четвер, вересня 27, 2007

I'm reviewing the situation*

Two funny anecdotes from this week about the problems of misperception:

On Tuesday, I was talking with Serhii Danilovitch, the music teacher at school. We were discussing everything from my fast-approaching departure to the European Union. He said to me, "Two years ago, when you came to Balaklia with a lot of luggage [suitcase, duffel, heater, backpack, computer bag, and I don't remember what else], we all thought, 'Oh, she brought all sorts of clothes...the latest in American fashions.' But instead, you had books and a laptop!" I laughed. "Yeah, I brought teaching supplies, because I knew it would be hard to find English books." "Who needs a lot of clothes anyway?" he said. It was funny, because anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to my priorities, books rank much, much higher than clothes...but that's not the stereotype that people here see in American pop culture. So that made me happy, that I've helped break down the idea that all Americans are highly fashion-conscious.

Although I do wonder if some of my girls were actually disappointed that I didn't have all sorts of new fashionable clothes.

The other story goes back to when Brandi was here. I was at school one day, when the secretary came down to the teachers' room and said, "Your landlady's coming by to get the key to your apartment." Land gentry (to use the term that Tif and I coined) in Ukraine can come into your apartment whenever they please...they don't have to give advance notice nor make sure that you're there. The landlady didn't come, and half an hour later, the secretary came back down and said, "You need to go home. The landlady called again and said that there's someone there who won't let her in." Knowing that Brandi was home, I thought that there must have been some sort of communication breakdown, so I headed home. Three-quarters of the way there, I met Brandi coming to school to get me. She had, in fact, told the landlady through gestures and a phrasebook that she and her male companion could come in, but the woman had seemed very upset about something. Brandi had tried to say that I'd be home soon and that she could go get me, but the woman didn't seem to understand anything that she was trying to get across. Brandi thought that perhaps I was getting evicted so that my landlady's son could move into the apartment.

By the time I got to the apartment, the landlady and her companion were gone. The across-the-hall neighbor assured me that I wasn't getting evicted, but I didn't understand what she said about what had actually happened. And therein ended Chapter One.

Yesterday morning, I ran into my friend Natalia at the bazaar. She apparently knows my landlady's family, and said that in fact, it had been my landlady's daughter-in-law who had come to scope out the place because they're moving in at some point after I leave in December. The daughter-in-law had never met me, and therefore assumed that Brandi was me. Apparently she said to Natalia that she was confused, because she thought I knew at least rudimentary Russian/Ukrainian, and she couldn't figure out how on earth I managed to teach the kids at school when I all I could say in Russian was, "I don't understand." I know that Brandi tried to let her know that I was at school, but if she had already made up her mind that Brandi was me, I guess Brandi's talk of school probably confused her all the more.

So there you have it...why you should always make sure of your facts before drawing conclusions!

*Bonus points to whoever knows what musical my post title is from.

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середа, вересня 19, 2007

Beowulf and the little pig (Fall cleaning, part 2)

The formatting on my previous post turned weird, so I had to split this up into two posts.

Next up for your reading pleasure is a poem about Beowulf that I wrote for my 8th form practicum class that I worked with during Pre-Service Training. If I recall correctly, they had been learning about Beowulf in their textbook, so I wrote this poem for them and cut it up into couplets. They had to put it back together using their knowledge of the story.

Beowulf was a hero,
He was a very brave knight.
He came to Denmark to help his friends,
Who asked him if he'd please fight.
So he fought the monster Grendel
And killed it with his sword.
Then he went back to the castle
And became king as a reward.
Later Beowulf fought a dragon,
But sadly, both of them died.
"Take care of my country," he said,
And all his country cried.

That was obviously when I was a rookie teacher and much more ambitious in lesson planning!

