Thursday, April 21, 2011

post 21 april

So, it’s not tomorrow. Or at least, it was tomorrow at one point, but not when I thought I’d be finishing that ambitious last-posted blog entry... But, it’s today!


One more item from the first weekend in April—and it’s not the fact that I spent so much time on public transportation that I found myself taking pictures of Kyiv’s surprisingly lovely metro stops: Ukraine’s national International Writing Olympics winners were announced! For your viewing pleasure, these winners’ names, photos, and essays are all available now HERE. In the meantime, here’s a picture at a metro stop.

Pillar of the community.

April 4-8 was the week of our faculty, which here means more like the week of our college—Germano-Romance Philology—within Volyn National University. Concerts and all kinds of events—but not a lot of classes!—filled this week. I gave a seminar on writing as a process, which was mysteriously transformed from a working session for teachers to a lecture-hall presentation for students. No problem, just a little unexpected. The major event of this week, though, was Miss РГФ, or Miss Germano-Romance Philology. The six contestants sang, danced, answered questions, and celebrated traditional Ukrainian style, with interludes by other student performers—comedians, breakdancers, and more. I've taught Vika, the winner, a student from our department—Applied Linguistics—, and she’s a nice person, too, which never hurts.

Vika, in red, the moment before crowning glory.

Unfortunately, I missed the final concert of this epic week in order to undertake an epic journey south to Mykolaiv. This involved a bus to Lviv [3.5 hours], a train to Odesa [about 13 hours], and a marshrutka [min-bus] to Mykolaiv [2.5 hours]. There, I met the directors and staff of MASCOT, an excellent camp where I’ll be working this summer. That is, I’ll be working there if it’s fully funded! This funding comes from the community [which has already given 60% of the cost] as well as from donations from kind and generous people who believe in the mission of the camp—promoting leadership, personal development, and community action through creative means—and who believe in the people of the camp—a staff of volunteers, half Ukrainian and half American, and 100 student participants from across Ukraine, ages 14-22. I’m really excited about this camp, and have been working with one group on developing the curriculum for a series of lessons on Social Integrity--!! Should you feel moved to donate [it’s a Partnership grant, where people all over the world are the partners!]—the place to go is HERE. The community has already contributed $7686.17, and the requested donation amount is $5,022.74. I’ve been checking on this page, hoping to see the remaining total going down, but it’s just down to $5,000.00, and I know exactly when the change happened, because I’m the one who donated $22.74. I’m also planning to donate half of the month of August to spend working on these goals with this staff and some lucky, lucky students. :)

Anyway, you can easily tell that I’m excited about this project, if only because I took such a long trip for only a four-hour meeting, then headed straight [sort of straight, if you count missing a train] back to Lutsk!

Fellow PCV and TESOL conference presenter Michelle contemplates the contrasting scenery of Zhytomyr.

The following week found me headed to Zhytomyr, a city about two hours west of Kyiv, for the annual TESOL- Ukraine Conference. I attended this conference (stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in Rivne last year, and had a much easier time getting there. Transportation adventures aside, I was glad to take part in this conference, as it meant the chance to hang out with a few fine PCVs I know, to meet Ukrainian colleagues, and to talk about creative writing, among other things! My workshop was entitled “The Case for Creative Writing,” and it was great to see a big room full of people excited about the topic. I met several teachers who had worked with their students on the International Writing Olympics, so it was really cool to hear their thoughts about the contest and creative writing in general. The organizer of the conference was very friendly, and although we’d corresponded via email, upon meeting me, she said, “Oh, when I saw you, I thought you were a real Ukrainian girl!” This definitely made me feel a little bit like Pinnochio, as if I’m waiting to wake up one day with no strings, no longer made of wood, and able to speak Ukrainian flawlessly. Still, it was a pleasant sort of compliment, I’d say. As a bonus to this adventure, the grant we applied for was funded, and the Embassy was able to fund the travel, lodging, and registration for six PCVs! This definitely made a difference, and we’re very grateful to Alyona S. for all of her help. She’s a super contact, and has helped with the IWO project, too!

PCV and presenter Andrew indicates both how much Alyona helped us and the cleverly named hotel in which we stayed.

