Tuesday, November 16, 2010

post 16 november

A few years ago, I got my dad a Christmas ornament-sort-of hanging that featured a cowboy hat and said, “All My Heroes Are Cowboys.” Now I’m wondering if it might be possible to find one here that reads, “All My Heroes Are Cossacks.”

Last night, I went to yet another concert-show, a cultural showcase of Ukrainian splendor. This one featured Cossacks, old and modern music, singing, and dancing. Nothing too unusual for a show in Ukraine, but this was a particularly good one.


At one point, I found myself thinking, ’Well, I guess I’ve been in Ukraine for long enough that I’m getting used to this. I haven’t even taken a picture yet. Okay, so I’m adjusting. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad show.’

Shortly after, as you’re no doubt anticipating, I was taking pictures. And videos. And clapping enthusiastically, obviously in an appropriately rhythmic fashion.

So, maybe it’s something you never get over. People here, too, seem to be pretty taken with celebrating their own culture, so I’m in good company.

Other reasons to celebrate, in the past few months, have included a salo festival, a Lutsk production of Carmen, some successful completions of service by fellow PCVs, some travels, some visits with family, and some writing.

1. Salo festival. Salo’s pig fat, so there’s that. I don’t eat it—no, that’s not something that’s changed!—but it’s a point of controversy among PCVs. Is it totally disgusting and worth avoiding, or is it delicious and worth appreciating? Or, is it something that you ought to eat to be polite, but no more than is necessary? Salo is served in a variety of forms, at a variety of temperatures, and with a variety of toppings, additives, and accompaniments. Finally, a festival that celebrates this Ukrainian classic! It was a rainy day, but an opportunity for attendees to sample various kinds of salo, buy lots of meaty products and other souveniers, watch singing, dancing, and music-playing, and even greet several extremely fresh salo... donors? I mean, there were pens of live pigs down one aisle. Very strange.

2. Carmen. Saw her! She sang in Ukrainian, and did quite an excellent job of it. In this show, actually, she was split into four different, colorfully dressed ladies, each of whom took turns with her lines and personality aspects. I’ve never seen the show before, but I’m told there were lots of changes from the original. Still, I enjoyed it.

3. COS. COS stands for Completion of Service, in Peace Corps talk. For me, it means that some of the friends I’ve made over the past year are heading back to the US. Why?! Seriously! Of course, I wish them all the best, but will definitely miss them. I’m looking forward to meeting up with many of them again, but in the meantime, wish them the best with their next adventures. Katie, star of many fine photos and of the nearby town of Rokyni, has already left, and is already missed.

4. Recent travels. One trip took me to a warden training meeting [safety first!] in Lviv, to Komarno to visit family, and then to Horohiv to visit Becky and to see what her town and yoga class are all about. Last week, I headed to Kyiv and then to Chernihiv to meet some new Peace Corps Trainees, to hang out with my dear cluster-mate from training, Laura Ruth, and to visit my host family. Plus, on the way back through Kyiv, I had the chance to visit with Maria, my former tutee and good friend who’s now a university student in the big city. Good times all around! So interesting to be back in Chernihiv, and to see how much more I understand! I also really enjoyed meeting the new PCTs, and wish them all the best as they finish up their final few weeks of training and get ready to head off to their new [as-of-yet-unknown!] sites.

5. Visits. As mentioned above, I had the chance to visit a bit with some Krut family members in early November. On the hour-long bus from Lviv to Komarno, I ended up chatting at great length with a woman who knows my family. Komarno isn’t a big town—I think there are about 5,000 people—so it’s not a surprise that she’d know someone I was planning to visit. It was sort of a surprise to me how curious about everything she was, though! Lots of good practice speaking Ukrainian to start of that part of the trip, certainly. This visit featured lots of delicious goodies—as is always the case! For the first time, though, I had compote [like juice] made from dried apples, and found it excellent and the closest thing to apple cider I’ve had here. It seems odd to me that there’s no apple cider industry, or even production at all, as far as I can tell, because there are lots and lots of apples around. Another first was haluptsi [cabbage rolls] stuffed with mashed potatoes, instead of the usual [for me!] rice, carrots, and onions. This was an excellent discovery, as well, as mashed potatoes make everything better. Well, lots of things, anyway. :) I also had a chance to study English with Ivanka’s daughter Iryna, who is enjoying Disney’s Magic English DVD and book series. “One, two, three, we are happy! One, two, three, we are family!” Indeed! Iryna and I also went with Krystyna on a very leafy walk through a park I’d never been to before, complete with lots of modeling opportunities—mostly for Iryna. I also went boot shopping at the weekly bazaar with Ivanka and Krystyna, contemplated patterns with seamstress Natalia, visited with Hanna, was fed and housed and cared for by Bohdan and Slava, played with a tiny kitten, and saw [totally different from ‘watched’] a pig being gutted. Opportunities!
Also, I had the chance for a short visit with my host family in Chernihiv. They all seem to be doing pretty well, and Ihor is getting so big! I know that this is the standard thing to say about young kids after not having seen them for a while, but it’s true! My host mom, Tamara, has a new Peace Corps Trainee staying with her now, too. I was the first, then Blythe, and now Abby! I’m really grateful to her for continuing to host Americans in need of lots of help and support, because I know that she’ll be able to help! I learned that they thought I was a very good student during training, and that they’re very impressed with my language skills now, too. Of course, I definitely understood a lot more of the conversation over tea than I did on an average day during training, so that was good for my confidence, too!

Now, Halloween’s passed and Thanksgiving is approaching. Several members of my local PCV family will be coming over to my place to celebrate the holiday with lots of eating and hopefully some American football [watching!]. Before then, though,

6. Writing! November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, as you may know, and this is the fourth year in a row that I’ve undertaken this challenge. Write a 50,000 word novel in one month, and you, too, can be a winner! Several fellow PCVs are taking on this challenge for the first time this year, including members of a new informal writing group I’ve started, and I wish all of us the best! I’m way behind at the moment, but hey, there’s plenty of November left before I need to start really freaking out. The weather’s just been so nice… and I’ve been traveling… and I added an aerobics class on top of my yoga class…

Hope the weather’s nice where you are, too! Always happy to hear from you…


PS-- new pictures are up, too! :)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

post 30 october

The more things that happen, the more there is to tell you about. The more delayed the posting, the more things that happen.

Certainly, though, these happenings are more of a combination of minutes than major Events Of Importance. To that end, here are a few of the minutes from the last week or so. :)

I didn’t go looking for light, but it found me suddenly, striking down right bright angles in the yellow leaves of white birches lining the long road out of town. Eyes drawn to the right, seeking the source, the sun, unstrung and shaking itself out in the cold, clear air—almost missing the boy on the other side of the street. He’s slowgoing three or four steps, back from school in a lookingnice coat and tooclean clothes for those toodirty shoes. Up the alley, before he turns in, two little low dogs hurry up to confront, sharp barks: the race is on. Down he turns, into the dust, all three chasing each other from every angle, haphazard from habit and escape.

Halfway between my waist and the sky, my red vinyl bowlingstyle bag perches on the seatback just in front of me. Twenty minutes in and I’m still standing, still pressed in between smells and bodies: cologne, onions, humanity. The woman sitting in front of me is chattering incessantly to her friend, neither of them pausing to listen to the other, but nodding emphatically to show their bonded support. Music from a different world suggests an indie rock escape straight from recharged energizers to my ears on thin green cords, but my eyes know differently. My eyes catch the bumpy landscape through thin, gold-scalloped curtains topping the dustdressed windows, all distressed but cared for. I am awkward and I do not belong and I am in the space belonging to others.

Minutes ago while K was talking I looked past her through the window across the courtyard on the roof of the building opposite and there was a giant flare a torch and I said look at that and she said what.

Now she is still talking and I am listening but what I am seeing is a bright white light. I am hearing about love and distance and I am feeling understanding. Now I know why the flare was lit; now I see why such a flame was needed. Perfectly angled in the same spot, the same plot develops with a twist, lifting up from the earth now as a wide white circle. Flamed from within, lifting on heat, the moon starts its easy climb into the obvious sky, full and patient.

Sudden upclose quiet following something else dropped, rolling with a forward lean from a coat-padded lap. Sidebeside friends glance and shake their heads with undecided laughs on their quiet-in-the-audience lips. Embarassment flushing the dark, wondering what and where to. Behind, loudbreathing rows of underage camouflage feign interest in a slow scene onstage, waiting for more action from the seductive Carmen and her feisty friends to spice things up a little. Lean back into the velvet insulation of a first-row balcony seat, carefully fingerchecking the secondhand purse that could have done better.

