субота, серпня 25, 2007

a lovely little place

Yesterday was Ukrainian Independence Day, and Uzhgorod was apparently the place to be. Wandering around for a while, I found an outdoor concert of traditional Ukrainian music and dancing, with performances from groups from all over Zakarpattia. I watched for a while, eating shashlik and cotton candy. Western Ukraine definitely does the traditional stuff well.

Slept in a wonderfully comfortable bed last night, the best I've had in quite some time (and the bathroom here is in the top five I've seen in Ukraine). Breakfast comes with the price of the room, so this morning I had homemade blinchiki (thin pancakes) with domashnii syr (sort of like cottage cheese), sour cream, and fruit preserves. It's a great place, but it's a little odd for me, after having host families, to have Ella ask, "So what time is best for you for breakfast in the morning?" I'm used to Mama Luda or Marina saying, "Breakfast is at ______," and then I make sure I'm up on time. :)

Today, I met up with Oksana, the secretary at Wesley Bible College, and she showed me around. It's quite small...they were originally in Kyiv but moved to Uzhgorod a year ago due to a fire in Kyiv, and last year they only had 5 students. But the facilities are nice, and Oksana and I hit it off well (she's a couple of years older than I am). We had tea and cookies and got to know each other a bit. She lives with her parents part-time but tends to have a lot of several-month-long house-sitting jobs, which I could relate to. The church she goes to (not the Methodist one here, but another evangelical church in town) is hosting a seminar on Israel this weekend, and she invited me to come tonight--apparently there's going to be music, perhaps dancing, and preaching. Should be interesting.

Then I came back to the center and wandered around. I sat on a bench and listened to an old street musician play his violin, bought myself a new black skirt for winter (on sale), and went to "Tortilla" for a late lunch. "Tortilla," despite its name, isn't really Mexican at all. I had the Hutsul-style pork (the Hutsuls are an ethnic group from this area) with homestyle fried potatoes. It ended up being a pork steak stuffed with hard salami, mushrooms, and what was either some sort of cheese or boiled egg white, all under a white sauce. It tasted very good, but it's so hot out and the food was heavier than I'm used to, being more Central European in style, and I couldn't manage to finish it. But it was good!

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пʼятниця, серпня 24, 2007

Polish numbering, Carpathian mountains, and a Ukrainian Greenfield Village

The most pleasant train ride yet of my journey was the Odesa-L'viv journey of 12 hours last night. I shared a compartment with a young woman who'd been volunteering at a children's camp in Turkey and spoke English, and a mother and son (college age). The three of us young people spent much of the evening chatting, teaching each other card games, and playing Battleship on grid paper.

Funny story about the train. I was in Car 17, but the train only went up to 14. Asking a nearby conductor at the Odesa station, she told me, "It's the last car down there, past Car 1." Bemused, I went down there, trying to find Seat 96 when the seats only went to 36. Since my conductor had told me I was in the last compartment, I figured it out. Later on, someone else in my compartment asked the conductor why the numbering was strange. "It's the Polish way of numbering," the conductor answered, to which the questioner replied, "They count differently there?" Jason, feel free to chuckle. I thought of you.

I'd been a bit concerned, because the woman at the train station in Kharkiv where I'd bought my tickets had told me that I'd have to change trains in L'viv, and I knew I only had 20 minutes. As it turned out, I didn't have to change trains. The train changed numbers (from 108 to 107--more Polish numbering?), and I had to change compartments, as I had a second-class ticket for the first part and third-class for the second. I don't know why the woman couldn't have told me earlier that I'd be on the same train...I understand that apparently there weren't spots for one class or the other that were free the entire trip when I bought my tickets.

The ride from L'viv to Uzhgorod was beautiful. We went through the Carpathian mountains, which were full of hamlets composed of cottages, haystacks, and little Orthodox churches. I made the mistake of starting on a practice GRE before we really got to the mountains, with the result that neither got the attention it deserved. But I loved the mountains. The train went through several, via tunnels!

Uzhgorod is actually on the other side of the Carpathians, as best as I can tell. It's a charming small city that reminds me of when my missions trip to Cologne two summers ago (is that all?) took a day trip to a German town. The streets are hilly and cobblestoned, and the buildings are beautiful, with several old churches. This afternoon, after a lovely shower at the place I'm staying, I went up to an old castle, which now houses a historical museum of the Transcarpathian Oblast. After that, I went to an outdoor museum composed of various houses and other buildings from various cultures that have lived here--very much a Greenfield Village sort of place, except that the people didn't wear costumes.

