Tuesday, December 13, 2011

post 13 december

Although I may sound like a broken record if you’ve just read the preceding entry, I’ve just returned from Kyiv and Mykolaiv after a seminar in the Writing Beyond Reality series this weekend. Still, perhaps sadly, this is the last time you’ll be reading such an announcement. This seminar, the fourth, was focused on publication—through the creation of actual books, zines, sound design projects, and also through performance—and was the last in our series. I’m sad to see this seminar end, but I’m excited about what we were able to accomplish. Of three teachers who attended regularly, one said she now starts her class with freewriting activities and her students get upset if they think they won’t get the chance, another gave her students writing assignments [from the booklet I created as an International Writing Olympics prize last year] and then asked them to create zines—they were awesome!--, and a third asked exactly when we might be having the seminar in Lutsk to find out if she could possibly attend. Note: it’s a long trip. Seeing the writing that participants created, as well as listening to their shifting ideas about publication and writing in general, made all the travel and planning worthwhile. Plus, super-pleased to be able to work with such excellent PCVs in this project! It’s my hope that we’ll be having a similar series in Lutsk this spring, so stay tuned! (http://writingbeyondreality.wordpress.com)

Let’s see…

I finished Nanowrimo! Yeah! For the fifth year in a row, I was somehow able to complete a 50,000+ word novella within the month of November. This year’s book, tentatively titled In Print, takes place mainly in a book café in Lviv, and explores the space between fiction and reality. It needs some editing, some revising, and some what??-ing, but I’m happy to share with whoever wants to read. :)

Jonathan, my first and most fabulous site mate, has finished his service and left Ukraine. I wish him all good things, and will miss his good conversation, excellent taste in music, love of secondhand shopping, sense of humor, and all around let’s-do-something-ness. Sad to see him go, but glad we had two good years here together.

Having finished Nanowrimo, plus watching many of my fellow Group 37 PCVs vanish off into the great western world, I’ve been thinking about the future. So many options! Teaching at FCPS again? An MFA, either in poetry or even fiction? MA in TESOL? Peace Corps Response? Foreign Service? Having realized recently that I took the GRE more than 5 years ago—shock and yarrrr—another reevaluation is in order. Still, lots of possibilities. Got a great opportunity that you’d like to tell me about? I’d be delighted to hear. :)

We now have a Secret Santa project going on at the university! Over 30 people have signed up to participate, most without ever having heard of such a thing. It’s funny to figure out what things that are normal in the US are fresh and interesting in Ukraine. We have two weeks to do two nice things for our secret friends before the big reveal on December 23. Yes, I realize that’s just days before American Christmas, not Ukrainian Christmas, but hey, there are exams and New Years and vacation days in between! No discrimination intended!

The last thing, the big deal of the day: Today’s A Day in the Life of Ukraine! You, clever reader, have noted the additional capitalization here, and you remember my previous post, perhaps, too! Yes, it’s an event. I’m really excited about this project—a cooperative writing project in which people all across Ukraine document the day they experience today, 13/12/11 , as Ukrainians write the date. Hits on the website (http://adayinthelifeofukraine.wordpress.com) are already over 1200, the Facebook page and Facebook and VKontakte events have gotten some attention, and I’ve already started receiving entries at adayinthelifeofukraine@gmail.com. If you’re in Ukraine today and you want to participate, there’s still time! Entries are due on December 19! Check the website for more details.

It’s amazing how such a busy month can be summarized into just a few short points. Still, those are the main ones, so I’ll…

Oh! We had Thanksgiving, too!

And the teacher seminar in Chortkiv was successful!

And the Brain Ring was odd but fun!

And the film festival was great!

Okay, yes, I guess I forgot a few things.

Volunteers in Lutsk joined me and two of my best Ukrainian friends at my place for a vegetarian American Ukrainian fusion Thanksgiving spectacular, featuring lentil burgers and wrapping up with Fanta floats! Saturday was Thanksgiving 2 in Kivertsi, organized by Ben and Val, and attended by 17 PCVs! Too much food, but a warm and happy place to be. Thanksgiving 3, on Sunday, was a mini-celebration, at Window on America Community English Club, and featured a PowerPoint on Thanksgiving traditions, a roasted chicken, and lots of sweets.

