Faith, Hope, and Love Remain

Alei's adventures in Ukraine

Schoooool’s Out for the Summer! May 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 1:13 pm

I witnessed my last Last Bell ceremony early this morning & am now officially on Summer Vacay.  Hence two posts in one week.  So it begins.  Summer days, while often schedule-less, are still worlds better than their cold weather counterparts as I’m able to type this sitting on a bench in the schoolyard outside in the hariachi (hot) sun instead of cramped up in my apartment.  Also there’s ice cream.  It sounds simple, but being outside really makes everything seem better to me.  My daily walk around town this afternoon is a good example of that.  It was really nothing special, but the thanks to a blend of seemingly inconsequential details (air-dried hair, my favorite puffy sundress that makes me feel like a 50’s housewife/little girl playing dress up, Guster’s new (to me) album whose banjo & bells quirkily complemented the cows & pastures I was sauntering past & the sun warming my still-tanish arms) made for a perfect moment that could have been a scene from a Zooey Deschanel movie.  Or at the very least an American Eagle commercial.  Brutally boring blog fodder, but it does have me eagerly anticipating the next few months as well as life in sunny Te-jas.

The past few days not only brought me one week closer to that fateful time, but also were a pleasant mix of happy & sappy.  Most of the end of the year testing was taken care of when I was in Turkey (all part of my brilliant non-plan) which meant that my kids were beyond checked out & most didn’t even bring their books to school.  I’m guessing that would have rubbed me the wrong way last year but older & wiser Miss Alei is apparently calmer/a slacker & decided to wing it & do fun lessons outside all week that included playing 20 Questions, Uno, & Heads Up Seven Up.  One of my classes wanted to spend the period asking me questions & I agreed as long as they were game to answer the queries about themselves as well.  It seemed borderline like a recipe for disaster & a heck of a lot of freedom given the group of 8th grade boys I was dealing with, but luckily they behaved & their most pressing questions were random but appropriate like “What is your favorite brand of juice?” & “What is your favorite name for a girl?”.

Today’s ceremony was also pretty cute & comprised of handing out awards, recognizing the graduating 11th formers, & welcoming in the new itty bitty 1st formers (in the tiniest, gaudiest, ballgowns ever).  It only lasted about an hour & was pretty identical to last year’s except this year the 11th graders got to release live doves (maybe pigeons?) from their hands & I felt like I belonged for a change surrounded by my 6th formers, taking pictures & receiving armfuls of flowers.  Ukraine has me figured out in that department between the cherry blossoms (which sadly are long gone at this point) & peonies, my all time fave which also happen to grow naturally here & fill every garden as well as the vase (a.k.a. recycled water bottle bc I’m a classy lady) on my kitchen table thanks to my cute little kiddles.

The sappiness came early in the week when my school made up for my birthday absence with a vengeance.  The moment I walked in the door I was whisked into the teacher’s lounge with everyone else where the principal made a very moving (I think.  It was in Ukrainian.) speech wishing me well & thanking me for the work I’ve done before giving me flowers & a 1920’s-esque watch that I actually really like.  My school administration hasn’t always been the most expressive when it comes to gratitude so hearing “thank you” was a very moving experience to have first thing in the morning.  The rest of the day was equally sentimental as students from each of my classes sought me out, sometimes in the middle of other lessons, to sing Happy Birthday in their cute little accents & give me flowers, candy, & cards claiming that I was their ‘favourite’ teacher (courtesy of the British English curriculum).  I know this doesn’t say much given my track record, but I was at the tipping point of tears all day, verklempt with gratitude, & so happy it literally hurt to breathe.  Now that I think about it, the breathing thing may have been 15% allergy-induced asthma, but mostly sheer joy.

