Hello London, goodbye unlimited perogies

I’m writing this in Gatwick Airport in London surrounded by giant Christmas trees, and for the first time in 5 months, ACTUAL NATIVE ENGLISH CONVERSATION.

Ahhhhhhh, I didn’t expect that to be so refreshing.

I finally figured out why there are two spellings of Kyiv/Kiev, the first is the Ukrainian spelling and the latter is Russian.

They’re understandably trying to rebrand as Kyiv while the death toll rises in the east vs. Russia.

So Kyiv is fighting a war in the east, and its government is also fighting a war against its people in the capital.

This week in Kyiv

To recap, protesters took to the streets Occupy Wallstreet style in 2015 for two months to kick their President out of office. It worked. But many lives were lost at the hands of police against the people.

And now their new President is trying to vote out the Anti-Corruption laws put in place to make sure the same mistakes never happen again.

And so now the citizens are once again taking to the streets. There’s a protest camp set up in front of city hall. And people are digging up bricks from the sidewalk to arm themselves against police.

That sounds like a good cue for me to head to the airport early.

Not to get super political, that’s not what I enjoy writing about usually, but it’s what I came across here in this developing country. And now it’s what I’m trying to understand. In my naive Canadian way.

Ukrainian Governor leading protest was illegally arrested, then broken free by supporters (but has since been arrested again)

Oh yah, and before I left Ukraine I saw this incredible Cold Wave band perform live that some people on Twitter are accusing of being Kremlin agents for Russia lol, but I’ll save that for next time.

An America without Walmart

Ukraine and Canada have had strong ties for most of our history. There are over 1.2 million Ukrainian immigrants in the prairies, I grew up around a lot of perogies in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

I don’t know if it goes both ways, are there Canadians over here too? I found an awesome flea market where just about everything is $1 (~20 hryvnia) and 9/10 items of clothing were Canadian made.

In fact I think the cardigan I bought is.. let me check..

Er, no it’s German. Fine then.

Like most countries in the world, the United States have a big presence here. There used to be an embassy building for government affairs, but the embassy itself has moved on to a swank upgrade.. and the building they left behind has been converted into an American cultural center.

It’s called America House. And it’s awesome.

They have fresh food being cooked all day in the kitchen for cheap (yes, perogies) and a café, there’s a co working space with fast wifi, and an art gallery. There are items you can take out for use like laptops, a hoverboard, one of those VR headset things, and devices to make music.

Best of all.. it’s all FREE. Well, after you factor in the cost of your dignity going through a metal detector and airport-like security any time you show your ID to enter the fortress.

America House

Check out my sweet ID card, I feel so.. American.. in Ukraine… from Canada. This is all so meta.

Oh I didn’t mention the best part of America House, there are several rooms where they host daily workshops and activities. People come to give talks, they screen documentaries, and from what I heard they throw a mean 4th of July party!

I saw that they were having a group movie night and showing ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ with Steve Martin and John Candy. Classic American meets Canadian comedy, there was no way I was going to miss it!

It felt way more dated than I thought it would. What year was it made anyway? The pace of the movie was so much slower than what we’re used to today. But a handful of the funniest scenes still hold up. So well.

We had a group convo after the movie. It was a packed house, I was one of the only 3 non Ukrainians there so I felt like I was obligated to raise my hand and speak up when people were off base, like when someone called John Candy a “famous American actor”.  I can’t just let that happen. RIP Johnny.

I shared with the group how John’s mom was Ukrainian. He was a fellow lover of perogies, so much so that a Ukrainian restaurant in Winnipeg’s North End called “Alycia’s” got him obsessively hooked.

Her perogies were SO GOOD that he had them flown to him to eat on set while filming movies abroad. Whaaaaat?! I need to try some of those, stat!

(If anyone goes looking for Alycia’s, her family reopened it further north in Gimli after Alycia passed away)

The convo was winding down with a conversation about Black Friday, what the holiday is all about, and what you might see in how it’s celebrated. LOL. I pointed out that you can search YouTube for crowds trampling each other at Walmart for a minor bargain on flat screen TVs.

More than one person gave me a puzzled look. A guy in front of me raised his hand and said “Until last week, I didn’t know what Walmart was. So I don’t think people know what you’re talking about.”

My eyes opened wide.

Didn’t know what Walmart was??

I had one of those moments where the camera zooms into an actor’s face as their jaw drops and the background accordions in towards the foreground to give a sense of the world radically changing in a single moment.

You mean.. this is untouched territory? Your cities haven’t been ‘Walmarted?’ and your local small businesses swallowed into the cold pit of future progress? You don’t even know what Walmart IS?

I hesitated. And made a choice. I backtracked.

“You aren’t missing much.” I added. And left it at that.

I looked around me, all of these young people excited to learn about the finer points of American culture. It’s really beautiful. Because as complicated as the US can be, the ideal version of itself that it aspires to be is fun and kind of magical.

And so here, in eastern Europe, as the battle of Black Friday raged on halfway around the world.. I got to visit a different United States. A kinder one. An America without Walmart.