at the same time i hit the ‘one year since i left home for peace corps’ landmark, the word document i’ve been using to write all my peace corps experiences in also hit 150 single spaced pages…which either attests to the volume of things that has happened or (more likely) just to the wordiness of my ramblings.
i usually try my best to avoid the ever so cliched ‘omg! like so much has happened since i last wrote!’ but…it’s almost sort of hard to this time. because well, facts are facts, and i can count at LEAST more than a few exciting (at least i think?) things to share. buuuut i don’t really know how to go about sharing all of this without a.) you losing interest and b.) me losing serious motivation to write this. so it’s going to go something like this:
1.) nothing says guilt like taking chocolate from an orphanage: more women’s day celebrations
one of my last weekends was spent in kherson with my favorite group of pcvs. we celebrated women’s day/national be nasty day/ and megan’s 25th birthday all together. when we weren’t merely relishing in the pleasure of each other’s company as native english speakers, we spent doing actual productive things. well sorta. beth (my volunteer friend in kherson) had volunteered a few times at the local orphanage and couldn’t turn down and invitation to join them for a ‘women’s day concert’.
with the go ahead to allow all 8 of us crazy americans tag along, we made our way to the orphanage. located in a relatively nice city, the orphanage was much nicer than we all expected, having mainly only heard stories from village orphanages. most of them had traveled to america through some sort of program, had rooms that reminded me of the boarding school rooms, and spoke english better than any of my students. but none the less, it was still an orphanage. and being reminded of that fact made us all have to fight urge to quickly hide one in our backpack.
these kids were so sweet. though…i’ve yet to find an ukrainian orphan i haven’t loved. the boys and some male volunteers put together a ‘concert’ which was more or like a riddle/skit/game/song thing. at the end all the women in the room received hand-made cards the kids make to sell, flowers, and chocolate. i don’t think i’ve felt so guilty in my life. here i was, having never even been there before, receiving presents (from orphans to boot) on my first visit. their kindness and generosity certainly struck me with awe.
after the concert and present gifting we all sat at a long table and had treats with the kids. and that’s when i made a best friend. a 12ish year old boy who, shy at first, lightened up and was giving me orange rinde smiles by the end. adorable. we all loved the kids and people there and wished we had a place like that to volunteer at our respective sites. but when we had to leave, we promised we’d come back when ever we’re in town.
2.) uh…i guess that’ll do: site transfer proposals
while in kherson i got the highly anticipated phone call from my regional manager. but the news wasn’t reeeeally wanted to hear. he told me i had two options:
option #1: move to lutsk (way western ukraine), ukrainian speaking area, and live in a dormitory (but this time without any access to a kitchen). have to move all stuff via van and train.
option #2: move to konstaninovka (village just two hours south of me), russian speaking, live in a family’s summer house, site mate (which means another pc volunteer lives in my village), able to move stuff by van.
um. well neither of those sites were what the TEFL lead specialist had promised they would find me…so rather than deciding in an hour like i was told, i weighed my options over the weekend. the answer was pretty clear, i knew i couldn’t live in a dormitory again, but i still didn’t have any good gut feelings towards my other option yet.
3.) stomach. fire! fire!: site transfer decision
after consulting my friends and making list after list weighing the positives and negatives, i decided to head even further south to konstaninovka. when i was finally able to make that decision i called my regional manager, cept rather than feeling like things had finally settled, he informed me that he has yet to ask the school if they even want me.
a little backwards i think? so i had to wait a few days, of which seemed to go on forever, till i heard back if the school would take me or not. in that time i was still teaching at school and ‘working’ on my grant project. everything was so uncertain and i certainly felt the stress of it all in the form of 24/7 heartburn. lovely.
in a country where ‘family size’ bottles of tums aren’t readily sitting on the store shelf, i made a trip to the pharmacy and like an idiot described what literally translated to ‘stomach, fire! fire!’ accompanied with helen keller hand gestures. thankfully the pharmacist didn’t laugh at me (at least while i was there) and i left stocked with anti-acid tablets. i knew that if i was stressed now — i was going to need a bucket more of these for when i actually go through the process of telling my school.
