середа, листопада 28, 2007

Oh, gobble, gobble, gobble / Fat turkeys are we!

It was a good day, and a productive one.

Today was our big seminar for area teachers, with a focus on extra-curricular activities in English. Nelya had organized a debate between the senior classes (pupils from 9th-11th forms...don't get too excited, I did all the research and wrote their speeches, but they did have to develop oratorial skills), and I presented a segment of one of my English clubs about Thanksgiving with some of the 3rd and 4th formers. It all went well, and the teachers liked it, although I think they thought that it would all be too much work to duplicate on their own. One woman came up to me afterwards and said that this was her first interaction with a native speaker, and another woman wants me to come speak at her school next week (no rest for the wicked and the righteous don't need none).

Inna giving her speech

Robert (who was on the jury for the debate) and I...the entire American population of Balaklia

I really wanted to post my little kids with their Indian headbands, but Blogger is being fussy, so it'll have to wait.

Afterwards, we all had lunch in the school cafeteria; Nelya helped me make my shopping list for my goodbye party on Friday (in Ukraine, you throw your own party), which will have 35ish people at it; and I came home. Since coming home, I have baked a chocolate chip torte (one of the cakes for the aforementioned party), finished (I think) my Statement of Purpose for MSU, have a decent draft of a SOP for UMBC, made up certificates for my 7th formers (our last lesson is tomorrow), talked to Mom, and collected another bag's worth of books and school supplies to donate to the English department at my school (am taking a bag or two of stuff every day...since I never wrote a grant to get them a resource center, I might as well give them one!).

I'm being productive, I think, which is good. There's a lot more to do.

To my faithful readers (and I'm pretty sure I've got lurkers who aren't replying), thanks so much for reading my blog over the last twenty-seven months! Hopefully I've entertained you and given you a small taste of what my life looks like. I've been giving some thought to the post-Peace Corps future, and right now I'm leaning towards continuing to blog (with a new site, as I will no longer be Sal in Ukraine), with a mix of posts on daily life, adjusting to the US, applying to grad school, and Deep Thoughts. We'll see.

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понеділок, листопада 26, 2007

roll call!

Ooh! Two posts in one day! I know, you can hardly believe it...

This is just a "fun" post about blogging. I use StatCounter to see how many hits this blog gets, and I've noticed that I've gathered a small, faithful collection of regular readers. Now I know that I know a fairly large number of you (I'm assuming that the majority of Michiganders are people I know, and Milwaukee and Fayetteville also need no explanation), but this is directed to all those lurkers out there who read my blog, both those who know me and those who just stumbled across me somehow.

Who are you? How did you find my blog, and what led you to keep reading it? I'm really curious. I love reading random people's blogs, so I'm glad that you found me. Also, for everyone who knows me in real life, you can also leave a comment, because I'm not exactly sure who's still reading this.

Also, for your amusement, key words that people had been searching for when they found my blog this month...here are the highlights:

~lots of permutations on "Ukraine," "Peace Corps," and "experiences". No explanation needed (although there have been a lot of "bad peace corps experiences" referrals, which probably didn't get them what they wanted).
~ukraine boys (my opinions on the breed are those of a teacher; once again, probably disappointed the searcher)
~plakhotnyk kyiv-the capital of ukraine (this has to have been another PCV searching for lesson plans)
~wears slips (well, I do...)
~balaklia milk combinat (I'm the only search result...)
~ukraine luxuries (hot water?)
~peace corps had sex (once again, disappointment for the searcher)
~christian missionaries in the peace corps
~bite your head off babushka (Tif should appreciate that one)

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Since some of my friendly audience of readers have been asking me why I haven't been posting much lately, I figured it was time for a post. The short answer to why this blog hasn't been updated is that I've got two and a half weeks left before my Close of Service (COS), and there have just been too many things going on. Between school, Peace Corps, daily life, grad school applications, cleaning out my apartment, starting to say goodbye, and watching Doctor Who episodes on YouTube as a way of relaxing when I can't take the rest of it anymore, I haven't had a lot of time for blogging or a lot of brain power to write intelligible thoughts that aren't connected to my Description of Service for Peace Corps or my Statement of Purpose for my grad school applications.

