I’ve been living with my host family for a little over a week now. Natasha, Volodya, Babusya Katya, their three cats and their myriad of chickens have been great. I have been working on integrating.
Integrating is something that the Peace Corps talks to us about over and over and over again. Our goal is to be more than a houseguest, to be a member of the community. This goal will help with our work in the community and helps us remain safe.
Volodymir and Natasha have been so wonderful in welcoming me into my home and I can see some ways that I have been successfully integrating. They now let me wash dishes, make my own tea and I was even allowed to make my own eggs for breakfast one morning. There are still a lot of ways that these sweet people take care of me.
My first night, Natasha grabbed me extra blankets and tucked me in. Volodymir checks on me most morning to make sure I’ll be on time for school. They both make sure that I get so much more than I need to eat each day.
I was reflecting on my first week in this sleepy little village and I came a conclusion about communication.
I live with three people and I don’t understand 90% of what they say to me. Giving myself 10% is also fairly generous. At this point, I speak barely enough Ukrainian to get around. I know how to buy non-carbonated water. I also know the difference between what’s your name and how are you doing, due to a silly misunderstanding with the lunch lady at the school I’ll be helping at during PST. (For the record, спраbи and звати can sound a lot alike). I can ask where the bathroom is at. I can ask for the essentials.
My host dad seems to think that if he writes things down, then I’ll be able to understand them. He’s right, in that I can then google translate what he’s written. They also tend to just keep repeating what they’re saying even if I don’t understand, which brings me to the title of this blog post and my cold shower.
We’ve got a water heater at the house. You have to turn it on and Volodymir is the “professor” of turning it on according to both him and Natasha. They’ve both showed me how to do it a few times, but last week I turned it on and went to take my shower, but there was only cold water.
For context, our shower is connected to the kitchen. I suppose for plumbing, that made sense, but the bathroom is in the pantry across the hall. The door doesn’t lock, but we’ve got this stick that we use to keep it shut. It leans up against the door.
Anyway, Natasha was working on lunch while I started my shower. Since I could not figure out how to turn the hot water on, I had resigned myself to taking a cold shower and dealing with it.
I think Natasha noticed that the struggle was very real for me and was telling me how I could fix it. I couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying, but also had no way of saying that I was fine or that I couldn’t fix it or anything that I wanted to say. I was stuck in the shower, with cold water running around me, with my Ukrainian mom yelling at me, with no idea what to do.
Eventually, Natasha just poked her head in and turned the faucet further.
That was a real low moment for me, but also not because then I had a hot shower. I definitely won’t complain about that, but the fact that I had no way of understanding something so incredibly simple (TURN THE FAUCET YOU FRUIT LOOP!), was such a downer.
At the same time, every interaction I have with my host parents or with other people in this country, whether I am understood or I understand, makes me want to work more on my language.
During our training event, they make sure to let us know that language is not the most important thing while we are here. We are here to teach English to students and teachers, not to learn Ukrainian.
At the same time, we were told that learning the language is a tool for integration and for teaching. In order to be more successful, learning the language is something that we can work on. We’ve got lots of tools, basically our time in PST is about loading up our toolbox so that we can be successful once we swear in and begin our journey as actual Peace Corps volunteers.
So, for the next 9ish weeks, I’ll be working hard on my toolbox, learning the language, the culture, the educational system and whatever I need to help me be successful when I get to my site.
Quick update on my assignment: I’ll sit down either next week or the week after with Peace Corps Ukraine staff for a placement interview and I’ll get my site assignment in about a month. At that point, I’ll meet my counterpart (basically my person in the community who I will work most directly with), and I’ll actually travel to my site for a few days and teach a couple of lessons before returning home to finish another month of PST.
If you made it to the end of this, thanks for bearing with me. I had a lot of thoughts as I wrote this and I realize it rambles on. If you skipped to the end, that’s fine too. That’s usually where the best stuff is anyway!