My sister left this past weekend. I’m sad a bit. And homesick a lot now. I hadn’t felt homesick at all the first year but now its kicking in. Its ok though…right about the time Conor leaves, it will be summer so I’ll be super busy with camps and traveling and then I hear the last semester is easy. 10 ½ months left.
So yah, sister. It was fantastic, except she got sick. The first day we spent in Kiev. I showed her a few sites, hung out with some South Africans in our hostel, went to the Peace Corps office and generally had a good time. Highlight of the trip: The Water Museum. This place was recommended to me by a bunch of volunteers so I decided what better time to go there than when my sister is here! Right? Haha…I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was literally a museum about the water system in Kiev…cool, but strange, and COMPLETELY RANDOM! It was funny…we were on an elevator ‘to go down to the pipes’ and see the old system….except it wasn’t really an elevator…we didn’t actually go up or down…but it was pretty convincing…I almost believed it until the end when we arrived where we had started without ever going ‘back up’. Highlight of the museum: Seeing a GIANT (fake) rat in the GIANT pipe and being put into a GIANT bubble.
After Kiev, we went to visit my Babushka in the country. Nikki and I walked through the local bazaar in the morning and I was able to show why I have gone mostly-vegetarian since I arrived here: tables and tables of open meat with flies and dogs about. Appetizing much? I also got to show her the availability of fashion here, which, sorry all Ukrainian readers, is severely limited to sparkles, gems, and bedazzled shoes (mostly with heels) and shirts and pants too tight for any normal-sized being to wear. All of that aside, Nikki was actually contemplating buying a pair of heels here!
We returned to my babushka in the afternoon and the LOVELY lady offered for us to make the most amazing Ukrainian dish in the world: VARENIKY! She mixed up all the wonderful mixings and then Nikki helped stuffing. I didn’t help though…except for annoying them with pictures. I tried once with my babushka in training and it was major fail….however, I would just like to point out that Nikki’s vareniky were HUGE. The most gigantic vareniky in the world: pictures to be posted. I think I ate about 16 vareiky. Nikki wasn’t too happy when I egged my babushka on to continuously add vareniky to her plate. Hehe.
The next day we headed to the train station in the next town over. The plan was to put her luggage in the storage and then walk around town. We headed there about four hours before our train left. Of course, something had to go wrong….the storage lockers were too small to fit her GIGANTIC bag loaded with a life’s worth of clothing. So instead of having a wonderful tour, we sat in the train station for four hours entertaining ourselves with occasional bathroom-runs, remembering the good times, and drying our socks and shoes on the heaters.
Trains are fun in Ukraine, or so I think. My train experiences have ranged from having shots offered to me, having food offered to me, receiving free VIP tickets to a DJ show to reading a book silently to not be noticed and then falling asleep only to wake up to seeing a babushka finishing off the rest of my dinner that I had planned to eat after my nap. Of all the 50-something rides I have taken, my ride with Nikki topped them all. First we arrived to two top bunks made and luggage which obviously indicated two passengers in our area. Except after four hours of playing cards and then finally going to bed, they never showed up. Even at 12am when I went to the bathroom, they still had not arrived. It wasn’t until 2am in the morning that Nikki finally encountered our kupe-mates climbing up to the top bunks and then proceeding to have sex above us. Its disturbing enough to have feet hanging over the sides and noticing the disturbingly rhythmic motions….but it’s a unbearable when their sheet falls on top of you. By far, the worst train ride ever.
The first two days in my city were fairly uneventful. Nikki attended my ‘class’, (not classes since for some explainable reason my students had been sent home). On the 19th,, the Day of Baptism, Nikki got a true taste of Ukrainian culture. As tradition goes, each person is required to go into the center of a cross cut into an ice covered lake and dunk themselves three times. As Ukrainian tradition goes, you then run back to your clothes, hurriedly put your clothes on, and then take a shot of vodka. Johanna joined us for the event, except that us three girls insisted that there was no way we were taking part in this crazy holiday. We did, of course. And DAMN, it was COLD! So cold that after the third dunk, I couldn’t breathe.
We decided to play the day in extremes so after the baptism, we headed to the Banya, (a steam room intended to make you sweat out all toxins, different to a Sauna which is the dry version). It was AWESOME. We spent about $10 each for 4 hours for an entire building to ourselves, including a pool-table room, an actual pool, the Sauna, two bedrooms with pretty heart pillows, a fully equipped kitchen, a room outside the sauna for sitting and relaxing in-between shifts, and finally a bar and sofa-relaxing room equipped with a stripper pool. Oh yah, also included in that $10 was 2 bottles of vodka, two 4-litre bottles of beer, and a ton of salads, chips, sausages, cheese, and bread. Jealous some?
I had been to the sauna several times with a group from rock-climbing so I decided to bring some body stuff.
Step 1: Rub bath salts all over your body as an exfoliate. Wash off.
Step 2: Rub a mix of sour cream and coffee grounds all over your body as an exfoliate and moisturizer. Wash off.
Step 3: Rub a mix of cooked oatmeal and honey all over your body to add vitamins to your skin. Wash off.
Result: SUPER soft skin.
Now something funny about this; I learned this in Ukraine, except that no one on this day had ever done this, Ukrainians included. Hmm.
The activities in the next few days were fairly unexciting, albeit culturally educating. One event in particular happened in Donetsk that really pinpointed this culture. Nikki and I went to visit Johanna and to see the city. We spent the day walking around and then we watched a film in Russian. After that, we met Johanna and some other people in the local Ukrainian-food café. They were there to study German. During their lesson, Nikki and I sat and chatted with 3 guys who were there just to hang out. When the lesson finished, the guys insisted on taking us ice skating to celebrate Nikki’s only night in the city. Sadly, when we arrived, it was too expensive for our budget. At this point, we (girls) were already considering just going home. The guys offered to pay, but we knew they couldn’t afford to pay for us and anyways, we are proud women!
Well, then they offered to go to Liverpool, which is a Beatle’s-themed café/bar with free entrance, except this day of course, which decided to have the same entrance fee as the ice skating because of a special band that was performing….thus too expensive, again. We decided to head home and catch the last bus of the day, but when we arrived at the station, the bus had already left. At this point, we already knew we would have to take a taxi home, so we all headed another bar…Murphy’s Law, it was closing. We were frustrated as hell and we literally were begging to go…except in Ukraine, guys have sooo much pride and we could tell that making this night special for Nikki was super important. With one more location to go, or I personally would have burst, we headed a local student-bar which never ever ever charged. The bar was located in a mall and the mall had 4 floors. We of course went to the wrong floor. Instead of just going to the right floor, the guys decided to secretly pay for us. Even more so, when we entered the bar, they also paid for all our drinks. Now, this wouldn’t normally happen since they were young, students, and none of us were dating…but at this point, they were so set on making this a good night and doing their duty as men, that we pretty much had no way to stop them paying without offending them. It was a lost cause. The night was fun, not excellent, but it surely was culturally educational for Nikki to see how the gender rules work here.
Sunday evening, Nikki left. She was about to brave it alone when she met a PCV on the train who luckily helped her out. Aside from leaving her Facebook logged in on my computer and thus allowing me eternal hacing access, she made it safe to Ireland in one piece. I miss you sister!
PEPFAR (HIV/AIDS) Training next month! Will write about it soon!