Cliff Gardner

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dobri Den!

The last three weeks have been amazing! There are so many great stories and experiences I want to share that I'm not really sure where to begin, so I'll just start with the people I've met so far. My fellow Peace Corps Trainee's are really awesome and I feel somehow flattered just being here with them. During the initial staging days in D.C., I must have had two dozen conversations where people told me that they did something so great that it would have made them stand out in pretty much any other group, like "I rebuilt a city block of New Orleans after Katrina" or "I worked for the World Food Program in Somalia." Here, though, those things seem par-for-the-course because pretty much every PCT is exceptional in some way, hence me feeling flattered. Mostly though, I'm just knocked back by the humor, intelligence and genuine desire to help people that everyone seems to share.

While pretty much every PCT is great, I've really gotten to know my cluster mates (the group of four other PCV's whom I live, work and teach with during the three month pre-service training process) and they're really really awesome. Edward is really smart and always finds a way to lighten the mood, even at the end of an exhaustingly long day. Jessica has this wit about her that really comes at you out of nowhere most of the time. She's like a female Woody Allen with a really great smile that still shines even when her apartment goes without water for a few days. Emily is easily the most adorably energetic person I've ever met and probably because of that she always makes everyone around her feel better somehow. Plus, I'm pretty sure she's a genius. Hillary is hilarious too, but in a different way. She's kind of dry and sarcastic a lot of the time; a good Hillary description for the West Wing fans reading this is that she's a female Toby Ziegler--brilliant, biting and with an unmatched loving generosity for the things and people she cares about. My lanauage teacher is Natalia, a 21 year old who is fluent in four langages, paints, draws, sings and who I'm pretty sure has no reflection and is plotting world domination. Seriously, she's great, and despite me being generally bad at learning languages, I have complete confidence that she'll get me ready to go in the two months of training that remain. I'm already amazed at how much Russian I've picked up just in the last three weeks.

Other awesome people in Ukraine include my host parents, Tatiana (a phycologist) and Pavlo (an ear-nose-and-throat doctor, and let me tell you that was a fun gesture game the first night). They're amazingly kind and loving. So far, they have: fixed my shoes, cooked me delicious meal after delicious meal, made me wear a jacket, hat and scarf when it's cold out, helped my study every night, made me laugh over and over again and in been, in general, great. Their support has been invaluable and I am really grateful for everything they've given me. Plus, their four-year-old grandson Danya is really awesome--he and I are good buddies.

As for Ukraine, there's so much to say...I guess I'll just say that it's the people that make this country amazing to me. Their are these older women here--grandma's or Babushka's--who just sit on the street every day and sell things.. It's below freezing and they're just sitting there, trying to make a little money for their families. These women survived the great famine, the KGB, hyper-inflation, several economic collapses that make our great depression look like a picnic, and, oh yeah, Stalin. As Edward put it a few days ago, "I've never really suffered at all in my life and these women have suffered for pretty much all of theirs and it doesn't seem to stop them from laughing, loving and selling stuff on the street every day." The Ukrainian people are amazing and I'm incredibly happy and lucky to be here.

Other than that, things are going well on my end. I'm just learning the language every day for four hours and teaching two classes on Monday's and Wednesdays. As for the language, it's coming, but slowly. It's tough because after teaching all morning and going to langauge classes all afternoon, I'm usually really tired towards the end of the day to study for more than an hour or so, and the result is that I always feel like I'm behind (even when I'm not). Still, I'm amazed at how much I've retained and how much I can speak already. The weather isn't too bad, either--thanks REI jacket! We're having a movie night at my language instructor's house tonight, and we'll be making Chili, too! Yum!
I love you all.

OH--and Kourtney is a rockstar for sending me not one but TWO letters. Kourtney wins. Kourtney gets a hug and a high five. Thanks, Kourtney!