Waking up on top of the covers, face down, curtain open. There is an order, and this is not it. Foggy seconds recall nothing. Light streams in gray and weak, probing a sidetwisted neck and a crackback groan. Whiteframed window, tapesealed against cold and night. Left fingers clean lefteye corners, deep yawn presses chest to mattress, inflates memory. An hour has passed. Butter now soft on the kitchen radiator. Time to turn the oven on.

This is not the lesson plan. This is something else. This could be learning. Five out of ten are in class. Five out of ten are whispering, a group of two and a group of three. They are too quiet to offer up a clue of language. I have given five minutes. This one is too long. I sit. Take attendance. Offer space, control. Soon I will walk, check their work. They take turns glancing up at me. I look up and down, breathe in patience and optimism. Soon we’ll be able to tell. Who understands?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

post 28 september

Now I am writing a blog update!

Success is nearly mine! And yours, too! :)

Here's the outline, to start with--

1. went to a wedding
2. spent a day at Lake Svityaz
3. A visit
4. harvesting potatoes
5. beginning of the new school year
6. Kate's birthday
7. Difference-Makers project
8. my birthday
9. filmwork
10. one year

Okay, so let's go!

1. The wedding I went to, of which you've perhaps already seen pictures, was in early August in Lviv. The groom was Misha [Michael], who is the son of Roman, my dad's cousin. Misha is the brother of Natalia, featured in previous pictures. On Friday, before the wedding, Natalia met me in Lviv and we headed back to Komarno to finish up some last-minute preparations. Really, though, she did that, and I ate pizza. Actually, we ate pizza together, with her husband Andriy, after most of the work was done. That night, I stayed with Bohdan's family, and got to peek in at the massive cake and korovai [wedding bread/cake] baking operation underway. It's a family business, involving a lot of work by a lot of people, and a fragrant, magical summer kitchen, glowing warm and golden in the cool summer night.

The wedding was held on Saturday, August 7, and the day started out with hair-doing at an in-home salon, beading with Bohdan's granddaughter, Iryna, and piling onto a bus. The whole crew from Komarno piled onto a rented bus, then headed into Lviv. First, the wedding, at St. Gregory's, a really pretty-- no, dramatically beautiful!-- church-- no, cathedral!-- in the middle of Lviv. There were definitely many weddings going on there that day, but each had its turn with each stage-- pictures while waiting, ceremony-ing, and after-picturing. Afterward, it was back onto the bus to head to the reception site. This was a big hotel-banquet-event complex with lots and lots of food, in multiple rounds, and in lots of locations-- a chocolate fountain, a mini-hut featuring salo [pig fat] and samohan [home-made-style vodka], plus tables well-spread with lots of offerings. Plus, there were many rounds of entertainment, some professionally run, and some more audience-participatory. It was a really long night, but an entertaining one! The bus to Komarno pulled away after 4 a.m., and it was definitely time to sleep!

2. Lake Svityaz is the largest lake in Ukraine, and it's located in north-western Volyn region. This makes it about 3.5 hours on a mini-bus, more or less. It was more than that one fine August Saturday [the one following the wedding, in fact], when Katie and I decided it was finally time to make the trip. She only has a few months left in Ukraine, and I, well, I just wanted to go. It was one of those trips with lots and lots of stops in between official stops, with lots and lots of people squeezing into an already humid space. When we arrived, though, the breeze was lovely and the water was pleasantly cool. Although our visit was only seven hours long-- approximately equivalent to the time spent in transit there and back-- good times were had. The water turned out not to be as silvery as Katie had been instructed to expect, but pineapple soda and sweetbread with poppy seeds made it all okay. We were amazed by the number of air mattresses that we saw, although their double functions as flotation devices and beach mats made their utility evident.

3. Andy came to visit at the end of his European summer adventure series, and it was a great opportunity to show him places that I've already been, as well as to explore some new spots together. To avoid repetition, I'll just mention a few of the newer finds. A favorite new spot was the Kyiv Pecherska Lavra, or Cave Monastery. There's a whole campus of green and white and gold buildings, plus, of course, caves. To enter the caves, you should be dressed modestly, which means having your head covered, if you're a woman. Carrying a lighted candle, proceed underground with a crowd of other people, press into the narrow corridors, and pay your respects to a number of icons, as well as the bodies of many saints. This is, needless to say, a very holy place for the Orthodox church. In Kyiv, we also explored the campus of St. Sophia's and visited a gallery exhibit of a world photojournalism contest. Other "new" bits included celebrating Lutsk City Day-- in fact, the 925th anniversary of this fine city-- with a variety of concerts and festivities, touring the tunnels below the Church of Saints Peter and Paul [beside the Lutsk casle], and celebrating Independence Day in Lviv. Lviv is usually referred to as the capital of Western Ukraine, or sometimes as the capital of Ukrainian culture, and it was a great place to be on August 24th. Many people wore traditional clothing, especially embroidered shirts-- vishyvankas-- and there were all kinds of celebrations underway: an international dance concert series [EthnoWhirl]; an independent film festival [KinoLev], which featured the films of Fellini translated into Ukrainian for the first time; laser, lights, and music shows on the front of the Opera Theater; lots of good food... a special vendor of deruni (potato pancakes) [and other stuff!] on market square, tasty super-melty-thick hot chocolate, super-green spinachy soup, nachos... yum. It was really great to be able to share all of these parts of my life here with Andy, and I'm so glad he was able to come-- especially at such a festive time!

4. I got to help harvesting potatoes! Lida, with whom Katie lives, asked if we'd be interested in helping, and Jonathan and I said yes! So, Katie, Jonathan, Lida and I spent a few hours-- the sessions split by rain-- harvesting potatoes, which turns out to be pretty difficult. We agreed that all PCVs should take advantage of such an opportunity to learn how much work is involved in this staple food. Not hacking apart too many potatoes with the hoe was the major challenge, but balancing all of those bags on a bicycle to get them back into the storage cellar wasn't too easy. Lida fed us well, though, and we had a good time.

5. So, school started! September 1, the Day of Knowledge, is the first day of school every year in Ukraine. At this point, I'm teaching masters' students in Applied Linguistics at Volyn National University, third-year journalism students at the Humanities University, and teachers at the Teacher Recertification Institute. So, much the same as last year, but with variations. For example, during the first four weeks, I was able to teach Creative Writing three times a week to a class of fifth-year specialist students-- hooray! I'll probably work with some other classes, too, on an as-assigned or as-possible basis.

6. A few days after the start of school, it was Kate's birthday-- she's a PCV in a nearby town, not to be confused with Katie, a PCV in another nearby town. Kate's birthday meant a weekend get-together, featuring trips to the Golden Dragon, Madagascar, and Versailles. The Golden Dragon, a fine Chinese restaurant with a Russian-language menu, has pretty good food, and a dance floor just waiting for the lights to go down and the music to come up. Live music, that is, appears just after you've finished your fried rice, and begs you to get down with all those ladies-- really, it was only women dancing most of the time-- and to sing along-- "and Venus was her name." A few steps down the street [my street, actually], and it was onto the next international adventure: Madagascar, an African-styled restaurant, without quite the volume, but with better art. Then the next night, it was time for a bunch of Americans to have a big time in Versailles-- a local dance club. It was Kate's birthday, and such was her wish. Lots of loud music, mirrored pillars, and vanilla-smelling fog machines set the scene for a late night of ridiculous dancing. Exhausting, silly, and checked off the list!

7. The Difference-Makers Project is the one I've mentioned before, funded by a SPA grant from USAID. The goal of this project is to encourage students to become stronger leaders and to plan and carry out community improvement/ development projects. Applications, interviews, summer meeting, and another planning meeting all led up to the biggest step: a fall retreat at Lake Svityaz. Yes, the same Lake Svityaz that Katie and I visited a month earlier, but this time, we brought along a dozen friends. PCVs Katie and Jonathan joined my colleage Vika and I in facilitating this retreat from 9-11 September at Hart, a camp owned by my university. It's right on the lake, and has its own meeting, dining, and housing facilities, and we were all pretty impressed by how nice it was. Although it's three-plus hours away from Lutsk, it was the perfect place to go to work on leadership development and project planning and to have fun [games, secret buddies, morning yoga, and more!]. It seems like everyone had a good time, and the students' project proposals sound quite do-able. Now, students will carry out their projects, with the support of monthly meetings, group members, and hopefully the rest of the community!

