Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Village Christmas Story from Ukraine

Fran Cary, a Peace Corps volunteer who has shared her experiences before on the Pickle Project, sent us this beautiful piece that ties together so many elements of seasonality, sustainability, food and life in Ukraine.  Thanks Fran, for continuing to share your life in Starobelsk with Pickle Project readers.

Remember those cute little pigs I saw when Olga and I visited Tonya at her farm in Kurychevcka? Well today I bought some.

Yes, Tonya and her husband came to town with a carload of fresh pork and had a good sale in the back of Natala's shop. All the pork was freshly butchered, cleaned and packaged. I feel I had a small hand in this because Tonya and Natalia met through me, when Olga was looking for a new place for me to stay in town. Lots of good connections, and good cheer, came out of it!

Neighbors, friends and customers of Natalia's came and stocked up on all the fresh meat they wanted for the winter.  Natalia bought tons of pork herself to freeze and take to her family in Kyiv for the holidays. And Tonya and her husband Vlad went home with enough cash to see them through the winter.
Natural fresh meat! Ukrainians care a lot about natural foods, from produce to meat. They want to know if any fertilizer or other stuff has been added to the ground or fed to the animals. Tonya assured all customers the pigs were well fed with only the best food. I myself fed apples and corn, along with handfuls of fresh grain to those little pigs, and to the big fat ones too.

Now that I am at Natalia's and cooking for mostly for myself, I've bought chicken and meat at the supermarket. It's been mostly tasteless and unedible and I told that to Natalia when she saw me feeding it to the cat. "Is it okay for the cat?" I asked. "Yes, but why not eat it yourself?" "Because it doesn't taste good." That's when she told me Tonya was coming with her pig meat, and would be having a sale at the back of her shop. I was delighted, though my first thought was of those little pigs running around in circles and looking quite loveable. To think they would now be on the dinner tables of Starobelsk!

Today, when Tonya was busy selling the meat and it was my turn to buy, I turned to Natalia for help. I had never bought pork like this, knowing the pigs personally as it were, and wasn't sure what I wanted. I asked Natalia to get what she wanted and I would pay for it. She then told Tonya the story of my meat-buying experience and said "даже не кошка съест!" They laughed and laughed. Tonya then turned to me and translated. Natalia said "not even the cat would eat the meat you gave her!"

Life is hard for Tonya.  She works 24/7 to maintain a self-sufficient farm with her husband and adult sons, who work the farm but are unemployed, a difficult and worrisome situation for her.  She also adds a few hryvnia to the household economy from teaching.  But the products of their farm have become more and more important to sustaining the family.   

And so it was a Merry Christmas for Tonya and her family after the pork sale, and I felt glad for it. Snow fell on the town, soft and lovely. Spirits were high. Scenes of holiday sharing danced in my head. And I thought, with a smile in my heart: This is the best kind of Christmas. 

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