Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Life is Happening and it means Everything"

For Ukrainian Orthodox Easter or Paska, my school took a break which gave me enough time to go back to Burty for a long weekend. My excitement was far greater than my visit at Christmas time due to the new set of PC people in Burty, missing Burty so much, wanting to show off my new cooking and language skills, wanting to see my cat son Pairsic, and the overall stress I was dealing with. 
(no worries, life is very chill now!) 

Moving in with my host family went smoothly and I was off to bus station after school. When I finally  arrived in Mama and Papa's yard, I was almost out of breathe due to steer joy. I couldn't find anyone for a moment - the new Americans were on a bus from kyiv - but then I heard Mama Olea's scream. She thought I was arriving on Saturday morning so seeing me on Friday afternoon in her yard was quite a shock. She wept for a while and hugged me and poked at my stomach demanding to know where all the food she gave me in the winter went. Papa V showed up a little bit later to ask why my hair was longer, blonder, and how did I get taller? Or maybe he got smaller? After the Q&A and tears were dried, I was put to work. I put my cat in my lap and went to town on a massive pot of veggies. For several minutes it felt as if I had never moved. As if I just finished language class and sat down. As if there stool under me was built just square enough for my body. As if I was home. 
Because I was home. I was home. 

Friday night turned into a massive meet up with new Americans and some fabulous Burty friends. Drew and I got to spend several hours chatting about home, burty, the future, whatever. Their group seemed get as tight as ours but also very different. Mama and Papa experienced another small explosion of emotions and questions when Drew walked in the living room like he'd been there all day. They demanded to know when everyone was moving home to stay. 

Saturday morning, I tried to get up as soon as I could but I didn't beat Grace, the new Procoliy daughter, or Mama Olea. Those two are morning birds and had done most of the chores when I arrived at 8 am! Oh well. Just a few hours later, the whole clan was in the car hauling logs and tools to a field way out of town that we planted potatoes in. It became very apparent which girl Mama Olea favored when she gave Grace the only pairs of gloves while we hauled logs around. No hard feelings, I love it. It toughens me up. Grace would get the sweet voice and I'd receive barking orders. Papa V would just roll his eyes and tell me to help him. Again, no worries. It's home and it's all good. Papa V found me a pair of gloves and snuck them in my back pocket. He had me sit up front with him in the car and I did it but I knew Mama Olea would comment. She did. Holding Grace's hand she proclaimed, "Oh I see! You are Papa's daughter and Gracie's my daughter!" I was like "Maybe I am both?" "Well of course you are!" And then everyone laughed. 

We planted potatoes after the tractor man finished his deal. For 4 or 5 hours, we sang songs, counted our steps, practiced date and time vocab (for both Grace and I). When it was all over, everyone was dirty and exhausted. We feasted on a huge meal then were assigned beds to take naps in. Being the good 'older sister' that I am, I helped Mama Olea tuck Grace into bed - fully dressed and filthily- so I could translate what instructions needed to be said. We were all a little giggly. By the time Mama Olea put me in bed, she was full on weeping. Her round face was red with squinting eyes. She kissed me over and over saying, "You are home. You are home. It's like I have two babies again. 
I have all my babies here." 

By the end of nap time, Sam was in town and Anna made a short yet fabulous appearance with her visiting, real, American Momma! Caitlin was dearly missed but doing big things in her town. I was 'given' possession of Grace for the evening so I showed her off to as many neighbors and friends as I could find. Everyone liked her just as much I do. She and I spent Saturday evening getting to know Burty better and each other. 

And now I realize I need to introduce Grace! She is the new girl living in my house in Burty. We had spoken on the phone a few times before my visit just because we could. I knew then we would hit it off in person. At first, I was a little jealous of this new girl at my house, in my room, sleeping in my tiny, springy bed but after a few hours and a few homes we began to introduce each other as our 'ukrainian sister'. Turns out, she was a little jealous of "Kasey" that everyone kept going on about. All the new people had to answer the question, "Do you know the others?" when going to the store or school or anywhere. Burty is a real little place. Grace and I discovered we have nothing to be jealous in each other. I adore having her around. I am happy knowing she is there to help Mama and Papa and watch over all my farm creatures. She is quite different than me - likes to get up way early, does her chores before class not after, runs all over the village every day, etc. - but we have similar features - being a momma bear, eager to help, laughs easy - that are must haves in the Procoliy household. I enjoyed my few days as the older sister. Grace gained access to things around the house during her first week that I struggled to understand for 3 months. Her experience is so very different than mine but we both agreed that, to us, Mama and Papa are what we need. 

