субота, квітня 29, 2006

school and Scrabble

One month of school to go, and then I'll have completed my first semester as a teacher! Thanks to three extended weekends in a row, however, I'm not teaching that much these days: last weekend was a three-day weekend due to Easter, this one will be a 5-day one (regular weekend, Monday and Tuesday off due to International Labour Day, Wednesday off because I don't teach Wednesdays), and the next weekend will either be 3 or 5 days (Ukrainian Victory Day...victory over what, I don't know).

This weekend started out with a visit from Tif (whose new landlady was cleaning her old stuff out of Tif's apartment, leaving her with the desire to not be home). We made fried rice (unfortunately with sticky rice, so it didn't turn out that great), watched Ne Rodis Krasivoy (my plan is to corrupt Tif into becoming a fan), and attempted to play Ukrainian/Russian Scrabble with the use of dictionaries. Um, it was a lot of fun, but very difficult, even by our immensely amended rules (you can trade letters, search through the bag for ones you need, etc.). We didn't keep score, but we took photos, and hopefully if I ever find a computer that is set up for ISB ports, maybe someday I'll post some. (Don't hold your breath!)

Today is cleaning day, with the possibility of attempting to bake cookies later on. Tomorrow is church, and I love the fact that Sunday has once again become "church day". On Monday, I think I'm going to Kharkiv with the young people's group from the Ks' church to an orchestra concert (or maybe it's something else...not quite sure). Tuesday and Wednesday are currently still open.

Yesterday, I had to keep the 8th form busy while Nelya was berating various ones of them out in the hallway for skipping my American culture class/club the day before. They asked me to sing something in English. I sang "Yellow Submarine", but they told me that they didn't like the Beatles, so then I sang "Down in the Valley." Then they asked for the American national anthem. So I sang it, and I think I hit most of the notes. Then they all sang the Ukranian national anthem (the title of which translates as "Ukraine is Not Yet Dead"). It was a beautiful moment.

Following in Mom's footsteps, I was a substitute teacher for three classes on Thursday, as Nelya had to go to Kharkiv for the day to arrange some stuff for Vera's university education in the fall. It was a typical subbing sort of day...things were a little wild, but the kids seemed to like me. Oleh Y., whose parents are the ones with 10 kids who go to the Baptist church, was a perfect angel (it apparently pays to know parents!). I also had a 9th form boy use the f-word in class...the kid is probably wishing he'd never opened his mouth, as I, Nelya, the zavuch (vice-principal), and the director have all lectured him now. He gave me an apology in Russian explaining that he "didn't know much English and didn't understand what he said". Nelya's and my reaction after he left: yeah, right.

We have a new girl in the 4th form, Vika. Alina and Nastia, who were apparently in charge of helping her feel at home, included me as part of the tour of things she should know about. :)

5th form had a party yesterday and brought me sandwiches during 6th period. True confessions: I love my 5th form to pieces. They're smart, work hard, will do any crazy thing I ask them to, and love to sing. We've been doing a unit on health, so I've been teaching them a song I learned in kindergarten about healthy teeth:

Do you want strong teeth? Yes, sir!
Strong healthy teeth? Yes, sir!
If you want strong teeth, strong healthy teeth
Then here's what you have to do:

Drink plenty of milk, drink plenty of milk,
Drink plenty of milk every day.
Stay physically fit, don't drink just a bit,
Drink plenty of milk every day!

So for all of you readers out there, whenever you have a bad day, just think of 15 Ukrainian 5th formers singing about milk. :)

середа, квітня 26, 2006

magenta curtains and Easter

Wow. I don't manage to make it to the Internet in a week, and I end up with a TON of news. First off, yes, almost all the furniture has showed up. I am currently only lacking a refrigerator and a bed (currently I sleep on the couch, which is of the "metal bars covered with cloth" variety). I find it a measure of how much Ukraine has changed me that I've coped without a fridge for a week and a half and have no clue when it will arrive (a friend of my director's is going to buy a new one, and then I get her old one...), but that it doesn't overly disturb me. I just don't buy food that involves refridgeration.

Last Wednesday was something of a trial, however, as I tried to readjust my expectations of "oh, I have this cute little apartment I can fix up" into dealing with very kind Ukrainians who had bought things for my apartment and were convinced that their decorating style was better than mine. I now have floor-length magenta curtains and couch cover in my living room (Devon Harris, if you're reading this, I saw that smirk!). It made me want to cry at first, but now they've grown on me and I just laugh.

