Thursday, October 29, 2009

picture post 29 october

- American runners in Chernihiv [at the vol]—Laura and Karen
- more of the 12 cannons at the vol
- awesome statueman- Shavshenko
- random dogs, as frequent the area
- probably would make a good puzzle- statue in the park, with church in the background [see earlier picture for evidence of season change]
- more gettingmarried couples, evidenced by ringed cars
- river through town
- my black leather family- Tamara, Vika, Ira, and Igor
- monastery, church service celebrating the canonization of a new saint of local origin
- the bell tower we climbed to make such a view possible
- mapping our way into the monastic caves
- one of the well [flash!]-lighted, higher-ceilinged segments of tunnel/ corridor
- info plaque
- accompanying icon
- more icons inside
- igor and his mama, vika
- American runners, part 2—Mattison and Pat
- 1941 monuments- statue, reliefs [?] below, eternal flame and obelisk above
- makin’ pizza
- a closing activity in the workshop we [teacher trainers] observed at the teacher recertification institute
- PC Ukraine 37’s teacher trainers, seated, with Valentina [institute staff] and Valentina [PC staff]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

post 24 october

Sunday [18 Oct], as one of the new pictures shows, I went to the English club at the library again. After watching a lesson on how to tell time in English [why do we say half past but not half ‘til the hour?], I watched Matt, another PCT, present about archaeology. Apparently, before joining Peace Corps and coming to my host sister’s birthday party two weeks ago, he worked as an archaeologist in Jordan.

Monday, another lesson. A few more students appeared, possibly due to the wild success of last week’s lesson. :) We didn’t cover as much as we might have liked to, but we definitely engaged them more and had a little more fun, too. Our class included one boy this time, but he was obviously still wildly outnumbered. Only one or two more lessons to go on the American primary and secondary education system!

Tuesday was cooking day at our cluster. Since our second unit was on food, we had to test our skills! I wasn’t really able to capture the entire process in photos, due to the try-to-blend-in philosophy of Peace Corps. I can generally take pictures of what I want to, but it’s definitely a different experience to be a tourist and be able to gawk from a bit more of a distance. When asking babushkas how much their apples cost, it’s pretty awkward to suddenly take out a camera and snap a photo.

Still, we worked our way through the food portions of the bazaar, and then to a store, in order to acquire all of the ingredients for our chosen dish: cyrniki. Cyrniki are cottage cheese pancakes- sweet indeet! The experience of working our way through the bazaar was sort of bizarre—more on display than I’ve ever felt in any other farm-type market! Plus, since our teacher was with us to help us practice the language, she was pointing to lots more than we probably would have pointed to on our own and we were saying the names of lots more things than we would have if we were only shopping on our own. Good practice, but certainly entertainment for the sellers. One of the most interesting buys was the cottage cheese itself, which was one of the items I had signed up to purchase. For this, we went into a big building that featured milk and milk products. For someone used to buying milk products in sealed packages, this was a bit unusual. Everything was very clean, but the cottage cheese was in a pile in front of each seller. The portion that I ordered was scooped up into a plastic bag. Again, nothing wrong with this, but it was a little different for me to see cottage cheese in a bag. Also, one of the items I was buying [baking soda] was the hardest item on our list to pronounce, and one of the harder ones to find, so I think I’ll resolve to reconsider my sign-up enthusiasm if there’s ever a next time. :)

Here’s the rough ingredients, taken from a PC Ukraine cookbook!

1 package cottage cheese домащний сир [domachny ceer]
3 eggs
¼ c sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder розпущувач тиста [rozpooschoovach teesta—of course!]
½ tsp vanilla [we bought vanilla sugar—dry powder]
1 c flour

Stir, fry, and enjoy! Recommended toppings: sour cream, honey, fresh or canned fruits. [We ate ours with sour cream and/or very thinly sliced apples.] Yes, they were smachno, ie, delicious. Please note that in the picture caption, “smachnoho” means bon apetit!

