farewell, hello, and the future - William Matheson's Journal
Dec. 19th, 2005
06:55 pm - farewell, hello, and the future
(composed December 17-19)
Well, I guess I lied about getting an update out on Friday. Sorry about that! You can probably guess how my limited computer/internet access plays a part in these long delays. On the positive side, I’m finally getting a computer this week! On the down side, there’s virtually nothing left for me to do with it that’s program-related, as the program is essentially over except for finishing cataloguing the last few shelves at my work placement. (As far as computer work goes, I haven’t been able to do my fair share of posters, reports, media preparation, etc.. but the group understands this and doesn’t assign me very many tasks requiring a computer, and they go out of their way to make sure I have one available when I need one.)
Moreover, I’m getting the computer because Lindsay is leaving on the 22nd. Amy and Shelley are going with her – Amy, like Lindsay, to her home, and Shelley to her relatives outside of Kyiv where she’ll wait and take the original flight with Lee and I on the 7th. I’ll miss them. Amy has a wonderful, understated sense of humour, and Shelley can be a ton of fun to be around. I’ll miss Lindsay too – she’s easy to get on with and really sharp, but I’ll most likely see her in Kitchener-Waterloo a mere three weeks afterwards.
I greatly desire to be going home for Christmas myself, but I don’t mind sticking it out here because it means I’ll be able to spend a good chunk of time in Ontario – a good way to ease myself home, I think. Maybe I’ll avoid the reverse culture shock in much the same way that one sometimes sleeps through a hangover. I’m looking forward to Christmas with the NetCorps team, and I’ve received several New Year’s invitations so far – that will be an interesting night.
Our community farewell was lightly attended but highly festive and intimate. It was a sharp contrast to Poland, where the hall would be so full that Miranda and I were prevented from inviting our beloved co-workers to what turned out to be a standing-room-only evening. This time, Lindsay made and presented the slideshow, which was conducive to the understanding of all as her boyfriend Vania had translated the narrative. In Poland, I translated the titles in my slideshow with a pocket dictionary, and I had the place roaring with laughter from beginning to end, not only because of the photos. Anyway, Lindsay did a really nice job on the slideshow. I must ask her to leave it on the computer for me…
Jocelyn and Zhenia (the Canadian and Ukrainian NetCorps supervisors) came by for a bit, and I had a great chat with Jocelyn, who took her International Development Studies at Saint Mary’s and used to hang out with my stepsister Angela! We chatted about SMU and Halifax as much as we could, which wasn’t much – there were a lot of toasts.
Getting back on topic, this party was held at a very nice little restaurant (“Daria”), and we all sat at a long row of tables laden with food and drink. Each of us – coordinator, work supervisors, host parents (mine were absent due to work obligations), and participants – gave a toast, and after about two or three of these I discovered I was drinking homebrew – the kind made by a host parent that considers store-bought vodka to be inferior in terms of strength and taste. I also discovered how hard it was hitting me when I stood up to give my own toast.
I had prepared a speech, but given the absence of virtually everyone it was meant to thank, I kept my comments short, simple, and somewhat in Ukrainian. I got off track at one point by saying that for every kid at the cybercafé who swears at me there are ten people who will be my friends forever, and luckily people knew that I was trying to be funny (not easy to do cross-culturally).
Later we turned on the karaoke machine, and a few host parents serenaded us with Russian classics, though we tried singing “Yellow Submarine” as a group. After a bit of this and another few rounds and toasts at the table, I was just about done. Eduard found me a cab and paid for it with no prompting from myself, and I gratefully accepted.
I got home just after ten – Volodim wasn’t even asleep, which was good considering that I suddenly had trouble standing up straight. I got out of my suit and into my pj’s, and I kneeled against my bed to rest me and my head for a second, and…
I woke up fully on my bed (but not under the sheets) and found it was 3am. I lay awake the rest of the night thinking about my plans and listening with earbuds to my new Beatles CDs, but not before I stepped on my glasses coming back from the bathroom (not to throw up – oddly enough, I felt perfectly fine). I conjecture that my glasses either fell off the bed or were placed on the floor in the first place, so this is a reminder to me to be more careful with them in the future.
The lenses survived, but one arm was severely bent, and a screw popped out that wouldn’t pop back in. They’d need repair, so I put them in my pack the next morning before going to Lee’s EAD for 9am. I had to go to said EAD without any glasses, which wasn’t a big deal, but it would have been nice to have my backup glasses – unfortunately, these were still in my suitcases under my bed, and since my host cousin was still asleep past 8:30, they were therefore inaccessible. This isn’t to mention that it was barely light enough to see anyway, and of course the light was off-limits as well.
