“The boundaries of language I quietly cursed”

30 Jan

Ways I Fight and Embrace my American-ness In Ukraine #2: “You shouldn’t even try…”

It was “one of those weeks” this week.  Subtly adverse, the full weight of this week didn’t hit me until I finished teaching my lessons yesterday morning.  Left with a gap between the end of classes and the beginning of English club, I ventured into the cold to run overdue errands.  Tired but pleased with myself for making my last phone card last such a long time, I headed toward the grocery store.  

The normalcy of my week ran straight into a brick wall when I reached the spice section.  Hunting for yeast to help me bake out my stress by making my orange glazed Challah bread, I found this packet of black pepper.  I was likely quite a spectacle for some Ukrainians, immobile and aghast as I was between the pasta, flour, and spices.  You see, Peace Corps provides special materials for volunteers who will be a minority where they are carrying out their service, but the rest of us are left a little in the dark when it comes to what to expect in our personal reactions to living in an extremely homogenous culture.  While there are minorities in Ukraine, the area where I have been stationed is remarkably lacking in diversity.  For the past two days, my English club students had been asking me, among other things, about diversity in America, which is perhaps why my indignation over a packet of pepper slipped quickly and uncontrollably into intense homesickness.

Back at my house, I tried desperately to replace sadness with even a meager good attitude through cookies and American comedy (I watched The Hangover).  Unfortunately, my bad day had accoutered itself in the memory of other disheartening events from throughout the week.  Addled by how swiftly homesickness had overrun my day, I was at a complete loss as to how to avoid dwelling on these episodes.  They paraded through my mind in laps.  Anyone would have thought I was watching the movie on my laptop, when in reality I was alternating between mild amusement as I stared at the film and utter anguish as the week made another pass through my consciousness.

There was Wednesday night – I dragged myself out of my pajamas and went out with another volunteer and his Ukrainian friends to celebrate a birthday, only to have the pleasantries of the night crash around me when the birthday boy told me “You shouldn’t even try speaking Ukrainian because you do it so badly.”

Wednesday and Thursday at English club I was asked if I had pets, to which I responded that in America I have four, only to silently suffer through embarrassment and sadness over having lost one recently and being incapable of admitting this to even myself.

I was forced Tuesday to teach three classes without the slightest bit of preparation.  Smooth and natural as they unfolded, the jump in my stress was anything but.

The main difference in “those weeks” here and “those weeks” in America is that in America, I would have realized Tuesday or Wednesday night what kind of week it was shaping up to be.  Grumbling to myself about each new event, emotionally I would have dealt with the blows as they came.  Here, it took slamming full speed into my limits to realize exactly what had happened.  I was unaware of the accretion of emotional weight until it was physically too much to bear.

Last night, stuffed to the brim with cookies, I decided today would be a mental health day.  Sleeping and reading would be my only priorities.  I suppose the upside to this abysmal week is that I have a new sleeping-in record.  Kari and I always text each other when we sleep late into the morning because it seems to be such a physical anomaly here – throughout training 8:00 was the latest either of us could sleep in.  Previous to today our record was first 9:30 (one of my visits to see her in Lviv), then 10:30 (all Kari’s)…but today I get to add a solidly collegiate waking time of 12:00 noon to that list.

*Music: “Different Names for The Same Thing” -Death Cab for Cutie


2 Responses to ““The boundaries of language I quietly cursed””

  1. Kati 31 January, 2010 at 05:10 #

    Linnea! I’ve been terrible at keeping up with you. It’s not because I don’t care, trust me. (I’ve been sick a couple times, started a new job, and had two surgeries since you’ve left the country, although you might know that from Facebook.) I’ve wanted to give your blog a good read from start to finish but procrastinated, but then I told myself I should just jump in and go back when I’m able. So here I am! I just wanted to say hi for now and provide whatever cheer and consolation I can. :) I hope this week goes much better for you!

    • linneaviktoria 31 January, 2010 at 06:14 #

      Kati! I’ve been equally as terrible in checking updates on Facebook — you had two surgeries?! Is everything ok?! What is your new job and how are you liking it? I certainly hope my blog is amusing enough to put that time into reading!! Sometimes, especially lately, I would assert otherwise. Thanks for the comment, it was definitely a little lift I needed. Email me and tell me about life; linnea.viktoria@gmail.com Miss you, girl!

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