January 30th – Day of Saudade

The other day while working through the material for my online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course, I ran across some examples of words that are difficult to translate. Completely unaware that my world was about to be rocked, I clicked one of the words, and this is what I read from Wikipedia:

Saudade describes a deep emotional state onostalgic or deeply melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.”

You mean…that nameless melancholy that’s been hanging over my head since I was 15 years old is a real thing? Oh my God, there’s a name for that? I thought. Relief poured over me.

We seek a country”, I used to call it, a phrase I borrowed from Hebrews 11:14, because I felt strange and out of place.

It feels like homesickness, only worse because you’re homesick for somewhere you’ve never been. Not just nostalgia, but great, heavy, soul-crushing melancholy. Some deep, deep ache so intense it’s almost physical, as if you know that something’s missing, but are powerless to fill it. Not just sadness, but The Sadness. The one that extracts your heart out through your toes.

I was 15, overwhelmed with complex emotional confusion that I couldn’t put words to. I had never heard about anything like it before. I didn’t know what to do. I thought I was being silly and stupid and that I just needed to pull myself together and keep my life moving. But it haunted me, that shadow. Everywhere I went, everything I did, that grieving/longing followed me. I couldn’t shake it, couldn’t kick it, so I hid it. No one else ever talked about anything like this. And I never spoke of it because I didn’t think anyone would understand. I thought I was crazy. And I was ashamed.

But this is good news! Similar ideas are recognized in many other languages! Says the great Wiki:

In Mongolian, betgerekh (бэтгэрэх) is closest to saudade. A feeling where a person misses something or someone very deeply, such as a soldier missing their homeland. It can be categorised as a mental illness.

Great. In Mongolia, not only am I woefully, mournfully, more-or-less always in the throes of saudade, I’m crazy too. Yes, that makes me feel MUCH better.

So, of course, this song by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors immediately came to mind:

“Some days I wake up with the sadness,

Other days it feels like madness.

Oh, what would I do without you?”

Wikipedia elaborates further:

“It can be described as an emptiness, like someone … or something … that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. It brings sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.”

Again according to Wiki: “In Brazil, the day of saudade is officially celebrated on 30 January.”

So all that being said let me address this message directly to the source on the Day of Saudade:

Saudade, what would I do without you? I’m not sure I quite know… Perhaps I would be always airy, bright, and care-free. Always happy and never sad. What a lovely life that would be! But there’s a fragile beauty to this tragi-comedy of mine that I think I would miss, and there you would be at the end, Saudade, waiting for me and we would begin our spiraling dance all over again.

Do you remember when we first met? It was the day I said good-bye to Kabardinka, and I felt everything all at once: love, joy, pain, gratitude, regret, angst, fear, resignation, faith. Everything I had refused to feel until that moment came pouring out of me. And you were there, Saudade, and you never left me.

You see, you were the First. You were the First Great Emotion that I ever felt. You were the first to make my heart beat when I was numb and cold and devoid of feeling. You will always be with me, always be part of me, because I remember so clearly what it felt like to feel something for the first time. Like a piece of my heart I didn’t even know I was missing had suddenly been found. And then ripped away again. Is it any wonder that I have fought and struggled against you so hard? You are happiness and pain and anguish, always two bitters for every sweetNever a day goes by that you don’t greet me, because there has never been a day that I haven’t thought of them. You and Kabardinka are all tied up together in my heart and I can never recall the two of you separately.

All this time I have spent carrying you around, all those prayers for deliverance from you, all those exercises for letting go of you that I have triedBut now I know you, Saudade, and now that we’ve met face-to-face as it were… I’m not sure I would ever give you up.

You are not some formless shadow haunting me as I once believed. All our ghosts have fled. I know your name, Saudade. You are mine. It is not you who holds on to me anymore; it is I who holds on to you.

You are the push that sets my feet to moving, when everything that stays the same becomes unbearable. You are the lines I draw in my doodles. You are the myths I write in my folk-tales.You are the thing chasing me that I can not escape from, until I decide to turn around and chase you. You are the thing that drove me back to Ukraine after 7 years.

And you are the thing I feel when I’m looking through my TEFL course’s school listings – all the places where people have successfully gone to teach English – and I see the very city I have dreamed of for 12 years, Nalchik, is listed. Right there. Staring unblinkingly in my face, blinding me with unassuming pixels on my computer screenYou are with me in that moment when my past and my future collide to form my present, and I realize that the most impossible of all my dreams is not only possible. It is HERE. And my heart lurches and turns over in my chest, because the destiny I have been working toward my entire life I am standing right on the edge of it, teetering like a baby bird about to jump from the edge of the nest to whatever fate awaits.

And there are no words, not even Saudade, to describe what this feels like. Saudade, yes, but something more: Hope and Terror.

I don’t know if this makes me brave or desperate or just plain crazy, but I am tired of being ashamed of feeling this way.

And I don’t want to feel it alone.

