Know My Velocity

My Peace Corps Experience in Ukraine

  • My name is Casey and I'm going to Ukraine with the Peace Corps to help develop non-governmental organizations. This is my adventure, and I'd like you to know my velocity.
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A Typical Day in the life of a Ukrainian Peace Corps Trainee

Posted by defyphysics on April 16, 2011

A typical day begins at about 6:30am when my alarm goes off.  I’m usually already partially awake, and the only reason I press the snooze button is that my sweater is on the other side of the room and I know it is cold outside my covers.  Eventually after a 5 minute snooze or two, I make a break for my sweater and get my blood moving by getting my clothes together for the day.  I then head to the shower, which is outside in an unheated part of the house.  The small shower room has a space heater, which I plug in.  The unheated bathroom is next to the shower room, and I make a trip there trying to think warm thoughts.  Then I head back to the shower room which is maybe a few degrees warmer by now and brush my teeth and shave.  By then, it is warm enough to take a miserably quick shower.  Luckily, there is warm water, but this does little justice when the air temperature is still in the 50’s.  Luckily, it is customary for showers to be very quick in Ukraine, and I have no complaints about that.  It is also customary to take only a few showers a week.  In Florida that would be impossible because of the heat, but in a colder climate it has been very easy to keep clean and smelling nice.  Plus, because a shower is such a harrowing experience, I’m glad not to do it every day.

After I get out of the shower, I put on my business clothes (yuck) and head out to the living room.  Sometimes my host mom will have a booterbrawt (open faced sandwich) and some chai (tea) waiting for me.  Sometimes I have to make it myself.  Either way, I have to devour it and try and drink molten lava temperature tea in 5 minutes.  It has become an art of sorts.  Then, I go to the door to inspect my shoes.  Before I leave, I have to make sure they are acceptable.  In Ukraine, shoes are an important part of your appearance, and you have to make sure they are clean and shiny.  I mostly do this to make sure I don’t get a scolding from my host mom as I walk out the door.  I get a look of approval if I am caught cleaning my shoes.

Then, it is time for the gauntlet.  This is the space between the front door and the fence gate.  The ground is usually muddy, and there are usually several of our dogs waiting to shower me with love and muddy paws on my way out.  I rarely escape without a nice muddy paw print on my newly hand washed and ironed pants.  Once I get out to the street, I start my 20 minute walk to my LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator/language teacher)’s house.  As I walk, I dodge chickens, stray dogs, horse drawn carriages, and uneven pothole filled muddy roads.  As I walk, a chorus of roosters fills the air, along with the occasional smell of manure.  I pass by the other villagers as they tend to their farms, or walk to the bus stop to the city.  When I pass the school children, I either get a “hello” or “good morning” in English, or I can hear them say to their friends “americanky”.  It amazes me how much me and the other Americans stand out, as much as we try and fit in.

When I get to my LCF’s house, I take off my shoes at the door, as is customary in Ukraine.  The best part of this custom is that I get to go to class in my socks.  We then have two hours of grueling language training, followed by a chai break. My cluster has a “cookie schedule” which designates who buys cookies when we run out, so we always have some cookies waiting for us during the break.  Then it’s back to two hours of grueling language training.  After this we go to the school cantina at the grade school down the street. We get a really good lunch that is very cheap.  Most of the other groups are jealous of our cheap lunches.  We only pay 1-3 UAH ($.15-.75). At this point in the day is usually where the schedule is inconsistent.  Occasionally, the day is over at this point and we go home.  Usually though, there is either tutoring with the LCF, a trip to Chernihiv for a meeting or training, or some technical training at our LCF’s house.  This could mean anywhere from another hour to four hours worth of training, classes and meetings.  Once we’re done, it’s time to head home.

Once I get home I usually try and have a small conversation with my host mom or brother.  Sometimes they’re not up for it.  It’s also a bit rough because my host mom speaks mostly Russian, so even if I’m speaking proper Ukrainian, she doesn’t know what I’m saying.  Then, it’s time for a break from Ukrainian and I either hop on the internet for a few minutes if nobody is on, or I read a book, play around on the laptop or just sit around and watch my host family.  Then, it’s time for homework.  At some point during or after the homework it’s time to eat.  The meal ALWAYS has bread served with it, and usually consists of some sort of meat, and pasta or potatoes.  There is usually a side of some sort of “salad”.  Lately the salad has consisted of pickles, onions, and garlic.  If I finish my homework at a decent time, and get some vocab flashcards done, I watch some TV with my host brother or read some more.   I’m usually exhausted by 8pm and try and make it until 9 or 10 until I finally give in and get to bed.

Daily, something out of the ordinary happens.  This could be anything from a visitor to the house, an odd bit of food, an adventurous trek with the clustermates, passing some weird occurrence on the street or making an embarrassing mistake with the language.  However, most days go somewhat like this.  I rarely have the time to be homesick or think about what I may be missing at home.  Sundays are our only days off, but those days are spent catching up with everything from studying language, to laundry, to playing a soccer game.  For the most part, my other days are scheduled out for me and I eat when I’m told or someone puts food in front of me, and I rarely know who’s going to show up at the host house when, leaving me often surprised or confused.  I’m enjoying the training, but find solace in knowing it only lasts 3 months.  It is an adventure, but it is also an overload of information, stress, food, confusion, surprises, and lack of freedom.

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