The film festival was a great success, even after nearly 40 minutes of technical delay. It was pretty frustrating, completely unexpected, and barely preventable… but next time will be better! The waiting crowd was patient and kind, and we played a little Simon Says to keep everyone awake and happy. When the four films were shown, the audience was appropriately appreciative, and they helped to select the Peoples’ Choice Award winner. Congratulations to ‘The Lost Thing,’ and thanks to the creators of ‘Keep the Secret’, ‘Just the Beginning,’ and ‘To Winter’. Many students—and even teachers!—expressed their support for a spring film festival, and I’ll be very happy to help to make that happen!

Okay, that’s basically it. Really, this time. Happy Saint Andrew’s Day!


Monday, November 14, 2011

post 14 november

Ah, travel. How much I like being in many places, and how excited I am for the invention of teleportation so I can get to all of them more quickly and efficiently!

Spent last weekend in Mykolaiv for the third seminar in the Writing Beyond Reality series. Good stuff. This time we moved on from just working with our five chosen genres—fiction, poetry, drama, creative non-fiction, and essays—into a wider variety of mini-lessons and onward into publishing. We had fun with found writing, slam poetry, a character support group, exploded moments, prose poetry, flash fiction, and more, plus zines, performance, blogging and other digital media, sound art, and bookmaking. The hope is that we—and all participants!—will make their own individual publication projects, as well as contributing to a group anthology.

Traveling between Kyiv and Mykolaiv in coupe instead of platskart was surprisingly exciting. Having a closed-in cabin instead of open sleeping shelves was a luxury, even being on the top bunk. Quality traveling companions always improve every trip, of course—here’s looking at you, Andrew and iea, plus Shannon and Jason!

I just got back early yesterday morning from Kyiv again, having spent three days in Chernihiv on Adopt-A-Cluster activities. This was a chance to meet with a group of Peace Corps Trainees, as well as members of their link clusters, and share my experiences with them. I co-taught a lesson on teaching vocabulary, then led another session on teaching writing. Good times. I think they may have thought I was a little ridiculous with how excited I was to be talking about writing, but hey. Peace Corps Volunteers are a little odd in general, and yes, I am excited about talking about writing! Another activity I got to take part in was a city-wide scavenger hunt. Despite the cold weather—big lovely snowflakes in the morning, but nothing but wet on the ground—the misty, intermittent rain, and the unexpectedly complicated instructions, we muddled through. Where is the 13th cannon? Where is the cheapest place for a man to get a haircut? For a woman to get a haircut? Where is the oldest church in Chernihiv? What’s playing at the philharmonic? The children’s theater? Who is the cut-off man? So many opportunities to gain confidence in asking for help… so much time to build up anticipation of the sweet, sweet hot chocolate to follow. Not all made it through, but those who did were richly rewarded with tiny cups of thick, melty goodness. Mmmmm…. melty goodness…

The deadline for the film fest entries has passed, and we have just four and a half entries [one might be on its way tomorrow, but we’ll see]. Still, it’s really cool to see the work that each team put into their story and production. Vika and I finished our film, too, and it looks pretty good. Will it—or any other films—be available online? Maybe, but you’ll have to wait until after the film festival! It looks now like we’ll have the showing on November 23, but we’ll see. Have to wedge this event between one Ukrainian holiday and one American holiday: Students’ Day—November 17—and Thanksgiving—November 24.

In other news… Newvember is going fairly well. I’ve been doing my best to fit in 30+ minutes of Something Active each day, plus morning yoga, and cutting out extra treats. Hard to tell if there’s much of a difference in how I look, but I feel pretty good. Plus, I’m sure my neighbors across the courtyard find it very entertaining when I’m doing the Bollywood Dance Workout in front of my living room window at night. Showtime!

Nanowrimo is… progressing. At this moment, I have 15,382 words, so I’m behind, but I’m pushing on! To those of you out there engaged in the same challenge, my writers-in-arms, I say: goooooooo! I mean, GO!, not something gooey, you understand. Why is it so hard to write that? Goooooh?