Paska morning arrived quickly. Mama Olea had told Grace and I she was going to church at 4 am but we didn't have to. Joining forces, we convinced her to take us with her. She forgot. We both were awake and dressed by 4 but she wasn't home. Our phones started to ring. Drew and his little brother, Maxim, were calling to tell us to come outside. They were our escorts to church. Mama Olea had forgotten us but remembered when she saw the guys. Grace and I found her in the crowd, right close to the front door, and settled in. I took my camera because I have gotten permission the day before but I was hesitant to photograph. I didn't want to disturb the holiness of the moment for anyone. I wanted to experience what was occurring with my entire self rather then my lens. Mama Olea insisted taking photos was okay so I ran around for a bit before settling in. 

Being surrounded by most of Burty's residents before dawn listening to hymns and chants was intoxicating. I have never experienced such a sincere, quite moment so packed with purpose before. Even now, weeks later, I can't seem to put into words. I need to start inventing words to describe that morning. The sky was deep blue with hints of gray around the moon. Beams of light pushed over the horizon. People, young and old, cold and tired, meditating, praying, singing, waiting, stood still while the priest splashed holy water on our bodies and baskets. Each basket held meat, dyed eggs, Paska bread, candles, and woven scarves to represent another year of life at home (I think that right!) Mama Olea, Grace, and I stood and sat in unison with hundreds of others to be blessed. The water was crisp so it stripped away my exhaustion to force to pay more attention. Children were kissed and prayed over. Singing grandmas and granddads followed behind the priest carrying baskets for food and money donations. Younger men carried banners and Bibles while moving on beat with the chorus. The smell of candle wax and sugar was overwhelming. Everything was soaked in Paska. The scents, the sidewalk. I swear it took using all my 5 senses to their highest ability to fully experience those moments. Finally, when dawn fully appeared, the air cleared and the priest sent us home. Mama Olea, Grace and I walked home holdings hands. It felt like an Easter Sunday of my childhood except I wore a scarf over my hair instead of bright pink bows. 

We eat a bit of the blessed food then Mama Olea announced Grace and I would take another nap while she cooked the bigger feast. After a long argument, we convinced her this would not stand. Our three whipped out a few more dishes before crashing. I am not a nap take, especially after coffee, so I was awake again in less than an hour to have more coffee with Papa V. We found my current village on the map. He was happy to realize he could get to me in less than 4 hours in his car. (I plan to invite them for a weekend in the near future) Then we talked about my work, how comfort my current bed is, if I will marry an Ukrainian man and if so what he needs to be like, etc. etc. etc. I adore Papa V with everything I have. The way he speaks with his fingers, drinks his tea too hot every time, laughs with his entire upper body and pats my face waters my eyes. We were still talking when the ladies arrive to chow down. 

Mama and Papa went off to visit some friends after our meal at home so Grace and I joined our friends. We ended up visiting 4 different Paska parties and, I think, I ate continuously for about 8 hours. I do know I didn't eat much for several days after! At one house, I had dinner with Baba Tonya, Mama and Papa's best friend, with Grace, Jenny, and Ryan - more new people. My language is getting better but I didn't know I could sit and translate for 5 hours. I thought I was going inside to say hello to her granddaughters - Dasha and Uyla - who became my little pals in the fall. (Uyla has since called me on the phone demanding to know when I am coming back and if I will move in with her family so I can be her English teacher) Nope, we stayed until after dark. Drew and his host family were expecting us many hours before so when he called to ask me 'Where exactly are you?' all I do was laugh and say, "Today is the single greatest day I have experienced in this country. I don't ever want to it to end." He swiftly and whole heartedly agreed. We did, finally, make it across town. We all got to end the evening with more food and tea and laughter.  

