Updated on September 4, 2016
Updated on September 4, 2016
I absolutely love saying “yes” to those travel opportunities that send you to the middle of nowhere. Places where there’s nothing attracting tourists and your only source of entertainment is just watching how life functions in an ordinary town unlike your own.
We had an experience like that when we visited our friend teaching English in mainland China, far from any of the major cities or tourist spots. And now we get to experience a similar kind of travel here in Belgorod where my new niece’s orphanage is. And I just have to write about this dusty little town and our unique living situation within it.
Ten days ago our taxi dropped us off at this little concrete building that mostly functions as a clinic. I wasn’t sure what was going on because most of my attention had been spent on the transit part of our journey and I was exhausted from my very first experience of traveling with children. (You traveling moms and dads out there are amazing!)
So when our group of zombies was escorted up into this age-worn concrete clinic, the whole thing felt quite bizarre. We were led up two flights of chipping concrete stairs through a basic little clinic with a hallway of closed wooden doors that reminded me of my old elementary school, except for the examination cot stranded in the middle of the waiting room. On the third floor, we were taken to a tiny little room with old wooden theater seats and a stage while someone checked to see if our rooms were ready for us. The room looked far too small for any sort of theatrical use so it was hard to imagine what the room was for. Church services?
And this is where we’ve been for days now. We share the floor with a family who is living here to escape the conflict in their hometown. They occupy a few rooms on one end of the hall, and we occupy two rooms on the other. Community showers, community bathrooms, community kitchen, community dining room- the works.
Some evenings the mother of the family living here will motion to us that we should follow her on a walk. This little adventure usually results in a playground made up mostly of painted fence posts and tires, repurposed to become race-cars, sand boxes and things to climb. The kids love it. We adults love it too, though we occasionally rush to remove shards of glass from the sand pile or to chase away a stray dog that looks too curious.
Odd as it may sound, I’m falling in love with this dusty little place. I love the window into small-town Ukrainian life. I love that it feels a bit like going back in time. And I love that it’s authentic. This place is in no way contrived to better please a tourist.
In a few days, we’ll move on to Odessa and then Kiev. There, I’ll be back in a world that connects to tourism. I’ll be back in the places I’ve heard of and seen pictures of. And that will be nice too. But ultimately, I’m really grateful for any opportunities to see the authentic little towns that I’d never think to visit on my own.