Sunday, December 15, 2013

December 1: A Day in the Life of the US/Ukraine

It’s taken me a while to sit down and write about December 1 – my parallel piece for the latest A Day in the Life of Ukraine (just imagine – this is the fourth incarnation of this project!). Still, for all that I may have going on, I can’t expect anyone else to prioritize what I haven’t accomplished myself, and I’m so looking forward to reading about this day from the perspectives of those across Ukraine. And really, as I’ve felt so often over the past month, the scope of anything I have going on isn’t quite on the same level as the events in Ukraine…

Despite an alarm set for EARLIER, I got up late on December 1. A reward, clearly, just like the General Tso’s tofu I’d had for dinner the night before.

November 30, for anyone who’s known me over the past seven years, can bring a mix of struggle and triumph. As the final day of National Novel Writing Month, it’s the day when participants must reach the 50,000 word minimum goal in the year’s new piece of original writing. In 30 days, that’s 1,667 words per day. This year, with Thanksgiving tucked so neatly into the final fold of the month, and a seemingly still-new job where I often clock absurd hours, I woke up on November 30 with nearly 11,000 words still to go. And when I say nearly 11,000 words, I mean about 10,700 – there’s very little exaggeration here. The seventh year I’d participated– and I’d completed (meaning WON!) each of the previous six years… Options?

Struggle before triumph, then take-out tofu. And yes, I slept in on December 1, despite a recently passed resolution to avoid such behavior. Sleep is healthy, right?

The morning light was weak, anyway, supporting a slow start, and I checked email and Facebook on my phone before committing to any major action.

And here, the shift.

I’d been following the news from Ukraine over the past few weeks since Yanukovich had decided not to sign the agreement with the EU, and shared a few relevant updates, but today, it seemed, was suddenly very different. I read of the violence between police and protesters the night before – November 30 – and wondered what to believe. How would this story unravel? It was clear where the blame would be laid, but whose orders had really set these actions in motion?

The story of the tractor being used by protestors to break through police lines was visually striking and picked up by all kinds of news sources – but who was driving this tractor? Was it extremists from the opposition party trying to make their point, or provocateurs, trying to cause further conflict beyond an overall peaceful protest so that a state of emergency could be declared and an occupying military presence called in?

I was overwhelmed by the news, the swirling updates – realizing how rusty my Ukrainian language skills were, wondering how biased all English-language news sources were (ranging among those based in Western Europe, Russia, the US, and Ukraine itself), and still blown away that this was the day that had been chosen for A Day in the Life of Ukraine 4.

One person wrote on our ADITLOU FB page that this might not just turn out to be A Day but THE Day in the Life of Ukraine. Totally. I started to wonder, though, how many people would really be able to take the time to tell this true story – and how many would feel safe and comfortable doing so? Students whose scholarships are controlled by the state – would they feel safe reporting that they attended protests on this day? Citizens who planned strikes for December 2 – as it seemed many did – would they feel comfortable sharing that? As Peace Corps Volunteers, we weren’t to discuss political issues, as we were not in the country on political missions – however, I can imagine that any PCV reporting on this day would have serious trouble avoiding this topic and any emotional coloring.

I spent a little time inviting lots of people to participate – to like the page, to attend the event – and then stepped back. What would I even say about this day in Ukraine myself? What stories or pictures could I now share? Everything I came across seemed so biased. Europe is perfect, Russia is the worst – sign and we’ll live happily ever after with Western standards and never have to pay for visas. Ukrainians don’t understand that Russia looks out for them and Europe’s promises are a bunch of hot air and empty wallets. A picture of a Cossack being dragged by two military police through Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). Which we now call Euromaidan (European Square). Or we don’t.

I chatted with a few friends in Ukraine, ended up posting a link to a KyivPost page that was regularly updated in English and which I’d confirmed had fairly accurate information, and stepped away from the screen.

