Transcarpathia – a long post
As I am currently typing with a cast on my dominant hand and have much to tell about being in the Carpathians (one of the things is why I have a cast on my hand), I imagine this will take a while to type.
Last Monday at 4:30 I was outside my building, waiting for our marshrutka/bus with a bunch of people I had not met, with whom I was to spend the next seven days. As I did not want to forget things that occurred to me, I took notes as I went along, of some of the things that struck me. The first thing was that when we were at the gas station, they filled the tank, then rocked the vehicle back and forth for a while, then put more gas in. Total gas for the trip from Kirovohrad to Mizhhiria – 74 liters, 525 hrivna (approximately $66, for approximately 18 gallons). Gas here is around 7-8 hrivna per liter; however, we went with the cost-effective route, as there were nine of us on the bus plus the two drivers.
Along the way we stopped for lunch, which we ate picnic-style in a field. Basically the driver just pulled off the road (by the way, this is how he handled stops for mother nature’s call too, which is not always fun when you are a woman, but we managed), and we went through the brush to a field, put down plastic, set down the food, sat down, and ate. I felt bad because I did not know I was supposed to bring enough to share, and everyone else did.
Between Kirovohrad and Mizhhiria, we were also stopped four times by police. Basically they are sitting on the side of road and wave a vehicle over to inspect the papers, to make sure everything is in order. I understood that at first, even at the second stop. But by the fourth stop I was starting to wonder whether they called the next guy to tell him we were coming. The Ukrainians took it as a normal matter, though by stop four even they were getting a bit irritated.
Of course there were, along the way, some beautiful vistas of which I wanted to take photos but could not. The countryside changed from rolling fields of multiple colors, where I live (and which remind me of the Midwest in the US), to mountain foothills in Transcarpathia, which reminded me of Washington state. We also went through some villages that reminded me of some that I had seen in France, many years ago, built into the sides of the hills with beautiful old buildings and narrow cobblestone streets.
During the 14-plus hour ride, I spent a lot of time not talking (as is the norm here, but in which I have a lot of practice) but there was also a person there, Ilona, who speaks English very well (better than she thinks she does). She and one of the other teachers, Johann, spent a lot of time talking to me, asking me questions as varied as where my grandparents were from (hard to say as my mother and father’s mother were both adopted) and also about American history. They made a good point when they asked me that if I come from “America” and I am an “American,” what about people from Canada, or people from countries such as Chile and Brazil. After that I stopped saying “in America” and switched to “in the USA”. It is interesting how they notice something that people from the US just take for granted. As to why Johann asked where my grandparents were from, it is because he said I look like I am from part of England – I believe Saxony but am not sure. This is not the first time I have heard that either, as a number of years ago a man from England told me the same – it’s the fair skin and bone structure, I guess.
I started going through a new adjustment period while we were in Mizhhiria, as I found myself almost never understanding what was going on or being said, but just going along. They were speaking mostly Russian, and very quickly. However, volleyball (probably other sports as well but I was playing volleyball) can transcend languages as the rules are (basically) the same. Still, it was somewhat surreal to play and not understand a thing that was being said, especially when our team leader would call us together during the time-outs. Except at one point, after I hit the ball over the net and made a point, he came up to me and said “you CAN play.” Well yes, but not terribly well…but as well as most of the people on my team, and I have a good serve. However, volleyball was my downfall this week as during practice before we started competing, I was practicing sets and hit my finger, which then hurt like an SOB. I figured I had sprained it and continued to play, though it hurt pretty badly and when I wanted to serve I had to use my other hand to fold it into the fist I wanted. That night (this was Wednesday), it had swollen and had some bruising around the knuckle, so I was a little worried but became more so when I woke up on Thursday morning and the whole underside of my finger was purple, as were both of the joints, and it was, of course, still swollen. So I did was I was supposed to do and put in a call to Peace Corps Medical in Kyiv.
