Monday, February 28, 2011

post 28 february

Within the last week or so, I have…

- discussed potential benefits and implications of personal invisibility with at least eight separate groups.
- personally proctored at least nine different subgroups in their International Writing Olympics essay-writing sessions.
- witnessed an older woman harangue a younger woman at a bus stop for not wearing a hat, to the point where the younger woman finally put up her hood and turned away.
- been asked how long I’ve studied English.
- watched second-graders show off their knowledge of cartoon characters and joined in a rousing rendition of “Old MacDonalds”, or so it seemed to be.
- been slightly mobbed by sticker bandits.
- been accepted to MASCOT, a creativity-and-leadership-celebrating summer camp for older students in Mykolaiv in August.
- had a streak of coat-riding wall-dirt [stray white paint dust] pointed out and then brushed off by the groundskeeper of the building where I live.
- been told that “training” may not be properly used as a noun.
- searched through three grocery stores before finding flour.
- finished reading Stranger in a Strange Land.
- started looking for a literary agent.
- been asked to define happiness.
- giggled at the presents two male friends received on Wednesday, for Soviet Army Day (renamed "Defenders of The Homeland Day" [Homeland Security Day?] and referred to as Men's Day): a mug with flowers painted on it, and a giant stuffed banana.
- received a gift of a stuffed green bunny rabbit dressed for tennis, on Sunday, reason as-of-yet undetermined.
- been told that my philosophy of life closely resembles that of AA.
- rejoiced in the slow return of light to day time.
- prepared [how, exactly?] to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps, starting March 1st and going on all year!
- celebrated the first birthday of Atlee, albeit from a distance.

Happy last day of winter!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

news flash

In breaking news, Morning is said to be considering a return to Ukraine after a several month "time apart" break that left the country shrouded in darkness until the cautious and short-term arrival of Day. In ongoing talks, Night is said to be considering conceding ground to Day, but terms of the potential agreement are not yet clear. The moon could not be reached for comment. Sources close to the sun say it's hot.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

post 20 february

So, now it’s really cold.

No doubt you remember that I just [last week] said it was warm enough for me to wear my snazzy fall jacket. No more.

On Wednesday morning, while I was missing the bus to yoga, it was ridiculously cold. This cold was what had made me late in the first place, for only an extremely well-balanced and dedicated individual or a great fool would get out of a warm bed into a freezing world while it’s still dark out. I am not a great fool [so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you], so I was reluctant to get out of bed. I missed the bus I usually take. Then I second-guessed another bus, ignored one that was almost right, and kept standing there. Abruptly, I realized that I was going to be late, and I do not go late to yoga. It’s just not right. Everyone’s getting balanced and calmed and I’m not about to stumble in and insert unnecessary awkward energy into that scene. So, I decided to walk down to see how cold it really was on the digital display down the street. A young German shepherd who’d been walking with me earlier reappeared to herd me along the icy sidewalk, and together we discovered that it was –15 degrees Celsius. Clearly time to go home.

--the morning in question, too cold to keep still--

I definitely had more than a twinge of guilt abandoning my companion as I hurried up the front steps into my building, but what to do? There are so many dogs and cats on the street in Ukraine—a completely unthinkable number in comparison to what you might see at home. Most of them are homeless, but some run around with collars, too. A family of black cats lives in my apartment building, usually sleeping in a glossywarm pile on a mat outside of the apartment across from me. This is partly because this floor’s stairwell door is missing a glass panel, so the cats can always get back to home base from the stairs. Still, to feed them, or not? It seems like my across-the-hall neighbors have two answers. Sometimes I hear or see a woman leaving food for them, and sometimes I hear a man stomping his feet to scatter them elsewhere. A third response comes from an occasional visitor. On some mornings, I’ll hear the stairwell door open and a clattering of long-nailed paws hurrying down the hall. If I hurry to the peep-hole in my door, I can see a low-bellied dog sniff the entire scene, then give a few short barks. His owner calls him back, saying, “No, nothing there now,” and easily implying that it’s through this canine vigilance that the feline tide is held at bay. Good boy. Lucky boy, anyway, to have an owner, and one who takes him out for walks, too. Overall, the homeless animal situation is a tough one throughout Ukraine, it seems, even to someone who’s neither a dog nor a cat person.

Didn’t expect to write that much about animals, but let it be so. Хай буде так.

