Faith, Hope, and Love Remain

Alei's adventures in Ukraine

And the Hits Just Keep Coming… January 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 8:33 am

Monday, January 11

I should probably acknowledge that this post will likely fly in the face of my goal to serve positively and whatnot, but I also want to paint an accurate portrait of life here which occasionally includes some setbacks.  This week it just so happened to include a string of setbacks in rapid succession.  Viewing them concentrated like this kind of makes it seem funnier though & thereby easier to deal with, so here goes.  (How’s that for a disclaimer.)

  1. My internet, which previously was my lifeline to the world & apparently a very balancing factor, is no more.  While convenient, this is still a small town in Ukraine so in order to get a signal I had to place the cord at just the right angle.  Gradually that progressed into having to use the ever popular guess & check method to find the perfect mix of twisting the cord at the proper degree & spot while applying enough but not too much pressure.  With 45 meters of cord it wasn’t unusual for the process to take half an hour in the final days.  And then…dun, dun, dun…the cord broke.  Inevitable, probably.  Obnoxious, definitely.  However, if you’re reading this it probably means that I have access again.  Hopefully it’s not March.
  2. I had a closer-than-comfortable run in with a car when I slid down the dirt road wielding two 6 liter water bottles on my way home from the well.  I could see the thing coming at me but couldn’t stop sliding & just had to hope that it saw me & could stop in time (which it did with no problem).  No big deal, but an illustration that even walking can be a challenge here since we take no precautionary measures and thus a stroll down the hill to town is akin to trying to tiptoe down a slip’n’slide…which actually sounds kind of fun now that I type it out.  I can’t even chalk this one up to my foreigner status as everyone slips regularly, which while sometimes hysterical is probably really dangerous.  I’m contemplating writing a grant for $20 so I can buy a gigantic bag of salt & go to town (literally & figuratively).
  3. Given the absence of internet I foraged on to attempting things I’d been postponing…namely housework.  First stop was doing my laundry Saturday night by hand in my bathtub.  At the end of two & a half hours of scrubbing & rinsing I felt like I’d done a month’s worth of laundering but looked at the end result & realized it was only about ¼ of the amount of a usual load stateside.  And now, a full 3 days later, everything is still sopping wet.  Joy.  Next on the agenda was ‘vacuuming’ except while cell phones are essential here (my 8 year old neighbor has one) vacuums are extremely rare.  So I spent a fair amount of my evening spastically brushing my floor with a miniature wooden broom…one that literally reaches to my knee & is comprised of pieces of straw bound together.  And finally while trying to make…what else…borsch, I realized I am my father’s daughter by singing off my arm hair when the propane-tank system leaked & two burners caught fire instead of just one.  On the bright side though, Mr. Cook’s incident involved partially burnt eyebrows resulting from fixing the basement thermostat so I guess I’d prefer my mishap (sorry Dad :)).
  4. I can’t speak the language.  I found this out yesterday when after showing 4 people my ticket & asking if the unmarked bus at the station was going to Bapnyarka then boarding said bus I discovered that someone else was in the seat that I was assigned.  I knew that she was probably right so I tried to exit said bus but a cultural difference that we were warned about is that people can seem pushy (cutting in lines, not moving out of the way, ect.) & my efforts to move upstream were in vain as I couldn’t get past everyone in the aisles and ended up riding the bus anyways.  Obviously I wasn’t in my proper seat so when the person who’s seat I was in got on a few stops later & started yelling at me the bus driver had to stop, walk to the back & explain to the woman in front of 80 some passengers that I was an American who didn’t understand & that she needed to find a different seat until we got to my stop (he actually was extremely nice about it but I wanted to disappear in that moment nonetheless).
  5. I was only en route to Bapnyarka to begin with because it is our closest train station (2 hours away) & my doctors said I needed to go to Kyiv ASAP to get a swine flu vaccination since I’m ‘high risk’ (a.k.a. I have asthma).  So at 11pm I arrived and attempted to buy my ticket that would have me to the city at 7am but of course, there were no available seats.  So I found myself on a bus back to Yampil & got home @ 2am tired & without even having learned a ‘better luck next time’ lesson because our one & only option for buying tickets is going to the station & hoping they’re not sold out.  Yikes.

So now I’m all packed & ready for Operation: Get-To-Kyiv take 2 hopefully starting with getting on the right bus tonight.  Once (perhaps I should say ‘if’) I get there, all will be well because along with the shot I’ll have access to a shower, lots of books donated by previous volunteers, and potentially Thai food.  Plus when I get back on Wednesday school will have started & maybe I’ll even have my schedule so I can lesson plan @ long last.  If nothing else I think that weeks like this provide me with plenty of material for later in life when I need to pull the ‘When I was your age…’ card with my kids & if they’re as sassy as I was to my parents that one might just come in handy 🙂

PS: It’s now Tuesday morning & I’m posting this after successfully arriving in Kyiv so things are already looking up.  Because I can’t avoid weird situations to save my life though, here’s another little gem from last night’s travels.  A little boy came up asking for money & in an attempt to temper my bad mood I asked if he was hungry & he said yes so I told him I would take him to the store (the size of a closet with mostly candy & soda).  On the walk over we talked about what he would like (sausage of course) but when we got in to the store & I asked him to tell the saleslady what he’d like he started grabbing toys from the wall & I didn’t know how to explain properly without causing a scene (not recommended by Americans traveling with all of their belongings in a backpack) so I said ‘Just one’ and he walked out with a racecar & a toy gun.  As if that wasn’t enough fun, about 5 minutes later his mom came up to me & told me that I needed to take him back to the store & exchange the toys for money but I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of giving money to the woman in a nice coat who probably put her 5 year old up to begging at a train depot so I pretended like I didn’t understand & called it a day.  This is my life.


4 Responses to “And the Hits Just Keep Coming…”

  1. Suzanne Sutherland Says:

    Hi, Alei,

    I met your parents many years ago when we all lived in Houston, and we have kept in touch over the years at Christmas time.

    I received the annual Cook Family Christmas letter last week and learned that you had joined the Peace Corps and are serving in Ukraine. After teaching for forty-three years, I retired this year and am currently volunteering as a tutor with our local literacy council. Coincidentally, I currently am tutoring two students from Ukraine so was especially interested in your blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experiences and have passed along your blog address to my students from Ukraine.

    I taught overseas for many years prior to moving to Houston so can empathize with many of your experiences, and I look forward to reading more about your Ukrainian experiences .

    Warm regards,
    Suzanne Sutherland

    • aleicook Says:

      Hi Suzanne,

      Thanks for finding this. What a small world. Please let your students know how much I’ve appreciated the Ukrainian kindness & hospitality from my new friends & neighbors. Any advice from your teaching abroad experiences?

      Thanks and have a great day,


      • Suzanne Sutherland Says:

        Greetings, Alei,

        Oksana, one of my Ukrainian students, is thoroughly enjoying following your blog so is aware of your affection for and appreciation of your new Ukrainian friends and neighbors. My other student doesn’t read as yet, but we’re working on that during our tutoring sessions. They both speak Russian as they are from the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine, and right now I can’t remember the name of their town.

        My only teaching advice to you is to just enjoy your teaching experiences abroad. You appear to have a natural talent for teaching, inherited from your mom, I assume.

        I’m snowbound yet again here in the Ozarks and continue to vicariously enjoy your Peace Corps adventures.


  2. Maya Says:

    Hahahaha. Oh I love it– you are awkward no matter where 🙂 . However, I am really glad that things are looking up. I am looking forward to your next post. I hope teaching goes well!

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