Saturday, November 04, 2006

Here again in Kyiv, with flurries

Hello again. Internet almost seems like a regular thing now – three weeks in a row! Almost. I hope you all are doing well, and that you are taking care of America for me while I’m hanging out in Ukraine . . .

Having the internet last week in Tarasha was such a surprise that I forgot to say a lot of the things I had wanted to, so I’ll try to include all of that in this week’s update. But for a summary of what’s going on now – Rokytne is still going well, my host family is very sweet and takes good care of me, language is still going fairly well (especially when my conversations consist of “How are you?” and “Do you have a family? Yes – I have a mother, father and sister.” and “What is the weather like? The weather today is cold.”) We’re rotating LCFs, so my language teacher went to another town for two weeks and we have a teacher named Tanya instead. In about a week, we will leave for Prolisok again, where we’ll be told about our site visit, to the place where we’ll be living for the next two years, and then sent there. We will then come back to Rokytne, after debriefing, and reunite with Yulia, all on Thanksgiving! (and for those of you who remember the “Wall of Shame” quotes on my freshman hall – much like France, Ukraine does not celebrate Thanksgiving . . so we’ll do our best on our own).

So I’ll begin a few weeks ago, when we took our first trip to Kiev. We got to see several cathedrals, and we learned of the tradition of women covering their heads inside. Unfortunately, I only had a pink knit scarf, so probably looked ridiculous. However, I remedied this later in the week by buying a pretty, black silk scarf, and Yulia taught me to drape it around my head like a Ukrainian. So I’m looking forward to trying it out when we visit the cathedral in Rokytne tomorrow, which I think I found out, through talking with a babusya outside, has a service at 8. We shall see.

Speaking of imitating Ukrainians, we’ve had a few informal written tests in the language so far on some basic things we’ve learned, and Yulia nicely wrote on one of mine “Other than [such and such mistakes], you’re practically a Ukrainian!” Which made me feel a little sorry for what must be a very incommunicative culture, not to mention a little “simple,” but it was a nice boost amidst all the stress of training. It’s definitely sensory overload – the picture of our classroom in my post two weeks ago illustrates how crazy our learning process is – we basically rely on what seems like hundreds of multi-colored signs and charts of verb conjugation posted all over the room, on the television and the wooden engraving of favorite (and only . .? it would seem to be the case, that’s how popular and beloved he is) Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. Leaving that room puts a definite damper on communicative ability, not only because you’re no longer with people who’ll understand you if you lapse into English, but because you can’t swivel around and find the masculine past tense of “to go” from wherever you are on the street.

Even though the language is going well, there are definitely still moments in the process of explanation that leave us sort of sputtering and staring at the wall (of many colors). There are seven cases, and words change basically every time you do anything at all, because cases in Ukrainian take the place of just about any preposition or helping verb used in English. At one point, when we were supposed to be asking each other about the weather during certain seasons, I realized that one of the other girls was asking me, being a little confused, if it was often hot in summer, or seldom cold? After I recovered from my brain almost exploding, I remembered something my math teacher in high school (Mr. Adams) used to say was a good way to overload someone’s brain like that, without warning: “Do you carry your lunch, or walk to school?” So whenever we have moments like that in class or outside, which is fairly often, I ask Katie and Jasmin that question . . . it really applies to a lot here, it seems.

