Friday, September 21, 2007

My Life Would Be Easier If Next Year Weren't a Leap Year: or, "I Feel Like I'm Taking Crazy Pills"

Hi everyone, how are you? I’m in the midst of moving again and things are crazy – but I found a good place, although life will be a bit different . . .

When I last wrote, I was in Vinnytsia to “help” with testing for the FLEX Program, which sends high schoolers to study abroad in the U.S. (like my coordinator’s daughter did in Mississippi). There wasn’t really a lot for us Volunteers to do: we essentially watched the kids take forty-five minutes to fill out a half-page form asking things like their name and address. I get the feeling that American kids like me are just far more used to filling out lots and lots of forms. Three of the Volunteers in our oblast are getting ready to COS (close of service – in other words, leave) in November, so I got to hear a lot about flight arrangements, what to do with clothing they don’t want, or the cat they adopted, etc., which made me feel like I still have a long way to go. But I have been here a long time!! In about nine days I will have been here a year. When it’s just us Group 31ers hanging out, we pat ourselves on the back about that, and don’t feel so insecure.

That Monday, I became fully absorbed in the search for an apartment or house to live in. The previous week, I had been shown a nice house with all of the amenities a person could want, but three things that I particularly didn’t – three male roommates. The students at the technical school in town (sort of like a college) often rent rooms or places nearby, and these were three of those students. I was assured that they didn’t drink or smoke, and that their parents are good people. How nice for them, but I didn’t take the room. So, with that beginning, I was a little nervous about this search. I saw four houses on Monday, and my coordinator saw a fifth that didn’t have gas heating (i.e. it had a coal burning stove. Only one of the Volunteers I know has that, and his town doesn’t have gas yet). In two of the houses, I would have lived with “babas” (or grandmothers), one of whom would have slept on the couch in the front hall. No indoor plumbing, and probably little patience with my trying to take over the kitchen to cook things in less than a liter of oil. The second baba asked, What, are there no more jobs in America? I didn’t really take to those places either, and was getting more nervous. The other two houses I saw had no indoor toilets or showers, but did have sinks with running water and no babas. In the first one, I would live alone, and in the second I would have five roommates from the technical school (though female). I was leaning towards the one where I’d live alone, which my coordinator couldn’t quite understand because the girl-filled home was newer. What difference that makes when there’s still no shower, etc., I don’t know. (The first house actually had an outdoor shower, or “summer shower.” Why would you build a beach-house shower in Ukraine? You may well ask.)

I was continuing to feel nervous, and every other option that arose didn’t work – usually because it turned out people lived there and weren’t renting (not sure why these were ever considered options, but they were mentioned to me). We thought of trying to convince the woman renting to the boys to rent the house to just me instead, but that didn’t seem like it would work, because she was planning on getting eight to ten boys at 100 hryven each per month, adding up to about three times what I pay for my apartment, and more than I can.

After knocking on a few more doors where the potential landlords weren’t home, I resolved to recruit my neighbors to help, which I probably should have done earlier. But just as I was walking up to them to ask, they said, Virginia, come here, a woman wants to rent you a room, and she’s coming in an hour. So, my neighbors and coordinator and I went to see her – it turns out she lives across the street and down half a block, towards my Ukrainian Walmart. This was good news to me, since a lot of my angst at moving had concerned leaving my neighbors, and being somewhere in the center of town, far from my Walmart and post office. My location now is perfect because it forces me to walk a mile to school and get exercise – and it would be depressing to reverse that routine and walk a mile to the post office every day when I wouldn’t always have mail, and although I would willingly walk the distance to my store, I probably couldn’t lug groceries that far going back. Still, after the places I had been seeing, I didn’t expect much. But the place was nice! It’s fairly big (three rooms, a kitchen and bathroom), with amenities, and it seems new. I would have my pick between a bedroom and a larger room with a bed/divan. Not too many Oriental rugs on the walls, or other Ukrainian decorating customs I’m not fond of. She was in the process of having her “summer kitchen” (a separate building, and not just used in the summer) moved inside. She seems very nice, and we all sat down to talk about me – it was really funny, listening to my coordinator and neighbors go on and on describing me. “She’s really quiet, she doesn’t watch TV, she just sits there at her computer and she has all these books and we try to listen to catch when she goes out and comes back but sometimes we can’t hear her and we try to listen to hear the TV but we can’t, she’s too quiet.” It was pretty funny (and I don’t have a TV, but I don’t really like TV here so it’s not a problem).

So, it seemed the problem was solved, and everyone was happy. Then, the next day, when I was in the middle of teaching my 6th graders, my coordinator came in and announced that my neighbors had found an apartment next door, in the same building (different entrance). So I visited that place, and it was good, but to make a long story short, the woman changed her mind two days later. Luckily, the woman across the street in the house was still interested in renting to me. The whole week was pretty stressful – with lots of running around and changing of plans – and I’m sure it showed on me, but the woman was very sweet and assured me that she had two little fridges and three stoves, and that it would be alright. So! Now that I’ve adjusted to the idea again (and I think this is the end of it), I’m calmer, though it will be a change living with someone else. My Ukrainian might have to improve, when I had pretty much accepted the so-so level it was at. There are other things I’m nervous about, but the main thing is that it’s a nice place, in a good location, and she has a puppy and a cat running around outside, which I’m excited about.

By the way, it turns out that part of the reason my current landlords are rushing to get their son and daughter-in-law moved in, is that next year is a leap year. And, apparently, it’s bad luck to do something like buy a house, especially when you’re newlyweds, during a leap year. Or something. This was explained to me when my Regional Manager came to visit (in the midst of my search), and she and my coordinator laughed and shook their heads over the superstition, while I stared in disbelief . . .

Last week, I took the children’s books that have been accumulating on my floor, divided them into appropriate age levels, and divvied them up between my school, School #1 and the orphanage here in Bratslav. My coordinator arranged to have three 11th grade boys come to get the boxes and deliver them to the schools, and when only two came I decided to take the third to my school a little later. It had been raining off and on all week, and was raining that morning too. Well, when I got to school with the box, the books for the other schools were everywhere, boxes gone, and kids looking through them with interest. The boys had decided (despite the other schools being closer to my apartment) to leave them there, and they were allowed to go home for being wet and tired. Anyway. I divvied them up again, they’ve now reached their destinations, and everyone’s happy. Thank you so much to everyone who sent me books!! My coordinator arranged a little lending library in our classroom, and kids have already begun borrowing and reading the books.

Inspired by all the books I had been rereading (before I gave them away), we made children’s literature the theme for last week’s big city English club. Clara read “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish,” and the hungry caterpillar book, and I read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” and went on about the history of children’s and young adult literature (as told by Wikipedia), and told my favorite story about Beatrix Potter and the word “soporific.” It was Vinnytsia Day, so we got to watch a parade, and then one of our club goers joined us at the bazaar in my search for the perfect Halloween costume. I won’t give details now, but we found it.

The only new recipe adventure I’ve had recently was making sweet and sour sauce. It tastes good, but is thinner than I expected (maybe it’s supposed to be?), and while trying to transfer it from the frying pan to a glass jar, it went all over my kitchen. Not really a problem, as I still have a jarful, I no longer need an oilcloth for a table (am moving someplace furnished), and I only have this floor for another week. So, to be more specific, it’s not my problem.

Thank you to Gigi and Melissa for wonderful mail!! (And congratulations to Melissa on her imminent COS!)

Hope you’re all doing well. When I write again, hopefully I’ll be settled in a new place, though just a half-block away . . .

Love, Virginia


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