After school I stopped by the post office & received cards & fabulous presents from you all (which I opened as always while walking home laughing my head off like a nutter) & was again struck by how incredibly blessed I am.  My 24th birthday was nothing short of a global outpouring of love & an incredible reminder of how connected I can feel from half a world away.  My real birthday was already wonderful thanks to your facebook wishes from afar & kindness from strangers in Turkey.  Our new hotel friends made me a surprise birthday cake, gave me flowers, & took us to the outdoor disco where we spazzed out until 4 in the morning.  They even played 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ (the chorus of which is all ‘Hey shorty, it’s your birthday) & then coincidentally enough ended the evening by blasting Ganster’s Paradise because apparently there’s an ongoing cosmic bet to see how many times I can reference that song on here.  I’m all too happy to play along & amazed/horrified our new friends by busting out the song in its entirety along with Coolio.  Never have I looked more white.

Between that delightful day & my belated celebration I’ve learned that a) I may always try to be out of town on May 15th so I get two celebrations & b) this experience has opened my world up exponentially.  I was so worried that making such a crazy commitment would mean sacrificing my wonderful friends, family & life at home, but thanks to your amazing support I’ve been able to hold on to & be bolstered by relationships from home while simultaneously forming lasting bonds with people from all over the world.  It’s amazing to think that these new connections that have such a profound affect on me now (my host fam, Olha, my kiddos, my favorite shopkeeper) could have so easily never been a part of my life.  It’s a crazy thought to dwell on & probably a concept that will crystallize all the more as my time here wraps up, but overall I just feel incredibly fortunate if not unworthy to have received such elaborate international displays of affection.  So thank you.

OK, I promise that’s the end of my corny diatribe, at least for today.  Tomorrow would apparently be Graduation Day regardless of which side of the Atlantic I was on.  While on my current inter-connected kick I have to say I like knowing that at the exact moment Lucas Conner is marching across the stage of Cary Grove I will be watching my students do the same in Yampil’s auditorium (10 am ceremony at home & 6 pm here…how cool is that?).  Unfortunately my role here is going to require more effort & possibly a shot of vodka (liquid courage) beforehand since I’m supposed to translate the entire ceremony in English on stage even though no one except my students speaks English.  Yikes.  (Just kidding about the vodka btw.  Shockingly Ukraine has yet to convince me that it tastes like anything other than rubbing alcohol).  At any rate, I’m so proud of all of the recent grads across the board; the US & Ukraine, high school, college & graduate programs…you all are amazing & I’m celebrating with you in spirit.  Then Sunday morning I’ll head to Katelin’s site to spend a few days painting a world map on her school playground before hopping a train to my first camp of the year on Tuesday night.  Not only is it on the beach an hour south of Odessa, but because I agreed  to do the whole 3 week session I also get to bring a student with me for free, which is kind of a big deal around here since camps tend to be seen as life-changing but expensive. So now Sasha, a shy but sweet 10th grader & I will get to have a fun camp experience as well as yet another reminder that God is good 🙂


Turkish Delight May 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 10:03 pm

At exactly this time last week I was shoveling in my last plate full of spicy Turkish vegetables at a breakneck speed in order to make it on time to what would turn out to be my first of two accidental group dates for the evening.  In other words, vacation was fun.

The secret to the trip may have been that we had absolutely no grand expectations going in.  To this day we can’t really pinpoint how it even came about other than the shared desire to go somewhere warm that Ashley, Katelin & I vented about all winter.  Somewhere down the line we emailed a travel agent looking pretty much for anywhere that included a beach, & thanks to his amazing planning & our blind faith we ended up with a dream vacay that was equal parts cushy resort & captivating culture.  The only thing we had to go off of were truly terrible website reviews, hope that our post-PC standards left our bars satisfactorily low, knowledge that the alternative involved policing the ceaseless cheating that happens during test week at school, & confidence that the good company would make it all worthwhile.  Apparently that was more than enough.

The adventure started with an overnight train to Kiev for our 4am flight Saturday morning.  My friends & I have discussed changes in ourselves that our service has brought about & one of them that we’ve all noticed is that we no longer let ourselves believe that something is actually going to happen until the very last minute.  The airport was no exception & while we were pretty stoked, it wasn’t until we actually touched down in Anatalya that we finally believed it was real.  The airplane also made us realize that we’ve effectively morphed into country bumpkins as we freaked out over the coffee creamer packets offered at breakfast, savored our airplane food in its cute little compartmentalized trays, & hoarded away our wet wipes for later use.  Simple pleasures.