The cold weather is probably one of the reasons that I’ve been keeping up a little better with my reading and writing. In the last week, I’ve read This is Where I Leave You and half of Stranger in a Strange Land. As childishly delighted as it sounds to say it in such a way, oh, how I love reading! I’m also pretty pleased with writing, too, due to a variety of factors. I love writing to begin with, as we know, but inspiration always helps. I’ve already mentioned the International Writing Olympics, and that’s one of the most obvious roles that writing is playing in my life at the moment. Recent applications for two different spring conferences have required me to write two professional articles [“The Case for Creative Writing” and “English to English: American Reflections on Editing Translations in Ukraine”]. The encouragement of a few friends has pushed me to try to keep up with my blog a little better [Look! I’m doing it!]. In response to requests, I’ve given out bound copies of three of my own books to friends, and am looking forward to their feedback. Hopefully we’ll also be able to restart the To My Mind writing group in the not-too-distant future, too.

Yesterday, I explored a little of Rivne—what we’ll call the capital of the state next door. Despite being referred to as “not a gem” in one of my guidebooks, it seems very promising. Not only does it have some fabulous PCVs and good secondhand shopping, but it also has the Salvador Dali Café [where I had excellent Kava Po-Meksikansky, i.e., Mexican-style coffee] and—AND!—a diner! Unfortunately, the effort to balance being a tourist and wanting to blend precluded me from taking pictures this time, but there were indeed the right kinds of booths, lots of flashy chrome, vintage-style movie posters, and other decorations. I had vareneky [pierogies]. Also, there was a chandelier. Kind of a diner, anyway. Warmer weather and further welcomes will definitely encourage further exploration. :)

Today, we spent English Club hearing about Presidents’ Day in general, as well as lots about Washington and Lincoln. Ukraine, which also has a president, does not have a day off on Monday. Enjoy your holiday!


Sunday, February 13, 2011

post 13 february

What? Another blog post? Has it been a month already?

Okay, okay. I’m trying. Having been recently inspired by a few friends, I’m making a better effort to keep you updated. What does this mean, being updated? Do I really have such astonishing events happening over here every single day?

Will I really keep asking questions throughout this entire post, or will I actually se any declarative sentences? Do I really expect that you’d read a post made up of only questions? Would you?

Last week’s weather was lovely, with the return of my fall jacket featuring prominently [Featured where? Enough with the questions!]. I’ve gotten back into mostly regular attendance of yoga and aerobics, classes have started, and it looks like good things are going on in general.

The International Writing Olympics is/ are still the big thing at the moment, and will continue to be for the next few months, at least. We’re up to 19 oblasts participating—that’s out of a total of 24, if you could Crimea as an oblast, which it’s not. To avoid you having to ask a question in this declarative-only zone, I’ll just tell you: it’s actually an autonomous republic. Maybe this is why the Ukrainian way to refer to this area is “the Crimea”, stemming from “the Autonomous Republic of Crimea”, but I feel like this is the logic that makes so many Americans believe that the country in which I currently reside is called “the Ukraine”, as if it is the property of some larger union.

Anyway, there’s good publicity being spread in the press, and also generated in reality, and the national steering committee is doing excellent work. We’ve gathered some prize donations, including certificates, books, publication in a few locations, and hopefully a really sweet booklet currently titled “79 Writing Ideas: A Collection of Ideas and Activities to Encourage Creative Writing.” Maybe tomorrow it’ll be titled “80”, but we’ll see. If you’re interested in a copy of the ideas in this booklet, let me know!

There’s also the possibility that this project will extend into summer writing workshops or camps for winners or other participants, but this remains to be seen. Of course I’d love to have another summer Student Writers’ Workshop, just like in the good ol’ days at Walkersville Middle School with the Maryland Writing Project, but we’re getting there one step at a time. I’m really happy to be involved in this project, but it’s a lot of work putting something so ambitious into motion. Lots of positive feedback is already drifting back my way, though, as Ukrainian teachers and PCVs start preparing their students and integrating creative writing into their lessons. In one of two teacher seminars I’ve already presented on this topic, one woman said to me, “Well, what am I supposed to say to this question: ‘Why is grass green?’ I mean, it’s biology, right?” Right. It’s a good opportunity for everybody to remember that there doesn’t always have to be a right answer in creative thinking.

