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!