As often as I always think of Ukraine and all those I love who live there, this particular story swallowed my day on December 1, and has been at least front page news for me for the past month. I had the idea that somehow, everyone knew about this story right away, too – that people looked up and saw the Ukrainian flag that always hangs in the window of my apartment and nodded fiercely. When I got in the car to run some errands and this wasn’t on the top of the news, I was nearly shocked. When no one in any of the stores I stopped by said anything about my Ukrainian flag earrings, I had the feeling they were just being polite.

Unreasonable? Maybe. Still, the truth. But what about all the things going on in the world that I don’t know about? Yeah, there’s that… all of that. (And now, as I write this, there are certainly many more people aware of this story... and many more stories that have developed in the world of which I am personally unaware. How to keep up?)

So, on with the errands…

Whole Foods: Returning a glass bottle, then looking for milk, chocolate, in a new glass bottle. Assorted groceries. Flowers.

Trader Joe’s: Another try for the flowers. New people starting the next day at the office should be greeted by flowers at their desks, right? Why so slow to decide on which flowers? They should be the right flowers. Success: yellow ranunculus. That’s a bold choice. Also pumpkin yogurt. That’s for me. It just looks like a good idea.

Goodwill: Vases. Certainly helpful.

With all of these items gathered, I stopped by the office – about two minutes away from Goodwill – to drop off the flowers and vases so I wouldn’t have to carry them in early the next morning. As I swiped my access card, the dark quiet turned to fluorescently lit quiet, white noise humming inaudibly. Air vents slightly waved a few of the colorful hands of our recently Thanksgiving project in greeting.  Some scissors, water, the bright yellow flowers deposited appropriately, and my phone rang.

About a minute into this conversation, I realized two things: 1, I was being asked a question I’d been asked before and hadn’t answered yet, and 2, I was responding from my office on a Sunday night. Yuck. What matters? I promised a response by tonight. Where are your priorities? I didn’t say that. I said, “And how are you?”

Home again, I figured out the answer, delivered it. Check.

Ready for work tomorrow? More or less. Check-ish.

Dinner? Buckwheat, eggs – why not? Let’s really have a Ukrainian day. Love it. Of course I check the news updates while I eat. Different time zones allow for translation of recent action, and it’s a full day to report – spreading wider and Wester.

Stepping back, a bit of my own writing for the day – still a priority, no matter how much was accomplished yesterday, no matter how random or serious the content .

As I head to sleep, I marvel how this is always the question: Where are your priorities? It doesn’t always matter who knows them, but it always matters how you act on them. In small ways, in big ways. You know I could go on about this, but the Campbell’s condensed version? Be a hero to your priorities!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Day in the Life of Ukraine...


You're right, I'm not in Ukraine at the moment. If I was, I'd be making careful note of everything, because today, December 1, is A Day in the Life of Ukraine.

Remember this project? It's the cooperative writing project, where we ask everyone to tell the true story of his or her day. It's the fourth time this project has happened-- can you believe it? And can you believe it's today?
I'm not organizing the project this year, and I didn't pick this day. However, if you follow the news of Ukraine at all, you know that there happens to be a lot going on today.

I will write about my day, though, and I will reflect on this news. If you're in Ukraine, please share the story of your Day by following the instructions here. Submissions are due by December 7.

If you're not in Ukraine, I welcome you to share your story or your thoughts here, and we'll likely link to the ADITLOU page. You can email me, message me on Facebook, attach a file to a smoke signal, or just leave me a comment below, and we'll work it on out.

Be safe, be strong, and tell your story --

Thank you!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Good morning, Ukraine...

My last morning in Ukraine was a dark one.

Is this an overly dramatic statement? It’s a fact, anyway. My flight out of Boryspil left at 6 a.m. on July 17, 2012, and my Peace Corps driver picked me up at my hostel by Maidan Nexalezhnosti in the center of Kyiv pretty early. So, it was dark.

As for my mood, I wouldn’t say that was dark. Of course I was excited to be going home, to be seeing my family and friends. Of course. Still, I was leaving the friends I'd made, the relatives I'd gotten to know. I was closing my service without knowing what job I'd be starting next. I had no idea when I'd be back in Ukraine. I had no clear plans for my future. It might be fair to say I had mixed feelings. Turbulent, even.

