11 Months

Next month will mark my first year in France. I can’t say it’s been the easiest transitions. To be honest, it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. Overall, my job isn’t the most interesting – as I am still working with children, but I can’t complain since I am earning money and I have a lot of time off in the day.

A couple months ago we had the opportunity to move into my boyfriend’s father’s house. There is an apartment under the main part of the house, so we have all our own area, minus the kitchen. I much prefer this situation than the previous one, but I have come across a lot of things that have made my stay a little uncomfortable.

I was aware of the fact that my boyfriend’s father and everyone in the house didn’t speak much or any English. In fact, I was quite excited by this idea of being forced to speak in another language all the time. But quickly I realised that it is pretty emotionally straining. When I first met the family, I didn’t speak any French. I think they got in the habit of not speaking to me very much and they knew I couldn’t reply so they would speak through my boyfriend. Now that I start to understand more, I would hope to be involved in more discussions, but I feel after the amount of time that’s passed, people continue the habit of not involving me in the conversation and because I still take a long time to process the French phrase in my mind before speaking – and before I can even express what I feel at that time, the conversation has long moved on to something else. I’m not alone with this feeling, as I spoke with one of the father’s whose children I watch. He explains that it took years to understand what his family and friends were saying, and even still to this day if he is tired it can be difficult to follow the conversation.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Lviv again and to see all my lovely friends. To remind myself of, really, who I was last year before I left Ukraine – a friendly, outgoing person. My friends are extremely consider of the fact that I don’t speak Ukrainian and even when two Ukrainians are speaking together in front of me, they made the effort to speak with each other in English. I can’t say this is something that I have felt at all in France – this consideration for the people around you. I know that Ukrainian is a much more complicated language if you compare it to Latin languages, but of course this consideration really means a lot to me after, what I think, an emotional rollercoaster of a year for me.

Seeing everyone again in Ukraine and the politeness and love they give to others – it makes my heart feel full of warmth. My friends might not have so much money, but they make efforts to come to see me as much as they could during my visit – even waiting at the airport for me to arrive (as a surprise) and when I left from the train station, they came to help book my tickets, putting me on the train, finding my seat and seeing me off – again waving them goodbye as the train is leaving.

As I was making my bed (on the sleeper train), another older Ukrainian woman helped me to make my bed. Then after she climbed up to the top bunk like an impressive Babushka does, I helped to tuck her in, as the ceiling is very low on the bunk. I slept full of emotions the whole journey to arrive close to border of Ukraine, to then find a trolleybus to the bus station, then marshrutka bus to the border. Of course you find some people that don’t wish to help you, like in every country. But when you find nice people, it really gives you an indescribable feeling of appreciation. The first woman at the bus station did not want to help me at all, in fact she was just downright rude. She kept repeating that there were no buses going to Romania, none, nothing and to leave her alone. Finally after the fourth time I asked her out of desperation, she told me to go to the back of the station. I found another counter (now with my friend Natalia on the phone with me) and this woman walked me to the bus, introduced me to the driver of the bus, he walked me to where the bus would be in one hour and offered that I can even put my backpack on the bus ready (which I gratefully declined JUST in case I missed the bus for any reason). After the 1 -2 hour bus journey, when the bus stopped, he even waved to me that this is the stop and told me it was about 2km walk now. As I jumped off the bus, thanking him again and again, I saw 3 Ukrainian police officers. They yelled in Ukrainian ‘Happy Easter!’ and I tried to repeat it, but my words were mumbled and they just laughed at me. They continued to talk to me, asking where I was from and some other questions, but their English was not so good. Then they told me they would give me a free taxi ride to the border, and when I arrived, one of them help me put on my backpack, he pointed me the direction and wished me luck. When I crossed the border, I saw two Moldavian girls that were on my marshutka earlier on and I asked them if they had an idea how to get to Bucarest. They recommended that I go with them to Suceava and they would bring me to the train station from there. They asked to one guy if we could go with him to this city, which if Helen (my Ukrainian friend) could read his face, she would tell me not to go anywhere near him and I went with my gut feeling and decided not to follow with them. Instead a Ukrainian man came up to me and pointed at the Ukrainian ribbon on my bag, asking where I was going with this. I responded to Romania, to Bucharest and he offered me to go with him and a bus full of Ukrainian journalists. Immediately when I joined them, they all said hello and were offering me food. I had a conversation with the driver and another guy that was seated at the front with me, mostly about Ukraine but also about Europe, sports, everything. When we arrived to Suceava, he brought me to the train station, carried my backpack, asked to the cashier and when she replied that the train was just leaving, he literally ran with me and my backpack and put me on the train. I stook his hand and thanked him again and again as the train was just pulling out. Once I found a seat on the train, I tried to look for a man who would be checking the tickets. Finally after some time, I saw him walking past me quickly and into the other carriage, so I ran after him, to ask if I can buy a ticket. He told me to take my seat and he will come shortly. It was a confusing 8 hours on the train because when he arrived, I had no Romanian money and though I could pay by card, but for future reference – YOU CANT PAY BY CARD ON THE TRAIN – haha. He asked to look in my wallet, I showed him only some Ukrainian hryvnias and 10 euros. He sat next to me, it seemed all very casual really. People around me start to translate for me and by the end of this particular conversation, I had about 2 rows of people focused on translating or just generally listening to the conversation. He kept coming back again and again, over the next few hours. Maybe he was making sure I was still there, maybe to see if I magically had some money again. In the end, I fell asleep, hugging my backpack. I wasn’t sure if I should try to run off the train at some point when they weren’t looking and try to take another train, but after inspecting a few different stops, I realised that the train guards got off at each stop and stood on the platform, so I thought it best to just remain where I was. When there was an hour to go, the guard came to me again and asked for my passport. Through the others translating again, he told me that I would get my passport back after I paid him my ticket. This gave one guy an opportunity, I think to start flirting with me and speaking with the train guard and shortly he asked just for the 10 euro note in my wallet and he would just issue me a ticket with the money I had on me. And voila, after this I was in Bucharest! A surprisingly beautiful city where I mostly did some running around the city and parks, went on a walking tour, met a few people, went to a couple bars with my boyfriend and his friends, oh and climbed on the top of our apartment roof by use of the emergency ladder (up 10 stories- phew!). The last evening we went for an evening to Lock Room, where you get handcuffed and blindfolded, put into a cell and you have to find your way out within 1 hour with a series of clues, puzzles, etc. A brilliant end to a fantastic week.

Now I am back to reality in France, where lately all I can imagine is backpacking in Thailand or generally just sitting on a beach somewhere, calm and tranquil. 🙂