One can live magnificently in this world
if one knows how to work and how to love.
- Leo Tolstoy
The Big Excursion…
At 0800, we boarded the southbound marshutka and headed for the last stop on the line. Mark carried a rucksack laden with picnic supplies, flashlights, the camera, jackets and everything else we needed for the trip.
The Kerch Central Library and branch offices are closed today because it is Library Day. All the employees are off on an excursion on this fine fall holiday.
After a false start (we boarded the wrong marshutka, but thanks to a mobile phone call we resolved the problem) we found our way to the waiting group of 53 women. We all clamored aboard a bus and after about half an hour bouncing down a narrow, windswept road we arrived at the end of a narrow peninsula on a hilltop overlooking the sea. The panorama was beautiful!
Our guide assured us we could ask her any question about the fortress and she would have answers that would keep us interested as long as we could listen. No detail is too small to escape her attention and she encourages us to ask questions as we stride along behind her. She advises us that we will take an express tour of the fortress so we will not have to exhaust ourselves with strenuous walking. There is much to see, but we will tour the underground munitions storage area, the barracks and kitchens, the corridor, and the beach. There will be many places where we can take stunning photographs.
L., the interpreter/translator that recently began to work at the library part time, has come on the excursion, though she is not fond of hiking or picnics. I am glad she is here to help me decipher the guide’s comments and to talk with as we wander along the paths.
L. likes to read so we engage in conversations about books. I am delighted to hear her talk about reading “Gone With the Wind”. She admires Scarlett O’Hara for her resilience. I mention “Anna Karenina” and L. responds that she is not typical of Russian women and prefers “War and Peace”.
We talked about movies too. I laughed when she mentioned “The Blues Brothers” – a classic I guess. She also enjoyed “Paulie” (sp?) – a rather charming, romantic comedy about a parrot who becomes a matchmaker of sorts. Our good friend and housesitter J. loves that film so it was interesting that L. mentioned it as a favorite of hers too. (She spoke of her own two parrots – sadly, one died of cold and the other died of heat!)
W continued our
tour of the fortress which dates to the 1800’s.
It is built at the southern tip of the
It took the soldiers and workmen only six months to construct the massive limestone buildings.
This fortress was occupied by Germans during the Great Patriotic War (what we know as WWII) and there are chilling reminders in the graffiti etched into the walls.
At one point, after considerable discussion and advice from the guide, we enter a dark tunnel which circles around the complex. We are told to grab hold of the person in front of us and to place our right hands on the wall. A cautionary tale concerning tourists who failed to follow directions gives us a healthy respect for the adventure ahead.
Inside the tunnel it is indeed, pitch black. The ceiling is only inches from my head. We walk for what seems a long time with no glimpses of light. It is claustrophobic.
L., whose hand I am holding, begins to tremble. “Let’s go back!” she squeaks in a small voice.
I put my arm around her shoulders and speak calmly to her in a comforting tone. I remind her to breath and I share a tale about my fear of heights. I repeat assaying I recently heard: “When you are going through hell, keep on going!” I laugh a bit and encourage her to laugh too. I feel her relax a bit. We are both glad when we reach the end of the tunnel and come out into the bright sunshine.
The hike continues. We take lots of photos. The women find rose hips and black berries and other wild snacks. Many of them collect wild flowers and spices as we walk along. Mark picks up a few sea shells from the beautiful, sandy beach.
As we walk, I
observe how the women are dressed. I
have not seen women dressed this casually in my experiences here in
L., and I continue to talk – she speaks of her relatives who served in the Great Patriotic War. Six million people, about 1/15th of the population died in that war and this figure does not include the soldier who died. Not many families survived without a loss. The war was for the Motherland and people wanted to serve. L.’s grandfather was only 22, a young soldier, when he died. There was only one photograph of the handsome, blue-eyed soldier. The young widow wife mailed the snapshot to her dead husband’s sister and the photo disappeared without a trace, never arriving at the destination. All that is left is a memory of those blue eyes.
The terrain was rugged, the sun hot, and the pace fairly swift. The wind off the sea kept us comfortable, but we were all ready to stop when at last we returned to our picnic site.
We settled on a site under a large tree. It was obvious these women have picnicked before. They proceeded to spread out blankets and towels, covering a huge area. The library director shook out a large tablecloth and spread it atop the blankets and immediately women began rather unceremoniously emptying their bags onto the cloth.
They piled whole tomatoes and fresh cucumbers, bowls of boiled potatoes, large sausages, eggplant dishes, bags of salo, chunks of cheese, juicy apples, and much, much more. Bottles emerged – several bottles of vodka, some wine, a few bottles of water and a couple thermos’s filled with chai found their place in the center of this impromptu table on the ground.
Tiny plastic plates (the same ones used for tea parties at the library) were passed around and small plastic cups ere doled out. The feasting began, the vodka splashed into the cups and the toasting began. Shortly after, the singing began.
The women sang and laughed and sang some more. A couple of the women stretched out on their stomachs and sang and drank. The songs were lively and many of them sounded sad. They asked us to share American songs and when we were slow to respond they got us started on “God Bless America” and even knew the second and third verses (much to our chagrin, because we did not!).
