William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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the run-up to Christmas

(Composed Thursday, December 22nd)

Now, when I said “tomorrow” yesterday, I obviously meant “the next day that there’s internet.” Last year the internet at the Academy was out for six weeks during the Holidays and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it since the internet seller’s wife had defected in Edmonton. She can’t defect again, of course, because she’s still there, and so there’s hope this might be a one-day thing. If not, thank goodness there’s a cybercafé in town, and I’ll go there tomorrow evening if there’s no internet access tomorrow here.

An aside: All the crazy stuff that happened with my NetCorps group has had a significant impact on the way the subsequent program is being run. As you might imagine, they’re watching the participants a mite more closely this time around.

But all that’s neither here nor there. Somehow, I always find a way. It’s also sad that I was able to live up until 1997 before caring one lick about checking my e-mail or updating my website or blog. We’ve come a long way, yes, but is this accessible information overload really helping humanity? I mean, my current lifestyle would be almost impossible without all these technologies, but I can see my Ukrainian friends living perfectly happy lives – most of them don’t even have e-mail accounts, and if they use the internet, it is very rare. I’ve seen a few people using instant messenger services, but they’re never communicating in Ukrainian – they’re using Polish or English to talk to old friends abroad.

I’m sure all this will change eventually; as it is, the infrastructure at Ostroh Academy would be woefully inadequate if everyone started using computers and the internet like Westerners do. I feel rather guilty sometimes for even maintaining my blog; I can hardly say I’m adapting to the local culture if I’m still using technical resources as if they were cheap and ubiquitous, can I? I take a cab home many nights now, but most Ukrainians would just grin and bear it unless they were trying to impress someone. I kind of felt like a spoiled pig early this morning when I stood in front of the taxi stand, hoping someone would notice me. All the drivers were asleep (some with their engines running) – I tapped on one window that looked promising, but to no avail. Afraid to wake anyone up, I walked home, and I’m glad I did because it felt good and nothing happened.

And now, I have the ultimate in luxuries: a laptop. I’ve seen a handful of them here – they’re rare as hen’s teeth, but I think one or two students might own one. The first time I brought this lovely appliance to my home it elicited a lot of curiosity. I can understand that; there was a time when I used to gawk at laptops myself. And as far as friendly curiosity goes, we could use a little more, for reasons I’ll explain in another post.

I intend to use this machine to collate my photos and music, write about my experiences, and send some hitherto un-typed potential screenplay material to Mike. Is it wrong that I’m doing this? Is it also wrong that I’m doing it in English? Am I a bad person for not being a polyglot? I think about this every day. Maybe I don’t think sensibly enough.

So I had a pretty good day at work today. I finished off the Shakespeare section (I wanted to catalogue it as well and as thoroughly as I possibly could, so it took longer than any of the other stretches of shelving.)

But enough of this; you want to hear about good times, right? And I want to share.

Kat, Sasha’s half-Mohawk trilingual girlfriend from Québec (and she’s even more unique than her categorical description would imply) arrived here earlier this week. Her friends from her previous program put up mock “WANTED” posters with her picture and description all over the Academy. It was cute.

I finally happened upon them all in the restaurant behind Irena (a store), and I stayed with their group for a few minutes until Ataman and his buddies came by. We ended up filling the night with drinks and karaoke – I didn’t volunteer for the latter, but the MC came by and was like, “Kanady?! Kanady?!” and got me to sing “Yesterday.” I loved it. It was great fun. I later snuck in “Michelle” – I wanted to do some other Beatles songs (they were the only ones in the book that I liked), but they wouldn’t let me. They had me sing “Yesterday” three times, and they were still asking me to do it again. I can see now why they wanted me to stick to the simple songs, and why Yesterday is so popular here (and why my host siblings played it almost twenty times in a row on their computer one morning, seemingly without tiring of it – they were still humming along at play fifteen).

Yesterday, lyrically speaking, isn’t exactly the most complicated song in the English language. All an English learner (or non-learner) needs to understand is:

My troubles seemed far away.
Now they’re here to stay.
I believe in Yesterday.
Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be. (few can interpret this line; Ostroh vocalists tend to blah and murmur their way over it)
There’s a shadow hanging over me. (ditto)
Why did she have to go?
I don’t know.
She wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong.
Now I long for yesterday. (they have trouble with this one too; I had to explain what “longing” meant)

… anyway, you get the idea. It also helps that it’s printed in virtually every ESL textbook I’ve laid eyes on. Maybe people really like the melody.

Last night we gathered at Taverna to say goodbye to Shelley and Amy (and probably Lindsay, too – I likely won’t see her again until I get to Kitchener). We had a good time; for a while one of the rudest drunk people I’ve ever met was harassing me (feeding me my own French fries; continually demanding more Absinthe even after we’d put the bottle away, etc.. he even began by brusquely critiquing my beard and saying that f-word-you phrase that everyone knows*) but eventually his girlfriend came and they left together and things calmed down. It sucks that she has to be with an alcoholic. The guy gets drunk every day and acts like a three-year-old. It was discomforting just sitting next to him.

* - Amy, on a subsequent hearing: “He’s practicing his English!”

