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“This how we do it where I’m from…”

27 Jan

Ways I Fight & Embrace My American-ness in Ukraine #1; “Opah!”

I own the most hated jeans in Ukraine.  Perhaps an exaggeration, but not as much as you’re doubtlessly thinking.  Bear with me.

My relationship with jeans is tenuous at best.  Even stateside where jeans monopolize the social scene, I would frequently wear tights with skirts or dresses rather than these monsters of discomfort.  I wish I could abrogate the social rule of wearing jeans in public when not work-related.  Swishing around town in my silk-lined dress pants is something I find a luscious joy in – they make me feel prepared, organized, and experienced…ok ok, and snazzy.  America is ruled by a temporally visual culture, which begs the question, if we concern ourselves with the appearance of things to such a vast extent, why do we choose to always look at jeans?  I’ll save my diatribe of this American classic, and suffice it to say, I would be perfectly happy alternating between professional or dress attire, and slouchy, bejeweled sweatpants.

Part of my dislike for this section of America’s closet admittedly comes from the fact that I cannot find a pair that fits to save my life.  Not only do I have to hunt out the extreme inseam measurements hidden in the seemingly endless rows at places like The Buckle which actually bother to carry jeans by inseam, I also fight a losing battle against my accumulated swimming and water polo experience when in the dressing rooms (read: swimmer’s muscular thighs).

All of which leads me to being here in Ukraine with merely one pair of jeans that feature a massive hole over my right knee.  Ukrainian jeans differ from American in two fundamental ways; 1. for girls they are all tight (when I say tight, I mean skin tight), and 2. there are pristine in a hole-less way.  Granted, some of their jeans have so many decorations on the back pockets they spill over, down the leg of the wearer.  Still, not a hole in sight.  Coming from a country where we pay extra to buy the jeans that come pre-damaged, this is a little off putting to me.  Just as off putting to them, it seems, is my thoroughly American pair of jeans.

Shortly after I first wore said jeans around Drohobych while running my errands, an odd thing started happening.  A prickle of strange outside attention would slowly build until I’d look up to find an old lady staring at me…or rather, staring at my exposed knee.  The stares I’ve encountered have ranged from confusion to worry, curiousity to pure disapproval.  I was growing accustomed to these glances at my knee until an older man stopped me on the street and asked, «Не замерзла?» («You’re not cold?») in response to which I donned my sweetest smile possible, and in a way I hoped would impart an appreciation for his concern responded «Hi» («No») before carrying on my way with my groceries.  Since then I’ve been stopped frequently with the same question, or the variation «Не холодна?»

Tickled by what I perceived as an overabundance of concern, you can imagine my surprise when, walking to the bus stop on my way to work one day, I lost my footing on one of the many ice patches scattered throughout town and an older gentleman very calmly looked at me and said «Opah!» before carrying on his way.  I couldn’t hide my confusion as I stared up at him from the snow bank in which I had landed.  More amused than concerned by my spill, his reaction had thrown a wrench in my whole theory about Ukrainian concern for strangers.

Although, in all fairness, my pants were hole-less that day.

*Music: “This Is How We Do” -Big Tymers

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“Fill me up, fill me up I’m a long way from home”

3 Nov

Laconically, how you know we’ve reached week six of training:

  • I am not phased by my second bout of food poisoning.
  • Two shots in my rear and I took them like a good little soldier.
  • Night falls at 5 pm.
  • Studying burnout is in full gear.
  • I miss fleece blankets so much even a snuggie sounds appealing.
  • Cuddle withdrawal is getting unmanageable.  I took for granted the American lack of boundaries and my movie night/cuddle dates with friends and sorority sisters.
  • The metric system is starting to make sense.
  • I’ve stopped arguing with the idea that eating more garlic and onion will protect me from getting the swine flu.
  • I have worn flats four times since my arrival.  Three of those times were on runs.
  • My English grammar is possibly going downhill.
  • Certain Ukrainian words have become second nature, such as; можліво, нормально, пока, я не знаю

“We put our feet just where they had to go”

20 Oct

*Written a while ago as a draft and forgot to post*

If my feet could tell you about the last two days, they would not speak kindly of me.  They would be on the war path, if they still had the strength to follow it.