So. For anyone out there who knows how saudade feels, January 30th is our day. 

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American Toilets, Ukrainian Style

There are three essential items one should always carry in Ukraine: hand sanitizer, wipes, and toilet paper.

Public restrooms in Ukraine are my worst nightmare. Okay, maybe not my worst, but they are pretty close.

Now I’m pretty tough. I’ve been to Ukraine enough to know the ropes of public restrooms. I’m not bothered at all by the ones in the floor where you have to squat. Or the ones that stink to high heaven as if the sewers have been backed up for twenty years. Or the ones that are pretty much just a hole in a concrete slab in the middle of the countryside. Those are all fine. The really scary toilets are the ones just like ours in America. I quickly learned that people do not understand how to use these toilets. My best guess is that some Ukrainians think it is unsanitary to actually sit on the toilet seat. So what do they do? Apparently they hop up and squat.

Walking into a bathroom stall in a super fancy McDonald’s after holding on desperately for hours, only to find shoe prints on the bowl is approximately horrific.

But when you have to go… What can you do? Obviously, everyone else is doing it, and my bum is definitely not going anywhere near that nasty toilet seat. (May I reiterate at this point: wipes, paper, sanitizer!)

But once, after doing as they do in Ukraine and thinking myself very Ukrainian for it, I got caught. The next lady in line, an older Ukrainian woman, saw the seat after I exited the stall and bawled me out right there in the restroom. My Russian was not that great at the time, but I understood enough to know she was yelling something to the effect of “don’t you people know you’re supposed to put your bottom on the seat and not your feet?” The repeated smacking of her bum and thigh might have been a clue also. I’m thankful she was smacking her own, and not mine.

She was very not happy.

And the lady cleaning the sink kept right on scrubbing like it happened all the time.

Well, it would have been pointless to try to explain that at least five other people had squatted on that seat before me. (This is why you always carry wipes with you. And sanitizer. And toilet paper.)

So when an angry Ukrainian zhenschina shoves a wad of paper towels at you, what do you do? Why, you take the wad of towels and you clean the seat for her. And then you write about it.

Because you have not fully experienced Kyiv, Ukraine until you have been yelled at by a Ukrainian woman and cleaned a Ukrainian toilet.

Kyiv Moods

Kyiv has many faces and many moods, always changing. Not all of them are pleasant, but all of them are unforgettable.

A few of my favorite moods of Kyiv:

This is the Fun Part

“How do you tell if a Ukrainian boy likes you? I don’t understand the boys here at all,” I whined to one of my roommates, Anna.

I was about three weeks into my trip, and stressing about relationships, obviously, or the lack of them. America has labored unceasingly to teach me that if you are over 25, single, and childless, there is something wrong with you. Hence I was begging Anna to explain how these things work in Ukraine, as they seemed incomprehensible and I was convinced that Ukrainian guys were not interested in me at all.

Looking back, I don’t know why I wasted brain power on the thought. I didn’t really want a boyfriend, maybe only to feel popular.

Anna gave me a piece of advice that has proved to be one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me.

“Just relax,” she said sagely. “Besides, maybe it was just the magic of the night, a foreign language, being in a different country. You don’t know. Time will tell. If something is going to happen, it will happen. So you don’t need to worry. Just relax and enjoy it. If you’re falling in love, this is the fun part.”

I kept forgetting that she was a few years younger than me. I can still hear her voice like an echo:

If you’re falling in love, this is the fun part.

I didn’t want to spend my time in Ukraine worrying over boys and relationships. I wanted to be happy, fancy-free, to see and do everything, speak Russian, and generally be on holiday and enjoy myself.

She was right after all. I had been beguiled by the night, a pair of pretty eyes, and the music of a beautiful language. Somewhere along the way, without even knowing, I fell in love.

I realized it walking down Tychyny street one day. I was so excited about discovering new words and understanding, and how incredible it was to be in a foreign country with all the language skills of a two-year-old. I almost missed it. I was pondering the process of breaking through the language barrier, chipping away at it little by little, word by word, when suddenly, I knew that I would have no do-overs. I would never pass this way again. Once I broke through the language barrier, I couldn’t go back and do it over again. So right there on a little sidewalk in the left bank in the big city of Kyiv, Ukraine, I made up my mind to enjoy the process as much as I possibly could, while I tried to conquer the city and the Ukrainian/Russian language. Anna’s words came back to me with a crash and the equivalent force of a falling grand piano: “This is the fun part.”

It stopped me dead in my tracks, stunned.

Then I knew. I was in love! I was in love the way you love someone you can’t stand. You fight. You argue. You quarrel. They make you angry. They make you crazy. They make you mad. Until one day you wake up and you realize how angry crazy madly you love them, no matter how bad it gets. And the rest is history, or so they say.

Of course, Anna and I had been talking about a boy. And she had been absolutely right. Only, it wasn’t a boy I fell in love with. It was Ukraine, Kyiv, that place and time. I fell in love with life and the unhindered living of it.

