- the following is a letter I sent to my American friend, Erin Grace. I include it here as an update of our life in Ukraine and as an open appeal for help in bringing our project to North America.
querida erin grace,
I guess you’ve heard or read that we arrived at our Ukrainian destination – the home of Valentina’s mother, Любовь /Lubov (her name means ‘love’). As planned, we’ll be here through spring, however, there’s still the sense that the trip is in progress. In certain ways this stretch of the trip is the most difficult - coping with the infirmed psychology left behind by the oppressive soviet regime.. This task is further complicated by the widespread abuse of vodka – a few shots with breakfast, lunch and diner. Meeting new people and sharing a limited time of international brotherhood is much easier than delving into the painful patterns of a long established illness.. While working for world peace may be a noble endeavor, searching for peace in a troubled relationship is the work of saints.
Софиевка / Sofievka is what’s left of a small town most of which is now under water. In 1951 the river was flooded by a hydroelectric dam 35km down stream from here. Now there are only a couple of hundred houses on dirt streets. The houses with habitants each have three dogs on chains (who bark continuously the whole night through) and many of these have cows and goats as well.
In January 2009 Valentina was here for her father’s funeral. Due to the circumstance she left Sicilia without renewing her expired permesso di soggiorno which meant there was a big question regarding her return. I was prepared to join her here, however, she later told me that she was prepared to prevent me from coming because she thought I wouldn’t be able to survive the oppressive mentality. When we decided to do the bike trip I guess she thought that if I were strong enough to make it here on bicycle I might be strong enough (at least for a limited time) to handle the negativity. During our first two weeks here I had strong doubts and was ready to hit the road again (in whatever direction) and see how far we might get before the bad weather hit. Now I seem to have found a way to cope with the situation without letting it drain all my energy. I’m blessed to have a relationship in which we help each other through difficulties and don’t let the stress come between us. We’ve never verbalized our sentiments for one another with the words ‘I love you, ti amo, я тебя люблю’. Instead we say ‘thank you, grazie, спасибо’, for all we do for one another, for the joy, the pleasure, the challenges and difficulties we share, for the interesting, ever changing life we’ve created together.
It also helps having work to do and there’s a never ending string of ‘little projects’ for me – fixing broken windows, furniture, roofs, electric switches/plugs/fixtures/wires, dismantling and salvaging wood of a barn (I just heard a big crash and the scream of Valentina. I ran outside in panic and saw that what remained of the barn had collapsed - a wall, the roof and columns. She was exiting the outhouse only two meters from the point of impact - scream justified. A few minutes before, we had moved the adjacent doghouse and dog a safe distance away.) and, when necessary, I work in the huge vegetable garden. As always I like varied activities.
It would be unfair of me not to mention the amenities we have here in Софиевка / Sofievka – very nice neighbors, an abundance of fresh organic produce (we have strawberries and seven varieties of grapes in season now), delicious water from 30 meters underground, and the tranquility of the countryside (A few years ago I would have also listed as an amenity the wild cannabis, which grows profusely here, but now the strange reality of my ordinary daily life is much more interesting than a drug-induced state).
Our article in the Каховка / Kahovka (the small city 20km from Софиевка) newspaper was published today (26.8.10). It’s a great article in that it expresses well our philosophy, lifestyle and motivation for the trip. The only glaring error is that in my list of professions and hobbies they included ‘plumber’. I said it as a joke and thought I had made that clear that it was only a joke. By now I might have learned that one mustn’t joke with journalists or custom agents. The newspaper will sponsor (logistically rather than financially) a show for us next month to coincide with the city’s birthday festival. They will also ask permission for me to use the darkroom facility at the local police station to print some black and white images. During the trip I shot twenty rolls of color slide film and only six rolls of black and white. I sent the slide film to Kiev for processing. I asked that they not mount them as slides but leave the film in one continues strip. I have in mind to use a filmstrip projector from the ’50 and buy a negative scanner to convert to digital, both the color and black and white images, for printing and Internet use. Rather than it being just a photography exhibit, our show will be a type of workshop to recount the trip from three points of view: the kindness and generosity of the people along the way, the simplicity of our environmental-friendly life style (including food preparation), with small steps one can cover a great distance.
When the spring weather again permits bicycle travel we plan to continue to Tula, Russia (by way of Kiev), to the home of Lev Tolstoy. From there we hope to find an important link with North America, namely the Духоборцы(Duhabortsie). In the late 19th century this religious group of pacifists was severely persecuted by the czarist government for their refusal of military service. In 1897, when Lev Tolstoy was nominated the Nobel Peace Prize he appealed to the Stockholm committee to award the prize instead to the Духоборцы. They followed his wish and the prize money permitted the emigration (exile) of 10,000 members of the group to Canada. We want to go to Canada to find the descendants and document, in some manner, their life there. For this and a subsequent workshop tour in America (to schools, peace/ecology organizations, whomever) we need funding. Now here’s the important question: Where and how do we begin this process of obtaining sponsorship for the trip to Canada and the American workshop tour? I pose this question to you, Your Grace, because in addition to you being a very dear friend, you’ve had experience and success obtaining grants/funding for your education and projects. Thank you in advance for any and all help you may be in realizing our project and bringing Valentina to America to meet my dear family and friends and experience the abundant beauty of nature there.
with much affection,
liam del mar