Saturday, October 2, 2010
Original date: SEPT 28
What color is your yarn?
When you start with the Peace Corps, it feels like you hit the ground running. You spend forever muddled down by the applications, the interviews and the doctor’s visits. And it all takes such a long time! However, once you get to staging, it feels like you’ve pressed fast forward on your life.
We left DC on Saturday morning. All 55 of us (I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about the size of my group. Ukraine is the country with the largest number of Volunteers in all of the Peace Corps. By the time we’re sworn in, there will be almost 400 of us, and most of those are TEFL Volunteers. My group is actually two different groups: Group 39 and Group 40. In addition about 40 of the people in group 40 had problems with their visas so those 40ish people will be leaving to join our group this Wednesday—September 29th. So group 40 is around 90 people and Group 39 is about the same size. LOTS of Volunteers!) left together around 1pm from the hotel and rode buses to the airport. It’s just us Volunteers, no PC staff. We’re handed our no-fees Peace Corps passports and our tickets and we’re sent to the airport. It’s got to be a funny sight in the airport—50ish adults, mostly in their early 20s, all together in the airport—very organized, yet also laid back. One of my favorite things is the yarn on our bags. Yes, you read that correctly—the yarn. Traditionally, each PCV group gets strips of yarn to tie around all their bags (carry on and checked). We leave these on all always. During service, every so often while traveling you’ll see someone else with yarn on their bags—maybe with your color, or maybe from a different group, and with a different color—and you know you’re probably traveling alongside a fellow Volunteer. So, if you’re ever traveling and see people with strips of yarn tied to their bag, go ahead…see if they’re in the Peace Corps. I love this detail. This slightly trivial piece of yarn and the stories behind it make me feel part of something greater—a part of a family and a group of people that are like me, and that believe in the same things I do.
We left from Dulles airport, but were in the terminal for quite a while. It was great traveling in a group as we could leave our piles of magenta-yarn-tagged-bags all together with some people watching while others were free to find food or bathrooms. The flight from Dulles to Frankfurt Germany was long. But we were all seated pretty near each other, and I got to talk to lots of people and get to know more fellow Group 40-ers. We had a lay over in Frankfurt, and then had a two hour flight to Kyiv.
Landing in Kyiv was awesome. It was early afternoon, and the moment you get out of the plane you see you’re somewhere new…the Latin alphabet has disappeared to be replaced by Cyrillic letters. We were met at the airport by Peace Corps staff…I was actually the first person through customs, so I got to stand and meet and talk to them while everyone else went through. My bags came through this time, as did everyone else’s. We walked to where there were a couple of buses, and a large truck waiting for us and our bags. From there we drove another two hours to Desna where our arrival retreat was taking place. We unloaded, got our roommates (not Jess this time, but Jill and Audry…two incredibly awesome women from Iowa and DC respectively) and had a few meetings that evening, but most of us were about ready to pass out from tiredness. I played a little bit of catch phrase (and thought of JC and SearchJ), but was asleep around 9pm.
Next day was pretty full: medical interview and more shots, training sessions, info sessions, and our first language lesson. I’m assigned to learn Ukrainian. About 40% of us learn Russian instead. However, by the end of service, everyone knows a bit of both, and I talked to a current Volunteer who actually speaks more Bulgarian because of where her placement is.
To learn languages we’re assigned to “clusters” of about 4-6 people. There are 6 people in my cluster, but only one other girl is here now—the other four will come with the second half of group 40 in about a week. But for now, Angela and I (I have been renamed Sasha by some people by the way…it’s a very common Russian name for Alexandra. When I walked in for my medical appointment, the doctor greeted me by saying “Ah, Sasha! You like this name?” And I do! I love it. I’ve found a nickname that I really like.) are a pair studying Ukrainian with our LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator), Katia. We’re going to be in a town called Karhlik. It’s about 30 thousand people…really big! Some clusters are going to towns of about 1000.
The second day of staging was a half day. More sessions and lessons. Then we separate. It’s been really neat all being together, but it’s not really the real experience of the Peace Corps. Peace Corps Volunteering is much more alone from other Americans. So the four-ish days that we’ve spent all together is a bit of a psych-out. I love so many of these other Volunteers—everyone is awesome and interesting. But today we all leave each other, and won’t all be back together until PST ends and we’re sworn in as Volunteers in December.
Well, that’s where I am now. I’m on a bus riding out to meet my host family! I still have another couple of hours on the bus…to finish blogging, practices some basic Ukrainian phrases, watch the countryside pass by outside, and wonder what my host family will be like. I do know that it’s a woman with older kids away at university in Kyiv…but that’s all I know! I’ll find out more soon…