Monday, July 31, 2006

In some ways, it's like I was never gone. Things that are so familiar and normal continue being so even after a period of absence. I'm waiting for this 'culture shock' to set in. But there are things that surprise me: the size of the houses; the huge, green lawns of grass that are everywhere; the fact that I have to make a consious effort to drop the paper in the toilet instead of throwing it in the garbage; all the big, nice vehicles; the whiteness and fineness of sugar; how it feels awkward speaking English to strangers (ie. ordering food) and to children; the friendliness of all customer service; the size of, and amount of stuff in my bedroom; drinking cold beverages.

Friday, July 21, 2006

When we look back at it all
as I know we will
You and me wide-eyed
I wonder will we really remember
how it feels to be this alive

And I know we have to go
I realize
We only get to stay so long
Always have to go back to real lives
where we belong

When we think back to all this
and I'm sure we will
Me and you, here and now
Will we forget the way it really is
Why it feels like this and how

And we always have to go
I realize
We always have to say goodbye
Always have to go back to real lives
But real lives are the reason why
we want to live another life
we want to feel another time

When we look back at it all
as I know we will
You and me wide-eyed
I wonder will we really remember
how it feels to be this alive

And I know we have to go
I realize
We always have to turn away
Always have to go back to real lives
But real lives are why we stay
For another dream
Another day
For another world
Another way

One last time before it's over
One last time before the end
One last time before it's time to go back again

The Cure, Out of this World
that song I mentioned in my last post.

So yesterday I said goodbye, amidst many tears, to the kids I've been with all year at House of Hope, as well as Larisa and her parents. It's sad to think that I may never see these people again here on Earth. Who knows if I'll ever get to Ukraine again? We were well out of Melitopol before the tears stopped, and I felt badly for all those in the car who had to listen to me sniffling and crying for so long.
Now the next part of this I have to process is the flight home, and then the reentry retreat, and then actually being home again. So much to process...

Monday, July 17, 2006

My sister tells me that Astrid and Muirgen like to sit in their boat (a ski tube) and sail across the ocean to visit Auntie Jill in Ukraine, after stopping in France for a visit with Vincent, their boarder. They also apparently talk about how when they can't see the moon it's because it has gone to the other side of the world to visit Auntie Jill and the kids at her orphanage. I thought that was beautiful.
And often over the last 11 months or so, when I see the sun setting, I think about how it is travelling west - towards home, towards my family and my friends - and how it is shining for them, and in about 7 hours it will be setting for them there too. And I wonder if the sky, when the sun sets, will be as beautiful there as it was for me here.
Soon I too will be travelling west, home again. Just like the sun.
There's a good Cure song that I keep thinking of as I think of saying goodbye to Ukraine and all the people here, but I don't have the words and cannot put them here. Maybe next time.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Things about Ukraine that I will miss - if not because I like them, then simply because we don't got it back home (or not to the same extent).

- Barking dogs: There's a pack of stray dogs that hang out around the intersection downtown where I get picked up in the morning. I think they live in an abandoned building nearby, and they like to chase men riding bicycles, running barking down the street after them. Sometimes all the dogs in the neighbourhood get barking at once and I think they eventually forget what it is they are barking about, if they even knew in the first place. I hardly even hear the sound anymore though, as it's always drifting in my open window.
- Crowing roosters: Sometimes in the early morning, I have trouble figuring out if that was just the rooster alarm clock sounding from the next room, or a real rooster crowing outside. The idea that roosters only crow in the morning is a myth.
- Plastic bags: They are a hot commodity, and there are whole kiosks at the market devoted solely to selling designer plastic bags, in which people carry everything. It's quite something to watch a person at one of these kiosks, carefully picking out a bag to buy.
- Cars parking and driving on the sidewalks.
- Singing in church: the feeling of satisfaction I get when I can follow the words in the songbook, and the sense of unity as I add my voice to the beautiful harmonies.
- Washrooms: Squat toilets, seatless toilets, having to pay to use a public one, and a bring-your-own-toilet paper mentality.
- Potholed roads and sidewalks: I forget what it is to have a smooth ride in a vehicle, and I'm always amazed at the way women here can navigate the terrible sidewalks in their ridiculous heels.
- Saturday morning blini breakfasts.
- Shopping at the market, or just wandering around it, getting lost in aisle after aisle of kiosks that all seem to be selling the same things.
- The banya: that hot, steamy, oh-so-Russian, sauna experience.
- Marshrutki: going everywhere on public transportation - something I was terrified to do alone when I first arrived. The chance it gives to watch people. The crazy driving of most marshrutka drivers. The decorations on the dashboard and hanging from the rearview mirror - anything ranging from fluffy pink birdie keychains to Orthodox icons, to stickers of scantily clad women. The way that people cram in and stuff the aisles.
- Being asked if I'm not cold, and being told to dress warmly.
- Big square feather filled pillows.
- Sunflowers: The sunflowers have started again. I noticed the first blooms a couple weeks back, a few lifting their faces to the east in a field of green, smiling their yellow smiles. The sunflower is a happy flower. Happy like a daisy.
- Getting a roll of film developed, 24 pictures costing me less than $2.
- Fresh homemade bread nearly every day, always sliced thick.
- Being asked, "Do you have _____ in America, too?" even though I'm from Canada.
- Going places on the train: being either freezing cold to sleep, or boiling hot.
- Cows and goats: Tied up at the side of the road or being herded home in the twilight.
- Chickens, geese, turkeys and ducks: Wandering around through the streets and in people's yards, sometimes coming at me honking (or quacking or hissing) like they want to attack me as I walk by.
- Carbonated water.
- Ukrainian buildings: Often in poor repair, crumbling and dirty. Tiny cottage-like houses with brightly painted windows and gates and yards full of gardens and outbuildings and animals. Apartment buildings with balconies that look about to fall off of the wall, each one different: some open, others screened in. Dingy dirty cement and concrete stairwells that are poorly lit, and ever changing door codes. Things I found depressing at first, but now see as beautiful. If I may say it, poverty seems to have a strange beauty all its own.
- Physical closeness: People standing very close and talking right in your face. An arm around the waist of a friend. Seeing two girls (and occasionally even two guys) walking arm-in-arm or holding hands. The affection of the kids at the internat - jumping into my arms, big wet kisses, wanting a hand to hold, a lap to sit on, arms to hug.
- Ladas
- Outrageous women's fashions: In winter - big fur and leather coats and often fur hats to match, stiletto heeled pointy toe boots. In warmer weather - sandals with straps that tie halfway up the leg, miniscule skirts and tiny dresses, lots of sheer and seethrough fabrics with little underneath. And in any weather - plenty of rhinestones and sparkles, unnaturally bright coloured hair, and the wearing of colours and patterns that don't match. Somehow though, despite all the ridiculous things they do to themselves, all the women here are very beautiful.
- Men carrying man purses.
- Internet cafes: checking my email in a room full of boys and men playing shooting games.