Life in Kolichivka

WARNING: Dangerously long post ahead! This is what happens when I have no Internet but a lot to say : )

Today was my first day off since joining the Peace Corps. It was much needed! I was slightly concerned that I didn’t know enough Ukrainian to communicate the whole day, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I knew. Last night at dinner I asked my host mother what we were doing today (by using gestures and the Ukrainian word for “tomorrow”) and she pointed to herself and said church (“cerkva”). I invited myself by pointing to myself and saying “cerkva!” and she looked shocked. She asked if I was sure, and gestured that it might be 2 or 3 hours. I told her I wanted to, and she agreed.

So I woke up early this morning (7am!) and had breakfast with her and Victor (my host dad). He laughed when she told him I was going to church, and he told me I could stay home if I wanted. I tried to look excited and repeated the word for church, so he agreed. Anya (host mother) pointed at the clock so I would know when to be ready (I’m still working on telling time in Ukrainian) and I went off to get dressed.

My outfit: a knee-length brown checked skirt, and a cream mock turtle-neck. (We’re having beautiful fall weather here this week, but it can get chilly indoors without heat). I went to ask my mom if this outfit was okay, and she approved but insisted that I wear pantyhose. So I went back and added pantyhose, and then zipped up my knee-high brown boots. She shook her head and waved at my brown heels, so I swapped. “Dobre?” I asked. (Good?) And then she pulled out a headscarf for her own head, and then gestured to mine. So I ran back to my room and pulled out a pretty scarf from Egypt, which I used there as a veil (how ironic) and she covered my hair and tied the scarf under my chin.

Thus appropriately dressed, we set off for church. There is only one church in Kolichivka, and I think its either Greek Orthodox or Ukrainian Catholic. I asked Anya, and she was adamant that it was not Catholic. So I’m going to go with Greek Orthodox : ) The first surprise: the decorations. The church was covered in icons, and before each icon one crosses oneself and kisses the face of the saint. I was fine with crossing myself, but it took more inner strength to kiss the icon after watching 20 people kiss it before me. I couldn’t help but think of how many people I have now kissed by my contact with the icon. Not very holy thoughts in church, eh?

The priest came in waving a scepter full of incense and chanting in Ukrainian. I was a little disappointed to only catch 20 or 30 words the whole service, but I’m sure each week I’ll understand a little more. My second surprise during the service was that no one sits. You stand the entire time, and periodically cross yourself at the priest’s urging. Most of the congregation consisted of old ladies called “baboosyas” (at home we’d call them “babushkas”), but they stood still the whole service, a lot more patiently than I did! At the close of the service, everyone formed a single file line to be blessed by the priest, and Anya pushed me in line in front of her. The priest blessed me and stuck a huge silver cross in my face, which I was supposed to kiss. So between the icons and that cross, I think I have kissed everyone in that church. I can’t help but type that and chuckle!

After we got home from church, Anya made tea for us and I practiced my “presentatzia” for her. Tomorrow I meet the local town officials and the director of the school, for whom I’m supposed to have memorized a short introduction in Ukrainian. In English, it says: “Good morning! I’m very pleased to meet you. Let me introduce myself. My name is Kate, and I’m from America, state, Ohio, city, Amherst. I studied university in Indiana, and my specialization was International Studies. Now, I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer. Thank you for your attention.” So it’s not too long, but some of the words are hard and Anya helped me with my pronunciation. She thinks its perfect now, but I hope I don’t fumble tomorrow when it counts!

After tea, I whipped out my Ukrainian textbook (one of ten I was given this week) and informed her that I wanted to help with lunch. She laughed, but agreed. We went outside and picked a head of lettuce from her garden, and she peeled the outside layers and fed them to the rabbits on the way inside. This week I’ve been so impressed by how all food here is consumed—leftovers are given to the cats and chickens, and milk from our own cow is used in cooking. Its incredible how self-sufficient this little farm is! Nothing is ever thrown away or gone to waste. It made me feel very guilty about how much I waste at home in the U.S!