8. Then it was my birthday! I woke up to a drizzly day at Lake Svityaz, but was surprised by a big sign, an immediate gift, a special "yoga song" [happy birthday!], and cake and balloons at breakfast! I really hadn't intended to plan this retreat for my birthday, but that's just how it had to be. As it turned out, it was a really nice way to spend the day, with a bunch of really nice people! Plus, I got lots of good wishes, through texts and calls, before I even got back to Lutsk. It was really strange, but sort of cool, to realize that all of these greetings were coming from people I didn't know a year ago. Of course, those people I did know sent greetings and goodies, too, and, even as I write this, some birthday treats are still incoming! Katie's birthday was the 12th, so we decided to celebrate together by inviting friends into town the following weekend to watch a football match and hang out in the city. Unfortunately, the football match ended up being on the wrong day [not that I was wrong about the date; the date was just wrong!], but we had a really good time with some really good people, and even got to play bananagrams! :)

9. A few weeks ago, one of the Peace Corps staff members who I really like, Tamara, asked me if I'd be willing to work on a project with someone she knows. At a meeting in Kyiv the week before that, she'd heard me declare, "I love proofreading!" and so she had a follow-up request. Luckily, I do love proofreading, so it was fine! The project turned out to involve a short film about the Black Sea Fleet and its involvement in the Ukrainian independence movement, and my job was to proofread and help to improve the English subtitles. Okay! This past Sunday, the filmmaker invited me to Kyiv to a showing of this film, held at the university observatory, and including lots of dignitaries. Pretty cool stuff, and the film was good, too! In fact, it won an award at the independent film festival in Lviv that I mentioned earlier-- KinoLev-- but I didn't see it there.

10. Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of my group's arrival in Ukraine! It's sort of surprising, but I can definitely account for the time! Sometimes I feel like I've been here forever, but this doesn't mean that I'm bored or that it's easy. There are constantly new challenges and opportunities, and I have no doubt that this will continue during the remainder of my time here. I'm hoping to do a better job blogging and sharing these adventures with you-- consider it my new year [in Ukraine]'s resolution!

Hope all is well with you, and again, please feel free to send me any questions you have! I'm sorry for the condensing-- condensation??-- above, but I'm always happy to tell you more, and I'm always happy to hear from you!


Friday, July 30, 2010

post 30 july

I’m back! After a week or so of relaxing and such around town, I spent most of this past week doing more or less the same thing, but in Odessa!

Last week, in addition to general relaxing, I visited my friend Katie in the nearby village of Rokini. There, we ate lots, walked around, stood in the spot with the third-best energy [?] in all of Ukraine, found out how some people there buy milk [an honor system with an unattended table of big glass jars in the sunny center of town: pour milk into your jar, then leave money underneath], and found how some people stay cool [jumping into the water from fences labeled ABSOLUTELY DO NOT JUMP FROM HERE!]. Lots of good veggies in the lunch, as well as right-off-the-bush raspberries at the dacha [small farm lot just outside of town] were especially appreciated.

Also, university application season is upon us! This means that potential students must visit each university [maximum of five] and department [max. of three per university, I think] to which they wish to apply, wait in long lines, and present their documents personally. This means lots of crowds outside most colleges, institutes, and universities during the two weeks of undergraduate application. I believe that the system is mostly designed to fight corruption, but it definitely seems like a challenge in many ways [travel, waiting, crowds, confusion, etc]. Soon, very soon, though, it will be August, and results will be announced. Unlike in the US, students don’t know which—if any!—university they’ll be attending up until a few weeks beforehand.

Clearly it was time to escape—to Odessa! “The Pearl of the Black Sea” is a major destination for Russian and Ukrainian tourists, as well as a smattering of others. Just about everyone I met there spoke Russian, so I had a few challenges, but overall it was a very nice trip! I took a 14-hour overnight train there, which wasn’t the best, but the trip back was pretty nice [about 8+ hours on a train to Kyiv and then a 6-hour marshrutka [mini-bus] back to Lutsk]. There were no trains back directly to Lutsk, in fact, for a few days in a row! Lots and lots of people are traveling, whether for vacation or for applications!

In Odessa, I stayed at a hostel and met some cool people there, but I mostly had my time to myself to choose my own activities. I ended up visiting a few museums, including the Archaeology Museum, the Literature Museum [my favorite!], the Pushkin Museum, and the Eastern and Western Art Museum [although the Western side was closed]. I also saw some well-known sites, namely the Black Sea [certainly], the Potemkin steps—which have had lots of names, but were given this name for their appearance in the movie The Battleship Potemkin, lots of statues, the City Garden, and the bridge where sweethearts hang padlocks to symbolize their love [throwing away the key, of course]. I also went to the beautiful Odessa Opera Theater for a concert one evening, and then to the Odessa Russian Drama Theater for a dramatic musical production of a Gogol story the next evening. A few hours spent at the beach, some good food, a lot of walking and relaxing in parks, the biggest bazaar I’ve ever been to, and lots of street musicians—including players of gold-painted cooking-pot drums, undergound flutes, bagpipes, and some apparently South Americans dressed up as Northern-style Native Americans and performing.

The weather was sunny the whole time I was there, and only occasionally too hot to move around too far too fast. Plus, the regular breeze was cooling, although it didn’t bring that overly salty smell I’m sometimes used to experiencing around beaches. It may have been that the city just seemed too European to allow too many Ocean City-type connections, but there was definitely some overlap in other ways. Can you imagine how many people were wearing sailor hats? Like the captain kind, often aided by blue and white-themed clothes? Fashion is very much in fashion here. Also, frappucinnos are on their way in, although the one I had was soo creamy it was hard to really conceptualize. I mean this in the most delicious and complimentary way. :)

I’m back in town for now, having passed some lovely fields of sunflowers on the trip back from Kyiv earlier today. The weather is cooler at the moment, which is a fine way to welcome August, in my opinion. I’ll work on posting some pictures soon, but up next is getting ready for a cousin’s wedding, planning the next session of the Difference-Makers’ Project, studying more Ukrainian, practicing cursive Cyrillic, maybe making pickles, and preparing for the arrival of an eagerly anticipated guest! :)

Hope your summer is swimming along pleasantly!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

post 13 july

In the meantime, I went to a night in the castle, did random stuff, and took part in Ukrainian language camp!

The night in the castle was like a lock-in of some medieval sort, with various musical, dance, and artistic performances. Food [salo (ie, fat!), pickles, honey kvass], crafts [glass painting, straw, wreaths], demonstrations [blacksmiths, fire-dancers], and all kinds of fun were packed into the walls of Lubart’s Castle in downtown-ish Lutsk, and hundreds of guests stayed from 9 pm Sunday to 4:30 am Monday to celebrate… history, I guess, but also Sunday [Children’s Day], the day off on Monday [Constitution Day], and the upcoming Ivan Kupala Day [combo of John the Baptist + ancient fertility festival]. It was a long night, with a ninety minute walk home afterward, as the buses weren’t running yet, but I enjoyed it and hope to go again next year… It’s a yearly event, so maybe you’ll be there next year, too! :)

Random stuff? Of course! More concerts, tutoring, English language class appearances, the return of film club [John Wayne in “The Searchers” on the Fourth of July, the arrival of a new volunteer in Lutsk [Terry, who will work at the City Council]… Also, the fruits and veggies are in full, delightful array. Strawberries have come and gone, but plenty of blueberries and raspberries are around, plus peaches and watermelon are appearing. Green beans, peas, zuchinni and kabachok [like summer squash] are now alongside beets, carrots, onions, garlic… Mmmm. I’ve made some attempts at jam, not all of which seem to have the perfect consistency, but hey. It’s a start.

