Faith, Hope, and Love Remain

Alei's adventures in Ukraine

Weird Quirks I’ve Developed March 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 8:15 pm

So one of the biggest changes in the last 6 months (yes, I made it to the 6 month mark 🙂 ) is the amount of time I spend alone.  Between the constant companionship that college provided & the endless joys of living with 2 little brothers & 2 dogs, days to myself were rare & not extremely coveted.  Things are different now to say the least. Most of my time is spent unaccompanied- I do all my errands alone, travel solo, & go for long walks around town by myself.  It sort of reminds me of that scene in Rocket Man where he has to be in the solitude station for a full 24 hours, but luckily I have yet to follow suit & break out the sock puppets.  I’m a big fan of independence, but must say all this time alone with my thoughts has been a bit revealing.  It’s not lonely per say, but it has led me to discover how much I value experiencing & talking through basically every trivial thought or event with my loved ones, & just how weird I am/have become without you all.  I tend to prefer people with a quirk or two, but I must say I’m a bit concerned with the sheer volume of weird habits I’ve managed to pick up.  So to illustrate here’s a list that’s about as comprehensive as I can handle right now.

  • Spider hunting- I thought I might have beaten my arachnophobia but alas the new bravery only applies to daddy long legs that aren’t moving & are extremely far away.  Everything else still freaks me out & elicits all sorts of weird behavior.  For instance, last Thursday (not that I remember the date or anything) my landlady left my balcony door open despite my insistence that that’s how spiders come in & low & behold I spotted a disgusting black one creeping along my kitchen ceiling pipe later that night.  Normally I can’t sleep knowing they’re lurking somewhere but while waiting for it to crawl on a wall that was within reach of my snow boot weaponry it disappeared behind a pipe.  I was able to go to bed only after confirming on that the ‘crawling in your mouth when you sleep’ rumor is farce, but old habits die hard so now I sleep every night with my hood on & tied so my ears are covered & the blankets pulled up to my eyes.  I also shiftily scan the room about every 5 minutes and intentionally clap & clatter around before entering a room & then pause & scan while holding whatever makeshift weapon I can find just in case.  Literally every time.  And of course I shake out every blanket & towel & scrutinize every shoe or other potential hiding place.  Ick, ick, ick.

    See, it was big & hideous

  • Dancing- given my height & lack of coordination, even pre-Ukraine I would certainly never call myself a good dancer.  After the powerful influence of discoteques however, I’m legitimately afraid of having to dance in public when I return.  I’ve completely lost touch with what constitutes ‘normal’ & may have to fake an injury to avoid introducing my spaztastic new moves to unsuspecting wedding guests & bar patrons alike.  Sorry Lamplighters, it’s been fun.
  • Eating- again, even in my ‘normal’ hey day I was teased for the weird food combinations that I liked (although in my defense I still don’t think I’m alone in liking the sweet/salty combo).  Now that I’ve had to get creative given the scaled back options my diet is just plain weird.  Lunch is almost always cold cabbage with mustard, vinegar & coriander, snack usually involves cherry yogurt with salty cheese & dinner is cabbage cooked on the stove with soy sauce & ginger… & I like it.  Even weirder, my big treat this weekend was a vegetarian pizza in Kyiv.  Behold…

    At least there's no meat or mayonnaise

    The only thing weirder than peas,carrots, green beans, corn & kidney beans on a pizza was the fact that it tasted good to me. My bar is so incredibly low right now that I think Lou Malnati’s would probably blow my mind.