And… two bits: On Saturday, while I was walking with my friend Kate on a sidewalk lined with produce sellers, one man called out to ask us if we wanted to buy some apples. Usually, people are vaguely passive sellers, maybe offering up a mumbled litany of the delicious freshness of whatever they have in front of them, or asking in the typical implied negative, “You don’t need carrots, do you?” This man was definitely active, though, and I answered, in Ukrainian, “No, thanks, we don’t need any apples.” To this, he responded, “Your friend’s from America, yes?” I laughed, and said yes, and that I was from America, too. “You understand me?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, “but we still don’t need any apples.” He laughed, we left. Do I look more Ukrainian than Kate? Maybe. My red winter hat is definitely not Ukrainian style, but she was wearing a backpack—also not Ukrainian style.

Later, when we both got on the 30-minute bus to her town, Kivertsi, we were speaking English to each other—not surprisingly, although not loudly, as Kate was sitting in the back row and I was standing in the aisle near her. At one point, a man nearby turned around to stare at both of us, super-intensely. I’m not one to challenge someone overtly, but I definitely looked back at him, sort of wondering what his deal was. Eventually, he mumbled something about “speaking English” and turned back around. “Yes,” I said, in Ukrainian, “but we can speak Ukrainian, too.” Then he turned back and really stared. The mom and her daughter sitting beside Kate giggled and smiled at us. Yes! Victory! We can impress people with simple sentences!!

I thought immediately of visiting my sister in Yemen and being so impressed when she could turn back to the little boys calling out a string of wondering words at us in the market and return in Arabic, “Yeah? Well, whoever taught you to talk to your elders like that? You should know better than to be rude to strangers!” I mean, I think that’s what she said…

Happy birthday to my dearest sister, and happy day to all!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

post 9 february

Yes, it’s been about a month since my last post, but no, I haven’t forgotten about you. In fact, I think of you, and think of you often!

For as much as I love to write, I wonder why it’s so hard for me to keep up with a blog regularly. I guess the answer is that I’m trying to do things worth blogging about, but that’s really not much of an excuse.

The biggest project of the moment is the International Writing Olympics, a creative writing contest organized by Peace Corps Volunteers in eleven countries. This is the first year we’ve brought the contest to Ukraine, and I’m working as the national coordinator, so there’s a lot to work out. The official prompts have just come out, and so all kinds of students and all kinds of proctors and judges all across the country are generating lots of creative energy right about now. Ponder some of our sample questions for yourself: What would you do if you were invisible? What would happen if music were illegal? What do clouds think about? Want more questions? Send me an email and I’ll send you last year’s official questions.

The new semester has just started, too, and I’m teaching teachers at the Inservice Institute, as well as Applied Linguistics 5th year (masters) and 3rd year students, plus Country Studies for 1st year students. This schedule is subject to quite a bit of variation, plus the addition of a class at the Humanities University within the next few weeks, but it’s a good start.

I went to language refresher camp a few weeks ago, which was good, but pretty different from the summer camp. This one was a bit more low-key, and less, well, camp-y. Fine with me, though, as it was cold out.

Meetings: Our regional Collaborative meeting, which I co-facilitated, was great, as was the Collaborative meeting in Lvivksa oblast. I’m hoping to attend another Collaborative meeting in Chortkiv, Ternopliska oblast, this Saturday, but we’ll see! I’m the Western Regional Collaborative Facilitator, so I feel like it might be a good plan to try to be as involved as possible in as many of the meetings as I can, but also, it’s fun to travel around and hang out with new people. Okay, you’re right, it’s not always fun to spend ten hours on a bus in one day, but, really, the people were great.

Conferences: With any luck, I’ll be presenting at a TESOL Conference in Zhytomyr in April, as well as another conference in Kyiv around the same time. At the TESOL Conference, my presentation will be on “The Case for Creative Writing,” but at the conference in Kyiv, there’s a bit more uncertainty. I was asked to present, but it turns out that the focus of the conference is on translation. Yes, I’ve worked on three translation projects—the Cossack book, the subtitles of the film about the Black Sea Fleet, and, most recently, the University website—but all of these have come to me in at least mostly English form. I’m at a bit of a loss about what to present about—much less what to write a 6-page article about for the conference Book of Papers—but my tentative title is “English to English: An American’s Reflections on Editing Translations in Ukraine.” Pretty original, right? Phew!

So, I regret that this entry seems a little dry, but I’m working on it. If I could stay updated better, I’d have more of a chance to tell you the interesting little bits of my life here, which are, well, more interesting than sweeping overviews. But, hey. It’s something.

Actually, you should read my friend Kate’s blog. She’s super-good at keeping updated, and she’s an entertaining storyteller with an entertaining life. Plus, sometimes some of her stories involve me! Take it away, Kate!