Saturday, October 21, 2006

I'm here!!! I'm fine!

Hello! This is the first time I’ve seen internet since I was in Arlington, at the end of September! That may not seem like a long time to some, but it’s been a while for me. And, as I believe I will only be online for fifteen minutes (we have a lot to do on our first trip to Kiev), this is all being cut and pasted from a flash drive for you . . .

So, let me explain. No – is too much, let me sum up.

We left Dulles on September 30th, and despite having luggage that was technically 6 lbs overweight and 12 inches too tall/wide, I was allowed to proceed to Frankfurt, where a $6 bottle of water renewed my awe of the euro, and after which we went on to . . .

Kiev Airport, in Ukraine, where they use hryvnia,, which are roughly 5 to the dollar. Outside, there was sun and green trees, instead of a snowstorm, so I relaxed a little and got on a bus to Prolisok (or Snow Drop), a former Soviet workers’ retreat which will be our base for official trainee/volunteer gatherings in the future. On the way, I picked up the jet-lagged habit of sleeping through important announcements, which would continue at . . .

Prolisok, where we were: split into “cluster” groups for training; given shots that made our arms ache; served our first Ukrainian food; addressed by the U.S. Ambassador (! And of course I fell asleep); and generally given a lot of suggestions and advice for life during training. The one hitch was that I was placed in what they informally called an “advanced” Ukrainian class with four other trainees, 3 of whom were already fluent in Russian (different languages, but not that different). I didn’t mind too much which language I was taking, but after one lesson I could see that the advanced group wasn’t for me. They very

nicely put me into a regular Ukrainian group, so that was a relief. The last night, we were told where we were going to be for training, with very cute posters and presentations by our LCFs (language teachers). We then found our way through the dark, Ukrainian night to a “beach” to spend one last night as a big group, and then morning . . .

We dragged our luggage onto a bus, and when it came to Rokytne, a rural town about two hours south of Kiev, 5 of us got off: me, Katie (from Colorado), Jasmin (from Oregon), Luke (from Indiana), and our LCF, Yulia. My host family came and picked me up – I now live on a fairly main road, in a free-standing house with two floors, running (hot) water and heating! Even better, I have a very sweet host family (my first time ever living with a host family): Mama Vera, Tato (dad) Oleh, and two brothers, Vitalik and Slavik (14 and 12 years old). There is also a cute little black cat, Murka, who mostly lives outside or in the farmhouse-type-building with the two dogs, four pigs, and chickens. Some of these animals I’m taking the family’s word about, but as I wrote a few of you, I spent a recent Sunday sitting outside, watching Slavik, his two grandmothers and a great-grandmother stripping besom (viniki, in Ukrainian), which, whatever it is, I believe will eventually be made into brooms. The grandmothers (babusya, in
Ukrainian) are very typical Ukrainian – with headscarves, some gold teeth, and lots of attitude. They worked all day, yelling at each other and laughing, and one of the grandmothers definitely started rapping in Russian when a song came on the radio (the others about died laughing) . . .

There is both Ukrainian and Russian speaking in Rokytne, or really a crazy mix called Surzjick, which can be confusing for us – our cluster has 4 hours of Ukrainian lessons a day in our LCF’s apartment. We’ve taken to ordering lunch from Yulia’s neighbor, Luda, who is an excellent cook (cooks for a living). Ukrainian food is good! Yes, our families feed the mess out of us, in general, but mine is v. sweet about not guilting me into eating more, or drinking too much homemade vodka (samahon . . . instead, they let me toast with wine, which, let’s face it, is probably homemade too). [OK, side note – the LCF for our “link cluster” (in the town of Tarasha) recently asked me, oh, don’t they have good samahon in Virginia?] The food is a cycle of borshch, potatoes, cabbage, bread, cheese, dumplings, sausage, and cups of tea . . . and we’re trying to work it off by walking a lot, and shivering . . .

It is pretty cold, although we had some warm days towards the beginning. I bought some red yarn at the bazaar (on a class “field trip,” to learn how to get around and do things / buy things), so I’ll see if I can make a scarf – which will hopefully occupy me for some of the non-Ukrainian learning / English teaching hours of the day – because I’m going through my books at an alarming rate. About the English teaching, they’re easing us into teaching by having us observe regular classes at 1 of the 5 local schools (where, unfortunately, even the English teachers have trouble with communicative English, which is theoretically where we come in), and then co-teach some lessons . . .