Although on the subject of lesson planning, I had a really good lesson with my 11a class yesterday. The topic was "Love and Marriage", and we matched up famous couples, ranked various traits in potential partners from 1-10 (moderately appalled both at how high "beautiful/handsome" and how low "religious"were marked, but these are Ukrainian teenagers), had a discussion about relationships, and brainstormed romantic phrases in English. The kids participated really well, even some of the boys who usually do nothing. Their hometask was to write a love letter in English, and four girls actually did so (with several others telling me that they had written love letters in Russian but weren't sure how to translate them!). The results were highly entertaining, and if I get a chance later this semester, I'll snag their copybooks long enough to post some excerpts. My favorite was Vika's, who began, "my dear little pig", which apparently is a term of endearment in Ukraine. I explained to Vika that in the US, it probably wouldn't be appreciated quite as much.

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Fall cleaning, part one

With less than three months left in Ukraine, I have suddenly been struck by the need to start sorting through 2 years' worth of assorted clutter, so as to not be stuck doing it all at the last minute. I have four(ish) divisions: Throw Out, Keep, Give to My School, and Give to Anyone Who Will Take It (subtitled "Where Did I Get This?"), plus Things I Will Use Before Leaving But Won't Take to the US. I'm pleased to report that Keep is the smallest one so far...or at least, it was before I added a large number of Ukrainian language manuals to the pile. I just hate to pitch them, knowing that if I want to keep up with my language in the States, I'd have a hard time finding a lot of stuff.

Most random find: a yo-yo. I have no idea where it came from...maybe the box Brockway sent me last fall?

And of course, going through papers means a trip down Memory Lane. To begin with chronologically, my personal definition of being a successful PCV that I wrote at Staging back in Chicago almost two years ago.

"I will know that I am a successful Volunteer when I am looked at as a member of my community, rather than an outsider. I probably will never be fully integrated, but when I can start to feel at home, when my students see me simply as their teacher rather than that American who's teaching English, then I'll be on my way. When I've had a good day because my students wanted to learn, because I've had meaningful conversations in Ukrainian, because I begin to realize how much I will miss my host community when I am back in the US, then I will start to become, in my mind, a successful Volunteer."

Wow. By that definition, I've been successful here, because all those things have come true. Something for me to remember when I get frustrated by everything I haven't accomplished here.

Excerpts from the first few pages of the notebook I used during Pre-Service Training (flipping further through it, I was appalled at how bad my spelling was in Ukrainian). Many of these words of wisdom come from higher-ups in PC Ukraine giving us advice in the first few days. They're in order, although I'm skipping some.
  • Read first 30 pages of med. book--administrative section [first note]
  • voda bez gas--water w/o gas
  • "Stop worrying. You just lost control of your lives for a while." Linda Wiley, PCMO
  • Nobody learns a language in 3 months!
  • being a PCV=like being in love--moods change, but hopefully you end w/feelings of victory
  • during the 1990s, Ukrainians lost 60% of their income--during the Great Depression, the US lost 25%
  • the Secret Police will know what I'm doing [in retrospect--really? if so, they were really secret]
  • don't photograph gov't buildings or transportation [broken by every single PCV, self included]
  • during training, think through whether or not I want to be here
  • you have to learn before you can share
  • babushka--old woman who knows everything

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понеділок, вересня 17, 2007

perhaps biting off more than I can chew, almost literally

Mom and I were talking last night about people making irrational/poor/not well thought out decisions. Well, here's my decison of the week that has the potential to fall into that category (although not necessarily).

For the harvest festival at church next Sunday, I signed up to bring enough cookies for 100-110 people. (According to Mom, 12 dozen should be about right. I think that's gross. Yes, I like puns.)

I volunteered at church yesterday, and then afterwards, when I got to the Yukhemetses', Nadia, who had stayed home with the little kids, was basically like, "You're crazy. Call Tanya (the woman who's organizing the food for the harvest festival) up and tell her you've changed your mind." But I have to remember that this is coming from a woman with 10 children, who would be crazy if she tried to bake 12 dozen cookies (at least, over and above what she already cooks).