Tomorrow, I'm meeting the secretary from Wesley Bible College, and on Sunday, I'm leaving late enough (there was only one train available, so it wasn't like there was a choice, unless I left at 4 am) that I can attend the Methodist church here.

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середа, серпня 22, 2007

Odessa Theological Seminary

The concert last night was great! It turned out that it was a group of strings from the music school here for a tour group from the US, Germany, and Italy on a cruise around the Black Sea. The music was not spiritual as much as classical, with a lot of Mozart and Sousa, among others. (They did "The Stars and Stripes Forever" with only strings...and it worked!)

After I got back home, I hung out with some of the other people in the hostel--a guy from France who wanted to practice English, and some students from Sweden, who had me translate "vegetarian" and "vegan" for them (the latter just ended up being "I don't eat x, y, and z").

Today I went out to Odessa Theological Seminary (which felt like it was slightly past the end of the universe), where Ray Trantham, an American professor there, gave me a very nice tour. Then I got to spend 45 minutes browsing through the library (Five Views on Sanctification and Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot) before lunch at their cafeteria. Came back here, got a strawberry slushie (so good! real strawberries!), and came to the Internet cafe to get roughly 101 things done. Hope I've remembered them all!

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вівторок, серпня 21, 2007

a muggy August afternoon

Kherson will hereafter be remembered by me as "the city where people make weird noises walking down the street." Seriously. I was walking down to a pizza place for dinner last night (in hopes of a non-squat toilet, which did not materialize), and a man was walking down the sidewalk in the other direction, screaming every few yards. He didn't look like he was in pain, so I have no idea why he did so. And then on the way back, a man barked at me. I'm not joking. It freaked me out just a bit.

To continue on with the noise theme, one of the women in my train compartment snored very loudly all night. One of the other women was kind and gave me ear plugs. This is at least my third train ride where I've ended up near a snorer. Sigh...

Got into Odesa around 6 am and took a marshrutka to the hostel, where I promptly fell back asleep until 9. Got up and had breakfast with a boyfriend and girlfriend from Vienna, who had thought about going on vacation to Italy but instead did Hungary and Ukraine. They were about the same ages as Kate and her Jason (both of us are dating Jasons, in case that wasn't clear...yes, it's confusing; no, neither of us are willing to find a new boyfriend just for clarity's sake), and that really just struck me. Kate and Jason went camping up around Mackinac (that's right, isn't it? or just up north?). Susannah and Mark went to Ukraine. Wow.

After breakfast, I headed out walking, and within forty minutes, had already been to two bookstores and the Presbyterian church, which is holding a free concert of spiritual music tonight for American foreigners. At least, as best as I could understand. I couldn't tell if it was for all American foreigners or just a special group of them, but the woman thought I could come. Although she also thought I was Polish at first. At the bookstores, I bought two kids' books of Disney stories in English and Russian for my English club, decided not to spend almost $40 for Harry Potter 7, and eyed a Russian textbook for English speakers, just to brush up on grammar. We'll have to see.

Then I wandered the streets, walked down the famous Potemkin Stairs (have any of you seen Battleship Potemkin? Dad?), took the furnicular (little tiny railroad thing) up, bought a silk scarf that was on sale (I may have to go back and get more as Christmas presents, as they were a good deal), and went to a nice pizzeria for lunch. I had a pizza with shrimp, broccoli, spinach, onion, garlic, and mozzerella cheese, plus incredibly good garlic bread with minced fresh vegetables on it. Which should tell anyone who knew me growing up how far my tastes have expanded.

Oh, I almost forgot...Odesa is humid. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Skadovsk was warm, but there wasn't the humidity I've noticed here. So I'm just taking it slow. I think I'm going out to the seminary tomorrow, and for the rest of the day today, I plan to keep wandering the streets, visit the literary museum and whatever else strikes my fancy, and go to the concert in the evening.

You know, I could get used to this vacation thing!

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понеділок, серпня 20, 2007

final day in Skadovsk

My back itches from sunburn. Very annoying.

