Freedom on Marshutka 44

I forgot what freedom felt like.

That is, of course, an absurd exaggeration. During my time in the Peace Corps so far, I have had a moderate amount of freedom, but this weekend brought the arrival of actual, actual freedom. The kind that comes on a bright yellow bus and takes you into a city with golden arches.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain.

We arrived in Ukraine for PST nearly 3 weeks ago. Since then, we had only been allowed to travel outside of our sleepy little village when accompanied by our LCF. This made sense. We were essentially infants in this country. No way to really understand what people were saying or to communicate, no understanding of the currency, not to mention we didn’t have our registration id card things that show we’re allowed to be in the country.

For a variety of reasons, it made sense that we weren’t allowed out and about on our own.

But man, was it boring.

Don’t get me wrong, I love little Sloboda. My village is great. I love my host parents and the scenery out here is beautiful, but my cluster has explored nearly every inch of this village simply because there is nothing else to do here. It was easier when the weather was nice, because we could at least go on walks and explore the aforementioned scenery. Now, the weather is just like home, but that means cold and rainy.

We’ve also mooched all of the wifi from our LCF’s house because, yep, you guessed it, there is nothing to do in the village. Therefore, we had been counting* down the days until we were allowed to go places on our own.

It turned out that the day would be October 8th. As luck would have it, we already needed to go into the city that day for a meeting with our link group. We got up early to catch the bus by 8 so we would be in the city with plenty of time to get to the other LCF’s house.

Unfortunately, this was not a flawless plan because our bus left one of our crew behind and I almost missed it myself. Generally, the busses get to the stop and then wait for 10 minutes for others to arrive, but that day was different. Thankfully, my cluster flagged it down for me as I ran to the stop with half my breakfast in hand. Sherri was able to catch the next bus and still made it to class on time.

We had our link session, a lesson on resiliency and a lesson on teaching workshops, then we were free. Quick reminder, this was basically the first non-scheduled time we have had in a place that didn’t have horse-drawn wagons as a reliable means of transportation pretty much since arriving in the country.

We were off. In typical American fashion, our first stop was the mall. It’s called “Hollywood.” We got off the bus and then went to find some things. We needed supplies for our lessons on Monday as well as a few other things.

After that, we loaded onto another Marshutka to go to the most American thing possible. The Golden Arches. The American Embassy. Mickey D’s. It’s got many nicknames, but I swear I’ve never had chicken nuggets taste so good. I also feel a little ashamed that I’m living in this country and on my first moment of freedom, I went to McDonald’s, but its familiarity was comforting.

After that, Madge and I went to buy a hotspot so I know have internet at my house (bless up), we wandered around to a grocery store, exchanged the rest of my American money and ran into some other PC volunteers wandering around the bazaar.

We ended up meeting up and heading to a pizza place a few blocks from McDonald’s. I’m certain the 20+ group of Americans that walked in to the restaurant with no reservation overwhelmed the wait staff a bit, but it was a blast.

I’ve known these people for about 3 weeks now, and it had only been like two since I’d seen most of them, but from the way we greeted each other at McDonald’s, you’d think it had been years. We’re all on this crazy journey together and it was really refreshing to hear everyone’s stories, how their host families are, the strange things they’ve eaten (or drank), the misunderstandings, the losses, the wins, the failures, the successes. These people have quickly gone from strangers, to internet acquaintances to friends, and I’m sure they’ll quickly feel like family.

We ended our day with Madge’s third trip to McDonald’s and us waiting for Marshutka 44 for over an hour. In classic fashion, 44 let us down.

It never came. We almost took a cab as it started to get later and we knew our host parents would be worrying, but a different bus came that would take us to the main road by our village. Then, in classic Sloboda fashion, we got off on the wrong stop, but hopped back on before it left.

I trudged home through the rain and got a small lecture (in complete Ukrainian) about not calling to tell when I would be home and quickly fell asleep.

Madge and I went back to the city the next day. With every trip to the city, I feel like I am a little more sure of my language skills and of ability to get around.

Freedom feels good.

*This is in the future perfect progressive tense, one of the subjects of my first lesson as a teacher.  That blog post will be up soon as well. It’s a treat.

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