Monday, May 31, 2010

Because I never post pictures of me ....


This is another shot at the meat market. My parents are just fascinated by the whole concept.


Mom and I in the city center.


Bogdan is one of my best students.


At dad's favorite "restaurant" in L'viv. It's a full time job keeping him away from Micky D's.
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Jim & Debbie Airgood's L'viv Adventure (presented in pictures)


Mom and Dad experienced the open air market on their first full day in L'viv. This is the meat section. No, it is not refridgerated.


We went to a masons themed restaurant for dinner. It's quite an experience.


Mom and Dad love the outdoor cafes around L'viv. This one is in front of one of the oldest cathedrals.


About 8 of us went for a nice meal at a Turkish restaurant.
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tourist Season

It's official. Jim & Debbie Airgood are international travelers!!!

On Thursday morning they left home and arrived in L'viv Friday night a little before midnight. Dad can't even remember all the means of travel they experienced in one trip (car, plane, van, walking, bus, metro, train, taxi for those keeping score.) But they made it safely and are enjoying L'viv.

In their Ukrainian lesson they learned several helpful words. They've met a number of my friends and look forward to worshipping at L'viv UMC today. They've walked more in these last 3 days than in the previous month! They're having fun. Mom has only cried thrice since exitting the plane.

They're doing well and experiencing a lot. I'll post some pictures soon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Annual Conference 2010

I'm back from the Ukraine Annual Conference 2010. It was a pleasant 3 days of meetings, worship, and social networking within the Ukrainian United Methodist church.

I'm on the left in the back row in this picture. Bishop Hans Vaxby is in the center surrounded by the newest elders and probationary members.

As opposed to the annual conferences I'm used to, the budget of Ukraine UMC is one page long and discussion lasted for 6 minutes.

All in all it was a great time and I look forward to spending more time with the new people I met there.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I arrived at Majdanek (my-dan-ek) concentration camp, becuase of a time zone error, a little before it officially opened. The gates were open and I went in. In the morning, nuns from the seminary across the street come to pray and they were leaving. The young woman who was posted at the front office sized me up as I entered too early. She asked, in Polish, where I was from. Polish is close enough to Ukrainian - and I've become good enough at guessing - to know what she was asking. I answer in English. She apologized, and then laughed a little. She told me she would go ahead and open everything up for me - which was very nice of her.


The whole experience is emotionally devestating. I've read books and seen films about the holocaust, but to be present on the grounds where the atrocity actually occured is an intense experience. This is the the room where the guards would stand to watch while the gas was pumped into the gas chambers. Standing in this little room, I began to sympathize with Holocause deniers - because that simply seems to be the only explanation that could cover the evil and make it go away. This couldn't be real ... could it?


It's the faces that haunt most effectively. On one wall hang dozens of pictures of guards, orderlies, doctors, and commanders who oversaw the concentration camp. On the opposing wall hang photos of hundreds of pictures of victims: jews, homosexuals, polish, women, childen, doctors, lawyers, artists, bricklayers, escapees, liberated, murdered. If you were to take down the photographs and shuffle them together you could never sort them back out again. The jewish doctor killed at Majdanek looks just the same as the commanding SS officer who oversaw his murder. The toys and religious items manage to pack a double punch.


One building contains 250,000 shoes found on the grounds of Majdanek. They line the walls in fenced containers. Children's shoes and ladies-high-heels. Workers boots and summer sandals. I recounted briefly being upset that morning for walking with a pebble in my shoe I just couldn't shake - I felt a tremendous amount of shame for the comfortable life style in the presence of this monument to human courage and catastrophe.


Sometimes I didn't want to walk any further. In the back of the camp there is a crematorium and I didn't want to go inside. I didn't want to face the true evil of the human condition. Each crematorium furnace had a sliding plate the exact size of a body. These were truly built with only one purpose in mind. After circling the whole camp, the final sight is an old Soviet monument. Under a large rock dome rest the ashes of thousands of Majdanek victims.

This is a lesson from history which I hope future generations will never learn from firsthand experience.
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All aboard the Pirate Ship!

I had flirted with the idea of taking some cigarettes to Poland with me. Apparently you can multiply your money by a factor of 10. A pack of cigarettes that costs 30 cents in Ukraine goes for over $3 in EU Poland. I needed to cross the border for a day for visa-related reasons.

I flirted lightly – no kissing or conversation, just extended eye contact from across the room – knowing that legally I could profit enough for a nice meal out and with only smuggling a case I could make enough to cover my whole trip to Lublin and back. I decided against it of course, morals and such.

When I got on the bus I noticed the woman next to me had a few packs of cigarettes. I smiled politely to try and say, “Yes, I also had considered such a plan.” …

Apparently I had not.

Within a few miles of the bus station the woman next to me began opening her bags. She had dozens of cartons of cigarettes. Literally thousands of dollars worth of smuggled goods. And so did everyone else on the bus.

With the exception of a handful of other young people – everyone on the bus had dozens of cartons of cigarettes! Everyone began taping packs of cigarettes together and filling socks and pantyhose with cigs. Like Santas-little-elfs-gone-street they began stuffing every crevasse, crack, and cushion of the bus with tobacco products.

My seat-mate was clearly the captain of the ship. This was her operation and the other women were her minions.

