“It’s not like my feet aren’t stuck to the floor”

11 Nov

Deep breath, on three.


How many times have I said that exact phrase while teaching swim lessons?



Were my students blindly trusting me out of necessity or belief?  Which more accurately describes the faith I have in the officers telling me to travel to Kyiv by train tomorrow…alone?



звидки номерація вагонів?


In class, the phrase flows silky, smooth, and comforting from my lips.  Think of the way they market any candy that combines peanut butter and chocolate – that smooth.  No searching for vocabulary, here.  Even within subjects our class has covered extensively, there is very little with which I feel confident in the Ukrainian language.  I can introduce myself like a pro. мене звати лінея, мені 22 роки. Need to ask if a store has non-carbonated water, and I’ll step in for you without a second thought. у вас є воду без газу? Then, for some unknown and most likely completely random reason, I can ask how train cars are numbered.  Sadly, but oh so typical of any language learning process, that has absolutely no bearing on my understanding of the response.


повільно, будь ласка.


Conservatively speaking, at any given moment my understanding of native speakers is 85% dependent on my mood.  Tired, cranky, and irrationally craving mustard pretzels (Are those even a food, really? How many chemicals are on those things?) I can fail to understand a basic sentence no matter how measured some poor, patient Ukrainian makes it.  Words or sentences spoken as clearly and unnaturally as language-learning tapes send me in widening mental circles until I’m so turned around I couldn’t tell you my name.  Sprinkle a few hours of extra sleep in the equation, and I thickly decide I’ve heard those words before.  Even this fact seems unclear and difficult to come by, as if I’m up to my elbows in one of the quasi-bogs that clog the streets of Nosivka, digging for some glint of recognition.


допомажіть, будь ласка, я заблукала.


An easy enough phrase, really.  “Help me, please, I’m lost.”  The phrase is nothing if not polite, laconic, and honest like a vast majority of the language.  Article-free, this language facilitates a conversation that gets to the point.  (я – учителька : Literally, I – teacher )  If only stress were this cut and dry.  (Not to mention the fact that I can’t guarantee I won’t be craving toxic mustard pretzels tomorrow on my excursion.)  Now I know why, even after days of coaching, pleading, and encouraging on my part, some of my swim lesson students still couldn’t remember to close their mouths before going under water.  A huge wall of water is coming towards me; screw the position of my mouth!


Even should that same poor, patient Ukrainian spot my helplessness and saucer-shaped eyes (a la my swim students) and decide to ask if I’m lost, there is a very real possibility that I’ll look at them very thoughtfully, take a big breath and respond,


“How are the train cars numbered?”



7:49 am tomorrow.


*Music: “Pull My Heart Away” -Jack Peñate


One Response to ““It’s not like my feet aren’t stuck to the floor””

  1. Sven 11 November, 2009 at 14:23 #

    Не забувайте дихати!


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