  • Talking- now that I ‘know’ Ukrainian I have two options to make this weird.  Any attempt at speaking the mother tongue is accompanied by the knowledge that I’ll basically be speaking like a caveman given my elementary at best grasp of grammar.  One-on-one I can usually accept this & get creative with whoever is patiently engaging in conversation with me, but at parties/in big groups I get shy & intimidated by the pace & have ended up picturing myself as the foreign exchange student smiling & nodding with a glazed look on her face for hours on end.  I still do enjoy expressing myself in English although it’s usually done by commenting on random things aloud to myself.  I regularly talk to the stray dogs that I pass on the street, usually in my weird dog voice to make matters worse.   I have also been known to use it as a defense mechanism when people are expecting an answer out of me in Russian for a question that I don’t even begin to understand.  I find that responding in rapid fire English “I-don’t-understand-what-you-want-me-to-say-because-I-don’t-speak-this-crazy-language-and-you-for-some-reason-refuse-to-speak-slowly-so…” makes them as confused as I am & helps us move on or at least start over.
  • Crying- I really am generally happy here, but I’m still halfway around the world so tears just happen.  I think that’s to be expected.  Probably less expected is the frequency & lack of control I have over them.  Or perhaps I’ve just stopped caring.  Whatever the case, it’s become nothing for me to think of home/family/friends/Maddie & Stella/America/Diet Coke/boating/vacuums, ect.  & start crying while I walk down our main street to the store.  I also tear up pretty regularly while teaching Culture Studies to my 10th formers (most embarrassingly during my digression about Barnes & Nobles) & flat out sob in the privacy of my apartment, especially when a nostalgic song comes on or when the previously mentioned spider debacle occurred.  It’s not even strictly related to sadness, as being overwhelmed also often gets the best of me which was illustrated this morning when I cried on the bus when people kept pushing me & telling me to move even though there wasn’t any room & I was so close to the man next to me that I thought we were going to have to get married.  But again, my contacts have never been cleaner.
  • Running in place while studying my flashcards & listening to Lady Gaga or rap loudly in my room- yeah, that still happens.
  • My appearance- oh, where to start?  I still refuse to compete with the stylish Ukrainians & very rarely wear any makeup.  Also, partially in an attempt to make my split ends go away & partially out of laziness I don’t often blow dry my hair which renders it sort of wavy but mostly frizzy & my only effort in addressing the issue is arbitrarily & visibly placing a bobby pin in somewhere.  Adding insult to injury, despite not being dyed my hair has decided to turn orange for some unknown reason.  Instead of all things mesh, lace, or shiny I stick to jeans & a hoodie most days I don’t have school & perhaps worst of all, I have to wear socks with flats in order to avoid being yelled at by every babusia that I pass.  It makes me cringe every time I happen to glance down.  There’s been talk amongst my cluster mates about writing a Peace Corps Ukraine movie in all of our spare time.  If that’s the case, I think Anne Hathaway would be cast in my role.  Perhaps I should clarify.  I think Anne Hathaway channeling the prepubescent dork before her princess makeover would be cast in my role.

    Mary Janes + Socks = Never OK

But she'd have to gain 10 pounds

That list is a little longer then I would like, but I think I’ve made my point quite clear.  Weirdo party of 1.  Individually I guess the oddities are acceptable but seeing them all together like that certainly makes me seem less than sane.  Oh well, I have a year & 9 months to readjust or more likely further sink into bizarre habits.  All part of the fun.

Speaking of fun, I just got back from a weekend in Morozivka & Kyiv.  My host family was really sweet as usual & it’s always so comforting spending time with them.  We managed a trip  the girls’ dance class which looked straight out of a movie with a bunch of teenagers doing the tango in a cool basement studio, ate way too much of what feels like comfort food to me now, hit up the disco with Yanna & Ashley & spent all Sunday playing outside nice like a family.  It was sad to leave so quickly but they are going to try to visit for my birthday (the same as my host mom’s) & then I’ll be back up at the end of May to celebrate Yanna’s graduation.  Yesterday was my meeting for the grant review committee which was really interesting & seems like it will be a great opportunity for me.  I also was further reminded of why I love the Peace Corps lounge as I met a lot of funny older volunteers & stocked my backpack with books to read outside.  And now I’m back in Yampil enjoying the warm weather for one more day of Spring Break & preparing for the Easter festivities this weekend.  I miss you as always but appreciate all of the emails, comments, & phone calls & hope you’re doing well.


All My Children March 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 7:16 pm

Some of my fifth formers: (clockwise) Nastia, Nastia, Myroslava, Mykola, Ihor, Kostya, Anton, Vladik, Pasha, & Serhiy

I know teachers don't have favorites, but if they did she'd definitely be a contender. Also, bunny ears are real funny here, thank you Ihor.

All smiles even while taking a test. Too cute.

Signing autographs, a.k.a. assignment notebooks. Note the blur of motion that's standard in almost every picture with these guys.

My 9th formers posing naturally & illustrating the evolution of the bunny ear gesture. Yulia, Maryna, Lena, Vika, Dasha, & Bogdan.

OK, so technically not all of my children but some of them at least. Darling, huh?  I really do get a huge kick out of them & am so glad to be teaching 3 groups of 5th graders who haven’t yet decided that they’re too cool to unabashedly give each other high fives when I write their grades at the end of the lesson.  Apparently that’s another universal as they say a literal translation (дайте п’ят = give five).  And how could I fail to mention the ever popular pretending-to-shoot-yourself-in-the-head move little Serhiy tends to favor.  It’s hard to have too bad of a day as they manage to provide something new & hysterical regularly.  I haven’t been forced to send notes home to parents yet either as any disruptions are squashed by their regular teacher who sits in the back grading papers or by the other students.  For instance, earlier this week one of the boys was spastically flailing his hand around while chanting mojnha (“pick me” equivalent) & before I had time to remind him in my best teacher voice that I only call on people who raise their hands quietly, shy little Nastia marched over & straight-armed him square in the forehead with the palm of her hand.  I wasn’t quite sure what the appropriate response was, but the Ukrainian teacher didn’t say anything so I stifled a laugh (unsuccessfully) & marched on.  And guess what, he raised his hand quietly the rest of the lesson.