Next up is A Day in the Life of Ukraine. If you live in Ukraine, you can participate! If you know someone who lives in Ukraine, tell him or her to participate! The more, the merrier, and the better representation of the many ways in which people in Ukraine live their lives today—well, not today, but 13/12/11… December 13, 2011. Join in!

This week there’s a brain ring contest where I’ll be a judge, a teacher seminar in the town of Chortkiv, in Ternopilska oblast, and lots of other excitement, including actual classes with actual students! Imagine!

Also, this week brings the end of Peace Corps service to many of the members of my group—PC Ukraine Group 37. It’s really strange to imagine what things will be like without 81 of the 98 people left in our group—17 of us are extending. Best wishes too all of those on their way out over the next month—between November 17 and December 17. Congratulations on what you’ve already accomplished, and good luck on all you’re going to accomplish in your next steps in life. Щасливо вам!

Monday, October 31, 2011

post 31 october

I have some bad habits.

I don’t mean to say that I’m the only one, or that my habits are worse than your habits.

I’ve been looking forward to November since, well, slightly after last November. November, as many of us know, is Nanowrimo—National Novel Writing Month, a fabulous writing-motivating opportunity/ challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. You can read more about it—and sign up!—at nanowrimo.org, but for now, I’ll just say that I’ve done it for four years, and I’ve finished each year. This year, I’m doing it again.

Nanowrimo is a great chance to be completely self-indulgent and offer myself oodles of time to enjoy my favorite hobby: creative writing. I realize that I need to do other things, too, of course. Over the past four Novembers/ Nanowrimos, I’ve taught full-time, planned and carried out two National Honor Society induction ceremonies and two Thanksgiving Dinner Drives, spent a week in Yemen, gone through Peace Corps training, and lived and worked in Ukraine. Easy-peasy.

Still, November also signals the official slide into winter. The colder weather, the holidays, and the general business offer the perfect opportunities to slack off in other areas. I stop working out as much. I treat myself with snacks, sweets, extra sleep, or other bonuses just because “I’ve been working so hard” or “It’s really miserable weather” or “I miss everyone” or other totally valid excuses.

I am also terrible at keeping up with real news. Yes, I read email, Facebook, VKontakte, but I’m missing those NPR-fueled commutes and drives around town. Excuses? I have no time. I don’t understand the situation/ story/ conflict/ whatever fully. I don’t have a TV or radio. Excuses.

Still, excuses they are, so I’m embarking on two challenges this month: NANOWRIMO and NEWVEMBER!

In addition to working toward the 50,000-word goal for Nanowrimo (that’s only 1,667 words per day, friend!), I am pledging to make a new effort in maintaining healthy and useful habits.

Each day, I will make a conscious effort to do one healthy activity for at least 30 minutes, in addition to regular morning yoga. This could be running, a cardio DVD, or even Bollywood dance. Also, each time I turn on my computer, I will read the news on my new iGoogle page and listen to the NPR hourly news. Plus, I will avoid all “treats” that aren’t really treats—food and laziness offered as comfort in place of actual encouragement.

So, now you know!

In other news…

made out of salo, Euro 2012 fever, and a lot of... eww

- - This year’s most unintentionally scary Halloween weekend activity was the annual Lutsk salo festival. Yes, that’s right, salo is pig fat, a popular Ukrainian dish/ delicacy/ garnish, and this festival was, well, not for me.

- - I always forget how good beets are here. That’s all on that.

- - Here’s the next big thing I’m working on: A Day in the Life of Ukraine! On December 13, 2011, everyone living in Ukraine is invited to write about his or her day. These stories will be submitted, and the best and most interesting pieces will be compiled in an online and hopefully print format. The goal is to encourage greater understanding of Ukraine and Ukrainians, both among Ukrainians and abroad. Ukraine is a diverse country with many types of division, and the hope is that sharing stories will help people see each other as individuals and not labels. Sound good? If you want to get involved, or if you’re in Ukraine, and you want to write, let me know! Check out the soon-to-be-more-developed site: adayinthelifeofukraine.wordpress.com

Happy almost-November!


Friday, October 21, 2011

post 21 october

Okay, now I’m really getting caught up. To the minute. More or less.