Aside from him, we had a pretty good night. Oh, it was melancholy of course – it always is when people you care about are leaving. I’ll really miss those girls.

And of course I’ll miss Ukrainian girls – Inna and Nina gave us little gifts and wrote personal messages for us, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. It was the sweetest thing ever, but I guess you had to be there. Dima (a different Dima than the one most of my readers would think of) even got us laser pointers! and Sasha (a different Sasha) wrote us little English haikus.* He wrote for me:

Last glass of beer
Last night here
First good-bye

* - It’s the rare person here that’s especially interested in Japanese or other Oriental culture – they’re not exposed to a whole lot of it, for one thing. But I have met a few devotees. It’s quite encouraging; it was the last thing I expected to see.

(Composed Friday, December 23rd)

There’s no internet today either, but I’ll pop into the cybercafé just as I said.

After we left Taverna, we went to Apricot, and then to Yaro (in safety this time), and then to Trek. I met a political science student and her boyfriend along the way, and we had a great chat about the Orange Revolution, development, and nationalism in general. We all stayed out until the cows came home; my watch said “six” as I entered my house. For all that, I was pretty much on the go the following afternoon.

On Thursday I did some errands for Shelley and Amy (including picking up a bag at their host family’s apartment – I was astonished by how clean and tidy everything their room was, now that they’re gone!) and that night I got home at a decent hour and had a shower. I don’t think I’d ever been so dirty in all my life. I shampooed my beard; my hands came away smelling like grease and cigarette smoke. Yuck. I feel like a new person today. My host family hates it when I go out after taking a shower (“it’s Winter!”) so that precluded ANY showers for a while because I had to be out so late into the evenings. Come to think of it, they also hate it when I drink plain water or eat too little and quite frankly I’m sick and tired of not doing what I need to do just for the sake of their superstitions. My cultural acceptance quotient has been dangerously low lately.

However, one thing I’ve realized is that I can’t blame Ukraine for not knowing me or my culture. Of course, if you posed that question to me as, “Would you blame Ukraine for…” I’d answer, “Absolutely not!” But I’m doing so – I am blaming Ukraine without realizing it. Most of my complaints about people being rude, for instance. They don’t know anything about me, so of course they’ll be curious. And, some of them will try to score points at my expense. Why shouldn’t they? I’m such an easy target that it’s only natural.

But I’m still tired of being a target. I don’t want to be here anymore. I want…

I want to go to Poland.

And next week, I’m going. I have the unofficial ability to do this, since the program was technically over last week to allow Amy and Lindsay to go home for Christmas. Shelley’s taken advantage; she’s in Kyiv now with her cousins. I was talking to Lee the other day, and he asked me why I was staying here.

Good question. Almost that moment I began typing an e-mail to Monika. Soon I e-mailed Czarek, Przemek, and Katarzyna as well. Marcin even proposed spending New Year’s in Pluznica.

You’ll have to wait to hear about the lunchbox; I’ll probably write about it on the train in between refreshing my Polish. I’m glad I brought along my phrasebook, dictionary, and maps. Poland won’t really be that much better than Ukraine, but I just need a distraction.

It’s time to go now, in more ways than one.

(Composed Saturday, December 24th)

I did go to the cybercafé but the connection went under before I could really do much of anything. I got e-mails from Czarek and Monika – it looks like I’ll go visit Czarek first, then go to Pluznica with Monkia. I was a little bit overstressed by the futility of my situation sitting at that computer waiting for things to get better, and after a while I decided to go home and take out my frustrations on my laundry, and so I did.

In fact, I’m really lucky, because the temperature’s been slightly above freezing, so it may even dry. I was smiling and sashaying about while I was hanging out my whites this morning. Maybe it was because it was the last time I’d be hand-washing my clothes for a while. Maybe it was because I had a really nice lunch. Maybe it was because it was a nice day. Maybe it was because I was excited about Poland.

But I’ll miss Ukraine, when all is said and done. We’ve had some really, really good times here. Maybe we were here just a tad too long, but I still wouldn’t trade this experience for all the tea in Sri Lanka.

I’ve had a wonderful, productive Christmas Eve. In addition to leaving my laundry in the hands of Nature, I’ve shaved my beard and I’m ripping a set of MP3s to give to Lee as a sort of Christmas present. Lee and I are now the only ones left here. I guess you could call us Mini Micro Corps now.

This morning I also typed up my quarter-finished screenplay and I’ll e-mail it to Mike at the time you’ll get to read this. It had been sitting in a binder, untouched, for almost ten months. I was really happy with parts of it, but overall I wasn’t really hitting on a theme – anyway, I hope Mike gets some use out of it. He plans to shoot in a couple of months with his version of the screenplay. I really shouldn’t have left it sitting around so long, but I kind of got busy with these exchanges, and this is the first time in a while I’ve had unmetered computer time.

Tonight I’ll join the NetCorps team at their cottage for Christmas.

And, Merry Christmas to you, wherever you are.

~ William

(December 25th)

Had a great time at the cottage. Took a lot of pictures. It's really wet and snowing today; it looks like I might be going to Poland with the clothes on my back and nothing else.

Merry Christmas, everyone.
Tags: best of ukraine, christmas, cwy, ostroh, poland, travel, ukraine

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