Meeting My Host Family
Within my first six months in Ukraine I lived with threedifferent host families. They were all great and really helped me to get adjusted to life in Ukraine. However that doesn't mean it was always easy to live with them, often it wasn't. I particularly remember when I got to my training site of Rokytne; a town of 15,000 people, three hours south of Kyiv; I was unsure if I'd be able to handle living with my first host family. There was my first impression of four members of that family.
Kateryna was the mother. On the first night she told me the days of the week and months in Ukrainian then drilled me on it; seemed quite disappointed that I hadn't memorized all that vocabulary after hearing it one time. I couldn’t answer her question as to how many kilos I weigh, she said that she wanted me to weigh 100 kilos before I left, which I later found out equaled 220 pounds (meaning that I would have to gain about 60 pounds) She was very insistent that I take a “shower” at 6pm then tried to send me to bed at 7pm. I think our trainer Mila told her that on the first day to just feed me and send me to be and I had hard time convincing her to let me stay up. Many gold teeth.
Vasyl was the father. At first my interaction with him was limited to him being frustrated at my failure to understand him. He kind of scared me because when I couldn't understand him he would repeat himself louder. So he would be annoyed that I wouldn't simply tell him if I wanted lemon-aid or not and I would be desperately trying to figure out what this hollering mad man wanted. We go on well after I learned a bit of Ukrainian.
Sasha was the 24 year old son. On the first night he took pains to tell me that he did eight of something in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution though I never figured out exactly what that was. Sasha also went through some trouble to tell me (with pride) that he worked at McDonald’s in Portugal, that his girlfriend was 16 years old and that he liked to dance to techno music. Sasha had a shirt covered with nonsensical English words like “a dog is coming in aft” and “Emotional Colors.” There was something about a stupid person but I didn’t know how to convey that without insulting him.
Oleg was the 33 year old son. I interacted with him the most, he would point at something and name it repeatedly in Ukrainian and wait for me to say it in English. He could speak a little English but he didn't really have any grammar. Oleg had a daughter of his own, six years old. When she was born he moved to Portugal where he could earn more working as an illegal day labor (he had a college degree). Sometimes he mixed Portuguese into his speech, I think because I was a foreigner and it was a foreign language he thought I might understand it. We would become stuck in our conversation and he would say “No problem.” I tried to ask him how to say “problem” in Ukrainian, to which he responded “Problem in Ukraine? AIDS.” But added that I was better off in Ukraine than in “Africa or Baghdad.” He owned his own house but was renting it out to Mila, we shared a phone number though I didn't really know how that worked since her house was across town. I distinctly recall that it was across town because it took a solid hour to walk there over icy roads. On my first full day in Rokytne I slipped on the ice and fell. It hurt so bad I couldn’t see. I could barely move my right arm for a few days afterwords. Oleg said some Vodka would fix it.
The living room had a poster of Brittany Spears and a picture of a dragon encircling the earth that read “Hollywood Super-Monster.” There were dubbed old American movies on TV, but they didn’t take out the English dialog, they just talked over it. At a quick glance the household bathroom seemed normal but there was actually no running water. There was a sink, its water came from a tank that had to be filled with a bucket. The bath had no faucet, one sat inside it and dumped a bucket over yourself. After using the toilet you had to dump a bucket of water down it. I was later told that the toilet was not intended for bowel movements and that I should use the outhouse for that.
So yeah, my first impression was kind of “What have I got myself into?” I did not know if I could make it. Of course I did, I saw my Peace Corps Service out to the end and I'm glad I did. A nice touch would be to now say that I still keep in touch with my host families. But no, I don't. Living with a host family forced me to learn Ukrainian and taught me about local customs, but it is something I never want to do again.