One good thing about being home sick for a week is that you get a lot of time to think. Entire books could be written about what’s been going through my head; not that they’d be interesting unless you had all the relevant prior experience to go with them, in which case you’d be me and even then you wouldn’t have the time to read it.
There’s little time left now; precious little. We’re even having our farewell party next Wednesday, and a team debriefing over the two days following. We might as well shut down now seeing that two participants are going home for Christmas (I was greatly tempted to do so myself, but then I’d be missing out on my proposed January visits to my Ontario relatives – this isn’t to mention the various pecuniary consequences from the airline and perhaps even CWY that I can’t really afford) and the Academy will be closing soon anyway. For the time between the 28th and the 4th I have a blank slate; perhaps I’ll ring up Shan in Ternopil and see what he’s doing for New Year’s. I’ll spend Christmas with the NetCorps team (whom I have yet to meet, save two!), who have invited us to do so, and on the 5th those of us remaining will make tracks for Kyiv.
We leave Ukraine at 6:50am EET on Saturday, January 7th, 2006, Ukrainian Christmas. I will have then overstayed my visa* by exactly six hours and fifty minutes, and I can only hope that the border officials will be overcome with the Christmas spirit and allow us to pass. At least we’ll have Eduard to look out for us if anything goes screwy. The Canadian Embassy in Kyiv told us that for a matter of a day or two, it wouldn’t be anything to worry about. At worst, I suppose I could be barred from re-entering the country. Remind me not to laugh if that happens, lest it complicate my departure even further.
* - True, Canadians no longer require visas for short-term stays, but I entered the country before the change, with an appropriate visa. And yet, my permission to be in the country will be officially expiring on the 6th, because CWY, in their grand enlightenment, got us six-month visas that run from July 6th to January 6th even though we would be in the country from July 8th to January 7th. This is added to the frustration of having the contractual freedom to go anywhere after in-country debriefing (not usually granted in CWY programs, since they usually have a mandatory debriefing in a pre-selected Canadian city) yet having only antiquated, unchangeable, quick-to-expire paper tickets in our possession that cannot be moved back even a single day. As one of us put it, “Thanks, jerks.” Now, we could get a visa extension, but no one with authority seems to be willing to take the trouble to do this, despite occasional questions. So, um… since there’s a remote but real chance I’ll be languishing in a prison cell soon, if you see a long absence from this blog starting January 7th and going for much more than a week, first try my Canadian cell 902-877-9455 and if you get nothing, please call the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv for me 011-380-44-464-1144 k thanx “Embassy of Canada in Ukraine, may I help you?” “Hi, this is joe_eagles_45 from LiveJournal calling…”
Anyway, I’m sure nothing too crazy’s going to happen. I’m confident in my ability to sweet-talk my way out of this difficulty. As long as I’m pleasant and cooperative, there shouldn’t be a problem. As I happened to read recently: De minimis non curat lex – the law does not concern itself with trifles. Six or seven hours won’t be a big deal; even the Canadian Embassy said that we wouldn’t have to worry unless we wanted to overstay a week or more, in which case we should leave the country and come back in rather than trying to go through the bureaucracy of getting an extension. Barring snowstorms or other natural difficulties, we should be back in Canada in time for Coach’s Corner!
So, as you can see, there was more to my coughing than just the smoke reaction, though I’m sure that didn’t help. Somewhere in the course of the weekend I was infected with something, and I’ve been coughing and hacking ever since. Today and yesterday I feel much better (though I’m still weak and in a recovery mode), so I’m hopeful for a Monday return to real life. I missed several group events that I had played a part in or was looking forward to, such as Shelley’s NGO fair and the CWY reunion and information-gathering session of Thursday night. Everyone seemed to enjoy it from what I’ve heard over the cell and coax.
(composed Tuesday and Wednesday, December 13 and 14, when I finally summoned the energy to return to this truncated entry)
The Friday night before I got sick, I went out with Lee. We were at it from four-thirty (“it’s Friday, let’s go!”) until two in the morning. Oles and I agreed to go to Lviv the next morning on a whim, but we both overslept our alarms, as I thought we would. By the time I was fully awake, I didn’t want to be. I felt like I was on a banana boat immediately following a stomach operation. That night was crazy.