Wednesday was another food-related competency day. We went to a local café as a group, with our teacher, but the menu that they gave us was in Russian. Oh no! We muddled through that vaguely, but Oksana asked if they had any menus in Ukrainian. Nope, just English. Well, then! Another picture shows our results. I had mlintzi [like thin pancakes/ crepes] with poppy seed [paste, inside] and honey on top. Pretty good.

Thursday? Yup. Had one of those. Also had a technical session, in which we met a PC staff member from Morocco, as well as a PCV from western Ukraine who helped to present. She’s with us for a few days to share her experience as part of the adopt-a-cluster program. Also, please note the picture of our cluster’s attempts to differentiate between cold and hunger through diaphragm-related sounds. The point here was that the words for cold [holodno] and hunger [holodno] are pronounced almost exactly the same way, as you can tell from my fabulous transliteration. I’d love to clarify the difference, but it would definitely take an audio file recorded by someone with a better understanding of this alleged difference. :)

Friday was our last day with Oksana before all of the LCFs rotate. We’ll have a different teacher for three weeks, and then she’ll be back. I don’t know too much about our new teacher except that his name is Anton. Also, he’s a man, and he speaks Ukrainian. That’s about it. It’ll be strange to have a different teacher suddenly, but it’s probably a good idea for us to work with different teachers with different styles, etc, with the hope that we’ll learn as efficiently as possible. I’m working hard on the language, I think, but I hope to pick up the pace on my self-directed study a bit more, if possible, in all my loads of free time… I have gotten to the point, though, where I feel like I can make some polite, if very brief, conversation, possibly including one or more complete sentences. One of the best feelings is when my host mother or sister says, in Ukrainian, clearly, “Yes, I understand.” I want to say так! YES! HOORAY!

I also taught with Laura today, spending some entertaining time in a very warm classroom. Hers is a second-year class, full of enthusiastic and smiling students. The general topic was medical treatment, and we talked about dentists, phobias, and things that go bump in the night—that last part in advance of next week’s lesson/ celebration of Halloween!

Friday, October 23, 2009

post pics 23 october

Another week, another update! I’m not intentionally limiting myself to one entry per week, but that’s just how it’s working out. Of course I want to be able to tell you everything just as it happens, but that’s just not entirely feasible for lots of reasons.

Let’s start with pictures, to be followed by explanations:

- Matt, another PC trainee, at English Club [Sundays at the library!], presenting about his past life as an archaeologist
- Fruit and vegetable stands everywhere! Candy and cookie stands, too. :)
- Flowers, too.
- I’d be lying if I said the sky was always this strikingly beautiful, but it definitely was right then. The wires are for the trolleys and street signs.
- Ingredients! Cyrniki to follow!
- Mix it on up!
- Chris and Oksana cook…
- Sharon’s turn.
- My turn [note that I dress to match the curtains].
- Success! Smachnoho!
- Pronunciation practice: hunger vs. cold.
- Random “nice” graffiti.
- The “what time is it?” game, a popular pasttime. :)
- Café field trip- my dish is, not surprisingly, the closest to the photographer

Sunday, October 18, 2009

post 18 october- 2

I taught the first lesson of my Peace Corps life on Monday. We were assigned partners, classes, and topics, and tutored on crafting good lesson plans to fill the eighty minute class period. Good work overall, I think, and nice to be in a situation I more or less understand. Of course, my partner, Lucas, and I were given the exciting task of teaching about the primary and secondary education system in the United States, which might not have been my first choice of topic. Still, the class—fourteen enrolled, nine in the room—was very pleasant and encouraging. All girls, they worked very quietly, even whispering during group work time. Apparently this is not unusual, nor is the fact that they stood up when the bell rang to start class—a sign of respect for the teacher that students here start when they start school—and stayed in their seats until the lesson was done, not even twitching when the bell rang, much less ten minutes beforehand.

