my third and final birthday in ukraine has come and gone and i was thankfully able to escape any sloppy vodka tasting kisses from old men and the tradition of getting my ears pulled this year — but that’s not to say it wasn’t memorable. it still involved college-days styled forced drinking and someone passing out.
i didn’t even bother planning anything for my birthday this year. it’s kind of difficult when all of your friends are super poor, have to travel on overnight trains just for the occasion, and are also trying to wrap things up at their own sites. i was pretty much just planning on having a harry potter marathon and binge on cake with my village neighbor sarah. quite the exciting plan! but last minute my kind friend catharine decided to travel all the way over to stay at my hobbit house and celebrate with me.
while my birthday fell on a friday, a day that i don’t have any classes, i still headed to school. mostly because the students all asked me if they’d see me that day and really, i had nothing else to do. i began my birthday morning by treating myself to a bucket bath and opened a gift left behind from my parents’ visit and found 3 new articles of clothing. yay for being bathed and wearing new clothes!
at school i was greeted with group hugs by my 5th graders and many many statements of “s dnem rozhdeniya” and “happi beurfday!”. the school director surprised me with a bouquet of flowers, a lager than necessary box of chocolates, and the 5th graders recited poems of well wishing to me. it was adorable.
i did the very american “bring birthday treats to work” thing with purchased medovik torte (my favorite). i shared it with the director, foreign language teachers, and a very lucky 6th grade class. while the 6th graders were gobbling up the cake i asked them in english “how old am i today?” — one boy, thinking i was asking about the cake, shouted “YUMMY!”. i’m the yummy age of 26. i guess i’ll take that semi-freudian slip of an answer over the other guesses of 30 and even 18.
later that day i headed with sarah to the english club ran in the city and afterwards a few beers and pizza with the other city volunteers. being in the city is, as you can imagine, very different from village life so it was nice to feel like a “young cool person” again. at least for a few hours.
my friend catharine arrived the next morning to my hobbit house. i warned her that saturday (the day after my birthday) was my landlady’s 50th birthday so partying would certainly follow. but as a fellow volunteer, she’s no newbie to marathons of eating and drinking and was up to the task. we headed over to my landlord’s house (aka walked 5 steps) and discovered a spread of food that was even more impressive than the new years feast. i new we were in for it.
the table was crowded with plates upon plates of meat, mayo, and meat. it would have been a vegan’s worst nightmare. everyone seated shoulder to shoulder quickly became even closer of friends once the vodka began to flow (i lost track of how many bottles they went through) and endless toasts were made. the seemingly innocent rosary and wig wearing babushka that lives with my landlords, the one one that has never said more than a few words to me, turned out to be absolutely hilarious. she made sure catharine and i always finished our glass, even counting for us to hurry up and drink — “girls! do i need to count to 5??”.
a few hours into the night while everyone was somewhat (or really) buzzed, the party quickly came to a halt when another babushka fainted and hit the floor. everyone went into a slight panic but thankfully my neighbor is a nurse and took control of the situation. the babushka didn’t wake up at first, which was quite unsettling, but came to in a few minutes. the “quick help” truck (ambulance) arrived with what looked like a rusty tool box, took her blood pressure, the male party guests carried her out on a cot-like stretcher and took her away to the hospital.
the time that passed was worrisome. catharine and i didn’t know exactly what to do or how we should act so we mostly just sat there. the other guests discussed what might have caused it and figured she fainted because she planted a whole field of potatoes by herself that same day. i tell you, the babushkas here are tough. she came back soon enough in okay health, my neighbor read her cardiogram at the table, and we all resumed our party positions, well, minus the babushka. the night of drinking and joking continued on despite what could have been a party buzz kill. someone made a joke that catharine and i would now tell people back home that in ukraine they drink till they hit the floor. heh heh.