Also, the Difference-Makers Project is underway! Selected students attended an orientation session, and are now on their way to matching their values, concerns they see in the community, and personal talents and skills. Hopefully, their project ideas are percolating, as the next session will deal more with project planning, as well as continuing to develop leadership skills. Finally, in September, participants will gather for a retreat at Lake Svityaz and present their project ideas to each other for final analysis. Plus, they’ll apply for funding from a participant-funded pool, if necessary. Then, projects will commence, with support from all involved. That’s the plan, anyway! :)

Last week was Ukrainian Language Refresher! About fifty Peace Corps Volunteers attended this camp at a nearby sanitarium [in Ukraine, this is more like just a health resort without any sort of concerning connotations!], which was about one hour east of Lutsk—lucky me! We were put in teams, did all kinds of camp activities—organizing morning warm-ups and afternoon games; developing team songs, emblems, mottos, and songs, etc]—and took small group classes, chose sessions to attend [various specific grammar skills, reading, writing, speaking, listening, etc], and took part in different interest clubs, like crafts, conserving, dancing, singing, games, etc. I guess there’s a lot of “etc” in this paragraph, but it’s true—it was a busy time, from optional morning aerobics to evening films in Ukrainian and on-duty team evening patrols. It was really nice to see lots of other volunteers I haven’t seen in a while, and I was glad to have some inspiration to improve my language skills! Unlike many other volunteers, I don’t live with a host family, so my interaction is automatically less, and I’ll have to work harder to progress. Overall, though, I understood a lot and felt pretty good.

Now, it’s back to meeting with English conversation partners, working on my own Ukrainian lessons, and going to yoga! Plus, I’m trying to make watermelon jam, make a paint-less stencil on the living room wall, read everything available, avoid the occasionally overwhelming heat, and plan some summer travel, among other challenges. Oh, and I’m making banana bread, thanks to the generous gift of a breadpan from a Ukrainian friend. The only downside is that I have to grind my own cloves at this point, as I haven’t found them anywhere… So, the banana bread just has a more interesting texture at this point. :)

Happy summer!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

post and pictures 15 june

So, the school year’s wrapping up, it’s warmer, and there are all kinds of fresh fruits and veggies to be had! Clearly, the perfect time to stay inside and finally give you an update! :)

My last class to finish up was Political Linguistics, which was an interesting challenge. I also wrapped up the English class for Journalism students at the Humanities University, and maybe I’ll be seeing them again next year.

I took part in a WELL seminar [English language and leadership] in nearby Volodymyr-Volynsky, and was one of the advisors of the Ancient Greeks! Colorful ribbons told us who was on each team, and spirits were indeed high as the members of each ancient civilization represented learned more about their culture, music, leadership, and project planning. Plus, of course, there was a competition. And pizza!

Also in May, I spent another weekend in Lviv, opening the second bank account for our grant funding [thanks, USAID!], as well as exploring, and going to a rock festival! I’d been thinking of going to this festival, but delayed past the point where the 40 UAH [$5] tickets were available. So, I just made a hostel reservation for Friday night, and not Saturday [the night of the concert]. When I got into Lviv on Friday, it was already dark, and I ended up in the wrong hostel. They’re about a half block away from each other, and neither is well-marked, we’ll say. Anyway, the guy working at the desk at the wrong hostel told me that they had an extra bed for Saturday night still available, and his buddy had a couple of 40 tickets that he couldn’t use. So, yes? Yes! However, when I checked in there the next morning, the 40 tickets were gone. Luckily, there were still 90 UAH tickets, which I decided was okay [about $11], and much better than the 250 UAH tickets that remained an hour later! So, I had an adventure. It was basically just a really long concert, and all of the bands spoke in English in their between-song chats, except for the last band- Okean Elzy. Well, they were the only ones from Ukraine, so that makes sense. It was sunny and hot, then rainy, then sunny again, then chilly at night, but some good music and a new experience.

The end of May is the end of school for students in Ukraine, and although I work at the university level, I was able to experience some of the pomp and circumstance of graduation, as well. Maria, my friend and tutee, graduated from 11th form this year [students in Ukraine don’t go to 12th grade, because it doesn’t exist here!], and I had the opportunity to attend the Last Bell ceremony, as well as the graduation/ concert/ prom/ etc. shenanza! The Last Bell is a ceremony in which the whole school gathers together to celebrate the end of school, and to honor the graduating class. In some schools, this means that the graduating guys wear suits and the girls wear the black or brown dresses, white aprons, long white socks, and big white hair-bows of Soviet times. In Maria’s school, Gymnasium # 4, younger students wear their every-day burgundy blazers, and graduates wear vyshyvankas, traditional embroidered Ukrainian shirts. This ceremony took place on the big grand steps leading down to the park, with various classes of younger students arranged on the steps, gazing down adoringly [perhaps!] at the graduates. The second event I attended was held at the city’s drama theater, and featured lots of fancy prom-type clothes. Though the basic idea was the same, it wasn’t really too much like any graduation I’ve ever been to. Each class entered the stage, each 11th-form teacher danced, various songs and dances were performed, and each individual student received a personalized set of comments from the school director as he passed out the diplomas. One of the parts that really stood out to me, though, beyond all the waltzing and general fanciness, was the fanfare music played for each student as he or she stepped up to the stage, and then as he or she returned to sit down. For the first set of diplomas, when Maria received hers, the fanfare music was “Born in the USA.” Awesome. After this event, students pose for more pictures, then head out with their own individual classes to celebrate with dinner and dancing at a local restaurant. The last part of the tradition has graduates gathering to symbolically meet the sunrise together at a bridge.

In late May, I also had the chance to take part in a picnic for kids who live in orphanages and for people with disabilities. We took two big buses out to a very nice church-owned site, about an hour away, and the weather was beautiful. There were lots of relay races and games, a group-prepared meal, and even a concert at the end. It was fun to meet some new people, and totally excellent to see them get really really excited. :)

The beginning of June means strawberries, and I’ve been enjoying them ever since they appeared. The price is now down to about $1 per kilogram [2.2 pounds], and they’re available in buckets and baskets in every market. Cherries are good, too, as are new “young” veggies, including potatoes, carrots, cucumbers… mmm.

And, after much anticipation, my dad came to visit! He was in Ukraine 32 years ago, but many of the people he met still remembered his visit. I met him at the airport in Lviv with a group of family members, and we went straight to Komarno. We spent a few days there, visiting several houses full of relatives, eating lots and lots of good food, touring the town and its churches, and trying to clear up some genealogical questions. Dad even got to do some fishing. Unfortunately, the fish didn’t speak English, so it was a little challenging to talk them into getting caught. After Komarno, we came to Lutsk, and he got to visit my university, see the castle and other sights, and meet a few friends. Here, he got to try real Ukrainian pizza, too! Then, it was back to Lviv, where we had real Ukrainian Mexican-ish food. I was delighted, and although Dad was a little surprised to find cabbage in his vegetable fajitas, the actual corn chips and refried beans were all that I could have asked for! Cousin Khrystyna and her daughter Olya joined us on Thursday in Lviv, and we toured around a bit, including some places I hadn’t been before. Dad was excited about the Arsenal Museum, and the amazing number of cool churches to stop into [it was really hot outside, and they were really beautiful, as well as pleasantly chilled inside]. I really liked a little café where we had coffee, hidden deep under the Museum of Ideas. Plus, the mayor of Lviv was just outside for a conference. I never would have known it was him if Olya hadn’t pointed him out, but now I have his picture. Maybe I should put it on a flashcard or something. Friday was Dad’s last day in Ukraine, and a surprise contingent of family members met us at the airport to say goodbye to him, and to make sure I got back to Lutsk okay. It was a busy, tiring week, but so nice to be able to spend time with Dad and to share with him a little of what it’s like over here. The family here was so thrilled to see him, too, and can’t wait for him to come back again, along with everyone else in the family!

