Sunday, July 13, 2008

Writers Block in the Eastern Bloc

I am sitting here knowing that I owe you an update, an accounting of how I have spent my time since I last wrote, and yet the words just won’t come. Perhaps it has something to do with the previous week being one of the least eventful of my 27 years—a week spent rereading Atlas Shrugged and ambling about the Ukrainian countryside aimlessly—or maybe the perpetual food coma that I have been in since my arrival is finally taking its toll. (Nothing brings more joy to a Ukrainian babushka than a taut waistband for which she can take the credit) Regardless of the reason, I will do my best to fight through this writers block and give you some sense of what I have been up to as of late and why I might be homeless come Thursday...

As I mentioned above, much of my time this week has been spent rereading Atlas Shrugged and I can’t help but feel incredibly ironic in doing so. Here I am living in a tiny Ukrainian village, a Peace Corps volunteer, working towards a collective ideal (in some sense), but I spend my days glued to one of the greatest tributes ever paid to “the virtue(s) of selfishness” and individualism. More sinful is that I cannot remember ever enjoying a book this much, even in spite of the context in which I am reading it, or maybe because of it. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that my social principles and my tastes in literature seem to be in contradiction, but if any of you have read Atlas Shrugged you’d know that contradictions do not exist, only false premises. I’ll let you try and figure out what that means…or if it means anything at all.

Now that you’re all thoroughly confused (I am too so don’t worry) I’ll tell you why I may be out on the streets in a matter of days. Before panic sets in (Mom) let me say that I won’t be homeless, but I am having an extremely hard time finding an apartment of my own. My rental contract with my host family expires this Thursday, and while I know that they would be happy to have me stay for a bit longer, I am eager to live on my own. Being able to cook for myself and not feel guilty when I leave a forkful or two on my plate and having sole say in when I wake up in the morning are two of the more compelling reasons why I feel this way. That said, I really do love my host family and am hoping to find something nearby their apartment.

Unfortunately I am having no luck in finding reasonable housing anywhere in this village and may have to resort to looking in the nearby city. I had one promising lead but word leaked to the landlady that I was American and she jacked up her asking price by about 500% and is unwilling to negotiate. I also found a 3 building estate that is pretty sweet, but 3 members of the family that lived there previously died from TB so I’m thinking that’s probably out of the picture as well. I am meeting with the director of my school tomorrow hoping that he can use his pull to find me something that might not otherwise be available, but I am not getting my hopes up. Ultimately I know that I will find something …it has just been a much harder process than I initially envisioned.

What else can I tell you? I made American style Mac and Cheese for my fam and a few select neighbors this week and it went over reasonably well. It could have used more salt, but I’d call it a success. Also cooked up some traditional Ukrainian eats with my babushka…rice and meat filled blintzes fried up in butter and served with a dollop of mayo. Yes…they were every bit as delicious as they sound. I have a feeling for every pound I have lost since I got here (I’d say 6 or 7) I’ve probably added 10 points to my cholesterol level. Free samples of Lipitor are welcome.

Hmmmm…bought a French press a couple weeks back. 99% of the coffee here is of the instant variety and is pretty nasty so I thought I’d indulge myself a bit. Problem is that pre-ground beans don’t seem to exist here so now I have to go out and buy a hand grinder if I want to be able to use my press. Not too pricey of an item but still more than I had hoped to spend just to enjoy some decent coffee in the AM. Speaking of food and beverage items, I thought I’d list some of the random things that you can’t find in Ukraine:
• Brown Sugar
• Chocolate Chips (ridiculous, I know)
• Root beer
• Vanilla extract (thankfully I brought some beans from home and with a cup of vodka and a few weeks time I’ll have my own)
• Peanut butter
• Grated Parmesan Cheese
• Pancake Syrup
• Cream Cheese
• Graham Crackers
• Barbeque Sauce
• and the list goes on…

I am not missing any one ingredient as of yet but I am sure come month 9…14…22 I will feel differently. Definitely could go for a Buddy’s pizza and trip to Red Coat though. A Chimay, tenderloin tip app and Red Coat burger sounds more delicious than you can possibly know.

So how’s that for beating a wicked case of writers block? Managed to write one of my lengthier entries and still have some good stories left in the arsenal. I think I might do a question and answer type post in the next couple of weeks so if there’s anything that you’d like to know that I haven’t covered, and I’m sure there is, just email me or leave one in the comments section. Hope this finds everyone happy and healthy…and if you’re fortunate enough to be so, I wish you the wisdom to know just how lucky you are.


Jeffrey said...

Please keep a journal )or something that doesn't sound as lame) and record every moment of your time out there. When you get back, we are working together and publishing a book based on your experience. I may have been joking about the watch shirt or bagel loaf, but this time I am completely serious. Good luck, keep in touch.


Jeffrey said...

Oh and by the way Robert Downey Jr was on Leno and on my life he was wearing a shirt with a watch in the sleeve. I've filed suit.

Anonymous said...

Are you allowed to receive food in the mail? I wonder if cream cheese could sustain the trip to Crimea...Atlas Shrugged.... impressive reading material... Ayn Rand's life was also impressive. Perhaps her bio will be your next reading investment. Thinking of you as I sip a cappaccino in an air conditioned restaurant, suffering because the waiter hasn't yet brought my Michigan Salad with dried cherries, pistachios, sundried tomatoes and sweet potato french fries to the table. Poor me... Poor ugly American me...

TB??? Don't these people have Lysol or something to spray out the old diseases from the death houses?

What's up with TB anyway?