Have you noticed how long my sentences are sometimes on this blog? I guess I just have a lot of information that I’d like to share, preferably all at once. J

This week also brought more of the up-and-down adventure of the Peace Corps trainees who found out at their staging event that they were not, in fact, going to be going to Turkmenistan, due to the country’s decision to deny them entry. I believe their group was made up of about sixty people, and Peace Corps has been trying to place them elsewhere. Nine were taken in by Ukraine, and I’m not sure about the rest. We thought that our cluster would be getting one more member, to replace Matt, the teacher trainer who went home in the first week. However, at the last minute, this other teacher trainer decided to stay in the United States, so our cluster will stay at four.

What else this week? Today we went to a history museum in Chernihiv, which was an interesting experience. Artifacts and maps are interesting, but it turns out to be pretty helpful to be able to read the text in the displays. Of course, we had our TCFs [technical/ cross-cultural facilitators] with us to help translate, but there was a lot of guesswork involved. As exciting as it was to recognize certain words and names [googleplex Gogols], sounding a word out does not its meaning make. Ukrainian is a very phoenetic language, so the way it looks is the way a word sounds, but if it’s not a cognate or a known word, that’s where the recognition ends.

Yesterday the trolley I was trying to take home went out of service instead, and everybody knew except me. Luckily, though, I was able to walk the few blocks back to the right route, and back to the apartment. Success! Also, it was raining. It has rained off and on several days this week, which leads to item two.

First item one, though, which is that the heat was turned on on Wednesday. In most of the city, a governmental official—in my understanding—turns on the heat on a set date. In some private homes, the heating system is independent, but where I live, I’m happy to have the heat on. This means that I was able to dry my gloves and jeans and shoes [somewhat] on the radiator when I got back home on Friday.

Item two: I went boot shopping today. The shoes I’ve been wearing are very nice flats, and they are comfortable enough for all of the walking I do every day. However, the rainy conditions and occasionally somewhat choppy walking routes lead to the conclusion that every single female inhabitant of Ukraine has already reached: boots are a good idea to keep your feet and legs warm and dry. So, a few other girls and I went to several shopping centers, stores, and finally the bazaar in search of boots. The choices are predominately black leather, with exceptions made for suede, and occasionally bright random colors, too. Although I have a pair of excellent winter boots that I purchased at home for when it’s snowy and really cold, I was looking for something about knee high and probably black. So, that was about 80% of what was available. Take out the super-high heels and lots of ornamentation, and you’re down to about 25%. Add in the fact that I wear size 9 or 9 ½ , and that’s about 7%. Also, I don’t want to pay a ton, since I’m basically making enough money to eat a very cheap lunch every day, buy tissues, and take public transportation. Our language teacher suggested that we might be able to get fairly cheap boots for about 300, but when we started looking, everything was at least 600, and more often 800 or so. Keep in mind that this is hryvnia, which I had previously changed for dollars at 8.4h per dollar. To end a long and fairly repetitive story, I ended up with a pair of boots from the bazaar, which I inadvertently negotiated down to 350h, exactly how much I had brought along for the purpose. Pictures already posted. :)

post 18 october

Pictures now, blog to follow. I’m updating the album with the following:

my cluster, to be and to have
my alphabet study partner, Igor, my host-nephew [as awkward as that sounds]
unit two = food
my host mother, Tamara, on the left, and at the head of the table, the birthday girl—my host sister, [Y]Ira, plus some of the guests
Tonya, this week’s birthday girl, with Igor
just in case—not as funny as it sounds… cases are tough!
a church down the street
the first day of school, ie, teaching at the pedagogical university
stuffed peppers and salad = breakfast, because you wanted to see
rainy day: my desk, wet stuff drying, potted plants, towels drying on line in balcony
Chris at the museum
Sharon after the museum
Laura after the museum
walk here!
people drive around Red Square honking their horns after they get married, then drive around to different places in the city to get their pictures taken
Igor and I take a break from creating great art
not a great picture of my new boots, but you get the idea [the art is Igor’s, the flowers are overflow from last week’s birthday party][I’d be happy to send you more boot pictures if you’d really like them J]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

post 14 october

Note: This entry is from Saturday! :)

Today’s adventure: hand-washing clothing! Note to the future: don’t put this off! Success in buying an appropriate kind of washing powder led to more opportunities for success, including learning which tubs to use, how much powder to use [no measuring required, clearly], how long to soak, how much bleach for whites, how many rinses, and where to hang. There’s nothing to bring you back to reality like seeing how dirty the wash water turns once your clothes have been soaking for half an hour or so. Really? Where did all that come from?? Plus, the continual bending over and repetitive wringing motions make this a work-out.