Don't be fooled by the big letters. It's just the Embassy.
For the months and weeks in advance of July 17, my Close of Service date, I’d been preparing to say goodbye. When my group—Ukraine 37—began our Peace Corps service in September of 2009, our group’s COS date had been set as December 17, 2011. However, when I extended my service to finish the school year and complete a number of projects, I set my new date as July 17, 2012. This date wasn’t a surprise at all—I chose it—but the speed with which it appeared was strangely unexpected.

Vika demonstrates Peace Corps style.
Physically clearing my apartment of the belongings that I had accumulated over my three years in Ukraine was a challenge. I enjoyed giving away special items to Ukrainian and American friends, as well as to my Ukrainian relatives, and many of my books, clothes, and other household goods were useful for other Peace Corps Volunteers. Still, it was really amazing to me how many things I had accumulated, and it was very hard to choose which items would make the trip back to the US with me. Ultimately, I brought back hardly any clothing—handwashing in a bucket for three years can be tough on clothes anyway!—and kept mostly souvenirs and other gifts.

Irynka's birthday
Of course, saying goodbye to people was the most difficult part. I wanted to tell everyone that I’d probably see them again before I left, because I probably would... right? I visited my relatives in their small town in Lvivska oblast one last time, and it was extremely difficult to leave. Still, they know I’ll be back, which made it a little like any other visit. I wanted to hug everyone extra hard, especially the children, and give some sort of extra message, but what to say? Щасливо! до зустрічі  Bye/Good luck! Until our next meeting!  

Camp ACT with Chrystyna!
Goodbyes to students and staff at the universities and at the teacher training institute where I worked came in stages as the school year ended, and as grades were finished. Film Club at Window on America and English Teacher Camp brought new rounds of goodbyes, as did Camp ACT in Shatsk. ACT meant goodbye to a good number of the Volunteers in the area, as well as university students and friends. More goodbyes in Lutsk to dear friends with tea parties and hilarious life-size tribute/ thank-you/ goodbye presentations culminated in the final train out of the station with dearest Vika on board to see me through to Kyiv, waving and waving and waving to friends on the platform…
Oksana, Melissa, Anya, and Vika
My last full day in Ukraine, July 16, was spent living it up in Kyiv. Later it was a very sad goodbye-for-now to Vika, my counterpart, tutor, guide, best friend, sister, and ambassador extraordinare for Ukraine, again at the train station, and I was left with three PCVs, two of whom who had come to Kyiv at least partially to say goodbye. Andrea, Andrew, Laura and I had a dinner that was pretty fancy for a Volunteer budget (I’d just emptied my Ukrainian bank account!), wandered around and ended up in a 24-hour coffee shop having hot chocolate—the delicious kind that’s like a melted chocolate bar you need to eat with a spoon. Excellent.

Andrea, Laura, Andrew... featuring hot chocolate @ Coffee Life
Back in the hostel, I had the thought that I’d just stay awake. Andrew agreed to stay up, and we chatted and faded, chatted and faded. I was lucky that these three were with me—we’d all done projects together, and Andrew and Laura were regular guests at my apartment. If anyone was going to hear me repeatedly point out how weird a situation is, while bouncing back and forth between exhausted overwhelm and recently ingested intensely concentrated chocolate, I’m glad it was this crew.

Finally, I decided that it would be a good idea to me to sleep for a couple of hours. By a couple, I mean about two. I climbed up in my bunk in the common room and went to sleep at about one and set my alarm for about three. When the alarm woke me up, I stripped down the bed, as per hostel rules, then slightly woke up and said goodbye to Laura, as per Laura’s instructions. Andrew was still up, and he walked me down the four flights of stairs to the big white boxy vehicle where a Peace Corps driver was waiting.

I’m not going to say that was the only time I cried, but that was tough.

The driver was a good guy, I didn’t have to talk too much, and it was a smooth ride to the airport. No, I didn’t need help with my bags. Yes, I would be coming back. He smiled. Ми чекаємо Вас. We are waiting for you.