My last day in Prymorsk was December 23rd. I started my day off by going to the school and getting lots of Christmas/New Years cards (details in the post before this.) Then I went to work where we all had lunch together for early American Christmas and to say goodbye to me before my journey began. The director made sushi for us, which was so nice (she knows it’s my favorite) and we had other food and of course vodka. After that, Iryna and I went to some shops. She bought me a really nice crest of Ukraine for Christmas and took me to buy some Prymorsk magnets. On the way out of the store, we stopped by her friend’s shop. The shop was for like handmade grass woven baskets? It’s hard to explain. And she put fake flowers inside these baskets as well as little dolls, created a whole scene. Anyway, so I was looking around, being nice and all of the sudden the lady just chooses one and puts it in a bag for me and tells me to have it. It was so nice of her to give me one of her baskets for free. I was loving the generosity of everyone that day.
On Christmas Eve, I left Prymorsk (my town) for what would be 3 weeks, but I couldn’t really say or advertise that because I had a really big secret to keep until the 30th. I traveled to my friend Hannah’s village. It’s about 4 hours away from where I live, so not too bad. Except I had a backpack and a pretty heavy suitcase to lug around, but it ended not being too terrible. 11 other volunteers came to her village as well. We had all planned to celebrate Christmas (and Hannah’s Christmas Birthday) together. Once everyone arrived on the 24th, we ate dinner and then exchanged presents- secret santa style. My friend, Suzie, had my name and got me a really cute scarf and some nail polish- both things that I love. I had Peter, and he asked for a special pan to cook Ukrainian pancakes in. I couldn’t think of something silly to get him, so I went with what he asked for. We all discussed the plan for the following day and then decided to get some sleep.
Christmas Day: we all woke up early, ate breakfast and got ready. We were at Hannah’s school by 9:00, I believe. December 25th is just another normal day in Ukraine so we decided that even though we were all together, we would still work and teach lessons. So, the 12 of us split into pairs and co-taught one lesson, 3 times in a row. I was with Peter and our lesson was on Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. We (and by we, I mean mostly Peter) did the lessons in Russian and it went really well. After all the lessons were over, we had lunch in the school cafeteria and then went back to Hannah’s to rest before the evening activity. The community had their New Year’s Concert that evening and we were invited to perform a song during it. So we practiced a dance that afternoon and headed to the concert hall around 4:30pm. The concert lasted about 2 or 3 hours, I forget. All of the performances were so good, even little kids danced around which was so cute. When it was our turn, we started off by singing Happy Birthday to Hannah and the Ukrainians handed her a huge cake. And then it was our time to shine. Yeah, we can’t really sing, but it was still fun. I will upload the video if I can.
The next day we just kinda hung around. Suzie and I had a train in the evening. Which we missed. Because we went to the train station before our train, and the board clearly said that our train was going to be 40 minutes late. So total that gave us like an hour total before our train. We decided to go to a restaurant to grab food in the meantime. We returned to the train station still, 15 minutes before our new train time (or so we thought) and our train was no longer listed on the board. This meant one thing, it had already come. So we are like “welllll shuuucks” and got in line to see what our next move could be. Well the first line I got in was to ask if our train, indeed, had come. And the lady said yes. So we got in a different line to buy new tickets. The ladies there laughed at us for “going walking” instead of staying at the train station. Whatever, we thought we had plenty of time! Luckily, there was another train to get us where we needed to be like 30 minutes later. We got on and went to sleep. Arrived at the next train station at 2:30 or 3 in the morning, bought another new train ticket to our destination of Kirovgrad. That train came at 3 something and we almost missed that one because the train was 30 cars long and we went to the incorrect/opposite end and had to run to our correct train car. We weren’t going to make it so we begged to get on at car 8 and had to walk through all of the cars until we made it to train car 1. It was a mess, especially with my suitcase and backpack. I have never sweated so much in my life. So we arrived in Kirovgrad at like 4:30, took a taxi to our friend Natalie’s dorm and crashed. Suzie got up the next day and headed home, I stayed with Natalie for the weekend (which was my plan all along.)