Despite running on empty sleep-wise I couldn’t convince myself to shut my eyes on the two-hour ride to our hotel (in a coach bus…holla!) because the scenery was so unexpectedly beautiful.  In very uncharacteristic, non-Alei fashion, I did almost no research about our destination & didn’t even know that I was going to Asia until a few days prior, so I was blown away by the panoramic of sparkling turquoise water on the right & ragged mountains dotted with mosques, villages, & kebab stands throughout on the left.  The amazement continued when we pulled into our busy town & saw the view from our room complete with an ancient castle & fortified walls nestled in the mountains past the Mediterranean bay.  I was really mostly focusing on the all-inclusive beach resort aspect beforehand, so the exotic sights were quite an exciting & appreciated hidden benefit.  It was culture shock in the best of ways as we were greeted with warm smiles & shown around the luxurious hotel while a hauntingly stunning prayer call rang out in the background.

Then we were ushered into the dining room where we did a very convincing impression of people who had never seen food before as we threw our arms up in total disbelief of all of the fresh options abounding.  It was literally table after table of spicy vegetarian concoctions incorporating everything from smoked eggplant, to hummus, to brussel sprouts (brussel sprouts!) with plenty of tzasiki sauce to liven it up in case it wasn’t flavorful enough already.  Factor in the coffee machine that doled out as many cups as my little heart desired (an average of 4 per meal it turns out) to go with the honey & sesame soaked desserts that I tended to favor, & I was in complete & total ethnic cuisine heaven.  Who knew how much better food is when it’s not white & starchy?  We were the only Americans that many of the hotel staff had met before (the rest of the clientele was mostly Russian with a few Polish & Dutch people thrown in for fun) & I’m afraid that I single-handedly perpetuated the obese stereotype as I regularly had to puppy guard my plate so a well intending bus boy wouldn’t clear the table before I soaked up every possible drop of sauce.  Sorry America, but it was worth it.

When we weren’t savoring both the delectable free fare & the chance to sit on an outside patio, we were lounging at the hotel beach.  There were a few clouds & showers on our first day, but other than that the weather was solidly sunny & h-o-t which left me more than content to spend my days baking in the sun.  I did get up occasionally, but only to wade in the frigid water or rotate my chair for more direct exposure & even then it was done somewhat grudgingly.  I brought my ebook but hardly needed to use it since the conversation was so ridiculously entertaining.  I really couldn’t have asked for better or more hilarious travel companions & the sound of our laughter (or more accurately cackling in my case) resounded down the otherwise peaceful beach.

Surprisingly our kind-of-constant giggling made us pretty popular with the rest of the hotel guests & staff.  Personally I would have found us obnoxious, but we were also a rarity being under age 40 & were able to make all sorts of friends while playing cards & chatting on the patio at night that made the trip that much more enjoyable.  We also decided to leave the hotel long enough to embark on a fishing excursion.  I’ve never been one for impaling worms, but Katelin is a seasoned fisherwoman & I’m pretty game for any opportunity to sit on a boat, so we set up a tour & made our way to the harbor with our guide Villi.  After getting an amazing up-close view of the castle walls we headed out for the open seas & spent a lovely 6 hours floating & fishing.  It turns out they use congealed pieces of chicken instead of live bait, so I pretended it was candied ginger, baited all four of the hooks on my line & found myself really enjoying the whole process.  Villi didn’t speak much English & had a habit of making unaware yet offensive comments, but he did take all of the fish off of my hooks so I didn’t have to touch them so I called it even.  Overall we caught at least 50 little guys including three rather adorable puffer fish that we threw back.  He even cooked up a few of them for us to eat (with our fingers) for some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever had.  I would have never thought of planning that part of the trip, but it was definitely a blast & very memorable experience.