Daisy, a new PCV in the oblast, just called me to ask about the logistics of sending candy to the US (Tif, do you have any tips? I never tried it.). The following conversation ensued:

Daisy: So what are you doing right now?
Me: I'm at the Black Sea eating soft-serve ice cream.
Daisy: You punk!


The Yukhemetses left yesterday morning, planning to stop in Dnipropretrovsk to visit family on the way home. They left a day earlier than originally planned, but I think Nadia considered the vacation a success overall...at least, she kept saying that she thinks they'll try it again some time. Brave woman.

I went to church yesterday morning, which was nice. Also nice was having a seat by the window, as it got quite warm. Also nice was that they had the hymn lyrics projected on transparencies, because in Ukrainian churches, you bring your own hymnal, and since at least a third of the congregation was from out-of-town (at best guess), it was a nice touch.

After church, I met a couple who are Presbyterian missionaries in Kherson. He's originally from Holland, MI, and she's from Russia. During the service, I guessed that he was American, because he had a goatee and a wedding ring on his left hand (Ukrainians do the right hand). So I went up and introduced myself, and yes, indeed, they were from the US.

This afternoon, I take the marshrutka back to Kherson, and from there I go by overnight train to Odesa. I found out this morning that I could have taken a bus straight to Odesa, but I had no way of knowing that beforehand. Yesterday, I called some American missionaries who teach at the seminary there, and they gave me directions and offered to show me around the seminary when I get out there (it's about an hour from the city center--45 minutes by bus, plus a 15-minute walk). My Uzhgorod plans are also coming together, although I haven't heard from the Bible college out there yet. I realized yesterday that Friday is Ukrainian Independence Day, so there may not be anyone around at the college, but we'll see how it goes.

Itch, itch, itch...I'm putting some cream on my back when I get back to the house!

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субота, серпня 18, 2007

fun and sun and sand and little kids and sunburn

(Apologies to those of you who got an earlier version of this yesterday, but I'm saving time once again by taking the basic text and editing/updating it. So I recommend reading it again because there's more to it this time.)

The Black Sea is wonderful. I've spent a great deal of time over the last few days at the sea, either just being out in the sun or playing in the water with the Yukhemets kids. I have learned the word for jellyfish (there are a lot of them here, which the boys like to use to freak out Vlada and I by threatening to throw them at us) and have taught the kids the English word.

I'm staying with a young couple who make a living renting rooms here. (They say that the only professions around here are landlord, accountant, and salesperson!) They're Christians (his dad's the pastor here) and also some sort of cousins to Nadia. (Me to Nadia: "Are all evangelical Christians in Ukraine related to you?" Nadia: "We do have a big extended family...")

I'm definitely a bit sunburned, especially my back. SPF 30 is good, but it has its limits. Nadia and Vlada use some sort of cream, but it didn't appear to be sunblock. I've discovered that Ukrainians have a thing about getting very very tan. They think it's healthy for you.

Which leads to one of the more surprising cultural things I've noticed: 98% of females here wear bikinis, regardless of age, shape, or weight. This includes Nadia and Vlada (Liza and Snizhanna just run around in bikini bottoms, as do most small girls). I understand that it's part of the culture here, but it surprised me that the evangelical Christians also wear bikinis. I'm not saying that it's horrible or anything, just that women in the churches here tend to dress fairly conservatively--they're well-covered-up, with little to no jewelry or makeup, so I assumed that they'd be like conservative evangelical Christians in the US, where women generally wear one-piece suits (and I remember wearing t-shirts over our suits at some church functions growing up). Several Yukhemets kids have asked me where my swimsuit is (I have a tanktop and shorts combo made out of swimsuit material), and they give me weird looks when I say I'm already wearing it!

I'm really glad I'm here, and even more so that I'm with the Yukhemetses (although also glad that I'm not sharing an apartment with them...they have 12 people in the apartment sleeping on a bed, a couch, two chairs, and the floor, plus two out in the van...actually, according to Nadia, they aren't particularly sleeping). I go "way out" in the water with the older kids (but on the children's beach, "way out" is still only chest-deep, if that!), pull the little kids around on their floaties, and am the prime recipient of Valera's "Watch me, Miss Sally!"

Valera and I today, playing in the water:
Valera: Why do all the kids in my class like you so much?
Me: I don't know. Why do you?
Valera: Because we're always doing stuff together.