I thought I’d tell you about my daily routine; training is supposed to be incredibly structured, and full of activity, and it is – but somehow I still have a lot of free time, it seems to me – maybe because I used to fill that free time at home watching reruns of “House”? In the morning, we either go to teach at School 1, or go straight to our LCF’s apartment for four hours of class. In the afternoon or evening when I get home, I usually have time to sit in my nice room sanctuary to read or knit (my family was excited to see me knitting, but I got pretty nervous when my crazy 12-year-old host brother picked up the needles and tried to imitate me), and often my host dad Oleh will knock on my door and say “Dobre vechir” (good evening) and wait very politely for a response (which I usually manage ok), before he says “YEEsteh” – which means eating time. At lunch-time last Sunday, when I hesitated after he came to announce it to me, he very slowly said “O. Bi. Da. Teh.” (lunch. time.), so I followed. Sometimes I figure out that dinner is being made (it’s a different time every night – my family is very busy and often not home when I get home, and since I don’t usually know what’s going on I just go with the flow) and go downstairs to talk with Vera or offer to help, which she usually says no to. Sometimes with all the smoke in the kitchen, she opens the back door and the little black cat, Murka, comes in and I put her in my lap. Vera thinks it’s funny when I speak English to the cat, and it’s fun to have a house-pet, sort of, when most our exposure to animals comes from seeing them hanging out on the street. At our “safety and health” meeting a week or so ago, they admitted that not many strays in Ukraine seem to have rabies, so we insisted on making friends with a little brown puppy that day waiting for the bus, and on giving it a cookie. The dogs and cats outside are very cute, even when they’re a little raggedy, so that’s pretty rough on a bleeding-heart American animal-lover to see, and we always comment on every one we see.

After dinner, Vera always serves me chai (word for tea) and offers me pechevo (cookies). A few things during training make you feel like a six-year-old (my duvet cover and sheets were replaced recently with ones that feature pretty swans on a pretty lake, and the six-year-old within me felt like a pretty princess), but I do feel like a well-cared-for six-year-old when Vera brings me cookies and explains how a certain brand has a moon on one side of the cookie, and the sun on the other, just like day and night! Hurrah for swans, and tea, and chocolate, time-of-day-themed cookies.

I wanted to tell more about Oleh’s birthday last week – and how I was not only a participant (sort of) in 8+ toasts made with samahon, but that when Oleh was feeling particularly happy, about two hours into the party (as homemade vodka makes one after that amount of time), called on me to make a toast. So everyone at this long table looks at me . . all I could manage was Good Health and some sort of toast catchphrase that apparently means “Cheers” – “boodmoh,” which I sort of muttered as I quickly sat back down, which made them laugh pretty hard, and then they had me do another one in English, which my 15-year-old host cousin, Valya, pretty much translated for them (Thank you and happy birthday . . . not too amazing, but I was under pressure and they couldn’t understand me anyhow). They’re a very funny family, which is almost unfortunate for me since I know I’m missing out on all these apparently hilarious punch-lines – when Vera’s brother and family first came over, while I was here, they almost had each other on the floor with their dramatic retellings of something or another, and they would see me sort of smiling while they laughed and explain, in English, “Joke!” And I’m like, well yes, I know . . . I just don’t get it. But I did understand the joke when Valya’s cute little 5-year-old sister, Ivanka, inadvertently split her pants open while crawling around her chair, that was pretty funny.

(The Bridge of Love in a park in Kyiv, where people write declarations of love and tie ribbons - and if you look closely you can see "Ya lublu Koka-Kola" - I love Coke, and I have to agree)

I think my family is pretty used to having Americans – they’ve had four trainees before me – and they’re very nice about not standing over me or constantly calling upon me to perform as the American in front of friends (everyone’s pretty blasé about my presence, unless I try to say something, and then all eyes are on me). At Katie’s birthday party a few weeks ago, we were called on by our host mothers to sing the American national anthem, which was pretty funny, and then we asked them to sing the Ukrainian anthem and Yulia had to explain they didn’t want to, because they don’t like the words: it begins with “Ukraine is not dead yet,” so they find it a little pessimistic. The only person who paid a whole lot of attention to me at Oleh’s party was our babusya, Vera’s mother, who declared that I was their daughter “Nasha dochka!” I said thank you – and she was like, well we don’t have another one (she’s told me before, with much animation, after my little brother Slavik made us laugh by putting on her head-scarf and prancing around pretending to be a babusya, that she expected him to be a girl while still in the womb, but he wasn’t! she exclaims.) It is strange to have brothers, having never had one before, and when they start to try to kill each other (or however brothers play), I generally edge away politely and explain “I don’t have brothers . .”, and Vitalik once admitted, mid-wrestling, “Tse pohano” – it’s bad. Slavik told me, through pantomime, last night that his brother Vitalik was crazy, and I responded that they were both crazy, and he paused and said, yeah, a little.

