Tuesday, May 24, 2011

post 24 may

It’s summer!!!

Yes, there’s still school, but only for a few days.

So how do I know it’s summer, then?

1. Sidewalks [once thick with ice and piled with snow] are now filled with beer tents and café tables.

2. Kvass [a super-cheap fermented drink of vaguely indescribable taste] is now available on tap—it’s available in a [eww!] unnatural bottled form year-round.

3. Almost no one is wearing boots.

4. Mesh has returned. [For men? Women? Yes.]

5. It’s hot.

That, and I can read the calendar.

Before I forget, though, I wanted to tell you that I was on TV recently! The week after Easter, I served as a judge in a “brain ring” game-show type competition at the Lutsk National Technical University. Students had to answer questions about grammar, country studies, and other English-related topics, as well as to present prepared team introductions and projects. I knew that there was a camera, but it wasn’t until a week or so ago that I learned that I had appeared on TV! Apparently I looked very serious.

So, since the weather has been getting consistently warmer, I decided about two weeks ago that it was time to start running. I’ve never been much of a runner, and have run in a total of three races in my life—two 5Ks and a one-mile fun run!—but the idea of being a runner has tremendous romantic appeal to me. Relying only upon yourself, the feeling of freedom, wind in your face, your own music playing in your own little world as you head off into the scenery… I was running outside of the city, along a lazy, quiet road that cut through fields and past cows, once looping down into a village where an old man was already fishing at 8 in the morning. Lovely. It worked out pretty well for about a week, and then I stretched something in my right foot a little too much. According to the doctor on the phone, “It looks like a strained ligament or tendon. Wrap it up and take it easy for a while.” So, that was that.

At the end of The Week of Running, I took a trip down to Uzhgorod for a planning meeting to prepare for the English Language Refresher Camp, a summer camp for English teachers. Modeled on our own Ukrainian- and Russian-Language Refreshers, run by Peace Corps staff, this will be a chance for teachers to spend time in an English-rich environment, and to study both teaching methodology and English language skills in a positive—and hopefully fun!—summer camp environment. I’m looking forward to this camp, as it’s a great chance for me to work with teachers, which is theoretically my primary job assignment in Ukraine. Plus, whatever works there can be transported to my own area, and elsewhere throughout the country. Plans are already underway for improved teacher training seminars in this area, but they’re mostly in the thinking-of-the-right-acronym stage.

big river

Uzhgorod is a lovely and old city, and I enjoyed the chance to hang out with some of the Volunteers in the area. After our meeting, we took a marshrutka out of town to a lovely park by a river, and hiked up the big hill nearby to find the castle on top. As you can see from my pictures, it’s more like a collection of walls, doors, and windows than a solid castle at this point, but it was quite lovely and a great photo op for several wedding parties, too. Our hiking group came back downhill [1.5 hours total, not the 20 minute jaunt we’d been told to expect!] to find that shashlyk [bbq meat kebabs] and potatoes [basically thrown whole and uncovered into the coals] were ready, so we enjoyed ourselves until it was time to catch the last bus into town and enjoy ourselves there some more! Unfortunately, I had a very early train to catch on Sunday morning, so I only got in one day of sightseeing, but I’m looking forward to returning in a few months and seeing more of the city. Plus, I’m excited to return to my favorite café of the city—a pizza shop and coffee house with a funky literary style that we eenie-meanie-miney-mo decided to visit for morning coffee on Saturday. It was only the third day that they’d been open, but many things—including the fact that our waitress surprisingly spoke perfect English—made it clear that they already had a good thing going on.

On the way back, my train—a six-hour elektrychka—passed through a lovely part of the Carpathians, with rolling hills and green green greenness everywhere. It was one of those times when I struggled between being a tourist and trying to blend. Eventually, though, I had to take a few pictures, and I was pleased to see that a lady sitting across from me later took her own camera out and snapped a few shots, too.

an electric-line man pauses to consider his good fortune at finding himself in the Carpathians

Last weekend involved travel again, but of the much closer variety. Our spring Collaborative meeting was held in Rivne, and I was happy to see about 20-odd Volunteers in attendance. Yes, they’re odd, but mostly in a good way. We had a productive meeting, with lots of good ideas for possible ways to address a variety of community needs in the future. The game/ activity bank that we all contributed was greatly appreciated, too, as a good go-to for those working at summer camps. Plus—plus!—I had a really tasty fruit salad at lunch after the meeting… another clue that it’s summer.

Summer means vacation, and also work, but I’m happy to be starting with vacation this year. Soon, my dearest of all sisters will be heading east-ward and we’ll spend a week traveling through Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. Neither of us have ever been to any of these places, but the real treat, for me, is just getting to see my sister! Seeing her in a really cool setting will be a bonus, of course, and I’m definitely looking forward to it!

The rest of the summer, in chronological order, although subject to change, includes a meeting in Kyiv after the big 50th anniversary of Peace Corps party, ten days working at a film-themed summer camp for students in Crimea, a few days at Ukrainian Language Refresher, about two weeks at Camp MASCOT—a creativity and social-change-focused camp in Mykolaiv, one week at the teacher camp in Uzhgorod, a few days in Slavske, in the Carpathians, for our group 37 Close-of-Service Conference… and then school starts!

