“you and I are on the other side of almost everything”

2 Dec

*Please note that temperature discrepancies throughout this entry are due to the fact that it took me several weeks to find enough time to sit down and complete an entire blog entry.

I’ve torn myself, for a few evanescent moments, from the pages of my current reads to devote some attention to my ever increasingly neglected blog.  Though the temperatures are mercifully holding steady around a balmy 50oF, the before 5 pm sunsets have me wrapping myself in the comfort and warmth of my annual winter hibernation mode.  My daily totals of sleeping hours and tea consumption are simultaneously increasing.  This weekend I prematurely indulged in my favorite way to pass a winter weekend – I alternated watching episodes of an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy with reading what amounted to almost three entire books while continually wrapped in my fleece blanket, sipping scorching hot coffee or chai tea lattes.  A fireplace would have made the picture complete; that, however, is a luxury waiting for me at the end of my Peace Corps service.

The soothing combination of modern Motown and cinnamon laden hot drinks has driven away any mercurial moods lingering from my mid-semester slump and I eagerly await my favorite season of the year.  What I love about winter is simple – everything is wrapped in a fleecy haziness that lulls me into passive good cheer.  The crystalline frost outside only underscores the simple comforts of gliding over the wood floor with sock or slipper-clad feet, pulling on a sweatshirt immediately upon waking in the silvery mornings, or sliding my icy fingers through the handle of a steaming mug of tea.  Despite my pining for the delicious solitary moments dawning, I should fill you in on all that has happened.

I put my foot down about a fall break, giving myself a week to cross the border into Poland with Kari to meet her gregarious friend Ama.  Kari and I crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border on foot, quite the interesting experience.  Ukrainians apparently don’t take well to cutting in line, which Kari and I found out through the faux pas of a man who seemed undisturbed by the string of rather harsh curses that followed him.

Krakow main square

 Wordpress is hating me right now as it has not allowed me to post any more than the one picture of Krakow no matter how many times I try to update the entry, thus they will be posted at a later date.  The first snow has officially fallen and stuck in Drohobych, winter has announced the end of fall.  My book goal is going strong and I’m working on catching up on an array of emails, messages, and cards that have been pushed off because of Thanksgiving celebration preparation.

Ten volunteers came into town to partake in an American Thanksgiving that was as American as we could make it.  The night before Thanksgiving, Kelly helped me bake apple pies at her apartment, allowing me to video Skype with my mom – the first time I’ve seen her since my trip to Denmark and Sweden in June.  Lows hit me harder than some volunteers here who have constant access to video Skype because I don’t have that direct line to a support system be it friends or family.  I feel the distance more strongly than many other volunteers because the distance shows through our connection, or lack thereof.  We can only talk through Skype with audio interrupted by amounts of static, delays, and cut offs proportionate to the number of miles between us.  Steadier connections tend to leave me maudlin for a couple days because of their scarcity – an hour phone call from a friend in the states left me a shaky, sobbing mess from happiness hearing from her and sadness at having to give up the miraculous connection after the shortest hour I’ve ever experienced.

Thanksgiving was memorable this year, for lack of a more concise word.  Not only was there massive Thanksgiving dinner preparations going on in my kitchen, I also had to get myself ready and hurry to my best Ukrainian friend’s wedding.  I was flattered to be Olesya’s Maid of Honor in the small document-signing ceremony.  She and her husband, Ivan, will have their official wedding ceremony this spring (or so our mutual hair dresser was telling me in Ukrainian) but I’m glad I got to be a part of this smaller, more intimate rite.  As Maid of Honor, I was allowed to take an active role in some of the traditional rituals, such as laying down the embroidered cloth onto which the bride and groom take their first steps as a married couple.  I feel absurdly lucky for having fortuitously met Olesya in the post office one day last winter; her family has become my family.  I now have two Ukrainian families of which I feel myself a part.  What more can a girl abroad ask for?

