“And We Know Its Never Simple, Never Easy…”

While the Eurocup tournament continued, my main task was planning the summer of a lifetime; my sister Tori was set to arrive in less than a week, and our first adventure was traveling to Crimea, Ukraine. This is the primary tourist destination of Ukraine, located on the Black Sea in the southern part of the country. Mark was coming with us, as well as a few of my favorite PCV friends‒Michelle, Erin, and Kristin. Michelle had taken care of buying our train tickets, but I was in charge of the hostels/apartments we’d be staying at, so I was busy planning our itinerary and finding places for us to stay.

I also was doing research for the bigger adventure to follow in July; a two week trip to central Europe for just me and Tori! Mark was a good sport while I worked out all the details, and he also served as a guinea pig for the meals I wanted to try cooking before Tori arrived. One of my main hopes for the summer was to impress Tori with my new-found cooking skills, and I was already crafting a menu of dishes to cook while she was with me in Sokyriany. So Mark got to experience strawberry scones, Eggs Benedict, Chicken Tikka Masala with naan (Indian food!), Banana bread, and lots of other yummy things : )

I also had to cook for a picnic with the 5th grade, which was arranged by my counterpart Natalia. She is the homeroom teacher for 5th grade, and I think I can safely say this class was my favorite last year. We arranged the picnic before school ended, specifically for a date when Mark would be in Sokyriany and could come too. My 5th graders were very excited to see him, and were shameless about asking questions regarding him and “Miss Kate.” I’ve never blushed so much in my LIFE, and for once I wished I didn’t understand what they were going on about in Ukrainian ; )

It was hilarious to listen to, but also hard to dodge their questions. I’m sure many of you have guessed (or were told by me!) that Mark was more than a friend, but during the week of his visit I started to realize that it wasn’t going to work out between us, for a lot of different reasons (none of which I’d care to go into on this public forum). I’d probably have realized it sooner had I not wanted it to work out so much… I had such a wonderful impression of him from our first month together that I wanted to continue thinking the best of him, so I just chalked up the first few warning signs as the struggles of a long-distance relationship. But being with him 24/7 in Sokyriany brought everything to light, and it turned out proximity was even more of a challenge than distance! The worst part was we still had two more weeks together, in Kyiv picking up Tori from the airport, and then a week in Crimea with all my friends. I didn’t know what to do about it, and looking back I know I could’ve handled it better. But I didn’t, and I didn’t say anything until the end of our trip. It made for a challenging two weeks, knowing there were problems but not addressing them… needless to say it was a rough couple weeks.

But this picnic with the fifth graders turned out to be one of the nicest days of the summer, and I’m pretty sure it was the highlight of the whole week Mark was in town. We went to a hillside near the prison, overlooking all of Sokyriany. (I’m sure some of you remember my post about the sites to see in Sokyriany, and how the beautiful countryside surrounding the prison is one of the best spots in town!) All of the kids brought food, and Natalia even brought “shashlik” which is a huge Ukrainian summer tradition. It just refers to grilling meat outside, although I’ve heard it translated as “barbeque” sometimes too. I have adopted the word “shashlik” into my own vocabulary, and I’m determined to bring it back to America with me ; )

Here is Natalia being our shashlik master:

We had a wonderful time, enjoying the sunshine, eating lots of tasty food, and chatting in the most interesting mixture of English, Ukrainian, and Russian (for Mark, who doesn’t know Ukrainian). Here is a picture of some of the girls, sitting on our picnic blankets and smiling for the camera : )

Here is Yanna and Tanya.

And here is Dasha, my smartest fifth grade student, and probably my favorite too if I’m being honest; she comes to see me every week for tutoring, and speaks wonderfully for her age. I’m so impressed with how fast she improves too; every week she understands more!

But my favorite part of our picnic was American football. I promised the students I would bring my football, and the boys’ main motivation in coming to this picnic was learning how to play! I explained the rules, but our position on a hillside made it hard to play. We mostly ended up just throwing and catching, but the kids loved it anyways. I also enjoyed watching Mark play; it was nice to play some AMERICAN football after hearing about European football (soccer) the whole month of June! 😉

My counterpart Natalia even played with us!

 Our picnic was a huge success, and I enjoyed the day spent with my fifth graders so much. They’re such special little people, and they’re at the perfect age–not filled with hormones yet but old enough to communicate and be hilarious. Spending the day with them was exactly what I needed, and turned out to be one of my favorite summer memories from summer 2012 : ) (Although to be fair, this summer provided me with a lot of incredible memories to pick from!)

Soon enough my time in Sokyriany ran out, and Mark and I went to Chernivtsi to catch a train to Kyiv, where an incredible reunion would take place… my sister Tori was coming to Ukraine for the summer! 😀

Read on to hear about our reunion, and the disaster that preceded it. 

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