September 4: Vika gets married! Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Yushak!

September 10: Birthday challenge shenanza! A film-, secondhand-, and vareneky-making-challenge!

September 11: Birthday! Mine!

September 12: Happy fifth birthday, Window on America Center in Lutsk! Hooray, libraries! And America!

September 14: finished translation editing for university album

September 17: Window on America Conference in Lviv

September 18: ran in—and finished!—10K race in Kyiv, starting and ending in Independence Square

September 19: passed dental and physical exams, and therefore cleared for extension of service!

September 23: first Writing Beyond Reality seminar—for teachers—in Mykolaiv

September 27: organized an Activities Fair at the university to connect students and community organizations

September 29-Oct 1: visit to Kryvyi Rih, including seminars for students and teachers and celebrations of Teachers’ Day with students from this summer’s InterCamp in Crimea

October 5-7: US Interagency Conference on English Language Learning in Kyiv

October 8-9: second Writing Beyond Reality seminar—for teachers and students—in Mykolaiv

October 15-16: The Difference-Makers Project retreat, an opportunity for VNU students to develop their own community projects, practice English, grow as leaders, and have fun

October 21: abruptly decided to update blog in the most efficient way possible, bypassing nearly everything and hoping for questions


Sunday, September 25, 2011

post 25 september- catchup, volume 1

I’m typing this on September 25, but I wrote it down on September 17…

Okay! Now I’m getting caught up! I have eight and a half hours left on this train, and I’ve got no escape.

First, rewind to summer. When last we spoke, I had finished Ukrainian language refresher [right? I’ll just check…] and had officially registered for a race in Kyiv in far-off September [ie, tomorrow [ie, last week]].

This brings us to the beginning of August, as I’m barely making the train to Odesa on my way to MASCOT in Mykolaiv. I can easily say that this camp was one of the highlights of both my summer and my Peace Corps service. My rainbow-colored camp bracelet reads “MASCOT CAMP – A PARADISE FOR CREATIVITY AND TEAMWORK” and this is as good a description as any. My two weeks at this camp were an immersion experience in celebrating creativity, embracing the unusual, and exploring possibilities. Our staff—half Ukrainian and half American—spent a few days bonding and preparing (read: creating obstacle courses in a swimming pool, thwacking open watermelons with swords, clearing up curriculum, gettin’ rhythm, making posters, playing games, painstakingly bringing bead-animals to life (shout-out to SALLY!), and just generally getting excited. Finally, the campers arrived: the champions of a competitive application process, aged 14-22, from all over Ukraine, willing to risk all normalcy to have a good time, meet new people, and most likely learn something along the way.

Campers were organized into teams, like homeroom classes—the families of our camp. Along with always-positive Anya, I was lucky enough to be a leader of the splendidly named Mysterious Macho Moose team. And let me tell you—Moose team is red hot! Moose team is red hot! Moose team is R-E-D red H-O-T hot—we can’t help but what we’ve got—we’re red hot! We’re red hot! Ahem.

MASCOT was an exciting blur of team activities, classes (International Studies, Social Integrity, and Creative Dimensions, plus electives and a project-management track), theme days, challenges, bizarre costumes, eggs, and watermelon. Puppets, UNO, American slang [word], Harry Potter in 3-D, songs and cheers for every occasion…

Above all, the people. Campers and staff drawn to this oddly wonderful festival of energy and excitement continually proved themselves worthy of the opportunity. A few near and dear in particular appeared, inspiring and firing up as only kindred spirits can. To those fellow inhabitants of the newly discovered planet TACAH, greetings and thanks! This energy is with me today…

My next stop on the summer schedule was another long train trip [long is a relative descriptor] to Uzhgorod. Here, at the English Language Refresher Camp, PCVs worked with teachers for a week full of methodology, active skills, passive skills, and elective lessons. Although a higher turnout was hoped for, the participants were eager and active. In addition to teaching Methodology (a curriculum written by my friend Michelle and I), I had the chance to create and teach lessons on the writing process, common errors and pronunciation problems, and reading for pleasure, as well as facilitating daily roundtable cross-cultural discussions.