Still, all things considered, I was feeling pretty good as I threaded my way out of Novy Misto. Nothing happened that wasn’t my fault alone, the glasses could be fixed, and I had things to do and people to see. Along my walk, I stopped and leaned over to fetch a pebble from my sock. While I was fingering the space between my ankle and my shoe, drops of water began to fall onto the street, making picturesque audiovisual patters as they impacted.
“Oh, it must be raining!” I thought, grateful for my generally waterproof coat. I continued to search for the unwelcome geomite. Suddenly I paused, hearing a “glug, glug” sound. Oh, no… Yes, my Canada Corps water bottle had opened up in my pack and soaked everything. I felt frustrated and rather helpless, standing there in a slushy, dirt-street intersection in Novy Misto, babushkas and children walking past me with wondering – albeit benign – looks. I recovered what I could and carried it in my arms, hoping it wouldn’t all freeze on the way to the academy. From that moment on, I started carrying my water bottle in the special meshed side-pocket of my pack, where it will be less likely to cause trouble.
Realizing I’d be late for the EAD, I found a cab at town centre. The driver knew who I was and friendlily beckoned me to his cab. When I got out in the Academy driveway, I found Anka and Anne and many others from the NetCorps team walking up. It was really nice to see them. They would also be attending Lee’s presentation on e-governance*.
* - “Wait a second Will, isn’t your whole program supposed to be about e-governance?” … “Shut up.”
I got into the room and laid all my things out on a vacant table near a radiator. Even my umbrella was wet, so I opened it up as well. That drew some remarks to the humour of the situation, and I also had to explain why I had a magazine-size Canadian road atlas in my backpack. Well, I’d go crazy without it, and it’s nice to have when homesick, reading Canadian fiction, or when meeting other Canadians and wanting to know where they live.
Lee and I fetched the snacks and coffee supplies we’d need (at this Jocelyn remarked, “You guys feed me every time we get together!”) and Shelley handed me a letter... from the B’s! I couldn’t believe it! I never expected they’d write. Inside the envelope was a letter from Mrs. H. as well as a card signed by all the film club members. Tanya wrote on it a note on her own behalf as well as a few choice mockings of a few choice acquaintances – nasty, really, but I couldn’t help laughing to the verge of tears. All in all, I was deliriously happy; I was probably making ecstatic shrieks that only dogs could hear.
However, the contents of the letter itself did sober me up. In my original letter I said a few stupid things about how hard it was for me to make friends and/or communicate complex ideas... blah, blah, blah. I got the response I needed:
“After reading your letter for a second time I have thought – not unusual. You go to English club where you can talk and maybe feel smart, since you can say more than – what kind of music do you like? Take the advantage of being there and learn as much their’s language as possible. Do not talk even English. Only when you MUST. Go and talk to lots of kids or old people, learn the small talk. You will be better for it. You will have chance to talk smart when you are back in Canada. It is not easy to sound cleaver talking in different language when even the sound coming out of one mouth does not sound good. Many times real stupid. I hope you are going to learn 10 new words every day and practice using them in sentences. Spend as much time as possible with the ‘foreigners’.
I am sure you don’t want to hear all this. But I am not going to talk about things you would like to hear. You will be back soon and then you can pick up the old threads & vibrations and discover how you feel about N.S.”
As you can see, she was right in more ways than one. =) I didn’t want to hear it, but nevertheless it gave me pause. Over the following days, I re-evaluated my so-called “progress” and I re-doubled my efforts to speak in Ukrainian. I’m using the small talk that I can... I mean, I always have, but now I am trying to communicate more, and more fluidly.
All the more damning, hearing my own ego-motivated gripes reflected back at myself made me realize that I’m more snobbish than clever.
There was to be another things that gave me pause. Amy was leading a session in our de-briefing* about intercultural effectiveness, and I had occasion to say how I was disappointed about various “revenue-neutral” differences between Ukraine and the West that I did not expect before coming here.
Well, like what? they asked.
Um... the Academy and the way it’s run? I was embarrassed that the first thing I thought of affected me in no way whatsoever. And I couldn’t get much further than that. The kids and teenagers who put upon me? Kids and teenagers once did that to me in Canada! My host family promising me a key five months ago? Well, maybe that’s just my host family, and aside from communication and home security we don’t have any major problems.
* - Location: Jocelyn’s cottage. The Academy provides very nice accomodation for visiting officials and professors, CWY supervisors, and CWY coordinators – there is an entire block of beautiful semi-detached cottages; they’re up to Western standards and then some, with a European flair.
At that point I had to ask myself: Okay, so I have small problems sometimes, but how much of it is Ukraine and how much of it is just Ostroh? How much of it is my host family and how much of it is... me? These questions hit me hard.
So now I’m trying, really trying, to see Ostroh, Ukraine from a new perspective. It helps that I want to – now that I see my folly, I want to have a positive attitude. Sure, I’m ready to go home, but I also want to miss Ostroh and remember the good times. And Ashley’s right: I will miss Ukraine. I’ve had my indulgent “fun” commiserating and complaining – it’s time to move on.
