This month has been the usual January, post vacation, a little blue trying to get back into the swing of things. My work partner, Vica, has been preparing for a month in Romania where she got a scholarship. Her husband, Oleg, got one too in Bulgaria so he needed a crash course in English. Vica's English is pretty good, but Oleg didn't speak a word. I spent most of the month trying to help him out so that he could at least have a basic understanding to get by. Can you imagine? I have been trying to learn 'basic Russian' for the past month and I still can't hold a conversation.
So this past week, we had our 'Partner Conference' in which me and Vica, as well as the rest of the COD (Community Organization and Development) and ARBD (Agriculture and Rural Business Development) volunteers had to attend a conference in Chisinau where we learned about creating projects, writing grants, etc. It was dismaying to learn that the two groups were staying in two different hotels as we love to hang out with the ARBD's but I'm sure they separated us for a reason, after all, our work partners were with us. Lyndsey, Jessica and I came up a day early so we could hang out at Lindsay and Conrad's house and catch up for a night before we went 'back to school' for three days.
We arrived at our hotel on Wednesday the 26th and began the conference right away. There are 12 COD volunteers and about 9 of them had their work partners with them. It wasn't a huge group and it was actually information that we needed. At the end of the first day, the group of us went out for dinner. It was so pleasant catching up with each other and enjoying each other's company. We went back to the hotel and hung out in one hotel room and just had some wine and enjoyed each other's company. I kept looking around the room and thinking how just a little while ago that these people were strangers to me and now they were just family. We were all rotating our seats in the room so we could all catch up individually and it just felt very homey and cozy. It made me really happy.
The next day was a long one as we had the seminar from 8am to 5pm. But, it did provide many helpful tools to start diving into projects with our organizations. Also, since Vica is usually so busy, it was nice to have her undivided attention. She even mentioned that it was nice to be just the two of us so we could actually discuss important things. After the seminar, Jessica, Courtney and I made plans to go to the opera in Chisinau. I had heard that they did a good job there and it happened that "Nabucco" by Verdi was playing that night. We decided to bring our partners with us and we headed there.
The Opera House itself was really beautiful complete with marble stairs which when covered with snow provided opportunity for Jessica to slip and me to fall on my ass. The opera was fantastic. It was so nice to have some culture and see people on stage. It was sung in Italian and there were Romanian 'subtitles' on an electronic screen above the stage. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. A strange thing, at the curtain call when the actors come out for their bow, everyone claps in unison. It's not generic applause, it's a synchronized clap. I was really thrown off by it. In talking with some other people, I learned it is a European thing, but it felt very strange. I wondered if it was some leftover Soviet thing where everyone conforms to one clap but I may be over analyzing. We left the opera and Lyndsey text me that the rest of the volunteers were at a nearby bar saying goodbye to Joseph and Ashley, two volunteers who had chosen to ET. (Early Terminate). I decided to head to the bar to catch up with them and the rest of the ARBD's as I figured it'd probably be my only chance to see them. Despite the sadness that Joseph and Ashley were leaving, it was so fun to see all the guys. I'm always at my highest comfort level when I'm surrounded by guys. I blame my brothers for that. John, Jeremy and I were planning our upcoming excursion to the Ukraine (more on that later) and Pat, my musical theatre compadre and I kept breaking into show tunes. Conrad didn't seem too happy about it. He so rarely gets to be in the company of 'guys' and when he does, I get them singing show tunes. We had a good time though.
|John, Chris and Conrad|
|Pat and John|
|My two besties, Jeremy and John.|
|From the back, Michael, Conrad, Jesse, Me, Andrea, Lindsay, Maria, Jessica, Courtney, Jen, Lyndsey and Tom in front.|
From there, a few of us were going back to Lindsay and Conrad's house to hang out. The boys, Jeremy and John, were going to say goodbye to Joseph and they were going to meet me there later as we were going to the UKRAINE! When in my life did I ever think I'd say that?
Courtney, Jessica, Lyndsey and I hung out while we made dinner at Conrad and Lindsay's. We made some fajitas and had a good time. Jeremy and John showed up about 10 and hung out with us. Our bus was at midnight so we left the house about 11:00pm. So why were we going to the Ukraine? Well, Jeremy and John had yet to take any vacation time and they were both at the point where they just needed to get away for a few days. They suggested the city of Odessa, Ukraine which is probably most famous for the scene in "Battleship Potemkin." It is a port city on the Black Sea and about a 5 hour bus ride from us. It's in the middle of the winter and it is a beach town so we got a lot of flak for going and to be honest, when they suggested it, I never thought they would go so I agreed. Yet there I was, boarding a bus with them. There were few people on the bus as the Ukraine isn't exactly a popular tourist destination in late January. We rode through the night, crossed the border without a problem and arrived in Odessa at 5:00am. The bus dropped us off, it was FREEZING, and the cabdriver we found only spoke Russian. It was tense for a few minutes but somehow we managed to convey to him where we wanted to go. Thankfully, John had converted some money before he left Moldova so we could pay him in the Ukraine currency. We had to do a little bit of searching to find our hostel as the front door was a little hidden from construction but we found it. They let us in and check in wasn't until 11 but they let us crash on the couches in the lobby.