Late in the afternoon the bus arrived to take us back to town. And so ended the marvelous excursion with the delightful ladies of the Kerch Library.
A Day all to Myself – Shoe Shopping Should be Fun…
It is a beautiful autumn day. There are a group of regulars lingering at the outdoor café outside our window. I can hear their voices rumbling as they swap stories and discuss politics. They sound older. I cannot see them, but I smell their cigars. I imagine they sip on vodka, but perhaps they indulge in chai (tea).
From their seats
on the terrace, they can see the
There are many
public plazas and parks in this community.
There are pedestrian streets too. .
The chill winds
off the sea will remind us of how lucky we are to be in
I imagine in a few short weeks the outdoor cafes may close for the season. In the park, the bars, discos, and amusement rides are closing. The chairs are stacked up and the umbrellas are gone. The warm fall day is delightful, but the empty places foreshadow the long days of winter.
I abandoned my original plan to stay home this morning and departed the apartment about 8 AM when Mark headed off to work. I walked with him as far as the library.
I went to the open
air market or bazaar. Here in
should be fun. I love shoes and would
love to be shopping for a pair of wonderful boots, but walking shoes are a
challenge... Adding to the challenge is
my shoe size. I wear a size 9 ½ and,
Inexpensive shoes cost 50-150 grivna (about $10-$30…plastic) and better shoes run 200-500 grivna (about $40-$100…leather). Most shoes have very pointed toes. They often have lots of bling-bling – rhinestones and glitter are fairly common on shoes (and clothes). Even some of the sports shoes have stiletto heels.
Meeting More People…Lunch and Later the Library’s English Club…
We are back from
yet another luncheon where I had the opportunity to meet more people Mark works
with. The business and work luncheons are not like our American
ones. The table is set with glass dishes, table cloth and tea
service. The director served us three courses - a dish made with
delectable mussels and rice, a tasty salad course of tomatoes, onions, etc with
a little sour cream dressing, a course of fresh fruits (apples, melon and
grapes) and finally a box of excellent chocolates with a bit of smooth brandy
for dessert. This is a mid-day luncheon at work. The brandy started the
meal (the obligatory toasts) and appeared throughout the experience. The
Ukrainian way is to be hospitable and they show their hospitality with food and
Later today we will head back to the library for English Club where there will be more food - cookies and tea most likely.
Despite all the eating, people are generally slim and fit looking here.
Enroute home, Mark and I stopped at a second hand shop and inventoried the available clothing items. Mark bought a lovely full length rabbit fur coat for me (about thirty dollars) which will protect me from the sea winds when winter settles in. People here commonly wear furs, but it feels a bit ostentatious (and for me, out of character). And of course I will need a suitable hat, scarf and boots now since mine are not appropriate or attractive with the new coat. The saying "...beware of enterprises which require new clothing..." seems apropos here.
We also stopped at a furniture store and looked at dressers, tables and shelves. We have plenty of chairs in our apartment, but no storage space. My oversized luggage is covered with a bit of fabric and does dual purpose as a coffee table (sound familiar?) and a place to store clothing. We have not found used furniture stores, but by American prices (and American salaries), things are actually very inexpensive. (By Crimean standards and wages, prices are very high.)
We are living on a
salary that is similar to what Crimean’s earn so we must be cognizant of this
when we make our spending decisions. The
stove I the apartment is adequate (an old two burners model) and the one table
and shelf are not attractive, but functional. A cheery tablecloth helps.
We may make a few purchases, but today we just looked. There is not much
room in our small home for any additional furniture actually.
Earlier I mentioned my old asthmatic “friend” in the dark, cave-like entryway to our apartment - I am referring to the refrigerator that wheezes and shudders as if it is dying. A friend observed, "...you ought to name the refrigerator. It sounds like an old Russian character---wheezing and moaning---sitting in a dark hallway with a bottle of vodka tucked out of sight."
I believe I shall
name him Ivan Ivanovich. It, or should I
say he, really is a scary looking appliance. Another volunteer I know
says her refrigerator dances - it vibrates so much it comes unplugged!
I have done a few loads of laundry already - this involves scrubbing clothes in a tub and wringing them by hand and hanging them out to dry. I find it is best to wash a few things every day. It is time for me to bring the laundry in before we go to English Club.
I look forward to getting our website up to speed...it is a bit neglected like a garden in need of attention...pruning and cultivating, etc... I want to post photos and journal entries there. The gift of time will help make these things happen.
The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving.
In giving gifts, we give what we can spare,
but in giving thanks we give ourselves.
- David Steindl-Rast
Hanging Out the Laundry…Meeting the Staff…
Mother always enjoyed hanging the laundry on the clothesline. She viewed it as an opportunity to be outdoors; a chance to feel the warm sun on her skin; a time to smell sweet smells from the flower beds and hear the neighborhood children at their games.
“The sun provides you with Vitamin D,” she often reminded me. Her slim arms were strong and firm.
There was no need to go to the gym back in the days before everyone had washing machines and driers, vacuum cleaners and prepared foods. A homemaker could maintain a very healthy fitness regime simply accomplishing the daily chores. A walk to the market and the post office or the library or school added another element to this healthy routine.
