“I think life is too long to be a whale in a cubicle”

18 Jan

“To our new American friends, sharing our culture.”

I have heard variations of this same toast several times throughout my brief experience of Ukraine, and not once has it failed to illuminate ever so clearly the warmth, generosity, and hospitality of the culture into which I have been thrown.  In three months various Ukrainians have shared with me their time, experience, stories, pictures, space, food, drinks, friends, family, beliefs, homes, classrooms, frustrations, and plenty of chocolate.

The toast was the most poignant given on this last train I took, however.

You see, taking an oath to the US Constitution was one of the most charged experiences of my life.  I have always had issues with events requiring me to stand in front of a large group of people in auditoriums, oh yeah, and in heels.  Though this time there was no opportunity for me to fall (we stood in place), from the second I started lifting myself out of my seat to take the oath, the usual reaction began;

  • instantaneously sweaty palms,
  • body shakes starting in my hands which then move quickly to my knees, threatening to buckle and make a fool of me,
  • my stomach feeling like it’s simultaneously going to flutter out of my body and drop to the floor like a brick, and
  • my head swimming with words of the oath, thoughts of the past three months of training, fears for what’s to come, and some random stowaways that have nothing to do with the situation (“I should have re-painted my nails.”)

Still, this time was fundamentally different.  Media cameras zoomed in and panning the crowd, the US Ambassador on stage, my future coworkers and possibly friends sitting at each of my sides – as this all soaked in a painfully expansive smile spread over my face that I refused to control.  Few people have the opportunity for moments in their lives during which they are conscious of the momentous nature of what is unfolding around them.  Standing toward the back of the plush, red upholstered auditorium, sporting chipped nail polish on my raised right hand, I knew what I was doing was кльово (western Ukrainian slang meaning approximately «cool»).

The reality is, I might not change the world, and I’m ok with that reality.

Peace Corps is fundamental to who I am, a mere four months into the experience.  In terms of instantaneous changes in your life, I would venture to guess this ranks right up there with childbirth.  Some days spin by me at a dizzying pace, while others creep along a little slower than I would like, but in the middle ground there is a very basic joy in the every day experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer.  Sure, I buy groceries, clean my room, go to work, make commutes, mail letters, and run to the bank as I did in America, but I do it in Ukrainian.  When my days aren’t flying by me, this simple fact makes every errand beautiful and enjoyable even in their simplicity.

I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I know how to make пирушки (pyrushki: rolls with a sweet poppy seed and raisin mixture in the middle).  I’m not «well connected» nor do I have a job lined up when I return, but I ate a traditional Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas dinner with my Ukrainian friend, Y, and chatted with her friends in Ukrainian.  I don’t drive a car, nor do I watch TV, but I can tell you which fruits and vegetables are in season and navigate a complicated public transportation system.

Ukraine is simply beautiful and beautifully simple.  And here’s the simple truth of my simple Ukrainian life – it’s shaped by people sharing their lives with me, and I’m elated with the form it’s starting to take.

 *Music: “Plasticities” -Andrew Bird


One Response to ““I think life is too long to be a whale in a cubicle””

  1. Paige 18 January, 2010 at 12:50 #

    This is beautiful.

    I’m putting together a package. I have to find opi nail polish… i think i will be somewhere where i can buy it this weekend.


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