i can now count the amount of time left that i have in ukraine on one hand. ONE HAND. this is the wildest thing. i went from not even having enough digits to count all my time, to having it all down to one hand — well, not that i lost or gained digits any along the way, just that 27 months is now down to 5. and it’s unreal.
recently i met a young man from guinea (and by met i mean i went right up to him and asked if he spoke english and what he was doing in ukraine because his extra dark chocolate skin/dress meant he certainly wasn’t ukrainian). it turns out he did in fact speak some english, i was too embarrassed to even attempt speaking french with him, and that he’s been living in ukraine for 4 years working on some sort of degree. we chatted for a bit and i asked him the number one question ukrainians ask me, ‘do you like ukraine??’. he laughed and said ‘oooooh man this country is FUCKED UPPPP! so much BULLSHIT!’. i sat there with wide eyes and couldn’t help but laugh, his honesty surprised me (hopefully that’s not how he answers ukrainians).
in response i diplomatically said ‘yes, sometimes, but there are also good things’ (peace corps trained me well). he smiled, ‘sometimes…but those times only seem to be when i’m drinking alcohol’. and it must have been one of those times since he was nursing some cognac before noon. in truth, he has every right to feel the way he does about ukraine, an opinion is an opinion, positive or negative.
i can’t even imagine the challenges he’s faced with culture/ language/race while living here. american and ukrainian culture is certainly different but….uh…something tells me that culture and life in guinea is a bit more different. i give him a super gold star for lasting 4 years here. i guess i thought maybe he was going through one of those ‘ugh, ukrrrrrraine!!!’ moments/week/month i’ve been familiar with, so i tried to shed some positive light for him. i reminded him that all countries and cultures are fucked up in one way or another, acting as if i’d help him see the good, as if i never felt the way he did, as if i was some sort of saintly mother theresa.
while i waited for a bus back to my village i thought about our conversation. the no-bigger-than-a-winnebago van pulled up and 26+ passengers proceeded to force their way in. it was standing room only but people still piled on top of people. i stood with my knees snuggly touching 4 older ladies, my head rubbing against the ceiling (i’m a staggering 5’3”), and trying to grab onto anything for balance. at that moment it was hard not to sort of dislike ukraine. i wanted to get the hell off that bus, find my guinean friend and confess, ‘okay okay! i REALLY DISLIKE traveling in ukraine. it’s messed up! and most times it feels more like transporting live stock or smuggling illegal immigrants than anything else’.
i stood there, knees pinned together, bouncing-off older babushkas like a shiny pinball. the man next to me tried to crack jokes but no one laughed, it was a tough crowd. he murmured to himself ‘it’s better to take the bus at night when it’s fileld with young people. they’re so fun and laugh at everything’. this time i stifled a laugh but the ‘cone of shame’ tilt of my head muffled it. suddenly one seated woman offered to take my bags and another moved her purse, flattened her skirt and gestured for me to sit on her lap. it wasn’t much longer till my stop so i didn’t end up needing her knee (i’m not sure she correctly guessed how much i weigh). but i was certainly touched, literally everywhere by like 10 different people, and emotionally. maybe everyone else on the bus that day felt the same. we were all forced to use this messed up/clearly unsafe mode of transportation, but at least we were in it together.
it’s moments like these, not the clown-size bus full of people, but the surprising acts of kindness and even humor that make me like ukraine. ukrainians form a ‘all for one and one for all’ while traveling. they often share food with strangers on the train, hold other people’s children on a crowded bus, and if you’re lucky men will offer you their seat (sometimes). this is what makes traveling in ukraine bearable. this is what reminds me that it’s not all bad after-all. moments i wish the student from guinea could experience.
it’s really nice and oh so appreciated when you’re reminded of the kindness of ukrainians. of course not everyone is that way, but for the people who are, they’re hospitality and generosity is remarkable. i’ve recently been reminded of this with the arrival of my new site mate. that’s right, i have AN AMERICAN living RIGHT NEXT DOOR!!! i feel like i must have done something right to deserve this…
i’ve been waiting to mention anything about it, but i don’t want you to think that it’s not a HUGE deal for me). i knew for a while, that maybe, maaaaaaybe, the other school in my village would be getting a volunteer. it seemed like such a funny idea to have another pcv as my neighbor. i mean out of all of ukraine, for someone to end up here. right here. especially because at my last village the next american was at least a 2.5 hour bus ride in any direction!!
but since villages have limited housing, ie no apartments and only home-stays, pickings are slim. thankfully my neighbors, who i befriended, have a small separate house (similar to my set up) that they were willing to rent out. there was a chance that the new volunteer would end up in a different near by village, but a few weeks ago my neighbor let me know that a 27 year old girl would IN FACT be here.
i was thrilled/excited/little nervous at the idea of having someone so close. and to think JUST i was getting so good at writing about loneliness. just kidding. this is a very welcome change. i met sarah, my new site mate, for tea with my neighbors (now her host family) the day she arrived to the village. i can already tell we’re similar in personalities (she’s from the midwest too!!) and will get along well. her host family is the greatest and i know they’ll be such a positive thing in her life. they later invited me over again (at 8:30pm) for a little homemade wine drinking where my banana bread was a HUGE hit, the men did shots of homemade vodka from their elbows, and i savored the evening of ukrainian hospitality with my new friend/neighbor.
being with sarah on her first day brought me back to memories of my first day. it was a 2.5 hour car ride after an overnight train to get to my site. which i realized was in the middle of nowhere. i’d never been so remote in my life. i was dropped off to the boarding school dormitory and that was that. i was left. alone and directionless. i had no plans, at that time, for the summer. sleep deprived and on an emotional roller coaster i had a panic attack asked myself ‘WHAT AM I DOOOOING???!’.
sarah seemed to be taking it all much better than i had. but then again maybe i wouldn’t have freaked out so much if i was closer to americans, if i had known there was a way to leave my village. but i didn’t. i was forced to rather quickly figure everything out for myself and decided that i would swim rather than sink.
it’s so strange to think back to that moment in my life. it feels like that was 20 bagillion years ago (even though really it’s only near two years) but i can still remember it clear as day. it’s exciting to not only have a new friend, someone that i can give baked treats, and just have conversation with, but to be reminded of where i’ve been on this long journey.
it’s probably WAY too early to start writing such sentimental ‘wrap-ups’ of my service, just like it’s way too early for me to be googling dog adoptions. i realize a few things have to happen before i can do either. like finish the next 5 months, get a job, find a place to live, blah blah blah.
regardless of what seem like monumental tasks ahead, i still can’t ignore that while sarah’s time in ukraine is just beginning, mine is almost up and it’s given me a lot to think about. but i think i’ll (maybe) process all that after i look at more cute adoptable dog photos.