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Kiev—The Ending

Monday morning Mom and I enjoyed another outdoor breakfast at our favorite café, Шарлотка (Sharlotka), where we made our plans for Kiev. Mom’s flight back to the states was early Wednesday morning, so we had Monday evening and all of Tuesday left to hang out in Kiev. We booked an apartment and made a to-do list, and enjoyed a very tasty breakfast, including an omelet and chocolate malintsi (kind of like rolled crepes filled with chocolate!). Here are some pictures to make your mouth water ; )

Then we rode a bus to Kiev and took a taxi downtown to where our apartment was located. We were just getting settled when disaster struck, in the form of my computer dying. Now my Mac has been having problems for a while now, and a few weeks ago I got the blue screen of death and was worried that it was finished. But it revived, and has been working decently since then. I hadn’t used it a lot while Mom was here, but when I opened it up in Kiev I was completely locked out and it looked like the end was upon us. At this point I had a mild meltdown… not only was Mom leaving in 24 hours, but my computer was dead and I would have no way to see her and Dad without Skype!

We had to find a Mac specialist to work some magic on my Mac baby, but Macs are a lot less popular in Ukraine. In fact, the only Macs I’ve seen here belong to other PCVs. Mom offered to take my Mac back to the states to get it resuscitated, but this was only something I was willing to consider if we exhausted all other options. So we took a deep breath, and came up with a plan. I wanted to show Mom Peace Corps headquarters while we were in Kiev, and while we were there we could use a computer to try and find a Mac dealer in Kiev. Mom also tried to brace me for the possibility that my computer might be truly, irreparably dead, and suggested we go to an electronics store to see if we could find a cheap laptop to get me by.

So we set off for Peace Corps headquarters, and Mom got to experience the Metro in Kiev. We got to Peace Corps and checked in, and Mom got a visitors pass so she could come in too. The place was empty, and I couldn’t figure out why until we walked into the PCV lounge, where some other PCVs were hanging out. Apparently, in Ukraine “Easter Monday” (the day after Easter) is an official holiday as well, so nobody has to work.

I used the computer to look up a Mac store while making friends with the other volunteers hanging out at headquarters. When Mom and I got ready to leave, we invited everyone to dinner with us, and we all went to this wonderful pizza place called Mario’s. We had a good time, and for a while I didn’t think about the stress of my Mac dying.

After dinner, on the way back to the apartment, Mom and I found an electronics store where we looked at computers. I didn’t really a want a new one, but we had to consider it if Mac was truly dead. A nice guy who spoke some English helped us, and I explained that I had a Mac that was broken and needed to be fix. He wrote down a number and an address for me of a guy he knew that could fix Macs, and wished us luck.

The next day had a rough beginning—the hot water in the shower didn’t work, and it took 2 hours for anyone to come fix it. Then the Mac store that I had looked up on the Internet was impossible to find. When we finally found the address we were looking for, there was no computer store there! I was feeling dismayed about the whole thing when I remembered the name and address I had in my purse from the guy at the electronics store. I had no clue where this address was, so we flagged a taxi down and gave him the paper. He took us to the outskirts of Kiev, to a residential area, and pointed at a building. We got out, and I called the number, and a voice speaking broken English told me where to go. (Kinda sketchy, huh?)

We went inside, and discovered an office full of Macs! A computer geek who looked just like any guy working at the Genius Bar in the Apple store helped us, and after fiddling with my Mac and making some very concerned faces, he told us that it would take a couple hours and cost 400 greven (which is the equivalent of 50 dollars). I asked if this would fix it, and he promised it would. I was so relieved that he could bring my Mac back from the verge of death! Mom and I went back outside, and the same taxi who had brought us was waiting to take us back to town. We got in, and he sped off. Mom and I were happily chatting in the backseat about our good fortune and what we would do with the few hours we had before Mac would be fixed when our taxi ran a red light and a cop pulled us over. This was my first time ever being pulled over in a foreign country! I felt bad for our poor driver, but the light was pretty obviously red. It took a while, but finally the cop wrote him a ticket and we could resume our drive back downtown. Poor taxi driver : (

With a few hours to kill, Mom and I found a hair salon and finally got my hair cut. Mom and I looked through the books of hair styles and colors while we waited and settled on a shade of chestnut brown with a hint of red. The lady doing my hair was great, and she took at least 3 or 4 inches off my hair to make it healthy again. I left the salon feeling like a new woman : )

Mom and I went back to the shop where my Mac was getting fixed, and it was finished! The computer guy had worked his magic, and Mac would live to see another day. He had completely wiped my computer and reinstalled the latest Mac operating system (Snow Leopard!), and now all was well. It was a huge relief… I don’t know how I would survive without my Mac!