Why am I thinking
these thoughts? They came to me as I
hung out my first load of laundry in our home here in
Hand washing clothes - I know from personal experience, doing the laundry by hand demands some stamina! During training, our hosts taught us the rudiments of laundry and of course the PCVs discussed this challenge during breaks in our language classes. I imagine a scrub board would be useful, but no one seems to use them nor is there evidence of them in the marketplace.
I started the process last night when I soaked several t-shirts in a pan of cold, soapy water and also soaked a couple pair of trousers in a pan of suds. . After a long soak (an hour or so usually, but in this case, overnight), I returned to start the rinse cycle. This involves removing all the suds from the fabric. I turn on the cold water and added fresh water. I squeeze the fabric and swirl it about. I add more fresh water and wring the garments a bit.
Finally I begin the “spin cycle” – I wring the clothes by hand. This is a demanding task which is great for building the upper-body and arms and the hands too. I squeeze and wring, wring and squeeze. Water pours out, but there is always more lurking deep inside. Jeans are particularly hard to wring out! Once I am exhausted or have determined the clothes are dry enough to hang on the line, I venture out to the clothesline.
There is a small line adjacent to the sidewalk leading to our entryway. The line is inside a small fenced piece of yard and affords a little security. I do not want my favorite jeans to “take a walk” nor do I like to hang my personal undergarments out for all the world to see, so I am glad for this clothesline. It is, however, very close to the building so air does not circulate well here. It stretches above some abandoned raspberry canes which claw at me as I make my way to the line.
I begin pinning the clothes onto the line, stretching to reach for pins and garments. The sun feels good. I smile as I watch the neighborhood kittens scrambling about in the courtyard. I think about my mother and how she accomplished these tasks with patience, humility and also with joy. She found pleasure in these simple acts and spoke of her gratitude.
“I like to hang out the clothes. It is a chance to be outdoors,” she said and I believe she did.
This morning I met the central library staff. There are about 23 women there and all were eager to meet the woman who has such a hold on their PCV, whom they are already quite fond of.
I hope they were not disappointed.
It was a typically
Ukrainian/Crimean meeting: tea was served along with lovely torts. There was a speech welcoming me and they
presented me with three red roses, a
I really broke the ice, when in the course of conversation I announced that I had been in the US Air Force for over twenty years. I followed up my remark with an example of how a drill sergeant might bark at recalcitrant troops. Hearing that loud, commanding voice escape from my rather demure figure made them laugh.
We lingered over second cups of tea and discussed our excursion plans for Friday; we will hike to a fortress and then picnic. Friday is Ukrainian Library Day. The library will be closed and all the employees will join in the excursion.
Anachronism – the only bathroom at the library is a uni-sex pit toilet in the basement while upstairs the well-dressed director and Mark refine plans to introduce a DSL line for better Internet access…
Observation – Stocking a kitchen with staples is different here since many items are fresh and seasonal (time to develop some canning skills!). Kitchens have almost no storage or counter space. Buying in bulk is not typical – people walk to market and tote everything home.
Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.
- Robert Frost
(Extracted from an E-Mail)
I am perched on
the sturdy Soviet-era couch that graces the living room of our rather Spartan,
small apartment. We arrived here in
It is good to be home. Home is where my heart is and that is with my husband.
This is the first time in almost a year I have really felt at home anywhere!
Mark and I spent the weekend getting reacquainted, going through our things and re-arranging the apartment to suit us. We are in dire need of a dresser and/or a wardrobe and/or shelves.
We have one room
plus a tiny kitchen, WC, toilet, and a cave-like, entryway where our ancient,
very rusty refrigerator resides, wheezing and moaning and acting close to
death. We have a little patch of yard outside one of our windows where a
patch of raspberries crowds out everything else, and the other
window opens next to the terrace of the local grocery/bar. Out each
window (we have only two) I can see cats, cats, cats...the city park is across
the street and the
Sunday we wandered the local outdoor market and compiled lists of small things we will need. Some things just are not common - who would think paper towels would be hard to find? An indoor clothesline is a must for rainy days, but I didn’t find anything suitable or anyway to jerry rig something. We wash clothes by hand and line-dry them these days. Our neighbors have a chance to see all our American clothes on the line - we have so many clothes and locals are a bit askance about that. Here people look for quality clothes and own far fewer items. They care for them well too. I will be self-conscious hanging my clothes outside.
Mark has already arranged for me to meet all the people he has been getting acquainted with here so my schedule is suddenly not my own again! People are curious about the new American in town so my limited Russian skills will get a workout! I meet library staff tomorrow, dine with the regional manager Wednesday and meet the English club that day too. There are friends to meet with also and the former host family, etc. Tonight I am drafting a letter for one of Mark's projects.
I do look forward to having time to observe, think and write, but that time will come. I am just glad to be here and moving forward again.
Being patient, remaining confident and positive under duress seem to be essential skills to cultivate in any endeavor one pursues.
I am happy.
