My name is Sim Morrell and I am currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the community of Razdol’noye, Crimea, Ukraine.
Having been in Ukraine just shy of 9 months, I took pause today to look at how my daily life has changed since I last stood on American soil.
Today is December 13 and we are almost at the shortest day of the year. This gives me an extra challenge when trying to keep up with my morning jogging schedule that starts when it is almost perfectly dark at 6:00am. My route takes me down the street and past the mosque where I turn and double back to my apartment. Unfortunately, as is true in many communities in Ukraine, there are no lights in my building’s hallway, nor any street lights. I run with my flashlight to avoid potholes and other tripping hazards- something I wasn’t doing 9 months ago.
I got back to my apartment building on this particularly chilly morning, to be welcomed by a small collective of stray animals. They don’t harass me and the numbers are certainly down from the warmer months when they used to rest in the doorway out of the direct sun. But, these days the animals are just trying to get into the hallway where the stairway’s warmth would offer a brief respite from the cold until a resident chases them out, as they always do. Unfortunately, the ones who do make it inside (usually cats) use the stairwell as a toilet. I point my light to watch the floor and remark of the odor to myself- something I wasn’t contending with 9 months ago.
I get home and boil some water that I use to clean myself from a bucket- a small, plastic, pink, wash tub really. I have gotten this routine down to a science and grapple daily with the idea of constructing a hanging, shower-like mechanism- an inner-conversation I wasn’t having 9 months ago.
I no longer own a car, so at 7:40am, with my backpack and lunch in tow, I started my 1 kilometer, 18 minute walk to work. I have been able to lose 10 kilograms or 22 pounds in my time in Ukraine- something I couldn’t seem to do 9 months ago.
Today, I needed eggs. So during my lunch break I walked to the local market and was warmly greeted by my “egg guy”, Вася. Every time I need eggs, he is my first and only stop. Sometimes he tells me he is out and to “come back tomorrow”. I buy all of my eggs from him. He always steers me to the best produce and seems to understand the art of customer service. His neighbor, Саша, is my tomato, potato, and cucumber guy. I only half-jokingly tell people that I have a “bean guy”, a “bread guy”, and a “pork lady”. I even have a “toilet paper and soap woman”. In my time here I have been cultivating these relationships. At home, I don’t know the name of any of the food vendors I have been patronizing for 12 years, and just this week I had dinner with my “water lady” and her husband at their house, and I went out for vodka and sausages with my “bread guy”. These are the kinds of relationships I did not have 9 months ago.
Knowing how much Americans like eggnog, and seeing as you cannot buy it here, I have decided that I want to try to make it homemade to introduce it to some of my Ukrainian friends. On the way home from work, armed with a shopping list, I navigate the local shop buying the ingredients. I ask for “молоко” (milk) and “корица” (cinnamon), but then I get to “cloves”. I have no idea what the Russian word is for “cloves”. I realize mid-sentence that I don’t even know how to describe them. I think fast and grab a pen to draw them on the back of my list. The ladies in the store smile as they know exactly what I need and present me with a small bag of “гвоздика”. These are all words I did not know 9 months ago.
As I return home for the evening, the sun has been set for hours now and my day is winding down. I look around my apartment for a moment and think to myself that my tap water- even when boiled, is not safe for human consumption. My apartment does not have a washing machine and handwashing is already taking a considerable toll on my clothes. And I live walking distance from a mosque, only to be woken up by the Muslim call to prayer every day for 6 months out of the year. These are things I took for granted before moving to Ukraine to serve in the Peace Corps 9 months ago.
These 9 months have been like nothing I have ever experienced, and in some respects these are some of the greatest times of my life.