This week we have shorter Ukrainian language lessons, and as a result, more free time! I taught the 11th grade on Monday with Andy, and now I’m finished with my teaching for the week. So I actually have daylight hours to spend doing whatever I want, and I’m loving that feeling : )
Today Tammela and I went into Chernihiv to hang out at this Internet café called Два Гуся, which in English means “Two Gooses.” This is pretty much Peace Corps central, and I’ve never been there without running into other PC volunteers. They have great coffee and fast internet, so its always a high priority for me when I’m in the city : ) We met one of our friends from another cluster there, and she had tons of movies to share. This is another popular aspect of Peace Corps life—sharing media! Music, movies, pictures—you name it, we share it. It’s a good thing there are no copyright laws in Ukraine… if we were in America we’d be in trouble : )
After we finished using the Internet (and Skype in my case!) we headed out to catch our bus. As we were walking down the street, these two guys were looking at us (in our backpacks, speaking English—a pretty good indicator!) and said “America!” And looking back at the situation now, I can’t help but laugh that all it takes to have a connection with someone here is to speak English and talk about America! haha. But anyways, these two guys were from America too, so I asked them if they were with the Peace Corps. I’m part of Group 39, which has almost 80 people, and I haven’t even met them all yet. And a week after we came to Ukraine, Group 40 arrived and started training too. I think they have 70 some volunteers, most of which are training in the Kiev oblast (region). So combined, there are more than 150 new PC volunteers training, not to mention the couple hundred volunteers already stationed throughout the country. Random fact: Peace Corps Ukraine is the largest Peace Corps post in the world!
Anyways, back to the story: the answer was no, these guys weren’t PC volunteers. But they were our age, and from America, so I asked—what are you doing here? They answered that they were missionaries, from the Church of the Latter Day Saints. As in Mormon missionaries! And they were nice guys; we talked for a couple minutes and told them about training in the Peace Corps. They live in the city of Chernihiv, and their service is for two years as well, so we had a lot in common.
This is the second run-in I’ve had with Mormon missionaries, and they are genuinely some of the nicest people. During college I went on a mission trip to Mexico to distribute eyeglasses with the Lions Club, and we met some Mormon missionaries there who volunteered to help translate for us. In Mexico, I talked a lot to one of the elders (each missionary goes by the title “Elder _____ [last name]) about the Mormon faith, and the Book of Mormon, and the differences between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism (is that a word?). And it was a really enlightening conversation, one that ended without any hard feelings. What I really love about Mormon missionaries is their sincerity; they are unabashedly sharing their religious beliefs with everyone they meet, traveling all around the world to make a difference and build Mormon churches. I can’t help but respect their straightforward approach. Most of the young men in the Mormon church spend a year or two abroad as missionaries, almost as a rite of passage to adulthood. I wish mainstream Christian churches were more into this kind of service!
At dinner I told Anya about the missionaries, and I asked her if there were any Protestant churches here in Ukraine. She said she’s never heard of any, and that most Christians here are Eastern Orthodox. There are a few Catholic churches (she says with distaste written on her face) but that’s about it. I was a little disappointed, because I was hoping to find a church once I move to my permanent site. In Cairo I attended an Anglican church whenever I could, and I really enjoyed having church be a part of my routine there. It added a sense of normalcy to life, when nothing seemed normal : )
As we drank our tea after dinner, Anya mentioned that the first Peace Corps volunteer she hosted, Kayce, is coming to visit this weekend. Kayce is kind of famous here in Kolychivka, at least with Anya and Victor! I’ve heard all about Kayce since day one in Kolychivka. For example, she is from California, and is a vegetarian. She is half Mexican (her father is Mexican) and she once cooked an entire Mexican meal for Anya and Victor. She didn’t speak much Ukrainian when she lived here, but Anya says her Ukrainian has improved a lot since she moved to her site. So I feel like I already know Kayce, and I’m looking forward to meeting her in person this weekend. I told Anya I had a lot of questions to ask Kayce when she comes, about life in Ukraine after training.
Anya asked me if I was nervous to move to my site, and I answered her honestly—yes! And then she told me that she was very worried about me. I asked her why, and her answer made me life out loud—“you can’t cook! You need a mother to take care of you.” I laughed and told her I would be fine, so then she insisted on counting all the meals I can cook on one hand, as if to prove her point. I assured her that I would learn to cook more once I had to, and that I would call her for cooking help if I started to starve (fat chance—no pun intended!). She told me I can stay here in Kolychivka with her and Victor, and I told her sincerely that I would love to. Peace Corps doesn’t usually post volunteers in the communities where we train, but living with Anya has been a great experience and I wouldn’t mind staying with them at all. I know in three weeks when I move to my new site I’ll miss them quite a bit!
I told her that all Peace Corps trainees have to move onto new sites, and that they all seem to do well. Both of her previous volunteers (Kayce and Liz) are happily adjusted to their new sites, and I pray that I will adjust too. Anya told me she didn’t worry about Liz or Kayce because they were older than me and knew how to cook. She said something to the effect that Kayce was smarter in the ways of the world than I am (I’m not really sure what that means—is she saying I’m naïve? Or just young?) and she will worry about me a lot. I promised to call, and for now, that’s all I can say. I really have no idea what December will bring, and worrying about it now will do me no good. At least, that’s what I tell myself. Some days it’s harder to accept than others, because my default mode is to stress about it. But I’m just trying to enjoy my final days in Kolychivka with my friends and host family. I can worry about my permanent site when I get there in December and can do something active to change it : )
So if you think of me at all this month, pray that I’ll leave my future where it belongs—in God’s hands, in the future! : )
Much love to you all!
P.S: I was looking up quotes for advice about worry and wisdom and prayer and such, and this one from Teddy Roosevelt hit me like a sucker punch in the stomach: “Let us not pray for a light burden but a strong back.” I shouldn’t be praying, “please God don’t let me get a crappy site,” but more along the lines of “please God let me be strong enough for whatever comes.” So much easier said than done.