I’m moving backwards in time.
Seventeen months ago, I left Ukraine. I flew on a Pegasus Airlines flight from Ukraine to Istanbul.
Tonight I’m making that journey in reverse.
This morning, I left from Stockholm. There, everyone spoke English perfectly; in cafes, people paid with plastic; drinks were served cold; and everyone had a smart phone. By the time I reach my destination somewhere around 4am this Sunday morning, the cars will be old, rusted Ladas; the streets will be dirt, narrow, and pot-holed; the old women will have their heads covered by colorful scarves; and there will be no running water between the hours of 23:00 and 5:30.
Going back to Sosnivka, Ukraine feels a little bit like stepping back to an older, simpler time.
I never thought I’d be returning so soon to Ukraine, the place where I lived and worked for 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Goodness knows, Ukraine is not high on the list of travel destinations as of late: you may have heard, Ukraine is going through some turbulent times. My own trip has been on-again, off-again in the past weeks.
Now, as I sit here waiting to board my flight, there is no question that the trip is on-again. However, although my plans are set, my expectations are not. Questions run through my mind: Will my former students be happy to see me? Will I remember how to speak Ukrainian? Will Sosnivka look different? Will the political tension be palpable in my little village? Will I feel like I’m home again, or will it all feel foreign?
As I begin to hear Ukrainian spoken around me by those gathering at the gate, I feel myself morphing into a past self. I’m leaving behind the French-speaking me and pulling Ukrainian words out from the unfrequented corners of my mind. I’m leaving behind personal space and orderly queues and recalling how to push my way to the front of lines. I’m throwing out the plastic bottle I’ve been refilling with tap water: it’s time to remember to drink only bottled water again. I’m checking to make sure I’ve got boxes of chocolates for everyone: like any cultured Ukrainian girl, I know I can’t visit anyone without bringing little gifts.
I’m excited to soon see my “Ukrainian little sister,” my former students and coworkers, and the friends I’ve only had contact with occasionally since leaving Ukraine those many months ago. I’m excited to become my old self, even if only for a few days.
I’m stepping back as I travel toward Ukraine. By happenstance my layover is in the same place, and I feel like I truly am retracing steps. Earlier, as I walked through the S. Gocken airport outside of Istanbul, I recognized the coffee shop I stopped in a year and a half ago after arriving from Ukraine. Now I’m passing back through the same halls, wandering back toward a similarly located gate, flying back on the same airline.
I feel like I’m moving backward in time.
Will the places feel the same and the people look familiar? Or will things have to be relearnt?
Will I find comfort in the old? Or will I need to learn how to exist with the new?