In order to celebrate Mac’s revival, my new hair cut, and Mom’s last night in Ukraine, we went out for a nice dinner to a steak restaurant! It was heavenly… I hadn’t eaten steak since last summer, and every bite was delicious. I even remembered to take a picture to document the experience!

I ate half of the steak before I remembered to take a picture of it.

For dessert, we split a slice of Tiramisu!

 So our last day in Kiev was stressful, but all in all quite successful. We went back to the apartment and Mom got everything packed and ready to leave while I called a taxi company and requested a taxi be sent at 5 the next morning.

So at 4:30, after a couple hours of sleep, we got up and Mom got ready to leave. I hauled the suitcases down to the waiting taxi and soon enough we were on the road to the airport. The ride passed in a blur, and I waited in line with Mom as she checked her bags in and got her tickets for her flights. And all too soon we were saying goodbye, and she was leaving for her flight.

We had two wonderful weeks together in Ukraine, but at the airport that morning all I could think about was how fast it went by and how much I wished I could be flying home with her.

Easter in Kolychivka

Mom and I got back to Kolychivka late Saturday night, and Anya told us to sleep for a few hours before church started. I asked her what time we needed to get up, and she said she would knock on the door at 2:30am so we would be ready to leave by 3am. In Ukraine, Orthodox Christians (90% of the population) celebrate Easter by going to mass in the middle of the night, and then having the priest bless the Easter bread they have prepared and brought to church.

I barely slept at all before I heard Anya’s knock, and at this point I really was not excited to get up and go to church. So Mom and I get dressed, and Kristin (my host family’s new volunteer in training) comes in with a scarf covering her hair and I realize that I forgot to bring a scarf (again). So Anya goes and finds me a head covering, and returns with a skirt as well (I was wearing jeans). My Mom’s long jacket got her off the hook again, but I was stuck wearing a skirt with my sketchers. I’m very glad we didn’t take any pictures of this ; )

So we all leave the house, with Victor carrying a huge basket of Easter bread. We get to the church and the women walk inside, while Victor parks himself and the basket in front of a tree outside the church. I’ve been to this church before with Anya, so I knew what to expect—a service in Russian where everyone stands the whole time! The service lasted until a little after 5am, and some children were even confirmed as part of the service.

I had a hard time staying focused, but it was fun watching the new Peace Corps volunteers in-training come in with their host families. As I watched them I wondered if I stood out that much during training. I’m sure I did—Kolychivka is a very tiny village (less than 2000 people), and everyone knows everyone else. Peace Corps has been training volunteers there for the last 2 years, so getting a new group of Americans every couple months has become part of the routine.

One of the other host mothers came in to church and said hi to Anya, and came over to give me a kiss when she saw me there too. She asked how things were at my new site, and I said life was good. She told me that my friend Tammela, who lived with her while we were training, had come back to visit Kolychivka a few weeks ago and had had a wonderful visit. I told her that Tammela and I are still good friends, and she said we should come back and visit together in the summer. I’ve got to call Tammela and see if we can make this happen : )

After the service ended, the audience slowly trickled outside and was greeted by a blaze of candles and a circle of families waiting outside. It felt like the whole village had turned out for the service, and those who couldn’t fit inside the tiny church had gathered outside to wait. I thought Victor just didn’t want to come to the service (he’s not a fan of church), but it turned out that he was saving spots in the circle so we could be part of the next ritual—the Easter blessing.

In the early dawn, as the light just began to creep into the sky, the priest came around the circle and chanted as he blessed the baskets full of Easter bread with a flick of holy water. It was a fascinating thing to watch, and the pictures I took don’t really do it justice. But it was definitely worth waking up in the middle of the night to see : )

After the blessing was finished, everyone filed out of the church courtyard and made their way back home. As soon as we got back, Anya ushered us into the kitchen for breakfast, and started loading up the table with plates of food. Her son Vasya was home and everything, so the 6 of us had to squeeze in tight to fit at the table. Victor got out the homemade vodka and everything, and insisted we welcome Easter with a toast. The vodka tasted like rubbing alcohol, but Mom bravely participated in the Ukrainian version of an Easter celebration with us. We spent an hour feasting and talking, and I felt like my skills as translator improved with each toast. It was just like old times, as Vasya tried to talk to me in Russian and Anya would yell at him and remind him that I only speak Ukrainian. So he would ask her how to say his question in Ukrainian, and it took five minutes to get anything accomplished. Oh the good old days : ) Anya was so happy with how much my Ukrainian has improved, and enlisted me to explain in English all the things she wanted to say to Kristin.

