6. I’d Rather Have Warm Boots

Saturday, October 16, 2010

5 October 2010

I’d Rather Have Warm Boots/ Turning 23 in Ukraine

First, some exposition: There are three front doors to my MAMA’s house (my home stay house). First is the door to a small entryway. This is where all our shoes are kept. After this entry way, there is the front door that locks, and immediately after that (a space of about a foot and a half) is the third set of doors that are mostly for insulation. The outer most doors locks, but only with a deadbolt from the inside, so when we leave the house, the entryway to where all our shoes are is unlocked. It is the second door that gets locked when we’re gone from home.

Now, the story: The second half of my cluster arrived this weekend and it meant four new friends and colleagues for Angie and myself. It was great finally getting to meet them, and put faces to their names (Ben, Nicole, Ashley, and Helen). With them came the arrival conversations Angie and I had last week when we first got to Kaharlyk—where to buy a phone, where and if we could get internet, first impressions of host families, etc. One of the topics that was discussed was computers, and the possibility of them getting stolen. During this conversation I realized that I had brought my computer lock with me, but until that point forgotten about it. That night I dug it out of my suitcase (where some random items are still floating around at the bottom) and locked my computer.

Now another piece of exposition. It is cold here. Now. At the beginning of October. Today I saw the sun, and it was the first time in probably about a week. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in November, December, January, February, ETC!

This morning as I left the house for “Ookrainskoo Movo” language class I was thinking about my warm winter boots. They’re sturdy, but nice looking, and completely lined with faux fur. They are not the kind of boots readily available here in Ukraine. Here women wear stiletto heeled boots, or more boots with more sensible heels, but still ones that are unlined and not too warm. So you can see that warm boots are a hot commodity here, especially for a girl from California who has never experienced winters of continuous below-zero weather.

As I locked the door and left, I realized that technically, anyone could get into the house and take all of our shoes, as the door leading into the outer entry way does not lock when we leave the house. I continued to think about this fact on my walk to school. I started to become very concerned about my winter boots. They were sitting there in the entryway, available for anyone to walk in and take! My warm boots that are going to be my life-savers come the dead of winter! All day long I worried about them, and I made a mental note to move them into my bedroom that evening when I came home. I decided that that is where I should keep them instead of leaving them vulnerable and unprotected in the entryway.

It was at this point that I realized that I was much more worried about the possibility of someone stealing my boots than I had been at the idea that someone might steal my computer. In all seriousness, it is much more likely that my computer might get stolen. It is highly unlikely that anyone would think to walk into an entryway out in the countryside to see if there are shoes to steal. Yet the idea terrified me.

Maybe this is just me being silly. But I like to think of it as a way that Peace Corps changes people. I’d hate for my computer to be taken—even if I never use the internet on it, I still use it to watch movies and type out emails in advance. However, this is trivial compared to staying warm and surviving a cold winter. In this atmosphere I’ve started to think about the things that I really do need. Being here causes you to care about the necessities and the basics. You care about what you really need, instead of all the fluff and petty luxuries that clutter our lives and hide what our true values should be. You begin to care about the things that really matter.

Here and now, I’m thinking about what I really value. And here and now, I’d much rather have warm boots than a computer.

Today was my birthday. I don’t want to make you read another whole long story…but some of you may be wondering what a 23rd birthday in Ukraine would be like…so I’ll write a little blurb, and try to be brief.

I had class today…not a super long day, but still quite enough to keep us busy. I woke up this morning to my first phone calls from the States, first one from my mom, then from my dad—both wishing me Happy Birthday. Then Birthday text from Jess! Got to class and was sung Happy Birthday to in Ukrainian by my language teacher and the five other people in my class. Then Katia (my language teacher) shared with me a Ukrainian birthday tradition. You pull up on the ears of the person the number of years they are turning so that they will continue to grow tall. So I had my ears pulled 23 times. J Then Angie gave two birthday notes- one from her, and one from Jess (!) who had given her the note before we all left orientation, knowing that it would be my birthday soon and that I wouldn’t be able to see her, or even get mail from anyone. Then at the end of the day, my MAMA came to Katia’s house with a surprise! Cake, and tea, and pears. It was wonderful! It was so incredibly sweet of her. She came directly after work (which for her is in a different town) just to surprise me on my birthday—and I’ve only known her about a week. Then walked home later and got to talk longer with Jess.

It was a great birthday…very different from any other one—but sooooo awesome.

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