There were what seemed like hundreds of hysterical moments that unfolded, but we’ve found that when we retell them it’s mostly only us laughing until our stomachs hurt, so I’ll spare you most of the details.  Suffice it to say the trip was an excellent reminder of why it’s more fun to not live alone.  I guess the anecdote alluded to at the beginning of this is as good as any to illustrate the ridiculous shenanigans we got ourselves into though.  While laying & laughing on the beach a random dude (in a speedo of course) came up & asked if he could show us a card trick.  It failed colossally, but then he started telling us about Turkish history which was pretty darn interesting so we eventually talked down his dinner invitation to just an early drink thinking it was the less committal option of the two.  It was at this point that we also remembered that Ashley had told our hotel friends that we would go check out the town with them at 11 & thus realized that we were the shady tourists with back-to-back engagements.  Granted there were three of us so we assumed that it was understood that these were not dates.  Now what was it that happens when you assume?

Bachelor number one met us (at a completely safe & public place, Dad) & escorted us to a swanky restaurant on the harbor overlooking the castle.  We started the night off on a typically weird note when the watermelon drink that one of us ordered turned out to be an entire watermelon spiked with various liquors, 8 twisty straws & lit sparklers.  It became painfully obvious a few minutes in that he thought we were on a date & I absolutely did not & proceeded to harness a truly impressive command of all things awkward in order to forcefully steer the conversation into platonic mode.  I knew it was bad when I heard myself ask about festivals as a neutral conversation topic.  Eventually we were boring enough that he shared with us the ever-popular saying “Every time there’s silence at a table an angel dies” & then told us about his interest in Battlestar Galactica before we could claim an early wakeup call & promptly bolt.  We made it back in time for our next rendezvous which was equally bizarre as it was basically a double date that I crashed.  Except neither of the girls were interested either so I pretty much took up the role of romance-ruiner & ran blatant interference on all of their attempts.  Despite our completely innocent actions throughout, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the motto of the evening was “It ain’t easy being sleazy”.

Basically we had a solid 5 days of fun, evidence of which you can see via facebook album here, & I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for a vacation off the beaten path.  This is already super-long, & my internet sitch is a little sketchy at the moment, but later this week I’ll post again detailing my two birthday celebrations (so Mariah Carey of me) because they’re definitely worth remembering as well.  I love & miss you all!


The Next Episode May 12, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 9:46 pm

…includes a beach, a birthday, & some big decisions.  I’m within my last few days of being 23 & pretty excited for the shift I feel coming up.   I’m bummed that I’ll no longer be able to sing along with Coolio during the “I’m 23 now but will I live to see 24” part with as much gusto as I have this year (& yes, I realize that I reference him a disproportionate amount on here for some odd reason), but overall I’m looking forward to the big 2-4 & all of the exciting changes that it will bring about.  I’m hoping that starting the year out on an all-inclusive beach resort in Turkey will set a precedence for how I expect the rest of the 364 days to go.  OK, mostly just kidding, but I am really pumped for the vacation starting tomorrow night & imagine I’ll hardly have to use my standard “It’s my birfday!” excuse because what on earth will I have to object to?  I don’t want to jinx it, but I think I might even be able to wear flip flops sans socks without being scolded unless my friends/travel companions Ashley & Katelin have really assimilated .  Exciting indeed.

The end of the vacay also happens to coincide with the 6 month mark on my remaining time here.  6 months is pretty much within the typical study-abroad duration range & I just so happen to know quite a few people who’ve studied abroad without wimping out or breaking down regularly.  I think I’ve got this after all.  6 months was also my magic number for when the job hunt would begin in earnest, but I jumped the gun & started a little early this week with two big steps.

