Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Two-Part Update

Part I

Hello all. I’m here at the internet again! It’s not that I don’t get online very often (I average almost once a week, if you’ve noticed), it’s just that the time spent there (average 40 min) is so rushed, that I still feel disconnected. I update you all, but don’t get many updates myself! So, if you’re writing to me, keep in mind that I’ve barely seen a headline in almost four months. But it’s nice that, despite being in my second town without an internet café, etc., I still find a way here.

So we’re still on our break – school starts again on Wednesday. But the teachers have gone back to work – and I now have a schedule! More on that later. I’ve spent the break mostly inside my host family’s home, still writing letters, etc., but also spending more time with them watching TV, which, at least during the holiday break, is on in our house from morning til night. I didn’t watch a lot of Ukrainian TV during training, but I’ve gotten more used to it now. They like to find American movies on TV (usually from the mid-90s, but not always), because I can still hear the English under the dubbing. Among the American movies I’ve seen at least some of in the past week, dubbed in Ukrainian: “Practical Magic,” “The Bodyguard,” “Christmas with the Kranks” (who knew that that involved the Peace Corps? . . . maybe those who actually saw it in America), and “National Lampoon Christmas,” since this week was Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas. I hadn’t seen any of them all the way through before (my host family says I’ll see all the American movies here), so it was fun. My host mom and I get very caught up in them, and worried – especially during comedies like the last two where everything possible goes wrong – I had to translate “Oh my God” because I kept saying it.

I had a visitor Clara, the nearest volunteer to me from Group 31 – and it was just like a playdate, a very “I’m six years old” moment. Her host dad started calling other host families of nearby volunteers, he talked with my host mom, a drop off and pick up was arranged and lunch was made for us . . . very cute, and fun to talk with another American about goings on, but not a typical “post-college adult world” moment. My host dad didn’t know she was coming, and after sleeping late he woke up to hear us laughing and was like, why are there two Virginias? Clara commented on the roads – they’re mostly extremely rocky, bumpy and generally muddy and uneven, and my host mom explained that they tore up the roads two to three years ago for gas heat installation (at least I think so) – so at least there’s a good reason! It was Ukrainian Christmas Eve, so we went to my host dad’s parents’ home for dinner – fish, because of the sort-of-Lent period before Christmas (only observed for that meal, that I saw), and 12 dishes, either for the 12 apostles or 12 months . . not really clear on that. Everyone was discussing my visitor, and my host parents said that Clara (who is blonde) looked more American than I did. I guess I had kind of a blank expression on my face, because they kept trying to justify their statement saying that I looked more European, more like them, maybe because I’m Irish. I was like . . . right. I look totally Eastern European. Honestly, it’s the Volunteers who aren’t white who are supposed to expect those kinds of comments . . . later they added that my “warden” (the Volunteer to whose apartment I go running if there’s a coup), who visited their house during the interview process, also looks more American than I do (also blonde).

Another movie that came on TV, that was very interesting to watch with my host family, was That One Where Robin Williams is Russian. You know? I don’t know the title, but I had seen part of it before – Robin Williams plays a Russian musician who plays for a Moscow circus that visits New York City during Soviet times, and he manages to defect during the thirty minutes they’re allowed in Bloomingdale’s. It was dubbed in Ukrainian, so I was sad they didn’t get to hear Robin William’s efforts at Russian and tell me how good they were, and they had seen it before, but it prompted interesting conversation. My host mom explained that, although this movie is definitely a comedy, that it was based on serious history, and how they couldn’t travel outside of the USSR and were told that outside the curtain (I think that’s the word she used), everything was awful and they didn’t want to be there. Any letters they got from those who did manage to leave were heavily censored, etc. She went and got two money bills she had kept – a “10” from 1961 and a “1000” from 1992. I don’t remember the names of either currency, but in 1961, a 10 in the local currency was a lot of money, a decent portion of one’s monthly salary. But because of the insane amount of inflation after the 1991 independence, a 1000 in Ukrainian money was like nothing – they joked that they’d never expected to be millionaires, but money didn’t amount to anything until it was in the millions. They were also short of most goods, so you’d have to go to the oblast capital to find things, etc. She said that now there were plenty of goods, just less money. I never knew very much about Soviet history before coming here, but you definitely learn some after being here for a little while . . .

