Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Half Year

Half a year ago, I landed in Kyiv exhausted, sweaty, and confused. I met a smily, petite girl in a tiny hotel room.  I now talk to this girl every single day. Some drunk guys keep us up all night as they blared "Moves like Jagger" out of their car stereo. Now, any mention of Jagger gets a laugh for either of us. A few days later, I sat a massive bus with five strangers staring at each other in bewilderment as we drove into the wilderness not knowing what in the what was about to happen. Next week, I am going to celebrate my 24th birthday with these five people staring at the Black Sea. Back then, I could barely remember how to introduce myself but today, I will walk to and from school greeting every single person or goose or cat in my path with ease. (Unless, the goose tucks its head and charges me. Then I run away without saying hello!)

Thinking about what I could possibly say to sum up this past six months is overwhelming. How can I encompass the daily, constant emotional and psychological roller coaster that is Ukraine? How do I express how deeply I have fallen in love with this place, its trees, its people, its scent? How do I began to describe how I ache for Starburst Jellybeans and watching my parents fall asleep to the 7 o'clock news and roaming around the country in my beloved Honda? I don't why I wake up at 4 am from a vivid dream of being hugged. Just being hugged over and over again by those I love. Sitting in my momma's red recliner or roaming around town shot gun with my best friend. For mere moments, I think my body is warm from their bodies but, nope, it's just the mountains of covers protecting me from twilight's chill.

On Monday, I got to skype with my best friend so I could sing Happy Birthday in Ukrainian for him. He just laughed and said, 'Seems like a few extra words in there." I got passed around the room to chat with his entire family. I love when this happens. His grandparents were in complete shock that my face was sitting on an iPhone and his baby sister carried me into her room. We then discussed her current school and art projects. I got to see 15 different colors of duct tapes and some of the amazing things she makes with it. Monday was a day packed of anxiety so the sweet hellos and Bluegrass sunlight helped the stress ease away. As a new version of Cassie continued to morph and develop, I worry how my loved ones at home will fit into this new person's life (that may sound strange but any PCV reading this will understand) so such conversations keep those far away much closer to me. My relationship with Ukraine is daily and constant but American isn't being forgotten.  

This past weekend, I went to a PC meeting in Cherkasy, my oblast capital, and meet all the PCVs in my oblast. One guy who is leaving Ukraine in 2 months said this, "Being in Ukraine, loving in Ukraine is just like loving someone. When you love someone, sometimes you want to kill them and sometimes you want to kiss them. You love them. You hate them. They drive you crazy but you still love them. That is how I love Ukraine. That is how I will miss Ukraine." Most days, I have no words of such accuracy. I have only a head full of ramblings. I am lucky beyond belief to have friends that will listen for hours when such verbal vomit is puked out. Because we all have it. We all get it. I am not alone. Far from it. I am constantly surrounded.

I am constantly surrounded by kind Ukrainians who never quite understand me yet desire to help me, teach me, and love me. Arriving home from school on Monday, my Baba Nina was sitting on the bench outside our front fence basking in the sunlight. Baba Vera and Baba Lenina from down the street joined her. Sun soaking scarfed triplets. They saw me a long way away so they yelled and waved. We chatted about the beautiful weather, what lessons I taught, and why was I still wearing a scarf and hat. Take that off! It's Spring today! Baba Nina insisted on checking the temperature of my hands - my hands have been frozen most of the winter - by patting them between her own and examining each finger. It's a sincere gesture that I adore. When my hands are between hers, I wonder how much she has seen, how much she knows, and I want to know what she knows. I want to walk with her and watch Russian movies and feed chickens. Ukraine has had many faces in Baba Nina's time.

Baba Nina is only one person in my household. Halya knits with me. Tolrick helps me fix my broken lamp. Vika and I ramble about Istanbul vacations and men and teaching and where we will end up by the time we turn 30. Vika is quickly joining the list of names I must talk to each week. Our conversations help me understand our family and our friendship more each time. She is graduating from college in mid May. I have already promised to be there screaming my head off and documenting each moment. Baba Nina going to big city Uman will be worthy of a photo essay. Our family has relatives on every street in our village. Our door is swinging every day. Whether through family ties or friendships, my students show up at my house several times a week. Sometimes I want to hide away and watch American movies but, mostly, I drink tea and discover new stories.

My role in this community is still in transition. I know I am not running on full cylinders yet. I'm a woman in Ukraine who wants to be a Ukrainian woman. Not yet. Give me another 6 months and maybe. I could be here a decade and still not totally understand what happens every day. The fun part is figuring it out. I still stumble and fail but I can get much further down a path before such. My 10th formers are nervous to speak to me outside of answering instructed questions but my kindergardeners wave, hug, attack my knees, and kiss my face whenever they get a chance. Their united chorus of "Good Morning, Ms. Cassie! We have English lesson today?" inspires my soul. My little ones work vigorously. They ask me everyday if we can learn more today. My little Maxim introduced me to his mother today as he jumped over all the parking lot today. Makes my heart sing. I can't get my older students to show up to English Club (I am determined to win them over) but my younger students are religious attendees. They raid my room with screeches and giggles. The entire 5th form parades in together like a human fence. We play a little, write a little, and sing a little. My dedicated girls - Alona, Mary, and Anna - walk (or skip while holding hands!) to my weekly trip to the market with me so they can continue whatever song we learned. The trees don't care if they miss a word. We listen for spring birds to whistle while we walk. I can't win every child but I can get a few to dance home with me.

In more current news, my registration process of legal residency in Ukraine is finished! My amazing counterpart, Kati, and I went to many offices in many cities this week to make that happen. She stayed up late filling out forms so I only had to sign a few lines and turn in my passport today. She is the heroine of this week. She thinks I am brave to be so far away from home but she is far stronger than she even understands. When I stumped into terrified anxiety this week, she kept pushing and working and made it all better. When I first met Kati, as we rode a bus to Syhnayivka under the stars together, I knew that by the time I leave this place, I will give all that I have to her. This week has confirmed that more than ever. I will spend the next 21 months giving all I can to Kati, her family, and her village because what is hers is now mine. She is giving all of herself to me so I will do the same.

Spring has arrived! The only remains of ice or snow are tucked away in nocks of hillsides where sunlight rarely reaches through the layers of branches. Mud reigns supreme and conquers my boots each morning. Oh well, just a new chore to add to the list. Extra layers and winter accessories have been discarded for smaller jacket and prettier things. My warm weather wardrobe is in route from Kentucky and I couldn't be more excited. The sweeping winds and sunshine has influenced everyone's mood. My village is lighter and brighter. I met new faces each day just because we can venture outside for longer and further from home. The last brave ice fishers venture out to thin layers on the lake. So in honor of the vanishing season, I will post two final winter images. 

Vika and her boyfriend, Serhiy, took our cousins, Alona and Misha, for a final skate night. 

Evidence of change. 

Next post, Spring Break in Crimea and Burty reunion. I will meet my favorite people on a train to go visit the coast. Then we are visiting our host families and new trainees in Burty afterwards. My Mama Olea and Papa Valodia have a new girl. I'm eager to meet the newest member of my Ukrainian family.

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