And now my things – my life – are strewn about the floor: suitcases, CD spindles, notebooks, socks, Polish dictionaries, my passport…
And I’m tired. I was tired last night, too. I went out to meet Oxana one last time; we chanced upon the Ostroh tree-lighting ceremony, and then we went to Taverna. She’s one of the Japanophiles I mentioned, and I promised to write her if I ever got there. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good company that evening. After being up most of the previous night at the NetCorps cottage, fatigue was seriously kicking in. I was telling Oxana how to spell my last name, because she was saving my address in her phone. I remember saying, “A” and then my mind’s eye saw pretty animated pictures in the phone display… BAM! my outstretched hand comes down on the table, almost spilling our beers.
I got home with the intention of phoning family. The appointed time came (there is a special number you can prepend to your overseas call to reduce the cost to 35¢ CDN a minute, but it only works between 2000 and 0800), and I was so tired I felt I’d be useless on the phone. So I had a nap. Over the next few hours I hit the snooze, set a new alarm, “woke up,” hit the snooze again, etc...
By the time it was over and I was fully awake, it was 6:45am, far too late to phone. It would have been 12:45am back home. So there went a Christmas without any contact with family, though it was unintentional.
I called Mom and Paul tonight though, and we had a pretty good chat. I meant to call PEI too, but there were hardly any Hryvynyy left on my phone by the time I was through, and I’ll need to save and stock up for Poland. I can send text messages to my Polish friends for only slightly more than it costs to send them to Ukrainian phones. (Fortunately, they’re crazier about text-messaging than Ukrainians are.) But if I run out of phone money in Poland I’m SOL, because it would be impossible to buy more until I return to Ukraine. Even when Olya and Yana were in Poland, they’d write me and ask if I could zap them some phone money so they could limp back home.
I have a Polish SIM card, of course, loaded with all the phone numbers I need, and just wanting for a few zloty. It’s conveniently stashed in my closet in Bedford. It was stupid of me not to bring it, but I guess for a week it’s not a big deal.
Getting my laundry dry has been an amusing adventure. I’ve been using the radiators and white doors, and I’ve done fairly well. I have a few shirts, a pair of jeans (plus what I’ll be wearing), and more than enough socks and underwear. The thing is, my host mother is picky about which radiators I use. First she didn’t want me using the ones in my room, because she said that they’re only hot sometimes and not all the time. I used them because I had to, and it turns out they dry my things almost as quickly as the other ones, so why not use them?
I went out tonight to gather some clothes, and my host mother didn’t want me to take anything more in. Not even to the bathroom this time. She was wondering if I needed to take so many clothes to Poland. Then she said something about there being water or mold in my room or in the house a few years ago, and not wanting that again. I mean, I think that’s what she was saying. Roman and Olya couldn’t even understand her, and didn’t want to try translating. I guess she was having one of her – and I say this with all the affection in the world – Mrs. B. moments.
So I waited until she went to bed and took a few more things in anyway. And now I’ll have just enough shirts not to smell like a landfill by the time I get to Pluznica.
I’m only taking my backpack and my small handcase this time (the kind that fits smartly under an airplane seat). No big suitcases for me ever again. They’re fine for going from one place to another infrequently, but my suitcase was a tremendous liability for my travels around Western Ukraine in October, as you might imagine. I didn’t need half the junk I packed. I can still remember that behemoth banging against my legs as I hoisted it on, off, and through the rail carriages. As for what I packed, I had envisioned staying in some rustic cabin in the middle of nowhere recreating, reading and writing, and I had packed accordingly.
Going back to family life, it’s been pretty good around here lately. Maybe my imminent departure has eased some of the tension. Actually, it’s probably because Olya and Roman aren’t preparing for classes or getting ready to defend their theses anymore. They’ve been in really good spirits the last few days. Volodim’s also gone home, which simplifies things for me, though I do miss him. We were all having a few laughs tonight about laundry, and Roman and Olya seemed to enjoy their Russian-dubbed Home Alone 4.
I’m also starting to see the more human side of my host family. I guess I don’t really look at people long enough to see what they’re really like; maybe I’m too introspective. Even writing these journal entries is a somewhat introspective activity. Going to art school, however briefly, probably counts as well.
I mean, where do we get off writing about ourselves? What do we matter? Does anyone care about ourselves a tenth as much as we do? Very, very rarely. (Actually, if you have that experience, please write about it; I’d be interested in reading it.) Most of the time, the reality is that I’m going to care more about a paper cut that’s impeding my writing or a traffic jam on the way to work than I will about hearing of the deaths of thousands in far off countries. I mean, I would care, but I wouldn’t Care. I wouldn’t loose sleep over it… unless someone I knew was among the victims.
This extends to everyday situations, too. Most of the time, I think it’s unwise to begin any conversational encounter with, “Oh, I have had the worst day…” I mean, sometimes you have to do it to let off some steam. But it’s good to do so sparingly. Unless the listener has a vested interest in what’s being related, they’re not going to be… well, interested.
I could write about this stuff for hours, assimilating the ideas of others and refining them to a hackneyed, clichéd conclusion. So I won’t.
As for Poland, my plan is to grab the Warsaw-bound bus from Rivne at 1520. I’m going to try to get out of Ostroh by 1 at the very latest. The marshutkyy route ends at the bus station, and if I have time to kill there’s a supermarket (read: Heaven, Mecca, Green Gables, etc...) just across the street.
I now know why I learned Polish a lot more quickly than Ukrainian. I wanted to use Polish. I was surrounded by people that I wanted to talk to that couldn’t speak English. Here there is… almost no one (that I want to talk to and can’t speak English, although one might cancel out the other). It could be the difference in host families. This one is fairly authoritarian and taciturn. My old one never ceased to be enthusiastic, one way or another. Sure, they expressed concern about my odd behaviors (Czarek: “They’re wondering why you go to the kitchen sometimes and eat nothing but untoasted bread with butter.”), but deep down you always had the feeling that they were okay with it.
In Poland I had the time of my life. I could have had the time of my life in Ukraine, but I guess I just wasn’t interested enough to make it happen. I let the differentophobia and the hierarchiciarity scare me off. I even went so far as to criticize them, forgetting that people are afraid of what they don’t know, everyman Ukrainians generally don’t know a lot about outside cultural norms, and that a former Soviet country is bound to have a special notion of hierarchy that will be alien to me. Shame on me for not knowing this before. They print the basic ideas out in our manuals of course, but they don’t dare talk about how these ideas are implemented in any specific country. I guess it’s better that way for various reasons which I won’t bore you with.*
* - Until I write about the lunchbox. I think it will end up being a research paper!
Still, I’ve (and I say this a lot, because it is true) had a lot of good times here. I’ve learned… oh, just too much. I can’t begin to describe it. What’s more, they say (and it’s true) that you do all your learning after the experience is over. When that proves to be the case yet again, I’m going to be dizzy.
As I am now. Good night!
Update, 11:25am: I’m really exited, kind of nervous; I have butterflies in my stomach. This is awesome.