First & foremost I think I can safely burn my full length, puffy parka when I leave here because thanks to encouragement from my wonderful friends & support from my family I’ve decided to move to Austin 🙂  I would give the monstrosity of a coat to one of my friends here like I plan on doing with the rest of my clothes, but I’m pretty confident that they hate it just as much as me & would probably dance around the bonfire of the shapeless, style-less, sleeping-bag-of-a-coat with glee.  Even more than unwarranted angst towards a jacket that really has kept me toasty warm here, I feel like I’m overflowing with hope, optimism, & the desire to spend all of my time on marshrutkas envisioning the life that I get to create in beautiful Texas.  Now more than ever I’m extremely grateful for the chance to deliberately & thoughtfully choose my next step as it will likely be the one that starts the rest of my “adult life”.  Yuck.  Perhaps that knee-jerk &  not exaggerated response implies that the “adult” thing is a long-shot, but at the very least I think a more responsible, stable, & social existence is in the works & certainly worth getting pumped about.  The convenience of American transport is also greatly aiding my anticipation because if I’ve learned anything these past 20 months it’s that I need to hug my family on a more than annual basis.  Luckily after some extensive Expedia searching I don’t think that will be an issue, especially if I manage to land a big girl job.  I’ve been looking up plenty of those this week too & got the weirdest results from that search term.  Who knew?  Really though, despite the still shaky economy I was able to find quite a few promising opportunities.  Ideally I’m hoping for a corporate communications position at a non-profit or at least a socially responsible company, but given the slightly unorthodox interviewing process that I’ll require (Skyping while sitting on a yoga ball with my apartment’s giant pastoral mural & glittery wallpaper in the background?) I think I may try for any marketing &/or PR positions that sound reasonable.

Eager to get the process started I opened up some old files from college & proceeded with the aforementioned second step- updating my resume.  Surprisingly that turned out to be the harder task of the two.  Tailoring everything from college was easy enough, but when it came time to add on there was a sudden & daunting twist.  I got as far as typing & formatting my work place, title & dates (Peace Corps, TEFL Volunteer, September 2009-November 2011) & then spent a good ten minutes staring at the blinking cursor.  I have absolutely no idea how to sum up the past two years in four bullet points.  Everything sounds trite (taught English 20 hours per week, wrote & raised funds for two grants, ect.) & no amount of sprucing the vocabulary up will fully convey the real benefits that I feel like I’ll take from this.  I’m pretty sure I could sell it in an interview, but on paper it’s falling a bit flat & I’m sounding a tad like a substitute teacher/camp counselor combo.  Probably not on any HR wishlist.  I suppose that’s why I started early though & will hopefully find a way to spin it as at least a creative alternative &/or conversation piece.  Here’s hoping.

In other, happier news my trip to Odessa last weekend was delightful.  I’m not sure why but I’d pictured the city (a famous seaport in the south) as trashy & wasn’t dying to visit until some friends who are leaving in a few weeks asked me to go.  As has happened a time or two (or 3, or 114) before however, I was way off & surprised to find it was as pretty as Lviv but with a beautiful coast.  I never realized how much I love being by water until I got here, but I think the years of boating have made me appreciate & need its calming presence & Odessa certainly delivered in that regard.  The weather didn’t cooperate completely, but a warm blanket & an ipod full of Guster made for a perfect Sunday afternoon watching the waves as well as the teenage Ukrainian photoshoots that were happening all around.  I’m not sure where they learn their moves but these people definitely know how to work it for the camera.  I on the other hand stuck to photographing pigeons.

The streets were lined with cute outdoor cafes but I didn’t stop in a single one because they also had a stand that sold the best falafel I think I’ve ever had.  I realize that my assessment could have a lot to do with the whole countless days of cabbage thing, but really it was so good that I think I ordered three over the course of the weekend & I know for sure that I ate it for breakfast twice.  Just in time for my bathing suit debut too.  Whoops, but well worth it.  At only 4 hours by train & 7 hours door-to-door the trip was actually a lot shorter than I expected as well so hopefully I’ll be able to head back this summer.

