Yesterday was my birthday, and while I’m still feeling a good bit homesick and was not able to redeem my free drink at Starbucks, those who know me here really made an effort to make it nice. In the morning, the owner of my apartment, Marianna, came by with a bouquet of flowers and a large new fry pan (there are not many pots or pans here in the apartment).
It was a cloudy but nice day, and I decided to venture out to the indoor/outdoor market a block from my apartment. I was amazed by its vastness; I just kept going from one pathway of stalls to another and was reminded of some other markets I have visited in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. I have to say that I felt quite out of my comfort zone there.
After some time of walking through the labyrinth of buildings and stalls, I began to fear that I might never find my way out, and be late for lunch with my colleagues. Fortunately I did eventually emerge onto a sidewalk and found my way back to Shevchenko street.
At 1:00 I met most of my English department colleagues in front of the shopping center across from my place, and they gave me a basket of flowers and sang Happy Birthday right there in the square, with gusto. We made our way to a nearby restaurant that specializes in varenyky, a specialty of Ukraine and of the Cherkasy region. The restaurant is designed to look like an old traditional Ukrainian house, and all the waitresses wear traditional Ukrainian embroidered clothing. It was really cute and unique! We shared a number of types of varenyky, drank traditional dried-fruit juice, and had some ice cream (with apple and orange slices and some jellied candies in the “sundae”) for dessert. While I was drilled with questions about teaching methods, college schedules, and the such in the U.S., it was a very nice time.
After lunch, Oksana gave me a walking tour of the area and showed me some cafeteria-style places where I can more easily get something to eat by seeing what I am getting. She also showed me some places where I can get traditional Ukrainian handcrafts since I hadn’t seen any yet.
Oksana asked me if this was my first birthday out of the U.S., and I realized that it was! I’m very thankful that I had people helping me not to feel alone.