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.

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