but I don’t understand the significance of some of this stuff, since I’m not exactly Orthodox.
Anyway, eventually we arrived at the cemetery. I couldn’t drive right in – the lanes are too narrow. So the people all walked in, and a few guys came out with a rickety (quite rotten) wood frame that they slid the coffin onto… No handles of any kind on the coffin itself.
Then they carried the coffin to the grave site, placed the lid on it, nailed it on, and lowered it in the hole. Then, various people took turns throwing the dirt in the hole.
And then the Vodka drinking began in earnest.
Most of the people in this village have no work, and live off a meager “pension” from the government (if they ever get that). To live, they eat borscht and drink home brewed vodka. Seems that the responsibilities are divided evenly. The women make vodka and cook. The men sit beside the road and drink while complaining about what the government isn’t doing for them.
I am not sure how they actually live – and it is very sad to see. A very dramatic example of the failure of the Communist system and it’s creation of a population of people reliant on a “system” that no longer exists…