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.
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!