May 26, 2002 - Topeka Capital Journal: Christie Appelhanz: Journal may be empty, but her heart is full

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ukraine: Peace Corps Ukraine : The Peace Corps in the Ukraine: May 26, 2002 - Topeka Capital Journal: Christie Appelhanz: Journal may be empty, but her heart is full

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Christie Appelhanz: Journal may be empty, but her heart is full

Christie Appelhanz: Journal may be empty, but her heart is full

Journal may be empty, but her heart is full

May 26, 2002 - Topeka Capital Journal Author(s): Capital-Journal

"Go ahead. Make my day."

POLTAVA, Ukraine --- Packing to go home for good, there it was looming in the junk drawer covered in a layer of dust.

You know that drawer that fills up with random business cards, maps folded the wrong way, pens that need refills and nails?

Yes, my Peace Corps journal surfaced in the midst of it all. Still brand-spanking new. Reminding me of yet another thing I didn't quite accomplish before the time came to head back to America.

Last entry? February 23, 2001. How hard can it be for a former reporter to write, I think.

Frustrated, I opened it and read the last page.

Something about my host mother pointing to her mouth and saying nurse.

I decided she was a dentist. Then some ramblings about how the pounding of basketballs at dawn wake me up.

I laugh out loud. My host mom worked as a speech pathologist, and my unsolicited morning alarm turned out to be women beating their rugs.

Maybe I've learned a thing or two after all in this adventure touted as "the toughest job you'll ever love."

And, anyway, this column served as my journal, and none of it would have been as fun without readers like you to share it with.

Not getting two containers of deodorant for Women's Day. Not digging potatoes on the 10th anniversary of Ukraine's independence. And certainly not dancing with a chicken while dressed as a gypsy at a village wedding.

Through it all, it amazed me how easy it is to laugh in many languages. Here are a few other lesson learned along the way:

- Be prepared.

If you ever find yourself in a foreign country with the language skills of a second-grader, don't leave in the morning without three things. Picture of your mother. A deck of Uno cards. Packages of M&M's.

When you don't know what to say, bust out the picture of your mother.

Everyone has one or did at some time in their lives.

Most people even like them --- at least a little.

Especially effective with women who are mothers themselves. May cause head pattings and crushing hugs.

When you don't know what to do, bust out the Uno cards.

You can play this game in any language after you learn these little words: red, blue, yellow, green, skip, reverse, wild, draw two and draw four.

Especially effective when buses break down on the side of road. May delay repairs of bus if the game gets intense.

When you don't know what is going on, bust out the M&M's.

You would be surprised how far these colorful chocolate candies will take you.

Especially effective as bribes in a classroom, getting a seat on a sold-out train or quelling stomach rumbling when served that fish soup in gelatin. May cause swarms of children to follow you.

- Drink your tea.

I don't like tea. But try telling that to a Ukrainian.

Tea is a ritual.

Most stores sell one kind of cheese and 50 types of tea. Fruit tea. Green tea. Tea to make you thinner.

Tea according to your zodiac sign.

For months, I had conversations like this: Christina, would you like tea?

No thanks, I don't drink tea.

That's impossible. Here is your tea.

I don't drink tea.

Would you like sugar?

I don't drink tea.

So I eventually I drank tea. From lipstick-stained mugs at school and plastic cups during public holidays. With neighbors who wanted their children to learn English, so they could get a better job and people who grew up thinking America would bomb them.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that oftentimes when I drank tea it was the only thing in the cupboard. So I didn't dare deny my host the pleasure of serving me that tea.

Even when it came with the water from the shallow well next to the pigpen. Especially then.

Because if I got a stomachache from the water, it lasted a day. If I refused tea, they would remember the American was too good for their tea forever.

On Sept. 12, I was served tea exactly nine times.

A message to take time to sit down with friends and enjoy the small comforts because sometimes that is all we have.

Maybe tea isn't so bad after all.

- Go ahead, make my day.

When I take stock of all the frustrations, sometimes I wonder what got me through.

One theft. Daily taunting from kids. Shoved in a van and driven around while screaming hysterically. (They gave me a fish and bottle of vodka for the trouble.) Cheated by taxi drivers. Cheated by vendors at the bazaar.

The memory of the cobbler helped. Every time.

It was my first month alone in Ukraine when my Doc Martin sandal strap broke. I wandered around until I found a hole-in-the-wall shop with a picture of a boot on the sign.

Behind the piles of shoes, a little man sat smoking.

I tried to explain what I needed. He said two weeks. I pleaded for one day, promising to pay whatever it would take. He said come back in an hour.

I left without asking a price. The hour dragged by as I worried about leaving expensive shoes with no idea how much it would cost. I withdrew extra money from the bank just in case.

Back at the shoe repair shop, the cobbler was nowhere in sight. Probably selling my shoes, I thought cynically.

Then I spotted him across the street. He strode over with a smile on his face. How much, I asked over and over.

He kept silent until he handed me the shoes and said the only five English words he knew: "Go ahead. Make my day."

What did that mean? How much, I persisted.

Nothing, he finally said.

Why? I don't understand.

He just smiled.

Whenever one of life's little obstacles presented itself after that, I remembered the cobbler's kindness and repeated those funny words that never failed to inspire: Go ahead. Make my day.

So let the journal pages remain blank.

Because every time I play Uno, drink tea, watch Clint Eastwood movies and a hundred other things, Ukraine will be on my mind.

Even if I didn't write it down anywhere except my heart.

Christie Appelhanz is a Topekan who is returning after a stint in the Peace Corps.

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Story Source: Topeka Capital Journal

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Third Goal; COS - Ukraine; Stories



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