Vitaly put in a request for no-bakes, and I found a no-peanut butter version. Making cookies that don't involve peanut butter, chocolate chips (although I can cut up chocolate bars), and much brown sugar (I have maybe a cup and a half left, and getting more would involve going to Kharkiv) makes life challenging. I'm leaning towards half no-bakes and half either applesauce cookies or something to be determined. Does anyone have easy cookie recipes that make a lot?

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пʼятниця, вересня 14, 2007

wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles

GRE scores:

740 Verbal
710 Quantative (Math) !!!!!
Analytical writing: still unknown for the next few weeks

Many thanks to everyone who prayed for me and was supportive. I'm really excited about my results, and I'm thankful to God for enabling me to do this well.

LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) results:

Advanced Mid in Ukrainian, which basically means that I can carry on conversations with people who aren't used to talking to non-native speakers but that I'm not quite to the level of being able to rant for ages about theoretical topics. Also cool.

I spent the afternoon visiting Rita, a PCV friend of mine who lives about an hour and a half away from Kyiv. In her town, there's a really nice outdoor museum that includes a building about Sholem Alecheim, who wrote a collection of stories entitled Tevye's Daughters, which was later made into the musical Fiddler on the Roof. This is what prompted me to go, even before I knew that Rita lived there, but actually the rest of the museum was more interesting. We saw 500-year-old stone crosses, climbed a rickety wooden ladder to ring a bell, and chatted in Ukrainian with some old ladies who worked there and convinced them to sing a folk song for us.

And now I'm headed home again!

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четвер, вересня 13, 2007

countdown: 4 hours, 15 minutes

In Kyiv...left Brandi at the bus station and came to the office...GRE is at 2 pm.




I think it'll be okay.

середа, вересня 12, 2007

Brandi's visit (and a bit about Oleh Y)

Recap of Brandi's visit:

~Saturday: We went up to Kharkiv, went out to lunch at my favorite Italian place, and wandered around the city. In the evening, we stopped by the Yukhemetses' house to celebrate Vlada's birthday (which was Tuesday). Unfortunately, Spunky, the Y's little yappy dog, didn't realize that Brandi is actually fairly harmless, especially to dogs, and bit her on the arm. She's fine, although she ended up with a bit of a nasty-looking bruise.

~Sunday: The two of us, along with a group from our church, went down to Saventsi (about half an hour away) for the ten-year anniversary of the church there. We sang "You Are My All in All" in English and sat through a three and a half hour church service. (When Viktor asked me later why we only sang one song, I told him that we didn't want the service to go any longer!) However, it was a nice service, and encouraging to hear how the church has grown from 22 to 45 members. Which, for a village in eastern Ukraine, is awesome to hear!

~Monday: School was not the best--my 11th form slacked off, and I had tears in both my 7th and 8th form classes. The 7th form girl cried because she didn't want to sit where I told her, and the 8th form girl cried because Oleh Yukhemets had hit her. I don't know who or what started it. That night, Viktor, Nadia, and I all talked with Oleh, and he denied it happening. He's really being difficult lately, and it's frustrating for Viktor and Nadia. Prayers for him and them would be deeply appreciated.

After school (Brandi stayed home and raided my bookshelves), we went over to the Y's to visit and do laundry. We played Uno and Go Fish with the kids. The kids, especially Oleh, really tried to use the English they know (I'm learning how you can be both disappointed in and proud of a kid all in the same day).

Yesterday and today, I've taught and Brandi's done her own thing during the day, and tonight we head up to Kharkiv and from there to Kyiv. If you think of us tomorrow, please pray, as Brandi begins her 33 hour bus ride back to Germany and I take the GRE!

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четвер, вересня 06, 2007

massive update

Um. Yeah. I haven't posted in almost two weeks.

Would it help if I told you that I was at COS Conference and didn't have computer access, and then when I got back to Balaklia, I was trying to get ready for school and Brandi's visit, and now school's started and Brandi's actually here?