After discovering there were problems with our visas, six of us waited expectantly to hear if we would be boarding the plane to Ukraine despite the errors.  Surrounded by our ungodly amounts of bulging luggage, we sat on the cold airport floor, each absorbed in our own internal monologues.  If we had actually made it to Ukraine and done this, an old lady probably would have scolded us for “freezing our ovaries.”  (Apparently a common Ukrainian concern.)  Megan, Meaghan, Sara, Andrea, and Kari sat with me as we waited to hear whether I would be traveling with them to the country we’ve been yearning to see, or saying goodbye just a day after being reunited.  Tension ran high and conversation ran low.

The verdict came in, and six of us were flying to D.C. rather than Ukraine.

It was another 30-45 minutes before we found out our flight was in another five hours, and that we had to move ourselves and our packed up lives from terminal eight to terminal one.  We hauled 13 rolling suitcases, pulling five of them.  We pushed two luggage carts, our patience, and roughly 30 elevator buttons.  We carried two purses, two canvas bags, one messenger bag, and our government passports.  Each of us pushed, pulled, slid, kicked, tugged, shoved, tossed, lifted, and dragged our body weight in luggage from one end of the airport to another.

We held the responsibility of getting from one big city to another, following plans relayed to us moment by moment.

Finally checking the two bags that held my material life for the coming two years, I thought to myself, How much does a life weigh? My shoulders ached in response.

“I’m not lost, just wandering ’round my hometown”

22 Sep

Familiar places are eerie when you know you’ll be leaving them behind.

Visiting DePauw this weekend, I was inundated by the constant replaying of moments from the span of my four years at the university.  Here’s where I slipped on some ice one frosty morning when I had decided to brave the snow in heels.  Sitting in the snowbanks, I had laughed at myself in a way that broke from the restrained snicker everyone has perfected for social situations.

It was in the same intersection of streets that I had taken the call saying my medical evaluations ruled out the possibility of serving with the Peace Corps in Africa.

Hometown and college town alike, I can’t seem to see the town through the streets these days.  Every future PCV must have a personalized way of dealing with the changes that are going to overturn the state of our current lives.  Mine seems to resemble mourning.  I’m not mourning the pets that will be gone when I return, or the friends that will be an ocean away, though both cast a shade on the excitement of these expectant days.  I can’t help but mourn myself.  Never having associated myself with being “American,” and all the freedom preaching and abusing that implies, I recognize the very real risk I am running of never returning to the states.  I feel blessed not only for the chance to experience something only roughly 7,500 individuals are granted each year, but for the chance to be allowed to fundamentally change.  I am aware of people simultaneously handing me a “pass” to change, while taking a mental snapshot to which they can later compare me.  No one would tell a future PCV their experience isn’t going to be life changing, but when it comes to qualifying the actual changes that are going to take place in an individual, I doubt many people realize what it means.

Upon my return, I will be faced with figuring out what to do when I won’t fit in the same Linnea shaped space I did before.  Perhaps that is what leads me to mourn, the reality that though this same comfortable, safe spot will be there for me when I return, I won’t be able to take it back even if I wanted to.

That being said, I am almost overflowing with joy and expectation for the next few days. The complexity of emotions I deal with on a daily basis right now make this process all the sweeter.  It’s a beautiful tugging feeling to be drawn to cry over the sorrow of parting with friends and the thankfulness of being given a rare opportunity.  I want you to know I write these posts with a smile on my face.  Emotions are meant to be felt in full, and I have done nothing less than that for the past week.

So, I encourage all of you to write to me with a smile on your face!

——–much Awaited Mailing Information:

My mailing address during PST is as follows;

U.S. Peace Corps/Ukraine
PCV Linnea Zielinski
P.O. Box 204
Kyiv, Ukraine
01032

OR

U.S. Peace Corps/Ukraine
PCV Linnea Zielinski
111A Saksahanskogo Street
Kyiv, Ukraine
01032

Around mid-December, this address will be changing as I move out to the village in which I will be serving for the remaining two years.  I’ll post that new address when I have it, of course.