The bonus of this camp, too—in addition to the beauty of the area, Mrs. Greenwich’s pizza pie and coffee café—was the time spent with another fine crew. Those who eat endless cheese sandwiches and watermelon together, catch up on YouTube sharing with the benefit of highspeed WiFi together, and support each others’ knitting, ketchup, and unexpected singing habits together are bound to be happy together.

After a seemingly needlessly long trip back—although just long enough, I suppose—there were a few brief days to unpack before leaving again. However, the shape of those days changed abruptly when my friend Kate decided to go back home to the US early. She had a job offer in her field of choice in the university she graduated from, including a decent salary, room and board, and full tuition in the graduate program she’d been hoping to attend. Lucky girl! Still, we’d both been away and had only returned on Saturday—and her train to Kyiv left on Sunday at noon. Exhausted from travel, sad to see her go, and excited for her new opportunity, I joined her in Kivertsi after returning from Uzhgorod. I had intended to help, but mostly I just sat and chatted while she ran around doing things. I saw her off at the train station on Sunday along with a few of her friends, students, and colleagues. Kate! You’re missed!

Missing Kate was made even more poignant by the trip two days later to our group’s Close of Service Conference. Held in the Carpathians, this gathering is intended to be both a celebration of our service in Ukraine and an opportunity to prepare to return home and to move on. However, I’ve applied to extend my time in Ukraine until next summer, so this was a strange experience. Luckily, my friend Laura, who is also extending, was my roommate, so we had plenty of time to chat and reflect on the oddness of saying goodbye without leaving. This was the final official gathering for our group, but with so many people—now 98 members of Group 37 still in-country—I’m pretty sure I saw some people for the first time ever. I really enjoyed the chance to see many friends I hadn’t seen since Swearing-In. We all laughed at the absurdity of giving brief and meaningful answers to the question, “So, what’ve you been up to for the last two years?” I was asked to give a seminar on writing resumes and cover letters, which out to be pretty fun, and we had many other informative presentations—on possible future jobs, especially—as well as lots of opportunities for reflection. Mesh Night, Ukraine’s Next Top Runway Idol, and a celebration of Independence Day balanced out the serious aspects, as did the beautiful setting and lodging, the pool and bar, and, for some, the actual appearance of the rumored-to-exist bacon-wrapped steak at our final celebration dinner. I had some sort of veggie ragout, not bad… but we all had ice cream sundaes, with chocolate syrup and nuts on top! Maybe that doesn’t sound too amazing, but it was unexpectedly wonderful.

The trip back to Lviv from Slavske, although longer than expected, had the added bonus of offering extra time with a wildly large group of PCVs. We happily spoke English openly, opened almost every window in the train car [usually a no-no, due to the common Ukrainian aversion to drafts—or, as Americans call it, cross-ventilation] and played the dictionary game—where the joke that I had worked for a time writing dictionaries was taken to be true… maybe a clue to a future career path?

From Lviv, I headed to Komarno to spend the weekend with relatives. Unfortunately, it was the only time I got to see them all summer, but they were as welcoming and wonderful as ever. We ate watermelon, played in the playground, learned UNO (sort of), and had a late night picnic in the garden with fresh corn on the cob and other goodies. On Sunday, Bogdan and Hanna and I went to Sambir, where my dad’s cousin Ivan lives. We spent the day with Ivan and his wife Lesya, eating lots and strolling through the city. It was the perfect day to visit Sambir, as it was a holiday, and everyone was dressed up in finery, attending church, and/or just generally looking pleased.

[Still on the train, we’re stopped at a station now, and I’m watching a pair of women out the window struggling to pick up four big boxes full of apples that tumbled from a handcart—men wander by with strings of dried fish, grannies with baskets full of bags of apples, a man with a rolling rack of magazines, an elektrychka on its way away on one side and another arriving on the other—noticing how I’m not taking any pictures because everything seems normal--]

In an effort to meet up with my friend Matt, who’s a PCV in Sambir, I was suggested to tell him we could meet by the church. “Which one?” he wisely asked. “The blue one.” At the blue church, when we arrived, literally hundreds of people were thronged on the street, around the grounds, and inside. With Hanna taking my elbow, I was led around and through and inside and out, drank holy water, and took a few discreet pictures. One of my favorite scenes, however, went unphotographed. In a side courtyard of the church, about seven priests were arranged at various intervals to listen to confessions from lines of waiting faithful. No anonymous confessionals for these individuals, and I was led to wonder about the scene, but with little time to do so. Away we went again, more food, more visiting, and, finally, sleep in my own bed after several more hours on buses.

