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“night to the light, all plans are golden in your hands”

11 Dec

We do the best we can.

This phrase has never held any weight with my nerves, anxiety, or acid stomach before any number of interviews, deadlines, or exams.  Funny thing was, and still is, that it fails to hold water in the opinion of my common sense.  That statement, which flows so freely from the mouth of college students across the country (oh yeah, the country I’m not in any longer), ignores the simple fact that had you studied, prepared, reviewed even a minute more, your “best,” would be better than it is at this moment.

You see, the comforting thing about this statement is the relationship it has with time.  It ignores both the past and future; what could be more comforting than that?  There are consequences for neither the choices you made leading up to this moment, nor for the choices you make now.  Maybe this is what really irks me about that statement – it is a philosophical statement of the pessimistic, used by the optimists to comfort them.  The only situation in which a desire to stop the future is logical, is when you expect to do badly.

But time keeps going!  So, rather than comforting as it is meant, this statement never fails to come across as demeaning and patronizing.  If it isn’t already blindingly clear, I do not count myself among the optimists and suffice it to say, I have endured more than my fair share of encounters with attempts to calm me down with this statement.  True, this statement is possibly connotative of another’s confidence in your abilities.  In order to glean that message, however, you have to be a glass-half-full person which entirely ignores the fact that generally speaking, the breakdown of relationships with this phrase goes as follows; speakers – optimists, receivers – pessimists.  See the problem?

Before everyone finds me too bitter and jaded to continue reading my blog, I should confess this is the product of pre-Language Proficiency Interview nerves.  My interview should have started ten minutes ago, during which I need to make at least the Intermediate Mid level.  Essentially, we’re being graded for our efforts the past three months.  Sorry to all of you optimists out there, but if your best ranks at anything lower than Intermediate Mid level, your training is pretty much considered a flop.

So, here I am, going into my interview thinking – “If I had run less often, played cards with my host sister fewer nights, indulged myself in “American nights” by watching TV episodes or movies less frequently, would my best be better?”  At least I know this, my training experience would not have been richer for the changes.

Music: “Golden Skans” -Klaxons


“staying inside, it all goes, all goes by”

6 Dec

I am determined to give you an update that will make you laugh, appreciate the culture shock I have gone through, and miss me anew before I leave Nosivka…this, however will not be that post.  Disorganization has reared it’s ugly head in my room here with the end of training in crystal clear high-def sight.  Nonetheless, I will get the better of it and post a legitimate blog entry within the week.  Let’s compromise with a photo update for now, shall we?

Literally, these have become my happy pills.  I adore winter, but I can’t say the same for seasonal affective disorder.  Though these vitamins fail to do anything for my frustration over the fact that the sun sets at 4 pm and the (sporadically placed) street lights come on at roughly 5 pm, the swelling my ankles suffer from stumbling into one of the abysses on my pot-hole ridden street somewhere in this hour gap, and the security concerns surrounding walking past shifty forms in the bitter cold – I’m still going to insist on their miraculous nature.

We had an actual sunrise for once!  After this rare event, it’s possible we saw the sun for the total of an hour that day, after which it disappeared behind all the clouds and has been hidden by think, gray paint strokes ever since.

Happy (late) Thanksgiving from my entire cluster.  In the front, that’s our local contact, Zoya.  Always full of stories, impromptu speeches that can move you to tears, and hysterical but true social commentary, she’s been the uplifting presence through many of our tiresome days and frustrating schedule conflicts.

Do I look Eastern European yet?  I just got new bangs cut today.  None of my cluster mates know unless Kari reads this post tonight.  We’ll see what they say about them tomorrow.

No pictures were taken, but Saturday was a girls’ day for me and Kari in ніжин – the “big city” – and highlights include:

  • my extended Ukrainian conversation with mama and tato about the best way to get to ніжин, in which I understood everything that was said to me.
  • the controller of the train telling us “good job” for something on the way there, although neither of us could figure out what we had done.
  • being accosted by men in giant furry suits that were promoting a show.  Ignoring them did no good, and one stole my hat.
  • when asked whether she had size 40 shoes (US size 10), a woman working a booth at the local bazar said, “are you kidding? go to a store.”  Nice.
  • sitting in a cafe watching Will Smith music videos.
  • Kari almost stepping on a dead cat.  Our theory is this is instant karma for laughing at a girl that had almost face-planted on the concrete a second before.
  • getting out of the marshrutka at the wrong bazar and walking 30 minutes to find the real one.
  • seeing our first Ukrainian political rally in person, although we were good little Peace Corps volunteers and gave it a wide berth.
  • my ability to actually recognize which presidential candidate the rally was for based on the flag and tent colors.
  • running frantically to catch our train back to носівка.
  • mastering the Ukrainian travel tactics and managing to get seats in the marshrutka back to town from the train station.

Music: “Come On, Come Out” -A Fine Frenzy

“and the timing is quite unusual”

27 Nov

With the passing of another American holiday, I’d like to wish everyone an extremely belated Happy Halloween:









Yes, I am carving a pumpkin in a make-shift costume.  Maybe in time for Christmas I’ll have the opportunity to post a picture from our cluster Thanksgiving Dinner!  Though I may not have needed to call the Ukrainian ambulance, get shots in my rear, and stay in the sick bay in the Peace Corps office in Kyiv, Thanksgiving was equally enthralling as Halloween.  We (read: Kari) cooked down a pumpkin to make pumpkin pie, we (again read: Kari) literally pulled the heart out of a turkey, and everyone stuffed themselves American-style.

Another post is soon to come, stuffed to the gills with holiday love!


Music: “Meet Virginia” -Train

“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

I wish I could bottle Nosivka for you.

14 Oct

Swaddled in bubble wrap, postmarked from the Chernihiv Oblast, Nosivka rayon, town of Nosivka, late but miraculously in tact it would arrive at your doorstep.

It would smell of burning leaves, the sour sweet smell of beets cooking in my host family’s kitchen, slightly sweaty socks nervously rubbed against the carpet of the room in which we drill Ukrainian grammar hour after painstaking hour, and sticky sweet pechivo (cookies).

You would see my mama’s embracing and worried smile, a multitude of zip-up camouflage sweatshirts, and the wilting fields of spent sunflowers still full of promise for a beautiful spring I won’t see, having been shipped off to my final site months before they bloom, tall and powerful.

That sound you hear? It’s tato (dad) cracking walnuts with his teeth, water frothing as it boils for another round of chai, a chorus of melancholy orphan street dogs, my host sister counting out hrivny and kopecks before running to the store to pick up another dessert I don’t have room for. Perhaps it’s the local baboosyas (grandmothers) pulling fresh vegetables from the ground with sudden and surprising strength, each and every head covered in a colorful scarf. A rainbow of baboosyas.

Nosivka is already an amorphous and elusive part of me.

My tato is an intimidating man full of health with a hearty, room-shaking laugh to match. Impassioned even in discussions over chai, his voice resounds off the kitchen walls and fills the house with Ukrainian that sprints, trills, and twirls around the entire house. See him carefully measure oil to add to the meal he is cooking for his newly acquired piglets. There he is again, discreetly watching me from across the kitchen, measuring by spoonful the amount I ate against the amount he believes I need. It astounds me how often tenderness makes its way to peak through his muscular voice when he urges, “їж, їж!” (“eat, eat!”) When he firmly told baboosya that I would eat however much I wanted, so she should stop scolding me about eating too little, I knew I was no longer a guest. This is my second family. Open that bottle, and you’ll see this weathered man’s beautiful heart.