FYI - My e-mail is being downloaded onto a flash drive/memory stick and brought home to me. This delays answers and is a bit primitive, but allows me the luxury of reading and writing my mail in my jammies with a cup of coffee nearby rather than counting down the minutes and speed-typing at an Internet Cafe. Mark has Internet access so photos will follow in days to come.
The Market, Round Two…
Rearranging Furniture & Off to the Market…
Arriving Home…a Walking Tour of Town…
The Train Ride South – 24-Hours…
I arrived safely
at the airport in
As I pushed my baggage cart through the doorway, I was elated to see my husband’s smiling face in the crowd. He swept me into his arms and the months of separation melted away like a bad dream.
He presented me with a large bouquet of long stemmed yellow roses, an odd number of course, as is the local tradition. I felt like a movie star with the flowers and all my baggage.
We spent the night at the contract quarters used by the PC and began to catch up on all the things we had to share with one another during our months apart.
we visited the PC offices where Mark had a short IT meeting and I caught up on
e-mail. We spent the afternoon wandering
about in beautiful
Early in the evening we headed over to the train station and settled into our cozy compartment. We picnicked and sipped wine as the countryside swept by outside. Just before bedtime the conductor brought us hot tea.
On the Road Again…
My wayward bags are back and all is well with the world. My long journey is almost over. In a matter of hours I will be listening to my husband’s heartbeat as he presses me close and whispers sweet words in my ear.
The odd couple (my
enormous, overweight, monster bag and the small, but heavy, overnight bag
filled with books) found their way to
That large, black bag is an embarrassment frankly.
It really is oversized and well over the weight standards prescribed by the airline. It also draws the attention of others in a way that makes me feel like an obnoxious American who cannot travel without all my “necessities”.
It is true I will
be out of the States for two years, but there are stores in
Storing the bag will be a challenge too. The apartment is very small and closets are not common. The big bag will sit in the corner of my one room apartment, shaming me everyday for the next few years…sigh…hmmmm, perhaps we can throw something over it and call it a coffee table…
Yikes – how will I get it in the taxi cab? Ukrainian cars are smaller, more practical…perhaps they will strap it to the roof…stay tuned for the continuing adventures! 8-)
Oh wheeeere is my luggage, oh wheeeere is my luggage, oh where, oh where, oh where, is my luggage? (Sung to the Tune of “Oh Where is my Hairbrush?”)
I have a pretty good idea where my embarrassingly large bag and its tiny red companion are delayed, but the woman at the counter does not care to speculate. She is good humored really, but is sticking to the immediate business at hand as she asks me to complete several forms describing the baggage and inventorying contents. I read the “legalese” regarding liability and sign my name.
I set down the pen with a sigh and a smile. I have found smiles and good humor are helpful in most any situation, but seem especially valuable in the airport environment. Even if the service provider is not influenced by a positive attitude, it makes me feel better to find some humor to cling to.
my lost luggage, I explore the sky mall at
The lobby is large and is dominated by an enormous fireplace. There are tall, pillar candles burning everywhere. The lobby projects the ambience of a castle or perhaps a large hunting lodge. I quickly check in and take a glass elevator to my room.
My room is bright and airy with a terrace overlooking a park-like area. There is a huge bathtub and a separate shower with extra nozzles. The bath towels are large and very soft and thick. The is cable television. I stretch out on the bed and doze fitfully while the TV chatters away in some language I do not recognize. Later, I awake and watch Oprah conducting an interview with some celebrity. She speaks another language and the dubbed voice is distorted and does not match Oprah’s own voice at all.
Rested, I make my way to the lobby where I purchase an Internet card and check my e-mail. Later I consider venturing into the city but decide to simply dine in the restaurant. My morning flight will require me to be up early and I want to be rested so an early evening is best.
Dining alone is an art to cultivate. I recommend it actually, though it does take some bravado or at least confidence. The dining room is rather elegant and caters to people who are accustomed to fine dining. The tables are set with china and each has an inviting candle.
I am soon seated and order a glass of wine to sip as I peruse the menu. I settle on a grilled salmon entrée and settle in to watching people as I wait for my meal to arrive. I enjoy the time to think and observe.
The meal arrives and is delightfully prepared with special attention to presentation. I relish the flavors and textures and thoroughly enjoy the experience. When I finish my entrée, I order coffee and ask the waiter to bring me something sweet, perhaps a chocolate or something. He indulges me by bringing a small silver tray with several chocolates and a couple cookies. I relax over coffee and continue to watch the other patrons as they talk and dine.
By this time
tomorrow, I will be in
“Last Night I went to sleep in
This is my mother’s birthday. She died just over a year ago. This trip is part of the legacy she left me.
When I first
learned my Peace Corps adventure would be terminated due to the surgery last
spring, I was devastated. My dream was
dying before my eyes. Then it occurred
to me I could simply join my spouse in
About this time I received an e-mail advising me that my mother’s estate had been settled. That unexpected money would cover my expenses and permit me to move forward with my plan.
That was back in
June. Now I am healed from my surgery
and on my way to join my spouse in our little apartment on the shores of the
I think Mother would be pleased.
Yesterday when we
arrived at the airport, we met with a helpful man. The airline service representative is a cheerful,
friendly man. He is originally from
I hoist my first
piece of check-on baggage onto the scale.
