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!