Betsy Ott, Peace Corps Volunteer, Skole

Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

7:30 AM – It’s raining and dark and I don’t want to get up.  I reach under my pillow and pull a paper out of the little bag that has been there all night. Mykola. The name of my future husband – at least according to the traditions of Andriyivsky Vechornitziya, or St. Andrew’s Day.

8:00 AM – I get out of bed and pull on sweats, long socks and a hoodie. I can hear Maria washing last night’s dishes in the kitchen and smell the warm, earthy sent of herechka, or buckwheat, cooking on the stove. I get the milk out of the small breezeway and murmur a sleepy “preevit” to Maria as she harasses Anya out of bed.

8:10 AM – Anya and Maria laugh hysterically when I tell them I pulled out “Mykola”. Apparently it was the only Ukrainian name in my bag. According to them I’m staying in Ukraine forever, and at the moment that doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

8:50 AM – Crap. I am officially late for my first lesson.  I still have to brush my teeth, put my coat on and grab my bags and walk to school. How does this always happen? You’d think living five minutes from school would make it easier to be on time, but somehow it doesn’t. I pull on my coat and swear to get up earlier for the 100th time.

9:05 AM – I enter the 4th form class and see that only 5 out of 19 kids are present. My co-teacher, Ivana Mychilyvna, has already started the lesson and as I look over the students we exchange a knowing look. Nothing important will happen today. I’m immediately relieved and then feel a little guilty about it – all the kids are out with measles.

10:20 AM – We’re in the 3rd form now. I am leading a lesson on “like/likes” and fruit. Marian is answering a question when someone knocks on the door. The 4th form teacher informs us that our lesson might end early so the kids can go to church for their Christian Etiquette lesson.

10:22 AM – Tap, tap, tap.  The 4th form teacher is back with the message that we will definitely, certainly, without doubt end early.

10:29 AM – We are no longer definitely, certainly ending early.  I wrestle the kids out of their coats and we play hang man for the next ten minutes.

11:35 AM – Natalia and Iryna are holding my hands as we follow the rest of the 2nd form to the “big school”.  We have just finished the lesson and are on our way for buns and hot tea. Iryna tells me that she will buy two buns and tea and that she threw up last night. Oh? Natalia pipes up excitedly with the story of how she is allergic to oranges and threw up black stuff when she ate one last Christmas. My eyebrows go up and Iryna abruptly announces she will only eat one bun. This theme continues until we reach the entrance doors.

12:10 PM – In the 6th form, one of my favorite classes.  Oleksandra Volodymyrivna is leading this lesson. I meander up and down the rows answering quiet questions and keeping the boys on task. They’re smart, energetic and creative – a combination that is often undervalued. We banter back and forth silently and eventually they settle down to work.

12:50 PM – We’re outside the 5th form classroom in the primary school. It sounds like a small war in there. The noises of scraping chairs, falling books, running feet and indignant shrieks smash against the door. I walk in and the din goes down a tiny bit. Oleksandra Volodymyrivna walks in and it immediately drops to normal, indoor levels.  For a moment I’m envious, and then I consider what I’d have to do to make that happen. I decide I’d rather have them like me.

1:50 PM – We’re in the teacher’s lounge and everyone is talking about the 10th Form’s Andriyivsky Vechornitziya performance.  Stephan Petrovich is gathering money for lunch. It occurs to me that I could go home and eat but I give my 10 hryven anyway. I don’t like greasy chicken but I do like my colleagues.

2:15 PM – Still waiting for lunch. I ask for details about the new ‘intimate apparel’ shop that just opened and say I might stop by. I’m in desperate need of a new bra.  The vice-director’s face lights up – When are you going to go? Err . . . sometime now-ish. Great, I’ll go with you! Just give me five minutes. Alright, that just happened.

2:30 PM – Valentina Serhiyivna is ripping apart a rotisserie chicken with her bare hands, little paper squares have been positioned like plates along the table and everyone is laughing and talking loudly. Two bottles of vodka appear and someone opens a jar of homemade pickles. I take a piece of bread, spread it with flavored mayonnaise and grab a piece of chicken. Lunch.

3:00 PM – I open the door for the two vice-directors and follow them in. I’m impressed, the shop is actually pretty nice. Shelves line the walls and there are even little racks featuring different underwear sets. We start looking at bras. Hands cover mouths and giggles erupt. This is so weird.

3:40 PM – I drop my school bags on the couch and don’t bother to take off my shoes. Forheaven’ssake! Wherehaveyoubeensolongwithoutanythingtoeat!? This is how Maria says “Welcome home, how was your day?” I answer as I throw bath things and a towel in a bag. I don’t know if I’ll have time to come home between the performance and going to the sauna.

4:30 PM – 30 or 40 people have squished themselves into 11A ‘s classroom. The 10th form is singing and dancing in the front of the room, transporting us all back to a simpler time.  Snickers and loud talking make me turn around. I’m not the only one.  The 11th form boys challenge us with their eyes and Iryna Mykolayivna stands up and stops the performance to yell at them. It’s not the first time.  Now Stephan Petrovich gets involved and takes them outside. Little jerks.

6:05 PM – I am so full. And a little tipsy. A handful of teachers are sitting around a makeshift table packed with three kinds of vereneky, pyrishky, adjika, various pickled vegetables, two kinds of cake, bubbly water and alcohol. A teacher stands to toast Luba Yosypivna’s class and their wonderful performance. It’s the fourth or fifth toast so I only sip my vodka and hope no one is paying attention. I relax against my chair and let the smiles and laughter fill my ears and touch my skin.

6:45 PM – I knock on the door and really hope Tanya opens it. I would never have guessed this damp, concrete hallway housed a sauna, but then in Ukrainian my guess record isn’t so hot. Behind the door I hear laughter and footsteps. The lock crunches open and Tanya’s smiling face welcomes me in.

7:45 PM – A shriek, a splash and then laughter echo from the pool into the sauna. Lyida pours mint water onto the stones and they hiss.  She climbs back to the top trailing a wave of steam. I close my eyes and breathe deeply. I could stay here forever.

8:45 PM – Laughter bounces around the large room. We’re taking a break from the sauna. I bite into a wedge of mandarin and thank whatever it was that inspired me to bring them. Lyida tosses one to Ira, who is lounging on the couch. Yulia and Tanya pause their game of pool and break into a ridiculous dance that mimics the one playing on the huge TV.  We all laugh out loud.

9:45 PM – I’m hot and sticky as I walk home. Yulia and Lyida stayed to pay the sauna guy, who was late. The night is warm and wet. I wish it was colder.  Then it would be more Christmassy and I wouldn’t be so hot.

10:00 PM – The apartment is dark and quiet as I take my boots off and slip silently into my room. The TV talks softly to itself over Maria’s light snores. I put my things down and look at my computer. I’m thankful that tomorrow I only have two lessons and that I’m not leading either.

10:50 PM – I close my book and turn off the light. My body is still noodly and warm from the sauna. I snuggle my face into my pillow and tuck my feet deeper into the down comforter. I breathe deeply and my thoughts drift aimlessly into dreams.



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