Faith, Hope, and Love Remain

Alei's adventures in Ukraine

Closing Time November 18, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 4:00 am

I’m not going to lie; I’m in no sensible condition to form sentences right now.  I’m currently struggling with a staggering deficit of sleep (a generously estimated 6 hours of the past 72),& a swimming surplus of emotions as I wait out my 4 hour layover in the Frankfurt airport McDonald’s.  I’ll try to beckon the strength to push on through though (with immense help from the “Christmas” flavored macchiato that good old Ronald apparently dreamed up while I’ve been away) because the last few days have been nothing short of amazing & I have a feeling that I’m not about to seek out any spare time at the computer when I get into Chicago today.  That’s right, I said today.  Typos & weird grammar are probably about to happen.

I cannot believe that I am going to be home today.  Not in the normal, excited expression’s context (although excitement is certainly a dominant feeling in the jumbled mix).  More along the lines of ‘my brain is not able to comprehend the fact that my worlds have permanently & irreversibly switched again’.  Or ‘I’m just on another lovely vacation & will be returning refreshed, spoiled, & fattened on frozen yogurt (as always) in a few weeks’.  Or ‘There must be some mistake.  Certainly I can’t be expected to do that ‘living’ thing without having my close Peace Corps friends to vent to every single day’.  Does not compute.  As a measure of how poorly my brain is handling the task, here’s a fun fact about my failure to understand what’s happening around me- I have yet to cry.  At this point I’ve doled out & received heartfelt letters, heard incredibly moving toasts made in my honor, had a tea party of crying children bidding me farewell & have said goodbye to people I love dearly without having the slightest clue of when I’ll see them again, & yet nary a single tear has rolled down my cheek.  I think I might have become a robot.

I’m guessing this readjustment business is a gradual thing & as cathartic as a sobfest can be I am certainly not about to provoke any sadness just to spite that darn stable façade,  so instead I’ll share a little bit about how incredible my last few days in the country were.

I usually teach (or I guess I should say ‘taught’ now.  What?!) each of my groups two consecutive lessons every week, so for my last week we did normal curriculum material for the first half of class, & then the second half was devoted to a writing letters about themselves the first day & then making videos the second.  Probably the most self-indulgent lessons I’ve ever planned, but the results are completely heart melting.  Between their embarrassingly sweet words & adorable English mistakes I know I’m going to cherish the binder that I eventually store their letters & videos in for years to come.  Ukrainians do a bang up job of expressing appreciation when (& often only when) someone is about to leave, & the kids & teachers at my school proved that to me 100% last week.  There were moving moments & creative encouragement left & right that  all wrapped up with a party with the faculty in between classes on Friday & then a surprise tea party put on by Olha & my 7th & 11th grade students after school.  Then another tea & hair braiding soiree at my knitting club, & even an outdoor tea picnic with Olha & Valya’s families on my last day in town.  It was a warm, fuzzy weekend & I was really spoiled rotten by them with their kindness.  Packing, well, sucked as always, but I did do it far in advance this time instead of the night before which was my brilliant plan two years ago.  See, PC changes you.  I cleaned my apartment until it was bleak & empty, had one last tea with my counterpart, & then was driven to the train station for my overnight to Kiev by Olha & her husband, Vitya.  Thank goodness they were kind enough to drive me, because if they hadn’t I honestly think I would still be trying to carry my irritatingly over-stuffed luggage across the tracks.

I managed to lug the bags to the Peace Corps office early the next morning alone (even though the experience convinced me that I maybe should not have kids if I can’t handle even 30 minutes of intense pain without cursing everyone & everything directly related to my baggage &/or accidentally in my path), & then headed to Morozivka for a day & a half with my host family.  That too was amazing as they continue to be nothing but wonderful.  My host Mom hurt her foot, which is obviously unfortunate, but worked out nicely in our case because it meant she didn’t have to go to work, so we were able to have a whole day’s worth of quality bonding time.  We didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy, but it was just perfect to sit around with them talking like normal since we knew our version of normal’s days were quite limited.  I gave them the Shutterfly photo album that I made them for a goodbye gift, & while they admitted that I had a mistake or two in the commentary, they really seemed to love it & cried their way though each page.  The morning goodbye was definitely a little rough, but luckily I had Thomas on the same electrychka to Kiev to keep me company & distract me with his always-exciting adventures.