We celebrated American Thanksgiving last Friday night (worked better for everyone's schedules). Robert, Andrey, and Ira all came over for an American-style dinner of roast chicken (which in true family style wasn't done on time), stuffing, mashed potatoes, applesauce, shrimp dip with crackers, and carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting. It was fun for the Ukrainians to try American foods, and I had the small pleasure of having Andrey say he possibly couldn't eat any more, which is always what happens to me at Ukrainian social functions. We then played a few games of Uno, and Ira went through the pile of things I'm giving away. She looked like Christmas had come early, and they left with three bags of stuff. Yay! (I keep giving huge amounts of my possessions away. This place should look much more empty than it does...)

On Saturday, I went to School 2 for the English Olympiad. We'd originally been told that 8-11th formers could compete, but then were told that it had changed to 9-11th formers. As Nelya had told Oleh Yukhymets that she was planning to enter him, I had been disappointed that he couldn't compete, but that was how it was. Well, when we got there on Saturday, we found out that eighth fomers were in fact eligible but that no one had called us to tell us that this had changed. Nelya looked at me and said, "Why don't you call Oleh?" So I called their house and Nadia said he wasn't completely up yet, but if I thought he was prepared enough to compete, she'd send him. He showed up half an hour later, saying, "You told me I wasn't going to compete, so I didn't prepare and I don't know what's going on..." We found him a dictionary, gave him a pep talk, and sent him off to compete. We don't have the results until Thursday, but he thinks he finished in the middle of the pack. Apparently his speaking topic was about a car of the future. Wish I could have heard it!

I was on the jury for the 10th form, where we heard many, many speeches about the Harry Potter books and movies and that English is the language of shipbuilding. O-kay, then.

Today at school I had a conversation with my director, which, as usual, was not the highlight of my day. I got the impression that my landlady had had a lot of issues with the way I kept the apartment, but my director kept saying, "Don't worry, we'll fix the place up after you leave." I hadn't been worrying, honestly. Yes, I could have kept the place neater at times. But apparently she didn't like that I had hung posters up (with sticky tac). So why didn't she tell me this? If it bothered her, I didn't have to have them up! She apparently also was bothered that the wallpaper had peeled in spots, which has nothing to do with me and more to do with the pasting job of whoever put it up. And as I have no idea where one would buy wallpaper paste (or do they just mix flour and water?) and all the loose paper was up by the ceiling where I didn't interact with it (can one interact with wallpaper?), I hadn't done anything about it.

The director also told me (we have such cheerful conversations) that there had been an anonymous letter circulating at one point that I was here to teach her daughters English for free. As I met her girls maybe four times during two years and I don't believe we ever spoke English to each other, this seems laughable. She also told me that the secret police had kept a file on me during my time here. The head of the department for our area had shown her a paper where comings and goings of my visitors (particularly those from out of the country) were recorded.

This all left me with mixed reactions. One, it's a little weird to me to realize how little privacy I had. (How did they find out Jason's last name? Were people keeping track of who sent me mail? Who were the people gathering this information? What all did they know?) Secondly, as an American, it's weird for me to think of regarding foreigners with that much suspicion (okay, yes, I forgot the Patriot Act), but I realize that this comes from the Soviet legacy. However, my sense of humor helps--I can't help but feel that if they were expecting to find some nefarious American spy, they must have been disappointed. I taught school, made a few friends, and went to church (which was probably the weirdest thing I did here). I can honestly say that my conduct as a PCV was above reproach, and I had nothing to hide.

I leave Balaklia in two weeks. I fly home to the US in 17 days. These twenty-seven months have gone so fast...

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четвер, листопада 15, 2007


Go to Wikipedia and look up your birth day (excluding the year).
List three neat facts, two births and one death in your journal, including the year.

March 9

3 Events:
1796 - Napoleon Bonaparte marries his first wife, Josephine de Beauharnais.
1862 - American Civil War: The first battle between two ironclad warships, a five-hour battle near Hampton Roads, Virginian between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (originally known as the Merrimack), results in a draw.
1959 - The Barbie doll debuts.

2 Births:
1814 - Taras Shevchenko, Ukrainian poet
1934 - Yuri Gagarin, Soviet cosmonaut

1 Death:
1566 - David Rizzio, Italian secretary of Mary I of Scotland (Mary, Queen of Scots)


середа, листопада 14, 2007

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev

Today, I'm asking all my faithful readers for advice. As you probably know, I'm coming back to the US in four weeks (eek!). As you probably also know, I'm a voracious biblophile. So now I'm debating the best way to get my books back to the US. I probably have 20-25 books I want to ship back, many of them fairly small. The majority of them are in Russian or Ukrainian and would be hard to obtain in the US, and the remainder are ones that I particularly love or have sentimental value to me.

