with every new year comes new goals, mine of which were scribbled out ‘redrum’ style in red sharpie one evening onto a road (turned wall art) map of illinois. my list of ‘things to do in 2012’ humbly includes ‘survive winter’, ‘make local friends’, ‘practice my cursive’, along with other more amish-like goals of ‘learn how to make cheese’ and ‘can summer produce for the winter,’ all of which float hopefully somewhere above the iowa-illinois border.
the second one, ‘make local friends’, has been a bust so far, especially since i drank the only friend i have, but it’s only february now and there’s still time. even if i don’t ever make any friends here i’ve come to acknowledge through the wise words of a well versed volunteer that i should relish the solitude. and she’s right. while i sometimes undoubtedly miss socializing, these two years are more than an opportune time for self-reflection. the sheer amount of time i spend (sometimes a little too much) in my own head, is astonishing. but it’s really no wonder why volunteers often feel like they come back as different, more convicted, people.
a few bullet points downward and hanging poorly written over springfield reads ‘practice my cursive’. some nights ago, locked-in with cabin fever, i found myself fervently practicing my cursive to keep up with the pristine penmanship of my ukrainian students. i find it embarrassing, grading or writing on the board, that i would absolutely get a flat C- for my cursive. it’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not pretty either. i envision that my great-grandchildren, or maybe just feral alley cats, will stumble across my journals and sketchbooks and find them more valuable merely just because of the ‘emily dickens’esque handwriting that graces the pages. no one, i’m sure, would have been propelled to filter through her trunks upon trunks of work if they weren’t such pretty scribbles. so i knew i had to stop primitively printing and set out on practicing my penmanship.
this is to say that i haven’t even begun to attempt the cursive cyrillic alphabet, which was my original new years goal. its endless loopy-ness and 14 lettered words brings most americans to tears and me to pathetically ask my students to (harry potter like) un-cursify things. but my guess was that if i can’t make my own native language look appealing in cursive, trying it in another one wouldn’t be a very good idea.
so i started with the basics and practiced english first. hunched over the desk, nose practically touching my book i wrote with conviction. concentrating on every single letter, loop, and ligature. i thought for sure i had improved after a few full pages. but when i readjusted my posture and looked back, i didn’t see emily dicken’s distant cousin on the page, instead i saw what looked like a dense covering of blue pubic hair and a book now in need of a brazilian. so i’ve decided to call it quits and accept that my printing is by far superior to any attempt at scribbled unwanted coarse body hair. and for that, i’m sure my kin and the feral alley cats will be grateful.
but there’s still hope in my other ‘you-sound-like-a-babushka’ goals. this coming spring my neighbor lena hopes to buy a dairy cow which mean I get to help milk and homemade cheese-ify my world. i think she was a little taken back by my eager answer that OF COURSE i’d help you!!!!! but i honestly couldn’t be more excited. and then there’s my ‘can and jam’ goal, which sounds more like a new oakland, california dance move, than every ukrainian’s summer duty.
it was the middle of summer when my group first arrived to site, when our knowledge of the canning and preserving world was just as slim as the empty collection of jars in our pantry. but like a true baba i’ve been stocking up and embarrassingly get excited, just thinking of the possibilities, after cleaning one jar out and placing it neatly amongst the others. i’ve eaten my fair share of blah canned beans and peas just in hopes that they will later be filled with tasty gem colored jams and various pickled parcels. i don’t have nearly as many cans as ukrainians do, who usually have shelves and shelves of canned goods that will last them year (with even a few to spare for the poor american), but i have enough.
so two of my goals for the year already look like they might not be confidently crossed off, and while i still have a lot to learn, i think my baba-ification will go through without a hitch…well that is assuming my second batch of watermelon jam doesn’t blow up and end in a disastrous crime scene explosion of splattered sticky red goo. now that i think about it, i never did ask if the same happened to the jar i gave my neighbor lena…oops.
goals aside, it’s colder now than ever. i think ukraine must have heard me chipperly telling everyone in my village that ‘winter in ukraine is just like where i come from!’. i was confident that the winter really wouldn’t be any different from the suburbs or central illinois, not too far from my recently added goals. silly midwestern girl, ukraine thought, lemme show you how winter is done. there might not even be much snow on the ground, only few inches really, but the wind, the WIND! it’s relentless and seemingly attempting to blow my barely noticeable village off the map of ukraine entirely. at night when i close my eyes, i wake up confused as to why i’m not actually sleeping in a flimsy tent on the base camp of mount everest. it constantly howls and even when i’m in my warm room, the mere sound of it makes me feel a good 10 degrees colder.
in the steppe of ukraine, there’s nothing to stop the wind. n-o-t-h-i-n-g. not even another nearby village. so it’s no wonder why the weather channel reports wind of 20mph at -25*F. (yea i just couldn’t motivate myself to go running in that). several other volunteers have posted articles reporting cold related deaths and school cancelations which all make me wonder how even colder countries survive. but ukrainians are hearty. maybe it’s all the potatoes, liver, vodka, and health superstitious tablespoons of butter they consume. or the various chubaka-like animal furred fashion they sport turning even the huskiest of ukrainian women into walking pet-able teddy bears.
but in reality i think it’s also the fact that they have survived communism, chernobyl, forced famine, and the like. to ukrainians surviving winter is nothing. to them, it’s not even worth comically putting on their ‘things to do 2012’. but the end is insight i think. so close that i can almost almmmmmost taste fresh greens in my mouth. tomorrow is the first of february and the following day pudgy punxsutawney phil will be dragged out of his hole, like many of us winter dwellers will eventually have to, look for his shadow and tell us how much longer winter and my diet of liver, potatoes, potatoes and liver will last. here’s to hoping it’s a short one.