The small, but heavy bag filled with books weighs in at about 38
pounds. He tags it and reaches for the
enormous black bag. I see his eyes get
bigger as he takes in the situation – this bag is clearly oversize and
overweight. There is a moment when it
looks like the bag will be checked with no problem, but and eagle-eyed TSA
agent wanders over and observes the monster bag in question. He slaps a bright orange “Heavy Object” tag
on it. The best my new friend can do is
to say the bag weighs in at only 70 pounds (in reality it is embarrassingly
close to 80 pounds) which means I pay only a penalty ($20) rather than an
overage fee ($150). My bags are also
checked through to
There are kind people in the world and I am grateful for that.
We board the plane
and travel to a motel in
Monday I manage to get the very last seat on the Airbus. There is a delay while some baggage is removed from the plain – it occurs to me that it could be my bags since my travel companion did not board the plane and my bags were listed under her name. We shall see!
Sudden Changes at the Last Minute –
Overloaded & Onward to
It appears the
whole country has plans to be in
What is the draw
Flying standby, is a bit like gambling. Sometimes you just have to bluff.
I am glad my
change. We plot this like a military
maneuver. If we fly today, we can begin
our standby vigil early on Monday and possibly catch a flight. If all fails, we can return to MPLS and board
a DC-10 to
We will leave in just a few hours rather than tomorrow so I must finish the tedious and challenging task of packing my bags. Too many things. So many decisions. I like to travel light so the drama of packing creates a myriad of strong emotions in me…I am cross and grumpy and then I laugh at it all.
For a few minutes I believe I will just pack a carry-on bag and call it a day…who needs all this accumulated stuff?
When I came to the
I shove everything into the enormous wheeled bag and zip it shut. I bag up the books in an overnight bag – small but very heavy. I put the two computers in a wheeled carry on bag with several clothing changes. I quickly do the bag drag out to the living room before I have time to change my mind again. I left behind a bag full of things and a second set of defective luggage.
We enlisted my cousin’s son, a serious athlete, to finagle the enormous bag into the backseat of the car and eventually we headed off to the airport for the start of the trip “home”.
Cousin Carol Shops for Shoes…
Carol is missing
one of her dress shoes. A certain puppy
may have chewed it up or perhaps another of the dogs simply buried it, but it
has disappeared from the household.
Today we set out to find a suitable replacement pair for the upcoming
I am off to a slow
start here, though I had my bowl of cereal and am sipping coffee. The
weather here in
I have been leaving the radio in the bedroom on all the time, even when I sleep. It keeps me from hearing other sounds in the house and I like waking up to my NPR friends and their stories.
I always wonder if the radio influences my dreams since I am subconsciously listening to reports throughout the night.
I plan to head back upstairs to sort clothes and plan what to put in carry one and what to wear, etc. There are logistical problems that are more intimidating when traveling alone with lots of luggage. I will probably have to collect my luggage in
My "Russian in 10 Minutes a Day" and my "Russian for Dummies" books have graced my bedside table all summer, but somehow I never absorbed much from them. I guess I will learn under field conditions. I may learn better without the competitiveness and pressure induced in a classroom.
I have aged during this “exile”. I am getting very grey and the grey hairs are wiry and recalcitrant. I have fattened up a bit, but I needed to. I keep my glasses on most of the time, but I hate how they make me feel and look....I look in the mirror and wonder who that old person is. Oh well...inside I am still youthful and oblivious to the passing of time...
Thoughts on Packing & Apartment Life…
I am taking a break from packing.
I guess I am a
typical American - I have too many things. I hate having to struggle with
a lot of stuff when I travel, but of course I have the urge to take many things
because I know I will miss them and similar things will not/may not be
Of course people live full, rich lives in
For the next two years I should try to live like my peers in
I mean really, how many pairs of shoes does one person need? Most people there manage quite happily with only a few changes of clothing, yet they are generally well dressed and meticulous about their appearances. Shoes are shined and clean, hair done, make up applied and clothing well constructed, pressed nicely. They do seem to over-dress when they are out in public - life seems to be a cocktail party in progress!
I shared photos of the apartment with friends and family. My sister Janeen observed that the sinks in the photos of the apartment seem small - what about dishes, hair washing and laundry?
Well, dishes and
laundry usually involve a large pan/tub of some sort and shampoos are part of
showering or you can always go to the beauty shop which women do there. People
do not wash their hair or shower on a daily basis there generally. Life
there is like it may have been in the 50s here in the
Well, I must get back to editing what I will take with me and what I can leave behind. There are things I will wish for I am sure - bath towels in
More rambling later I am sure...gotta go through a stack of papers too...sigh..Time is flying though and I am glad of that!
Breakfast with a Couple Local RPCVs …
I spent much of
today with the delightful parents of a PCV who is in my training group in
We lingered over
coffee at a local restaurant and got acquainted. The couple served in Pace Corps back in the
70’s and shared tales of their own adventures with me. I shared some of my experiences in
After breakfast we
dropped off the woman and the husband and I went in search of the local
delivery service recommended by other PCVs in
Among PCVs, there is a saying that advises that if you can at least accomplish one activity each day, it is a successful day. This sounds like they are aiming rather low, but when you are dealing with another culture, you must have great patience and perseverance. You save your energy for the big battles and simply try to remain calm and relatively cheerful. It is a good day if you show up for work and accomplish one item on your checklist. I might add, and do not lose your good-humor.