*Important note: We have been given instructions saying that only letters will be delivered, though my Peace Corps peer advisor has mentioned that during her time in PST one volunteer was able to receive small, padded envelope packages.  If you want to try the packages (I, of course, would have no objections to this), I suggest trying only a couple small, cheap objects the first time to see if in fact they can get through.

If you want to start working on a care package for when I reach my final destination in December, I will be posting a “wish list” on the left-hand side of this blog with small things I miss or would appreciate.

Side note: Is anyone wondering where I get the song lyrics for my titles?  I’m going to start posting the song name and artist here at the bottom of posts in case you’re curious.

Music: “Hometown Glory” -ADELE (from the album, 19)

“Even when you’re awake you’re worlds away”

17 Sep

Road Trip Journals Part Two: Michigan

“Well of course there isn’t a McDonald’s.  They’re practically Canadians up there!” my mother stated simply as I moaned about my sore rear, cramped knees, and dire need for a sugar-free vanilla iced coffee.

It had been roughly five hours since the last time I had stopped the car, and I was to drive until I hit a full seven hours before I found a McDonald’s.  In that time, I had driven the entire span of the Upper Peninsula.  Having been warned about their shady looking rest areas by Paige, the reason for this extremely long drive, I was diligently waiting to see those golden arches before I pulled over.  You see, the rest areas I drove by were all placed back in the woods and from what I could ascertain from the road, equipped with a picnic bench and outhouse.  Traveling on my own I thought it best to avoid these barren, shielded areas set out of the bright sun that was lighting up the stretches of beach.  

Essentially, the U.P. is quite a boring drive when done all in one go.  Luckily, this view redeems the drive entirely (please excuse the smudges from my filthy windshield as, at this point, I had driven over 1000 miles):

DSC06152

        Getting into mainland Michigan with night quickly falling was no problem; finding Paige’s apartment on a street barren of street numbers in the ink black night with a dead cell phone, however, posed a slight challenge.  As she opened the door to greet me, Paige looked equal parts shocked and relieved.  I remain thoroughly convinced this event redeems most if not all of the incidents involving me getting lost.

       While in Alpena, I read voraciously, ate decadently, and wandered freely.  With a thriving albeit quaint downtown, breezy peer, and plenty of park benches the town was the perfect place for me to unwind from all of the stress I’ve been placing on myself as my departure nears.

I realized I cannot wait to garden in Ukraine.  Most families have a garden with which they supplement their food supply, and I am aching to help someone with theirs if not dirty my hands in one of my own.  Paige took me out to her parents’ farm house where we picked fresh apples, fed her horse who dribbled on my shirt, played peak-a-boo with barn kittens, then went inside and enjoyed margaritas.  Just when I felt as if I were floating a few inches off the floor from the fabulous icy treats, we sat down to an absolutely amazing dinner with equal caliber conversation.

It was before dinner, however, that I stumbled upon my sudden longing for a green thumb.  Paige decided to dig up some home grown carrots while we were out by the garden.  Tugging at the carrots, earth unyielding, she grabs a tool out of the barn which she slams into the earth and twists in a hearty circle.  The entire section of the earth gives way, revealing the dark, damper soil underneath flecked with the now loosened carrots.  As she hands them to me, I make sure she’s busy with the unfamiliar tool before I breathe in the smell of damp earth and spicy, fresh carrot.  The peppery smell unique to fresh vegetables like tomato and carrot is intoxicating.  The sheer strength of my petite friend was not all that was impressive; the naked confidence she had with the soil and garden spoke volumes of her relationship with the outdoors.  My pride for her mixed curiously with the envy caused by my own gardening ignorance.

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Altogether, Michigan smelled beautifully of deep, dark lake water, peppered soil, and the dust that rested in layers in the back rooms of the museum where Paige works.

“I watch another white dash fly beneath us”

15 Sep

Road Trip Journals Part One: Minnesota

If it had been daytime, my journey would have ended in the parking lot of a gas station immediately off an interstate exit.  Face decked out in mascara pinstripes from tears of frustration, I would have been sputtering out uncontrollable giggles as my friend Megan lovingly made my lack of navigational skills the butt of a constant stream of jokes.

