Reflections on a language barrier, a new apartment and gearing up for Hannukah

15 Dec


My life in Ukraine has become a life lived without apologies. When things go wrong, I find myself saying only ‘thank you’, never stepping backward with apologies. I mean this literally. I can NEVER remember the word in Russian for “I’m sorry”, so on the daily basis when I find myself doing the many things I do for which I want to profusely apologize, the only word that exists in my small (but growing) and not often mighty arsenal of Russian is ‘Spaseebah’, ‘Thank you’.

While I’m sure the people to whom I should be apologizing find this very irritating, its provides to me a daily meditation on gratitude. It has been interesting to notice how oddly appropriate ‘thank you’ is in many instances. Success or failure I give a big ‘Spaseebah’ and have no choice but to move on. No option exists to linger in repentance. In addition to the daily reminder to be grateful afforded me by this frequent occurrence, it reminds me daily that I should spend more time studying Russian. Really, I am here now well over three months, I should know such basic phrases as ‘i’m sorry’ by now. Alas.

With the spirit of gratitude I am grateful to report this week I moved to a new and I think better apartment. Not on the East side, but moving on up indeed. Perhaps it was the omnipresent odor lingering in my other apartment (a special shout out to my Peace Corps friend Avitol Muth for having a very frank conversation with me about just how awful the smell was), perhaps it was the wall paper which glittered in the background of all of my Skype conversations, perhaps it was the lack of feng shui, but for whatever reason I never bonded with my old place, and when I learned I would need to move apartments I did not mind at all (Though, to be clear it was a perfectly nice place, too fancy for me in fact). Additionally, the reason for moving is also exciting. At the end of this month  I am fortunate to be joined by another JSC fellow, Naomi (who is now doing very cool work in St. Petersberg). It has been fun to live alone for the first time in my life, but it will be exciting to have some new and interesting blood around.

This move has been a nice physical  transformation to reflect  a transformation I feel internally and in my time and work here. My old apartment was the same apartment the previous JSC volunteers (who were very very well regarded and left big shoes to fill), and was in everyone’s mind, including my own, ‘Stephanie and Aryeh’s apartment’. It was the place I played eye of the tiger in the morning before going to my very challenging intensive Russian classes, it was the place I spent those early weekend days stumbling upon and not knowing what exactly to do with  myself.  My new apartment feels like a new skin for my time here. It is brighter, the kitchen is larger, and it is a great way to move into a new phase of my year. In it I feel comfortable. This may be strange, but in the old apartment I felt like a guest, and in this apartment, as I am beginning to feel like in Ukraine, I feel like I reside.

Latke and Applesauce making crew!

Latke feast

Perhaps getting my sea legs here has been helped by the pace of my work quickly picking up speed.  I have continued teaching my American Coffee class in the Hillel,  and my Jewish food class at my apartment,  both of which are a pleasure. Last week we made Latkes and applesauce, and (to my surprise) none of the participants had ever deep fried anything before, or (not to my surprise) made or had applesauce. It was very fun to teach something new, and to share some American Jewish culture. (Though I did cringe a little at reinforcing the idea that Americans eat such unhealthy food and deep fry everything, ha, oh well…).


My favorite warm home Babushkah, autographing my book!

I have also continued regular “Warm Home” Shabbat visits to the homes of some of the elderly and home bound Hesed clinets on Friday afternoons.  Along with one of the staff members of Hesed I bring some Challah, juice and some candles we make a short and informal Shabbat. I will devote a whole post to this soon, but all of the  Babushkas I have visited have been amazing. Kind and grateful, each one has an interesting story and perspective.  By far my favorite was my visit to a woman named Svetlana, who was a 71 year old lifelong Kievian and an avid reader, photographer, and toy collector. She insisted I take home with me a book of Russian stories in English  (because “what is an old Ukrainian lady going to do with a book in English?”) from her floor to ceiling overflowing library. When I asked her to sign it, she wrote in the cover, in Russian and English, “Don’t worry, be happy!”.  I think it is my most prized possession I have acquired in Ukraine and it will be very very hard to top.

Showing us her favorite music

In addition to these things and some other odds and ends, my main labor of love has been helping to form a teen club in the Beiteynu family center. This has been hot and cold, but I am looking forward to a Hannukah Shabbat celebration and a winter camp that I am currently helping to plan. If anyone has great insight into engaging Ukrainian teens, please do share with me.

The next few weeks are going to be a deep fried flurry of Hannukah events put on by many many community organizations. I am really looking forward to see how they celebrate here, and look forward to sharing about it here.


One Response to “Reflections on a language barrier, a new apartment and gearing up for Hannukah”

  1. Jane Glasser December 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Amy, we are already missing you so much this Hanukkah/Christmas season. It will be too quiet without you. But know that you are surrounded by love in Ukraine and that our loss is their gain. Have a wonderful Hanukkah; we will raise a couple of no-bakes to you!


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