One of my cross-cultural classes covered “rules of the house,” so we’d know how to behave in our new homes. Some of them were easy, and others… not so easy. I struggle with always wearing my indoor shoes. I’d rather just wear socks or go barefoot, but every time Anya sees my feet she goes “tsk tsk” and makes me go put house shoes on. Another interesting rule I’m glad I was informed of: NEVER throw bread away. Bread is precious here, probably as a result of communism and most Ukrainians being able to remember a time when they survived on bread alone. So if I don’t finish my bread at dinner, a lucky animal gets to eat it. Throwing it in the garbage would be sacrilegious, so I’m glad I was informed before I incidentally committed this faux pas!

Anya has asked me before what kind of food my mom cooks, and I stuck to cognates that I knew she would recognize rather than actual food my mom makes but I can’t translate/explain (yet!). So with my faux Ukrainian accent, I said “macaroni,” “salata” (=salad), “curry” (=chicken), and “soopa” (=soup). So for lunch, we made soup, the Ukrainian version of Macaroni and Cheese, and salad! It was sweet of her to make things she knew I would like : )

As we cooked, she asked if I knew how. I held my index finger and thumb very close together to show her how little, and said “choot choot!” (Little little!) She laughed and told me I better learn in the next 3 months before the Peace Corps ships me out to my post and I’m stuck cooking for myself! A very good point. In Cairo, I was spoiled by living in a thriving metropolis, where plenty of cheap food was always available.  I ate out ¾ of the time (the other fourth being bread or cereal I ate at home for breakfast. I don’t think that counts as cooking.) But after living in Kolichivka for only a week, I’ve realized that I can’t count on buying prepared food to make up for my (lack of) cooking skills. My tiny village, Kolichivka, has no cafes or restaurants and only 2 or 3 tiny stores to buy food at. These stores have only the most basic supplies, such as bread, cheese, eggs, and salami and other hard meats. So unless I pick up some cooking skills from Anya while I’m here, it looks like my diet is going to consist of very basic staples that I’ll probably be sick of after a week.

Victor came in and we had lunch, and Anya insisted I practice my presentation for him. He said I’m learning Ukrainian much faster than the previous 2 PC Volunteers who stayed with them, but I’m pretty sure he is flattering me. But the praise felt good, even if it was a stretch : ) Anya has shown me pictures of the other volunteers, and told me all about them. Their names are Elizabeth and Kacey, and sometimes Anya slips and calls me Kacey. I’ve only been here a week, so I understand, but hopefully I’ll be Kate (or Katya, as Kate is pronounced in Ukrainian and Russian) to them soon!

After lunch Viktor asked me if wanted “kava,” and I said sure. At this point I didn’t know what it was, but I try to say yes as often as possible. I still haven’t managed to clear my plate yet (they give me enough for two people!) but I want to try everything they make me, even if I can’t finish it all. Victor got out this funny little pot and put it on the stove, and then brought a bag down from a cupboard and the smell of COFFEE filled the room. I haven’t felt so happy since I got a cell phone and got to talk to my parents! I’m not sure if the coffee was as incredible as I thought—it could just be that a week of absence would make my tongue appreciate anything resembling coffee. But it was a little taste of heaven right in the middle of Kolichivka : )

The second best part of my day was when my host brother came home with a surprise. His name is Vasya, and he is 26. He lives and works in the nearby city of Chernihiv, but he’s been home a lot since I moved in. And Anya is constantly asking if I have a boyfriend, so I’m sure the wheels are turning in her head ; ) Maybe I should just say yes next time so I can avoid the whole situation! When I went out for a walk the other night she asked if I was going to see Andrew (the PC volunteer who lives down the street from me) and I don’t think she believed me when I said no. So unless I’m careful, I’ll be matched off before I even get to my post in December!