Not to brag or anything, but my wedding toast at the reception dinner made her mom cry and dad tear up a bit.  In case you’re interested, here’s (approximately) how my extemporaneous toast went (*I don’t remember exactly because it was impromptu and I was shaky and crying all my makeup off);

In Ukrainian; “Although I can speak Ukrainian, I am going to say this in English because I want to be concise.  Pavlo (Olesya’s brother) will be my translator.”

In English; “Olesya, I am so happy and honored to be here today because, though it’s only been around a year since I met you, you have become my sister.  Your family has become like my family, and I hope that when they come to Ukraine, my family will become like yours.  The first time you brought Ivan to a cafe to meet me, I could see in your eyes how happy you were; I knew you had found the person you were meant to find.  I cannot tell you how happy I am that you have found the one person who can complete you.  Ivan, thank you for making my friend the happiest I have ever seen her.  I wish, for both of you, that no matter where you live, what job you have, how much money you make, or how many children you eventually have, that you never forget the feeling you have now of pure happiness of just being with one another.”

As you’ve likely divined, Thanksgiving will never again be the same for me.  Despite its ups and downs and my distance from family, this just might have been the best Thanksgiving ever.  I hope everyone had a special Thanksgiving, filled with loved ones and warmth.

*Music: “You and I Are a Gang of Losers” -The Dears

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“your heart’s a mess; you won’t admit to it”

28 Oct

*Written before my trip to Poland, but failed to post.*

Though the weather here seems to have abated into a normal autumn and the leaves have metamorphosed into a living painting, my homesickness refuses to be alleviated.  The past week has been trying, though interspersed in the maudlin days were some moments of an esoteric contentment rather germane to a year spent acclimating to life abroad.  Walking home from the store on the edges of town, it chanced that I had a moment of life amplified by music, inspiring the creation of my autumn playlist to which I have been continually listening.  A thought struck me immobile as I walked along the edge of the woods; though autumn is fragrant and beautiful, the air crisp and smelling of frost, and I felt as if I could have stood forever on that carpet of carmine leaves…I wanted to do so in Central Park.

I yearn for the concrete of New York.  I miss the pace of life, the acrobatics of ducking and weaving through the mass of humanity on my way to work in the mornings, the brilliant sun tunneled down the avenues, and the feeling of gliding between frosty shadow and blinding daylight surrounded by glass, concrete, and steel.  Unequivocally linked with my feelings of futility and lack of accomplishment here in Ukraine, the sentiment is no less arresting for my comprehension.

Perhaps this ache for the familiar comes from eagerness to embark on my next step of life now that I have chosen one; we all know I never wanted to be a teacher.  Admittedly, there are evanescent moments in which I adore my job, namely when the announcement that a class has rotated back to being my students is met with fervent cheers and a mad dash for my classroom.  Being forced to teach to an established formula created long before my arrival, my lack of a creative outlet leaves mountains of frustration festering in the back of my mind.  Under these conditions I cannot help but feel that my accent is the only thing valued about my presence.  Whatever the truth of the situation may be, with every fiber of my being I itch to feel prolifically productive as I did in New York.

Setting dates I can look forward to has been an invaluable tool for surviving this semester.  On Saturday, Kari and I leave for a week trip in Poland where we will meet up with her friend Ama, tour Auschwitz (none of us can handle Birkenau), (after which we’ll need to) drink margaritas and eat guacamole at a Mexican restaurant, and enjoy wandering around the city of Krakow.  Ideally, an absence from Ukraine will counteract all the pent-up grievances I’ve accumulated in cross-cultural interactions and classroom difficulties.  Check back later to see if it worked!

