Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 2011 - A Whirlwind of Excitement!

It's hard to believe that it's been practically an entire month since I've updated No Journey Wasted!  I appreciate the concerned notes from family and friends, but I don't want you to worry -- I've really been quite well (and busy!) and just haven't had a chance to upload any of the hundreds of pictures I've taken during my recent trips to Kiev, to Yalta (in the Crimea region of Ukraine), and to Chisinau (Moldova).  These have all been fantastic journeys during which I've met wonderful, interesting people; been confronted by a mixture of beautiful scenery and impoverished peoples; and experienced some events that I will surely never forget.  Among these: Watching dolphins in the tranquil, early morning waters off the Black Sea coast in Yalta; Playing cards all night in the train with an adorable Moldovan girl and her ballerina mother on the way back to Odessa from Simferopol, Ukraine; and randomly meeting one of my best childhood friends who was vacationing in Odessa while on leave from his deployment in Afghanistan.  Life continues to be full of surprises!

Visiting with John, one of my best friends from Oregon,
who I happened to run into in Odessa! Small world!!

As my departure from Odessa draws near and my 2011 Eurasian journey comes to an end, I'm finding myself excited about the few weeks I have ahead with my family in Oregon, and also constantly reflecting on the lifetime's worth of memories I have of the past seven months.

This year taken me back to Belgium and then for the first time to Spain, Holland, Russia, Finland, Estonia, Ukraine, and Moldova.  There is so much to learn and appreciate in each of these cultures.  One theme that continues to affirm itself is the existence of warm, open people in every country who love to learn and are excited about life and
curious about the world they live in. I can assure you that they exist in every country and speak every language.
Dasha, the Moldovan girl whom we met on the train one
weekend. The next weekend I visited Chisinau and she
gave me a wonderful tour of her hometown!
People like this are pure energy to me; perhaps that's why my average night's sleep is dwindling to about three hours.  I must take advantage of the opportunity to speak, travel, and spend time with them while absorbing their ideas and life experiences!  These past two weeks have been some of the most rewarding I've experienced in quite a while; I've achieved a level of fluency in Russian that allows me to easily converse about most daily life topics, including stories, anecdotes, travels, education, business (to a certain extent), goals, and dreams. This has allowed me to really get to know some of the Ukrainian people I've been interacting with for the past eight weeks -- people like my trainers at the gym where I workout every afternoon after class.

Dima and Andrei - my trainers at Strekoza Gym.

Which brings me to another topic - my daily routine in Odessa.  During the week I have four hours of Russian language classes every day.  The tuition I paid was the group rate, but upon arrival my level in Russian was much higher than they expected, and the other students in group classes happened to be all beginners at the moment, so they essentially had to start a new group in which I was the only student. That meant private lessons!  After one week, a student from Germany arrived and in addition to becoming my new flat-mate, she became my classmate as well.  Anna and I became quite good friends during the three weeks she spent here and it was hard to see her go.  My other classmates have included Alan - an enthusiastic middle-aged man from Flanders (Belgium), working for the Belgian Verification Agency, who loves history, is an atheist and is absolutely certain that there are developed civilizations on other planets, and has a great sense of humour; Jose from Spain, who works for the European Commission in Brussels, was married once long ago, and - despite his lack of fluency in Russian - can get almost any point across using gestures; Roberto, from Italy - a laid-back, reserved businessman who's quite fluent in Russian and works for a European firm in Moldova; and Guenaëlle - from France, an outspoken, politically conservative film critic in her 60's who is learning Russian so that she can view and write reviews of Russian cinematography.  At this level of language study our lessons revolve around reviewing grammar but above all acquiring vocabulary, so with themes on ecology/pollution, marriage/family relations, religion, politics/immigration, history, and literature, you can imagine how interesting our classroom discussions can get.  I'm continuously impressed with the way Olga, our wonderful professor, so respectfully and tactfully allows (and helps) each of us to express our views - in Russian, of course - and then mediates the discussion and keeps us on track with our study goals.

The view from our beach towel study zone.
(Exceptionally difficult Russian texts are broken up by
frequent swimming in the sea.)
Classes end at 13.00, and I'm off to the gym for a much-needed mental break. My Swiss roommate, Maud, is an international-level competitive figure skater, and even though she couldn't skate during her month in Odessa, she still needed to stay in shape. We got a gym membership together at a club near our school, and it was great fun to have a workout partner while she was here!  Around 15.00 we'd finish up and head down to the beach straightaway to sunbathe and do our homework.  By 18.00 we were back home, washing up for dinner and drinks out with our friends from the language school, or running to the deli for an easy, delicious Ukrainian rotisserie-chicken dinner.  Maud left on Thursday, and it's the first time I've cried in a long time.  I didn't realize how much we did together!

Dinner at a beach-side club/restaurant on Odessa's famous Arcadia strip after an afternoon of seaside recreation.

Today a new roommate from France arrived to occupy the room that Maud left on Thursday, and I took advantage of the opportunity to show him around the city and explore some new neighborhoods for myself.  Of course, I couldn't call it an excursion without taking my camera along.  This is my favorite photo of the day...

Two Women Selling Melons
There is much, much more to share of these past few weeks.  I'm especially excited about the dozens of 30-second film clips I started taking of both special events and daily-life in Ukraine.  I can't wait to meld these together into a short film so that you can have a taste of the sights and sounds of Eastern Europe. 

1 comments:

  1. Oh how I love your stories and pictures. Thank you for sharing them. What adventures you have had. How fabulous you got to visit with John. God Bless him. Praying for his safety in Afghanistan. Hope to see you when you return. xo Sue

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