Apparently a scene in a famous movie

Speaking of the train, on the way there I got to experience something that made me think I might be getting the hang of experiencing each day fully.  I got on at 9am to find that my assigned seat was occupied by a snoring older woman who refused to move even after the conductor asked her.  Eventually she relented & I made my bed & tried to sleep since I’d had  4am wakeup call to start the fun.  At one point I woke up to her tucking the blanket in over my chin & then sitting at my feet & screaming loudly to her friends for the next hour.  Eventually I had to get up & use the ever-unsanitary bathroom & when I returned her & her five equally tipsy & aged friends were sitting barefoot on my bed & pillow.  Napping was obviously out of the picture so instead I spent the next three hours talking with them, listening to them berate me on not being married, looking through pictures of distant relatives of theirs that I could possibly marry, looking through pictures of their recently deceased husbands, consoling them through their tears, laughing with them until tears were provoked yet again, trying to convince them that I can in fact survive without eating meat, having a tupperware full of raw & fatty meat shoved forcefully in my face, being scolded for trying to put on makeup, having my hand grabbed & physically directed to program my number into their cellphones, taking pictures with them as their ‘American daughter’, & finally hugging & cheek kissing when we got to the station before going on our own ways.  All before 1pm.  It wasn’t until I retold the tale to my friend that I realized how horrible it all could sound, when in reality it was a kind of a fun trip.  It could have easily been stressful on many a level, but I think after having a slightly better grip on cultural expressions plus increasing tolerance for non-existent space bubbles I was able to value their company & concern even if they expressed it in a particularly rambunctious fashion.  But it’s a fairly fond memory nonetheless & at this point I’ll take all of those I can get.  And on that note, I’m off to Turkey to make a few more.  Hopefully some that involve a suntan 🙂


5K = Fun May 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 7:52 pm

Team 'Viva V Vinnitsia' in all our glory

We came, we saw, we…well, OK we didn’t conquer but we also didn’t get last place so I’m counting it as a win.  I’m happy to report that I’ve officially completed a running event & not only am I still breathing, but it was also a ton of fun.  Who knew?  The weekend in Beregovo was wonderful & chock full of good times with great people.  Even the train ride there was just plain delightful since western Ukraine really is as beautiful as everyone says, I woke up to Coolio blaring over the radio, & I spent my only awake time feeling like I was at a slumber party complete with lots of girl talk & hair braiding.

We had a pretty big group of Americans in attendance & took over the town’s beautiful courtyard when we got in  & started all of the pre-race registering.  The run started early the next morning, so Friday was pretty low key with  big dinner of pasta & watching a brave babusia dance all by herself for hours.  The next morning we donned our ‘team uniforms’  (I was lucky enough to score the leggings) & headed out to the starting line.  I was part of a relay team & had the coveted second leg of the course, so we piled into a car & were driven 5 kilometers in to the starting point.  A few short minutes later I saw someone in tie-dye run up & before I knew it, it was time to go.  Luckily Katelin decided to run with me making it my first time running not in a circle on a track & with someone to talk to.  Apparently that makes all the difference as between the conversation & cows to look at the 30 some minutes flew right by.  Once everyone else had finished we celebrated with some fairly legit pizza & then headed back to shower up before the rest of the night’s festivities.

Starting out so early made it seem like three days worth of fun was packed into Saturday & one of the highlights for me would definitely have to be our game of Circle of Death (Mom, a card game where each card represents a task that everyone has to do i.e.9- bust a rhyme, 10- make a rule, ect,).  About five minutes into the game two rule cards were already chosen which left us forced to talk in Bristish accents & use our knuckles instead of fingers for the duration of the game.  It may not sound like much, but the results were so hilarious that by the end of it my stomach was hurting from laughing more than it ever does from P90X.  We followed that up with a trip to a bar & provided a truly embarrassing display of girls trying to play pool, & then finally rounded up the troops & spent the rest of the night flailing around at the disco.  Also quite hysterical even if we probably gave a very unfortunate impression of how ‘normal’ Americans dance.

