well…i’ve made it to ukraine!!! it’s been a little while since i’ve been able to update, but i just bought a usb internet thingy mabob (for about 25% of my small salary) with the help of my language teacher. it has a tendency to work for 20 minutes and then not for hours. but hey it’s internet!
so i’m going to compact the past few days? week? i’ve sort of lost a sense of time (and time-zones) since i got here. i’ve been writing entries in my head…clever things to say and notable moments that have passed…but i’ve sort of forgotten most of them now that my brain has been bombarded with oodles of peace corps information.
so let’s start from the very beginning- it’s a very good place to start. after saying goodbye to my parents, i flew off to washington d.c. for the one day peace corps orientation. let me tell you…even though my baggage was underweight…it wasn’t any fun to haul around. and i dreaded having to for the next few days.
the arrival retreat was short, cramp packed (as is the theme with peace corps) and great to meet so many awesome people. there are 106 volunteers in group 41 going to ukraine. 106 volunteers x (2 checked bags + 2 carry on bags) = well a whole lot of luggage.
the next day we packed alllll that luggage onto 3 buses and drove to the airport for our flight to frankfurt. we pretty much took over the entire airport the the amount of luggage we had. by the time i got to the ticket counter to check my bags, i had to hand over my peace corps passport (since we can’t travel with our personal passport). this is when it was starting to feel a little more real. slightly.
the flight over to frankfurt was the most talkative and lively flight i’ve ever been on. and probably that ever existed. we were all sitting together for the most part and the excited chatter could be heard all throughout the 8 hour flight. though, after our layover, the connecting flight to kyiv was much more quiet. party because we were all exhausted from the time change and partly because everyone was starting to realize, like myself, that this is actually happening. while we clapped upon take off from america, we all sat quietly, looking out the window to catch a glimpse of what we would call home for the next two years.
we got off the plane and took a bus to the terminal where we had to wait to get out passport stamped. third in line, i stepped up to the counter and at that moment i realized i had no idea how to say anything. i couldn’t even remember ‘hello’. that’s when it hit me. oh crap…WHAT AM I DOING?! why didn’t i study more!! oh well…i’m just going to have to learn quickly! i was the first one to get my bags and exited to be greeted with warm smiles and hugs from peace corps ukraine staff.
we all boarded yet another bus and traveled to Chernhiv, about a 3 hour bus ride where we would stay for the arrival retreat. i couldn’t keep my eyes open for most of the ride…but when the were open i looked out the window as we drove past freeze frames of soviet era houses. they probably haven’t changed much, if at all since then. i’ve been discovering that most of urkaine is like that.
we stayed at a renovated soviet union training facility for the 2 day arrival retreat. the building itself really reminded me of france. i’ve missed the fact that europeans rarely use lights, unless it’s absolutely necessary. first cultural difference i noticed (and maybe most important): the toilet paper. no it’s not like the recycled paper you may know from europe…well it is recycled paper but it has the EXACT texture of paper party streamers. yup. without a center cardboard tube. so i guess if i have a party i’ll just use that.
the arrival retreat was quite a lot to handle all at once. not only were we all severely jet lagged…but there was no gap in the schedule to relax or do anything. and we weren’t allowed outside which was the worst part (well we could go outside…but we had to have a native with us). i had no desire to go outside after i saw the two uniformed militia men (with stereotypical russian fur hats) in the lobby of the hotel inquiring why there were so many foreigners in one place.
we had peace corps technical, procedural, and cultural lectures with our first language lesson (in which i REALLY wish i had studied the alphabet more). after the second full day there, we got our language group assignments and placements for our host families. we all anxiously awaited to hear our city names, and if felt a little like waiting for the lotto numbers. when i heard where my group would be, megan (my arrival retreat roommate and also in my language group) and i eagerly looked it up on our ukrainain map. but couldn’t find it. so we were getting kind of nervous that it was a reeeeeeally small town. but turns out we were just misspelling it. oh cyrillic alphabet.
the next morning, in the falling snow, we loaded up to yet another bus and drove to the kyiv oblast (region) which took about 7 hours (and the bus didn’t have heating). by night fall we reached out town and i had such butterflies in my stomach about meeting my family (which my language teacher katya debriefed us on on the bus). i’d be living with a lady and her two college kids. i couldn’t be more excited. and just kept chanting the very few ukrainian phrases i knew.
our bus pulled up to the meeting point of a grayed tank monument and off i stepped into the cold, snowy ukrainian night, and a flood of language i didn’t understand. all i knew was my host mom’s name to which i said to the first woman i saw. she said ‘ne ne ne’ ‘no no no’ and she passed by me to katya. but quickly realized that i was in fact her volunteer and turned around to give me a big hug and the warmest smile.
from what i gathered, she didn’t speak any english. but we gathered my bags, of which she would not let me carry to a taxi. i got in the back and we drove off. i was all alone. well sorta. for the first time in a while i wasn’t surrounded by a bagillion other volunteers. my host mom and the taxi driver were chatting away in ukrainian. i didn’t say a word. this was real.
once we reached the house, her daughter, jenya came outside in which not really knowing what to do gave an awkward handshake/hug. the son, sasha, then came outside to help as well.
i took my shoes off at the door, as custom, and headed inside. we took the suitcases to my room, walking past the living room with traditional rugs hanging on the walls. my room, which after a house tour, turns out to be sasha’s room, so he’s now sleeping in the living room (for which i feel terrible about, but apparently it’s not uncommon). ukrainian hospitality goes above and beyond.
after putting my bags away, we sat around the small kitchen table, had our first meal together and tried to talk to one another. the mom, natasha, as i said doesn’t speak english except ‘oh my god’ and when she tried to speak english her kids make fun of her mistakes. jenya, 21, speaks the best english. though not fluent, she can help translate crucial information. she’s studying bio chemistry at a university in kyiv and lives there during the week. sasha, 20, is studying agriculture but something specific in agriculture…i’m not sure what since we couldn’t figure out what word that would be. anyways they’re both hilarious. i can already tell…i just wish i knew more of what they were saying.
but they all are so welcoming and want to know all about me and life in america, what music i like, what movies i watch, why my parent look so young in the photo album i brought. every meal includes so much food (my host mom already worries about me eating enough) followed by tea (which funny enough is lipton…oh how i wish i had my favorite tea!), sweets, and conversation in mostly ukrainian.
it’s a somewhat small house, but it’s so cozy and homey that i already feel somewhat at home. well for the most part. they have electricity, tv, phone, and plumbing. but i’m not sure if the plumbing doesn’t work? i’m not sure. regardless, they use the well outside to fetch water for washing dishes and heating on the stove bucket baths. and while there is a toilet inside, you have to use the one outside…which is just a built-in port-o-potty essentially. i can’t imagine having to run out there and use it in the cold winter!
hmmm i’m not very good at condensing things….i can’t believe i just wrote all that!
right i’m sitting in my room at my host family’s house listing to Ukrainian soap opera my host mom and sister are watching on the tv. it’s kind of a nice background noise. i have so many other things to write about, but i have to get to bed and wake up, hopefully for a run, bucket shower, breakfast with my host mom, and then my first official language lesson tomorrow!
other than the tv right now, it’s so quiet, it’s strange….usually there is a constant chorus of dogs barking…all…the…time. but right now most everything is sleeping. and so should i.
до побачення! (good bye!)