Actually did end up crying on Thursday, due to Nelya being upset with me because I hadn't told her I'd be missing a week of school thanks to moving (I hadn't known it myself). It was just the last straw after moving and dealing closely with my director for a week, and I started crying in front of my third form...which made them quieter than I've ever seen them. I've been trying all semester to get them to quiet down, but this might not have been my first tactic. :)


Do you remember about a month ago when I posted about the girl who got removed from my class? Well, there's an awesome sequel!

On Wednesday, Natasha K. (the 8th former) invited me to Easter dinner. This took me completely by surprise, as I assumed I was the "weird American teacher" who the parents didn't approve of, but Natasha being an obedient sort of kid, I also assumed this invite had parental backing, and I accepted. I had thought that they were Orthodox, but Nelya told me on Friday that she thought they were Protestant.

So on Easter morning, I went to the Baptist church, where we had one American (me), a lot of Ukrainians, one Ukrainian who is a missionary in Germany, and his friend from Switzerland. So we were very international. After that, I went back to Victor and Nadia's house (the family with 10 kids) for a little bit before going to the K. family's. Nadia gave me paska, the traditional Ukrainian Easter bread, and told me that while I was going on a visit, their house was home. So I'm officially the 11th kid. :)

The K family, as it turns out, are indeed Protestant Christians, and absolutely wonderful people. The dad is definitely strict, but I think he pulled Natasha from my class due to a difference in educational philosophies rather than disapproval of me. He seems to prefer that she have a good reading knowledge of English as opposed to a speaking knowledge, which is what I focus on. While I disagree with him, I think I understand now a bit better.

This family knows even more of the hymns I grew up with than the other one, and we spent part of the afternoon playing the piano and singing in various languages. I went with them to church in the evening (there are four Protestant churches in Balaklia...apparently you just have to ask the Protestants!), and ended up singing "Christ Arose" in English while playing the piano. I actually know several families at this church from my school, and it's only about a half-hour walk from my apartment. Unfortunately, it's in Russian rather than Ukrainian, so I don't understand as much. My current plan is to keep going to the Baptist church on Sunday mornings, since a) Victor and Nadia's family goes there and b) it's in Ukrainian; and go to this church on Sunday nights.

Victor K., the dad, was telling me that their church started during the Communist era, and that they had to have services out in the woods so that they weren't observed. It makes me realize how blessed I've been to always have multiple churches close by and not have problems attending.

Easter Monday is also a holiday in Ukraine, so I went to church with the K. family again. I taught on Tuesday, and today is the day to run errands, check email, take a bath, etc...


My Grandma B. has been in the hospital with kidney failure for close to a week now. Please keep her in your prayers. At first, the doctors didn't know if she'd make it, but she seems to be doing okay.

середа, квітня 19, 2006


When I was a little girl, my Grandpa B. always asked me, "Did you sing in church this Sunday?" (He also always asked me if I thought I was passing my classes and told me to be kind to small children and animals.) Well, this past Sunday, I sang in church. A Ukrainian Baptist church, at that. There's nothing like being in a foreign-language church for the first time and being asked to sing a solo in English (well, I think Brandi had to give her testimony her first week at her church in Germany)...I gave a sort of shaky intro about who I was in Ukrainian and then sang two verses of "How Great Thou Art," as we'd already sung it in Ukrainian.

It's a small church--probably about 50 people, with 15-20 of them children/young adults (10 kids from one family!), but the majority being older people ("ancient saints," to quote my dad). It reminded me of the Rock Lake church in a lot of ways--partly the demographics of the congregation, partly that during prayer, some of the people kneel and quietly pray out loud while the main prayer is going on, partly just that, while all married women wear headcoverings, the married women with kids tended to have their hair in sort of a "puff" under the headcovering. :)

It's a singing church, which makes me happy. There wasn't one long sermon, but rather various men of the congregation would speak for about 5-10 minutes, then we'd sing and someone, either man or woman, would read Scripture or pray, then we'd sing some more and then have another mini-sermon. I couldn't follow a lot of it, of course, but I could pick out words here and there. I have a bilingual Russian/English New Testament, so I could hand it to one of the kids, who would find where we were at in Russian, and then I could use the numbers and the book title to find it in English. It is also a hymn-singing church (!!!)--we sang "How Great Thou Art," "When the Roll is Called up Yonder," and "I Surrender All" in Ukrainian, plus a lot of songs I didn't know. So I have to travel half-way around the world to be part of a church that sings a lot of hymns?

Anyhow, I like it and I plan to start going regularly.