I tried to explain St. Patrick’s Day in all of my lessons but it was surprisingly difficult.  Without all of the context & years of hearing about pots of gold & four leaf clovers the traditions themselves seem a little disjointed: wearing green clothes, dying entire rivers & various beverages an unnatural color, pinching  people & eating Irish food.  I could almost see the “But I thought you were from America?” thought bubbles over their heads.  Oh well.  I’ve witnessed my fair share of confusing holiday traditions here too so it might be a situation where ‘Those who live in glass houses…’ applies.   Or more accurately in this case ‘Those who throw rice into other people’s houses…’ 🙂  At any rate, Happy Belated St. Patrick’s Day.

Nothing else too newsworthy this week.  They say that Peace Corps is a perfect opportunity for introspection & life changing self-discovery.  My main realization thus far is that I am a materialistic person whose happiness is largely affected by the availability or absence of warm showers.  Not too flattering of a find, but at least I have hot water.  I am now weirdly joyful every time I realize that my workout has made me sweat  & catch myself lovingly checking on the boiler every time I walk by it like a new mom. So basically, life is good.


I Enjoy Being a Girl March 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 8:58 pm

To all of those reading this who happen to be women, I congratulate you and give to you wishes of health and happiness.  I feel it’s only right for you to hear this sweet but strange offering as I heard it non-stop this week in honor of International Women’s Day.  This ‘global celebration of women’ that we had on Monday sounds too good to be true but has been celebrated for over 100 years & has it’s own wikipedia page (see for yourself) so it must be legit.  Basically it’s like Mother’s Day but all women receive flowers, candy, compliments, small gifts, and congratulations just for being the fairer sex.  I couldn’t help but feel a little jilted when I first heard about it as I’ve gone 22 years without, but apparently as a way to make amends God decided to give me almost everything I’ve been wanting in rapid succession.  It truly felt like having a birthday week (that’s a thing, right Mrs. Klein?) as I was showered with blessing after wonderful blessing.  I don’t want to leave anything out so I’ll go chronologically. Last Friday we had our Meet Your Neighbors meeting in Vinnitsia where I, shockingly, met my Peace Corps neighbors (the other volunteers who live in my oblast).  I was pleasantly surprised not only by my friend Julia from Morozivka’s presence despite living in another region, but also with a great new book to read on the bus ride back.  I had to leave abruptly & miss out on real(ish) pizza but in doing so I was able to dodge the bullet of being an actress in a training video that is shown to all new volunteers (our security officer asked me & I panicked and agreed because as the head of all things safety & quite possibly a former bodyguard he is one person I want on my side) & was able to make it back for school on Saturday.  Weekend class sounds like a bummer but had I skipped it I would have missed our school-wide morning assembly complete with poetry, songs, and odes to women, flowers, chocolate, an intricate Ukrainian tea cup from my students, and a raucous after school party in the teacher’s lounge complete with accordion accompanied sing-alongs.  The men had to prepare everything for the party which worked out nicely for me as all of the sandwiches had meat on them so I had a solid excuse not to carb load on food that I don’t particularly care for.  The next day my internet was fixed & I got a $6 haircut (luckily not the same as a $6 haircut in America).  More candy and kindness from my neighbors & students followed early in the week & then on Wednesday I got good news & the perfect care package  within 30 minutes of each other.  I found out that I was accepted into a group that reviews grants for projects involving AIDS awareness which means that Peace Corps will pay for me to travel to Kyiv six times a year for our meetings (conveniently close to my host family), I’ll become very familiar with the grant writing process which I’ll need if I continue to work with non-profits as planned, and I’ll play a part in stopping the epidemic in Ukraine.  As for the care package courtesy of the genius Ashley Chamberlain: it doesn’t get much better than peanut butter, Sharpie pens in 20 colors, great new CDs, and my very own Tom Skilling WGN snuggie.  I don’t know if Yampil’s ready for the Snug but I certainly was & am sporting it right now.  My mom & grandma finalized their itinerary for our Eurotrip & will be flying into Kyiv so I can officially start the 3 month count down.  And as if all of that weren’t enough….drumroll please… I JUST SHOWERED IN MY APARTMENT 🙂  They installed the boiler in my bathroom and now hot water from a shower nozzle is just a turn of a knob away.  It is absolutely everything I imagined & more.

Here’s an awkward  picture of me in my abundance as a reminder that  life is very, very good.  I miss you all & hope your weeks are just as wonderful!