Now, the rest of the summer has begun. There’s lots of time to read, walk around, sleep in, and eat strawberries, which is great, but I’m also figuring out how to fill some of that time. I’m going to be attending Peace Corps’ Language Refresher Camp in July, maybe working at a scout camp, planning and holding some sessions for the [grant-funded] Difference-Makers Project, probably doing some tutoring, restarting film club, volunteering at a local language school’s summer camp, and maybe doing some traveling inside and outside of Ukraine. Everyone I’ve met here has told me that summer in Ukraine is wonderful, and thus far, I’m inclined to agree. :)

-- Here are the just-added pictures, and you'll note that they're in a second album! And-- and!!-- there are actually captions with the pictures! If you know how slow my internet can be, you can imagine how long it took, but I'm working on it! :)

- Lesiya Ukrainka is the most solid member of the English club
- student seminar in Volodymyr-Volynsky, getting excited about projects
- ancient Greece, represent
- group work
- another group of teachers at the recertification institute
- Stare Misto [old city] Rock Festival in Stadium Ukraine in Lviv
- one of the highlights: almost soft-pretzels of delight, sold by the pack on strings
- Okean Elzy [not that you can tell] performing
- lettuce Ukraine in Lviv
- the last bell of Gymnasium # 4—graduating 11th-formers wear embroidered shirts, the rest of the school listens to how wonderful the graduates are J
- sashes and big hair bows for girls are a must at some schools
- there’s a lot of dancing and fancy-dressing involved in the graduation/ concert/ prom/ pre-party celebration
- Maria, in blue, right in the middle J
- relay race at a picnic for kids, including those with disabilities and those who live in orphanages
- teamwork
- intensity in motion
- success
- it’s not butter that’s getting wedged into these about-to-be-baked potatoes, it’s salo [ie, fat!]
- green onions do a picnic make
- Komarno
- looking over pictures with family in Komarno
- one of many family portraits
- fisherguys, Dad and Roman
- work of the season, in gardens and in fields, in all weather
- castle-climbing
- in front of the opera theater in Lviv
- Lviv book market, plus pins and random memorabilia
- advertisement- true, if the borsch is without meat!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

post and pictures 4 may

Just spent a lovely holiday weekend exploring in and near Lviv with family and friends. What, you didn’t have a holiday? Here it was Labor Day, and since the holiday fell on the weekend, Monday and Tuesday are both days off, too. :)

On Saturday morning, my friends Vika and Jonathan and I took a bus down to Lviv and met with my cousins Yurko and Olya. Yurko graduated last year from Lviv Polytechnical University, and Olya is in her fourth year at the Academy of the Arts in Lviv, so they both know their way around quite well. After a tasty lunch, we saw Ivano Franko National University and the Lviv Art Gallery, passed through a rich and bright cultural souvenir market [where I couldn’t help asking a woman in an Ohio State sweatshirt if she had gone there… yes, she said she had, and… I spoke English?!], climbed an unexpectedly high clock tower for a city view, and stopped for a drink at a café where a well-known jazz piano player was entertaining himself and others with any song—or part of a song—that came into this mind. Next, it was a secondhand book market, with books in Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, English, German…Yum. Then, up a hill to a park, then up some flights of stairs, then up to another path and more stairs, and we were at the High Castle. Well, it used to be a castle, and now it’s just a really high lookout on the city. We also passed by a puppet theater, stopped into the pharmacy museum, and carefully made our selections from a handmade chocolate shop… Yum, again! Then, back to Komarno for a short family visit and some sleep.

On Sunday, Yurko and Olya’s mom, Khrystyna, played the tourguide role, and we visited the church where her husband, Father Ihor, was having a service, passed a bicycle race through the center, and then headed to a huge forest/ park that serves as a museum of folk architecture. Buildings from different Ukrainian time periods and places have been transported and rebuilt here, including many churches and houses complete with wells, storage buildings, etc. Lots of tourists were taking lots of pictures here [in all of Lviv, really!], as well as couples taking wedding pictures and people dressed in traditional clothing posing in traditional scenes. This park also included a small farm of domestic animals, a pysanky exhibit, and an exhibit of modern paintings and wood carvings. Back near the center of the city, via trambaye [tram], we passed by the arsenal museum [to be saved for next time!] and went into Saint Andrew’s, a huge and ornately decorated church, which was apparently used in the filming of The Three Musketeers. Finally, a tasty lunch/ dinner at Potato House—Greek salad and baked potatoes with cheese and mushrooms on top—and then to the bus station, where I met up with friends and headed back to Lutsk in the middle of the only actual thunderstorm I’ve experienced in Ukraine. Many puddles and some really wet shoes later, a successful journey completed! The only problem—how to choose which pictures to post?!

- Also, I went to my first European football game, and our team won, so that’s a good start.
- Replanted some spider plants into re-styled plastic bottle pots, in keeping with the recent celebration of Earth Day.
- Our grant project was awarded funding, so we’ll be able to hold the summer leadership trainings and September retreat for local university-age youth. If all goes well, the application process will be done within a month, and students will begin to work on the creation of their own community projects.
- Mushroom gravy/ sauce on vareneky [pierogies] is delicious, as is apple soda.
- If you want to get a modern Ukrainian song stuck in your head, try “Я Так Хочу” (Ya Tak Hochou) by Океан Ельзи (Okean Elzy). They’re from Lviv, sing in Ukrainian [as opposed to Russian, see] and I’ve just read that the lead singer has a degree in theoretical physics.
- It’s really sunny today!


picture captions:

- PCVs after presenting at the TESOL conference in Rivne, a little over an hour from Lutsk
- spring trees, with Easter white knees
- how gardens grow: greener
- out to dinner for the best vareneky contest/ celebration with friends on the opening of their new school
- said school, much Ikea’d
- English Club preps for Earth Day
- blue and green, heavy on the green
- small amusement park in the surprisingly large park downtown
- an artist lives here—could you tell?
- soccer/ football: Volyn 4, other team 0

in Lviv-
- Ivan Franko, plus Vika, Jonathan, Yurko, and Olya
- Ivan Franko’s university, plus Vika
- Taras Shevchenko does the wave near the center
- Lviv opera theater
- climbed up… all steps, no elevator, and with close-shouldered twists near the top
- part of the straight-down view from the top
- pretty cutelike
- one of many ornately lovely churches
- secondhand books, worth many second looks
- several stages upward to the High Castle…
- which turns out to no longer include a Castle… just High
- [oldest] pharmacy museum
- with relatives in Komarno- Ihor, Khrystyna, Eugenia
- part of a pysanky exhibit in the huge park that’s a museum of folk architecture
- one of many buildings in this park/ museum
- with Khrystyna, who was my family guide for the day :)
- church from the 18th century
- old schoolhouse
- inside old houses,
- with traditional such
- inside the schoolhouse: school on one side, teacher living space on the other
- somewhat-unexpected windmill
- back in the city, ceiling and organ of Saint Andrew’s, a giant and beautiful church apparently used in the filming of The Three Musketeers
- statue [really?!]
- green-in/ green-out

Monday, April 19, 2010

post 19 april

I have to admit it’s getting greener


Spring is a completely different country

Choose your title! Either way, you get the idea… Things are warming up—maybe not constantly, but vaguely consistently headed in that direction—and this means new leaves and flowers and veggies, new holidays, high spirits, and more people out and about wearing fewer layers. Out from underneath those down-stuffed coats and fur-fringed hoods, more optimistic beings are appearing, delivering handfuls of daffodils and buying fresh radishes at the market.

Today, I bought radishes at the mini-market in front of the closest post office. You know, it’s the one that’s the sidewalk lined by mostly older weather-impervious ladies with displays of apples and beets and water bottles full of milk. I cannot remember ever buying radishes at home, but here, today, it seemed like the right thing to do.

This past weekend, I earned two certificates. One was for presenting at a TESOL [Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages] conference, as part of a panel on critical thinking and active citizenship. Beyond the fact that two of the other members of my panel were from my training group in Chernihiv—Laura Ruth and Sharon—one of the perks for me was seeing Zoya [a really impressive master teacher who I saw present at the Teacher Recertification Institute in Chernihv] taking notes while I was talking and looking intently at my PowerPOint. Hooray! The second certificate was for being part of a winning team in a vareneky [pierogie]-eating contest. It’s clear what the perk was in that situation. Although, it’s hard to say which certificate I’m more pleased with. :)

Easter has come and gone, preceded by a frenzy of inside-out cleaning, accompanied by lots of baking, and followed by full bellies. I spent the holiday weekend with relatives in Komarno, which is an hour south of Lviv. I had a really nice time there and was very warmly greeted by each of the six or seven families I visited. Of course, this made for a lot of eating—pascha [Easter bread], eggs, shredded beets and horseradish, diced eggs and horseradish, veggie salads, probably about seven kinds of cake… plus cherry compote and even strawberry compote—yum! I attended the basket-blessing service—so many people lining the walks around the beautiful blue church! In a town of about 5,000 people, I was amazed by the number of people gathered together. I also visited two other churches and saw a concert/ pageant/ song-and-dance-and-play presentation/ celebration performed by local children. Two of my cousins [everyone’s either a cousin, an aunt, or an uncle, in my shorthand explanations!] took part—one as an egg, and one as a rabbit carrying horseradish in place of the typical [to me!] carrot. It was a bit challenging to spend three days speaking almost exclusively Ukrainian, but it was good practice, of course! Everyone was very generous with their understanding, their send-home goodies, and their offers: Come and we’ll show you how to make good varekeny! Come and we’ll give you a tour of Lviv! Come! You’re welcome!

