Stepping out of the summerâ€™s sunlight and into a dim shop, my nose was overwhelmed with the smell of fresh vegetables and the dirt that comes free with your fresh produce selections in Ukraine.
Boxes lined the walls and floors touting short, stocky carrots; small, round potatoes; leafy cabbages; hearty beets for borscht; red, juicy tomatoes; bright, bumpy green cucumbers and other edibles for sale.
With the sight of fresh cherries, I am almost certain my stomach began to sing for joy. Being with my friend Masha, I thought nothing of conversing in English with her about the find.
Thatâ€™s when I noticed the shopkeeper.
Her face seemed to light up as a big smile took over and the laugh lines around her eyes deepened. While she weighed the cherries and totaled the cost with her abacus (who knew people still use those things!), she became so excited to find that an American was visiting her tiny store and began asking questions.
As usual I told that I had been traveling the world and fell in love with Ukraine so I came back to live. Her eyes became large and round as she, like most others upon hearing such a statement, struggled with shock that it could be true.
Learning that I would be departing the town the next morning, she lamented that she didnâ€™t have her camera with her to take a picture and insisted on giving me a gift — a large, glass bottle of carrot and apple juice. Â I promised to return the next morning to see her if she would like to bring along her camera.
Tuesday morning Masha and I stopped into the little store as promised. Instantly she began to smile and after serving her current customers pulled out a little comb to fix her hair for photos.
Placing her arm around my shoulder, I noticed the lines in her hands were stained with earth. She had strong hands and arms but a gentle touch and we posed as her old, wind-up Soviet camera recharged the flash readying for another photo.
She told us that next time we visit Gaspra to come by her store first. Since she lives nearby, her children are grown and her husband passed away, she has a three room apartment and we could stay with her.
Departing I couldnâ€™t resist buying more cherries and wished I had something with me to give to her.Â Putting her arms around me and squeezing, she gave me a hug and two kisses on the cheek.
This is one of the reasons why I love traveling. Friends come in the most unlikely of places, like dark corner produce stores in small towns.