So...shipping. Because I really don't want to haul them in my suitcase, nor will I have room. I seem to have two options. The first is to go through EMS, a shipping company that some of my fellow PCVs used. They have a branch office in Kharkiv, so I'd have to haul my books up there, but it's closer than the main office in Kyiv. They charge a flat $40 to begin with, plus $4.17 per kilogram after that. It seems likely that I would have no worries about my box getting lost.

The other option is to go through my local post office. They said that the price goes up for each kilo, so they couldn't/wouldn't tell me how much things would cost exactly, but it would be roughly $30 for two kilograms. I'd only have to haul my books to the center, rather than two hours away. I've never had a package I sent to the US get lost, although some of them have taken their own sweet time in getting there (and let's not even talk about the postcards from Odesa, shall we, Mom and Tif?). However, if anything happened to my books, I would be a sad Sally.

(I would also, at my post office, have a very good chance of having to deal with the Mean Post Office Lady...Tif, I'm sure you remember her. She's one of the people in Balaklia who irritates me the most, not so much for her perpetual grumpiness and lack of helpfulness exactly, but that she goes to Andrey's church and is, as far as I know, a Christian and is STILL grumpy. I always want to say, "You know, we're sisters in Christ here. Can I get a smile?" It's not just me...she's like this with everyone. I think she must really hate her job.)

So...what do you think? Do I take a day to travel to Kharkiv and pay extra, or do I go to the post office and hope for the best?


I was at the copy center at the library today, this time for my own projects for the teachers' seminar, and Serhii Danilovich, the music teacher from my school, came in. He said that he'd seen how nice the booklets for the teachers' seminar I'd had printed at the library came out, and he also wanted some done the same way. (Except that he already had a dummy copy set up that just needed to be copied and the covers laminated.)

I'm not sure if the copy center ladies are going to hate me for sticking them with more booklets or love me for drumming up more business.


Serhii Danilovich and I had a nice chat after we got our copies done--a month or so ago, he'd requested a CD of American songs that dealt with topics other than love. I'd really gotten into the project and made him one with songs as varied as Alabama's "Forty Hour Week," Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto," the Weavers' "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", Nina Simone's "Work Song," and Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," plus a few more. Translating them is a bit beyond my skill, but we sat down one day and I told him a few sentences about each song.

Well, the current topic in the 8th form curriculum is "Modern Music," and apparently all the kids were like, "Ukrainian music sucks and is boring but music in English is cool." Serhii Danilovich played segments of the songs I gave him and asked the kids what they thought the songs were about. "I don't know but it sounds cool!" was a popular answer. So he told them what the songs were actually about--social problems, the working class, etc.

He said that the kids looked horrified and are now avoiding conversations with him, as if talking to him will somehow make all their other "cool" music turn into musical political statements.

I love it when stereotypes are broken down!

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неділя, листопада 11, 2007

Wuthering Soviet-style apartments...nope, doesn't have the same ring to it

The literary character I most identify with tonight is Catherine Earnshaw. No, I'm not planning to haunt anyone, and Jason is definitely not Heathcliff (thank goodness). It's more that the wind is decidedly wuthering around my apartment building tonight, and thanks to my drafty windows, I get to experience this more fully than I'd prefer. (It doesn't help that in order to use the Internet, I have to have my laptop on my desk, which is right by the window.)

This past week was mostly spent working on a booklet for our teachers' seminar, which meant that I did a lot of typing in English and Ukrainian (so much fun typing in a different alphabet...note sarcastic tone) and made several trips to the copy center at the library. I think the one woman there sort of groaned inwardly whenever I walked in the door, because the teachers at my school wanted it all just so, but of course they sent the American to try and explain what they wanted when they hadn't told me clearly to begin with. I'm still not sure why they kept sending me...because the files were on my flash drive?

Went to Kharkiv on Friday for a goodbye party with the other oblast PCVs, as all the rest of Group 29 that's out here is leaving this coming week. Before the party, Robert and I went to the art market and I bought my going-away gift from my kids (which will now be given to them to give to me). I found a bread board with a Ukrainian cottage painted on it, which was what Nelya had suggested as a nice gift, and also a set of three paintings of flowers to hang as a set. I like them and they seem packable, which is a huge plus. Teresa came to the party straight from her goodbye party at her school, and she showed us the foot-and-a-half-tall ceramic vase that her school had given her. It was pretty, but I'm glad it's not my job to transport it back to the US!

32 days!

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понеділок, листопада 05, 2007

what the kids AREN'T giving me as a goodbye gift!