Let it be known that the apartments of my host family and the other host families in my cluster all have washing machines. It’s a Peace Corps instruction, though, that we learn how to wash our clothes by hand, as the luxury of a washing machine will very likely not follow us to our permanent sites. Washing machines are expensive, and, like most items people have to save up to buy, they are treated well. In my apartment here, my host family has two televisions, a computer, a microwave—pretty similar to what people in the US would consider standard.

Last night was the birthday of my host sister, Ira [pronounced Yee-ra… actually, I’m not sure how she spells it in English…]. After a brief adventure involving accidentally taking the wrong trolley home to, well, not home, I successfully returned to find lots and lots of shoes just inside the doorway. In Ukraine, people take their shoes off upon entering a home, and often put on socks or slippers they’ve brought along.

Once in the door, I was greeted by a hug from the son of my other host sister [Vika], Igor [pronounced Yee-hor… again, that’s my English spelling at work there]. He’s four, and my occasional alphabet study partner. In the living room, about twenty people were packed in and dining on a tasty celebratory dinner. In Ukraine, the tradition is for the birthday guy/ girl to treat everyone else, and Ira and her mother, Tamara, were bustling about, carrying plates of food and talking excitedly to others. Various friends and colleagues were seated around a long table, and I also recognized another PC Trainee, Matt. Why not? It turns out that his host mother and mine work together.

Lots of food, lots of toasts [mine were with juice and then yummy homemade compote], and lots of smiling ensued. Pictures, conversations of varying success, and general overall entertainment resulted. At cake time, several of the guests sang “Happy birthday to you”—yes, of course in English! The cake [torte, more or less, in Ukrainian] was excellent, with five or six alternating layers of vanilla and chocolate spongy cake, creamy… well, not exactly frosting—more like fluffy mortar [what? yes], and a layer near the bottom that included sweet plums. I thought they were cherries, and was surprised, but they were definitely today’s word: смачно [smahtch-no]—delicious!

Monday, October 12, 2009

post 12 october

Language learning progresses, with complications in terms of possession, multiple cases, flexible nouns and adjectives—and now verbs to be conjugated, sentences to be developed, and some sense to be made. Our language teacher’s living room/ our classroom displays more and more charts, and it’s time for some flash cards to help the process along.

Transportation is one of the exciting/ challenging parts of life in any city, and the lack of any published schedule is only slightly exacerbated by minimal language skills. People travel via bicycle, motorcycle, private cars, taxis, mini-bus [called marshrutne], trolley, and bus. Most people definitely seem to take public transportation, and there’s rarely overwhelming car traffic. The city is full of walkers, too, which may or may not be the same once it starts getting colder.

Each morning, I take the bus [number one, if you’re interested] to language lessons. Riding the bus costs 1 hryvnia and 50 kopeks. Often, in the afternoon or evening, depending on how much I want to walk, I take a trolley [usually number six or nine, by the way], which costs 1 hryvnia. The current exchange rate is about 8.4 hryvnia to one US dollar.

Buses and trolleys are usually full at rush hours—work is 8-5 for most people. Sometimes a conductor will walk around and collect money and give tickets, and sometimes you have to pay the driver. How does a driver make change, print a receipt, and drive a bus at the same time? I don’t know, but it seems to work out just fine. I’m even more amazed by the conductors—I’ve only seen women doing this job so far—who manage to collect fares from everyone on a squished-full bus, make and pass change down through several people, check IDs for school student discounts, ensure that older people ride at the right rate [Free? I’m not sure yet, but I think so.], and more. Plus, this is on a vehicle ridden by a huge range of people, of all ages and occupations, and carrying briefcases, backpacks, shopping bags, and buckets of grapes.