I’m pretty excited about this summer, and although it looks pretty busy, I’d rather be doing something useful than just sitting around. If I’m here, I’d rather be productive! There’s a good chance that more of my summer will get filled in with other work or travel. Of course, I still need to block in a few “eating watermelon and not worrying at all about anything else” days here and there, but I have no doubt those will happen.

Other than my sister visiting, I have to say that the thing I’m most excited about this summer is Camp MASCOT. For those of you who’ve heard me talk about it repeatedly already, I’m sorry, but it’s a camp in need of support. As I already said, it’s a camp designed to help students see creativity as a venue for social change, and to develop their own motivation and leadership skills to take back to their own communities. The hosting community, Mykolaiv, has already given 60% of the cost of this camp. Students are also paying a fee to attend this camp. Still, for 100 students [ages 14-22] to spend ten days at such a camp, more funding is needed. If this sounds like the kind of camp you’d like to support, even in a small amount, please click HERE. If you’d like more information, you can definitely ask me, or click HERE. If this camp isn't fully funded, it simply won't happen, and that would be more than disappointing to more than just me. Okay, that’s all! You’re free from the pitch! You may now go about your business!

Hope all your business is going well, and that summer is shining brightly upon you, too!

Monday, May 9, 2011

post 9 may

It’s Victory Day!

In addition to an actual national celebration, this day also refers to personal victories accomplished today, such as writing a new blog entry. Not quite on the same scale, I understand, but here you are… New pictures in Picasa and on Facebook, too! :)

I got my hair cut last week. Just a trim, but all the pre-Peace Corps highlights are gone now. Luckily, there are plenty of other highlights in my life.

One such highlight was the announcement of the international winners of the International
Writing Olympics: Of ten categories entered, Ukrainian students took either first, second, or third place in eight categories, including four first-place honors. Hooray! You can read an article about this HERE!

When last we spoke/ wrote/ read, it was almost Easter. Because this is how time works, it’s not Easter anymore. While I had an excellent Easter, I feel a little silly writing a blog entry about it, as my friend Kate has already posted a very fine play-by-play version on her blog HERE. Yes, a lot of food was eaten and a lot of people were visited.

Still, a few points:

- My friend Kate came with me to visit relatives in and near Komarno, and, as you can tell by her blog, she had a great time. I did, too.

- We saw a baby hedgehog! Kate saw it scuttling across the street one evening, and my cousin Olya scooped it up in her scarf to pose for photos. Awesome!

- We made simple but pretty good pysanky with Krystyna’s family, including the “regular” stylus sort as well as by another method: using a matchstick dipped into a shallow pan of melted wax as a brush of sorts. Eugenia said she hadn’t made these in years, but hers were way prettier than mine anyway.

- Lots and lots of baking went on in the summer kitchen. For as little time as I spend there, since I’m just in the way when I’m there, it’s filled with good energy and good smells all the time. This time there were dozens and dozens of cakes being made, but also, most importantly, lots and lots of paschas—special Easter breads.

- We brought Easter gifts to each family we visited, and Hanna’s family, with four very well-behaved kids, got water guns and bubbles. One of my favorite scenes from this whole trip was the kids using their own bubbles for target practice.

- Another Easter surprise came to the same house: Hanna’s daughter-in-law, who was what might be called very pregnant [and who answered “I just hope it’s soon!” to the question of whether she wanted a boy or a girl], gave birth to a baby boy late that evening, only a few hours after we saw her. :)

The next holiday after Easter was Labor Day, which means a four-day weekend. Sunday was also “Easter for the dead,” with people bringing food and flowers to cemeteries and celebrating with their relatives and the rest of the community. The Saturday, however, was the WELL Seminar in Lutsk, which brought 18 Peace Corps Volunteers to my university. About eighty students from the area attended this Workshop for English Language and Leadership, an all-day seminar with teams, lessons on music, international studies, leadership, and project planning. It was a beautiful day, both inside and out, and a lovely weekend to have lots of visitors in town.

Some of the very fine PCVs who helped out with WELL in Lutsk.

Just this past weekend was the final WELL seminar of the season—there were 12 throughout western Ukraine, reaching about 700 students—in Volodymyr-Volynsky. Although it was a little chillier this weekend, another holiday [Victory Day, May 9], made it a good weekend for visiting, too! My friend Rebecca, who’s from Frederick, too, made the long trip to Lutsk and was rewarded by—actually, we were both rewarded by!—a really delicious dinner at my favorite pizza place here, which surprisingly started with supersmooth spinach soup, then grilled vegetable pizza, then homemade ice cream thick and blended with several kinds of ground nuts in an amazingly smooth texture. Well done, Felichita, well done. The good impression of Lutsk was hopefully cemented by the festivities in the center, the lovely weather, all the bridal parties getting their pictures taken in the castle, a really interesting exhibit at the rarely open in-castle art gallery, and more good food and friends!

Somewhat caught up now, I can add that the school year is winding down—as might be evident from the number of holidays we’re having! My masters’ students are taking their exams, and there are only a few more sessions of Country Studies and Journalism. Still, plenty to do all the time, somehow!

Looking forward to slightly warmer weather, but the sky is definitely a spring sky now, and there’s no turning back from the lovely greening that’s underway. It’s enough to make me want to take a trip somewhere new soon! Clearly a set-up—I’m going to Uzhgorod, in the south-west corner of Ukraine, this coming weekend, for a meeting to plan the curriculum for a summer workshop/ camp for English teachers. It’s a bit far, but hey, it’s spring. All things are possible.