Saturday, March 9, 2013

Unforgettable: That's Where We Are

My seventh form students congratulated me on Women's Day on the 8th of March. They hovered over my desk and asked me, "What presents did you get?" I pulled about six chocolate bars out of a bag along with a dragonfly magnet, a dish towel, a princess eraser, a small bottle of perfume, a card shaped like the number 8, and a Valentine's Day mug (An afterthought, perhaps? The graphics on the cup included little lips and the quote: "I want you I love you I want you!"). I gave all the teachers that I work with a chocolate bar and a personalized haiku and after school, we went to the cafe and got some snacks, drank some conyak, and talked in good Russian, bad Russian, and English. You can guess who spoke what. 

Later that evening, Cynden, Logan, and I went to a club in Melitopol. It was our first club experience in Ukraine.  It was also one of the first times I have been invited to something that started after 10pm since college, maybe. The woman at the door asked us why we were talking so much and collected our left hands to give us bracelets. I felt like I was at a NYC venue with a bitchy ticket lady and I loved it. When we opened the door to the main dance hall, I was transported to the eighties where they somehow figured out a way to play music from the future. Fog filled the dance floor, surrounding only itself since no one was dancing. We screamed over the music and watched people come into the low lit red and blue neon room with silver accents. We drank some conyak and cherry juice to get the true 1980s Robitussinesque buzz. At some point after midnight, the club host wished all the women a "Happy Women's Day" and proceeded to play a really long rock ballad on his electric guitar.

Dancing was really fun. I am embarrassed to admit that I definitely tried to shuffle on the dance floor, which was surrounded by mirrors, so no one could hide from whatever nonsense was going on. The strangest thing of all was not the stripper poles or even the empty lady cage floating above the bar, but the fact that when I looked around at everyone dancing, I saw women just staring at themselves in the mirror, wiggling not for others or with men, but for themselves. It was definitely an unforgettable experience! 

It's kind of awesome to be able to say that so many unforgettable things have happened and will continue to happen to us here in Ukraine. We are lucky to live in new place, to meet new people, to experience life in a foreign country, to witness and understand the similarities and (sometimes strange) differences in our cultures. A friend of mine put into words what I have been thinking a lot about recently--because we live here in Ukraine as Peace Corps volunteers, we will forever be invested in what happens to this country. It's true. By being here, we care so much more now about this part of the world. Maybe we don't always agree with or understand everything that goes on--like the mirror dancers or the Russian that's being spoken to us--but we will carry it with ourselves forever.

Photos taken by Miss Cynden:
waiting for the signal to go dance
blue, red, black
Where am I?
Sasha is wise!
Speak no evil
Valera, Valera
"Welcome to the future... 
...where the blue lights are endless"

Monday, March 4, 2013

Men's Day--23 February 2013

On the last week of February, the sixth form girls stayed late at school to prepare prizes, surprises, and to make posters for their fellow male students. All this preparation was for Men's Day (День Мужчин) or, The Defender of the Fatherland Day (День защитника Отечества). This holiday used to honor soldiers (in the Red Army) until it was extended to all men after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

It was adorable. These girls were working so hard with their class teacher, Lena, and they were diligently painting an airplane red on the congratulatory men's day poster. I asked Lena, "Do the boys work so hard to prepare for women's day?" and she replied, "Well, their mothers do!"  

Men's Day was over a week ago, but it's still Ukraining men in my mind. Maybe it's because I am "женщина--друг человека" оr man's best friend, which was written on a handmade medal that was given to me by my friend Vitali on Men's day. Logan's medal read "Миру мир--студентам BEER" Which is something like, for peace on earth--be a student of beer. We all went to Vitali's house in the Red Mountain region of Melitopol to "congratulate our men" and celebrate. There were small competitions which Logan and Jon participated in (the two American men of the bunch). First, they had to strip down to their boxers and wrap themselves in a blanket before the fire of a match went out. Then, they had to put their clothes back on before the match was spent again. At some point, there was a pushup competition. Don't worry, I used up all the memory I needed with my camera, which is safely stored, never to be released. You'll just have to believe me or live in doubt until I one day have enough courage to leak this sensational video footage.

On this night, the women sat inside, chatted, sipped, braided hair (ingredients for a фотосессиa). The men stood outside by the fire drinking conyac and making shashlik as their jackets breathed in the smoke. It was because of these jackets, the following day, that we became woozy, smelling the fire and  remembering how much we consumed the night before. We survived and are now gearing up for the eighth of March which is Women's Day. It may just be the biggest holiday in Ukraine and I think it's awesome (and sad that I had never really heard of this international holiday until I came to Ukraine). After women's day, and rightfully so, we will celebrate Maslenitsa (Ма́сленицa) which is literally a week of eating pancakes, shaped like the sun. More on that, later.