The new language phrase for you today: авжеж. Pronounced ahv-jej, this means “of course.” Of course that man has two huge buckets of grapes on the trolley tonight. Of course you can buy candy right on the street. Of course people are carrying flowers around all over the place. Of course this water is carbonated. Of course this bus goes to the church—but which church?!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

address me!

Hi, all!

It's a few days between entries here, clearly, but I'm writing! I'm keeping my blog public, so that everyone can read, but that means I need to run my entries by a training manager. Also, I can receive mail, I've just discovered-- flat letters only-- but if you want the address, let me know!


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

picture time!

Now a chance to post some pictures--

Take a peek in the album linked on the side column!

The group waiting to leave JFK
My Philly roommate, Samantha, and I on the flight to Frankfurt
Fancy bread and salt as part of the welcoming at Desna, the retreat center where we spent our in-country orientation
Desna, the retreat center
Desna, the river
The park center in downtown Chernihiv
Moya cimya—my family, in language-learning style
What would you order? Pizza!
My room
Side view from the balcony
Cluster-mate and podrooha Laura Ruth
Statue of Lenin
Powerwheels to rent from a babusya, with Saint Catherine’s in the background
Another beautiful park
Pastries galore!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

3 october

The past few days have included several minor victories, including traveling on public transportation alone to uncertain stops, successfully buying various items at stores and restaurants without assistance, and just generally keeping it together.

Our language lessons are pretty thorough, but our teacher, Oksana, is excellent and patient. We’ve just started to find out more about our technical assignments—job stuff—which for my whole cluster is either university teacher or teacher trainer. Education is the part I feel good about—more than any extensive past international experiences or Ukrainian language study, we’ll say—but it still looks to be fairly hard to figure out at this point, and I think lots of flexibility will be required. Still, that’s what I’m here to do! It seems possible from this angle that I might be teaching both English and pedagogy, will probably work at a university or a teacher-training institute, and may even live in a dorm.

Tomorrow, Saturday, is a half-day of working, so hopefully we’ll get a chance to relax a little and take in a little more of the sights and sounds of Chernihiv. Most of our cluster has just gotten phones, and most volunteers and trainees seem to have the same service, which allows us to call each other for free. This will be a helpful backup if we get lost… although it’s also pretty likely that we can’t offer too much support beyond the distant moral support. If you tell me what road you’re on and what you can see… and I can tell you how to tell someone nearby, “I’m lost!” --- я заблукала!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

october 1

So, I’m here! After a rapid series of days in Philadelphia, traveling, and in a retreat center in a beautiful part of Ukraine, I’ve made it to my host family in Chernihiv. Over the past few training days, we’ve been informed of all kinds of policies, norms, and possibilities, and had training on security, health, and a very small bit on language. Now, our large group has been broken up into clusters, meaning a set of several Peace Corps Trainees [we’re still not Volunteers until we’re done with Pre-Service Training and sworn in] are in each of many different communities across the region, living with separate host families. Each cluster is supported by a language teacher and a technical trainer, who will work to help us develop our skills during PST.

I’m typing this up on my first night, but hopefully I’ll be publishing this tomorrow at a wifi spot in Chernihiv. It’s a pretty decent sized place, with about 350,000 people, but I really can’t tell you too much about it yet, other than my host family seems great! I am living in an apartment in town with a mother and one of her two daughters, and have had a pleasant time, eaten good food [veggie burgers from scratch, a cabbage-based salad, and potatoes with sour cream, plus watermelon, and a fruit tea/ compote—yum!], and shared lots of pictures.

Well, another day later, and I’m ready to post! Lots of language learning and the start of some technical training. We’re learning to find our way around town… sort of… We’re also discovering how many people speak Russian and Ukrainian, even mainly Russian, which makes for a few challenges in trying to pick up the language swirling around in an exotic and exciting wave. The leaves in town are changing, and the fall air is crisp and fresh. We’re being kept very busy, and even though I do feel mostly adjusted to the change in time zones [+7 hours from the US], I’m definitely ready for bed as soon as the opportunity is available.