Friday, July 13, 2012

Sarah in Ukraine

Hi Friends,

Today will be my final post on our trip to visit my daughter Sarah.  For today I will focus all on Sarah and my impression of her life over there.
So do you know one of the first songs in the movie Beauty and the Beast?  It shows Belle dancing around a rural french village with a book in her hand.  That is Sarah's life.  The book reading, beautiful girl in a small European Village!  Both Bob and I found ourselves with that song stuck in our head as we wandered around Vishkovo.
I was overwhelmed with how well she has learned the language.  Ukraine looks like a very hard language to learn - the characters in the alphabet are not familiar and the grammar seems quite different from English.  Sarah is still quite uncertain when engaging in Ukrainian conversations, but she managed very well.  Everyone we met understood her (at least to some degree) and she understood them back.  I think having to do all our talking for us improved her confidence.  Normally I don't think she does nearly so much talking as she did with us and she was quite proud of how well she did by herself in some atypical situations.  We were VERY impressed.  Go Sarah!  Too bad the language Ukraine may become obsolete over time as the Ukraine government has recently allowed Russia as another official language (but that is for another blog post!)

I was so pleased to see how well she has integrated into the local community.  She brought us around town and introduced us to everyone.  We met the ladies in the post office, the ladies at the stall of the market where she buys her fruit, the woman who runs the liquor/convenience store, the coffee shop lady, the principal (director) of her school, her teacher counter-part, some of her students, her boyfriend and some of his friends and her host mother and sister.  They all smiled warmly and seemed to genuinely like and care about her.  It warmed my heart to know they considered her a friend and I feel confident that they'll look out for her best interests to the best of their ability.  The peace corp spent a lot of time in training helping the volunteers understand how to do this because this is an important way volunteers stay safe.  If the community considers them a part of the community - they often significant protection.  Kind of Godfather like....but all the more reason it was re-assuring to see her well acclimated in.
Sarah has grown up so much since she left home last September.  She is still a sweet, young lady with an optimistic and artistic view of the world, but she is wiser and more seasoned.  She is also more fashionable and if it is possible - she got prettier while she's been gone.
Well, as you can see, she is a knock-out and we were not all at all surprised to see heads turn when we walked  with her.  She is beautiful and different from the local girls so there were many men looking our way.
This actually worked to our advantage on a number of occasions. If the waiter or hotel desk clerk was male, pretty much anything we wanted we would get.  The hotel clerk in the old Continental hotel in Uzhorod was almost comical about his 'above and beyond service' for the American family with the beautiful daughter.  We asked Eugene what time we had to check out and he was funny, he said 'Sarah can stay till - 3 in the afternoon if she wants.'   He was cute.  When he heard she lived in Vishkovo he almost starting drooling as he explained he had friends in Vishkovo and was there 'all the time.'  Sarah quickly pointed out something about her 'boyfriend' but Eugene was still bending over backwards to give us excellent service.
I took Sarah shopping in Uzhorod and bought her the dress above and the cute top to match her new shorts below.  Adorable - aren't they? And yes, Sarah hasn't changed a bit.  We spent about 1 1/2 hours in a small store and I think she tried on everything the woman had in her size before finally choosing her items.  I didn't mind a bit though. I was enjoying my time with her.
Well, a post about Sarah wouldn't be complete without some information about her Ukranian boyfriend Ivan.  It's spelled Ivan, but you pronounce it Yvonne.  He was handsome and nice and I am very glad that they are together.  He is very sweet to her and helps her out tremendously.  She is sweet and kind to him also and cooks for him.   They are very compatible.  Life in a small village, without family, can get quite lonely and I'm glad she has someone she cares about to spend her free time with.  Ivans family is in a city 5 hours away so they are alike in not having family in the village.  If you read my earlier posts you'd know that most everyone else has family very nearby so without that it makes you quite different.

I actually got him to smile for the camera  - which is no easy feat.  The normal Ukrainian 'photo face' is no smile with a stern look in the eyes and eyebrows furrowed.  See Sarah making a traditional Ukraine photo face below.
I had to try to say something funny to get Ivan to give a nice, natural smile for our photo.  Here is a photo of him in his border patrol uniform.  We were in the village and he had just finished his service and was heading home.  He stopped by to greet us on the street.

Below is a photo of the two of them frolicking in the river.  Poor Ivan.  He was too shy to swim in his normal European swim suit so chose to swim that day in his shorts to be more modest.  I told him he looked positively American out there.  I'm not sure if he thought that was a compliment.
He is very considerate like that.  He seems to take time to consider what would make someone comfortable and he adjusts his behavior to reflect the situation.  Very nice.  I liked Ivan a lot and I'm very glad they are together.  They seem well suited for each other.