So, then school started! At our university, the start felt a little halting, as some difficulties led to us receiving a piecemeal schedule, a few days at a time, with regular changes up to the time of this writing [and this typing]. Still, start it did, with a colorful chalk welcome gracing the asphalt in front of the main university building. This was the first activity of the year for the newly named IN Project and I’m looking forward to more of them with these excellent students and teachers. We’ve since created a wall of dreams (I want to swim with dolphins… We want to be best friends forever… I want to surprise the whole world…) and held meet-and-greet sessions for students. We’ve just started English Club, too, with more activities already in the works.

And then, Vika got married!

[stay tuned!]


Friday, September 16, 2011

post 16 september

Even as I begin to write this, I know it won't be enough.

I have this dream of getting caught up with you, my once and future reader, but how? I lost you somewhere in the second half of summer, and my efforts to wrap up the summer in simple statistics are just not quite sufficient.

Ah, but when will this magical clarification and enumeration of all things worthy of your fascination take place? Not now, as I'm heading to bed early tonight. I need to be up at 4 to catch the first bus to Lviv. There, I'll take part in a very small portion of a conference for Window on America librarians. Next, it's onto a train to Kyiv, where I'll arrive at midnight, sleep for a hopefully sufficient number of hours, jump up eagerly out of bed, and run in a the longest race of my life. There's a marathon, too, but to me, a 10K is marathon enough. Having survived the race, I'll spend the next day in Kyiv, getting the medical and dental exams that will make up the last step of my extension-of-service approval process.

Yes, extension. Can you believe it? We have so much to talk about.

Dear reader, you're very important to me, and I'm going to make an effort to get back on track. Therefore, while I'm on track tomorrow-- the 11 hours or so between Lviv and Kyiv-- I'm going to write to you. Maybe not the whole time, no, and you might not get this message directly, as I'll be writing IN A Real Notebook, not on my notebook (the Ukrainian term for a laptop). I'm working on getting back into the practice of Real Notebooks again, too, thanks to some shinyfine inspiration and the desire to spend more time doing the things I love, especially writing.

And I had a birthday! And there's a new school year! And I have to go to sleep right now!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

post 7 september

Summer by the numbers

An effort started at a coffeeshop in Uzhgorod in late August and vaguely completed at home in Lutsk in early September…

Camps that I worked at: 3

Camps/ conferences that I attended as a participant: 2

Trains I took: 15

Bus rides that lasted at least 1.5 hours: 15

Countries I spent time in: 5

Cities/ towns in which I spent more than two hours: 15

Cities/ towns which I had never previously visited: 5

Beds I slept in, not including overnight trains: 12

New VKontakte friends: all of them (80)

Number of watermelons eaten in August: more than any Ukrainian would believe is appropriate

Number of eggs eaten: Ask Sally, the President of Eggs

Number of new planets I discovered I was from: 1

Number of iced coffees: 3

Number of times my off button was pushed: 11

Number of times my on button was pushed: 12

Number of days away: 56

Number of those days spent working, at camps, at meetings, or traveling for those reasons: 44

Number of lesson/seminar plans written: 15+

Number of times introduced myself to Andrew Cartwright: 9

Number of times I heard a bad pop song: 50000000000000000

Number of books I read: 9.75

Number of times I was threatened with court proceedings with damages of 1 hryvnia: 1

