Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Birthday

It feels like there's been a rush of holidays recently. First Valentine's Day and Men's Day (2/23), then my mother's birthday followed by my birthday and my brother's birthday, and soon March 8th (International Women's Day).
Happy 23rd of February! "Everything will be okay!" Yes, that man is holding a gun.
This birthday started out as they usually do, me thinking "damn, why didn't I plan something special this year?" and then realizing the answer: work. Somehow I always let work get in the way. I remember turning 21 and having to work the graveyard shift that night, thus circumventing any crazy drinking plans (although, by the time you're 21 you're almost too old for that anyways :p). Two years later I remember being swamped by classwork and exams and promising everyone an awesome party later in the spring....which never happened. And most recently I remember a birthday- a Monday, of course- that was spent from morning to night escorting several families of Somali immigrants around the public health clinic. As much as I enjoy teaching, this year didn't appear to be off to a different start since that day's schedule is 8 hours of classes and about 2 hours on the metro, hooray.

To my surprise though, this became the most celebrated birthday of this decade! Maybe it's people wanting to be kind to a foreigner or maybe birthdays are a really big deal here, but my phone was buzzing all day with congratulatory text messages. At work they sang, read a poem, gave gifts, and presented a delicious chocolate cake with lit candles. Seriously, when is the last time you blew out candles on a cake?! During my first class the students insisted on postponing the break to instead finish their exams (this is unheard of behavior) and then excitedly unveiled a very fancy cake called киевский торт and toasted to our good times together as a class.
This kind of cake! It's a very dry cake- tastes like sugar and hazelnuts.
During this class my good friend Michael knocked on the door and surprised me with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. This bouquet was later joined by flowers from other friends and students until I felt like a ballerina after a standing ovation : )
During the last class of the evening we again ate cake (this time a cake I brought) and students from an earlier class came with chocolates and flowers. It was a simply beautiful evening!
From a sweet group of students- Ukrainians, a Jordanian and an Iraqi
I love anything painted in this style
From my employers
Ah, roses!
The blue jewelry was another gift from the school
This necklace was from a student
Guilty as charged
Happy Birthday: a fairy, a ladybug, blueberries, and a musical instrument on a mushroom.
Some students also gave me cute little Ukrainian dolls. They said to keep the dolls at home in a safe place to protect against bad luck and to bring happiness. One student explained that the dolls' faces are blank so that no one can wish you evil.

Overall, it was a pretty overwhelming response to something that's usually just another day. I think it's very representative of the spirit of this country; Ukrainians are incredibly generous and welcoming people. Thank you, my Ukrainian friends, for your kindness! : ) It will not be forgotten!

To continue the celebration, D and I are taking a trip out of town this week. We went to the train station today to get tickets. Despite the касса being slightly more dysfunctional than our last visit (even the gambling trip-planning machine was down this time) we managed to eventually get out alive with tickets.

By the way, if you're ever near the train station there's an excellent Chinese restaurant located nearby: Китайская кухня Лебедь (Chinese kitchen "Swan"). The address is Красноармейская Street 15. Phone = 750-93-03 and they're open from 11 AM to 11 PM. It's a little pricey...between 50 and 70 griven per dish but it's worth it! They have a beautiful menu with pictures of everything. The tables are made private by large folding panels painted with Chinese landscapes. There are also two constantly-occupied VIP зала (VIP halls) so I guess the place is pretty popular with local Kharkovians. Please do go!


  1. Happy Birthday and all subsequent year, till your next b'day!

  2. Thanks, Roman. I'm excited to (most likely) be spending some more time here in Kharkov. Yes, back-up plans are good but the opportunity to live abroad is easiest now when I'm young and best able to deal with- like you mentioned- any disappointments that life in Ukraine might bring. So who knows, maybe I'll get the chance to celebrate another birthday here too! Speaking of which, when is your bday?