As we got closer to the border, outfits started getting larger. Packs were taped to every surface area on the body. The woman next to me fit 25 packs of cigarettes on EACH LEG! Layers and layers of clothing covered thousands of packs of cigarettes. Even as we were crossing the border tape was flying to hide ever more product.

The Polish authorities said that our bus looked suspicious and that if we forfeited 100 packs they would let us through. The women thought this was a trap and everyone claimed there were no cigarettes on board.

So they ordered everyone off the bus to search us. Amazingly – they only found cigarettes on one woman; she had so many packs on her legs that she couldn’t bend her knees to get off the bus. But, they found a lot of cigarettes hidden on the bus.

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This is a picture of the Polish police taking a bag full of dozens of cartons of cigarettes.

Surprisingly, the authorities missed some of the packs hidden on the bus. When it was said and done and the tape had been removed, the woman next to me had 12 cartons of cigarettes! My short, 200 mile, 6 hour bus ride ended up taking over 10 hours because of the time spent at the Polish border.

I have ridden the Pirate ship and all I can say is good riddance it's over!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Change the World from the other side

In the Ukrainian city of L'viv, the United Methodist congregation celebrated it's four month anniversary by participating in Change the World Sunday.

Tanya passed out flowers to women while Andriy gave children and teenagers small toys. Pastor Lyubomir carried his toddler son on his shoulders and they greeted people together. People were often surprised at the nice gift from strangers. More than a few people asked if we were serious and one man even tried to pay us for the flower. We passed out nice scripture cards with information about the church.

In L'viv, Ukraine, the United Methodist church proved that we change the world one person at a time. One heart at a time. One smile at a time.

Tanya Savchynska holds a sign which reads Change the World in Ukrainian (Zminimo Svete)

Friday, May 7, 2010

A day in my life


I like to start off my day with a healthy balanced breakfast. Or, failing that, I grub on some Cinnamon Crunch Toast my awesome family mails to me. I'm on my last box if anyone is looking for an excuse to go to the Post Office.


This is my street. The building at the end of this alley is the apartment I'm living in. Isn't this city beautiful?


This old man walks a long distance to get to a covered area where he begs for change. He's very endearing.


This is my first English class of the day. As part of class this Thursday we watched a few minutes of Monk, the USA original series about an OCD detective. Then the students pretended to be his assistant and wrote letters explaining why they liked their job or why they would have to quite.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A day (continued)

Skype keeps me connected to the people back home. Here I'm showing mom the student center.

This is my second class of the day. We also did the Monk project, along with working on very difficult th sounds.

This Thursday I preached at Pilgrims worship service. I'm really learning to enjoy preaching.

Monday, May 3, 2010


In the grocery store the egg lady mocks me openly. My vegetable lady only speaks a price and nothing more. The flour, sugar, and spice ladies always seem to be so upset that I make their day longer. The meat woman always tries to haggle a price and I get so confused that I want to hide. My milk woman always tries to make an extra Grieven by selling me the expensive brand - which is funny because I always say no and get the cheaper brand anyway. The toilet paper ladies are displeased that I take so long and always buy the cheapest toilet paper. But the egg lady laughs loudly when I approach. She's large and in charge. Her gold toothed grin smiles broadly in my presence. I prefer open mockery to outright dismissal - ALWAYS. She laughs at the way I pronounce my numbers. She laughs as I try and do the math. She chuckles when I give her exact change shouting "молодьец." "Good for you." She says it in a foreign accent like when white people say "Herro" to Japanese people. She outright cackles when I give her the wrong amount of money - slipping money back into my hands. Her hand has an old, old tattoo. Maybe it's just a bruise, but where her rolled up cuff meets her skin there appears to be another old, old tattoo. I love her laughter. If she's one of the survivors, and my clumsy Ukrainian skills gives her one ounce of happiness she can laugh all day.

And on my way to work I pass the place where the ugliest crows in the world seem to always roost. The homeless there look no better. The tallest one reads every book that people throw out, or at least it appears that he reads every book. Perhaps he is brilliant, perhaps he is just crazy. The oldest woman seems to move so slowly. She may be in her 70s or even as young as 50. Life ages everyone differently, it seems.

In Kriva Lipa, a courtyard named after a big shade tree, teenagers and people who act like teenagers sit under the tree and smoke and drink at noon. Everyone always seems to be sitting too close to everyone else for my comfort. Girls and boys share tongues for hours upon hours. People have weird hair and orange pants and Andrij and I make vague plans to go and sit in the courtyard some day to meet these people. Some day.

In the center square the old people gather like moth to flame. Old men sit and play chess like it's 1985. Sometimes an older adult will begin to sing and soon others gather around. Their circle emits the most haunted songs the soul could sing. The woman to my right is clearly well trained in Opera, but the woman leading songs is clearly not. The men look like Gorbachev and other Soviet heroes. One man has glasses so big and thick that he could have traveled to the moon wearing only them for protection. As the circle grows I try to step out of the way. They sing in Russian about the beloved motherland, and most of our students don't have the same warmth and affection for Russia.

At McDonalds the young people with disposable income dispose of it. Their skinny jeans and designer tops let the world know that they have arrived. The rest of us eat dollar menu hamburgers and 25 cent ice-cream cones. My frumpy sweatshirt and jeans that are now two sizes too big let the world know that I don't care what they think of me.

I've begun wearing a pedometer. I'm averaging 15,000 steps a day - which puts me in the category of "very active" and I wanted to share some of those steps with you.

Very active seems to sum it up nicely.