Note: I’ve been ridiculously ill for the past week and haven’t been anywhere near the internet, hence the lack of updates. The illness and other, actually exciting matters will be elaborated on in a later entry. This week will be busy, but there will be more updates.
My cousin in Ottawa runs a small NGO dedicated to the eradication of smoking. After spending last night in smoke-filled bars and paying for it today by coughing my lungs out, I’m about ready to call him up and see if he needs another secretary. Cigarettes have been one of the singular causes of my poor health during this program, as I think I’ve developed an allergic reaction due to spending increasing amounts of time with smoking people over the past few years.
I can still remember when it was a very rare evening indeed that I’d come home smelling like smoke – it only happened at the seedy bars where we’d go to watch certain pay-per-view “sporting events” which I shall not name for fear that a future girlfriend might someday read this. Now it happens almost every day. I hardly have a Ukrainian friend who doesn’t smoke at least some, and all of the Canadians on my program smoke except Lindsay and me. The concept of separately ventilated smoking rooms has yet to hit Ukraine – actually, it won’t: as I’ve said before, effective January 1st, 2006 there’ll be no smoking allowed in establishments. In Ukraine the rule of law is a joke, so it remains to be seen whether the air around here will clear or not. Either way, there will be hazy times ahead for the ashtray manufacturers of Eastern Europe.
The major irritant is that, not only do my clothes smell; not only do I get smoke blown in my face regularly; not only do I spend entire days coughing – but despite all these side-effects I don’t have the fun of experiencing what’s causing it in the first place. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start smoking or anything; but if I wanted to, now’s the time – you can’t go wrong at fifty cents a pack. Of course, this is the very thing that exacerbates my misery – the Canadians who smoke all attest that they smoke far more than they normally would. Heck, in the summer we used to have our meetings outside just so they could smoke.
A good part of the reason I’m on Countdown to Canada is that I’m getting tired of second-hand smoke. Back in good ol’ Nova Scotia, it’s a cinch for me to spend an evening out with my friends and not have to be near a cigarette. (Also they won’t consider me antisocial if I don’t want to share a bottle of vodka with them, but that’s another story.) There have been a few times I’ve followed people into the smoking areas, but I won’t be doing that again because these post-exposure next-day coughing fits are getting worse every month. My ears also get filled with fluid – inside the eardrum, where it can’t be easily removed. It is not too much to say that I am in agony, and if I had known how my health would be and how sketchy this program in general would be before I left, I would have thought twice about coming at all. Still, I’m having a valuable experience, and it’s nothing I can’t recover from within a month or so back in Canada.
Is it okay if I want to smash every ashtray I see and snatch every pack of smokes and crush them beneath my feet; or is this culturally insensitive? I didn’t read anything about such behaviour in the Profile of the Interculturally Effective Person booklet I received from the government.
Another thing I’m looking forward to is the opportunity to eat less and exercise more (they go hand-in-hand). You’ll remember I tried to stick to the portions I was accustomed to when I first arrived, and my host mother simply wouldn’t have it. (My beard is about the only thing that my will’s been allowed to prevail on, to the consternation of many. I know that’s the wrong way to look at it, but there you go.) Anyway, right now I’m eating enough for three people given that there’s about a full day’s sustenance in every meal (Typical: big bowl of soup, big bowl of rice and fried fish, two slices of bread with butter or fish paste, compot (a hot berry drink), and usually some kind of wrapped side or sweet pastry. Oh, and sometimes there’s cake. At least it’s all tasty enough…), and I exercise less than I used to, despite the long walks to and from the Academy. Back in the summer I used to go to the fitness class from the only trainer I knew who spoke some English, and you’ll remember how he discouraged my participation even when it was only us Canadians. I didn’t even want to face him in September when the room would be full of girls. Even back when I was trying to get in some jogging around the track, people were ridiculing me (“My grandmother can run faster than that!” in Ukrainian, was among some of the stuff I’d hear), and the constant dogs tend to discourage me from walking on strange streets or walking for fun. Nobody here walks for fun, at least not that I can tell. When I take a picture of something pretty, they look at me like I’ve got horns growing out of my head. I’ve been here for five months and I’ve gone on one dedicated walking/photo tour.
In general, I feel like I’m in a social time machine. I’m having the same problems with people that I did in high school – people remark upon my peculiarities in the same way, people gossip about me and invent things that never happened in the same way, and people scorn me in the same way. The only difference is that I’m not bringing it upon myself (at least not in ways that I’m willing to correct – I’ve never been the type to blend in even in Canada, why should I change myself to fit Ukr- Oh, whoops.)… okay, maybe I am. The one difference I am sure of is that I’m not blowing up at people. No, I just go home and write stupid blog entries about how miserable I am. I’m such a fool.
I think I’ve learned that “developing country” means more than just finances. I had no idea things would be this way; in my naïveté I thought that the people here would be more or less like Canadians (or Poles, for that matter), just more formal and a bit less well-to-do. Oh, dear. No, no no no no no. This country is a breeding ground of superstition and xenophobia, at least compared to the West (excepting parts of Alberta). However, I might be making this harsh judgment only because I’m living in a poor farming neighbourhood so far from the cities. That said, I’m still going to stick my neck out and make it, despite the requisite misgivings. Lviv and Kyiv on the other hand are modern, cosmopolitan cities; it’s a pity we’re not on a proper e-governance program where we’d be dealing with NGOs at the major centres and even doing shockingly obvious things like employing interpreters.
I must put a halt to the commiserating soon, because I’ll never get to the end of it! I’m happy for the experience of having it rough for a few months. Sure, it totally sucks here sometimes, but sometimes it totally rocks. Also, it’s good to have lots of stories to tell. I’ve also learned much more about myself and why things happened to me the way they did as I grew up – almost more than I wanted to know, but it had to happen eventually. And so what if I’m in a time machine – if you could take a trip through time (and be guaranteed a trip back in six months of “your” time), you would, wouldn’t you? And so would I.
We’ll continue this tomorrow…