Cabbage Rolls

She stands low to the fertile soil of this country with thick ankles and her high rubber boots keeping her firmly planted.  She loves to layer.  People here would say she dresses like a cabbage (or maybe just me) because under the boots is another pair of shoes, and from what I can tell, 2-3 layers of wool stockings.

You will never see her in pants, but rather a knee-length skirt that reveals the trunks of her legs.  Moving our way up to the top of her torso, I have to revert to speculation because I've never seen her without her coat on- even indoors.  Over this mass she continues with the earth-stained, long vintage coat (vintage by default, not fashion) being the top layer.  Underneath (speculation) I am able to see at least three more layers of clothing, which means there is probably 5-6.  A wool vest and two mismatched shirts- one of the floral variety, though variety of floral is indiscernible- play peek-a-boo from the sleeves of the coat.

At the end of these sleeves emerge solid, tick hands that look like they haven't been washed in days, maybe weeks.  Soil surrounds each nail, framing her hard, yellow fingernails.  Each digit looks like it's been individually calloused by years of fire and frost.  They look like petrified cocktail wieners (slightly longer).

She may or may not have a scarf around her neck, but she is sure to have one around her head.  Up till this point, the color scheme (liberal choice of words) is earth-toned (literally).  But the scarf around her head sticks out like an American in Ukraine.  There are two options for this scarf: 1) a brilliant green, royal blue, or marigold with a floral design and a gold thread woven in and out, 2) a solid florescent pink, yellow, or orange wool.  This scarf is tightly tied beneath her chin.  Sometimes so tight I find it amazing that the hairs on her chin don't fall out from loss of circulation.  They don't.

Her face looks 20 years older than she is.  Her eyes have sunken into her leathered skin and have turned gray along with her wiry hair.  She has a large, almost bulbous nose.  She has no lips, for they too play hide-and seek with her mouth.  Her mouth resembles a balloon knot, with one crucial difference.  Inside this knot, she hides the treasure.  She has a smile of gold- though rarely seen.

She is aggressive.  Being low to the ground, she has a lot of leverage when pushing you to get on to the marshrutka (fixed-route bus).  She never waits in the "line".  She doesn't smell good- poop: her own, goose, pig, turkey, goat.  But, she can make some damn good cabbage rolls.  In fact, this is what I often think of when I see her because she is shaped just like the traditional Ukrainian dish.

Who is this woman? She is the woman sweeping the sidewalks, the woman selling jarred mushrooms at the bazaar, the woman herding her geese, my neighbor, the woman who stole my seat on the bus, the woman who tells me I'm a slut for smoking.  She is the Ukrainian babusya.

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