[OK, one more side note – must tell about my first teaching experience here. I co-taught a fifth grade (fifth form, basically same thing, although secondary school here ends at 11th form, part of the reason my LCF can be 22 and have a masters degree) with Katie, involving the concepts of “I’ve got an idea,” “have to vs. has to,” and various new vocabulary words. I did the “warm-up” involving describing a pen-pal I drew on the board, with glasses and frizzy hair, and tossed a ball (the Peace Corps stress ball they gave me during my interview, actually) to students to prompt them to give me an adjective about her.
Then I did have to vs. has to, and later explained the phrase “to find” by stumbling across the room saying “Where is Miss Katie???” until I ran into her and said “I find Miss Katie!” . . . it went pretty well! although we ran out of time for all the planned activities, but the kids were actually well-behaved and v. cute (not always the case when we’ve observed) . . . and when we were waving and saying goodbye, the Ukrainian teacher called out my name, and said that a student had a question – would we be back to teach on Monday? And when I said Tak (Yes), they all cheered! It was the cutest thing that ever happened to me! So, I know that they were interested and behaving mostly because of the novelty of Americans, but it was still very nice.]

(Our classroom)
So, everything is going well! The Ukrainian lessons are going well for me – I think my Spanish major helped me after all (being a “language person” was apparently the reasoning behind my being in an “advanced” class . . .but it doesn’t help that much!). So that’s nice, and my host family is great, and despite the lack of internet, I’m doing very well. We did have some sadness this week, though – our fellow trainee, Luke, a theatre major who always kept us laughing, decided to early-terminate (E.T. . . . as Luke once said, in Peace Corps, W.A.E. – we abbreviate everything). That leaves us with just a (much quieter) group of three, and cluster groups can have as many as 5 or 6! Despite having a facility with the language, a nice host family, and – obviously – us, Ukraine just wasn’t the thing for him. Everything that has made us (or at least me) more determined to stay, made him want to go back to other things. It’s sad, because in our rural area so far from home, we appreciate every English-speaker (and friend) we’ve got! But we three girls (the three sisters, Luda called us), and our teacher Yulia (who is our age) will carry on, and it will hopefully be like my three-person Spanish class in high school, where we were forced to focus and learn . . .

So, that’s it! Besides “Virginia from Virginia” having become quite the international punch-line (although Yulia gave me a new nickname – “Virgie”), nothing else is going on. Miss you all, those of you on facebook please note my cell phone number (if I get to change it today) . . . and keep in touch!!!

Love, VA

P.S. The race is over, my first snail-mail letter has arrived, and the winner is – Jeff!! Thank you times a million, I was ecstatic, and even managed to (more or less) tell my host family about it. I look forward to the also-rans!!!

P.P.S. Can’t stop talking, now that I’ve started – but I thought I might give a short list of best and least best (seems overly critical to say “worst”) things about Ukraine so far:

Least Best:
- Stairs of different heights, widths and slants (in the dark . . . I have such an appreciation for carpenters now)
- Stray dogs and cats everywhere, it’s very sad.

- Very nice, funny host family, sometimes-cute children who say “Good morning!” at 9 pm, and good, extremely filling food.
- The practice of changing into pajamas/sweat pants as soon as you get home. Very nice.
- On our first trip to Tarasha (to visit our link), a man sat down on the bus and expertly played polkas on his accordion the whole trip, just because. It was like a movie soundtrack.
- Very clear, bright stars at night, and visible Milky Way.

Will try to return to the internet as soon as possible – but it’s not easy . . . til then, take care and keep in touch however possible! Love, VA

(above, me and Katie, here, Katie and Yulia)


At October 21, 2006 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yay! So good to hear from you! I just got your letter yesterday and I am on my way to breakfast with Lou so I will share it with her then. I'm so glad everything is going well there! We all really miss you a lot! I like exclamation points!
I just saw your parents at the fundraiser with Clinton the night before last, and it seemed like they had a really good time.
I know you probably won't actually get a chance to read this anytime soon so I guess there is no point going into detail now - I will just write you a letter.

At October 21, 2006 11:49 AM, Anonymous Ellen said...

Hey Virginia! I'm glad to hear you're safe and sound and enjoying Ukraine! The whole sweatpants thing totally sounds like a typical day in Syracuse NY. You'll never want to be without a pair of sweatpants again.


At October 23, 2006 2:30 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

Virginia! I got your letter! Well, actually Kimmy got my letter. But I got Kimmy's! haha. No worries, I'll see Kimmy this weekend and we'll exchange Va letters. You beat me- I had a letter to mail you but it sat on my desk for about a week :-( oops! We'll miss you at homecoming this weekend but you'll get to experience it in some way ;-) you'll find out later...
Miss you! Luv Gigi

At October 23, 2006 3:14 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

VA!! I'm so glad you are settling fine in Ukraine... funny story for you, I went to a bar this weekend and started talking to this 30 something guy who was sitting next to me... he also did peace corps in Ukraine. Taught English and Accounting lol. I miss you!!!

At October 27, 2006 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Virginia! Yay you're there! It sounds like you're in for quite an experience. I've been thinking about you often (mostly when its cold outside). I concur with Ellen, sweatpants are amahzing. It was great to hear everything is going well.


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