Faith, Hope, and Love Remain

Alei's adventures in Ukraine

…and Then I Turned Eight July 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 9:56 pm

Sorry for the sudden leave of absence.  I’ve been kicking it like a kid in camp, & for all their merits third graders are notoriously bad at blog updating.  It’s not for lack of hot weather happenings to update you on though.  My regression into childhood has included days of turning cartwheels into a pool, playing Capture the Flag, doing art projects on school playgrounds, and developing a daily ice cream habit.  Sweet summertime indeed.

I learned pretty early on that free time alone at my site is to be avoided at all costs, so by 8:00 the morning after our graduation ceremony in Yampil I was on a bus to my first destination for Operation Summer Fun- Katelin’s site Shargorod.  I had a three days gap before needing to report to my first camp & she just so happened to have a cool World Map project going on that not only helped her school, but also let me fill the void left from the DIY projects that Mom & I used to spend summer taking on.  This one included plotting out a 20 x 30 feet grid, chalking outlines for all of the continents & then painting it all in.  There were a few bumps in the road, (like when despite our careful cross-multiplying we realized that the Ukrainian printer paper we’d based the entire huge grid on was NOT 8 ½” x 11” or for my pun-loving friends, the literal bumps a.k.a. eroding dirt patches scattered throughout the old blacktop that sucked up all of our precious paint) but overall it was a fun & fulfilling project that I’m hoping to talk my school into recreating in early August.  On that note, if anyone at home is interested in contributing to the cause we’d just need $100 to cover paint costs which doesn’t really warrant a grant but would definitely be appreciated nonetheless.  No pressure whatsoever, but please shoot me an email or comment if you’d like to help 🙂

Before the oil-based paint even had time to flake away from my skin (which it turns out takes days regardless of how scrupulously I scrub) I was meeting up with my student Sasha on the overnight to Odessa for the next big adventure, three weeks at Camp Bereg.

Luckily for us ‘Bereg’ means ‘beach’ which is precisely what we were able to take full advantage of for most of the month of June.  For that superficial reason amongst others I can safely say that my time spent there secured a spot on my Top Ten list of favorite experiences in Peace Corps thus far.  The venue was beautiful & included one of the fanciest pools I’ve seen this side of the Atlantic, & the pace was perfect, but what really pushed it over the edge were the people involved.  I’m always pretty up for working with kids, but this group of campers in particular were some of the most genuine, positive & friendly that I’ve had the privilege of meeting here.  They were from all around the country & varied in age from 6 to 16, but they hit it off immediately, took care of each other like family & were straight up bawling when it was time to leave.

The 10-15 American counselors also added to the fun.  With a kind of ridiculous 1:1 ½ ratio we were so over adequately staffed that we were able to work in shifts, so our working day was either 8am-3pm or 3pm-9pm.  Plus “working” involved teaching one hour of English in the morning & then entertaining the kids with countless hours of volleyball, crafting, playing Uno & French braiding hair before lunch, laying by the pool or going to the beach until dinner, & then having concerts or outside dance parties after dinner.  None too shabby. 

One of the most memorable evening camp activities included marching our littles over to a neighboring Moldovan camp for a kid disco in which I spent a good 45 minutes signing autographs.  It started with one little girl & believe it or not I’m not used to that kind of request & thought it would be fun to write an inspirational message like “Reach for the stars” instead of just my name.  Cute at first, significantly less so when there was a line of 40 Moldovan kids waiting for messages while snapping paparazzi pictures with their swanky phones.  I ran out of relevant things to say after like the first two kids & before long found myself writing “Just dance”, “Don’t stop believing”, & any other cheesy song titles or advertising campaigns that popped into my head.  Thank goodness no one knows English here.

The counselors all stayed at a different complex that was a convenient 10 minute walk away, so our evenings were full of off-duty fun occasionally involving sleeping on the roof, inappropriate yoga videos, makeshift ice cream cakes & strawberry daiquiris, & hours of sing-a-longs to classic 90’s hits (& yes, my Gansta’s Paradise prowess was put to the test again).  It was a very laid-back crowd that made for a relaxing & occasionally ridiculous camp experience.  I guess the tan I worked my way up to didn’t hurt either.