4.) goodbye goodbye: leaving what i called home
that thursday i got a chipper voiced call from my regional manager with good news. the prospective site decided they’d love to have me and were excited at the prospect of a new volunteer. WOO! so then came the process of telling everyone at my site. what i thought was to happen: peace corps handling everything — didn’t happen. of course it wouldn’t be that easy! so it ended up being a very exhausting onslaught of speeches in ukrainian to my director, teachers, mahazine ladies, neighbors, students, and chucha.
it wasn’t easy at all. thankfully my school director understood and even let me hug her as i left (this was a miracle!). but some of the teachers weren’t so happy and the kids were distraught. they made me posters, cards, and gifted me origami and pottery works they made at school. i couldn’t even pull myself together for the speech i was asked to give to the faculty. and i learned that speaking ukrainian while crying is even more challenging. i was a mess even before the kids came to say goodbye.
i’m a sucker for guilt and second guessing so it was a couple very mentally exhausting day and a half. when saying goodbye i felt guilty for leaving the people that have been so nice to me and the boarding school students that became my dear friends. but the situation for me as a productive volunteer there just wasn’t right. it wasn’t an easy decision, i’d invested so much time and effort to make this place home and i was about to leave it all and start from scratch. i was generally excited to have a new start, new possibilities, but the process of closing this chapter to begin another was certainly a difficult one to finish.
with my bags packed, my goodbyes said, i waited in my room for my new counterpart to pick me up and take me to my new site, which is only a few hours a way. i waited with the nerves of a blind date, wondering what she would be like, if she spoke english, if she would like me, if my stuff would all fit in the car…until my phone rang and she told me she was outside the school. and when i went outside i saw a minivan driven by the parents of my future student and a smiling counterpart and i knew things would be good. we fite everything (even my bike!!) into the van, the students that stay at the dorms on the weekend came out to say goodbye once more and chucha with her ears back new something was going on. i surprisingly didn’t cry when i got in the van, shut the door, and pulled away, watching my students wave and chucha look on…but i think i was literally just all emotioned-out at that point. and now i had to focus on making a good first impressions.
5.) hello hello: arriving to my new site
while the parents of my student drove, they joked and laughed, with me promising that my new village was MUCH bigger than my old one and certainly had more than one road. my counterpart and i chatted a little, her english was a little rusty from coming back off of a three-year maternity leave, but still amazing. and within the first few minutes of chatting and laughing, i knew we’d work well together.
when we’d nearly reached our destination our driver, who i’d pinned to be quite the joker, decided to take me on an ‘excursia’ to some big rock thing as i gathered from his russian. we turned at a billboard with a bright red arrow, drove through some forrest, past some sheep, and emerged with a giant rock mound on the horizon.
thanks to wiki, i knew this was a burial mound, so i pretended i understood the history of what he was describing to me. i had my ticket (and media ‘let you take photos’ ticket) kindly paid for and was quickly ushered by the driver to pose for what i thought was one photo. before i knew it i lost possession of my camera, was being directed how to pose with these phallic ancient rock things, and had way too many photos of myself on my camera.
there was a moment i thought maybe he’d never tire of taking my photo, but thankfully that time came and we got back in the van destined for my new school. my village, konstantinivka, is the largest village in all of europe, has another peace corps volunteer, and is also just a 10 minute bus ride to a big city. so needless to say i was going to be adding a few more roads, mahazines, and people to my world.
driving in i already counted more mahazines than my entire previous village (well…three is pretty easy to beat). my mind was blown and my inner dialogue remained quite simply ‘oooooOOOoooowwwwooooow!’. it’s still definitely a village, with mainly dirt roads, but i guess i’m not that easy to impress anymore. we pulled up to my school — a charming two story brick building maybe around 80 years old that looks straight up out of madeline.
my counterpart and i walked in and headed to meet the school director. fitting to the ‘from a book’ theme, the director is an older woman with white haired, purple lipliner, one gold tooth, and a slight hunch in her big overcoat. she greeted me warmly, sincerely wished i’d be happy here, gave me a quick tour of the school and haded me a bag of food and candy to i didn’t have to go to the store. i was amazed and beyond happy that it seemed like this was the right move to make.