We headed off to lunch and called it a day.
Ramblings as I Wait in
In just a few days
I will be winging my way to
We spend so much time apart, pining to be together. Somehow, when we married, I thought my life would unfold in an orderly fashion and my husband and I would be together night and day as we happily-ever-aftered. I seem to have been very wrong.
During the course of our delightful marriage, we have spent far too many days, weeks, months apart. We learn much about one another, yet this is not great compensation as I wend my way back to the bedroom after a warm shower, only to crawl between the clean, fresh sheets alone.
separation really is finally in the home stretch. The visa arrived yesterday and my task on
this fine almost-autumn day was to obtain airline tickets so I can cross the
ocean to the country my husband has called home for the last several
months. By this time next week, I will
It appears we will
take the train south to our new hometown by the
This language bond will be alternately exhilarating and frustrating too. We will be the local English “experts”. There will be others who lust for language skills that we possess. Others will look at us with disdain because we will not speak the local tongue with expertise or even competence.
I look at the
clock and see that I have two more hours before I can hope to find answers o
the daily flurry of e-mail I have sent out into the virtual world for my
husband to decipher and respond to. He
will discover, when he sits down at the Internet café or his work station at
work, that I had hoped to call him today
and that the international phone card failed to live up to its promise. He will discover that I considered flying to
Eventually he will finish his reading and tap out a tender reply to me. His first-thing-in-the-morning notes will be my last-thing-before bed ritual. As I sign off from my web mail account I will tenderly, tuck sweet words into my heart to warm me through the night ahead. If we lived together, in a perfect word, he would curl up beside me, but would I have his sweet notes, his private thoughts spelled out for me to ponder and dream about? Would sleep simply cradle us for the night or would we share our thoughts, our dreams, our fears?
How many time zones separate us, but how close he seems.
Watching the Pack…
With three large,
active dogs and a couple big cats in residence, there are not many moments when
interactions are one-on-one here.
I watch him as he
stays at his post each day. If anyone
has the audacity to walk past this suburban home, he leaps to his feet and
alarms the household of this threat. He
is reliable, a consummate professional, but somehow I sense that this role is
not one he is really comfortable with.
Somehow, he sees this job as necessary.
He assumes the position. He sacrifices his own preferences and
enjoyments to make sure this house in a
Now the family is
at rest – the people are sleeping and the cats and dogs have been fed, watered
and exercised. They have found their
beds (several sleep in comfort on the bed near their owner/favorite human in
the world). It is late and I am
alone, I am typing by the light of my
laptop’s screen. Suddenly
I pause a moment,
a respectful observer, and then I whisper his name. “
I hear his
dog-tags jingle as he jumps to his feet.
A warm, wet tongue licks at my hand and I see light reflecting off the
warm brown eyes that gaze up at me.
I feel privileged
Addendum: Suburban paranoia
rears its ugly head. I am wakened from a dead sleep as a piercing siren splits
the night with sound and continues to shriek for almost and hour.
Outside, I observe no rain, no wind, nothing. Carol shepherds me down to the lower level of the split-level I currently call home. I turn on the large TV and use the remote to surf through channels and find weather related stories. I finally settle on the channel that airs Letterman, a fine diversion to engage me between weather updates. I alternate between it and the channel that airs Leno. Across the bottom of the screen, tiny words scroll by at a fast pace. These sentences detail all the weather concerns that should explain why I am awake and watching TV in the middle of the night.
Somehow, the TV fails to explain why the siren has been screaming. Outside there seems to be nothing extraordinary going on. In fact, there is no rain or wind.
On TV, I watch
beautiful celebrities and folks like Dr Phil prattering away, oblivious to what
is going on in the
I stroke the cat, hear his purr, channel surf and simply wait. When the clock strikes midnight, I wander back up to bed and sleep until the sun comes up to start a new day.
I still wonder why the sirens went off.
Half-Price Books: Heavy Duty Shopping…
Oh dear – I have
soooo many books to tote with me to
There will be few books available in English so this seems like a logical thing to take especially since both Mark and I are avid readers. Both of us are seldom seen without a book in hand. The visit to a local half-price book store started out innocently, but my cousin and I ended up with quite a stack of books by the time we cashed out at the register. This store was a wealth of books by Russian authors and many of those books followed us home.
made a trip to
OK, so we splurged
on some books, well, unfortunately this is not the first time! Cousin, sweet cousin, scored a few purchases
off E-Bay that include tomes about
Oh yes, we also
discovered a remarkable used book store during our
That hundred pound weight limit is filling up fast! (I am probably over capacity already!)
I got some great
deals at the local Goodwill Store! Not
the haul I made a few weeks ago in
I found several
cozy sweaters that insisted I take them home.
I go back and forth regarding this rationalization.
I really do prefer
to travel light, but I saw the clothing choices in the
creates a few questions relevant to packing.
