Passwords Galore!

Hello everyone! Apparently Peace Corps Ukraine has a policy whereby all volunteer blogs must be password protected, thus the abundance of protected posts. If you want to know the password, just ask me – jlmack63@gmail.com.

*Please note that some of the posts will have a different password; these ones are for my close friends and family only. Sorry!

Outrageous Ukraine things

I just finished a book by comedian Aisha Tyler (hilarious, I recommend it) which she concluded thusly:

I hope that this book will encourage you to be even more reckless, more wild, to make bigger, crazier, more frightening choices than I have, to chase your dreams with wild-eyed abandon, to run headlong into the most terrifying situations, to speak freely, to act freely, to do every single thing that you have ever dreamed of doing up until this point but didn’t do because you were scared things might go wrong.

Because the truth is, they will go wrong. Terribly, mind-blowingly wrong.

But what’s the worst that can happen? Maybe you’ll be embarrassed. Maybe you will fall. Maybe things will go exactly the opposite of how you planned. Maybe you’ll break a limb. But one thing is for sure: if you do nothing, you’ll have done exactly that. Nothing.

So go out and make a bunch of mistakes. Hold your breath, close your eyes, and jump without looking. Wreck the joint. Break some shit. At the end of it all, at the very least, you’ll have a bunch of really awesome stories.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is basically what I think about life, particularly my Peace Corps Service. With that fabulous introduction, I will highlight some times that shit went horribly, terrifyingly awry.

  • The time I lived with an old woman for three months, formed a deep and special bond (or so I thought) and then was unceremoniously dumped at my swearing in ceremony when she simply never arrived and yelled at me when I called.
  • The time I went to the bathroom in the outhouse and fell in up to my knee. In winter.
  • The time I had such a persistent cough for so long that I was tested for both tuberculosis and pneumonia.
  • The time I was invited to sing “Jingle Bells” at the town New Years concert and was so nervous I forgot the words halfway through. TO JINGLE BELLS.
  • The time I literally clotheslined myself.
  • The time the old lady I lived with – on my birthday – threw away all of my underwear and gave me 2 pairs of sweet granny panties to replace them. Happy birthday!
  • The time I woke up on a train on the way to language refresher and the man across from me basically force fed me cognac by pouring it in my coffee. Arriving at language refresher at 10am drunk? Yes, please lets.
  • The time there was a huge box of live chicks on the train and they cheeped all night.
  • The countless times I fell on the ice because this California girl isn’t used to walking on that business.
  • The time T. Shura had a sex talk with me, accompanied by the gift of a rag….
  • The time when all the teachers at my school were convinced I was sleeping with a 15 year old student of mine.
  • The 2 times I callously witnessed the murder of a pig then almost immediately consumed its delicious, delicious flesh.
  • The time I mysteriously and suddenly got very sick on a bus full of Peace Corps Volunteers destined for Moldova and had to make the bus pull over so I could vomit literally ON the border of Ukraine and Moldova. The border guards were very suspicious.
  • The many many times that I had to eat salo (marinated pig fat) and holodets (meat jello) because every single Ukrainian is convinced that their version of these delicacies will be magically delicious for me.
  • The time I thought the bus was taking me all the way to a village in Odessa oblast – the first time I had visited said village – but instead the bus driver stopped and made me get out at this corner, with no further instructions.IMG_2098

And if I survived all that, I’m pretty sure I can survive anything. Hey, at least I’ve got some unique stories, right?

New Years Eve – that shit’s a big deal in Ukraine

As you might deduce from the title, New Years Eve is pretty much the biggest holiday in Ukraine. Christmas? Meh. Their NYE is a lot like our Christmas. They have New Years trees, instead of Christmas trees, and they get gifts from their version of Santa Claus on NYE. The irresponsible drinking is not reserved for the young or adventurous, as it is in America, and is instead widely and heartily enjoyed by all, including the elderly and every single person ever. Pretty much no matter where you are, there is food and booze a plenty, followed by enormous dangerous fireworks at midnight (set off by people are surely both inebriated and inexperienced) and, AFTER that, dancing in the central square around the New Years tree.