Back to Vasya. I said hi in Ukrainian, and he was very enthusiastic about my progress. I’m not sure if you can call one word progress, but it was sweet. Then he pulls out this huge stack of note cards and gives it to me, and he rattled off something way too fast for me to catch. But in my hands were at least 300 Ukrainian/English flash cards, on all the topics covered in PST! (Pre-Service Training—what I’m doing in Kolichivka before I swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer in December). They were homemade, so I’m assuming one of the previous volunteers made them and left them behind. But I’m so thankful for them! I was thinking the other day that I should start some flashcards, but I didn’t have any time left after all my homework. So thanks to Vasya, I have my own huge collection and I don’t have to make one stupid card : )

This was probably a much more in-depth look at my day than you planned on reading, but hopefully you enjoyed it : ) I would ask you to pray that I don’t fumble over my “presentatzia” tomorrow, but seeing as I don’t have internet in Kolichivka, there is no way I can post this before then! I’ll just be thankful for my cell phone and pray that my permanent site will have Internet capabilities. Call me spoiled, but I don’t think I can live 2 years without it : /

All my love!

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I made it here…

I made it here, after 2 long days of flying. I’m part of Peace Corps Group 39 (we’re the 39th group of volunteers to come to Ukraine), and I heard there are 84 of us total. The bad news?  Only 50 of us got to fly out as planned on Saturday, while the other 30 or so had to wait. I guess not all of the Ukrainian visas came through, so the rest of the group is waiting in D.C. for the paperwork so they can fly out too. I’m glad my visa came through; I think it would be stressful to be waiting in D.C!

We arrived in Kiev Sunday afternoon, and Peace Corps staff met us at the airport. Then we drove 2 hours out of the city to this wooded retreat called Desna. It was a Soviet-era resort that looked like no one had touched it since then, and it was pretty creepy. We had 2 days of intensive orientation, with sessions about health, safety, TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language), cross-cultural sessions about what to expect from our host families, and individual doctor appointments for each of us with Peace Corps Medical Officers. I spent almost 2 months going to doctors in the U.S. to get medical clearance to join the Peace Corps. I had every test under the sun done to prove that I have no diseases, received lots of vaccinations, and even had my wisdom teeth removed so I was fit for service. So you would think I was healthy, right? Well, the Peace Corps doctors had to start medical files for each of us here, and if there was any question as to whether you’d received a vaccination, you were given it again. So I got two shots out of my appointment, but I was lucky. One of my new friends had to get seven because he didn’t have a copy of his shot records with him! I’m so thankful my Mom had mine copied and put them in my stash of important papers. THANKS MOM!

I had really bad jet lag at orientation, and hardly slept either of the first two nights. I think my mind was still reeling from all the information I’d been told, and I was still in that phase of asking “what did I get myself into?” We had lots of paperwork to do at Desna too, and some of it included signing documents entirely in Ukrainian that I had no clue what meant. I think one of them was for a Ukrainian bank account, into which the Peace Corps deposits our monthly stipends. The rest… I have no idea.

Our group was also split up into “clusters” for training. The first three months in Ukraine are known as “Pre-Service Training,” where we all learn a language and receive technical training in how to be effective English teachers in Ukraine. Half of the clusters were assigned to learn Russian, and the other half Ukrainian. I was under the impression that we would be learning both, but for now I guess we just learn one. I’ve heard some volunteers who study Ukrainian actually end up at a location where they have to teach in Russian, so I guess sometimes the language you learn isn’t the language you need anyways. Most Ukrainians are bilingual so Russian and Ukrainian are both heard very often. However, in Western Ukraine Ukrainian is predominant, while in Eastern Ukraine, Russian is mainly spoken (as Eastern Ukraine borders Russia). All of PST (Pre-Service Training) is conducted in Chernihiv Oblast (the region of Chernihiv), which is in central Ukraine. So we hear both languages, all the time.