Luckily for me, I entered the concrete labyrinth of the Minneapolis/St. Paul interstate system at 9:30 pm.  To my naive surprise, there was just enough traffic to make me a shaky mess as I tried to passively merge in and out of the various roadways, ramps, and finally exits.

Then, I got lost and had to have Megan retrieve me a mere five blocks from her house.  Considering I had driven ten hours before getting lost, I still consider this a win.

Megan, one of my fellow PCVs, and I got together while my host Megan was working on Thursday.  Starting with lunch at Joe’s Garage off of a gorgeous park in Minneapolis, we spent the afternoon walking through the sculpture garden and Walker Art Center then headed to REI to look at backpacks for our impossible packing situation.  I could rave about the Walker Art Center; two of their exhibits were phenomenal.  After studying time in my literature senior seminar, I’ve been fascinated by anything that deals with time.  So when I glanced up and saw the next exhibit Megan and I were about to enter, The Quick and the Dead, was all about the artists’ interpretations on time, I had to stifle a squeal of joy.  Among my favorite pieces were Francis Alys’ Paradox of Praxis 1, a video of his performance art piece of pushing an ice block around Mexico City until it melted into nothing; Adrian Piper’s What Will Become of Me, a collection of her hair, fingernails and skin in jars that will be joined by her ashes upon her death; and Pierre Huyghe’s Timekeeper, an abrasion to the wall of the exhibit revealing the successive layers of paint that have been added to the wall from past exhibitions.  

Working my way along this gallery I found a thick velvet curtain to what seemed like a small room.  A neat, white plaque was posted next to it reading “One viewer at a time.”  Already nervous from the gallery attendants that linger eerily close to you while you’re trying to think deeply about the pieces you’ve just paid to view, I hesitated to enter.  Curiosity piqued, I did the obvious thing — grabbed Megan and whispered a quick, “You go first!” as I shoved her toward the entrance!  When she came out the entrance and whispered back, “It’s great!” I pulled aside the curtain and slipped in before any of the hovering attendants could unnerve me.  I was greeted by an empty white room.  Perhaps twelve feet long in total, there was another tidy white plaque on the left side wall halfway through the room.  Looking around suspiciously, I approached the plaque slowly and read the title, “Suspense.”  Just as I tiptoed up, music started playing softly.  Attention focused on the plaque, I only slowly realized the music that was playing seemed out of an early black and white film.  Carried over into current films, what I heard was the sound of a shaking hand about to open a mysterious door, a shady figure approaching a lone preoccupied woman; what I heard was suspense.  I was tickled, and flashed Megan a huge, dopey grin as I scampered off to the next piece, struggling to regain my composure.

Another piece I adored was Robert Irwin: Slant/Light/Volume, a one piece exhibit that apparently had only been shown twice before.  Irwin’s piece is dependent upon the viewer.  I could have stood for hours striving to look deeper into the hazy space he sections off from the rest of the gallery.  The art center even offers mats at the door if you want to plant yourself and soak in your own thoughts.

That evening Megan and I met some future PC colleagues, Alia and Pat, for some last chance spicy Indian food since Ukrainian food seems…well, spice-less.  Each time I have the opportunity to meet volunteers I’ll be training with, the pride I have in what I’m doing increases.  These are some amazing, humorous, curious, driven individuals.  How can any of us not succeed surrounded by peers of that caliber?

Labor Day weekend was spent with Megan and her friends Dan, Miyan, and Katie at her lake house.  Saturday and Sunday were filled with warm sun and cool lake water, gooey s’mores, and dozens of reasons to laugh until my sides ached.  Plus, I got to try wake boarding:

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It’s The Final Countdown

25 Aug

One month until I leave for staging…then for Ukraine.

PCV Ukraine Group 37ers

Megan, Kari, Meaghan, Andrea, and I enjoyed the Ukrainian Independence Celebration this past weekend (yesterday was the official Independence Day).  The weather was not this miserable looking until later in the day; we thoroughly enjoyed some Ukrainian cuisine, quality conversation, and beautiful sunny weather.  I can tell you though that I already know I’ll be eating very little in Ukraine.  Mixing large quantities of this food with running would be a rather painful combination – it’s heavy, heavy, heavy!