So, thats a lot of celebrating for an American girl who is used to banging a couple pans at midnight, if I make it that far, and passing out. I was extremely dubious of my ability/desire to stay up that late and do all those things. As you probably know, sleep is my one true love in life. But I, at the ripe old age of 27, managed to stay awake until like 6am! It was a triumph! I made a bunch of food – twice baked potatoes were a big hit – and Seroga made shashlik and people just sort of wandered in and out of our house. Our friend Artyom and his girlfriend Ina were there most of the time, and appearances were made by Seroga’s sister Vita, his brother Vlad, and his dad. Artyom set off some fireworks at midnight, which terrified me, and then at like 2am we headed over to the central square for a nice public celebration. There was enthusiastic dancing, picture taking, and a lot of people breaking champagne bottles in a public place. At nearly 4am we returned home and just hung out until like 6am. It was, surprisingly, pleasant.

Probably not as pleasant, however, as the quantity of sleep Seroga and I engaged in on the 1st. New Years Eve is not a one-night affair in this country; it pretty much lasts 3-4 days. We, however, opted completely out of all that and just fell asleep at literally 4pm and woke up the next day. My favorite moment was when Seroga asked what time it was, I said 11, and he said “In the morning?!” Yes, haha, in the morning.

So now it is the third and the partying continues in all households but ours. I am happy with that arrangement. Also, I cant believe that there are only 13 days left for me as a Peace Corps Volunteer and only 17 till Im back in LA. Seventeen days until Seroga’s mind is blown.

до побачення, Gymnasium!

I’m in a particularly weird place now, because I have officially said goodbye to all my students and coworkers at school, but haven’t actually left yet. My last week at school was December 23-27. Of course, American Christmas falls during that week, but Ukrainian Christmas doesn’t so we worked anyways. I planned a special last lesson for my classes that included teaching them the words to, and then singing, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The little kids LOVED it, the older kids not so much, and I got super tired of hearing/singing that damn song, but I think the lessons went well. That is, the ones I was able to teach. As always, there were tons of last minute schedule changes that meant I only got to do this lesson with about half the classes at the school. A bit disappointing, but it was ok I guess. I said goodbye in my own way to the rest of the kids.

The goodbye parade started off on Tuesday the 24th, when I came into school with a bunch of cakes and coffee and tea. On one of the breaks between lessons I officially said goodbye to the teachers and let them have at the treats. They were basically overjoyed about the eating and all of them started talking to me, even the ones who I dont know at all because they never said a peep to me in three years. Obviously, I should’ve bought these people some cake a long time ago. This portion of the goodbye was not particularly emotional, as there is pretty much no love lost between me and my coworkers, with a few exceptions. For those people, there were boxes of candy given separately.

Then on Friday the 27th there were three separate New Years parties at school, ALL of which I attended. First, at 9am, was the fifth grade party. They did some singing and dancing for their parents, who also attended. “Grandfather Frost” and his little snow girl helper (Ukrainian Santa) showed up and was obviously one of my 9th graders, which amused me greatly. I love those kids cuz theyre cute.

The fifth grade New Years party

The fifth grade New Years party

After the party was over, I went to the teachers room and waited for the next party to start at noon. While I was there, Ludmila showed up and we had a nice long conversation about nothing in particular, in which she was not mean. I swear to god, this person is bipolar – one day she’s so mad at me that she won’t let me teach my goodbye lesson to the fifth graders, and literally the next we have a perfectly pleasant conversation. Bizarre.

The next party was for the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. This time the party was for themselves, not their parents, but the activities were largely the same – singing, dancing, some games, giving out a bunch of candy, etc.

After the second New Years party, with some of my favorite girls from the 8th grade. And Ilya - trouble maker from the 7th grade - popping up in the back.

After the second New Years party, with some of my favorite girls from the 8th grade. And Ilya – trouble maker from the 7th grade – popping up in the back.

I was already feeling quite emotional at the end of the party, because Sophia (one of my 7th graders) gave me a gift bag and started crying and saying that I am the best teacher. Then the girls who were leading the party ended it by saying “We know this is Jordan’s last day at the school and we wanted to say (in English) Thank you special teacher, for helping me to know the things I need to learn to live my life and to grow. I feel good with you because you make me see that if I work at it I can do it!!” I, of course, at this point was sobbing like a  small child and attempting to hide my face from the kids. They came over and gave me some cards/candy and hugged me for a long time and we did some dancing in a circle. At this point, I needed a moment and pretty much fled the premises and sat silently by myself in the teachers room for a moment to collect myself/sob in peace.