*Music: “Heart’s A Mess” -Gotye

“when i feel this way i really am with you”

23 Sep

Idly swinging my bag from the grocery store as I walked back home this afternoon, I was lackadaisically looking for the dogs that live along the road I always take.  I’ve come to know exactly which dog belongs to which house as well as Drohobych’s stray dogs and their haunts.  Not far from my house there’s a cocker spaniel with a sweet countenance and a propensity to approach strangers with a wagging tail.  I habitually look to see if this dog is out because, though I haven’t had the nerve to go pet it fearing being viewed as the weird foreigner that goes around loving on other people’s dogs, my longing for a pet is extreme at this point.  As much as I’m drawn to this sweet-faced spaniel, I’m equally circumspect around grizzled looking older men, particularly the ones whose walk is equivocally that of a drunk.  Just such a person was walking along the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street this afternoon; I didn’t think much about it as my mind wandered, until my glance landed on my favorite dog on the sidewalk a few feet ahead of this stooped, limping man.  As I admired the dog I long to pet, this haggard man came to a stop, bent down, and gently stroked the dog’s face before lightly touching his forehead to that of the dog and continuing on his way.  It was the absolute last thing I expected, and despite my momentum, I had to slow for a couple seconds to absorb the contrastive yet revealing tête-à-tête.

*Music: “Over and Over” -Hot Chip

“somewhere in the rush i felt, we’re losing ourselves”

31 Aug

 Since October 1, 2009

1: times I’ve checked my iCal since March

2: jars of peanut butter consumed

3: average cups of coffee I drink per day

4: number of New Years resolutions I’ve completed

8: approximate number of hryven in a dollar

9: number of New Years resolutions I made

11: times I’ve fallen on ice

13: pounds I would tentatively guess that I’ve lost

15.5: working weeks of this coming semester

44: novels I’ve finished

48.76: pages I averaged reading each day

65: the price of a hair appointment for me in hryven

100: my general pages read goal per day

120: the cost of the most expensive item I’ve let myself buy in hryven

334: days that have passed

16,286: pages I’ve read

Currently

1: day until school starts

2: number of cookies I’ve eaten today

3: books I’m currently reading

4: the highest number of overnight trains I’ve taken in a week

4:11: time into the song I paused

4.50: the price of tomatoes per kilogram at the bazaar

8: possibilities I’m considering for what to do after Peace Corps

9: hours it takes to get from L’viv to Kyiv by train

10.97: months I’ve been in Ukraine

68: temp (F) it has felt like here the past three days

180: minutes I spend worrying in a day

*Music: “Days Go By” -Keith Urban

“I went and stole some wings and thought why can’t I?”

20 Jul

This is out of character, but just a straight forward update today to let everyone know what I’m up to, as I haven’t posted in about two months!

Life in Drohobych

Perhaps the happiest I’ve been throughout my service time at site, I’m currently extremely grateful for my phenomenal friends Olesya and Pavlo (they’re brother and sister) who patiently bear through our deal of alternating days speaking English and Ukrainian.  Several days ago Olesya and I sat in the park after doing some grocery shopping at the bazaar and I worked through translating the titles of the articles in a Christian newspaper we had been handed at some point on our walk.  Plus, seeing their family is continually a lift in my day!

On Friday as a storm rolled into town, I sat with Olesya and her mother in their home where a cool breeze whispering of an incoming thunderstorm could reach us, chatting about cultural ideas of the family unit as a fluffy puff of a kitten and his mother dozed lazily on my lap.  Sometimes I feel as if my Ukrainian would develop significantly more if I could relive days like this all year long.

Untangling Ukrainian

After the confidence shake that was Language Refresher, I have rebounded wonderfully.  The group I trained with at the Ukrainian Language camp was mostly volunteers who have been here longer, inevitably leaving me feeling incompetent after each session.  The only time I felt helpful was when we had to conjugate verbs; the tenses were indicated with the letters for their Ukrainian names, which my Ukrainian tutor had drilled into my head!  Point being, I survived the camp, and returned to site with a new found motivation to work on my Ukrainian.

These past few days I’ve been speaking so much Ukrainian with Olesya that I’ve been dreaming in a stressful mixture of English and Ukrainian that usually leaves me exhausted in the mornings.  Having felt my Ukrainian skills stagnate for quite some time, it’s a relief to feel a leap in my communication skills, and to hear that Ukrainians notice it as well.  Olesya’s mother and I can easily communicate now and she bolsters my confidence every time I see her by commenting on the marked difference in my speech.

A Sense of My Summer, Pictorially.