Of course, school’s still going on. I’m finished with one Applied Linguistics class [more or less Creative Writing], and two English Philology masters’ classes, and this week marks the end of my Applied Linguistics masters’ classes. Still, Political Linguistics starts tomorrow [oh my!], and I’ve picked up a class at the Humanities University down the road, so I’ll stay busy.

In connection to school, I’ll add a bit of explanation about the last few pictures I posted last time. The week after Easter was a pretty entertaining one, as it was the week of the College of Romance-Germanic Philology, i.e., my little part of Volyn National University. This meant that, after the Monday holiday, we returned to Ukrainian Day and an opening concert [Tuesday], German Day and a Miss of the College contest [Wednesday], American Day and Mr. of the College contest [Thursday], and French/ Spanish Day and a closing concert [Friday]. Yes, there are lots of talented students, hence all the contests and concerts, as well as all of the languages spoken and sung within. Thursday was perhaps the most exciting for me, as American Day ended up with the Applied Linguistics Department dressing up as cowboys and performing a variety of country and country-esque songs. The winner was Vika’s class, with “Have you ever seen the rain” by CCR—nice! Plus, I was asked to be a judge for the Mr. contest, which was sort of entertaining, as my Ukrainian skills didn’t cover all of the material included, we’ll say. Still, watching a set of five guys try to give five girls hair-dos for randomly drawn occasions [first day of work, meeting boyfriend’s parents, etc.] didn’t really require too much vocabulary.

Wednesday night of the same week brought an Easter concert spectacular. There’s really no other way to describe it, but it was traditional, Ukrainian, and quite grand. Adding that to Maria’s showcase concert and the jazz concert, my concert total is rising rapidly!

More random bits…

I saw a delegation headed by a Massachusetts state senator speak at the Humanities University—more or less about active citizenship. Cool!

The grant proposal has gotten lots of very positive feedback, and will hopefully be funded soon!

I’ve successfully been to yoga several times now, and hope to keep it up! It’s three times a week, at 7 a.m., and it’s a bit tough to catch the right trolley and get there at 6:45, but the teacher is good, it’s challenging, and I’m enjoying trying to follow along.

Yesterday I received a package of Melissa tea as a gift. It’s tasty!

Film club continues to watch a wide variety of films… most recently Tom Hanks’ Big and the Coen brothers’ Millers’ Crossing… One of those was definitely easier for everyone to understand, including the two of us who are native speakers! We were a little concerned about Air Force One because of the way the Russian terrorists were portrayed, but it was mostly a success, although not as highly rated as Matilda. :)

Hope everything is nicely green wherever you bloomin’ are. :)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

picture post- 10 april

album update!

- carrying candles home in the rain on Thursday [Holy Thursday, Clean Thursday… the one before Good Friday]
- Because it’s spring, buy real plants and plant them! Because it’s Easter, buy fake flowers to decorate the graves of relatives.
- festive pysanky and pascha [Easter bread] decorations on Tam-Tam
- one of many mosaically decorated bus stops on the way to Lviv
- one of many lovely churches on the way to Lviv
- one of many Easter eggs, prepared here by Ivanna and daughter Iryna
- If the paschas are small enough, you can eat three by yourself!
- Mom/ Grandma Yaroslava helps to prepare baskets
- basket-blessing, and the church is surrounded by people and baskets
- iconostas inside, with “Christ is risen” letters in gold… in Ukrainian, clearly
- baskets
- blessing
- lots more baskets
- front of church
- inside another church
- same church, with me
- iconostas of this church
- mosaic icon
- flower-pysanky hanging in gate in front of old Polish castle, or church
- oldest church
- girls offering bread and welcome to traditional children’s Easter show
- forest animals help this poor little lost girl by bringing her a basket, as well as stuff for it… sort of the opposite of Little Red Riding Hood? J
- each item in the basket talks about why it’s most important—this one, the horseradish [krin], is related to me, so he wins J
- me there
- round and round and round in the circle dance
- inside this old church
- same
- family- Veronika, her mom Mariana, me, Mariana’s sister Anya, and their mom Nadia
- not the only stork nesting on an electric pole in the area
- Bohdan, Roman, and Hanna wave goodbye after packing me onto the marshrutka back to Lutsk
- just about every tree in a yard or on the street is painted solid white about three feet from the ground, but here along the road between towns, one stripe does the trick [both a spring Easter-cleaning and keeping-bugs-away tradition]
- Easter concert spectacular
- maypole and jump-roping as part of the same show
- drum corps in university concert… inside!

Friday, April 2, 2010

post 2 april

While walking home from school a few days ago, I decided to time the trip. It turns out that traveling from my office door to my apartment door takes one hour. In that hour, I pass by all kinds of surprises. Sometimes it’s a free hugs campaign in front of the central department store. Sometimes it’s a set of five Pekingese trundling along in a magically untangled web of leashes.

It wasn’t too long ago that I considered the drive from home to Baltimore to take a long time— one hour. Mostly freeways made up the route, and chances are that I saw a lot more in that distance than I do in the same amount of time here. Still, despite occasional traffic jams and construction—the majority of which were admittedly fairly predictable, too— I usually knew just about exactly what to expect. I don’t mean that I didn’t appreciate the scenery, NPR, or my own car. I do miss those things.

Here, though, I’m definitely surprised much more often. On the way home, it’s nothing to pass by an Orthodox church streaming live music into the neighborhood, then to be followed by this music until turning a corner, where it’s suddenly replaced by someone practicing the trumpet, probably very close to an open fifth-floor window. Another turn, and now it’s techno on the third floor of a different building and a chorus of unexpected ring tones from all angles. One more turn, and the church music returns, mixed with the flurry of soccer— uh, football-playing children.

It’s this sort of collage that I like best— not just one really amazing moment, but a variety of layers of different bits all stuck together in an unexpected way. I mean, when my five-year-old host nephew started singing “I like to move it move it” at the dinner table. When I found a yoga class with an instructor named Taras. When I found that even sweet little old ladies in seemingly remote places have cell phones. When the Applied Linguistics Department’s phonetics contest on December 25th included both a rousing rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and a recitation of “Annabelle Lee.”

Now it’s spring— mostly— and I’m excited to see more and more people out concocting new surprises. Of course, they just see it as life, but I’m so interested in each development: the actual sea of flowers that appears for Women’s Day, the profusion of willow branches on Palm Sunday, the lines at both the “cheap bread” and “fresh bread” stands, the way men will cross the street to shake each others’ hands, the sudden appearance of an unexpectedly English song on the marshrutka radio… Last week I wanted to laugh really loudly when marshrutka number nine was suddenly Rick-rolled… but I decided I’d keep that news to myself.

Of course, I sometimes miss getting places faster, but I don’t miss missing what’s in between the two points. The shortest difference definitely does not pass through Ukraine, but I’m glad I do.

Monday, March 22, 2010

picture post- 22 march

Heya! Here are some more happenings, freeze-framed for your convenience. :)

- group of teachers I was teaching at the recertification institute
- selling flowers for women’s day outside of the central department store downtown
- St. Nicholas’ Ukrainian Orthodox church
- Taras Shevshenko deciding whether to give a speech on his birthday or not
- grafitti in Lutsk of Lutsk, more or less
- my desk, decked out
- pussy willows, with hopefully the last snow of the season as a backdrop
- Maria, my tutee, at her showcase concert
- Maria, with accompaniment
- St. Patrick’s Day, so slightly more green than usual…
- an adorably logoed language school where a few of us helped out
- WWII memorial
- WWII memorial, II
- some kind of museum

Sunday, February 21, 2010

picture post 21 february

new pictures into the album-- sorry they're not as captions, but someday they'll all be magically aligned... :)

- the same night as my presentation on active citizenship, there was a ball- of course!
- you should be so lucky to have your parents send you such an exciting package
- yes it’s here, at the new Adrenaline City entertainment center!
- the result of something magical
- like overnight freezing fog
- haircut with Oksana
- visitors
- inscription on the back of a gift painting, and two of three homemade cakes
- nightlights
- recertification institute meets the sky
- out for breakfast with Anna, including boiled eggs on pillows of spinach and fresh juice and buckwheat bread
- and cocoa and caramel apple croissants!
- more visitors
- more homemade goodies- doughnuts, apple cake, and cookies
- again with the snow

post 21 february

Yesterday I went second-hand shopping in the old bazaar, made bagels, had a coffee-cola float, and did three buckets of laundry. Yes!

