Faith, Hope, and Love Remain

Alei's adventures in Ukraine

It Was an Incredible Experience, but I’m So Glad to Be Home March 12, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 6:32 am

I was Home for Christmas 🙂

I think I’ve uttered the aforementioned phrase literally a hundred times in the almost four months I’ve been back.  Whether at a job interview, a family gathering, or an impromptu chat with a grocery store cashier (yeah, I still do that) it’s unintentionally become my go-to when I have 30 seconds to sum up the past few years of my life.  My life jacket for small-talk situations to prevent me from blabbering on.  It may not be the most creative or eloquent & at this point it feels like kind of a cop-out, but honestly, I stick with it because it’s the truth.  I can’t think of a more succinct way to encompass the slew of of sentiments the long-awaited transition has brought about.  I realize this final entry is a little delayed, but while entirely unplanned (I just love me some fast-paced, friend-filled America & have developed a slight aversion to sitting alone with my thoughts) it is pretty convenient, as I think I’m almost to the point where I can meet someone new & not mention Ukraine.  In fact, I really probably shouldn’t or else I’ll start sounding like that girl spouting on about “This one time, in the Peace Corps…”. So now as I careen into my new life & closer to the days & weeks when I won’t need to say it at all, let’s take a minute & break this sum-up of a sentence down.

Christmas dinner at Kyoto, nice like a family

Incredible?  Really Alei? As overkill as it sounds, I like that as a descriptor not for its hyperbole, but because I think it emphasizes the fact that prior to Peace Corps I didn’t & couldn’t understand what my service would be like.  It really, truly was unbelievable.  The two years & two months pushed me to limits of frustration & homesickness that I couldn’t possibly have fathomed from Cary or even Champaign, Illinois.  That going to buy bananas would require a fully formulated speech beforehand as well as time specifically devoted to psyching myself up to be stared & often yelled at (for misdemeanors like refusing to eat meat or wear socks obvi).  That saying “Happy Easter” to my family couldn’t happen without a very orchestrated adaptation to our daily routines as well as a hint of good favor from my fickle internet connection.  The simple was made difficult in ways I could have never anticipated.  But at the same time, how could I have ever known by reading the information packet some 700 days ago the effect Ukraine would have on me?  That to this day my heart would melt from the mere remembrance of my little babies trying their hands (& flailing arms & legs) at yoga as an excuse to hang out with me?  That I’d rank an evening spent sitting in my pajamas singing Russian karaoke with my host family as one of my lifetime’s chart-topping favorite moments?  That I’d make connections with people whose voices I still (& hopefully will forever) hear both on the phone every week & in my head every day?  The things I felt, the things I got to see, to experience, the relationships forged anew & kept strong against all odds; in a word, incredible.

My new roommates. And yes, that's (unnecessary) outside apparel for the dead of winter. I love Texas.

Also incredible is the opportunity I have to reflect back a few months removed not just on the experience’s impact on me, but on God’s grace & palpable presence throughout.  I started most mornings reading a few chapters from the Bible & annotating in the margins.

Ookie & Bronsie

 My notes were scrawled from many a bizarre location ranging from my host family’s sparkly living room, to bundled in blankets in a chair in my icebox of an apartment, to the steps of Piazza Michelangelo overlooking Florence & even sprawled out on a towel (clothed!) at the nudie beach in Crimea.  My handwriting is at times almost indecipherable often on account of attempting to write on the various forms of transportation rambling at breakneck speeds over dirt roads & Soviet-era railroad tracks, & other times from the watermarks created by tears & maybe even a little homemade vodka.  I took it everywhere & commented on anything that struck me at the moment, & now thumbing back through the silky pages the only word that describes the timing & relevance of His words in the thick of each intense emotion is, you guessed it, incredible.  I read through in a sequence without jumping around at all, & as such I simply can’t call a coincidence the way the chapters in the book reflect the chapters of my life in each & every small moment.  That the story of the Tower of Babel happened on day 5 in Ukraine when I could attest better than ever the confusion caused by lack of a common language.  That I read of Job being “drowned in his affliction” & overcoming in the airport as I was on my way back from Christmas & feeling like I was sinking in a sadness of my own.  That I started the book of Romans on the day I met Mom & embarked on our journey to Rome.  That I was reminded that the Red Sea didn’t part until Moses actually stepped foot in the waters, just as I was preparing to move into the uncharted waters of a town called Yampil. Almost every page is rife with perfectly timed messages that I would have easily glossed over had it been any other day.  Honestly, it would be weird if it weren’t so wonderful.

They're fancy, huh?

These small tokens of hope, encouragement, wisdom, guidance, really whatever the moment called for, touched me in ways that I could never do justice to, bolstered me to carry on attempting what seemed impossible, highlighted how incredibly blessed I am, & reminded me when I needed it most that at no point of the way was I walking alone.  Hard to believe, but impossible to forget.  In fact, the whole experience was elegantly encapsulated in a verse that I read in the Frankfurt airport on my way Home for good on November 17.  In the midst of an emotional, sleep-deprived, journey to the Promised Land trying to make sense of the two-years worth of a life that I was leaving behind I read “Out of most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability” (2 Corinthians 8: 2-3).  While my “poverty” was far from extreme & my “trials” much less severe than what too many of Earth’s inhabitants face on a daily basis, this verse served as yet another goosebump-inducing, accurate example of exactly what I needed to hear.  It gave me not only closure, but a sense of indescribable accomplishment & gratitude as I glided over the Atlantic & into my new life in America.  Simply incredible.
Which brings us to the glad part.  Try as it might, nothing could break my joy on the tumultuous trip home. If you fought your way through the last post back in November you 1.  are a trooper & 2. can personally vouch for how sleep deprived I was.

