Monday, September 30, 2013

The Final Countdown But Not The Venus Part Or The Final Part

I just looked up a countdown generator and I don't know how I feel about it. It counts down the seconds, minutes, hours, and days to any date. I thought about getting one for the day I return to the states after Peace Corps but I just don't like the sound of a bunch of numbers that add up to zero.

By counting down, I feel like I'm somehow subtracting from my life. It's a vacuum sucking up all the things that I'm bound to encounter these next few months only to leave me with a clean surface. Though I like to get rid of clutter and see things reflecting off of a shiny clean floor, I want to go slow. I want to take each moment, dust if off, and put it on the shelf instead of throwing it into a dusty bag of hodgepodge memories. What better way to put things neatly on a shelf than to blog it out? Also, what if I get Alzheimers? I've already told you about the moths that keep chewing holes in my brain. I have to try to document things over the next few months in order to recollect the details long after I leave Ukraine.

I want to start by reflecting on the Close of Service (COS) Conference in Chernigov. Yes, we talked about important things like adjusting to life after service, reimbursements, and de-registering from Ukraine, but it was so much more than that. It was an opportunity to see everyone in one place, reflect together, compliment each other, and sing songs until the early morning about burnings and yearnings and all the other -ings of our Peace Corps lives.

This specific blog post is my big hug to all the volunteers I have gotten to know over the past two years. I've decided against the countdown. I'm not counting down anything because those clocks are not going to stop. I've met some pretty special people here. I think you know who you are but if you don't, I'm going to tell you using super secret awesome code names that you will have to decipher for yourself and/or pretend that it's you as an excuse for a hug. (This is the part where all you non-PCVs scroll down to the pictures in order to avoid the total dork-fest about to ensue.)

Some touchy-feely hug shout outs to: Rasamaxa who can make a lot of deviled eggs, Sparkle the friendle who reads from her Kindle, Daddy-o because Daddy's creepy, The Boy who called wolf and actually saw wolf, PB&butt cherades, Merby my early morning lady, Ray of sun and the case of the dancing mushrooms, Solver of evil problems, Yekaterina the Great and her bananas, Curly Sue Master of Compliments...and many more!

I leave you with this final thought about Europe (get it?). I never actually listened to the lyrics of The Final Countdown, but they're just so relevant right now--except the whole going to Venus thing unless your a super poet (if you know what I mean):

We're leaving together
But still it's farewell 
And maybe we'll come back, 
To earth, who can tell? 
I guess there is no one to blame
We're leaving ground (leaving ground)
Will things ever be the same again?
It's the final countdown!

(But not really.)

Watch out now! Cynden's got her Colorado ppoint ready to go!

Cluster mates!!!!
That's why it's called...missing the group picture!

Mmmm box filled with pizza 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Two Brennans in Ukraine: Grifnik and Son

John kept asking, "Can you believe I'm here?!" all over Ukraine. It was so surreal to be with him here, to show him our home. Just meeting Logan's Dad at the airport felt crazy...and it wasn't because we were an hour or so late picking him up. We skyped regularly, but it's different when you can be with someone face to face and collect new stories with them as travel buddies. I will be forever grateful for the experience.


In the capital city, we spent some time getting on wrong (but cheap and air conditioned) trolley-busses and standing in awe of all the giant statues--especially the Motherland statue that we just couldn't look away from. We used thin candles to guide us through narrow underground passages to see dead Saints in the Lavre.

We went to see our lovely host family in Chernigov. I often thought of John during training when I would wander into Galina's beautiful garden. I'm so glad he got to meet the family, drink with them, eat with them, and laugh with them over a silly conversation about the different types of cherries.

This was the winding down part of the trip. We brought John around Melitopol, introduced him to some of our friends, and got a little out of control at Lena and Sasha's. It was worth it, though, as our pictures might suggest. We got to see the five songs Sasha can play (and sing!) on the guitar. John quilted them a baby blanket which they can start using in October (ухты!!!) Lena came by the apartment to give John а parting gift of a beautiful embroidered table runner with the traditional Ukrainian black, red, and white pattern.

Sevastopol was beautiful. We visited Kahn's Palace in Bakhchisaray and walked up a mountain to Chufut Kale, the ancient ruins of a fortress where the Tartars sent the Jewish Karaites (I think in the 17th century). We also thoroughly explored, touched, climbed and witnessed the defacement of Ancient Greek Ruins in Khersones with our friend Jon. After that, we headed to Balaklava which has become one of my new favorite places. We went to the underground submarine base there, kept a secret to the world  (even to Ukraine) during the Cold War. The pamphlet to the museum talked about how many bombs America was going to drop all over specific civilian territories in Ukraine and Russia. So, that was interesting! Also, we were the only ones in the museum, aside from the creepy quiet guards. There were dark rooms and areas that were not boarded off which we may or may not have ventured into. As we left the base, we saw the following quote on the wall, which was used to help motivate the workers to keep the place a secret:

Don't say all that you know, but always know what you say!

Saying Goodbye
John and Logan had lux tickets to go back to Kiev for a proper goodbye escort. I stayed behind because there were no tickets left. It was a little hectic saying goodbye; a train heading to Russia pulled up as we were about to cross the tracks to get to the right train. I gave a quick goodbye hug as John and Logan nervously hopped through the train to get to their track on the other side. The Russian train actually left a few minutes later and I saw Logan and John across the platform, waiting. They called over to me and I was about to cross when another train decided to move in, faster than me. I decided that it wasn't a good day to get run over by a train, so I said goodbye over the phone, just feet (meters, sorry) away.  Another moment to add to the surrealism of a trip that came and went so fast.

Click on a picture to go into slide-show mode:
Golodomor Statue and Monument

On the Marshrutka!

The Arc of Friendship,  Арка Дружбы народов 
Grifnik admiring giants (Grifnik is the nick name given to John by John himself)

Shevchenko University in Kiev

Shevchenko among flowers and darkness


The entrance to the mega monument complex, leading up to the leading lady (you'll see).

With Galina in her impressive cellar

это Мелитополь, детка! 

Two more bottles are under the table--empty

These thumbs turned upside down in a matter of minutes.
We stood up and it was the beginning of the end for us. 

Jewish Ruins

View from the Jewish Ruins.

Nice hat, nice lady

Some joke about "sea men" and what not

Greek Ruins

On ancient dirt

Jon on a ruin

Logan on a ruin.

Jon probably contemplating ways to become a secret sailor

Logan at the train station

Bye, John!