The Saturday night before I got sick, I went out with Amy to witness Ataman’s homecoming party. There were so many people inside Taverna that we had to put two long tables together to make one really long table; same with the benches. I met Ataman’s counterpart, Liam, and I guess Ostroh can’t have enough William-equivalents. He’s involved in theatre productions in Toronto and has a great sense of humour.
Taverna closed at midnight as usual, and we stood out on the street for a long time pondering where to do next. The group split into two, and while this was happening two strangers came by and wanted me to go down into Yara to drink vodka with them. “My group! My friends!” I protested, but they laughed, grabbed an arm each and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
So I found myself in a seedy basement bar with people I could barely communicate with. This didn’t seem too bad at first. They were friendly and kept me engaged. Sure, they tended to keep saying/asking the same things over and over, but they were drunk. Then a girl came up and asked me, in plain English, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m just having some drinks with these... uh...”
“What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here. You should go.”
And I decided that it was time to go; I’m not going to disagree with a streetwise Ukrainian. I started to say my goodbyes and ended up talking to this girl (Ola, I believe) in the stairs. She was really friendly. It was rather sad that I needed to be going then, (or so I felt) but then some guy shoved his way down, hit me on the head and snatched the glasses right off my face.
Ola started shouting and there was a bit of commotion, but somehow I got my glasses back, and I got my coat and took off. I haven’t had such an ignominious goodbye since I foolishly went to a certain frat party. (Where, I now remember, most of the frat brothers were super, super cool. There were just a few... er, people, who almost completely ruined it.)
And, like at that frat party, one guy went above and beyond. I told him I was taking a cab home, and he didn’t only accept that, he walked me right up to a cab and told the driver the destination and asked the cost for me. I could have done that myself, but he had no way of knowing, and he was just making sure I got home safely. I really appreciated that. It’s nice to know that even when we do end up at the wrong place at the wrong time, most people just want us to have a good time and keep safe.
So that night was crazy.
Sunday: I got up at a decent hour and picked up the laptop from Lindsay, meeting the NetCorps supervisor (Analyn*) for the first time. I carried it home as I would a baby. I sat down with it and started playing some MP3s that I intend to burn on a disc and mail to my Chinese friend at the University of Westminster. I played the Sloan songs “Losing California,” “Money City Maniacs,” and “If It Feels Good Do It.” I had tears of ecstatic joy in my eyes. Halifax! my soul shouted. I dreamed I was there, listening to familiar radio stations and meeting familiar friends.
* - A nom de plume; the circumstances are nothing that reflects poorly on her, though. She's awesome!
As the day progressed, I became more and more sickly. I stayed up late working and wishing that I had a computer of my own, and I wished it the more so the next day when I sniffled and hacked my way to the academy to drop it off. There were a lot of stressful things going on just then; tight schedules and short tempers and I wasn’t helping the situation by my absence. I did what I could.
As the days went by, I started to get a little bit crazy, but not totally loopy like I got to be in Poland when I had that lung infection. I had my books to stay sane: I finished Jane Eyre, which was supremely excellent and enjoyable even though I had to consult Olya’s ancient dictionary an embarassing number of times. Remember the first time you finished A Link to the Past and you’re watching the “number of games played” scroll up the screen? I’m triple-zero now (legit; this was done on a real SNES without any gimmicks), but when I first played I was in triple digits. It was kind of like that.
Some nights before I went to sleep I listened to the How to Win Friends and Influence People CDs that I copied from the B’s. It really gave me a boost, because it helped me realize where I’d been going wrong over the past little while. Sure, I now have an instinctive urge to ask people questions and keep people engaged about themselves whenever possible, but I had lost sight of how important it is to think of things from the other person’s point of view and to always operate in terms of what interests the other person.
In Ukraine, that’s easier said than done – it is safe to say that almost all of the conversations I’ve had concerned the other person’s interests – I rarely vouched anything else for conversation. And even then, most of the time the person involved would tire of speaking English and want to return to their language of comfort. Fair enough, I would feel the same way, too! But it makes it harder to have really engaging encounters.
