A Raffle to Adventure
by Henry Sakaida
For those of you who have never received CARE packages, you will probably not understand why Valentina and FamilyI did this. When I was child between the ages of 3 and 5, I lived in rural Japan with my grandparents. My father was divorced and stuck with three little boys. Since he could not care for us and work at the same time, he sent us away. I lived on a farm in Hiroshima and we were poor although we always had enough to eat. My dad would send us CARE packages filled with candy, Spam (I still love it!), cocoa, cookies, and other things. My brothers and I just lived to receive them! Just ask a GI who have served overseas just how wonderful packages and letters from home are. They are morale boosters. When the two women received the packages, they immediately wrote back letters of appreciation. The gifts were totally unexpected and greatly appreciated. They were not starving, but the novelty of receiving them was exciting. Many of the products were available there, but were usually out of reach for the pensioners and the unemployed. I continued to send packages for a couple of years until I wised up. "It's better to send money," a Russian immigrant told me. "For what you pay in the products plus shipping, your friends could get twice as much if you sent them money! Use Western Union wire transfer, I do!"
Valentina tended a small garden in her backyard and did a lot of canning. She stored her production in a root cellar. Lubov and her husband lived on the farm and grew their own food; when their daughter and son-in-law visited them, they would take back a lot of farm-grown produce. Irina and Sergey drove a car, which was owned by three families. When they were not using it, the other families used it, sometimes as a taxi. It seems as though anyone with a car, also doubled as a taxi man. After a year of back and forth correspondence, I decided to visit the two ladies in Ukraine. One of my main reasons to go there was to see Victory Day and hopefully meet a few Heroes of the Soviet Union. Another reason was to test out my Russian, which I had learned in high school in 1969-1970.
Before my trip, I went to the mall and visited a couple of bookshops. I bought some tourist books on Eastern Europe. When I read the descriptions about Ukraine, my enthusiasm was dashed. Let's Go - The Budget Guide to Eastern Europe, 1997 wrote in their opening statement: "Even by the standards of a newly crazed Eastern Europe, Ukraine is anarchic and dour. Foreign tourism is practically non-existent in this huge and diverse land - one need not depart from any beaten path because (aside from an ugly and expensive Intourist trail) there is none; the closest thing to a developed tourist Natasha, Henry, and Valentinaindustry are the babushkas selling meat pies at the train station for 20 cents instead of 15…"
Tragedy struck Valentina in January 1998. Her husband, then working as a night watchman at a nearby grammar school, was beaten to death by a group of teenagers who broke into the school to steal. They were caught a few days later and are now doing hard time in prison. I felt so badly for her and her family, but there was not much I could do. Now, I was determined to visit her, to try and cheer her up.
In May 1998, I flew to Kiev. Valentina's daughter arrived in a car and picked me up, along with my buddy Joe Walker, who lives in the same city as I do. He was going to Kiev to meet his beautiful Russian fiancée (they are now happily married). Natasha gave me a bouquet of flowers, which was embarrassing for me! No woman had ever given me flowers before! Joe looked at me and said, "Get over it! That's what they do here to welcome you!"
When I finally arrived at Valentina's house, she came out to hug and kiss me. "Welcome Genri!" she said in Russian. She took me by the arm and escorted me to the backyard where there was a table laid out with all sorts of food. And lots of wine and vodka. (Joe had warned me about that! I don't drink). There is absolutely no escaping the obligatory toasts! The next day, Valentina took me by bus and tram to the chemical factory (continued)

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