I used to be good about keeping travel journals, but over the last few years I’ve been lazy about it. Bad habit, because they are really entertaining! I dug out my comparatively extensive travel journals from Ukraine and Spain and was laughing over things I’d almost forgotten. Here are a few highlights/things I thought were funny.
I was staying with a family in Zaporizhzhya for a couple days because I had to register myself as a visitor with the regional police station (you know me, in trouble already!), and there was a very elderly grandmother living with them. She was quite senile, and didn’t realize the cold war was long over (now it reminds me of the “Bloodthirsty Turks” incident in Big Fat Greek Wedding), and my hosts were worried they would have to explain why there was an “Americanka” in the house! I kept pretty quiet though, and apparently she never found out.
When I found out I was going, I gave myself a crash course in Ukrainian language. When I got there, however, I found that everyone in the town I was going to spoke Russian, not Ukrainian! It was in the Eastern part, very close to Russia, and although nationalistic sentiments were alive and well, old habits die hard. I remember some of my “market” Russian and can still read cyrillic (slowly), but not when it is written in cursive.
I arrived in Kyiv, spent two days there, and then took a twenty-hour train ride to Berdyansk. I was really nervous about travelling there by myself on the train. I had a cabin with three other people, and I had a top bunk. I couldn’t figure out how to set it up and how the heck to get up there, so finally someone did it for me. I scrambled up there and didn’t come down for the entire trip! Naturally I didn’t perform my prayers properly up there. I had been Muslim for less than a year and didn’t understand their importance yet.
At a student conference in Mykolayiv, another American, an Indian woman, a Dutch guy, and me had to give presentations about our countries. Well before the presentations, the four of us had gotten pretty bored at the conference and had spent a lot of time together, so we had a lot of jokes stored up ready to put into practice. One of them we dubbed the “camel effect,” and it had to do with our observation that Ukrainians don’t drink much water. Because of this, we only got a little glass of water or juice at meals, so we were really thirsty all the time (it was about 100 degrees out), and ended up going into town every day and bringing back big bottles of water. We joked that we had to be like camels and store up all the water we drank (the Dutch guy asked if that’s why Americans get so big), and according to my travel journal, we dressed up as a big camel for part of the presentation! Now, I don’t really remember that, and maybe that’s a good thing. What I do remember was a skit called “American couch potato aerobics” that I did with the other American, to the tune of “Up and Down” by the Vengaboys. We sat on the couch, pretended to use a remote control, ate candy bars, and pretended to brush our teeth (because we were always teased about brushing our teeth after every meal). I think we also explained the difference between spaghetti sauce and ketchup.
There was a show called “Gorodok” that appeared to be the Russian equivalent to Saturday Night Live. They had a skit of Zemfira, who seemed to be the most popular singer at that time. It made me miss SNL a bit, so I watched it when I got back to the States only to remember that I had never found SNL all that funny anyways and thought it was a bunch of junk.
I hated borscht. Sorry!
They used to take cream-filled cookies, take them apart, and spread butter on the side that was left without cream. They were surprised I’d never seen that before. The apricots, cherries, and plums there were the best I’d ever tasted.
Teaching English to little kids isn’t easy. Especially to the ones who had no experience with English. I had to hop around the classroom to demonstrate what a frog was. The local Peace Corps volunteer lent me some Simpsons DVD’s to show for my older students; I think it was the Stonecutters’ Club episode. Probably not the right approach.
I was going to include Spain in the same post, but I think I’ll write it up later.