I'm speechless. Going back over a few months worth of Ukraine photos has been one of the most educational experiences I've had recently.
While I was there, and for the two years since then, I complained and railed about how Ukraine was incomprehensible and how I couldn't understand anything. To some extent there was truth in the former; to some extent Ukraine will always be an enigma, even to people who live there (it's an enormous country with complex issues).
But the real impediment to my understanding was my failure to read things properly. The reason I had such relatively smooth sailing in Poland isn't because Poland is more developed and more in a stride in terms of confidence. No, it's specifically because more Poles had the luxury of permitting me to be different. I adapted to Poland, but only superficially (using the language, for instance) - I was able to be myself, inner idiosyncrasies intact, and I thrived.
As I look over my photos from Ukraine, I'm picking up on all sorts of cues and signals that I completely and utterly missed when I was there. I could have adapted, I could have fit in, had I only kept my eyes open. I could have had an excellent time in the country (I had good times, but overall the experience was a negative - diplomatically speaking, it was a "learning experience"), as good in its own way as Poland was in its. But I was still getting to know myself, and in that state perhaps I had little hope to know Ukraine.
Let's not mince words: as a program, we had serious problems, both individually and as a group. However, I'm more thankful than I've ever been that I've had the experience.
* * *
With 300-1000 photos per disc, and a dozen discs, I've still got my work cut out for me. But in the meantime, here are a few things I've noticed:
- Names are going to be a problem. Two years have a way of fogging the memory, and I now only recall the names of people that I saw almost daily. This is to say nothing of the innumerable folks I met briefly: "Ah! Here's a photo of strangers in Ostroh who got us to drink with them! Oh, and here's a photo of strangers in Kyiv who got us to drink with them... Oh, and remember Ivano-Frankivsk? Yes, we had beer for breakfast!"
- I don't believe that Ukrainians are any more or less objectively beautiful or hot than any other nationally-delimited and increasingly-meaningless-in-the-21st-cen
- The country is beautiful, too. And one of the benefits of having been there for six months is that I got to see it over three seasons, which makes for a great collection of photos.
Anyway, I'm really glad I'm having this experience before my formal phone interview with S.G.. It's all well and good to try not to sound bitter, but it's infinitely better to not actually be bitter. (This bitterness has been much of the reason for the delay; I had to force myself to get back at this, resuming a short spurt at it that I took a year ago.)
On the sad side, I really miss all my friends from that time now...