Sunday, April 1, 2012

The 24th Year

Years ago, I sent my older brother an email on his birthday titled, "The 24th Year".
 My lame attempt at poetic humor. Nonetheless, I am reusing it today. 

This past Tuesday, I began the 24th year of my life in Crimea, Ukraine among dear friends. Jokes about my young age or my fleeting youth were tossed around in good humor. Chocolate cake and french toast was on the menu so birthday success was achieved. I received lotsa of electronic love from all my family members, close friends and far away friends. A simple email won't have been received so sincerely in Kentucky but they sure do help over here. When I arrived home, my Ukrainian family presented me with a grand meal and detailed, woven scarf. My sister, Vika, gave me a black bead necklace, which I suspect is from her own collection, that I adore. Our extended family showed up in droves. We drank tea, had our blood pressure taken by Misha, my favorite 3 year old, played UNO, and watching Ukrainians showcase their strange talents until we all fall asleep on top of each other. I witnessed Baba Nina's yearly hair cut yesterday. Vika chopped at her hair with scissors of all sizes and years of rust. No matter where Vika's scissors fell, Baba Nina swore it was perfect. Something it seems all grandmothers have in common. Today, my dear friend and counterpart, Kati, gave me a necklace and earring set of gray, silver, and black that she made with colorful clay, baked, painted, and then glittered. It's a bold character but I am eager to wear it to school tomorrow. Tomorrow, it's back to my real life schedule of smiling students and grammar lessons. Tomorrow among the screaming and missing homework, I will remember what a lucky lady I am. 

Looking forward to what may, could, should, hopefully will happen before I turn 25 is daunting. Absolutely overwhelming due to extreme nervousness and excitement. But it's okay. Thus far, Ukraine has taught me about misunderstanding, grand celebrations, endless holidays, dancing with strangers, singing in your living room, unique people, loneliness, fear, discomfort, fierce loyalty, unimaginable friendship, the power of compassion and strength of ignorance. Not to say I didn't know a thing or two about such subjects in my previous life. I did. Ukraine has added to my knowledge. Ukraine has forced me to adapt, to overcome, and to keep focused on what is immediately in front me: students, laundry, a phone call, a lesson plan, whatever. Focusing too far into the future can be too stressful here. (Yes, of course, I have made long term goals for my school, site, and self. I have also considered what the crap I will do after this gig. Grad school, traveling, settling down?) Ukraine has forced me to keep hold loosely to things closely to me. Keep what is sacred and important nearby yet be able to let down of an idea or schedule at a snap.

Surviving this past Ukrainian winter provided me with life lessons every single hour. It was scary cold. Spring is slowly arriving in Syhnayivka giving warmth for a few hours to splash us with sleet during my walk home. I eagerly await more consistent sunlight. I taught a lesson about Ernest Hemingway recently and found a quote that struck a chord within me, "You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen."

A part of me did die in the fall. A part of me died when I left my parents behind the security line. A part of me had to die to make room for change. A new version of Cassie grew all winter and will bloom surrounded by summer wildflowers. This new Cassie is going to be someone extreme. (She will hopefully be thin with long blonde hair!) I can be referred as Baba Okcana when marching through fields in work boots and a scarf top, Kasey by most my neighbors who struggle to pronounce my name, Hello Teacher! by students racing to class, Keslie Lee Johnson by those who like to poke at the Southerner within, the Poodle when I show my teeth/temper, Mama Bear when a pep talk is needed, and, finally, Cassie Ruth by those who know me best. A few of these titles came over with me. A few more have been created here. Just like me. Some of me arrived here in September. A whole new me is currently appearing.

I  will try to keep track of said new arrival via blog, letter, and phone calls. I have neglected my journal for a while but that will be rectified.
To reuse Ernest again, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

Now for the photographs!

The crew watching 'Ukrainian Talent' during a thunderstorm. 

Proud in his pampers - his pants were driving on the heater - Misha started to check up everyone. 

After Misha's game, Halya had to do some real work. 

Halya takes the blood pressure for all the elder women on our street as well as in our family.
So lots of Babas visit my house often. It's great!

Dr. Misha put on his serious face. 

No one could keep their comments or jokes quiet.
It was adorably hilarious. 

She was a trooper! 

My Cherevko Family. 

Birthday Presents!

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