Am moved in the apartment. I have loads to say about it, but I need to get off-line and go home, as I have furniture supposedly showing up in half an hour!

пʼятниця, квітня 14, 2006

the burblings of a new "homeowner"

I have an apartment!!!

It's the one pretty near my school that's without hot water, but from what I'm hearing, that's pretty much the norm for PCVs...I got a text message from one of my friends in Western Ukraine this morning, and she doesn't have ANY water. Other than that, it's awesome...it belongs to a guy in the army, but he's currently not around, so his mom, who teaches at a different school in town, is renting it to me. Hopefully he'll be gone for the next two years!

The apartment's just been remodeled, so the flooring and wallpaper is new. There are three rooms--a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom, plus a bathroom (here, bathrooms are in two parts with the toilet in one tiny room and the tub in another). The electric, water, and gas (for the stove) aren't hooked up yet, but that's supposed to happen this weekend. When I finish typing this post, I'm going to head over there to help my director clean it up a bit.

There's only a sofa/bed and a couple of tiny cupboards in there now, but my director works for a women's organization in town and I'm getting some of the furniture from their office. I'm not sure if a kitchen table or countertop is included in all of this, but other than that, I think I'll be okay furniture-wise. My kitchen is painted green and white--my director said that in summer we could wallpaper, but I was trying to explain that these were my university colors and I LIKED the paint. (Anyone want to send me an MSU pennant for my wall?)

When I look out my balcony, I can see fields ahead of me and to my left, and on the right is the edge of the downtown area.

Yay for housing!

середа, квітня 12, 2006


Maybe I'll have a new apartment later this week. My director has found several possibilities, with the most promising so far being one about halfway between the center of town and my school (this will cut my walk to school about in half). It has electric, gas, and water, although not hot water. I guess that's what the gas stove is for--heating it up. I haven't seen it yet, though, so I won't hold my breath on it. PCV housing isn't definite until your stuff's in there!

Other options are/have been an apartment that the people decided not to move out of, an apartment without electricity, and sharing a house with a single elderly man who lives next door to the school (the house reminded me very much of my Grandpa May's in that there were large piles of books and clutter all around, and it was difficult to explain to my coordinator that this was not an acceptable situation for a young woman, no matter how nice the man...he did have a washing machine, though!).

Prayers about housing would be appreciated!

понеділок, квітня 10, 2006

so I'm turning Baptist...

So you know how I thought my saga of finding a church was over? God had other plans.

After school on Friday, I was at the post office mailing Easter cards, when a woman I didn't know came up to me and started talking. I eventually gathered that she was the mother of students at my school (the ones standing next to her were ones I don't teach, however), and then she started talking about church. I said that I'd been to the Orthodox church across from the school but that I was Protestant, and then she gave me a big hug and said that she was also Protestant, that Nelya had told her that I was religious (or Protestant, or something!), and did I want to come to her son's birthday party that evening?

Having no evening plans and being curious about the church (which I gathered was Baptist), I took her up on the offer. As it turns out, this is a family with 10 children, most if not all of whom are adopted...five of them aren't in school yet. They live in a huge house (you'd have to, with 10 kids).

It was one of the nicest evenings I've had in a long time. There were small children running all over (one of the boys is in my 2nd form), all the guests were people from the church, and we sang "How Great Thou Art," "As the Deer," and "Give Thanks" in Ukrainian. I felt very much at home--the father read part of Proverbs to the son whose birthday it was, we prayed before the meal, and they have the verse about "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" on the wall by the door, similar to how it was in my house in the US (except in Russian!). There was a sense of community that I've been blessed to have at two different churches back in the US, which made me all the more happy about it. Plus, it will be good for my language and not involve trying to get to Kharkiv, as well as getting better integrated into the community. I couldn't go to church with them yesterday, as I had prior commitments, but I plan to go next week. (Marina: "You're turning Baptist?" Baptists are looked at as sort of weird here, as are most forms of Protestantism.)


My prior commitment for yesterday was going to a town about an hour away with Nelya and her daughter Vera to an Orthodox service. (I think that Nelya thought I needed the cultural experience, Vera needed a small dose of religion, and she just likes the church.) The church was very beautiful, with murals of Bible scenes everywhere, and as always, the accapella singing in Orthodox services was beautiful. But we were there at the service for 6 hours, which is now my new record for lengthy church services. (We left Balaklia at 5am, and I had to get up at 3:45.) You have to stand for Orthodox services as well. (This will be a benefit to being Baptist, as I'm pretty sure they sit.) But it was a nice day, and I was amused by Vera, who is a typical 17-year-old girl, who, when we got on the train at 5 am, said, "There are no interesting people on the train. Now if we were going to Kharkiv..." She also corrected her mother's pronunciation of her name from "Vira" to "Vera," as the latter is the Russian variant, which she prefers. As I said, a typical 17-year-old.