Sunday morning rolled around & since it was our last day in town I had to check out the thermal spas that I had heard so much about.  Based on what the students & teachers at school had described when I told them of my plans I pictured an underground cave sort of deal with warm water bubbling up like a hot springs.  I guess I was mostly envisioning something straight out of Yellowstone Park.  Reality was a tad different & included what looked like the Cary pool equally crowded but with slightly different clientele & swamp green water.  I was more than a little hesitant, but time was of the essence so I dropped down the stairs & found myself treading in very deep but surprisingly warm salt water.  I had to really launch myself down to reach the bottom, which says something, but there were big metal poles running lengthwise to perch on & a ledge on the perimeter that made for some perfect lounging before I had to trek it back to the center soaking wet & start my long journey home.  Thankfully it too was accompanied by friends & I made it back to Yampil with relative ease.

Despite what seemed like a week of adventure, I still had half of Monday & all of Tuesday to kill, & the gray skies provided the perfect excuse to fill the time with tackling my lingering domestic duties before the school week started.  It stormed most of Monday so I hung out inside cleaning up the apartment & catching up on my very eventful days away (raids & royal weddings, oh my!) & then left the outside chores to yesterday.

As previously mentioned/ranted about, laundry-doing (laundering?) is a fairly finicky process here that required an early wake up call & lots of soaking, scrubbing, wringing & repeating before bringing out my clothes to hang on the line & witnessing the very muddy state of our streets that the rain had brought about.  This wouldn’t have been an issue, except that the next item on the agenda involved a trip to the well on dirt roads that I’ve been known to get stuck quicksand style in under the best of conditions due to the stream that runs alongside & sometimes through the path.  After you factor in the fact that laundry day meant all of my jeans were already occupied & blowing in the wind, the end result had me trudging through town with my 6 liter water bottles looking like the dictionary definition of a hot mess.  Except “hot” seems like a cruel choice of wording in that phrase as I was anything but decked out in a baggy over-sized shirt chosen to cover the long underwear masquerading as leggings, plus heinous, black, plastic winter boots caked to the top with mud, & hair that Dianna Ross would call “too big” thanks to the 2 hours I’d spent crouched over my clothes in the bathtub.  I looked good, real good.

Imagine my surprise then, when I saw my favorite Roma (sometimes known as gypsy) babusia friend Anastasia there & she immediately asked if the reason that she hadn’t seen me in a few days was because I had gotten married.  Keep in mind that during our last conversation, which was maybe a whole 8 days prior, we had re-affirmed the fact that I still shockingly did not have &/or want a boyfriend.  Our talk went on for a few minutes & was good natured but  comprised mostly of  literal finger wagging & other very expressive displays of worry over the life I might have if I decide to continue waiting to wed.  I like her a lot & really appreciate her concern, so I just smiled on through & assured her that eventually I do want to settle down, but her comments made me realize yet again just how glad I am to be from somewhere where hope for my future is based on more than my ability to bear offspring.  I pretty regularly find myself biting my tongue & suppressing the urge to go all Beyonce “Independent Women” on them.  The crazy thing is that I want kids, four in fact, & do find family worth prioritizing, but have proof via countless Friday nights spent grounded at home for back-talking that I do not respond very well to being told what to do.  This prevalent thought process particularly held by the older generations & voiced by acquaintances & strangers alike often has me on the defense, but hopefully I can try to use my spinster status for good & give my younger students a glimmer of the idea that it is in fact OK to wait.  That being said, I do also completely intend to buy a plane ticket for whoever is tall & crazy enough to marry me, solely for the purpose of parading him around Ukraine to put my well-intending friends’ fears to rest.  Sheesh.

I guess that’s all of the recapping & cultural commentary for now.  I have a whopping three days of teaching this week followed by another long weekend that I’m thinking I’ll spend in Odessa with some friends.  Then yet another short week followed by four days at an all inclusive resort in Turkey & my birthday 🙂  The thought of turning 24 makes me throw up in my mouth a little, but I couldn’t ask for a better way to celebrate, unless of course it involved all of you.  Miss you & hope you’re having a marvelous May!