the spring semester of school has officially started. this marks my last semester of teaching in ukraine. weird. technically the semester hasn’t started for me since i’ve come down with a cold/runny nose/fever/leopar throat which left me at home in bed for the past two days. so, i’m technically still on vacation.
this would be great if i didn’t feel like crap, had food in my fridge, and if i hadn’t waited 5 days to shower (hey, the village water was shut off when i finally got the stamina to get back to bucket bathing). but really…sometimes i wonder about my life.
while my life might be a mess and i might not have hot water or a shower, my neighbor sarah does!! probably the nicest shower i’ve seen at that. just a paradigm of extremities in peace corps ukraine living. thankfully she’s super nice and let me come over to shower yesterday. let me tell you…it was a religious experience. i think i saw the lord’s face at some point. that shower was so amazing.
this past sunday was old new years eve in ukraine. a celebration of new years on the old calendar (which was 13 days behind the rest of the world) before they switched over to the western calendar. it’s kind of a way to keep with tradition. but let’s be honest, it’s really just another reason to party. and party we did.
i had word from sarah that there would be a party at her landlord’s house but since i had no invitation i wasn’t exactly sure if i would be going. regardless, and just to play it safe, i made an apple tart to take over. plus if i didn’t go i could eat the whole thing myself hehehe.
just a few minutes after the tart was finished, i got a knock on my window and my landlord told me ‘let’s go!’. but since i was in leggings and oddly mismatched layered sweaters i told him ‘5 minutes’. about 5 minutes passed and i headed out the door for my neighbors figuring my landlord went ahead.
next door my landlady asked where her husband was and i realized that he must still be waiting for me. OOPS. though he never said he’d wait or to get him when i’m ready…i mean i was literally just going next door…he in fact was patiently waiting for me! i felt terrible. she ran over to get him and we had a good long laugh about this. ohhh me and my super american independent nature.
we sat down to a feast of pork cutlets from my landlord’s pig, wild rabbit my neighbor kola shot, home canned pickles and pickled tomatoes, not to mention ‘house wine’ they make themselves. talk about eating local. i confessed that i’ve never had rabbit before (despite living in france), to which they told me that when eating a new food you must make a wish, but be sure not to tell anyone or it won’t come true. i tried to think of something, but really all i could think about was rabbit and the time i found a whole one in my french host mom’s freezer.
this was just the first of many ukrainian superstitions/traditions sarah and i encountered that night. old new years, as i said, is about traditions and fortune telling. most of them being match making traditions for young single girls. oh joy.
ukrainian traditions of love and match making:
- look in the mirror with a candle (apparently you’ll see him. or scary things…or maybe just yourself…)
- go with your girlfriends to the nearest intersection, with the first man you see, run up to him ask for his first name, and that shall be the first name of your future husband.
- shop for wood (not that kind) with your girlfriends! depending on the type of wood you happen to choose, this indicates the kind of man you will marry. smooth and straight (genteel and supportive), uneven/crooked (well…you probably don’t want to meet this man). also it’s possible to have a slipt in the wood which means a divorce and another marriage.
- go to sleep with treats under your pillow. for when the man of your dreams comes he’ll have something to snack on. (or it’ll be your own mid-night meal if no one comes)
- if you have a wish you hope to come true, predict its outcome with a cat! place two bowls of food outside. one will stand for ‘yes’ the other ‘no’. which ever bowl the cat goes to first will give you your answer.
i truly enjoyed hearing them…especially since we don’t practice any match making traditions in america (thank god). well i guess except for ideas of match making from classics like seven brides for seven brothers and various disney movies. i found it amusing to hear their traditions, but i didn’t enjoy the typical pondering and probing of why i’m not off to find a boyfriend/husband upon my return to america. ‘ohhh no, not now’ i tell them. ‘i’d like to travel and do this and that first, i’m in no hurry’. ‘HOW CAN THIS BEEEEE??!’ they shake their hands to the sky in agony, ‘you must find a man!! you’re getting old!’.
so i may have embellished their reaction slightly, but this reaction is always the same in ukraine. most first ask ‘ohhh where are your kids, back in america?’ (yea i’m keeping them hidden in the basement until my return) ‘ummm no, i don’t have any.’ wait, you’re 25 without a boyfriend? 25 without any kids or a husband?
for the past two years the idea that i need to get married and have kids ASAP (‘you’re getting old!!’) has been barked at me by ukrainians countless times. and i think i was starting to believe it. it was hard not to feel like i was behind on the time when a majority of my friends are engaged, married, and/or with kids. i was certainly close to following down that path. but as it turned out, it wasn’t the right path for me.
i love kids and would really love to have them in my life. i think even the no-shame-nose-picking kids at school are great! but i recently had to realized the idea of that, despite my decision to join peace corps and not look for that, to not ‘settle down’, was still the main thing i was looking for, waiting for, and in some ways living for.
acknowledging this was disappointing to the younger stand-alone me, when i used to tell myself that i don’t need a man and not getting married is just fine, i live for myself not anyone else. i had to remind myself of what i said in what i think was high school — that no one completes you, they should only compliment you.
was my high school version of me wiser? maybe. maybe i did have things pretty figured out back then. maybe my time here, my biological instincts, the amount of marriage announcements threw me for a loop. i started thinking ‘YEA i DO need a man like all the ukrainians insist! i’ll just let the next man put a burlap sack over my head and whisk me away!!!’ (i hope you’ve seen seven brides for seven brothers…otherwise you’ll think i’m more loopy than i already am).
but i’m getting back on track. thankfully my time in peace corps gives me plenty of time to think through all these things. they say you find what you’re looking for when you stop looking. and i believe this to be true. i don’t want to change the things i want to do in life to better suit ‘settling down’.
as chuck palahniuk writes in his novel invisible monsters: “don’t do what you want. do what you don’t want. do what you’re trained not to want. do the things that scare you the most.”
what i’m trained to want, like all americans, is the all american life — the american dream. anything other than that often means you aren’t doing well in life, you have gotten your stuff ‘figured out’, or you haven’t ‘grown up’.
but what if i have a different dream? what if what i want isn’t what’s acceptable to want? doing what scares me the most (ukrainians especially) would probably be following this alternate path, alternate vagabond/move to france/colorado (same thing right?)/business owner, ‘i am woman, hear me roar’ path. what scares me (in a good way though) is going to singapore to visit my brother at the end of my service and not knowing where else i’ll end up. where it will take me. volunteering in cambodia? vietnam??
when the calendar flipped to 2013 i thought, ‘i have NO idea where i’ll be next year’. it’s invigorating, exciting, and of course a bit terrifying. but i won’t stop living the life i want because i feel pressure to get hitched or have kids. i shall not live my life wondering when i’ll meet someone or let myself think about match making and marriage like everyone else here. if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t…well that’s what cats are for.
i’m not sure if any of this is making sense because despite the sudafed i took i still can’t really breath very well at the moment, which is probably slowing the circulation to my head, which is really just full of snot right now. but in short, i don’t know where this next road will take me. no clue. but i’m happy, i’m at peace, with throwing ukrainian marriage advice to the wind, and the idea of going on a grand (solo) adventure — having no map (or man) to guide me.