Sucker Punched In Ukraine

Once, when I in Ukraine, I was invited to play a game called Contraband. It was an old favorite in the Summer Youth Camp I was working at, and I was excited to experience a new game. I walked with the other advisers for two miles to an unmarked field where the children were waiting. While they ran around, I waited at the edge, as a Ukrainian volunteer taped candy on the inside of my clothes, shoes and pockets. When she was finished, I was instructed to run to the center of the field without getting caught by the children. This is easier said than done, as the children run as a huddled mass towards anything that sets foot on the field. If (or more accurately when) the children catch you, you’re supposed to freeze while they frisk you for candy. After they finish their search, you walk to the center and drop whatever candy that wasn’t found into a bucket. When time runs out, whoever has the most candy (adults vs children) wins.

Sucker Punched In Ukraine FieldThick bushes and trees surrounded the field on three sides, so naturally all the adults congregated on the open side. After two failed attempts to reach the middle, I got clever. While candy was being reapplied to my body, I discussed my plan with another American in my group named Paul. We decided to sneak through the trees to the right and rush the field when the children were on the other side. The plan started off great. No one saw us leave the group and we were almost in position, when I heard a steady crunch of leaves coming towards me. Out of nowhere, the Ukrainian Incredible Hulk (equipped with cut off jean shorts and nothing else) came storming into view. I started to say Good Day in Ukrainian (a phrase I had learned while grocery shopping earlier), but was cut off mid-sentence as the Hulk sucker punched me in the jaw.

As I stumbled backwards, several things went through my mind: 1) I was in a foreign country, 2) I didn’t know the language, 3) no one in my group knew where Paul and I was, 4) I was being mugged, and 5) I needed to get out of the woods as fast as I could.  While I yelled every profane word I had ever learned, the Hulk grabbed my wrist. A few feet away, Paul stood frozen. I jerked my wrist free and told Paul to run. Together we burst through the trees, hellbent on reaching the center of the field, when the mob of children saw us. Paul, a natural athlete, picked up the first two kids in his path and was almost at the center, before I was barely out of the woods. I screamed, “Nyet, Nyet, Nyet” and the mob, seeing the panic on my face, quickly parted.

sucker punched in ukraine field 2When I reached the Camp Leader in the center, I frantically tried to explain what had happened, but English wasn’t Oleg’s first language and he couldn’t understand me. He told me to calm down and I thought I was going to punch him. How dare he tell me to calm down. I’d just been attacked! But, I did calm down long enough for him to comprehend what had just happened. He told me to stay put and went to find the Hulk. Every part of me wanted to run. Why was he looking for trouble? We needed to go, but what I didn’t know was Oleg was ex-military and didn’t take kindly to anyone assaulting those in his charge.

Eventually, Oleg found out what had happened. Apparently, the Hulk’s wife had recently left him for another man and he had been drinking vodka heavily all day as a result. In his inebriated state, he thought the woman who had hidden the candy on me was his wife. He had concluded that I was the other man and he was going to teach me a lesson. The group left the field shortly thereafter, but the Hulk followed us for about a mile before he was sure his wife wasn’t with us. Naturally, I stayed at least twenty feet ahead of him, and well out of arms reach, but I learned a valuable lesson that day. Being drunk in public is outlawed for a reason and if you’re in a foreign country, you need to stay in the sight of others.

Richard T Meeks II © 2013

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