I ended up staying a few extra days to help with the new group of campers before stopping in at my site just long enough to switch out my clothes in time for my next, & final post, Wizard Camp.  This one was run by the same organization that I worked with last year & was much more focused on language with 4 lessons a day & 55 kids total in attendance.  The kids’ age & ability level varied, but they were all fun to work with & I was lucky enough to be the group leader for the littlest kids that happened to be all young ladies who appropriately chose the team name Supergirls.  They were adorable, motivated & small enough that they still thought the counselors were cool, so I was treated to two full weeks of hand holding & tea parties.  They also had a very qualified Ukrainian staff that we co-taught with who handled the bulk of the lesson planning looking to us mostly for reinforcement, pronunciation, & fun outside activities.  Each day had a theme & a corresponding activity like “Space” with an intergalactic fashion show, & the kids & counselors went all out & made every activity fun.  Our schedule was packed from 7:20am to 11:00pm but the other Americans, (some of whom were there with me last year) managed to unwind afterwards via rounds of homemade Apples to Apples & other games that led to all sorts of good conversation.  We also had a rematch of last year’s basketball throwdown accompanied again by patriotic regalia & cheering kids, but sadly resulting in the same outcome as far as the final score (a loss, albeit a close one) & damage done to my face courtesy of what I now know for sure is not a soft ball.  At least this year it was less a result of my clumsiness or lack of night vision & more because an upset opponent kicked the ball in frustration.

The fact that it just so happened to ricochet directly towards my nose can only be an example of God’s sense of humor, which I did find pretty hilarious once I’d confirmed that I didn’t sustain a Jan Brady-esque injury right before my big Eurotrip.

The camp finished up yesterday & marked the first time that I had to explain to the kiddos that I couldn’t come back next year per request because I’d be living in America by then.  They didn’t quite comprehend & were holding out for maybe the next year or the year after that which made me realize just how final of a break this November will usher in.  I’m obviously thrilled to the point of distracting daydreaming about my upcoming return home, but seeing the kids’ faces made my stomach drop a little & has me dreading the goodbye that awaits my community of kids in Yampil & host family in particular.  It seems like a bit of a cruel trick that the prospect of leaving illustrates how strong these connections have become just as it’s time to move on from them.  Two years often seemed like an unbearable amount of time to be away, but at least it was a tangible time frame.  Who knows when I’ll make my way back to visiting what I now call home?  Yikes.  If someone wants to go ahead & get on inventing that teleportation device (fo free) I’d be much obliged.

Or perhaps if science isn’t your cup of tea you’d prefer to email me a list of jobs that I can choose from with socially responsible companies who are trying to dazzle me with how wonderful they are.  You know, in all of your spare time 🙂 In other words the job search has been started in earnest & is making me value the few free weeks that I’ll have in August now that I remember how much time & careful consideration is involved in finding & applying for something that realistically could critically color the next chapter of my life.  Shoot, that reminds me that I don’t know Ukrainian word for ‘daunting’.

I suppose that’s enough of the whining about something that in all honesty is take-my-breath away exciting as of late.  I know that the remaining four (Four!) months will present a challenge or two, but my resounding feeling is only one of gratitude for all the experiences that I’ve had & all of the rest waiting for me on the other side of the Atlantic.  It’s a good place to be even before considering the adventure that I’m hours away from embarking on with Miss Ashley Chamberlain.  We’ve plotted & planned an itinerary that includes London, Paris, Krakow & Ukraine, & I couldn’t feel more blessed.  I can’t yet wrap my mind around it & probably won’t until I buckle my seatbelt on the airplane per usual, but I have a feeling that the joy & appreciation will only expand as reality sinks in.  Knowing us it will probably manifest itself in seal-clapping & jumping around like my eight year old campers.  London airport, consider yourself warned.  I guess that’s an unintentionally good connection with the rest of my summer’s theme thus far…which kind of makes me wonder if I ought to try a minute or two of introspection about acting my age.  It will probably have to wait until after my standing daily appointment though…and by that I mean eating an ice cream cone.  Growing up is over-rated.

Here’s a slideshow of the aforementioned camp craziness.  Fingers crossed for another if we manage to stumble upon a Kodak moment or two in Europe.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Summer Camps, posted with vodpod