Goodbye gifts - The cards I got from the kids, as well as one of the magnets and the glass kitties. The rest is from the vice director of the school.

Goodbye gifts – The cards I got from the kids, as well as one of the magnets and the glass kitties. The rest is from the vice director of the school.

There was another period of waiting ahead of me and the other teachers there, so we pooled our money and bought some lunch and champagne and candies. We had a nice little lunch, then took pictures together in front of the New Years tree they had set up for the parties. Again, a bizarrely pleasant interaction with a group of people who basically shunned me for three years. I guess its easy to be nice when you know you won’t see someone anymore.

Teachers in front of the New Years tree. Santa is the director of our school and the person standing awkwardly on the other side is my former landlord.

Teachers in front of the New Years tree. Santa is the director of our school and the person standing awkwardly on the other side is my former landlord.

The final goodbye was on Monday the 30th. Most of the teachers, including me, got together at 11am (early much?) at the bar to celebrate the New Years holiday. We all pooled 100 griven each and there was basically endless food, vodka, wine, champagne, mandarins, cake, etc. We were the only people in the bar so they turned on some music and I was forced to “dance,” by which I mean shuffle my feet while standing in a circle with my coworkers, each of us painfully aware of our drunkenness with the exception of the one teacher who was sexy dancing in the middle of the circle. I was there for like 5 hours, which was plenty of time to say goodbye. The director sat next to me and we had some nice conversations. It felt like a nice close to my time at school.

The adventure is almost over…

Well, this adventure at least.

Since I adore a good list of dates, here are all the milestones left between now and when I actually get back to America (many of which are probably meaningless to you, but – lets be honest – this blog is for me, not you):

  • Saturday Nov 16 – Reference class on govt information sources and reference evaluation
  • Monday Nov 18 – Go to Kiev, LPI, pick up bank card
  • Tuesday Nov 19 – Interview at the embassy!! FINALLY find out about Seroga’s visa!
  • Thursday Nov 21 – International Librarianship class on professional engagement
  • Saturday Nov 23 – Reference Interview Analysis Presentations Due
  • Thursday Dec 5 – Last International Librarianship class, semester wrap up
  • Saturday Dec 7 –  Last Reference Class on the evolution and future of reference
  • Thursday Dec 12 – Blog on human rights in librarianship due
  • Dec 23-27 – Say goodbye to my kids, special classes on American Christmas
  • Dec 27 – Last day of teaching
  • Monday Jan 13 or Tuesday Jan 14 – goodbye tea with the teachers at the gymnasium
  • Wednesday Jan 15 – I take my VERY LAST TRIP TO KIEV. Last night in a hostel. Good god.
  • Thursday Jan 16 – I officially close my PC service, ring the bell. Woot!.. then I go back to Mala Vyska to pack
  • Tuesday Jan 21 – Train to Odessa. LAST GODAWFUL TRAIN JOURNEY. I might even bust out the big bucks and buy out a whole kupe like a baller.
  • Wednesday Jan 22 – Flight from Odessa to Moscow to New York to Los Angeles. Finally, for real, I will be back in America… this time with my non-English-speaking fiance in tow.

And thus begins the new adventure.

MSLIS

I am, excitingly, ALMOST done with my Masters Degree in Library and Information Science. My last classes, Community Informatics and Introduction to Databases, will be this Spring semester and I will graduate in May! Since I started this damn thing in 2009, I might be a record breaker for “longest time to finish a 40 unit degree” but I also did Peace Corps in that time so, you know, whatever.

Of course, most of the people who get the MSLIS move on to a (or continue in their) career in libraries. I like libraries and all, but that’s not why I got the degree. As you can see from my choice of classes, I am not particularly interested in focusing on collection development or cataloging or metadata or any of the traditional library topics. Instead, I have spent my time in grad school learning about how information is organized for access, barriers to that access, how to remove the barriers, and how to use the information effectively. For me, it always had more to do with education, research, and instruction in a variety of settings. It had almost nothing to do with traditional library things. I always thought I was one of the only ones, then I read this article, which I love. It introduces the concept of the MSLIS as..

