Yesterday I woke up at 5:50, sleepily changed into my running gear, and headed out.
The mechanics of my run were normal – I hit my stride and set out, winding through the park, once around the stadium track then out to the forest. But as I ran, watching the sun slowly crawl up over the horizon, I was infused with a sense of place, of the utter certainty that at that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere else, doing anything else.
The morning was cold, typical of autumn in Ukraine, and a persistent fog permeated the landscape. The colors of sunrise stained everything with pinks and purples, transforming the ofttimes bleak post-Soviet landscape you find in the numerous forgotten towns of rural Ukraine. I ran past the old hospital, crumbling and empty, gaping holes where windows use to glitter, and through a grove of trees on to a residential road that runs parallel to the forest. The cows were being driven out to pasture, and I wound my way through them, smiling inwardly at the look of consternation and confusion the herder gave me. I could almost hear him thinking: “That crazy American girl. Something is not right in her head.”
As I neared the end of my run, rounding a corner and pounding down the broken and cracked pavement towards my apartment block, I saw hundreds of blackbirds wheeling overhead, a beautifully discordant winged symphony playing out in the sky over my head.
Later that day, I had a series of interactions – with my fellow teachers, my beloved students (yes, even the miscreants), shopkeepers, the little babysias selling onions and garlic (who chatter at you nonstop in barely understandable syrzhik) – which compounded my sense of place, of belonging, which gave me a sense that I was part of this community. And that felt wonderful.
Of course, during the same time frame, I had an electrical fire in my kitchen, my Internet decided to stop working entirely for no discernible reason (but the taciturn IT teacher came over to fix it, without uttering more than three words to me, of course), I developed an impromptu quasi-stutter when trying to pronounce certain Ukrainian words and my refrigerator/freezer had to be unplugged (see: electrical fire).
But. Despite these road bumps…and the numerous other challenges of Peace Corps service…
…more often than not, I really love Ukraine.
And honestly, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than serving here.