So let's talk about Sarah's home.  She lives in a host family with a widow and her daughter.  Natalie and Olea are very sweet.  Their home is comfortable and big.  Natalia (the mom) is nice, but rather reserved and cautious.  She seemed almost fearful, especially about safety things and the like, but that is probably from experience and I'll never fault someone, especially someone who is hosting my daughter in her home, for being cautious.  She has one of the nicer homes in the village. She has a nice living area and a cool feature - an outdoor kitchen.  This includes a kitchen table set up, a sink and a firepit like thing that is used like we use a grill.  How nice would it be in the hot summer to not have the heat from the kitchen all through the house?

Sarah has a comfortable space and in typical Sarah form, had taken over the bedroom with 'her stuff.'  In the photo above I'm sitting on the sofa in Sarah's room.  She had a bed, desk, couch and table plus closet space and a shared bathroom.  Natalia had a big living room also downstairs that Sarah is welcome to relax in as well, but I think she hangs out in her big, comfy room most evenings reading or on the internet.

While we were there we got to see her school, meet her counterpart (the lead English teacher) and meet the school principal (director.)

Here is Sarah at the main entrance to the school building.
 This is in the main hallway.  Aren't the plants and lace curtains a pretty touch?
This is a bulletin board of students who represented the school at a scholar competition of some type. Sarah knew most of the students.
This is one of the classrooms that Sarah teaches in.  In Ukraine the students stay in one class-room all day and the teachers rotate into the different classes.
 They were busy cleaning and doing maintenance on the rooms while school was not in session.

 This is Sarah in front of the blackboard.
 For the students workbooks and materials.
 Art projects by the students.

And outside the school building was this random fenced in area with chickens.  Yup, it's pretty rural in Vishkovo.  Many homes had small farm animals on the premise - goats, chickens, sheep...
Oh and before I go, let me show you a view into Ivan's apartment.  This is quite typical of the average person's apartment.  He has no running water or indoor bathroom.  Below is his water supply - a well right outside his door.
He referred to this as his 'soviet fridge.'  It works, but barely.
This is his kitchen.  He has a two burner hot plate and a wood stove that serves as an oven.  In the summer he does all his cooking outside on an outdoor firepit.
He didn't seem to mind it at all.  It seemed quite functional and simple.  I guess Sarah cooks here often.  Some of the food goodies we brought (peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, coffee) came right over here to Ivan's kitchen.

So what else can I tell you about Sarah and our adventure visiting her before we end this blog series?  Well, Sarah has become a beer drinker.  She never liked it nor drank it in the US but now that she is over in Ukraine she's grown to enjoy it.

We had such a laugh over the mini-bar in our hotel fridge.  The beer was cheaper than the water and everything was dirt cheap.  The 16 oz bottle of beer in the fridge was less than $1.00.  We felt like kings and queens drinking the beer from the mini-bar.
Oh and despite all her complaining about missing the food in America, she seems to be doing pretty well over there.  She certainly looked healthy and well fed.  Of course there is pizza there, and soft ice cream.  There is also fresh fruit (the local cherries and peaches were fabulous) and vegetables - corn, tomatoes, cucumbers.  They don't really do green lettuce so she doesn't get to make a traditional green salad, but there is plenty of fresh vegetables and pickled everything. They even make a soup out of pickles.  It was advertised as 'cucumber' soup so we were surprised to see pickles in there.  It wasn't bad, just different - and salty.
We both enjoyed the local cherry juice and Coca-Cola is everywhere, albeit in much smaller portions than typically served in America.  No super sizes here.  Just 4, 6 or 12 oz portions.  Sarah likes an apple - grape juice they make.
One local dish we enjoyed was called Shaslik.  It is marinated pork cooked over an open flame.  I guess Ivan makes this often and it's a favorite summer dish.  We had it at a restaurant and enjoyed it.  Often it is made as kabobs but we also had it as a standard roast.

The locally made desserts are also good.  We enjoyed apple strudel on multiple occasions, so while Sarah is missing her American favorites, don't feel too bad, she's doing okay.  We also found this chocolate store that sells local Ukraine made chocolates.  Yum.

And even though she misses her Starbucks, the espresso and cappuccino were quite good.
So, she is doing marvelously.  I am so happy and proud of her.  I also miss her already, even though it's only been a few days.  I'm glad that we are planning on having her home for Christmas.  That doesn't seem too far away and it will be fun to have her home.  I just hope she isn't overwhelmed by America during her visit home.
Thanks for following my blog as I chronicled our adventure in Eastern Europe and my random thoughts and opinions about it.  Next week I hope to have my craft room back in business.  I have a huge backlog of projects to work on so I intend to start crafting and blogging about my crafty creations again next week.  Please leave me a comment to let me know your thoughts about my blog comments this week.


Kimberly Gajewski said...

Yay! I am so glad that she is doing so well! It looks like she has transitioned beautifully! :D

Karen said...

What a lovely and loving post... I'm sure it's very reassuring to know how well Sarah is doing, observed with your own eyes. Very nice!

Edna Clifford said...

Hi Linda,

I love your blog, even though it took me some time to read it. It has been a busy summer. Glad to hear you guys had a great trip and that Sarah is doing so well(not really a surprise). She has great parents.