Number of songs I sang and/or helped to write with revised lyrics: 3

Number of new original movies I helped to inspire or create: 3

Bodies of water [natural or manmade] in which I swam: 2

Number of times I was elected prime minister: 0

Number of times I appointed myself prime minister or time minister: 2

Number of movies I saw in a theatre in 3D: 1

Number of grilled cheese sandwiches I cooked, for myself or others: 35

Number of grilled cheese sandwiches I ate: 8

Number of weddings I was invited to: 1

Blog posts written: 2.5

Number of bagels eaten: 4.5

Number of times I ate potatoes served as a topping for potatoes: 1

Number of animals I made out of beads: 2.7

Number of pictures/videos taken that survived earlystage deletion: 1945

How far I ran: so far, so far away

Number of earlyish mornings I ran: 29

Number of times the Ukrainian fear of drafts came up in conversation: 6+

Number of jars of spaghetti sauce canned: 9

Number of said jars which have inexplicably popped their tops: 2

Number of other group 37 PCVs who are extending, in addition to me: 16

Number of dear friends who left Ukraine early: 1

Number of potentially fruitful creative partnerships formed and named: 1

Number of Ukrainian-to-English translated files edited: 17

Number of idea picnics held: 3

Number of days between starting and finishing this list: 21

Any other numbers you’d like to know? Ask!

More developed stories to follow.

Hope you’re well!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

post 9 july

Greetings from the lovely world that is Ukraine in summer! [It’s a lovely world in other seasons, too, of course, but with somewhat different features. :)]

I spent most of the past two weeks away from the computer and close to the sea—a pretty good trade, I’d say. Intercamp, a summer camp run by a woman who served as a national judge for the International Writing Olympics, turned out to be an excellent time. I had the idea that it would be pretty nice to be in Crimea and to work with Maryna, but my vague expectations were happily exceeded.

As a bonus, my friend Kate was also chosen to be on the staff for this shift of Intercamp, and so we took the long trip to Crimea [about 24 train hours to Simferopol, then about 2 bus hours to Zaozernoe, on the western coast] together. Kate and I will spend most of the rest of the summer on different adventures, so it was nice to be able to hang out and work together at this camp.

We were met at the bus stop by several campers who immediately picked up our bags and started chatting with us. “Kate, how is the weather in Lutsk?” one asked. Entering our camp, Edelweis [unexpected name, eh?], I had the idea that we were on a small and pleasant island. Apricot trees and flowers filled a large courtyard, each room had its own porch, and everything was open and airy. When a bus full of campers arrived from Kryvyi Rih [the city where Maryna’s language school is located], Kate and I found ourselves with two excellent roommates: Caroline and Polina.

Although the weather was warm on the first day, drizzle and clouds arrived the next day. Too cool for a swim, we decided to play beach games instead. “What a big, dark cloud!” we each commented at least once. “Oh, it’s raining a little!” we all noticed. And we played on anyway. “Let me see your funky chicken! What’s that you say?” Suddenly, the rain arrived in an impressively intense form. No time to be impressed, though, as all of us were huddled under the few big beach canopies set up, alternately laughing and screaming wildly as the wind and rain came harder and faster. Finally, as there was no sign that conditions were likely to change, it was decided that we’d run for it! And away we went—wet, muddy, laughing, shoeless, whatever! We all made it back successfully, though, so no worries. The rest of the afternoon was spent snug in our rooms watching movies in small discussion groups. No one got sick, and we all had an exciting story to tell. Plus, we had the hope that it couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Don’t let that dramatic pause fool you. It didn’t get any worse. It got much, much better. Although it was a little cool for the first few days, no more major storms interrupted our days. We spent plenty of time at the beach—swimming, playing volleyball [or having a meeting of the “We’re Not Good At Volleyball Club”], making friendship bracelets, and, one night, having a dramatic Olympics-style competition, complete with a toga-clad deity presiding.