 <–My 11th form students graduated and made us proud by receiving a lot of medals.  The big ceremony was with all the schools in the middle of the town.  That’s the emblem for the lyceum where I work the boy is holding up.

 

 

 

 

 

On L’viv’s Day of L’viv there were –> many musicians playing out on the street, including one of this year’s contestants on Ukraine’s Got Talent.  He’s playing the bandura (as you can see, something like a traditional Ukrainian guitar), which I find to be one of the coolest instruments ever.  He can listen to a song on someone’s phone once and then immediately play it (while I watched he played everything from traditional Ukrainian music to hard rock).  Now that’s talent! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

<– I went with one of my students from English club to the old synagogue in town, which in good weather is turned into a local art gallery.  They had paintings done by a local artist as well as a photographic series.

 

 

 

 

 

Kari and I spent some –> time in Kyiv, showing her friend Jordyn around.  We went back to what we had seen in fall, and had much better lighting for some great photos!  This is my favorite statue to photograph.

 

 

 

 

<–We finally made it to the Chernobyl Museum where I snapped a couple photos before someone came to tell me I had to pay if I wanted to take pictures.  This picture has the words to a poem about the memorial of Chernobyl painted into the objects.  I love the rich colors and the traditional prints the painter put into the grandmother’s scarf and the long scarf wrapping around the perimeter of the work.  While we were there we ran into a group of Americans from the US Marine Corps – random.

 

 

 

 

I went to meet my family –> in Copenhagen and we drove across the bridge to Sweden.  We went hiking where part of the film The Seventh Seal was shot.  Even though it was raining/misting both times we were there, it was a great place!

 

 

 

 

 

<–The day before I had to fly back to Ukraine, the whole family went to the Carlsberg brewery.  Despite my aching feet from high heels, it was an interesting walk through the displays and we all enjoyed the beer tasting at the end.  The taxi driver who took us all the way back out to our hotel near the airport afterwards was wonderfully friendly and told us all about the challenges of living on the paycheck of an average person in an extremely expensive city.

 

 

 

 

After dragging myself off the plane into –> 40 degree weather in Kyiv, I barely made it to Nosivka to see my host family for the first time in 6 months.  I had a wonderful week full of movie watching with Ira, disco dancing with Ira and Yulia, Ira taking pictures of me, learning to make jam at home, and thoroughly enjoying some of the amazing cooking that I’ve missed so much the last six months.  I can’t wait to get back and see them again sometime soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

<–I had a whirlwind birthday weekend in L’viv with Olesya, Pavlo, Andriy, and some of their friends.  I got to see Olesya do her work with Artistry at a product show (a makeup brand of Amway) finally!

 

 

 

 

We had an authentic  Fourth of July BBQ in L’viv at –> Kari’s place.  A volunteer even provided us with real tortilla chips, graham crackers, and marshmallows from her parents in the states!  It was nice to spend the 4th with Americans.

 

 

 

 

<–At Language Refresher, Joe and I got in touch with our inner children and played on the see-saw.  We needed to blow off some stress after a day full of language classes on grammar and skills work.  Kari just laughed at us!

 

 

 

 

 

We were at a sanatorium –> for Language Refresher while they were celebrating a summer holiday that included massive amounts of dancing.  The little kids were digging it!  Despite the bug bites, it was a delightful evening.

 

 

 

 

 

<–Part of the holiday involved audience members popping balloons which contained strips of paper on which were written tasks for them to complete.  Matthew got to pop one of the balloons – it’s a nice action shot if I do say so myself.

 

 

 

 

 

Just so you’re all sure nothing –> has changed, here’s proof that, as usual, I found a kitten to play with at Language Refresher as I do everywhere I go.  Living without pets for this long has been harder than I imagined it would – I want a kitten so badly I already have a name picked out for one – Conrad. Yes, as in Joseph Conrad.