we got back in the van again and drove off to my new place. i, like the past two volunteers, would be staying in the summer house of a friend to the school director. quite a drive from school (guess i’ll finally have that school / non-school separation i needed!) and down some very muddy roads, we made it. i was introduced to my landlady and her husband and was shown my place. it’s basically my own small house just across the driveway from theirs. and HUGE compared to what my living situation was before (i have a video of it so i don’t need to explain. which you can find here).
within only a few mintes of being home i had to call my new sitemate and head over to her saint patties day party with the local volunteers. so my day wasn’t over yet and packing would have to wait. but after quite a whirlwind i certainly didn’t mind some american friend making time and a guinness or two. it was so nice to meet laura, my sitemate who lives just down the main street from me (about an hour or so walk?) and the other 5 volunteers within this vicinity. we had a pretty good time and ate some pretty good irish food and it was a pretty good way to welcome me into the village.
the next day i began to unpack a little and went over to my landlady’s house for tea and cookies. she was impressed with my language skills and went on about everything from alex (the first volunteer) to jessica (the last volunteer) to yoga (not a volunteer). we talked and talked, refilled teas, and talked some more. lena, my landlady, and her husband, sergie, are wonderful and both have warm smiles and a keen sense of humor. their youngest son attends university in melitopol (the next city), speaks english really well, and has a hobby of selling old cameras online (we had a fun time geeking out about cameras). and not only that but they have a printing business and two puppies that live right by my house (!!!!!). i won peace corps lottery.
6.) can i have your autograph??!: first days of school
the first few days of school were spent observing the three english teachers and their classes to figure out which ones i should teach. it didn’t take me very long to realize that the kids new more english than my old students and seemed much more behaved to boot. i observed 1st grade (adorable) to 11th but fell in love with the 6th form. maybe because they all thought i was so cool and wanted my autograph. i may have autographed a boy’s arm. and when my celebrity status wasn’t going to my head, i found that while i missed my students, i really enjoyed this new school and the kids.
the english teachers and i decided on a schedule after they suggested which classes were good ones and which ones were just ‘scary’. so i’ll teach 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 with two english clubs thrown in there. i hadn’t even been there a few days and the kids were begging for me to have an english club and camp. still not so sure how they could like me already, maybe it’s just my friendly mid-western aura, but so happy to see kids that want to learn english.
7.) i’m not dead yet!: escorts and bee stings
for the first couple of days my next door neighbor, alona, had kindly let me tag along for a ride to school with her son dima. cute little dima was instructed to walk me home as well. as one of my already favorited 6th formers, dima checked with me throughout the day of where i’d be and where he’ll meet me to walk me home. it was adorable. and sure enough he and 8 other boys escorted me home. we talked about music, hobbies, sports and such. dima’s a good kid (even if he bought a revolver with his birthday money). on our walk dima turned to me and said quite calmly pointing to his neck ‘you have a bee’. and because i dumbly swiped at it, it stung me. FIRST BE STING EVER! and it hurt. i didn’t know if i was allergic so part of me thought i might drop to the dirt road unconscious with lil dima by my side. buuuut i didn’t. i just had an itchy welt for a few days.
this probably isn’t worth blogging about…but whatever. i thought it was a poignant moment in my life.
8.) free taters: my neighbors are nice
almost towards my house (it’s a good 40 minute walk to school) dima and i passed some potatoes for sale. i told him i needed some so i inquired, introduced myself and chatted with the old man and woman. the old lady with a surprising lacking number of gold teeth, said ‘god bless you for your work’ and the old man gave me a large sack of taters refusing any payment. i wanted them to adopt me. they were so cute and nice. to top it off my little helper, dima, carried my potatoes to my door. i couldn’t ask for anything more.
9.) this time last year: happy one year in country
when i began writing this, our group 41, reached it’s one year mark of leaving america and coming to ukraine. if you were to tell me a year ago that i’d be a confident speaker of ukrainian, a semi-understander of russian, i proooobably wouldn’t have believed it. mainly because one year ago i came to ukraine not even knowing how to read the cyrillic alphabet and nearly cried at the thought of learning it. but with time, patience, and persistence, i learned it. and along with it a lot about myself. it hasn’t been an easy year but i’m confident that good things will come from where i am now. so here’s to 15 more months of service group 41.
10.) i’m wordy: page #155
and i bet you’re glad this is over.