First Ukrainian Post
My first impression of Ukraine as we were coming in for a landing in Kyiv was how much it looks like the Midwest, at least the part we saw. While there are mountains in Ukraine, we were arriving in an area that is largely flat and used for crops.
Without going into great detail, Staging went quickly and then we were off to the airport. I was glad to not look silly alone, with my two large suitcases, computer backpack and carry on. Some people brought “trekking” packs. Nonetheless, by the time we arrived at our arrival retreat, where we stayed for two nights, I was ready to put the bags down and change out of the clothing which I had been in for two days. I have to give Peace Corps credit – they are pros at this, having done it so many times before, and have their organization down. We put our bags into a storage room; mercifully not having to bring them up anywhere from one to three flights of stairs, went to our assigned rooms and met our roommates, who were to also be our cluster mates. I had not previously met mine, Alice Theodora and Emily, other than being FB friends with Emily previous to Staging. At Staging, they separated us by the first and last part of the alphabet, as there were 77 of us. So we were on the airplane and in Ukraine and still had not met everyone in our group.
At the arrival retreat we took care of medical things (I have received five shots so far – H1N1 in Washington, D.C., and four here in Ukraine) and have more to go because I have to finish the series for the Hep shots. While it was not at all fun to get them all at once, I believe I will be grateful to have them. We also met the people in our cluster, found out what language we would be learning, got our photos taken, learned who is who at Peace Corps Ukraine, and did/learned some other administrative things. My language is Ukrainian. Eight groups were assigned to learn Ukrainian, and seven groups were assigned to learn Russian.
We were also assigned our training cities. Five of the seven Community Development groups are located in the city of Chernihiv. My group is in a village outside of Chernihiv called Kyinka. Truly a village – no Internet access (we are going into Chernihiv often enough that this is not an issue. Though apparently Emily’s family has WiFi in their house), a small church, a small post office, three “mahazins” (stores), one of which is also a bar, one of which I have not been in, and one that is a pretty decent size and has most “needs”. It is pretty and I can see how nice it will be when things start to grow and bloom. I will write more on Kyinka later and post photos as well, when I open up an account.
I am staying with a couple, who I honestly cannot call my “parents” as she is only 11 months older than I am. Her name is Luba (LOO-bah) and his name is Dmitrov, who is called Dima. He’s Russian. They have a son, Artem, who is 20 and in the military, and a daughter, Darena, who is 12 and at a school of the arts in Odessa (it’s a boarding school). The first question Darena asked about me on the first night I was here was how much I weigh. The second was how tall I am. Perhaps she was expecting me to be overweight? Or was just curious? I have not figured it out yet because none of the other PCTs have encountered this.
Because of the location of this village, there are many people who speak Russian, or Russian and Ukrainian mixed, even with some Belorus thrown in. We are trying to learn “proper” Ukrainian but for all intents and purposes people here all speak some sort of mixture, or certainly know both languages, depending on where they are located.
Luba and Dima may speak English but have not done so with me yet. This is great except when they speak quickly and wait for me to respond, and I feel like I am about two years old, unable to find the words. I must get a blank look on my face because they will often either repeat themselves or try another way. They have been very helpful since the first day (and I am on day three here) – they are telling me what things are called, encouraging me in my learning, and seem pretty surprised at how much I want to learn the language.
The second day (we got here in the late afternoon on the 2nd) I was here was Easter. I had heard about the Ukrainian tradition where people get up early on Easter and go to church to get their food blessed. What I did not expect was that here in Kyinka, they leave around 3:00 for the church. That’s A.M. So three rolls around and no one was up. I got up, turned on the living room light, turned on my light, and laid back down. Luba came in and said something, turned on the entryway light, turned off the living room light, and went back into her room. Hmm. So I turned my light back off. At 3:25 she came back in and apparently it was time to go. We walked down the road (dirt road, no street lights!), then down the main road, to the church, and most of the village was already there. She lit the candle and we waited with everyone else. I had no idea what was going to happen – were we going to go inside one by one? If so, we may be there all day. As it turns out, around 4:15 the altar boys came out, then the priest and the choir. Someone was carrying water he had blessed, and he took ladles full of it, then tossed it onto the people waiting for their blessing. I have to admit that I ducked to “adjust” my pants when I saw him coming.
Nonetheless it was really beautiful to see all the peoples’ food (Paska, the traditional Easter bread, eggs, sausages, and other things) and candles, especially with the partial moon. I so wanted to take photos but figured it would be gauche, and I was already drawing enough attention to myself as a tall American there, so I did not. I cannot describe the scene well enough and wish it had been at least dawn so I could have captured it on film.
And..I have a cold. I wrote this all last night and am uploading it in the Internet cafe in Chernihiv, so obviously it is still a work in progress, which means you will all have to check back for more posts!