I thought that was really sweet. Of course, he also enjoys dunking me in the water.

I've quite easily resisted the temptation to do much souvenir shopping, as it's a lot of junk, and easily breakable junk at that, but I did get myself a brown-with-white-polkadots headband and a shell that says "Skadovsk 2007" in Cyrillic letters. I liked a crocheted scarf/shawl thing (cream-colored with pretty flowers), but then I saw it had sparkly beads sewn in. Not so much my thing.

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понеділок, серпня 13, 2007


Things I've accomplished today:

~bought my ticket from Kharkiv to Kherson
~got ahold of a PCV in Skadovsk who knew how to get from Kherson to Skadovsk
~filled out my Peace Corps Activity Report for the January-August period
~booked hostels in Odesa and Uzhgorod (there's your links, Mom)
~bought a navy blue tank top for 5 hryvnia at a second-hand store in town, originally thinking it was black (due to poor lighting in the shop) but being pleased to discover its actual color
~made homemade granola
~hung out with Andrey for English conversation
~registered for the GRE

I'm tired. And SO thankful that I have Internet in my apartment! I can't imagine trying to do all of this at the post office!

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Black Sea, here I come!

Most fascinating way I've found to waste time today (no, really): watching YouTube clips from/homemade music videos of "Ne Rodis' Krasivoy." Which are in Russian, of course, but randomly are mostly labeled in Spanish.

However, I don't have time to waste time, because...I AM GOING TO THE BLACK SEA TOMORROW!!!! (Sense some excitement?) I'd really been regretting that I'd never made it to the sea while I was here, but I didn't want to go by myself...not nearly as much fun. But the Yukhemetses and Nadia's brother and his family are going this week, and I'm going to sorta-kinda be part of their group. (They're driving, I'm taking the train--which I think is a better plan because I would be Person 16 in the van for at least 12 hours.) We're renting apartments down in Skadovsk, a town in Khersonska Oblast on the Black Sea (not quite Crimea, but cheaper). They don't have room for me in their apartment (once again, I'd be Person 16), but Nadia made a few calls and I'm going to be sharing an apartment with some cousins of hers. And really, we're planning to spend all our time on the beach anyway. :)

I'll be down there until Monday-ish, and then have a few days free until Sunday the 26th, when I need to be in L'vivska Oblast for COS Conference. There's no point in coming back to Balaklia when I'm already partway in the direction I need to be, and besides, I have a lot of vacation days I've never used. So I came up with the crazy idea of travelling in the direction of L'viv through the south-western side of Ukraine, stopping in cities with Bible colleges/seminaries, and visiting them. I really liked my time in Donetsk, and it made me curious what other Bible colleges in Ukraine are like. Besides, I don't plan to spend all my time visiting the colleges...there's also just a lot to see. The current thought is to go to Odesa (Odessa Theological Seminary) and Uzhgorod (Wesley Bible College), although I may go straight to L'viv from Odesa. Don't know yet...still putting it all together!

(And, by the way, both "Odesa" and "Odessa" are correct spellings. A single s is the Ukrainian version, and a double ss is the Russian version.)

So today is my day to get all my ducks in a row--figure out housing, plan where and when I'm going, pack, write a resume for a workshop at COS Conference, register for the GRE, make homemade granola for the trip, hang out with Andrey tonight (his English conversation partner--me--just keeps going out of town!), and fill out my Peace Corps Activity Report. Tomorrow I do whatever I didn't get done today, and head for Kharkiv. I leave from Kharkiv tomorrow night, get into Kherson on Wednesday afternoon, and from there take a bus down to Skadovsk. It's an adventure!

Well, then...time's a-wasting! I'd better keep going...

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четвер, серпня 09, 2007

a week of math. what fun!

Tif told me to update, so here I am.

It's not been a very exciting week...lots of GRE prep and looking up various MATESOL programs online. MSU's still the one I like the best (I'm familiar with the area, I really like the English Resource Center where I would hopefully be a TA, and their website's easy to navigate...a big plus after reading 20-some sites!), but a few other places have caught my eye (if they offer Ukrainain classes, should this be a factor?).

I dunno. It all seems very complicated, and there's the question of whether or not it's a good idea to only apply to one grad school, in case I don't get in or the financial aid isn't as much as I'd like.