But my cluster was assigned Ukrainian, and our language trainer Natalia informed us that we would be training in the town of Kolychivka. (Let me just say here that “town” is a huge overstatement—I’ll explain in a minute.) So Tuesday morning our orientation retreat concluded, and we loaded up the buses and left Desna. Each cluster consists of 5 people, and each cluster trains at a different location. Some clusters train in towns or cities, and others train in tiny villages. When the bus stopped to drop us off at Kolychivka, I didn’t even see “tiny village.” All I saw was a bus stop and a sign that said Kolychivka. We were a little early, so we waited for our host families to come and pick us up. So far our cluster consisted of Natalia (our trainer), me, and Andrew. The other three members of our cluster had been delayed with the visa problem, so we were a pretty tiny group to begin with. But our host families came and took us home, and things got better.

My host family consists of Anya and Victor, an empty-nester couple in their fifties. They have two grown sons, one of whom is expecting a baby with his wife. The other son lives nearby in Chernihiv (the closest city) and comes home often. They took me home and showed me my room, and told me to unpack (I figured most of this out through charades). Then we had a huge dinner, and they made me eat all this delicious food until I was stuffed. I enjoyed it immensely though; the food at Desna was disgusting, so it felt like I hadn’t eaten in days. At orientation we were warned that alcohol is a big deal in Ukraine. My host family had wine instead of vodka, which I was grateful for. They drink it from little shot glasses, so I felt like we were doing wine shots all night. It was fun though : )  After dinner I went to bed (at like 7pm) and slept until 9 the next morning. I woke up feeling so much better about life, so I attribute my initial feelings of homesickness and depression to exhaustion.

Our first morning in Kolychivka, Andrew and I had four hours of Ukrainian language lessons, followed by an activity called “community mapping,” which was really just a glorified term for scavenger hunt to find everything! It started out fun, but in the end was completely depressing. We made a list of 20 things that we could look for, like “store,” “restaurant,” “post office,” “school,” “internet café,” “public phone,” etc. Then Natalia helped us translate the words into Ukrainian, and we set out. Out of twenty things, we have three in our village: a post office, a school, and a convenience store. No restaurants or cafes for lunch, which is kind of a problem because we’re expected to eat lunch on our own. My host mom feeds me anyways, which I’m thankful for. The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of any Internet access. For now I’ll just have to write blog posts and emails and save them to my computer, to be saved for a time when I have some Internet access!

So now you are up-to-date on my first days in Ukraine, and what Pre-Service Training looks like. Each day I have 4 hours of Ukrainian language study, and then technical sessions with a teacher trainer who is supposed to turn us into Ukrainian teachers in the next three months. For now, I’m a “Peace Corps Trainee,” and if (maybe I should be more positive here and say “when”) I survive training, I’ll be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer December 7th. After that we’ll be shipping out to our permanent sites, where we’ll live and teach for 2 years. That’s all for now! In the next few days the rest of the people in my cluster should arrive, and it’ll be nice to have a bigger group. Natalia is taking us to the city of Chernihiv this weekend so we can buy Ukrainian cell phones, and I’m looking forward to calling home and telling them I’m alive : ) And hopefully I’ll have a few minutes of Internet to update my blog! If not… you’ll get to read this later rather than sooner I guess.

Thanks for reading, I hope all is well where you are : )

Love,

KB.

“With one deep breath, and one big step, I move a little bit closer.”

I’m sitting here at the Holiday Inn in Georgetown, all ready to go. My bags are all packed, and all that is left to do is go to the airport and fly out. I feel slightly detached from the whole situation, now that it’s finally arrived. Staging yesterday was a breeze, and all the paperwork is finished. It is amazingly easy to sign one’s life away. I got my diplomatic “no-fee” passport, and I look so grown up in the picture. When did I become so old?

This morning I have to call my parents and say goodbye for the last time, and then I’m putting my cell phone in a padded envelope and shipping it home. And then I’m outta here.