I didn’t have to worry about how to make that “special someone” like me, or if that “special someone” was the “right special someone”. Suddenly, it just didn’t matter. I saw everything clearly. For once, it was simple.

Love is not a real-life game of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey, though a lot of people treat it that way. To pin all of my hopes for happiness on someone else, or hang my dreams on their fragile wings, and then try to make them feel the same, is an unfair exercise in futility and a dangerous one.

It seems to me that people generally believe they must have a significant other in their lives to be happy. But I protest. Hearts are far too precious treasures to leave at just anyone’s mercy. Why had I ever thought I would find happiness by doing just that?

I don’t mean that I stopped wanting someone special in my life; I just stopped thinking that I had to have someone.

I wrote a besotted love letter in my journal, one stormy night not long after that conversation with Anna:

“I got off my bus early and walked home. I like to do this sometimes, because it helps me collect my thoughts. Or if I’m not quite ready to see a flat full of people. But this time, I got off because it was raining gently, I thought, and as I walked it got more and more, until I was laughing up at the Kyiv night sky, for sheer joy, because I realized that now I’ve seen Kyiv in so many moods, not all maybe, but I love her in all of them.

“Kyiv to me is like a woman or a person. You know, the ones you meet [with whom] at first you don’t get along. You fight, you humph, you disagree, you torment. And then one day you wake up and realize how crazy madly you are in love with them and how boring your life would be without them. Kyiv is maybe not the woman you would marry and raise kids with, but she’s the one you judge all other women by, the one you never forget. Kyiv is that affair to remember, the one you never quite get over. I laughed at the rain, because I’ve seen Kyiv sleepy, quiet and still, drunk, hungover, chilly, and warm, depressed, and wild, hurried, and bored, angry, and tender. I laughed because if by some chance this is the only time I ever spend with Kyiv again, I wanted to let her know that I enjoy every minute. That I love Kyiv in all her moods.

“Kyiv is that rare person you meet once in lifetime that you love so much that it doesn’t matter if they love you back. It’s as though after 3 weeks in Kyiv, breathing her air, eating her food, meeting her people, and drinking her beer, has spread Ukraine throughout my system, my cells, my blood. She’s under my skin and in my heart. It’s as though we finally stopped fighting. Maybe we can at least be friends. I can not tell you in any language how alive I felt on this night, sharing Ukraine with people, and walking, feeling her flow all around and through me.

“I can’t imagine, when I write such things with such emotion, admiration, and tenderness, what it will be [like] to go back [to America].

“Ukraine is not for the faint of heart, but she’s worth it. We are alike, she and I.

“Someday I hope someone loves me the way I love Kyiv, Ukraine.”

Best Moment Award


Best Moment Award, web awards, blogging awards, winners, nominations

Awarding the people who live in the moment,
The noble who write and capture the best in life,
The bold who reminded us what really mattered –
Savoring the experience of quality time.

RULES:

Winners re-post this with their acceptance speech. This could be written or video recorded.

Winners have the privilege of awarding the next awardees! The re-post should include a NEW set of people/blogs worthy of the award; and winners notify them the great news.

ACCEPTANCE SPEECH

I am excited and happy about this! Why pretend that I’m not? This is a big deal to me, right now, in this moment. I’m humbled and honored. I never expected anyone to care about anything I had to say.

So here is my Acceptance Speech. Believe it or not, this is the short version.

To Mom — for taking me to Ukraine at such an early age, even though it set me back a year in school, for showing me that people are what really matter, for telling me I’m the best daughter in the world followed by, “Are you sure you weren’t adopted?” I strive to make you proud. Even though I can’t keep plants alive…

To Dad — for bragging to all of his friends about my adventures overseas, for always reading my posts and telling me that my writing is good. You know I got the “scribble genes” and attention to detail from you.

To Grandma Inez, My Sunshine and My fellow Wayfaring Stranger — for her prayers, for being like my second mother, for all the times you woke me up with a half cup of black coffee whenever I overslept in the morning, and for being my soul sister – joined at the hip, heart, and soul; separated at birth and by 60 years! Coffee toast!

To Shannon – for teaching me that every moment is precious, and that a life lived to the fullest is a life lived in the moment. You are one of the most inspiring people that I know.

To my best friend, Sarah, Thing 1 to my Thing 2 — Together in Paris. ❤

To Daniel, my other best friend – for being better than a brother.

To those dancers I met ages ago – for teaching me my very first words in Russian.

To everyone who reads my blog — for caring about what I have to say.

To 31daysofawesome — for picking me.

To Judy — for telling me it was okay to shed the mask. Without you I would probably still be locked in my old apartment, afraid to look anyone in the eye. I would not be who I am, if it wasn’t for you. Carpe diem. No regrets.

And finally, to gratitudeequation — for writing with such joy and sweetness. I smile every time I read your blog. By the way, you’re my pick for the next winner of the award.

I love you all. For as long as I live, you will never be forgotten.