(And then there's the random programs unconnected to TESOL that catch my eye, such as Kansas University's MA in Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies, which really has no practical application for me, but just looks really cool.)

The GRE prep is paying off...I took another practice test yesterday, and in a week of studying math, both the math and the verbal went up 70 points each. It's interesting...as I look up GRE stuff online, apparently it's more common to have a higher math than verbal, and I'm the other way around. Huh.

Last Saturday, I went back to the village where I'd been on Sunday, this time to celebrate my friend Andrey's 28th birthday. Once again, we went swimming in the river and ate shashlik. Before that, Andrey and his friend Alosha fixed the light bulb in my bedroom, which had been burnt out for quite some time. When I'd tried to change it, I'd found that the metal part of the bulb had corroded and was therefore extraordinarily difficult to remove, and in trying to do so, I'd made it harder. Andrey's comment (with a smile) was, "Next time, don't try and fix things yourself. Ask someone who knows what they're doing." Point taken.

That whole "I'm not going anywhere until COS Conference" idea seems to be out the window, but I'm waiting until I know for sure (tomorrow?) to post details. :)

I found a baguette (spelling?) at the store yesterday, so I made French bread pizza. It was good. I also made applesauce tonight to use up some apples Nadia gave me.

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четвер, серпня 02, 2007

the beginnings of the GRE saga, plus a lot of other stuff

Happiness is seven new CDs of music--one of a Ukrainian rock group "Jeremiah's Tears" that I bought in L'viv, three country/oldies mixes from Tif, and three of Ukrainian/Russian Christian music that I got from my neighbors in the dorm at DCU. I'm still uploading the latter group into iTunes, mostly because it takes a while to get the Russian and Ukrainian song info typed up correctly (yes, I am a stickler for properness and like it to be in the correct alphabet; yes, I have a little cheat sheet for what the computer keys become when I put the Ukrainian settings on; no, I can't type as fast in Ukrainian as I can in English...not yet, anyway, but I've gotten much better at it). Currently I'm listening to a choir from Kyiv singing hymns in Russian (the current one is "We praise Thee, O God"); I'm excited because I've known pretty much every song they've sung so far, but a teensy bit sad that they're in Russian and not Ukrainian and I know the Ukrainian versions better. Guess I'll have to break out my Russian hymnal and practice.

Please keep the Yukhemets family in your prayers--I called Nadia this afternoon to see if I could go over and do laundry and she told me that Viktor is taking Valera to Kyiv for a couple weeks for treatment on his eyes (he doesn't see well but neither does he like to wear his glasses). So both prayers for them traveling and for Nadia with the other nine kids at home. And Nadia suggested that another day--any other day--might be better for me to come over. :)


Update on where I'm at these days, life-wise:

Basically, I'll be around Balaklia (as far I know) until the last week of August, when I head out west for COS (Close of Service) Conference for PC, where I'll get to see everyone who's left from Group 29 and get info about finishing up my time here.

I start teaching at the beginning of September, which is also going to be a busy month, company-wise, as Brandi's coming to visit me for a week or so, plus another friend from college might be visiting (more on that later if it actually works out).

My official COS date is December 13, and I assume I'll be coming home around that time, give or take a few days either way for the best deal on plane tickets (PC offers either a ticket to your home airport--Grand Rapids, not Lakeview!--or money for you to get your own ticket; it's usually more cost-effective to take the latter) and if Jason and I can time it so I could fly into Chicago when he's on his way back to Michigan from grad school in Wisconsin and drive back together (tickets are much cheaper into O'Hare than into any Michigan airports).

Then, I have Christmas and adjusting-back-into-US-life time, which will probably involve trying to spend time with lots of people and finding a car and learning how to drive in Michigan winters all over again. My current plan is to live with my parents for a few months and substitute teach (one could say I'll be joining the family business, almost). After that, I'm looking into going to grad school for my Master's in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), most likely back at MSU.

So where does that leave me right now? Studying for the GRE, which I'm hoping to take in Kyiv in September. I took a practice test yesterday before I started reviewing, just to give me a sense of where I am, and, to no one's surprise (I expect), my verbal score was pretty high and my math score was not bad, but fairly mediocre, because I haven't even though about most math beyond the absolute basics since senior year of high school, and definitely not since statistics class in my first semester of college. So that's August's major plan: study for the GRE (in between neighbor kids coming over to play cards, which keeps happening).

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