I’m going to eat my words a bit though because today (the 14th) I spent almost half an hour talking to Vadim’s mother in the Foreign Languages Department. She had all kinds of things she wanted to say to me. I also got to speak with Alla again, and now I remember how much I miss her and will miss her. (Of course, Vadim’s mother kindly suggested I call her up after she gets her Master’s Degree in a few weeks.) I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I suppose there’s no reason it can’t be more of the norm. Vadim’s mother also told me I had potential as an EFL teacher, since the students who’ve had me were saying how much they enjoyed my classes. That felt good. I miss those days, and it’s a pity I didn’t get to teach more. I don’t even really know why I didn’t get to teach more; maybe my friends didn’t get sick often enough! =)
Amusingly, on those CDs there was also a chapter about smiling. I was busting a gag in bed, trying not to wake Volodim in my delirious open-mouthed mute laughter. You see, in Ukraine, you can’t smile to people you don’t know personally. If you go into, say, the post office and smile at the clerk, they’ll just think you’re crazy. If you smile to strangers who pass you on the street (who have also been staring at you), they’ll think you’re batshit crazy. It’s a cultural thing. (On the flip side, when you meet the service employee who smiles at you – usually because they know you already somehow – it seems like a godsend. And if they take an interest in your needs... well!)
Towards the end of my self-imposed imprisonment, I became overwhelmed with hope. I realized, as I did in Poland, that I can do pretty much whatever I like provided I have passion for it. I want to act, or write to act, or perform technical jobs to act. I can’t see myself getting anywhere by going the straightforward route; in fact, that route has never gotten me anywhere at all. Instead, I’m going to be the best I can be and find the back door. It’s much better to avoid the acute angle. (“You want to be an actor? Okay, take Theatre Arts at Dalhousie for four years...”) It’s crucial in arts and business, where technical ability alone is often only a fraction of what determines whether you’re in or not. You need to be good with people, and you need to know people. Fortunately, if you have the first you can get the second without much trouble.
I must say that I am exceedingly grateful for the little library where I am typing this. The books here have helped me rediscover literature and take a new interest in what- in, well, what I majored in. I want to go back to my old English professors and talk about great books and their authors. Why wasn’t I so interested before? I don’t know.
I shouldn’t get too carried away, though. Late one evening, in my dizzying Anglophilia, I decided to make myself a cup of Earl Grey. I didn’t read the instructions clearly and I scooped a tablespoon or so of ground leaf into my mug instead of a teaspoon. The tea was so strong that I had to pour half into another mug and dilute both with hot water. I made tea again a second night, and the tea came out much better, but while I was using a dish towel to pick up the metal-handled boiling kettle, part of it dangled into the gas burner and caught fire. I didn’t do as badly as my Uncle Shane, though, who once destroyed one of Aunt Shirley’s teapots while attempting to make tea for one of our cousins. Tea can be dangerous for us neophytes.
Both my American and Canadian friends might like this NY Daily News hockey column – it’s a few days old now, but I found it extremely amusing. Sherry Ross writes:
In the U.S., we're obsessed nationally with troop withdrawal and why the president didn't include the word "Christmas" on his Christmas cards. In Canada, the hot topic is whether Dion Phaneuf deserves to be the sixth defenseman on the Olympic hockey team.
I like that way of life better, only it would involve moving to a country with socialized medicine and having to lug around those heavy dollar coins.
Really, wouldn't you rather burst a vein shouting, "Ryan Smyth instead of Jason Spezza, are they INSANE?" instad of debating "Government Torture, Pro or Con?"
As far as NHL hockey goes, I’m really excited to catch a game. From what I’ve heard, it’s much faster and wide-open. There were thirteen goals in Atlanta last night, in their 7-6 victory over Detroit. Imagine!
It’s really time for me to go; I have to take the projector over to our community farewell. We’re holding it a little early, as two of us are going home for Christmas. It was greatly tempting for me to do the same. Still, good times lie ahead! See you tomorrow!