Last night Emily and I went to P.F. Chang’s for my last meal, and it was soooo good. If I ever commit murder and am given the death sentence, it will be hard to choose what my last meal would be: either my parents’ steak salad, or P.F. Chang’s.  Yum! We also went and saw the movie “Easy A” and laughed so much! It was excellent; I’d definitely recommend it. Emily also surprised me with Georgetown cupcakes, so we stopped for one last Starbucks and enjoyed the cupcake goodness at 11pm. What a great night : )

So that’s it. I check out of my hotel room in about a half hour, and this time tomorrow I’ll be in Germany for a layover. And tomorrow night,  life in the Peace Corps Ukraine begins. Kinda surreal, huh?

All my love.

Twas the Night Before Staging…

Today the journey began, with a flight to Washington D.C.  I had lots of goodbyes to say yesterday, but luckily Aunt Mari and Aunt Debi and my Mom combined to help me on the packing front. Aunt Lynn supplied the dessert, and my brother and sister-in-law and grandparents all stopped by to say a final farewell. After it was all over, I met Branda for one last drink, and she surprised me with a “Bon Voyage” dessert from Chez Francois! It was a great surprise : ) Then Justin came over when I got home and helped me finish packing. He stayed till 4 in the morning, when everything was done and there nothing left to do except say goodbye. We sat outside and I held Sophie one last time, thinking about how much I’d miss her. But Justin promised to stop by and take her for random car rides, so I know she’ll be taken care of when I’m gone. Hopefully she’ll take care of Justin for me too : )

I slept for a few hours and woke up to my Dad opening my bedroom door and Leo jumping on the bed for a final “good morning” cuddle. It was the best way to wake up at home for the last time : ( We got all of my luggage in the car and stopped for one last cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee before setting off to the airport. Toria skipped school to see me off, and she and my Mom helped me take some stuff out of my bags so they wouldn’t be too heavy. Then I walked them back out to the curb to say our final farewells. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry, and failed : ) It just felt so permanent, saying goodbye for two years. I know I’ll see them when I come home for Christmas next year and when they come to Ukraine to see me (they better!) but I’ve tried several times and failed to imagine life on my own in Ukraine, not being able to see them every few weeks or months. It’s been too painful to think about, but I guess the time for avoiding these thoughts has passed.

So needless to say, I bawled on the curb at Cleveland Hopkins International, and for the first time I seriously doubted my choice in joining the Peace Corps. What kind of person who loves their family so much would possibly decide to move halfway across the world for such a long time? Hopefully when I get to Ukraine and see what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is really like I’ll recall my previous enthusiasm for this next chapter of my life.

My flights to D.C. were uneventful, and my low spirits were instantly raised when I saw Emily Bowerman waiting for me at the airport : ) When the Peace Corps travel agency called me to arrange my flight to D.C., there were no flights from Cleveland to D.C. Friday morning that would get me to Staging in time (it starts at noon). So I flew in a day early and stayed with Emily in Arlington. It was wonderful to be able to hang out with her before taking off for Ukraine, and its become a sort of tradition that I come to D.C. and see her before departing for any adventures. Last year before I left for Cairo I stayed with her too, and I love being able to share my last hours in the US of A with her. She is actually going to Moldova next week for a mission trip with her church, so we’ll be close to each other soon! But hopefully she’ll make it Ukraine next summer so we can see a little bit of Eastern Europe together : )

Krista, one of our other friends from college, was also in town and staying with Emily before she (Krista) leaves for a year-long internship in Uganda, so we pretty much had a party at Em’s Thursday night. We made homemade pizza and relaxed, and for the first time I felt ready for the Peace Corps. Bring it on! Tomorrow Staging starts at noon, and tomorrow night I’m hanging out with Emily for my last supper (no pun intended). Then Saturday I fly to Ukraine! Wish me luck : )

All my love,

Kate