Sunday, December 03, 2006

Being 7 hours ahead of you all makes me feel really efficient

Hello again! Not too much has happened since I last posted, training is winding up, to my horror (we actually have to move all of that luggage again . . . sooner every day), and we leave for Prolisok on the 18th, to be sworn in officially on the 21st, and I leave for Bratslav with my coordinator on the 22nd, somehow, hopefully with all of the things I came with (and a space heater, fire extinguisher, and all of the other binders and things that Peace Corps has been unloading on us since October 1st). I’ll put my host family’s mailing address up on facebook, which will be my address from December 22nd until I get independent housing, which should happen at some point (a landlord is being spoken with) – BUT I will have my own P.O. Box mailing address, which is preferable to making my host family the object of my varied mailings, but I don’t know the P.O. Box yet. So I will put that up when I do.

So, although not much happened this week, those of you who patiently received my weekly e-mails from Ireland know that I can make a very short, inconsequential story last for pages . . .

This week started out fairly frustrating, and for no particular reason, just a lot of small things building up. The frustrations are different than they would be in America, and by the same token the stress-relievers are different, and I’m still working on finding good ways to relax and de-stress. I was pretty reliant on the internet and reruns on TV at home for that, or reading the newspaper, etc., so here things are a bit different. And sometimes things just build up, one after the other, to the point where it’s funny – but you have to be in the right mood to laugh. My mood lightened around mid-week, and now in retrospect it’s (mostly) funny . . .

Long story short, in the space of one week, the following happened to me (highlights): the Peace Corps gave me two flu shots; I was kicked in the shin by a gypsy; my students decided that the novelty of an American in the classroom is no longer enough incentive to behave; and I accidentally corrected a research paper written by an American graduate assistant. So, it was just one of those weeks (those ones where you’re given extra shots, kicked, laughed at and handed plagiarized papers).

Long story longer: nothing was quite the same, it seemed, after I got that second flu shot. I was already feeling a bit sick from the food we eat at Prolisok (the only food in this country that has ever made me feel sick), and when I told my roommate I had gotten the flu shot, she helpfully reminded me that we had all received that one about a month ago, which I and the well-intentioned doctor who gave me both had forgotten. So for the rest of these events, I had the benefit of extra anti-flu, or whatever it is, running through my veins, for better or worse. I made it through the end of PST University (including a business-type seminar that included phrases like “service provider,” “parameters,” “impact” (used as a verb, not referring to what happens to teeth), and I was waiting for “human capitol,” but no luck), and came home for a Ukrainian Thanksgiving, etc.

On Saturday we went to Kyiv, and after staring at the internet for a while we looked at some souvenirs at Independence Square (where the tent village from the Orange Revolution in 2004 was). I bought something and, unfortunately, was then put in the awkward position of still having my wallet in my hand when a gypsy woman approached me and asked for money/help. I said I’m sorry, and put the wallet back in my bag, looking for a way out (there were a lot of people, but she was clearly pretty intent). She was mad, and pointed at a not terribly realistic, extremely round and high bump under her shirt. I repeated myself and, as my cluster-mates didn’t really notice what was going on, prepared to walk in the other direction. This was a little much for her, so she kicked me in the shin before I could leave. Obviously could have been a lot worse (lucky she didn’t just take my wallet when it was in plain view), but it’s never fun to be kicked in the shin by a stranger (or, I suppose, at all).

On Monday, the little fifth grade boy in the front row who used to hang on my every word and instruction, rapt to see what the new and interesting American would do next, decided that it was time to just giggle, throughout the class. He was not the exception. I’m used to laying down the law, to some extent, from my experience with American students, but it’s harder to harsh and intimidating (or, like one of my 5th grade math students said last summer, “Miss Virginia, why you gotta be so cold?”), when every word you say sounds like gibberish to your listeners. Will work on laying down the law with facial expressions and tone of voice alone . . . we’ll see.

On Tuesday, I taught for the first time at the Lyceum, a sort of specialized/magnet school held on the top floor of School #1, where we teach in Rokytne. They use British textbooks, and dress up for school, and the whole atmosphere is a little different. I taught a text about Harrod’s, which went well, although the students were used to translating rather than answering questions about the text in English (“Where do customers sleep the night before the July sale?” “In the street!”). Their teacher, who is very nice, asked me to look over a research paper that one of her older students had been working on, for some sort of competition. She mentioned translation that they had worked on, from Russian to English, but the paper looked to me about how a science research paper written by a student studying English as a foreign language might look – not brilliant, some rough grammar, but overall interesting, and most mistakes apparently stemming from picking the wrong term from a dictionary definition (haha – like I did the day we went shopping for Thanksgiving – I asked several people where I could buy a “tarilka” (dish) for a “sorochka” (magpie). Wrong pie.) It was a little long, but I like editing, so I gamely started correcting this 32-page paper about aggression, reading through all kinds of things like what Freud thought about aggression and displacement, and how non-human animals express aggression and blah blah blah, and how the student thought that cursing was a bad way of showing aggression, and how kids “nowadays” got piercings and “punk” (think it was spelled “pank”) haircuts to express aggression. I was patient, and offered suggestions and spelling corrections the whole way, up til page 26. The paper had been getting better, more fluid, with better grammar, and I thought, oh the student must be getting more comfortable writing in English. Then I got to the personal anecdote about aggression, and how the writer handled his or her house being broken into, and the stereo “hocked.” Then I read this: “As I was living on the below-subsistence wages of a graduate assistant . . . .” So. Not so much written by an 11th grader from Rokytne. To my credit, I finally understood what was going on, and went to bed. The next morning, I met with the teacher and student and tried to ask what parts of the paper were original and what not, pointing out that the student was not, herself, a graduate assistant (and that you wouldn’t call 911 in Ukraine, like the graduate assistant considered). They didn’t really understand – they admitted that about 7 pages were “borrowed” from the internet (that’s when the grammar got better – but still not perfect (stupid grad student), which is why I kept correcting and stupidly didn’t realize what I was doing), and they laughed and said, yeah, maybe that’s a little much to borrow, we’ll cut it down a bit. And that maybe they should have read the story about the break-in more carefully. I tried to ask if the competition required original work . . . yeah, it’s just kind of a lost cause. The teacher was totally fine with it, so I gave up, said “you’re welcome,” and went to class to ask my language teacher about it. Yulia said she didn’t even know what to say to me – it was just one of those things. I’m still really unclear on what parts of the paper came where, but it seems that if the student has connections or the teacher doesn’t care, then whoever is running whatever competition it is might not care either.