Thursday happened to be our day off for “excursions,” and most of the people in my group went for a “hike” up into one of the foothills. We were about halfway up when Dr. Yuri called me back. This poor man had to deal with my digestive issues and colds during training, and just a week prior to my doing this to my finger I saw him at our swearing-in ceremony, where I told him I hoped he would not hear from me for a while. After telling me he was jealous that I was in Transcarpathia and that he wanted to see photos, he told me to go to a hospital and get an X-Ray done. I told him I thought it was just a sprain but he wanted me to go. As Mizhhiria is a Rayon center, it had a hospital in it. So we finished our excursion and I went to the hospital with Ilona, my savior. The instant she mentioned “Peace Corps” and what the doctor wanted, the intake woman got a specialist (!!) to come look at my finger. This woman has a sister who has hosted a PC TEFL volunteer a few years back so she was familiar with Peace Corps. So she got the specialist, who looked at my finger and ordered an X-Ray. After the X-Ray he talked to Ilona while I was on the phone with the doctor, and I heard the word “hips,” which I took to mean “cast” (and I was right). So Dr. Yuri got on the phone with me and told me I had fractured my finger, and that I need to wear a cast for three weeks. Well, the cast turned out to be a half-cast, which he then wrapped in gauze. Yeah, that was not going to work so I bought some medical tape and wrapped it.
What impressed me about my experience at a Ukrainian hospital was just how fast they helped me, pretty much with no questions asked. When we left the hospital Ilona told me that if she had gone in with such an injury, she did not think she would have gotten a cast for it. Well, after five days with this (on my dominant hand), I am beginning to wish I had not gotten one either. The most basic of everyday tasks are quite a challenge and I am very glad I have two fingers and my thumb free, but even then I cannot do my laundry (as I do it by hand), I cannot write or type well, etc.
So because of the cast, which I cannot get wet, I was not able to compete in the swimming competition, which was a bummer because I can actually swim! We all went to the competition anyway, and those of us not swimming were not allowed in. We waited for close to an hour when Anna said we had to wait until 2:00, which was another two and a half hours. I said forget that and asked why we could not go back to the hotel, and she responded that the hotel was far away. Well…it was not. The swimming pool was very close to our starting point for our excursion two days prior, and when I pointed that out she asked if I knew how to get back to the hotel. As a matter of fact, I did, and led the way back, including a stop at what I thought was a cathedral, but was apparently a church. This was actually amusing to me – the American leading the Ukrainians back, but the next day I was less amused…
On our final day we went to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere (so it seemed) for dinner. Cool thing – it has a naturally carbonated mineral spring and we all dipped our glass in for a taste. It did not taste quite as good as it looked (it tasted like rock) but it was a neat thing anyway (of course I have photos). Then we had this huge dinner (not unusual – I saw more food last week than I want to for a long time. I ended up giving up more than half of every meal to the young men in the group). After dinner everyone started singing again and I was feeling pretty alone, so I went up the stairs to look at the view. I don’t think I was gone 15 minutes when I returned and they were freaking out about where I was. This I did not understand, and I told her so – I mean, how could I have possibly gotten lost?? We were at this restaurant in the middle of nowhere and I am no dummy to go wandering alone in the woods in the dark. So I was kind of frustrated. Ilona said “well, Stanislav is responsible for you,” to which I replied, “no, I am responsible for me.” I understand that I am an American in a foreign land, but I am still an adult (and older than the others in my group) and it was frustrating for me to be treated like a child.
Anyway…then we all went back and most everyone just stayed up all night. I tried to sleep, which was a bit of a challenge, and we got up at 4:30 again to leave at 5:00. It was a very different ride back than on the way over. Everyone was sleeping – except me, of course, because I don’t sleep on buses or planes (or, as it turns out, marshrutkas). So I spent time watching the countryside again, and marveling at the shadows the clouds made on the fields, and the clouds themselves. We stopped at a river on the way back, and everyone (except me) took a dip to cool off…I took photos (no great surprise).
So now I am back and working on settling into my site and finding out what I am going to be doing for the next two years. Today I got a few more ideas and met more people. Tomorrow though, my counterpart is going to some meeting in another town so I think I am going to find the computer lab at the school, check the email (which I have not seen in over a week) and work on finding out how to use the modem someone was kind enough to give me. Today I also got a hot plate (actually a double!), water filter, a few pots, and an air conditioner (which I had accidentally asked for when I thought I was asking for a fan). However, the air conditioner is going away tomorrow as they could not find a way to vent it, and I am getting a fan instead, which really is what I thought I had requested – I told her I needed to buy one. I need something though because whoo! This room is WARM. So slowly I am regaining control over what I eat, and am working on making this room mine as well…
I will be posting photos to Picasa at