Once I finally made it home to Sokyriany, I felt like I could sleep for days and still not be caught up on rest. I had no plans for exactly one week, at which point my old roommate and good friend Becca was coming to Ukraine for a visit. So for my week off, all I wanted to do was nothing.
When I got home I found a note on my door, demanding that I come visit my friend Olha at her coffee shop the moment I returned. Usually she just calls, so I was intrigued. I dropped off my stuff, promised my bed I’d be back soon for an extended visit, and went to Olha’s coffee shop. I hadn’t seen her in almost a month, due to all the traveling, and she had missed celebrating my birthday with me. So at the Bistro she had flowers, chocolate, and a bottle of wine waiting. I didn’t think anything could be better than a nap, but spending the morning drinking coffee and catching up with Olha was truly what my heart needed. Slavic and Petro also had a birthday gift, but I’m not sure if words do it justice. It was a ceramic cheeseburger, which now sits in my kitchen and serves to make me hungry every time I look at it. I’m not sure if I’ll take it home with me, because its heavy, but it does add something to my kitchen decor ; )
I allowed myself two days of inaction, catching up on Skype dates, taking a nap at least once or twice a day, and enjoying some much needed alone time. I’ve come to really love living on my own during Peace Corps, which was new for me because I’ve always lived with either my family or college roommates. But I’ve learned to enjoy solitude, and this summer I didn’t have much of that at all. My week home in Sokyriany was a much needed recharging of the spiritual batteries.
But soon enough, life intruded, and it was back to work. I had meetings at school for my grant, because the teachers and I were planning on buying all of the technology and establishing the English Resource & Technology Center at school before classes started so we could utilize all the new goodies in our lessons. Seeing this grant implemented was the last remaining project of my Peace Corps service, and I had incredibly high hopes for it.
Many of you know about this grant, which I wrote last winter and raised money for last spring. This grant was a partnership grant between Peace Corps and my community, so part of the agreement was that we would raise 75% of the funds from American donors, while 25% would come from our community in Sokyriany. This was easy for my school to agree to hypothetically, and I think maybe my director forgot about it in the time that has elapsed since we wrote the grant. The funds from American donors were raised by May, but the teachers didn’t want to implement the grant until after the summer break. I agreed, but now in retrospect I wish we had struck while the iron was hot, in the spring when we received the news about the grant being funded. Now that August had rolled around, it was really hard to get the momentum going again.
Further complicating matters was the fact that apparently there had been a small fire at my school. The guard on duty had been a bit tipsy and passed out, and while he was asleep the TV shorted and started a fire. It didn’t do too much damage, but the whole school was permeated by the stench of fire and everything was covered in black soot. My counterpart Natalia said that this was a really bad time to be asking my school director for the equivalent of $350, and promised that she’d try talking to the director closer to school starting.
I was a bit upset by the news, because I’d already ordered all the books, as well as the computer, projector, white board, and xerox copier, and I wouldn’t have enough to pay for all of it without the school’s contribution. I shared the stressful news with Olha, who in typical fashion declared that this was crap, and immediately started calling everyone she knew to make sure the school came through on their contribution. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without her in my life; she makes everything better, and is so fierce in her motherly love for me. She should have had a daughter, instead of two sons! I guess she has a naturalized American daughter now to share all her love with 😉
The end result was that the school director reaffirmed that she would follow through with the school’s contribution, but an indirect result of Olha’s phone calls was a huge outpouring of community support. The Education Minister for our region promised to contribute the money himself if the school couldn’t find it, because he was so excited about this grant at our school. The Board of Education also promised its support, and said that they would make sure the school director came up with the cash. I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from Olha is the importance of networking, and how much you can accomplish if you enlist the help and support of others in higher positions. Olha knows how to get things done, and I’m always amazed at how she knows who to call to get certain results. I was at a dead end with my school, but by calling community contacts Olha got the project rolling again. Thank God for Olha Petrivna.
With my grant officially on track once again, I focused my energy on planning an itinerary for Becca’s visit to Ukraine. The timing of Becca’s trip was unfortunate, because I was so burned out on traveling, but I did my best to plan a cool trip. The biggest problem was that all the trains were all sold out by this point, because the trip was only a week away. In Ukraine, traveling by train is the cheapest alternative, but once tickets go on sale (6 weeks before the date of travel), they go fast, especially in summer. Traveling by train requires fore-planning, and since I’d been so busy planning and traveling with Tori, my trip with Becca had been on the back-burner. As a result, all the trains were already sold out and I had to resort to the more expensive option of public buses. I ended up buying a ticket on the overnight bus to Kyiv to pick Becca up, and the overnight buses are the worst… You get no sleep and there is no way to get comfortable, but at this point it was my only option.
As I packed a bag and prepared to leave to go meet Becca in Kyiv, I looked around my apartment fondly and wished I had more time to spend at home. I also checked my emails and made sure I was caught up on everything important. While going through my inbox I discovered a notification from Peace Corps regarding my group’s Close-of-Service Conference. Apparently my group only has three months left in country, and our presence is required in September at conference to discuss the end of our service and all the things we need to do before we depart. As I read this email, it seemed so surreal to me that I only have three months left. Last time I checked, before this crazy summer started, the countdown said 6 months. And now its three?! I was tempted to freak out, but honestly, had no time. I had a bus to catch, and one last summer hurrah awaiting!