Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The First Half of 2011

I was reflecting on the first six months of 2011 and realized that I must have slept through January and February. Seriously, I have a faint memory of celebrating my birthday in January and venturing to Cyprus in February. Those first two months were spent inside at the pool, inside visiting with people and inside curled up with a book. But then, March hit. Kyiv came alive and so did I.

As usual, I coached the swim team. We were a small team of five. Two of our swimmers were planning on attending the Moscow swim meet, but there was an act of terrorism at one of the airports and the parents decided it was best not to take the risk. Over all, the meet was the least attended of the past 3 years. Luckily, my friend, Florian, brought the Tirana team so our five Kyiv swimmers got to bond with the six kids from Tirana. I have said it before and I'll say it again, small teams need to stick together!

My co-coach, Morgan, my friends from Tirana and I went out to experience Moscow on Friday night after the coachs' dinner. We went up to the Ritz where we had drinks at the top and enjoyed beautiful night views of the Kremlin. It was definitely an amazing experience. I kept waiting for James Bond to walk through the door.

After two packed days at the pool, the team was dropped downtown. We toured Red Square and the surrounding monuments. It began snowing and the temperature dropped quickly. To say that we were miserable would put it lightly. The kids wanted Starbucks (and so did I) so we went there to warm up. While there, we ran into the coaches from Prague. Our team joined their team for lunch at Hard Rock Cafe. Not exactly the cultural experience I was hoping for, but at least no one was too grumpy!
March in Moscow, outside St. Basil's in Red Square.
Hero city: Kyiv.
The team and Morgan outside of.... something... This is the problem with not blogging right after a trip. I tend to forget!

March continued to warm up and to encourage us to leave the indoors. Ira, my good friend from L'viv, was eager to take us to a little chocolate cafe that was inspired by the cafes in her hometown. We went one frosty March night and enjoyed a heavenly hot chocolate experience. The waiters showed us to our own private booth surrounded by stone walls and billowing curtains. I think we all appreciated the warm and cozy atmosphere. I'm almost ready for next winter, if it means frequenting this cafe often.

Nothing like a little cup of hot chocolate to warm a wintry evening!
Near the end of March, eight of us boarded a train and headed east. We were on the overnight train for a loonngg time, but I did manage to sleep a bit. Ira and Johnny have a ministry in Krivoi Rog and invited some of us to go with them. Krivoi is an old mining town and has high cases of drug and alcohol abuse. The morning began with a trip to an asylum for the mentally and physically disabled. We brought the patients bananas and chocolate. The range of ability was staggering. Many of the people were missing limbs or were bed-ridden and couldn't feed themselves. Some people were elderly, but were of sound mind. One man told old Soviet army stories. I think I learned more about humanity in those three hours than in my entire life. It was humbling feeding pieces of bananas to people, but even more so watching Johnny and Ira in action. They treated everyone as equals, laughing and joking with people who normally wouldn't receive a second glance.

After that visit, we met up with the kids from the rehabilitation home. We went to the circus which was my first experience with an Eastern European circus and, for many of the kids, their first experience too. The acrobats were amazing, but I felt a little sorry for the tigers. They looked a little malnourished.

We returned to the rehabilitation home, where Johnny led a Bible study. The children asked thoughtful questions about Paul (we were studying his conversion experience). One girl had swimming experience and conversational English, so she wanted to talk with me. I could have stayed there for days. We all went outside and played game, after game, after game. Many were Ukrainian tag games that were unfamiliar to me. It's nice being the student and learning new games! Hopefully, this trip will be experienced next year too.
Then came April and two weekends of snow! Luckily, by spring break, it had warmed up drastically. I spent the first half of spring break in L'viv and then flew "home" to Tirana, Albania. Sarah and Entela were waiting at the airport, even though I flew in rather late and they had to work in the morning. What good friends! I spent 4 days hanging out with my friends, seeing my students and walking my old haunts. I was reminded why I love Tirana: the smallness, the friendliness, the warmness... It was a good time of closure, but it did make me long for what I left when I decided to move from Tirana. No place will ever compare to my first overseas experience and I have to consciously stop myself from always comparing Kyiv to Tirana.
At General's Beach with Sarah and Entela.

Goofing around in Tirana...
I returned to Kyiv with a fresh attitude and a willingness to fully embrace my experience there. I decided to take advantage of every opportunity that spring provided. Hence, May and June became packed. There were cook-outs in the forest, fund raising walks, school outings, outdoor festivals, concerts , birthday parties and delicious meals at the local Syrian restaurant. I loved May and June. If every month was as joyful these two, I would be willing to stay in Kyiv for a long, long time.

Mother's Day, a group of us went to Kyiv Rus Park, just outside of Kyiv. It was early in the season, and very quiet, but normally it's like a giant Renaissance Fair. The above picture shows my friends, Tim and Allison, with their beautiful twin girls. Allison actually lived in a yurt when she was with Peace Corps.

We did get our fill of Renaissance games!

I was shocked that I could actually walk on the stilts, though they were only 2 inches from the ground.

One thing that I love about Kyiv is all the beautiful parks and botanical gardens. One Sunday, after church, a group of us went to a small botanical garden to enjoy a picnic lunch. It was positively relaxing and HOT! We decided to take a taxi van back instead of torturing ourselves on the metro or marshruka (small bus).

Later that month, I took my class to the larger botanical gardens. The lilacs were in their final blooming stage, but boy did they smell heavenly!View from the garden.

It felt like every weekend brought some fun downtown festival. My friend Mary and I posed outside of a tiny Ukrainian house during a festival celebrating the upcoming Kyiv Euro 2012 football games. That same day (which was such a fun spontaneous day) was the finale of the Ukrainian dance off. Every Saturday night, for two months, different cities in Ukraine competed in elaborately choreographed shows, live on the streets of Kyiv. I can't remember who ended up winning, but the celebration included fireworks and an extreme amount of confetti.
Rachel and Mary were nearly lost in the confusion!

Then, oh then, was the Muse concert. A group of us had bought Johnny and Ira tickets for Johnny's birthday. Then Nick, Rachel and I decided to go too. It was such a fun concert experience! Honestly, I was only marginally familiar with the band (I've been out of any loop for 3 years) but my brother had told me that the concert was going to be a "life changing experience." It was a great experience, but I think my life is going on about the same as before, except I now recognize Muse songs and singers.
Happy, happy Johnny.

The first half of 2011 was an active, full, lesson learning, satisfying time. I think that I learned to LIVE LIFE in January and February. Spring of 2011 was truly my great awakening.