From Zhytomyr, the next stop on my agenda was Ivano-Frankivsk. What, Thursday afternoon in Zhytomyr and Friday morning in Ivano-Frankivsk, you ask? Why, that’s [hasty consultation of Internet resources] at least 450 kilometers, even imagining you go the fastest route available by car! Going by indirect bus, that’s about 500 kilometers! Or 310 miles! No worries, Me-at-the-time tells you. There’s an overnight bus! It’ll never happen, Me-a-few-hours-later shakes my head. Me-now points out, well, we—uhh, I—got there, though, right? Right, I agree. A long, chilly trip, but eventual success. The goal of this trip was attendance at a safety warden meeting, but the definite highlight was having falafel for lunch at a restaurant called Taco Bell. Yes, there were some pickles and a slice of lemon in my falafel, but it was definitely falafel.

Back in Lutsk, our Sunday Window on America English club meeting, in which we discussed Easter traditions, was followed by an invitation from a friend to go see some friends for a vegetarian dinner. Another PCV and I went, and it turned out to be a mini-festival at a Hare Krisha center. Pretty unexpected, I’d say, but the food was good. Definitely a strange mix of traditions all in one day, especially on the Sunday before Easter—Willow Sunday, or, as it’s known elsewhere, Palm Sunday. People everywhere carry willow branches on this day and, after they’re blessed in church, these willows are used to remind friends of the upcoming holiday. The basic tradition is to tap someone with these branches, and to say something to the effect of: “It’s not me who is tapping you, it’s the willow tapping you: Easter is in a week!” Of course, variations exist, especially among those who think their friends are very forgetful, and require more than a simple tap… :)

Easter is definitely on its hippity-hoppity way: fresh white paint covers the curbs and lower trunks of trees, winter trash has been swept away, bushes and trees have been trimmed [but not in a Christmassy sort of way], and everything’s getting a fresh look. There’s a new coat of paint on fences, playground equipment, and public trashcans. Sidewalk bricks are being picked up and turned around and put back down again. Steps are being re-somethinged. Various public works are being done. A nearby courtyard features fresh sand in the playground sandbox.

Growing green! (The back of my building is in the back of this photo.)

Nature seems to have more or less decided on spring, too. Radishes are now available, as are the green leaves of shavel… what’s it called in English? Here’s a picture and here’s a recipe! Gardens are springing up, potatoes are getting planted, and lots of work is being done outside. I can’t say that I’m doing any of this manual labor, but I do appreciate how nice everything looks.

So, this weekend, I’m off to visit relatives for Easter. I know I’ll have more to say when I get back, but for now, I’ll just enjoy being semi-caught-up! Happy Earth Day, Happy Easter, and Happy Spring!


Monday, April 18, 2011

post 18 april

Well, hello there!

Despite what you must admit were a pretty solidly regular set of weekly blog entries, my ambitions were at last overcome by one cavity, two conferences, lots of buses and trains and marshrutkas and taxis, one beauty pageant, a camp staff meeting, a safety training, a Hare Krishna dinner and show, a football match, falafel, Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Zhytomyr, Rivne, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, and, yet again, the International Writing Olympics.

So, now, here I am, ready to catch you up!

April got off to quite a start on the 1st with a no-time-to-fool-around day in Kyiv. Most notably, I picked up some excellent Writing Olympics prizes from the US Embassy—which turned out to be quite heavy with excellence, in fact, but very, very appreciated. My favorite is a book called America 24/7, every page of which features photos from life in America during one specific week. On the same day, I took part in a conference at Kyiv Aviation University entitled "General and Specialist Translation: Theory, Methodology, Practice." There, I listened to—but didn’t necessarily understand all of—several presentations in Russian, Ukrainian, and English, and presented my own article and ideas—“English to English: American Reflections on Editing Translations in Ukraine.” I guess that title’s pretty self-explanatory. I felt like it wasn’t at all close to the theoretical level of many of the other topics under discussion, but was thanked for the practical suggestions I was able to offer. Next, I had a cavity filled without any anesthesia while my dentist and hygienist watched a football match on TV. If this sounds like some weird metaphor, it’s not. It all worked out fine, actually. I even managed to make a joke with them in Ukrainian, pointing out that without my glasses I could see the матч/ match [match], just not the мяч/ myach [ball]. Pretty good, right?

Kate and Jay, super-coordinated Volyn superfans.

A few days later, after watching the second half of Catch Me If You Can in English club, a group of us went to a real live football match: Lutsk Volyn vs. Lviv Karpaty [ie, the Carpathians]. Although it was a lovely day without a cloud in the sky, Volyn ended the match without a point on the board. It’s only the beginning of the season, though, and 1- They can only get better, 2- I’ll probably go watch them play again no matter what, and 3- It’s not like I have any great suggestions about how to play soccer. Or football, either.

--- with plans to finish tomorrow... :)