Another benefit of the cool weather was the opportunity it offered for early morning running. Yes, once again, I decided to make an effort. The perfect situation presented itself: an outside neighborhood full of people I would never see again, a variety of new routes to explore, and a group of friends to whom I could force myself to be accountable. The result: eight successful runs on eight successive days along eight different routes! Maybe if there were more seaside routes in Lutsk I could be more successful running here… Only one spill on a rocky route, but otherwise I was pretty proud that I was able to follow through. Coincidentally, they’ve just announced a new Kyiv Marathon/ 10K event in September. Can it be done? One thing at a time! :)

The theme of the camp was cinema, and we worked in small groups to study various aspects of film and to create our own films. Each group chose and studied an existing film as a starting point, then branched off and made changes for our own adaptations. My team, Chicken Productions, produced Crazy Eddie: The Remix, in connection with Edward Scissorhands. Our version featured Edward Spoonfork Hands, excellent music (MIA, Peter, Bjorn & John, and Tom Tom Club, among others), and a dramatic surprise ending. Hopefully I’ll be able to post this film online soon so you can appreciate it, too. I really enjoyed working with this group, from developing our screenplay together, blocking out the scenes, filming, creating original sound effects… Молодці, Chicken Productions!

The youngest group, the Bossy Sharks, made Over the Gate, an adaptation of Over the Hedge, Kate’s group made Camp Alone: Return of the Robbers, Emily’s group did a version of The Goonies [the original of which I still haven’t seen], and the Spanish group, working with Nicolas, made Voluntario del Amor [Volunteer of Love]. On the last night, we had the InterFest film festival, with a red carpet and everything. Very cool.

Other happenings at camp included a day trip to nearby Yevpatoria, home of lovely buildings and a busy boardwalk, plus an unexpected dance show by our campers, much to the entertainment of tourists and costumed performers alike. Emily taught the kids three different dances throughout camp, and Thriller was the perfect show for a downtown showoff. Another feature of camp was a daily morning newspaper, and I was happy to have the chance to work as the editor. With a few fine staff members and an assortment of contributors, we chose pictures and put together interviews, film reviews, reports on events, puzzles, announcements, horoscopes, weather forecasts, and even the dollar/ hryvnia exchange rate. Even though this project involved mostly late-night and early-morning compilation, working with such a lovely staff and a benevolent production manager made it worth the effort. Each morning, after my run and shower, I’d share our materials with Maryna on our front-porch office, we’d put the paper together, and head off to breakfast. Such a lovely way to start the day!

So, leaving was sad. The fact that it took me 34 hours of by-myself travel to get back didn’t really help. Still, now I have lots more friends on VKontakte [“in contact”—the Russian/ Ukrainian Facebook], and I have hopes of visiting Kryvyi Rih sometime this fall to do some workshops at Maryna’s university and some lessons or other events at the language school, Interclas. In the meantime, I have some excellent new friends, memories, and penpals. :)

The rest of the week saw a visit by Terry’s son and daughter-in-law, another visit by two of Kate’s friends, and a special visit by Doug Teschner, Peace Corps Ukraine’s director. He only had two hours, so we had pizza at Felichita’s and saw the castle. That’s a pretty small nutshell to put Lutsk into, but so it went. Afterward, Kate and I showed her guests the artist’s house, and we were lucky enough to meet the artist himself, as well as his friend and self-appointed promoter. The artist, Kolya [short for Mykola, or Nicholas], is a sculptor, and his house and yard are filled with his hand-made works. The story, and apparently the truth, as we were informed, is that personal tragedy—the death of his son [and the death of his wife?]—broke his heart and led him to create countless original works, in memorial and otherwise. Kolya turned out to be a really nice guy, and his friend took our picture together.

In just a few days, I’m off to another camp—this time, as a camper. This is the only camp this summer at which my English language skills won’t be prized. How much Ukrainian can I muster after weeks of speaking almost only English, and listening to mostly English and some Russian? Tune in next time to find out!

In the meantime, eat a melon. I just had half of one this morning—диня, almost like honeydew, and super tasty. Other fruits are available, of course, but this is my top pick of the moment. Apples and cherries are growing around my building, and apricot trees lined the streets in Crimea [each time the train stopped, the platform was flooded with vendors raising high their buckets of apricots and strings of smoked fish]. It’s still early for watermelon, I’m told by cautious eat-only-what’s-natural friends, but there are plenty of other treats to enjoy for now.

Enjoy now! :)

PS- having some trouble with adding pictures today-- check FB album here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.238614582835001.73878.100000593846334&l=ab5a7d692f Actually, I'm wondering-- how many of you look at the pictures on my Picasa albums? I'm trying to decide if posting pictures in three different places is really that useful. Please let me know! :)