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!