Staying with Natalie was fun and relaxing. We basically watched movies (Love Actually and Frozen) and shows (Nashville) and ate food. Stuff we’re really good at. She made really yummy pasta with alfredo (but really with a cauliflower substitute) the first night. The second day we ventured out into the city and ate at this really good pizza restaurant. We got a 4 cheese pizza with the cream sauce and it was sooo good. On Saturday evening, I had a train at like 10pm headed to Kiev. This was the last train I would have to take for two whole weeks, which was super exciting.
December 29th: Got Kiev at like 5am, killed time and sat in McDonald’s until the sun came up (it’s right across the street). And then I kinda just walked around the train station, looking at stuff, bought a ticket for the 14th of January to get back to Prymorsk. Around 10, I headed to the airport (where could I be going?!?!) Kiev airport is about the most boring airport you could ever be in. I couldn’t check-in until an hour before my flight. So I sat in a chair and either read and looked at my phone for a couple of hours, then it took me like 3 minutes to get through their security (didn’t even have to take my shoes or jacket off). On the other side, just as boring. There was maybe 5 gates and 1 duty free shop full of alcohol and perfumes. So again, I sat for another 2 hours. Finally my plan took off from Kiev at like 2:10pm. I’m traveling backwards time wise, so I got to London 3 and a half hours later at 3:50 London time. I ended up sitting beside another PCV on the way to London, which was funny. She was traveling back home as well! We got through security and stuff in London, grabbed some Starbucks and got onto our next plane (where we weren’t sitting next to one another) and took off at 5:00pm. I chose my seat in one of the rows closer to the front thinking I could get off the plane faster, mistake. Allll of the babies sit in the front! Because the bathroom is right there. I had three babies in the row in front of me. And one baby (who ended up being really good) right beside me, in the next seat over. It could have been the babies, or the screaming 3 year old, or my nerves, or my thoughts, I don’t know, but I did not get one single minute of sleep on that 9 hour flight. We had to fly over a storm so it took longer than expected. Luckily, Lyndsi had been checking and didn’t have to wait too long, I think. So by 9:30 or 10 at night we were back at her house. By this time, I had been up 24 hours, by body thought it was 5am Ukraine time. And I was a zombie. We stayed up talking though until midnight I think. What a day the 29th was.
30th: So I wake up, shower and get ready (I actually have to look pretty for the first time in 9 months, whaaat.) And then Lyndsi and I hit the road and head to Harrisonburg, which is conveniently halfway between Manassas and Salem. And my other bestie, Hannah, also happened to be there for Christmas break. So, Lyndsi, Hannah, and I all got lunch and caught up with one another- it was grrreat! Then…. it was time to get to Salem. My super awesome boyfriend came to pick me up in Harrisonburg and we headed home.
Story: My mother, Candy, has NO IDEA that I am in America. No clue. I have been keeping this secret since August when I bought my tickets and I was about to surprise her! So like 5 minutes away from my house.. I called my brother, and told him to get mom to stay in her room. Which she did. So Andrew dropped me off, and I went inside and stood in the kitchen. I really had not thought this out. I decided the kitchen was a good place. And I also didn’t know what I was going to say. So, Adam brings my mother down the hall and she is like “somethings not right” and she takes forever to turn the corner into the kitchen. So for some reason I said “boo!!!!” really loud which scared her haha. And then she just stared at me for like 5 seconds and started bawling and hugged me for a long time. It was so great, and I’m really happy that it all worked out and she never found out that I was coming! After that reunion, I went to surprise my friend Amanda as well. She was having a bad day, but I think I made it a little better :-)
After all that was over, it was time to enjoy time with my friends and family for two weeks. I celebrated New Year’s even though I was jet lagged, ate all my favorite food, went shopping, listened to country music, snuggled with my puppies, drove my car (!!) and took awesome showers every single day. I loved my time at home. I’m coming again in September for my mother’s 50th birthday, my sorority sister’s wedding, and my cousin’s wedding! So that will be a super busy trip for me.
I left the States on Monday (Jan 13th) and it was pretty tough. When I left in March, I was way too excited for what was ahead to be sad. I’ve been here for almost 10 months- I knew what I was going back to. I love Ukraine, but I guess it’s only normal to be a little sad to leave everyone behind in America…again. Either way, I made it back to Ukraine on the afternoon of the 14th and then got on a train and go to Prymorsk the morning of the 15th. I’ve pretty much been sleeping since then. I’ll get back into the groove of things next week, I need several days to recover and adjust back to my life here :-)
Pictures/videos to follow!