Yeah, I didn't think so. You're a tough audience, you guys.

[This blog post was interrupted by a conversation between Brandi and I about who would play me in a movie in which, similar to Joan of Arc, I heard crackers and peanut butter calling my name, led France (or maybe Ukraine) into battle, was burned at the stake, and was eventually canonized as a saint. My options were Angelina Jolie and Drew Barrymore. I voted for the latter. I'm sure it'll be a box office hit.]

So anyhow...when I last posted, I was in the charming city of Uzhgorod, on the Ukrainian/Hungarian/Slovakian border. While there, I went to an evening worship session of a conference about Messianic Judaism, complete with lots of dancing and songs in Hebrew. The next morning, I went to the Methodist church. I met an American missionary (from Traverse City...small world!), who told me that the church has two services--the morning service, which I attended, was geared more towards "recovering Orthodox", with an accapella choir, while the evening service had a lot of young people and was more charismatic in nature, which I hadn't expected from a Methodist church.

COS Conference...wow. I don't even know where to begin. Out of the 116 people who left Chicago to come to Ukraine (115 made it, we left one in Frankfurt when she lost her passport), 74 are still here. I saw people I hadn't seen since our swearing-in ceremony. We sat through all sorts of sessions on finishing up our service here and looking ahead to post-PC life (does it exist?), hung out past midnight talking, and tried to realize that our time here is coming to a close.

One of my favorite experiences from COS Conference was riding a chair lift up a mountain and back, 40 minutes each way. At the top, we got off and walked around, enjoying the view of more mountains with little villages tucked into the valleys. However, it started off less than wonderfully--Mona, the girl I was in the chair with, and I couldn't get our lap bar down for almost five minutes, so we were each trying to pull it down with one hand while holding on tight with the other. Fortunately, we finally got it down and then were able to properly appreciate the mountain beneath us without worrying that we'd fall out and make its personal (painful) acquaintance.

From the conference, I spent an afternoon in L'viv (as beautiful as ever), took a 22-hour train ride back to Kharkiv, and arrived home in Balaklia on Friday evening, just in time to go to the First Bell ceremony the next day celebrating the beginning of school. At First Bell, the students always give the teachers flowers, and at the end of the day, I had 28 roses and 7 chrysanthemums. Seriously. I doubt I'll ever get 28 roses on one day again!

School has been a bit topsy-turvey this week. Our zavuch, or assistant principal, decided to step down from her role that she's had for the last umpteen years and go back to only being a physics teacher. (She's seemed happier this week than I've ever seen her...just smiling and smiling...) The administration's known this all summer, but they hadn't found anyone to take over her responsibilities...such as making the class schedule for the school. So on Monday morning, we didn't have a schedule past that day nor anyone in charge of making it. However, by the end of the school day, Olha Ivanivna, who is the other English teacher and also the zavuch in charge of organizing parties and concerts, decided to take on the task for One Year Only, and one of the Ukrainian language/lit teachers took over her position. So we've had a day-by-day schedule for this week only as Olha Ivanivna is learning her new position and trying to do the permanent schedule, which is not computerized, but instead has to be all worked out on paper. And we all keep popping in her office to see what classes we're supposed to be teaching and when. Poor woman. She said today that she hasn't really been sleeping and she sees numbers in front of her eyes all the time.

Brandi arrived at 3:45 on Tuesday morning after traveling 48 hours by bus and train from Germany through Poland to Kyiv and then to Balaklia. We've had a good time catching up on each other's lives and discussing the pros and cons of our respective apartments--she has hot water, but I have high speed Internet; I have a lot more space, but she has hot water, etc. She's come to school with me and gotten acquainted with my kids. I have my 11A form 5 times a week (in hopes of getting them ready for exams), so today and yesterday I sent them out in the hall in small groups of 2-3 students to practice talking with a native speaker. I was a little worried, but apparently they spoke English (even the ones I didn't think knew how!) and were polite. Yay!

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