Another funny person in our lives is Luda, our neighbor in our LCF’s apartment building, who regularly sells us lunch. She’s extremely loud, and will come in and sit down during our class to yell hello, and ask what we want for lunch the next day. She burst into the apartment with our food a few weeks ago and declared, as translated by Yulia, “War is war, but lunch is on time!” The other day she came in and sat down, and when we asked how she was, “Yak sprave?,” she responded “YAK SPRAVA TAK EE SLEEVA!” which we learned was a joke – my right is as good as my left!! (because of the similarity between sprave and right, sprava). I managed to retell it to my host family, Oleh though it was pretty funny.

A few days ago my host family got satellite TV – and no, I have no idea how to work it (have tried during their absences) – but it’s like a volunteer we met in Tarasha said when a girl in our cluster link said that her family had satellite (which they call Sputnik) and “outdoor plumbing” – that’s a perfect description of Ukraine right now. The country is changing extremely fast, even in a month I feel like I’ve seen some of it. The woman who visited to interview us about site-placement said that we’d probably never see a country change as fast again. About the interview, I mentioned that internet at my site would be awfully nice, so we’ll see, and when she said Oh, William and Mary, we’ve had a lot of volunteers from there – I got so excited I almost jumped out of my chair, she was a little taken aback. I was like, I know!! It’s true!!!!

Wednesday, the day after Halloween, was exciting because I got two packages of Halloween supplies!! One was meant for Luke, but he had it forwarded to me instead of bothering to pay for it to be rerouted to Indiana, so that was nice – some cute things to pass on to our students and host families (Vera put the cute magnet ghost and pumpkin on our refrigerator despite the family being pretty unclear on the holiday – she was like, New Year? Wait no . . ). The other was a surprise, and I will now sing the sender’s praises – KIMMY!!! Kimmy is wonderful, and sent me an adorable package of Halloween stuff, and I got to explain to everyone again how I have the best friends in the world (too bad for everyone else, they missed the chance to snatch them up).

I’ve gone on for a very long time, so I ought to finish up – but briefly here are a few more highlights: I discovered this week that funerals often include walking processions of babusyas and others down the road, with the casket on a flat-bed truck. I found this out because I saw it out my window, while on the phone with my aunt and uncle, and knew what it was because the casket was open. On a more uplifting note, we got to read our LCF and TCF’s comments on our self-evaluations for the PC, and Yulia said “This girl is certain in the day to come.” The Ukrainian English sort of makes this sound like a Bible verse to me, and it’s my new motto. To conclude – many of you should expect letters from me at some point (I figured out today that I’ve written about thirty in thirty days), and if any of the rest of you want to get in on that, just let me know. And the best way to let me know . . . is to write me!

Take care, let me know any pressing celebrity gossip (Angelina adopted again??? according to my TCF), and keep in touch!!!


At November 04, 2006 9:05 AM, Anonymous Virginia P. said...

Hello Virginia - I am also Virginia and live here in Ukraine spouse and I are in Kerch and will be here through June (PC folks!) I enjoyed reading your blog - flash backs to my training days! Hang in here and keep on enjoying life!


At November 07, 2006 1:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dearest Va,

hmm kimmy is coming to see me in the nyc this weeknd, perhaps i shall make some videos of us...and send them to you..once i figure out how to work this thing (new mac adorable yet foreign to me is the concept of spellng apparently) ANYWAYS tell me if you address is still the same so i can send you a letter that i wrote in snatches at work and decoraed with highlighters, its a work of art i tell you ;) (just emai it to any old address you have for me, I'll check them all)



At November 08, 2006 4:37 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

My address is still the same - the one through PC in Kyiv - won't get another one for a little while so send away, and say hi to Kimmy!!!! Miss you all, will write in Spanish soon (probably four words is all I have left)


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