Hims my gay boyfriend, Dexter.

At that point I’d been running on single-digit hours of sleep over the course of three days & was simultaneously exhausted by the sad goodbyes & exhilarated by the happy hellos waiting for me at O’Hare.  I wanted nothing more than to pop the half of a heavy duty sleeping pill that my friends scrounged up for me the second I sat down on the airplane & pass the heck out.  No such luck.  Mere moments into the boarding process I was asked to swap my window seat with a crying baby & her mom.  Then after tearing maniacally through my carry-on bag I came to the devastating realization that the meds (which I was referring to as ‘horse tranquilizers’ by that point & finding hilarious every time) were nowhere to be found.  So instead, while already eons beyond slap happy, I resolved to watching hours of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia’ which is hysterical on a bad day.  Suffice it to say, I’m pretty sure my fellow passengers were (rightfully) afraid that the zombie-esque girl in the back was having a seizure thanks to my frequent convulsions of silent laughter.  For eight hours.  After proving one last time though that I will never be a truly seasoned traveler, I made it through security & into the loving arms of my mom & dad, & it’s been on the up & up since then.

Peace Corps is careful to caution us that the readjustment to home process is often the most difficult part of service for volunteers.  Apparently I am incredibly shallow, because I have yet to find America anything less than amazing.

Beautiful Christmas sweater party.

Honestly, I think the biggest blip I hit was the dastardly discovery that my pants no longer fit, & while I handled that challenge like a particularly petulant five year old, America also just so happens to have amazing technology called the elliptical machine as well as sugar-free everything so me & my jeans are just fine again.  Trying to find a job was an irritating-at-times process mostly because it made me feel like a bum being unemployed & more often than not sporting sweatpants while everyone else was out accomplishing things, but thankfully I’ve been gainfully employed for the past 2 months & fully appreciative of health insurance & a paycheck that covers slightly more than cabbage & chocolate.  Really though, it’s my people.  It’s knowing that despite living in Austin (& loving it, btw :)) I can be home in a matter of three hours if the need be.  It’s getting to spend Spring Break with my parents in Las Vegas.  It’s being able to call & check in on my stupid, little brothers (jk, kind of) on a whim because going to Taco Bell reminds me of them.  It’s spending literally the whole day laying in the living room with my roommates burning CDs & laughing about things that only we find funny.  It’s doing, well, anything with the world’s most perfect dog, Dexter, who I now share a roof & often a bed with.

Hims can't get on the bed without a formal invitation.

I’m not going to take more of your time going into the details of the life that I’ve had the joy of crafting & getting used to these past few months (that’s what the pictures are for), but I will say that I love it.  I still am known to fall prey to whining about the daily first-world irritations of bad drivers & long lines at Starbuck’s.  I’m slightly alarmed at how easy it is for me to drop $40 on a new pair of sunglasses & definitely still have some things to work on, but I go to bed each night with a sense of peace & a new awareness of how blessed I am to be here with all of you.

And so, here we are at the end.  I feel like I should have some profound insights or at least a solid, inspirational quote worthy of a college application essay, but I don’t.

Welcome to my life. Great friends & popcorn galore.

What I do have is a mind full of memories & a heart full of gratitude.  I have appreciation for things that I used to overlook, & drawers full of pictures that whisk me away to Ukraine whenever I choose to look back at them.  I have a folder full of my students’ adorable letters & a standing weekly phone call with my host family, not to mention daily phone calls with my real family.  And I have this as a resource to look back on thanks in large part to you.  These posts will help me remember not only exactly what the day-to-day was like, but also how loved & supported you all made me feel by showing interest in my trivial life abroad.  You let me be & write exactly as I am, stuck with it through every run-on sentence & cringe-worthy typo, & validated the feelings (& quite often ramblings) that I was wont to pour out with reckless abandon.  We join Peace Corps partially because we want to change the world.  While that goal is obviously a little far-fetched, the experience & your faithful involvement throughout has changed my world without a doubt.  So, thank you, дякую, & спасибо from the bottom of my heart & please keep in touch.
Love always,
Aleychka
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4 Responses to “It Was an Incredible Experience, but I’m So Glad to Be Home”

  1. Maya Says:

    🙂 lovely

  2. Ashley Says:

    What a perfect post Alei! You made me laugh and cry 🙂 And Im still holding onto hope that you’ll start an America blog a la Cely. We’re so glad to have you back!

    • Colleen Says:

      Well i get a bad friend award for juuust seeing this. I too laughed and wanted to cry. I am so so so so so happy that you’re not only back but that we’re coming up on almost a year since your arrival in ATX. I fully support Ash’s American blog. Despite what you say about run on sentences and cringe worthily typos I love your written word 🙂 But more so your daily presence!!!

  3. Thank you, Alei. The two Ukranian students I tutored at our local literacy council and I thoroughly enjoyed your blog while you were serving in the Peace Corps. Your experiences in their homeland stimulated many interesting conversations, and it was so motivating for both of them, while struggling to master English, to realize someone with a mastery of English was struggling to communicate in their language. Sadly for me, but happily for them, Oksana and Elizabeth have relocated to Little Rock, so I no longer tutor them, but we’re still in touch. The three of us are happy to know that you are safely home and happily settled into your new job.


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