After breakfast everyone napped for a few hours, and when we woke Anya insisted on feeding us again (This definitely reminded me of PST—Anya’s wonderful cooking and her stuffing me multiple times a day!). I told Anya that we needed to leave soon, and she immediately started preparing food for us to take on the road. I asked if we could take a picture all together, and she agreed so long as she could get cute first. Oh how I’ve missed her : )  I got my bag packed up, and she came bustling in with sandwiches, jars of preserves, Easter bread, and a bottle of vodka. I told her that this was too much, that we couldn’t possibly eat it all, but she insisted so I tried to fit it all into my bag. She held up the bottle of vodka and informed me that it was for my Dad, as a gift of homemade vodka from Victor. It was so sweet of him to think of my Dad!

After we said our goodbyes, Mom and I headed back to Chernihiv. We were still pretty exhausted, but we didn’t want to sleep all afternoon and not be able to sleep that night. So we walked around Chernihiv for a while, seeing all the sites and taking pictures. I don’t know the names of any of these places, but I’m sharing the pictures anyways : )

When we returned to our hotel room that night to pack and get ready to leave the next morning, I was exhausted but quite content. It was a wonderful Easter, and I’m so glad my Mom was here in Ukraine to celebrate it with me and my Ukrainian family : )

To read about my Mom’s last days with me in Ukraine, see the next blog post.

Chernihiv/Kolychivka

On Good Friday, Mom and I spent the whole day on a bus to Kiev. Once we got to Kiev we had to take a taxi across town and catch another bus, this time bound for Chernihiv. This was where I spent my first three months in Ukraine during training. I lived in a tiny village called Kolychivka just outside the city, but went into Chernihiv at least once a week for coffee and Internet. Once Mom and I got to Chernihiv, we went to the Hotel Ukraine and checked in. I used to pass this hotel all the time, and it felt surreal to be staying there!

After we got settled we went to a café called the Dva Hoosya (which translates to “Two Geese” in Ukrainian) for dinner, and I brought my laptop so we could Skype with my Dad and sister afterwards. Mom even recognized the café from before, when I used to go there to Skype with her and Dad at home! When we called, we were in for a treat because my brother Heath happened to be at home too. So we had a whole family reunion on Skype, and it was a great visit : )

The next day the weather was incredible, so we went to outdoor café and drank coffee and ate breakfast in the sunshine. Chernihiv is beautiful in the spring, and it felt kind of like a homecoming to be back in the city of my Ukrainian beginning.

After breakfast we went to the bazaar and shopped for souvenirs for Mom to take back to everyone at home. We had a lot of fun, and my language skills did pretty well for bartering. It was interesting to see how much my vocabulary has grown since training—I felt so much more comfortable on this trip speaking and negotiating in Ukrainian. I still sometimes misunderstand when people speak Russian to me, but I do pretty well in Ukrainian.

Mom posing with the smasher thing she bought for Heath—we had a blast shopping in the bazaar!

One of my favorite transactions was with a guy selling homemade honey. He told us all the differences between the various honeys he was selling, and advised me about which one was his personal favorite. I tried to translate quietly for Mom (if they knew you’re foreign the price doubles, haha!) but he caught on and asked where she was from. I explained that she was visiting from the US, and that I teach English here in Ukraine. He was very pleased she was visiting, and asked me to ask her how she liked Ukraine. She said she loved it, and he said he was honored she came to visit. When I went to buy the honey from him, it was cheaper than I’ve ever heard of honey being (only 25 greven, for the PCVs reading this—and it was a jar!) It was a nice experience : )

After we finished shopping, we caught a bus to Kolychivka. I could hardly sit still on the bus ride there, I was so excited to see Anya again! On the bus I saw two other Americans talking, and it turned out that they were Peace Corps Trainees in Kolychivka, in the group that is there training right now! One of the girls, Kristin, is currently living with my host family, so we walked home together and she told me about how Pre-Service Training was going for her group. Being in Kolychivka and hearing her talk about trying to learn Ukrainian reminded me how hard Pre-Service Training was, and of the days that I questioned whether I was cut out for Peace Corps service. It felt good to be on this side of things, assuring her that it gets better.

The reunion with Anya and Victor was just as wonderful as I had anticipated—lots of hugs and kisses and everyone talking all at once. The best part was Anya’s excitement at meeting my Mom. When I called Anya a few weeks ago to tell her I was coming to visit for Easter, I told her I was bringing a surprise. She didn’t know it was a person! Victor had guessed it was my Mom, because I told them during training that my Mom was going to come visit Ukraine at some point. So after the introductions were made, we sat down to an early dinner and caught up. I translated for Anya and then for Mom, and told Anya where Mom and I had been traveling in Ukraine. Mom brought Anya gifts from home, in the form of a spoon rest and a pepper grinder, and Anya was very pleased. She said she’d seen a pepper grinder on a cooking show she watches, and was very excited to try it out.