That was Tuesday morning & it started a solid two days of soaking up hysterical moments with my Peace Corps friends, & finishing everything up in the office.  I think at least 40 people were all leaving on the same day, so the office was packed with excited people all trying to grasp what was happening to us.  It also was a lovely excuse to be ridiculous together & laugh until the wee hours of the morning over inane but hilarious topics per usual.  Mom treated us all to a luxe lunch at a restaurant that we’d been drooling over for two years, & then we finished up the rest of our office paperwork, had a lovely, laid-back dinner with our old & new friends, managed to make the hours until 3am fly by at a local bar & then headed to the airport where all heck broke loose.

My amazing friends sacrificed their slumber & came to the airport with me even though I was the first one to leave (out of our whole group…holler) & together we had a chaotic, frustrating, & perfectly slap happy last few hours.  To end my stay in the country on a culturally fitting foot, the workers at Boryspil decided to remind me of just how much they like to watch hoop jumping by charging me $350 (while sneering sarcastically, of course) for the one bag that I was so proud of managing to fit all of my stuff into (Peace Corps allows us two) which resulted in a mad dash of us trying to find a solution.  At one point Kacey was emptying out her dirty clothes bag to give me another “piece of luggage”, Katelin was offering up her credit card (since the bank of COURSE couldn’t take the American dollars that PC gave us specifically for the occasion, but also couldn’t exchange my hyrivnias since the printer was broken), & Julia was guarding our other bags while I spastically dug through my suitcase on an animated but completely unhelpful verbal tirade against stupid unmarked rules & the glory of customer service.  We may have created a scene, but when I sat on the plane rehashing the event in my non-sleeping brain I couldn’t help but thing of it as a quirky analogy to my cross-cultural experience in general: often confusing & occasionally irritating events made manageable & memorable by my fantastic friends.  We did eventually get it all worked out (I bought a stupid plastic babusia bag to put 15 Kg’s worth of stuff in for a much more manageable $85) & then they went with me as far as they could to the security gate where we irritated everyone around us with a dramatic 2 minute hugging session & then made me laugh my head of despite the security guards barking orders at me to take my shoes off.  Even when I couldn’t see them anymore I could still hear the cries of “Momma (my arbitrary nickname) don’t go!!!” resounding down the corridors of Customs.  It was an absolutely perfect send off.

And now here I sit whipping my head around every two minutes because I’m sure I hear one of their voices.  The entire week, & especially the past few days, was another beautiful illustration of just how lucky I got with the people who shared my PC experience.  I can’t accurately put it into words, but I just felt so completely loved & accepted by them, & was in constant awe of how everything worked out.  My friendships with Ukrainians & Americans alike completely exceeded my expectations & made my entire service worthwhile, & although the goodbyes don’t yet feel real I’m pretty confident that that is going to be the hardest part of readjustment.  Luckily we have access to & plans for regular communication & I have all of you at home to do some serious catching up with.  So basically, despite coming off kind of whiny, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I had the perfect end to an amazing adventure, filled with love & laugher from some of the world’s finest people.  Who could ask for more?  I think I’ll write a wrap-up post of Peace Corps overall in the near future because I can’t quite stomach yet another ending right now, so for the time being let’s just say that I feel extravagantly & unwarrantedly blessed beyond belief & am just about ready for some happy hellos in AMERICA 🙂

Update: I’m home!  It’s amazing.  Everything I’d hoped & more.  Still can’t really grasp it all, but am really looking forward to trying!

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