An amplifying degree. As in, a degree with the sole purpose of exponentially increasing the knowledge and skills of the person who earns it. This was not, we were told, a program of study that would ask us to “forget” everything else we knew. Rather, this “signal-boosting” degree strives to lay a new foundation informed by the unique mix of skills and experiences we already have, a foundation on which we can continue to build for the rest of our lives.

Yes, absolutely.

So when I come back to America, will I apply for library jobs? Maybe. If they seem interesting. But mostly I will apply for jobs that make use of the skills of organizing, finding, and utilizing information effectively.

Goodbyes

I am pretty bad at blogging these days, mostly because blogging requires reflection and introspection and I don’t really like to do those things as I say goodbye. You might say I’m terrible at goodbyes. For example, when I was studying abroad in London I had a whole group of friends that I really enjoyed and knew it would be awful to say goodbye to… so I just didn’t. They all got together at the pub we always went to on our last night in London and I just never showed up. The next morning some of them came to say goodbye but most of them were already gone, so that cut down on the tearful awkwardness for me considerably. I really enjoy the idea of the Irish exit.

Unfortunately, I cant exactly do that in Peace Corps. Having been the most interesting person in Mala Vyska for the past 3+ years, people are now acutely aware that I am leaving and ask me about it all the time. Am I ready? Am I excited to leave? Is it better in America or Ukraine? How will I find work in America? How will Seroga get along without speaking English? When will I come back to visit? Umm… great questions, guys. I’ll answer you with this blank stare and shrug. Am I ready? I guess. I’m more ready now than I was a year ago. I feel like its time. But that doesnt make it easy or anything. I have a whole network of people here, an entire life that I built, and Im just leaving the whole thing. I don’t know how I’ll find work, or buy a car, or help Seroga integrate into America. I don’t know how he will do there. Hell, I don’t even know how I will do there, considering that I’m so used to a Ukrainian lifestyle. I can’t say when I’ll come back to visit, or even IF I’ll come back to visit (depending on how things go with Seroga). Answering these questions is impossible, so I usually just say something about missing my family and wrap it up with “все буде добре” (everything will be alright). It’s not a satisfactory answer for me or anyone else, but it’s the best I’ve got. 

Furthermore, I can’t even imagine the actual day I say goodbye. Everything is going to be a hot mess, especially because it’s not just me – Seroga will be saying goodbye to his family as well. How will I explain to my adorable students that I am leaving forever? What will I do to thank Ludmila for her help? (I’m obligated to do this, no matter how helpful her help actually was.) The whole thing is just bizarre so I try not to worry about it too much and just trust that everything will be fine. Bсе буде добре. 

Time Flies

I really can’t believe how quickly time has flown by. Well, and also how slowly it has crawled. Time sucks like that – it feels impossibly slow when its slipping through your fingers and then one day you open your eyes and realize there isn’t any left. That’s what is happening to me these days.

On September 26 we celebrated my three year anniversary of the first time I arrived in Ukraine. We had 4 friends over, and their 2 small children, and enjoyed bbq’d meat. I splurged on feta and we had greek salad. All in all, it was a great celebration but I can’t believe it has already been three years since I showed up in this crazy country with no idea what to expect.

I sure have changed since then, not only in the sense that I speak the language and know the ins and outs of the specific kind of crazy Ukrainian people exhibit, but just as a person. I am a lot more patient now. I know myself much better. I am 100% confident that I can do literally anything (as if I wasn’t confident enough before). And if something doesn’t work out the way I hope it will, I know how to fail with grace and keep trying. I like to cook now, and am pretty good at it. As it turns out, I love (most) kids. I think I have an inner groundedness that I didn’t have before, which is hard to explain. I feel more of an inner calm. I’m still the same person, but I think I’ve grown up a lot too, and I like that. It’s just hard to believe that I was that other person only three years ago.

Also, I bought my tickets home. I found a ridiculously insanely excellent price that, for some reason, flies out of Odessa instead of Kiev so thats where I’m headed on January 20, with an ETA of January 22 @ 8:30pm at LAX. I will be arriving with a disoriented non-English speaker in tow and promptly marrying him :-) I feel ready. I can’t wait to start the next part of my adventure.