We all passed out. We awoke to the sound of "I know these guys!!!" We were all still really sleepy but when we came to, we saw Chris (another ARBD) volunteer standing there. We were stunned. We had vaguely mentioned this trip to him and told him where we were staying but never thought he would actually show. But he did. The owner of the hostel was an American and he loved having Peace Corps volunteers so he gave us a discount. And showed us around the place and the full kitchen. It was a really cool place. Jeremy was tired so he went back to bed while we checked in. Chris was hungry, as we all were, so Chris, John and I went out to breakfast/lunch at a Mexican place. The food wasn't totally Mexican but it was still really good. From there we decided to walk around the city. It was a pretty cool city. I tried to teach them as much of the Russian alphabet as possible so we spent the day trying to sound out words on buildings. A lot of them were conjugates so we could usually figure out what things were. The city is really cool and clean and since it was cold, pretty empty.
|John and Chris|
|Cold weather doesn't stop Ukrainian Park Chess|
|John at the bottom of the Potemkin Stairs.|
|The Black Sea|
|The Odessa Opera House|
Somehow, still don't know how, Jeremy found us and we had a drink at a bar called "Fat Moses." It was a cool little place and I ordered 4 Irish Shots (Baileys/Jameson/Absinthe) for us and we did a toast to my Dad for his 75th Birthday. It was great. From there we headed to a big sushi dinner. Sushi was probably the main reason we chose to get out of Moldova for the weekend. I haven't had sushi, or even fish, for the better part of a year so we were all salivating when the waitress set down the huge platter in front of us. We scarfed it down with no regrets. Being right on the Black Sea, the fish was incredibly fresh and it was delicious. I was so happy.
We were pretty tired and John and I were actually thinking about calling it a night since we really hadn't slept. But Chris insisted that we keep the night going. And how does he convince a tired Jenn to stay out? Two words; karaoke bar! It was a cool little place down in a basement and we were pretty much the only ones there as it was still early. We perused the karaoke book and the selection was huge. They had every single song I could think of. I'd been wanting to go to karaoke for a long time and had been talking a lot of smack with Chris about it since he claimed that he was a great karaoker. So I knew I was going to be called out on it and I had to deliver. We had some drinks and Chris got right up and performed. The place had gotten more crowded and was filling up with really good singers so I had to give him credit. He did a good job but now the gauntlet was thrown. It was time to access the room. I don't consider myself a 'great' singer but I can carry a tune. The room seemed to be the kind of a crowd that wanted to dance. So I chose "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. There are moments in your life when you have to put up or shut up and I had to stand up and do my best and show these boys that this was something that I can actually do. Mission accomplished. Everyone got up and danced, hooted and hollered and the boys all danced around me. At the end? Thunderous applause. (Not even in sync). It was a great moment in my life. How often do I talk smack about something and then deliver?
|There was some drinking.|
|And some dancing...|
|Chris performs "Doctor, My Eyes" by Jackson Browne.|
|John and Jeremy...the white man overbite.|
|I sing "Bad Romance." Apparently so good it hurt!|
|Friends in Low Places...indeed.|
After the initial performance, it was way easier. Chris sang another song and I sang two more. Jeremy and John finished the night by dueting to "Friends in Low Places" and needless to say, we left shortly after that. It was about 3am and we had to walk in the cold back to our hostel. We got a little lost and ended up at McDonalds. Since the restaurant was closed we had to walk through the drive through and wound up having conversations with random Ukrainians while standing in the drive through eating Cheeseburgers. It was strange but really fun. We got back to the hostel to sleep about 5am. (I am so not 20 anymore...)
The next morning, however, I was up and fine and the three boys were suffering. I made them coffee and got them all aspirin and water. Lame! Chris had to take off as he was only coming for the night so we all went out to breakfast at this really cool Ukrainian restaurant. The food was delicious and we said goodbye to Chris. John, Jeremy and I walked around the city some more. We ended up back at the water because we wanted to get closer but it was so frigid on the pier, we wound up hanging out in the transportation lobby just to try and thaw out. However, the hour we spent in there laughing and just being silly was probably one of the best times we had. We were at the bottom of the steps so we had to get back up them and head back to the hostel. It was a really nice afternoon. Back at the hostel, we got a recommendation for a Thai place for dinner so we headed there and had some great Thai. We spotted a Blues Bar on the way home and went in there to listen to some live music. It was so pleasant. When we got back to the hostel, we were pretty tired so we watched some stuff on the computer and all went to bed.
|Chris and I at breakfast.|
|A demonstration we walked by.|
|Finding Dr. Pepper in a store was one of my favorite moments.|
|The two navigators.|
|The three of us in the window reflection.|
|They do love each other...it's creepy.|
|John and I at the Blues Bar.|
The next morning we had to find a bus back to Moldova. Since it had begun snowing, we quickly discovered this would be more of a challenge than we had anticipated. With our limited Russian and negotiating skills it took us about 3 hours to figure out a way back. We finally found a bus to a village in Moldova called Stefan-Voda. The driver told us from there he could get us to Chisinau. We jumped at the chance.
|John and I at the bus station.|
|Moldovan Leu and Ukrainian...something...|
|Jeremy sleeping on the ride back.|
|Back to Moldova|
We watched the Hangover 2, in Russian, on the bus ride back but we mostly chatted, well Jeremy slept, John and I chatted. We got back to Chisinau and wound up staying with Lindsay and Conrad because we were too late to catch any buses back to our villages.
What I did learn is that these guys are such decent people. Jeremy and John are two of my best friends. I always felt 100% safe with them and yet I can laugh with them for hours at the absolute stupidest things. And they didn't figure out I had a crush on one of them. Chris, I'm just getting to know but he is the real deal. Genuine, sweet, caring, smart and hilarious. It was just a small little weekend away but I'm so glad that I did it. I never in a million years thought I would visit the Ukraine and I did and it is so beautiful. I met John and Jeremy back in July at the Team Building exercise and knew then that they were my Bees (ring a bell?) but I couldn't be happier that 6 months later they are lifelong friends. I'm a lucky, lucky girl. I hope that shows in the smile on my face.