I'm home again from my travels, although it's starting to sink in that Balaklia's only going to be "home" for the next five and half weeks. So much to do before that point...

I had a nice visit with the Malkos, visiting with Mama Luda, wandering around Zgurivka by myself and my memories of two years ago, and watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Russian with Sasha, which was entertaining not just for the movie, but for Sasha asking me at several points to explain what was going on. Neither of us had seen the movie before, and it had been several years since I'd read the book, so I got a kick out of him asking me to explain a movie that we were watching in my third language.

My arrival home got off on the wrong foot (literally), as yesterday at 3:45 am at the train station, the combination of a heavy bag, poor lighting, uneven cement, and the urge to get to a taxi quickly (and therefore home) resulted in me falling, scraping a knee and twisting my ankle. So yesterday was spent resting at home.

Today, I taught my 7A form, and then had the rest of the day free to work on a booklet for our (yes, it appears to now be a plural possessive rather than just Nelya's) seminar, as out of the two of us, I'm much more computer literate. So instead of trying to drill English into kids' heads, I get to be home, keep off my foot, and listen to country music while typing. Today was just creating the bibliography for the debate I wrote before fall break (if I'd been thinking, I should have made a link folder of everything I referenced, but going back through my computer's history accomplished the same thing, even if it took longer), but I think tomorrow is going to be typing the introductory pages...in Ukrainian. But I have my little cheat sheet that tells me the key equivalents, so while it'll be tedious (I'm not nearly as speedy in Ukrainian), it'll be doable.

The kids at school have been collecting money to get me a going-away present which will be presented to me by the school parliament. It's supposed to be a big secret that I don't know about, but Nelya's been keeping me in the loop, mostly so she can get my feedback on what I'd like. We've decided on something of the handicrafts variety, and it looks like she's going to secretly give me the money this week so that when I go up to Kharkiv to have a goodbye party with all the oblast PCVs (Group 29 people are already starting to leave next week), I can go to the art market and buy something that I'd like. Then I'll bring it back to her, she'll give it to Natasha, the school president, and Natasha will present me with it on behalf of the school. I will be suitably surprised and pleased, and we will all be happy. Wow, Nelya and I are sneaky!

Plus, this means that I can choose something that will fit in my suitcase, which judging by the pile collecting in my room, is filling up quickly. I'm trying to limit the majority of my "stuff" to mementos, souvenirs, and gifts, but somehow that's a large pile in itself.

"What did the children suggest getting me?" I asked Nelya. We're agreed that some type of traditional arts/crafts would be the most appropriate, but I was curious what the kids had wanted to do.

Nelya rolled her eyes. "A large stuffed animal, like the teddy bear you use in class, only bigger," she said, gesturing with her hands to show a two-and-a-half-foot-high stuffed animal. (Family--remember Kate's Mr. Turkey? He could have a Ukrainian twin!) Picking out my own present sounds better all the time... :)

The English Olympiad is scheduled for Saturday, November 24. I don't have to miss church!

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четвер, листопада 01, 2007

Don't Be Born Beautiful

Six weeks from today! Wow...

Today I went on a DVD-finding mission to Petrivka, the biggest book/CD/DVD bazaar in Kyiv in order to find Ne Rodis Krasivoy. For those people who aren't aware of my mild obsession with the show, it's the Russian version of Betty La Fea, an Argentinian soap opera which the current US show Ugly Betty was based on. I watched it every night for six months, both when I lived with Marina and later on when I had my own TV. It was how I practiced both my Ukrainian and my Russian, since there were Ukrainian subtitles. And I just really liked Katya, the main character, who had brains but not beauty (although, of course, she had a makeover before the end...).

So anyhow, I decided to get the DVDs. A word of advice to Ukraine PCVs--if you find a show you like and you want to find the unlicensed DVDs (cheaper and also devoid of region settings), don't wait a year until after it goes off the air! I ended up finding episodes 101-200 (out of 200 total) for 50 hyrven, but wasn't able to get the first half, which are the episodes I haven't seen yet. One guy offered to sell me episodes 17-48 for 30 hryven, but that just seemed like it would complicate matters later on. One woman offered to sell me the entire series (after I had already bought 101-200) for 270 hyrven, but I would have had to come back and get them on a different day. So I think I'll either try Ebay or buy the licensed versions at Target in Kharkiv if my budget will allow it and hope that I can find a program for my laptop that lets me ignore region settings.

Off to Zgurivka tonight to visit the Malkos one last time!

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