it’s finally spring in ukraine. the grass is green and a few brave flowers have began to bloom. the earth has been plowed, potatoes have been planted, and soon there will be an abundance of everything fresh once again. HORAAAAAH! after the bleak fruitlessness of winter i definitely understand why ukrainians make such a big deal about the coming of spring.
but of course with the warmer temperatures and a screen-less window culture, the more outdoor friends become indoor friends — flies, mosquitoes, bees, wasps, and spiders…though at least the mice are (sorta) back outside for the season.
i’ve began to realize the number of spiders i share residency with are as numerous as ways to cook a potato. every nook and cranny reveals a whole suburb of them. they’re quiet roommates. don’t really say much and keep fairly clean — unlike my mice friends that would poop everywhere, keep me up at night nibbling on things, and giving me nightmares of rabid ‘monty python and the holy grail’ style attacks.
i’ve begun to feel like david sedaris in his chapter ‘april in paris’ from ‘when you are engulfed in flames’. sedaris comes to know the intricate world of spiders living in his window of his northern france home. he spent his days waiting for inspiration by catching flies for his favorite spider ‘april’ which he later brings with him in a plastic case to see the sights of paris. i haven’t gone that far yet…most of them remain nameless, that is except for one wittingly named ‘april’. and i haven’t started to feed them in my free time and don’t plan on taking one to paris…though i am writing about spiders as it is so i might be well on my way.
but when i’m not brainstorming names for the spiders i’ve been celebrating my birthday, the 100th anniversary of titanic, and the ever so important ukrainian orthodox easter. in ukraine easter is the biggest holiday out there. well at least i’m pretty sure it goes in order of importance: easter, new years, christmas. i think it has a little something to do with the long awaited arrival of spring and the bbq-able weather.
my birthday (april 12th) often falls around easter, this time the ukrainian easter (april 15th) didn’t help with my plans of a get together. i had originally hoped to have a gathering of my good pcv friends, but the lines for train tickets were longer than the coveted college dormitory waffle bar and things sold out quickly. but at least (and thankfully!) michael was able to get his. i was disappointed my friends couldn’t make it and be all together, i still had some great company.
last year, living with my host family during training, my birthday coincidentally fell on the same day as the father of my host mom. (which if you’re feeling sentimental you can read about here and watch it here). this year i didn’t have any old vodka soaked men kiss me on the lips, listen to folk songs late into the night, or have my ears pulled on or good luck 24 times. but this year, at a quarter of a century, i celebrated a little less ukrainian style.
michael accompanied me to school in the morning, chocolate cookies i baked for the english teachers in hand. i taught a few lessons, was sung happy birthday by my students, michael helped me grade during the others, and then i was informed that i was needed at the morning announcements. i had a feeling something might happen…something embarrassing involving me and my birthday. and sure enough there was a surprise ‘concert’ put on by my counterpart announcing that i’m 21 years old (woooo! went back in time!) along with a bouquet of flowers, chocolate, glitzed out earrings, and a broche with enough rhinestones to last a lifetime. i was so surprised they went through all the trouble to do something for me! especially because i’m still so new there. but i was grateful for their thoughtfulness…and the extra years they took off my age.
birthday/titanic/easter weekend continued with a celebratory and only appropriately themed ‘titanic with a vegetarian indian menu’ birthday dinner with my neighboring volunteers and michael. after living in isolating no-man’s land for 9 months, it’s still so strange to me that i have volunteers near me only 10 minutes or so away. and so i hosted my first, quite successful i think, dinner party. we ended up not watching titanic, or listening to a repeating celine dion playlist, but the life preserver decorations michael made and apple ‘boats’ with icebergs of ice cream were close enough.
but the partying didn’t stop there and the following day was orthodox easter. just when we thought we had eaten enough, we had to eat even more. before michael’s train back to kyiv, my landlady and her family invited us over for easter (and her birthday celebration) lunch. we sat at a table of at least 6 differently prepared meats, with lots of potatoes, fish, mayonaise, and the works. the homemade vodka and homemade wine were poured and the eating began. michael was in heaven with the amount of russian they were all speaking (he learned russian but lives in a mainly ukrainian area — go figure). but i was keeping up, well except for a very embarrassing mistranslation that i can’t even discuss lol. by the time they started lovingly calling michael their ‘son’ it was time for him to get to the train station. we said thanks thanks thanks for the food and michael promised he’d come back soon to which everyone was delighted.
after seeing michael off to the train station, i rode back to my village on what i guess was the ‘party bus’ that day. with easter comes drinking…well more drinking than usual. one little middle aged man woozily got on the bus and began bantering about something. then another three middle aged partiers got on and then love was found. the roundest of the middle aged women took a liking to the little man. first shown through playful chocking and head-locking followed by pinning to the bus seat and making out. all of this went down within a short 10 minute ride. it was quite entertaining and while the sober people shook their heads in disgust i couldn’t help but laugh inside. oh ukrainian easter.
when i got back to my house i could hear the party still going on (not surprising, ukrainian parties last for hooooours). and just when i was looking forward to sitting down and having a moment to write, i was called back for more. everything was pretty much the same as i left it, except this time a lot less food and a lot less vodka. we sat and talked some more, had cake, my neighbor’s son, also my 6th former student, poured me wine (probably a rule against that in america…) and taught me a few magic tricks. don’t worry one of them wasn’t how to make wine disappear, i already knew that one.
by the time karaoke was proposed, i knew i should be heading to bed. normally i don’t avoid a chance for karaoke, but it was late, i was tired, and still quite few drinks behind my hosts. so, like a party pooper, i promised them ‘next time’ and walked across the driveway to my house. i planned to (and did) sleep in as much as i could the next day, since there was no school. by the time i finally woke up and got moving, sitting down to write or do something productive, i was invited over for an ‘easter celebration part deux’. i had stuff to be getting done, but out of fear of being rude, and with the wonderful sunshine i decided work can wait.
all the left over food ‘n booze were brought outside and a table with chairs were arranged in the sun. we ate and drank, they and joked that ukrainians have so many holidays and parties that they simply can’t find time for work. if one thing can be said about ukrainians it’s that they love to party…and love to joke. okay so that’s two things.
but needless to say my easter this year was a little less holy than the first one i spent in ukraine. i figured the 5 hours i spent standing in orthodox church covered enough for the two easters i’ll spend here. and this year without my host mom and her obsession with paska (fairly tasteless easter bread), i also don’t have paska as the base of my dietary pyramid…now that i think about it i think i’ve gotten away with eating only 2 paskas! but now the weekend extravaganza that is ukrainian easter is over and it’s back to work for all. no more sleeping till ten and drinking at noon. well, that is till the next holiday comes.
over the weekend i wine-induced promised i’d wake up and run at 6am tomorrow with my neighbor and my landlady (they both want me to become their running/yoga trainer). this is much earlier than i care to be up and running (literally). but now that my hot water has been shut off till october, i’ll do anything to diffuse the coldness of bucket bathing. let’s just hope i can get a good nights sleep beforehand without any spider attacks or ron weasley type spider nightmares.