I am not certain about the actual climate I face in
My new sweaters will have a happy home.
Yellow Roses on a Rainy Day…
The Fed-Ex truck pulled up this morning as I was sitting on the couch sipping coffee and reading a Christian Science I picked up in the airport. The pack of dogs went wild when the doorbell rang and by the time I waded through the sea of frenzied canines to answer the door, the Fed-Ex man was long gone. (The barking, snapping and growling of three scary dogs is intimidating!)
I was surprised and delighted to see a large flower box leaning against my host’s door and the address had MY NAME on it! Inside was a delightful surprise on this rainy day: a dozen beautiful, yellow roses! The cats, lured by the sweet perfume and of course, curious by nature, clamored around me as I opened the box and proceeded to cut the stems and arrange the blooms in a vase. The dogs also hung around, hoping food would be involved no doubt! A tender note accompanied the unexpected blooms.
Our wedding anniversary was on
Monday. My husband, in
Though the flowers were delayed, I did get to hear Mark’s voice on our special day. It was comforting. I miss his voice almost as much as I miss feeling his arms around me. Soon we will be together again and we can stay up late talking and sharing and just being together...
The flowers are a pleasing reminder of our special bond. They are tangible and will brighten my life for several days, and will be a precious memory forever.
Recap of last week in
(Following extracted from an e-mail)
It is Tuesday, 6
September and I am sipping my morning coffee from a bright, cheery yellow
mug. The computer is located in the basement of my cousin’s split-level,
Today is the first day of school for my cousin’s son - his senior year in high school. He and his dad went to the State Fair yesterday, and true to their tradition, came home with dozens of huge stuffed animals which T. earned at the "Whack-a-Mole" booth. His bed is covered with about 40 brightly-colored, stuffed snakes. The 40 or so large stuffed ponies he earned last year look down from the shelves lining the walls of his room. The victor and conquering hero chose to sleep on the couch last night since bed space was at a premium!
With T. off at school (0715 arrival!) and my cousin at the work, the dogs and cats and I have a bit of quiet. I have a list of tasks, but first, I will recap the first few days of September. Perhaps you will want to get a coffee or soda (or "pop" as they say here in the
Since I last wrote, the events in
Friday I was out of bed early. I eagerly packed my bags and checked out of
After lunch at a charming little Mexican restaurant our adventures began. Since M. and C. met when they were University students in
After the campus
tour, we visited
Late in the day we checked in at the motel and the kids swam like dolphins in the pool while daughter and I splashed our legs in the water and gazed at the beautiful mountains and dramatic scenery that comprise the
Having admitted to being a white-knuckle rider when it comes to mountains (I am such a flat-lander!), I will elaborate a bit on the ride up.
down-shifting and the wheezing of the engine add to the drama of the trip for
those of us who are a bit squeamish. Of course as the grandmother, I
am aware that I must remain calm for the benefit of the grandchildren's
emotional health so I tended to chatter inanely (more so than usual) and
simultaneously gripped the roll bar as if my life depended on it. M. is a
good driver and I am grateful for that and for her good disposition and kind
heart. She smiled and indulged me and I managed to maintain my
dignity. I really do have a love/hate relationship with mountain
vistas. The view is spectacular and I am glad we had the
opportunity to see it.
On the trip down, we pulled over at a road-side stop. As soon as we hopped out of the jeep a helicopter appeared overhead and shined a brilliant spotlight on us. Perhaps they suspected some illegal drug activity or maybe they were chasing us off the mountain since the gate is supposed to close at dusk.
It is amazing how low the helicopter came and how bright the spotlight!
We cut our stop
short and headed back to the motel where we stayed up late talking and laughing
and being silly until we all drifted off to sleep. (We later
discovered that the cozy motel was adjacent to the maximum security detention
facility so it was fun to speculate on who the other guests may have been
visiting and that lead to many other foolish discussions and jokes about the
Saturday was my birthday! 8-) I woke thinking about pancakes so we checked out and went in search of breakfast. What better place for pancakes and bacon than a Denny's? My breakfast tastes can be more sophisticated at times, but on this particular day I craved pancakes and bacon. In
Following our morning meal we elected to spend the day at the real zoo - the
The trip to and from the desert museum involved a dusty ride over a mountain pass. It was fun, but I was ready to shower and crawl into bed when night came. M. and the grandkids had a long drive back to
He was kind enough to configure my new laptop which Mark had delivered to our daughter and son-in-law’s house earlier this week. M. brought it along for me to take to
Before our party dispersed on Saturday, cousin C. and her Air Force son D. arrived at my rooms on Davis-Motham AFB (I actually had a Distinguished Visitor's suite - two bedrooms, living room, three TVs, DVD player, stocked bar, etc...Only $27 per night!!!). They brought a happy-birthday banner and a cheery bag full of tissue-wrapped gifts for me!
C. managed to find
some excellent novels about
Actually sister-in-law L. and her husband F. were the first to share birthday gifts with me. The thick, padded envelope filled with cheery birthday reminders arrived at the Radisson early Thursday. Unfortunately, due to an oversight, my name was nowhere to be found on the envelope so the staff of this large hotel had fun trying to locate the mystery birthday girl (me!).
opened the package and saw "
Another guest said, "Oh, I know her! She is here with her cousin C ..." and soon a phone call ensued and the mystery was resolved.