The weather is gorgeous, sunny, and warm. My housing situation is once again up in the air, with several possible options. Perhaps by the next post it will be resolved? Here's hoping!

середа, квітня 05, 2006


Big announcement of the day: I have tri-lingual Scrabble!!! :)

I was wandering around town this morning and ended up in the bookstore by the lyceum. I'd seen what looked like Scrabble there before, so I decided to investigate more closely. I couldn't figure out if it was Russian or Ukrainian, but I figured I could use help spelling in either language, and so I bought it for 18 hryven ($4.50ish).

When I got home, I opened it and discovered that it was tri-lingual: there were tiles for the Cyrillic letters that both Russian and Ukrainian share, plus extra tiles for the letters they don't, plus English cardboard tiles as well.

It's incredibly cool. Now I just need to find people to play it with!


My fifth form boys like to go fishing, they tell me. So I attempted to make a fishing game for class out of a "fishing pole" (a pen, dental floss, and a paper clip) and paper fish with a hole punched in them. However, it took me 10 minutes of trying to catch a fish, before I finally managed to hook one. We didn't play that game after all. But I suspect I looked rather ridiculous standing in the middle of my bedroom trying to catch fish.


Supposedly, I'm moving to my apartment next week. However, my director has been very busy lately, so I haven't had any confirmation of this fact. I hope I move soon, as I'm anxious to have my own place. Living with Marina has been great, but I'm ready to try it on my own. Plus, she wants her son, who lives in Moscow, to come visit, and I'm in his room!


Tif just called. She has a package from her mom, who sent me pepperoni! Yay!

субота, квітня 01, 2006

book reviews, mostly

Zgurivka was great. I actually had the language skills to carry on at least basic conversations with Mama Luda, the food (as always) was very good, and Sasha and I played the computer game "Chicken Invaders from Outer Space". Sasha, who kept saying, "Where'd you learn that word?", found a new way to annoy both female members of the house...he would speak in English so Mama Luda wouldn't understand, and then I'd have to translate. Ah, the joys of having a younger brother...

I've also spent some free time reading books that I borrowed from the Kyiv-Mohila Academy library. The funniest line yet comes from Katharine Howard, a book about the 5th wife (of 6) of King Henry VIII:

Lady Baynton said, "Try to forget it, Katharine. 'Look ever to Jesus and He'll carry you through'."

That splendid hymn had not yet been written, but the sentiments were as true then as now.

So, um, since "Yield Not to Temptation" hadn't been written yet, and it wouldn't be written for a few hundred years, why quote it?

My other interesting read was God Lives in St. Petersburg, a book of short stories by Tom Bissell, who was an MSU grad, joined the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan, quit early because of a relationship back home that ended up not working out, but then went back to Uzbekistan and Central Asia as a writer. I read his book on Uzbekistan, Chasing the Sea this past summer. It made me happy I was going to Ukraine.

I'm not sure if I recommend God Lives in St. Petersburg or not. If you're offended by sex, language, and violence, I don't recommend it, and he also is pretty unforgiving to the missionaries who are in his stories. But he writes some lines in a way that only a former PCV can:

Second, you had your Do-Gooders. These people, God bless them, needed a serious...clue. Each fall I'd see a new group of hatchlings turn up in the Capital, their first day in-country, snappily dressed, taking pictures with disposable cameras for Mom and Dad back home in Iowa and Nebraska and Michigan. Then they'd get shipped out to the villages. Three months later I'd see them back in the Capital shopping for Snickers bars and deoderant, crazed and dandruff-ridden.

Tee hee...

But the story that I found most compelling was "Animals in Our Lives," a story about an English major who moves to Kyrgyzstan to teach ESL but comes home to his girlfriend to save their relationship, only to see it fall apart. What caught me was not so much the story's content, although as a PCV I can understand it, but the setting...it takes place in a slightly fictionalized East Lansing. North Campus is described as "endless greenery plunked with long flat structures terraced with rococo Modernism, gloomy campus-Gothic firetraps [West Circle!], stark administrative fortresses designed from the academic-industrial-complex blueprint popular in the mid-1970s". Grand River Avenue and Trappers' Cove Apartments are mentioned in the story, and the main setting is a fictionalized Potter's Park Zoo. It was like being at home, in a weird way.