After dinner, I told Anya that Mom and I had to head back to Chernihiv to meet up with my friend (and former language teacher from PST) Natalia. Natalia is an LCF (Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator) for the group of new PCVs in training, and we had made plans to meet up that evening. Anya was sad that we were leaving so soon, and made us promise that we would come back and spend the night so we could celebrate Easter with her and Victor. I promised, and then Mom and I left for a walking tour of Kolychivka before heading back to the city. I showed her the school where I used to teach, and pointed out the homes where my friends used to live. It was weird being in Kolychivka without my cluster mates, but so good to be back.

Once we were back in Chernihiv, we met up with Natalia and went for a walk to see the sunset. Natalia had brought a friend of hers, Lesya, who is also a language teacher for Peace Corps. Lesya taught my link mates Ukrainian, so I saw her weekly during training. She’s an awesome girl, and I always loved talking with her. I had a lovely time catching up with them, and hearing about how their new groups were. I reminded them that no new cluster could ever compete with mine, and Natalia assured me that she didn’t like them more. My cluster was Natalia’s first time teaching Ukrainian for the Peace Corps, and I made sure that she didn’t forget how great we were ; )

The weather was perfect for a walk, and the sunset was beautiful. It was one of those evenings where everything was right in the world—I was spending time with some of my dearest Ukrainian friends, had spent the afternoon with my Ukrainian family, and had my Mom here traveling around Ukraine with me! It was a night I won’t soon forgot : )

To hear about how we celebrated Easter in Ukraine, read on to the next blog post!

Chernivtsi

Our first hour in Chernivtsi was slightly stressful, because our train was late getting in. We left the train station at 10am, and had approximately one hour to find a hotel, get checked in, dig through the bags for goodies Mom brought from the US, and navigate around the city to find the restaurant where we were set to have lunch with my Peace Corps friends.

Finding the hotel turned out to be the easiest part, and in record time we had a room in the Hotel Bukovina (if you’re ever in Chernivtsi, I’d definitely recommend it!). Mom quickly located the goodies, and I called my friends to tell them we were on the way. It turned out that our hotel was located very close to the restaurant we wanted to eat at, so everything turned out perfectly.

So we had lunch at a café called “Efes” with my cluster mates Tammela and Janira, and also our link mate Michelle, who works in Chernivtsi as a university professor. My friends all knew how excited I was about my Mom coming, and I know they were happy to meet her too! Mom brought them peanut butter, maple syrup, and other contraband from the US that can’t be found in Ukraine, so it was a wonderful reunion/second Christmas with some of my dearest friends in Ukraine : )

After lunch we walked around Chernivtsi for a bit, and looked for a hair salon where I could get my hair cut. This turned out to be an ongoing quest while Mom was here—looking for a salon! I hadn’t had my hair cut since before leaving for Peace Corps, and it was getting unreasonably long and unruly. We found one salon in Chernivtsi, but after waiting for a few minutes and feeling really perturbed by the stylist’s own hair style, I chickened out. So we just ended up strolling through Chernivtsi, enjoying the natural beauty of my favorite city in Ukraine : )

We even found a cute café called “Chocolate” that sold Stella Artois, which happens to be my Dad’s favorite beer. I took a picture so he could appreciate this after the fact : )  We wished you were here Dad!

So after a good night’s sleep at the Hotel Bukovina, Mom and I ventured out the next morning to the university in Chernivtsi, where my friend Michelle works. I’ve always been jealous of Michelle’s situation, because she lives in a great city and all of her students can actually speak English! (Michelle has a Masters degree, so she gets to be a university professor instead of a secondary teacher. I always refer to her as the lucky b****).

So while Michelle was teaching a class, Mom and I took a tour of the university. The only problem was that our tour-guide only spoke Ukrainian and French (which I really don’t know at all, despite 4 years of it in high school), so I had to be the translator for Mom. I’m not sure how well I did, but I could get most of the points across : ) The university in Chernivtsi is stunning, especially in spring. Here are some of my favorite photos.

After our tour, we sat in the park behind the university and enjoyed the beautiful day. When Michelle finished her class we met up for lunch and took Mom to our favorite Turkish restaurant in Chernivtsi. It was delicious, as always, and I was really sad when the time came to leave.

But Mom and I had a bus to catch, and this one was the most important because it was taking us all the way to Sokyriany, my home in Ukraine. Read on to the next blog post to find out what Mom thought of my hometown here!