L. and F.'s
packages are ALWAYS such fun, but this extra mystery added even more color to
the gift! I laughed and enjoyed getting birthday greetings from lots of
strangers who now knew that it was my big day!
Sunday I slept in and stayed in bed a while listening to National Public Radio. It was very pleasant to have quiet time, alone, sipping coffee in a bright room. I like to think and put things in perspective - relive things and to count my blessings. It is like re-charging my batteries when I have a chance to be alone.
Later, I explored the Base Exchange and had a good time trying on clothes though I did not make many purchases. I must keep my luggage light (my mantra) but it is sometimes hard to pass up delightful finds.
In the late afternoon C., D., and his wife T. and their new baby McK took me out to a favorite BBQ place where I amazed myself by eating a full pound of rib tips! I cleaned up most of the side dishes too: spicy baked beans, corn on the cob (not
I was eager for the clock to register midnight so I could make an "official" call to my spouse. The 5th marked our 34th wedding anniversary! I dialed all the numbers necessary to get a line outside billeting and the base in order to access the international calling card account and then entered a pin number (I am up to about 18 digits now and more to follow). I punched in the international country code and the eleven digit phone number and waited...and waited...and waited.... sigh. I hung up the phone and started over.
This time I got a
busy signal. Five minutes later, I tried again...busy...busy again...busy
again...and then finally, on the 6th try I got a ring and someone
answered. Sadly, the someone was not Mark...big sigh. I had an
opportunity to practice my fledgling Russian skills in order to ascertain that
Mark was not there and to apologize for bothering them. I decided to hold
off my next attempt until I am back at C.'s house...technology is great, when
Monday AM, we packed and re-packed. I accumulated several heavy tomes and a laptop and a couple small gift items that added up to a problem. C, packed some items into her luggage and I managed to squeeze things into my carry on. I bought a helmet bag for the laptop - a nice solution actually. I may be able to carry both laptops and a change of clothes in there on my extended trip later this month.
The trip back was uneventful, but we were both glad to be back "home". The dogs and cats were happy to have us back too. There were delivery pizzas awaiting us when we arrived and C,’s son T. brought home Taco Belle treats (he works there) so we did not have to cook. T. and the other men in the family are a bit more relaxed about housekeeping and pet-care than the two of us, so C. and I tackled some cleaning when we got home. Since Tuesday was back to work for C. and school for T., they were up late getting ready to hit the ground running, but I slipped away and laid down for a good night's sleep.
This morning, a fall-like day, I let Sasha, the Rottweiler pup, out for a run around the back yard. Unfortunately my reflexes were slow and Alex, the large pit bull, managed to wiggle out the door and escape for a long romp outside. He usually does not have access to the lower yard during daylight hours. He is inclined to bark at passers-by and he is capable of jumping the fence.
I was a bit stressed seeing him pace around the perimeter, but kept a vigilant eye on him. I threw sticks for the two dogs and they romped happily and chased one another around the yard. My tactic was to keep them occupied and to wear them out. Our short pit visit, became a playtime and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Alex was happy to be out in the sun and was a delight to play with.
After about 45
minutes both dogs were worn out (or at least down) and were thirsty so when I
said "water?" they both headed for the door. Thank goodness...I
would have been devastated if Alex had escaped the yard. Pitbulls and
police are not a pretty picture and C. would be inconsolable if anything
happened to Mr. Alex. I said a prayer of gratitude that things went
well. Now I have happy images of watching Alex playing with Sasha
under the beautiful, blue
Dogs are snoring on the couches and I am catching up on e-mail...there are over 200 messages to wade through. I read those from Mark first and relegated the rest to my leisure time. I decided to send this recap ... more information than you probably want, and no, I have not read the wonderful plethora of birthday greetings and anniversary wishes in my inbox yet, but once I finish this note, I will fill my coffee cup and then sit down to wallow in the warmth of friends and families wishes for me. Life is good.
My agenda this week is to do some pre-travel shopping, line up good tickets, do preliminary packing and maybe send a box of books by M-mail (media mail rates) ahead of me...(Mark has already indicated there is little reading material available, in English anyway, so he will REALLY appreciate having novels and DVDs, so if you are inclined to send some used novels, etc, investigate M-mail ... I will forward the house address to you upon request
Flying Home from
White Knuckle Rides, the
Tour of U of A, Grandkids, the Zoo, the Helicopter Spotlight & Picnic in the Motel by the Prison…
From the Public Library in
Here I am at the
public library in
I am enjoying the freedom here - all summer I have been kind of trapped in people's houses so it is nice to be in a bright, clean hotel room and to sleep in a bit and then to just wander about with no accountability...
We had dinner last night in a great Mexican restaurant in one of the oldest buildings in the city. The architecture, plants and light here are stunning. The mountains are really amazing...I can see how people decide to call this place home. I browsed some architecture books while I waited for my computer reservation here...very interesting influences.
Mark’s fellow library personnel in
This area makes me think of