On Saturday, March 23, 2013, I will have been in Ukraine for two years.
Honestly, it doesn’t feel that long. I feel like only a short while ago, I was driving back to Rhode Island from Texas. I was surprised by my friend Cathy who had come all the way up from Florida to see me off. My friends John and Angela came over with their son, JJ, for my favorite meal: Syrian grape leaves and tabouli…cooked by mom of course. John, Cathy, and I then went to my dad’s favorite restaurant Fat Belly’s Pub to meet up with some other friends for a little send-off.
Shortly after I hugged my parents goodbye at the airport, I touched down in Washington, DC, to spend a day with my brother. We were also able to meet up with with some friends before I had to go meet 105 strangers, play random name games for two days, file some paperwork, and hop on a plane.
As we were descending into Ukraine on March 23rd, 2011, I remember sitting next to Mila and saying “Wow…I didn’t have butterflies until now…” I’ll admit, the thought came into my head, What the HELL are you doing?!
My first meal involved beet salad – one of the few things I still pass on in this country. My first conversation with my host mother consisted of me telling her “I don’t understand” in Russian multiple times, me laughing awkwardly, shaking my head, a blank stare, and pointing to a map of the United States. As I laid there that night, I remember laughing to myself and saying “Well, THIS sure is going to be interesting!”
I have a better idea of when I’ll be coming home, but I’m waiting on the official approval before I announce that (I’ll know the first week of April). In the meantime, life has never been busier here and I couldn’t be happier about that. As mentioned here, I am heavily involved in a social entrepreneurship project with some other volunteers and things are moving very well! In addition, through the Special Needs Working Group, we will create an online database (blog) to help better provide resources to other volunteers throughout the country.
Perspektiva-wise, my counterpart was just accepted to attend a two-part professional development seminar and is excited for what he’ll be able to learn – or the fact he gets to go to Crimea twice. We have decided to change the direction of the organization and model it after organizations such as Goodwill; however, we will focus the humanitarian aid portion specifically for people with disabilities and retirees. Finally, we will be planning out a strategic plan and write a grant for office renovations.
Two years later.
Multiple new dishes eaten, Russian toasts poorly given, wrong marshrutka taxis taken, trains missed, visits to the sauna and bath, trips to the country house, successful small projects, youth camps, trainings given and received, documents and presentations created and edited, blogs posted, pictures Instagrammed, and amazing people met…among a plethora of other things…I had no idea how right I would be.