Today it snowed again! Okay!

Things have been going pretty well in general. I’ve been busier since the start of the new semester, hence the drop-off in posts. So, some stuff about school, then film club, English club, family, and the future, plus whatever else needs to be addede. Sorry, didn’t mean to go all organizational on you there- just for my benefit. :)

Right now, at the university, I’m teaching two groups of masters’ students in each of two different departments: English Philology and Applied Linguistics. I’m also working with two other groups of fifth-year specialists’ students, one class of which is now Creative Writing once a week. :) I’m in and out of other classes, as well, including a class of fourth year students who are talking about music, and basically anywhere else I’m wanted, if I’m available! In the 11th week of the semester—- it’s a little complicated to look at on a chart, actually—-I’ll start Political Linguistics lectures and then seminars. How exciting! Each of my current classes meets only once a week, so I haven’t been with them too long yet, but I’m enjoying getting to know them and having the chance to talk about a variety of interesting subjects—as always, one of the benefits of teaching a language! Getting to know my students allows them to ask me interesting questions, too, like, “Lots of tourists visit New York City, but where is best place to visit to really see America?” and “Would you like to stay in Ukraine forever?” and “Who are your parents?”

I’ve also started working at the Teacher Recertification Institute. It’s not my primary assignment, but if I’m able to work it into my schedule, it’s fine. Right now, I’m teaching the current group of teachers about aspects of the writing process, and having them write along the way. Hooray! Their general feedback has been positive in general, which is nice, although I definitely giggled a little at the response note that said, “Thank you for such an unusual experience!”

Film club continues to meet on Sunday afternoons, and we’ve moved on from Jaws to Election to My Fair Lady to Born on the Fourth of July. Next week it’s Matilda. Variety is the spice of life. :)

English club has met twice so far in the new semester. The first meeting included two PCVs and two participants—at least we didn’t outnumber them! The second included myself and sixteen participants! The subject was fashion, including a really cool video made by one of the girls who chose the topic the previous week. Next week’s discussion topic is love. Did I mention that there was only one guy at each meeting so far? And that each week it was a different guy? Maybe I should suggest that we choose something a little more, perhaps, balanced for next week? :)

Family! I’ve gotten phone calls, emails, and a letter, and have had two weekends of family visits! It’s tough to say exactly who everyone is, in terms of their exact relationship to me, but I’ve generally decided that anyone who is roughly my age or younger is my cousin and that anyone older must be my aunt or uncle. With that philosophy in place, I can tell you that I’ve met sisters Mariana and Anya, my cousins, and their husbands Ihor and Stepan, as well as cousin Ivanna, Uncle Bohdan, cousin Natalia, and Aunt Hanna. They all made the trip to Lutsk from Komarno by car, and it took them roughly four hours because of the bad weather. I’ve delayed my trip to Komarno until the weather clears, but they’re all very, very inviting! It’s exciting to meet with them, to cook for them, to receive amazingly generous gifts from them, and to do my best to communicate with them! Cousin Ivanna is an English teacher at a primary school, and Stepan studied some English when he was in school, but it’s mostly Ukrainian. Luckily, my vocabulary skills allow me to discuss food and the weather, as well as to point to pictures and to identify friends and family members!

The future! It might involve presenting at a TESOL Conference in April in Rivne, a city in the next oblast [state] over, as well as writing a grant for an organizing a possible summer leadership camp on the apparently quite beautiful Svityaz Lake, and helping out at a superhero-themed camp with a focus on human rights being run by PCV friends of mine in Crimea.

Other things…
- I’ve started my Ukrainian tutoring! That is to say, I’m still tutoring three Ukrainians in English, but now one Ukrainian is tutoring me in Ukrainian. Thanks, Vika!
- I got my ears pierced!
- I’ve received two packages! With wonderful things inside! I have shared the joy of brown sugar!
- I’ve made cookies and bagels successfully in my somewhat-hard-to-figure-out oven!
- I went thrift-shopping in the second hand section of the old bazaar [the one near the castle, if you were wondering :)].
- I am gradually approaching the end of the history translation revision project! I said I was done last week, but then I was informed that there were two more sections left.
- I got my hair cut, and the hairdresser parted it on the other side! Imagine!
- Yes, I think the east coast of the US did have more snow than we had during that snowfestmageddonpocalypse, so yes, I was suitably impressed. There’s a lot of melting going on here, and not a lot of draining [where would it all go?!], but it’s hard to say that means spring is on the way. I actually tried to make such a claim yesterday, but then it snowed hard this morning. Fine.
- Speaking of which, there’s a weather-forecasting groundhog in Kharkiv, and now in Lviv, too!
- I have not seen Avatar or any new movies recently, but I did watch Koyaanisqatsi. Have you seen it? Discuss.
- Lent is going on, and for some, this means no meat, no eggs, and no dairy at all. Wow. I thought that just giving up candy was hard enough.
- Both rounds of the Ukrainian presidential elections have come and gone, fraud has been charged, the appeal has been dropped, and lots of people have lots to say about the topic.
- At first, I didn’t even know the Olympics were going on. I’m not sure if no one talks about them here at all, or just no one talks about them around me. I remember Oksana Bauil! Even if I don’t remember how to spell her name! :)
- My summer is not full! Want to visit? :)

Of course I’m thinking of everyone at home— it’s hard spending Valentine’s Day apart, not being able to celebrate my sister’s birthday with her, and anxiously awaiting the birth of my best friend’s son. I’m trying to have some good adventures to share with you, though, and I’d love to hear from you and to answer any questions you might have!

Like if you want to send me mail, for example, I’m happy to send you my address. For example. :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


uploaded a few video bits of the YMCA holiday shenenza [my word, not theirs]--
here and here and here and here! :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

picture post 30 january

now the show to accompany the tell—

- shchedrivky, pre-departure
- Christmas tree in the Kyiv train station, both big!
- who isn’t excited to stay in a hostel!? I know Laura Ruth and Graciela are!
- the shape of that logo looks strangely familiar…
- eat the fork!
- a milkshake with no ice cream… not exactly what I had in mind
- snow, yes, snow
- Shevshenko inspires thoughtfulness
- and this university! warning: color in the picture is exactly correct
- one of the features of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Cafe
- available in two delicious languages
- it’s in Cyrillic, so you know it’s not a sign in honor of Tupak, but if you thought that at first, it’s okay
- “I knew right away that it was Ukrainian art when I saw the zebras,” said Laura.
- so there was this story about oranges—how many oranges?
- opera house, varied directions
- discounted babies, a mural, and ticket sales
- did you know that kyiv is the dragon capital?
- coolcool
- McUkraine
- another big church!
- big Catholic church in Lutsk, Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, featuring Ellen, Ali, and Tony
- inside
- the castle gate [insert random Princess Bride reference here]
- yes, there’s a giant chess set, but you’ll have to get past the cannons first
- book museum!
- takin’ the high road
- view from the fourteenth century
- collaboration, makes it happen! collaboration: working together! oh, I think that was cooperation… sorry, sesame street
- inside the school in Rokini, a small town thirty minutes from Lutsk
- all of the energy in the universe somehow flows through this exact spot
- walking back to the highway, you can see Rokini’s sort of far out there
- but it has this rockin’ bus stop
- YMCA holiday show—everybody wants to be a cowboy, baby
- modern dance [hopefully I’ll be able to upload some video clips so you can appreciate this a little more fully]
- the end
- the library where film club meets
- here, in the Window on America room, where no one ever eats cookies, especially not Jonathan

Sunday, January 24, 2010

post 24 january

The temperature was –25 C earlier today, and that was when the sun was out. Now, it’s dark, and it’s time to catch you up! :)

Next was the wildly entertaining holiday tradition of shchedrivky, of which you’ve already seen some pictures and video. Then, a trip to Kyiv for a swine flu vaccination.