it was only 11:30pm or so, early in ukrainian party standards, but catharine and i were ready for bed. all the food, all the homemade wine (and by homemade wine i mean cherry), and all the russian makes for some tired americans. i felt pretty bad about my life when i realized that the 11 month old baby was still up and the hazing babushka were still having fun — but i accepted defeat. i heard them all up and partying till 4am, their party stamina never ceases to amaze me.
when it was time to go my landlords invited us back tomorrow (it’s never just a one day thing) and had quickly come to like catharine and her amazing russian skills. as a city dweller, she was glad to have been there for the party and to experience village hospitality at its finest. and it really is fine. my landlords and neighbors are so kind, humorous, and generous. so while i can’t always keep up with their level of partying, leisure and lengthy celebration of family, friends, and food will certainly be something i miss.
in other very exciting news, it looks like the topics of my blogs will shift from being poor and living surrounded by babushkas to being poor and living surrounded by college kids. that’s right, i’m going to grad school! i have recently accepted admission into university of iowa’s MFA program in book arts. i’m heading to iowa city this fall!!!!! i think i have a life plan! well, sort of, okay not really, but i now know what i’ll be doing for the next 3-ish years.
there are only a handful of programs in the country for book arts. i’m pretty sure when i got my acceptance e-mail a very loud “WOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!” was heard in the village. i was really trying not to get my hopes up too much and have a back-up plan. but i wasn’t even sure what my back-up plans were so i was really happy to discover this plan went through!
u of iowa’s program includes MFA students as well as those working towards book arts certificates. so in all around 45 students. turns out i’m one of five people that have been admitted for the coming year. o__O needless to say i feel honored to have been chosen and am beyond excited (can you tell?) to see where this will take me, professionally and personally.
“uh, what the heck encompasses an MFA in book arts” you ask? well, it’s the study of the book in historical, social, and artistic premises. i’ll be taking courses on book history, books in society, relationship between readers and the book, future of the book, papermaking, letterpress, calligraphy, bookbinding, and artists books. just reading (or even writing about) the course list causes a nerd-induced tizzy. with my MFA i’ll be able to teach university/college level art courses and further pursue my dream to open a printing press/stationery store with community classes and calligraphy/condiment drawing services.
my dear site mate and neighbor, sarah, came over the night i found out of my acceptance to celebrate with chardonnay, cupcakes, chocolates, and cookies. it was a diabetes-inducing sugary celebration of things to come. not to mention she was good at distracting me from freaking out about the logistics of things like money, housing, car etc. you know, the small stuff.
things have all been happening pretty quickly. right now i’m trying to tackle the task of apartment hunting from afar, select courses, and figure out how to apply for residency. i’ll get back from my travels in southeast asia at the end of june, spend july at home/un-packing then re-packing, and then move to iowa the beginning of august. bing bang boom. it doesn’t give me much time, but i can’t tell you how relieved i am to know what’s coming next in my life.
i think it’ll be kind of a rough transition trying to adapt back to life in america and deal with reverse culture shock when, in someways, i’ll be thrown into the most stereotypically “american” environment out there. but don’t get me wrong, i’m so looking forward to it — after living in a village for two years, living somewhere where i can actually have a normal social life with people my age that speak english sounds pretty. damn. amazing. it might be overwhelming at first, but as peace corps taught me, i can adjust.
so many people have asked me what what’s next — for me and my blog. and now i’m happy to have a semi-accurate answer for both. i think the general opinion is that people wish for me to continue writing (and baking). and no, it’s not just my mom that said that i swear! maybe i’ll change the name to corn & husk: life as a grad student in iowa. or maybe poor & printing: life as a MFA grad student. i think i’ll have to work on the name a bit more…whatever i decided to do with it, you can be reassured that it will go on and i hope you continue to read.
eventually i do hope to publish a book of stories from my time in peace corps (don’t worry, i’ll included capital letters). but i guess now i don’t have to worry about publishers rejecting my work since i’ll be able to one-woman-show write/design/print/bind my own book! yay for loopholes and exciting things to come : )