( Ukraine, 1980s )
My dad was from a small coal-mining town in Ukraine. All the males there were working at the local coal-mine. Tough guys with coal-black eyebrows and eyelashes. My dad started his career as an electrician in the coal-mine, where he was working at the depth 0f 710 miters. As my dad was a bright and honest chap and a hard worker, he was sent to study at the University in Russia. He met my mum there, got married and settled in St. Petersburg. But every summer holiday he was taking me back to Ukraine to see his family.
He would spend his evenings there cracking jokes with his mates over a glass of beer. Every now and then they would call us, kids, to the table:
“What have you learned at school, kid? Show us.”
One kid read a poem. Another sang a song. Two little boys performed a little Cossack dance.
“What about you, Russian Princess?”
I hated when they called me ‘Russian Princess’ and mimicked my St. Petersburg’s way of talking. No poem or song could come to my mind either. But I remembered a joke I heard at school. I did not understand it, but it made my classmates laugh, so I thought it should do the trick. My joke was met with dead silence.
“Could you please repeat what they were doing in the bushes?” – at last my uncle broke the silence.
Everyone burst into laughter.
“Hey, mates. Big City public schools do not differ much from our small provincial ones after all,” – he gave my dad a wink.
A few days later there was a collapse at the coal-mine. Thirty five coal-miners vanished, but I can still hear their roaring laughter.