Here’s a quick question and answer: Is it Kiev or Kyiv? According to the Kyiv Post, an English-language news source, “Kiev, although very common, is a transliteration from Russian, while the state language is Ukrainian.” So there you go. :)

Anyway, in Kyiv, I met a few PCV friends, ate some good food, and walked around a lot. It was really chilly, but we still got to see several things. A few of us stayed in a hostel, not too far from the circus building, and we saw [mostly from the outside] lots of museums, Shevshenko University—which is extremely red!—ice, snow, and more! There are lots of different parts of Kyiv, with lots of different styles of architecture, many of which can be placed in the “really cool” category. Due to a red-meat craving from one of our party, four of us ate at McDonalds, which I am pleased to report was, as I had been told, better than any McDonalds in the US. How and why? I’m not sure. Really, though, I think that was the best ketchup I’ve ever had. Also, although I’ve never had one at home, I had an apricot pie, too. Apparently in the US, these are baked, but here it was something like deep fried and it was crispy and delicious!

This trip also involved me successfully buying round-trip train tickets, catching each train on time [one while the whistle was blowing, one well in advance of such a warning], and navigating a number of challenges, many of which required maps. I was disappointed to discover that a very promising store did not, in fact, carry either lentils or peanut butter, but this simply means that more adventurous explorations are still to come!

Back in Lutsk, I’m now tutoring three different individuals, and am continuing to work on the history book translation project. There are still two weeks left before the next semester begins, but I’m hoping to find out more about my new teaching schedule soon. Also, this Friday, I’ll be giving a presentation for a local NGO about the importance and role of active citizenship in the United States. Scheduled between the first and second round of elections, this talk is part of an effort by NGOs nationwide to encourage citizens to take part in democracy and to vote according to their opinions and values.

Also, I finally got to see the castle in Lutsk! It’s old! and big! and cold! Well, it might not be cold all the time, but it was when I was there! Inside, there’s an art museum, a book museum, a bell collection, the remains of an ancient church, cannons, and a giant chess set! While friends were in town to spend the night before the regional Collaborative meeting, we visited the castle and a nearby Catholic cathedral, in which there were probably equal amounts of Polish and Ukrainian language, plus some German. The pipe organ is quite impressive, as well, but apparently even more so when it’s played. :)

Last night, after dinner at a local restaurant that serves really good food and 90s music videos, I got to see a YMCA holiday concert, too! Yes, that was the 23rd of January, but it was still cool! Apparently a variety of factors delayed the presentation, but clearly a great deal of practice went into it! The YMCA here isn’t the large, fitness-based building I might have imagined, but it’s more like some rooms in a big rec center with healthy and positive programs for young people. The concert was cool, with all kinds of dance, from hip-hop to near-ballet, and from traditional to very avant-garde, as well as singing, skits, and all kinds of entertainment.

Oh! and my oven’s been certified as usable! and I got an oven rack!!!! :)

Today was the first meeting of the film club at the local Windows on America library. We watched JAWS, and eight people came! With no way to know in advance what kinds of English skills participants might have, we chose a very visual movie, and, along with supporting vocabulary and discussion questions, I think the first week was a success!

Plus, I’ve been in touch with some relatives in Ukraine—through emails, letters, phone calls, and text messages!—and I’m looking forward to meeting with them, once it’s a little warmer, I’m a little better at Ukrainian, and I’m more confident in traveling.

And I got my ears pierced! Imagine!! :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

picture post- 16 january

new pictures, featuring film camp in Brody and an entertaining holiday tradition in Lutsk!

- you've got a friend in Brody, not too far from Lviv
- sleds!
- look! it's me! i'm here, too!
- a really beautiful skyview
- from a really beautiful cemetery
- very old and dramatic looking in the snow
- warm-up games at film camp
- game-plan strategy in front of waterfall mural
- lesson on story-boards
- and the effects of different shot angles and distances
- movie introduction for Up! [the other film was The Princess Bride!]
- another mural opportunity
- well-ordered icicles
- another church, clearly
- pretty sky, local event
- "Bethlehem Fire" is apparently an event welcoming the new year with songs, speeches, and candles [listen and see HERE and HERE!]
- this little church is made out of wood
- these little vareneky are made by hand, although not by mine, with potatoes or cabbage inside
- lunch at the home of my tutee, with a first course of kapusnyak [cabbage soup]
- a flock of pom-pom dogs
- yup, it's snow on trees
- one of my co-workers and her friends, dressed up for a holiday tradition- shchedrivky, on old new year's eve
- the bear and the beauty, cast members, at the dress rehearsal [HERE!]
- oksana, who works at the university, dressed for her role and stuffing pampushki [garlic buns] with fortunes
- the devil does the angel's makeup
- another festive participant
- the first stop on the entertainment tour- a performance for each home, with singing and acting and some dancing, ending with a request for a token of appreciation... not exactly like halloween, but something like that :)
- another house, where the angel's mother receives her fortune [HERE and HERE!]
- another house, another fortune
- is he man, or is he goat, and what does this young audience member make of it all?
- generous appreciation at the last house of the tour


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

post 12 january

So then… I went to a film camp in a not-too-far-off town called Brody. This involved a two-and-a-half hour bus ride each way, students, lessons, a few movies, and lots of running around games. This camp was run by a PCV in town, and several of her friends. Having been in Ukraine for a while, they all seem to have acclimated quite well, and are enjoying their experiences. Plus, they know how to cook! We had homemade bagels [Why are there no bagels in Ukraine?! Maybe because there are so many other kinds of bread…?], vegetarian chili, curried lentils, goat cheese and beet salad, French toast, potato and apple casserole… man! Don’t worry, this smorgasboard was spread over two days. We explored a little bit of the town, including a really old Jewish cemetery with very tall and very close together headstones, and a town celebration called “Bethlehem fire,” which involved some singing and some speeches.

Over the holidays, meaning from December 30 to January 10, I had no school! I did, however, spend time tutoring, and enjoying some more excellent food with a family in town. According to the season, and this family’s love of home-grown and home-made everything, I had a chance to eat homemade haluptsi [cabbage rolls], kapusnyak [sauerkraut soup], vareneky [pierogies], kutya [sweet grain Christmas dish], beresovy cik [birch juice], and lots more! Awesome.

I’m still working on this Ukrainian historical text, revising the translation into more polished English, and this may be the case for some time. I thought I was almost halfway done, but I just hadn’t received all of the files yet. :)

During the next few weeks, while students finish up the first semester and take their exams, I’ll be preparing for the new semester. Plus, I’ve started tutoring a surgeon, may help to facilitate a weekly film club at the library, and will plan for my own English club or clubs to start at the beginning of February. To add to that, I’m making contact with my potential partner organizations in the area: an NGO [non-governmental organization] working to promote active citizenship, among other goals, and a boarding school outside of town.

Also, it’s snowing again! Really, it’s pretty, but sometimes I imagine that there will come a day when snow will be neither on the ground, nor falling. Imagine! :)

Friday, January 1, 2010

picture post 1 january

newly posted pictures are available in the album accessible on the right-hand column of this page! :)

- the oath! Now I’m a PCV! :)
- the speakers! Susan spoke in English, and Ty spoke in Russian.
- the new US Ambassador to Ukraine
- Natalia, my counterpart, and I
- Remember Samantha, my roommate from Philadelphia?
- Laura Ruth and I did not plan to dress this way.
- disperse!
- Jean and Margo and I, just about to go
- onto the train in the neon cold
- our own coupe: Natalia, me, and my luggage
- a few members of my new department, with pizza and cake to welcome me :)
- TamTam
- courtyard view
- Harry Potter in spooky Cyrillic
- university
- icicle brows
- night lights
- English Philology class trip to the cafeteria in the basement
- center square new years trees
- Lutsk in lights
- Leci Ukrainka watches a concert organized by supporters of presidential candidate Yulia Tumoshenko
- big church, big cranes, big [re-, I think]construction
- the same candidate, posing with a tiger—because 2010 is the year of the tiger! All kinds of tiger knick-knacks and calendars are available, if you’re interested. :)
- I think these kinds of trees are awesome looking, but I’m not sure exactly what they are.
- part of the walk home, with a cool sky and my building [the tall one in the back, on the left]
- a promising-looking construction site on my walk home
- part of the yard of the kindergarten next door
- one of the many well-bundled babies in Ukraine [many are pulled around on sleds, like short toboggans with wooden slats and metal runners… so cute]
- political candidates and new years’ trees for sale
- olady, with apples! like pancakes, but puffier and, well, a lot like pancakes :) According to their cultivator, America has nothing like these apples!
- holiday spirit