 

 

 

 

 

Though I’m kicking myself for posting a blog so somniferous, I hope all of you enjoy the photos and brief life update.  Here in Drohobych there’s a wonderful new volunteer named Kelly who lets me use her wireless internet (with which Skype video works), so let me know about Skype dates to be set up when I get back from working a private Ukrainian camp in the Carpathians for three weeks (I’ll be gone until August 16th).

*Music: “Sunrise” -Yeasayer

“you know I’ll fall for each and every pretty word”

25 May

A brief account of a moment that has brightened recent saturnine days;

Studying my students to ensure they were actually watching the movie I was playing to bolster their lagging energy the last few minutes of class one day last week, a sudden torrent of “What’s shakin’ baby!” burst out in my classroom.  Parroting occasional lines from “Coraline,” my class picked this particular one up with fervor.  Slang is, unfortunately, rendered meaningless when subjected to the word-for-word translation with which my students like to be supplied.  Grasping for meaning, they worked through the slang by searching for words they knew in English.  From this farrago of UkrainianslangEnglish came a cry of, “Shake the baby!” to which, after a snort into my coffee cup, I quickly put an end.

*Music: “Swallow People Whole” -The Receiving End of Sirens

“I’m all second chances; save your ammunition”

22 Apr

“Well, at least you’ll be able to say you saw the sun rise over the Carpathians” Kari mumbled groggily as our taxi rolled steadily toward Mukachevo (мукачево).  The four of us drowsily faded in and out of rudimentary conversation for roughly half the trip before slipping into drowsing silence, I believe much to the relief of our driver who was dragged out into the crisp 4 am air.

Whirlwind would be the adequate word for our weekend if all of us had been rested enough to fully appreciate the rich diversity of food, activities, and people flitting around us.  An out and out Monet, it wasn’t until I was sitting restlesly on the early morning train rattling away from beautiful, blooming Beregovo (also known as Berehovo and Beregszasz) that I felt the effects of the heady mixture of the syrupy regional wine, comfortingly heavy dinners, practically tactile perfume of brazenly open flowers, and soothing mixture of lilting Ukrainian and Hungarian.

As it were, our introduction to this vivid town was stepping into a blanket of darkness from the overnight train at 4:30 Friday morning still sweating and gasping for breath from the intensely heated sleeping car.  Eyes half closed, I blindly followed our pack of Americans through the puddle-ridden, silent Ukrainian streets, periodically tugging up my sweatpants sagging from the mud and water weight collecting in the hems.  No one had the energy for pessimism when we found ourselves lost and quickly accumulating mud; in fact, Kate’s outburst of «Hey, remember that time we got lost in Beregovo at 4 am» was met with everything from appreciatory grunts to outrageous laughing fits from those of us drunk with exhaustion.  We thankfully found our way somehow, for I would have blindly followed anyone in circles for hours without much thought. Two and a half hours were spent in a comatose rest on a volunteer’s fouton with Kari in a room where four other volunteers laid scattered over chairs, foutons, and floor space before we hauled ourselves across town to a Hungarian restaurant for breakfast. 

On behalf of fellow volunteer, Matt, I would like to point out you know you’re tired when you use a water bottle as a pillow.

The rest of the weekend passed in a rich blur.  I remember Hungarian and Ukrainian conversation being tossed here and there between acquaintences scattered throughout the Wine Festival tents, but it seems indistinguishable from the thick smell of cooking shashlyk/shish kebabs (шашлик) just as the forgotten luxurious taste of chocolate covered raisins cannot be severed from bonding laughs and discussions shared with a volunteer soon to leave the country, who I’m going to miss dearly.

Forcing myself to stay awake on the train back home Sunday morning because of some Ukrainian teenagers amusing themselves by taking pictures of us sleeping, I savored the intangible feeling of a fulfilling weekend.  Most of my seven months in this country have passed in quite the opposite manner – painfully detailed minute to minute, days seem to drag on well past my energy reserves while hearty sections of my calendar suddenly fill with x’s standing in for days indistinguishable from the ones they followed or preceded.  As painful as that seems to me some days, for the present moment it’s enough that I saw the sun rise gloriously over the Carpathians.

*Music: “Second Chances” -Paper Route