So anyway, things got better, and later on it was back to normal – normal being random children running up to you on the street to say Good Morning at 6 PM. Today, a little girl with red cheeks who I’ve never seen before caught sight of me from across the street, where she was with a little boy, literally ran across the street to me and said Hello! I said, Hello, how are you? while she was walking with me, and she didn’t understand, so I said Yak spraveh? and she answered OK! Then I think she said bye-bye, or something, and ran back to her friend – very funny. We also got a “Hello, Russia” this week, and “Hello, mis amigas.” Never know how they’ll come at you, here. Svetlana, the teacher at our school who wants to practice English with me, asked me about my religion this week – the first real abruptly personal question about religion I’ve gotten here! And I still haven’t been asked what I think about George Bush, or anything really juicy like that – they tell us to expect these intrusive questions and they haven’t really come to me.

Speaking of religion, New Year’s is coming up here, and that is a way bigger deal than Christmas (reezdvoh). Yulia explained to us that, while Ukraine was still in the USSR, there was no ban or anything on all of the Western movies about how great Christmas was, it’s just that they substituted “Christmas” with “New Year’s” in all the dubbing. So growing up, she thought all of those movies were about New Year’s. Even though Christmas is openly celebrated now (though Orthodox is in early January), all of the traditional Christmas images have been transferred to New Year’s – the tree, ornaments, Santa Claus, all those pictures are on greeting cards for New Year’s.

Some examples of typical Ukrainian lamps/chandeliers - equally appropriate for dining rooms and classrooms, apparently . . .

We learned a lot more grammar this week, and I’m trying to get a handle on all of these cases. Because of all of the cases and endings, there’s basically no need for prepositions or helping verbs in Ukrainian (or any verbs, sometimes) . . . you say two words and have the same meaning as about seven in English, you just need to know the right endings. There’s a different case for direct objects, indirect objects, locations, things/people you are with, and things you possess (a case which also, for some reason, applies when you say that you love male (and only male) members of your family). It’s so bizarrely direct and almost curt-seeming, that I always say it’s like “Bread good, fire bad” (my favorite Phil Hartman skit from SNL – where he played Frankenstein visiting a political talk show for a roundtable discussion on themes like fire, bread, and international treaties, with other characters like Tarzan and Tonto (who didn’t trust treaties) . . . and he’s doing fine but then can’t quite get past the question on fire, and ends up destroying the studio screaming “Fire BAAAAD”).

Not much else has happened, and I don’t want to go on for too long – but just a couple more things. Today we had a cross-cultural session on gender issues, and for some reason were told a story about a girl named Lucy who falls for the wrong guy on the wrong side of the river, and ends up being eaten by a crocodile. Somehow, who you blame for her death, and in what order, reveals your priorities. Mine go: love, morality, passion, wisdom, duty – in case anyone cares.
Little cousin Ivanka, and host brother Slavick. I submit the following: Slavick looks exactly like Alaric Bobby's younger Ukrainian twin. Agree or disagree?

Tonight, my host mom’s brother and his family came over, and the little daughter Ivanka spent a lot of time running around my room chasing a balloon, and then Slavik came in and did card tricks for us (I am always completely mystified by card tricks, I never understand them). We had a big dinner complete with several shots of samahon, and I listened attentively for like a half hour while Ivanka sat by me and told me all about her family’s trip to Odessa and the beach, and something about big waves and her dad swimming and her mom not being able to see them (maybe), and how it rained (maybe), and how they went to the movie theatre and got candy and popcorn, but she slept during the movie. She was extremely animated, and climbing all over her chair during all the stories, and was perfectly satisfied that I understood as long as I nodded and exclaimed and looked glad, shocked or surprised at the right moments. It was pretty easy to tell when I should do what (and the samahon certainly hadn’t made me impatient or particularly awake), so that was really cute.

Ok – that’s about it! Miss you all a lot, hope you’re doing very well, will continue to send out letters when I can, and of course love to receive any communication from you all (belated thank you to Jessica for a very nice letter!). So, keep in touch!

Love, Virginia

P.S. Here are some pictures that I was unable to post last week:
First, from my trip to Bratslav:

my coordinator, me and her methodologist

Then, from Thanksgiving!!:


At December 04, 2006 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe you were kicked by a gypsy!!!! I hope your shin is okay, as well as your pride and other things. I miss you so much, and I think about you every day! Love you! Oh, and your thanksgiving dinner looks like it was delicious.

Louisa :)

At December 14, 2006 5:05 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Thanks Lou :) Shin is good, pride is as good as it ever is - miss you too!!!! We are attempting more American food tomorrow, will explain in blog . . .


Post a Comment

<< Home