Oh what a difference a few weeks make. The days following my return to Ukraine dragged along in a rather brutal bout of homesickness, but luckily I only made it to Day 7 of the ’10 Day Rule’ before I started to feel like myself again. Now almost a month out it’s much easier to remember that ‘myself’ always misses home but has a lot going for her here too. Almost daily I’m reminded of all of the great things I get the privilege of experiencing from afar (emphasis on FAR), & really with less than 10 months left I’m very relieved to be feeling better & able to make the most of my somewhat limited time remaining. Ukrainian me is apparently a creature of habit, so once my routine of school, tutoring, trips to the well, and nights of knitting (I’m attempting my first sweater…yikes) was back in place it was like a switch was flipped & I was functional again. Highly preferable indeed. Plus my routine has been pleasantly spruced up thanks to my trip to the land of plenty. This is so not my M.O. at home, but here I generally make the same thing for breakfast, lunch, & dinner. That was quite possibly the lamest sentence I’ve ever typed, but with vegetable selection being scarce & shopping options limited to twice weekly, having a pretty predictable menu is kind of essential. In all honesty though, I really don’t mind it at all especially now that recent imports mean that I can spike my morning coffee with sugar-free almond syrup, add Fajita seasoning to my once bland frozen veggies for dinner & get the weirdly satisfying experience of popping my own popcorn over the stovetop flame. It may not sound like much but after months of all things tasteless & white, flavor never gets old. Plus using popcorn kernels bez (without) a microwave is surprisingly satisfying & kind of a power trip. All good things.
Speaking of good things, news around here would fall into that category as of late. After writing to a generous group of returned Peace Corps Volunteers in Chicago I was able to raise over $2,000 needed for the grant I wrote last May which means that my students will now have access to a multimedia room with a projector, laptop, and smartboard. I’ll lead technology trainings for the teachers on the new equipment & software like Powerpoint (as if yoga wasn’t enough of a reminder that I’m so not qualified for 90% of the things I do here) who’ll then pass on the information to students in the older grades, so hopefully within a few months my kiddos will have some experience with the presentation tools necessary for international business. I’m also hoping to take advantage of the big screen to host a gender development workshop for my girls &/or movie screenings for the English club. A Journalism Club is hopefully in our future too as I just finished a grant through USAID that would give my school the equipment and training necessary to start & publish our own student-run newspaper. It goes before the board February 8 so hopefully I’ll have an exciting update in my next post. In the meantime my little ambitious English readers can browse through our new fiction library that arrived last Friday thanks to Darien Books who offers & ships 35 pounds of literature to any volunteer for free. I stumbled upon their program & thought it sounded too good to be true but sent an email anyways, & am very glad now knowing that I get to be the bearer of a bevy of new books tomorrow morning 🙂
Extracurricular events have been a blur of positive as well. After the trying week alone in my apartment I was invited back to Becky & Ashley’s site for the next installment of the spa + holiday series: Spartin Luther King Jr. Weekend. Katelin & Julia joined the festivities & themes of the fete included appetizers & desserts, fashion magazine-inspired crazy makeup, & glittery rhinestoned nails that you couldn’t have paid us $20 to sport a few short months ago.
Once we were appropriately dolled up we headed off for a week of language learning at Ukrainian Camp but arranged a day trip to lovely Lviv on the way. That city never ceases to impress & we spent the day wandering along the cobbled streets & eventually found a fairly legit Italian restaurant for dinner. The sightseeing was a joy as always but even better was the reminder of how nice it is to travel with friends. I couldn’t have asked for a more laid-back & fun group of people to wander with . The next morning we tackled the second leg of the journey & made it to camp by lunchtime. Language camp never sounds that enticing, but always turns out to be a blast & a throwback to our college days. Our sunlight hours were spent broken up in classes, but we were able to choose some of them so along with having a slightly better grip on the (many) verbs of motion I also was treated to an hour & fifteen minutes of hysterical Ukrainian slang with a corresponding worksheet that I will probably cherish forever & happily email to anyone interested. All of our meals were spent together in a dining hall equivalent & our evenings were filled with playing Euchre (a supposedly very Midwestern & fun card game) & listening to music in our dorm rooms. The camp lasted four days & then Katelin & I started our journey back to Vinnytsia region starting with a 9 hour layover. Another instance that would have been a drag by myself but turned out to be nothing but fun when we met up with similarly stranded volunteers & spent the day in a cafe learning more card games & appreciating the company.
The following week at school was normal & filled with appreciative kids & a somewhat successful trip to the gym. Successful in that I found it. Somewhat in that the equipment consists of a stationary bike, elliptical & treadmill circa 1980 & apparently it’s impossible for the machines to be plugged in & thus turned on for some reason. Hopefully there was a translation error somewhere down the line that I can figure out this week. Then Saturday I met with volunteers in my region in Vinnytsia partially for a meeting & partially just to hang out. Aside from seeing many a familiar face there were also about 10 newbies who arrived in December & were all very cool & much more put-together than I remember being this time last year. Olha saved the day again & arranged for me to stay with her sister in an extra apartment that she has downtown so I didn’t have to leave on the last bus at 5 per usual & got to join the others at a restaurant. Dinner quickly morphed into hours of laughing & talking before long I realized that I should text Lena (Olha’s sister) to make sure that she wasn’t up waiting for me. I was using T9 to text in Ukrainian & apparently overestimated its vocabulary as while I thought I texted Hi, it’s alei (це елі) I actually sent ‘це злі’ instead which just so happens to mean ‘It’s evil’. I got a confused and quite funny call from Olha directly afterwards encouraging me to stay out with my friends at least until midnight just like Cinderella. Once the clock struck twelve I started started the trek home & conveniently her apartment was on the way to the train station where my friends were going so we were able to head out together for an evening stroll which just so happened to bring us past McDonald’s. At this point the store was closed but the drive-through was open so naturally we walked on through. I tried to order a chicken sandwich with ketchup & they said I couldn’t. Thinking they ran out of ketchup I tried substituting it with barbeque sauce & struck out again. Confused but unwilling to move on at this point I asked if it was possible to order one chicken sandwich and one ketchup on the side & then & only then did I get a yes. Apparently it was just the sauce distribution that was absolutely not happening. We walked up to the next window to pay & then devoured our little taste of home in plain sight & much to the amusement of the taxi drivers ordering food like ‘normal people’ from the comfort of their cars. As far as representing America & breaking cultural stereotypes go I fear that when McDonald’s is involved it’s always one step forward, two steps back. Gotta love that quality control though. We found Lena’s apartment with rather remarkable ease & I got to spend the night in a warm bed, have coffee & conversation with her this morning, catch a bus & make it back to Yampil by noon. My alternative is catching the train at 10pm & hoping for a bus at midnight & making my way half-asleep to my apartment at 2am which illustrates yet again how nice it is to be taken care of by that family. Their generosity will likely continue tomorrow after school when I join them for Vanya (the four year old son)’s birthday party 🙂 So I guess all of this is a long-winded (as always) way of saying that while I still miss you all dearly, I’m feeling exponentially better & truly appreciate your thoughts & prayers. You’re the best!