From Where I Sit – No Better Place

Since late December I’ve been living and breathing everything, anything Ukrainian. I was challenged by our county’s Economic Development Manager to come up with a concept for a new event that the county could get behind and support.

I put all my pysanky (eggs) in one basket and presented the idea of a two-day Ukrainian festival. The idea was enthusiastically received and has morphed into the Babas & Borshch Ukrainian Festival.

Our county is the site of the first, oldest, and densest settlement of immigrant Ukrainians in Canada (starting with Ivan Pylypiw in 1891). It continues to be largely Ukrainian in ethnicity and predominantly agricultural in method of livelihood.

In my pitch I said we needed to take a page out of the playbook of the Aboriginals and French Canadians, who work hard to preserve and advance their culture. It’s personal, as in some ways I feel I’ve dropped the ball as a mother. For many years I haven’t embraced my own ethnicity with any degree of effort or enthusiasm; nor have I deliberately sought to immerse my kids in our culture. As we get further away from that original wave of immigrants, the work of preservation is harder and the loss of customs and rituals larger. It becomes a case of use it or lose it.

Well, we’ve committed to using it. Through dozens of meetings and hours upon hours of work behind the scenes, the idea has grown into an incredibly exciting venture.

As the festival’s coordinator I am loving every minute of the hard, hard work. I am in my element organizing, planning, and being creative in spirit and anal in detail. The response from everyone I’ve spoken to or enlisted to help has been positive, including from some highly influential Edmonton groups and resources. I am grateful and humbled by how this idea is coming to life.

Here at home, I’m digging up books, textiles, and objects that we’ve owned since the ?70s and are just now rediscovering have beauty and value. As a newlywed I actually did Ukrainian cross-stitch on various linens. I took Ukrainian 10, 20, and 30 a hundred years ago in high school and still have the textbook. I bought my first Ukrainian blouse yesterday. Now when I work I’ll be playing the Ukrainian playlist on my computer instead of the likes of Pachelbel. I bought a flag to add to the mood in my office.

So if you want to experience all things Ukrainian, pencil August 24-25 into your calendars. If pyrohy and borshch make you salivate, you need to be there. If you love the toe-tapping music and heart-stopping dancing, you need to be there. You need to be there to get your Ukrainian passport, shop at Baba’s Bazaar, eat at Baba’s Bistro, compete in the Ukrainian Games Triathlon, celebrate at the Zabava (party), and visit participating venues all over town. There’ll be no better place, from where I sit.

Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.

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