Tomiken Von Kendra from Fairfax Station, Virgina
Natalia Rudenko from Krivoi Rog, Ukraine
We had her son over for dinner the next day (I hired the same translator, Victoria again as I wanted her son to feel free to talk to me and me to him) and that went very well. He's training to be an Olympic gymnastics coach and I had previously contacted Kerri Strug for information on this in the area since as it turns out, she works for Treasury, my former department and then, I purchased a private compartment for Natalya and her son and I to take the over night train south, to her home town, Krivoy Rog, located at the top of the Crimea, to meet the rest of her family and friends.
On the train, Her son is listening to his MP3 player while Natalya and I reread some of our past emails both in Russian and English that we have sent each other over the last 5 months. She gets tired goes to the bunk on her side but starts pinching me with her toes across the aisle and that escalates to pillow fighting, with anything else we can grab, cloths bags, and even improvised weapons, like a rolled up towel and wadded up sheets; So its like pooof!, I'm 15 again. A truce is called which she break repeatedly but I cant sleep on trains or any moving vehicle anyway.
We arrive, with me actually sleeping about 10 min. Natalya immediately goes to work with the taxi cadre. This is a task unique to Ukrainian women and even her son stood back. If a taxi driver sees and American man (me), the price triples. However, this becomes a chess game as Ukrainian women will stand at the street and hold there hand up and plain cars will pull over to negotiate becoming, 'instant taxis' for a one time trip. The cabbies know this so its like a game of 'Mexican stand off' and I am told that non-Ukrainian woman should not even attempt this 'sport'. Being aware of this I pull the bags from cab to cab and just as a private car slows down, a taxi diver pulls in front and a 'deal' is struck. I arrive at the hotel, the best in town, she sees that im checked in (my credit card was rejected 3 times but luckily, I packed another in my luggage that worked just fine (hadaSHa)), got me up to the room with my (oversized) luggage and I didn't even have to tip her $5.
After a nap and a 2 hr walk around the city center, buying some additional presents for her family, potted Roses for her Mom, potted African violets for her sister and niece). For her Dad, THE one I felt had to seek his approval from, I had previously purchased a plac at Ross ('dress for less') "FAMILY, the true happiness of the soul", and I translated that in Russian in huge font and taped the translation to the back. I put on my perm press suit and dress shirt (for traveling only) sans tie, practice my speech, words ripped from my Russian/English booklet and she picks me up at 18:00 on the dot and we taxi to a sushi restaurant where her family is seated at a large reserved table in the corner.
At the family dinner, I stand and start by saying: "Ochyen, Ochyen pree-YAtna paznakOmeetsa" (Very very nice to meet you). Natasha and I sit at the head with Mrs. Katerina (the long time family friend who speaks English) at my left ready to assist. I immediately order champagne (forgoing the traditional Slavic tradition of Vodka, but after all,, I am American). After ordering, I check my 'cheat sheet slip' and tuck it away, ready to pull it out if needed, and stand: Menya zavoot Tomiken Von Kendra; Dva vas-syeem (2 families), Natalyas (I bow my head to father) Anatolie, Nadzeda (I bring her Mother the potted roses), Ludmilla (Luda) and Lire (Natalyas sister and 19y/o niece (Lirlra), I bring them the potted violets), Denis and Natalya (I hold up Natalya left hand showing the ring) and Mrs. Katerina (I give her a softball sized vase with a scented candle inside); continuing, I say "Von Kendras' (I have pictures of Kristin and John, Derrick and Jason in a folder, hold it up and hand it to Mrs. Katerina to be passed around) seechAs, adeen syemYA (now, 1 family); I turn to Natalya, hold up my glass and say: Na jizn! (to life)". Everyone click glasses, 'JIZN'! rings out, and we drink (thak you (Spaseba) English/Russian dictionary). I could not have planned this better and the tone set by this, propagated throughout the entire event.
I take lots of pictures of everybody and ask the waitress to take several of us as a group . Toward the end of the meal, with Mrs. Katerina translating, the tell Natalya's parents that I would not be isolating Natalya and most probably her son who will graduate from the university in 2 years and I would probably bring over, from her family as I would plan for yearly visits with us coming back for the holidays, me for 2-3 weeks and possible with 1-2 of my kids and Natalya staying maybe 2-3 months if she so chooses. I spoke the old American cliché "you are not losing a daughter, you are gaining a son". At the end of the evening, her father gave me a very strong handshake and a strong squeeze of my other shoulder with his other hand. I figured, I was accepted. Of course, Natalya's acceptance of me is PRIMARY, but with E. Euro. women being extremely family oriented, I very much wanted to be accepted by them and my concern was that since I was just 9 years younger than her father, this could be a problem even if they liked me personally. But, as with Natalya, my acceptance, not a problem (even her niece said "you both look alike and good together").
Back at the hotel, with Denis waiting in the taxi out front, Natalya walks me to my room and gives me a long tender strong (she's her fathers daughter (he worked in the mines) all right) hug and with a quick kiss she turns and 'clicks' her way (still, the 3" heeled black leather knee high boots but with skin tight spandex pants and off the shoulder top both with her geometric gold paint splashes (she makes her own clothes and those that she buys, she decorates) back to the elevator.
Now I know all this sounds fast. But neither one of us are desperate. We both have good lives but we both want the same future: to share our life with 'that' someone special and synergism comes into play, where the pieces we both bring together become greater than the sum of the separate parts. Also, I know it will take 3-6 months for a K-1 visa and then once she is here in the US, 3 more months to get married with the 1st part of that 3 months, she needs at least a month or 2 in the house to decide if she wants a life (lifestyle) with me, and with what the DC area has to offer (Russian/Ukrainian events and all others). So at this point, I'm just about 1/2 way there and I know having 2nd thoughts and getting cold feet is somewhat common, but that is also part of the process and if one or the other or both of us decide not to make it to the finish line, better to find out earlier rather than later. As the old saying goes: better to have tried at love and lost than not to try.
Continued on Page III