After Debriefing (for which we set a new Canada World Youth Speed Record, I am sure) we took a taxi* to Netishyn for a final team lunch. We went to a comfortable, modern sports bar with giant screens and French music videos. We ate things like chicken, fries, spaghetti, ice cream... it was quite nice. Afterwards we hit the grocery store to stock up on ‘luxury’ snacks and drinks. (The luxury is really in the selection and concentration – it’s rare that we get things that you can’t buy in Ostroh.)
* - When we got in the cab in Ostroh, I got the front seat, so I instinctively tried to put on my seatbelt. I couldn’t find a buckle, which was just as well because the group reminded me how insulting it is to put on your belt – in Ukraine, it says that you don’t trust someone’s driving. Shelley related what happened when Oles’ father drove us to Yaremcha and I wore my seat belt: “What is he doing?!” Oles reportedly whispered to Shelley. “It’s so insulting!” You’d think a country with such hair-raising driving would worship seat belts, but I’ve talked about this before, and they don’t.
Later that night, we held an unofficial Canadian Night reprise at Apricot. I burned a new MP3 disc and put it on random in the player, so the music ended up being somewhat better and more varied than at Karo! Many of our friends came by as well as a few from the NetCorps team – John, Olivier, and Olya and I played pool. It turns out John’s from Bunbury (a part of Stratford, PE), and he lives two doors down from the MacClures! How amazing to be talking about Brandy, Josh, and Jeremy when Prince Edward Island seems so very, very far away.
After Apricot closed, Amy and I made our way to Karo so she could speak to some friends, and I got to have a great chat with Sasha (his Canadian girlfriend Kat arrives on Tuesday!). After hearing some smart-ass comment about “Kanadyy” (I asked for a translation but Ataman told me I didn’t want to know), I immediately attempted to express my interest in the individuals involved. I asked their names and how they were feeling – we didn’t get very far on my Ukrainian, but they respected me a lot more after that. It still bothers me that they can be so rude, but of course I can’t change them, so the heck with complaining.
Speaking of rude, a few nights back we were all at Plutonia with the NetCorps team and that’s when I first met Olya, who is an angel if I ever met one. We have an interesting dynamic – she’s the only Ukrainian girl so far who’s dared to poke fun at me, perhaps because she’s been to Canada. She’s so much fun to be around. Of course there’s no way she could possibly be single, but it’s always good to meet someone so spirited and intelligible.
Obviously, she’s not the rude part – that happened when I got up to order a beer and the man at the counter ahead of me took a sideways glance at me, rubbed his fingers on his chin to indicate a beard (he didn’t have one), and said something derogatory to the bartender. I wasn’t really upset, but I was disappointed. When I sat down again I asked Lee if he’d heard what was said. “That was so rude...” I remarked.
“Well, in Canada, it would be. But you’re making yourself be different by having that beard.” Derision punctuated his words. “A lot of people are talking about it.”
“Like what? What are they saying?”
“Well, you’re famous because of that beard. People I know call you a partisan. I asked what they meant and they said, ‘You know, Osama Bin Laden. Terrorist.’”
The funny thing is, I’m actually getting to be rather fond of my beard. I’ve set a date for shaving it: Western Christmas (the 25th). It’ll be interesting to see if other people revert to their earlier treatment of me. Of course, if some people here are so ‘shallow’ and I like my beard, why should I shave? I guess it’s like obeying your parents when they happen to be wrong. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to give in, but giving in makes your life a whole lot easier.
I spent most of this past weekend at home, except to go out to Shelley’s Sunday evening to share music and photos. It snowed and blowed a fair bit on Saturday and froze thereafter, so everything’s a skating rink again. I kind of like it that way: first it’s beautiful and second because it’s a great excuse to forego my long walk home by night and take a taxi ($1.39 – like anything remotely spendthrift, I mentally price it in dollars to ease the pain!). I always enjoy the cab ride because I usually see at least one big stray dog that I would really rather have not run into*, and I can’t help but thinking the drives have saved me from many unceremonious thuds if not nips in the legs as well.
* - Of course, lacking bright headlamps and stepping softly and steadfastly, I probably wouldn’t have.
I phoned my cousin Ruth-Ann Saturday night and she – she’s so nice – said she’d be only too glad to have me stay with her and her son Alex in South Leaside. So that takes care of my Toronto accommodation, and now my flight to Halifax is booked as well. For the curious, I’ll be back in Nova Scotia at 1510 AST on the 25th. Anyone have any plans for the weekend of January 28-29? If you want to get together, I’m more than game.
But until then, let’s re-double our efforts to enjoy our mutual situations.
Saint Nicholas came to my workstation today. He gave me some cookies.