My departure was scheduled for 11am on Monday. I found out at 10 that I would taken to the bus stop by Mama and Papa in their car. I have only ridden in this car about 3 times before but Mama Olea insisted that I, obviously, could not walk the 3 blocks to the bus stop. 'Look at her pretty clothes! She is our child! She will go with me!' were her breakfast table statements. Mama Olea sat me down, prayed over me, blessed my luggage, my body, and all the air above me. She wept and wept. She buttoned my sweater all the way up to neck so I wouldn't get cold and men on the bus won't talk to me. Freakishly similar to my own mother's actions before driving me to the airport. She asked if I wanted to leave because she didn't think I did. She's a smart lady. Gritting my teeth, I told her I had to leave to go back to work. I love my students and they except to see me tomorrow. I allowed a few tears to roll during our short car ride. They stayed with me until the right bus with enough room showed up. I had a few hours at the big bus station before my big bus home so I went to Christine's host family's apartment and spent several sweet hours with them. Christine's host family is all women and has hosted 8 PCVs in the past. They know what's up. I was fed, again, got to use some hot water, and eat Reese Cups that former daughters sent from the States. When I went to catch my bus, Drew called. He was with his Burty brothers and they had a birthday present for me. I am the proud owner of paper made from Burty trees. It now lives in my 'book of wonder' with photos and notes from those I love. I printed a photo of the boys to paste with it. My bus ride back to Syhnayivka was long, too long, and boring. On the dark bus I could let myself mourn of leaving home again. Mourn over leaving smells, sounds, atmosphere that are so real to me, I dream about them and wake up thinking I am there. My Burty friends say it best, "We have towns here. We have places we live and work in. Those places are great but Burty is home." 

I got to go home to visit my precious people. I got to sit among friends who make my life make sense. I got to check on everyone I care for to reassure myself it's all gonna be alright. Lucky for me, this place is just up the road. I will have plenty of opportunities to go back. Until I return to the Bluegrass, Burty is where I can find true comfort. The title of this entry coming from a song called 'The Lark Ascending' by Dave Crowder. It came on my iPod shortly after my bus pulled away from my comfort zone. It's a song that encompasses my Ukrainian experience, thus far, in less than 2 minutes. Life is happening. Life is Burty happened. My time there forever altered me. My time in Syhnayivka continues to alter me. That means Everything. 

This is quite an entry but since an experience needs such an explanation. Please enjoy some photos! 

No more than 10 minutes after my arrival in Burty,  Mama Olea redressed me in work clothes and put on dinner chores.
Wouldn't have it any other way. 

When Papa V and I went spice hunting, we found a cow skull.
Who knew that was in our back yard? 

Papa V told me first thing, "I'm a pensioner now! I'm Papa Pensioner! I only work at home and on the farm."
So here he is doing just that. 

Newest members of the Procoliy household

Saturday morning breakfast line

Another new member of the Procoliy family - Grace!
Pairsic seems like her - but he is still my cat son.
Mama adores her morning chore helper and Papa always giggles as she sways her way around the farm.
I'm a big fan. 
Mama Olea's Classic "Cassie, I Don't Understand What You are Doing or Why You are Doing It" Face. 

Quick family photo with the tractor man because that's just important. 

Giving instructions and visual aids to the art of potato planting. 

Mama Olea with her Gracie close behind. 

My Burty Family. 

Papa V being awesome. 

See, how well Grace fits in?
While we worked, we sang little kid Ukrainian songs together.
Mama Olea was beaming with pride at her 'smart daughters' 

Anna showed up for a surprise hour long visit with her American mother - who took this photo. 

Meeting the new spring member of their farm. 

'Paska' morning at the church. 

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The village waiting for the priest for come outside and bless everyone and all our food with holy water. 
Paska bread, meat, dyed eyes, and scarf to be blessed.
All these things, together, represent life at home. 

A chorus of people sang hymns as the priest entering the yard. 

The church flags coming by.
(Some days I like this image, some days it still perplexes me) 

Mama Olea and her girls. 

Family photo right before being escorted to my bus. 
I like to think this photo proves that Grace and I aren't just daughters to one parent but both.
Of course, we are different women so our relationships and interactions are different but equally wonderful.
This image is quite special to me now. 

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