My host brother abandoned home for a good three or four days because his aunt, visiting from where she and her husband work in Portugal for New Year’s (working outside of the country and sending money home is a fairly common situation here, especially in bordering countries like Moldova), bought her two daughters a computer. They literally spent days playing on that computer, all three gathered around, and every holiday meal was left early (although kids tend to do that here at big dinners, eat a little and then run off, coming back occasionally to grab more). He came home one morning while I and the cat were trying to catch up on headlines on BBC (the three non-music video English channels are mostly business news, but sometimes not), and didn’t even take off his boots, but called from the door that he needed a CD, which his mom brought him, and then he left again. The extended family is very sweet; I talked to the grandmother and the visiting aunt a lot, and got to see pictures of Portugal. Christmas morning we were served “Portuguese” port wine (the label said something like Murphy’s), and had very good food – the grandmother and aunt are both very good cooks. The grandparents and the two little girls live by the river – the Bok River (sp?) – which is beautiful, and on the other side you can see the hills that I think Bratslav is surrounded by. A nearby building had a lot of canoes stacked outside – apparently you can rent them when the weather is right – there’s another reason to visit me!

Speaking of cooking, the last day before us teachers had to go to work, my host mom asked for me to show her an American recipe (from the PC cookbook). She and my host dad were really excited, we decided on macaroni and cheese, and went shopping and everything. In the end, it got sort of a quiet reception – it turned out how it was supposed to! and I think that most Americans would have been impressed by it’s non-EasyMac-ness, but I think noodle dishes are just not as big here. They said they liked it, and although Roman at first declined to try it (he doesn’t like noodles), he ended up liking it and asked his mom to save the recipe.

So, at school, I’ve been helping prepare a student for the oblast-level Olympiad, and figuring out my schedule, etc. Today we had a “pedagogical meeting” in which different teachers stood and delivered speeches on various problems in their subjects, for about an hour – and I wasn’t the only one looking blank. People were staring, looking down at the table, or whispering to each other – my host mom (math teacher) reapplied lipstick, and my coordinator (who later spoke) spent several minutes trying to catch a tiny spider by her chair. My coordinator and I later went around Bratslav, attempting to get information for PC documents. Her English is very good, but our conversations occasionally remind me of “Who’s on First?”: “Did they have pedagogical meetings in Rokytne?” “I don’t know.” “I mean, when you were in Rokytne.” “Yes, I don’t know.” “I mean, pedagogical meetings.” “I know . . . I don’t know.”

Here’s my schedule: I will teach grades 5 through 11, 18 hours a week, four days a week (got Friday off! To do . . . something) – I know some of you business majors may be jealous right now (or other majors). But I’ll also have three twice-a-month English clubs – theoretically – one for younger kids, one for older, and one for local English teachers. So we’ll see. If you still think that’s pathetically less than 40 hours, then the next time you see a CVS, you should go in and buy a Diet Coke, and laugh at me from America. I literally dream about both (talk about pathetic). The independent housing search has been explained to me, and it’s a process. But the process is going on (I think Gorbachev said that). And I will hopefully end up with an apartment . . .

Part II

So – I wrote that last Wednesday, and I didn’t get to the internet as soon as I thought I was going too, and even more interesting Ukrainian-type things have happened to me since (if that’s the way you describe these things)! So I thought I’d add a Part II to update you even more.

Thursday I went to a meeting about students’ psychology . . . I think. There was discussion about various student problems, and how to deal with them, and I understood a little of it. Later, we visited the post office and I got some replacement hats from home – thank you very much! – for the nice, warm hat-that-I-was-very-attached-to, that I stupidly lost on Christmas Eve. Saw the Liam Neeson (sp?) movie of Les Miserables with my host family, and attempted to explain the original plot to them in Ukrainian (haha, I remembered the Russian word for “prostitute” Annie taught us in high school). In other news, I got a Ukrainian tutor – so maybe I’ll actually learn how to talk good one of these days! and she is very nice. My coordinator and I filled out forms for the PC involving making a map of Bratslav – the streets here don’t actually “have no name,” but it might as well be the case, because most people don’t know them, and there aren’t really a lot of signs. I literally drew things like “the green fence with the dog” . . . hopefully that will be ok.

Friday, I discovered an Irish channel on TV! With a commentator in downtown Dublin, and I saw the bus I used to take!! It has like every American show ever, for some amazing reason. Some good, some bad, saw the Seinfeld about fat-free frozen yoghurt, and then a Dawson’s Creek Thanksgiving episode (so painful, but had to watch because it was English). I don’t want to monopolize the TV, but occasionally (rarely), no one else wants to watch it and I have nothing better to do, so when BBC gets a little repetitive (same headlines every ten minutes), I have another option. One of the things that draws family members away from the TV is the video game I let my host brother install on my laptop – Russian Grand Theft Auto. I’m serious. I sort of thought it was a music CD he wanted to listen to . . . but it turned out to be GTA. Kind of intense. I generally abandon the room when he plays – have never understood video games, sort of the same reaction I have to Japanimation.

On Saturday, I got to go to Vinnytsia, the oblast capitol, to see the other Volunteers in our oblast. It was really fun! Our warden, Eric, and his wife Sandra are amazing cooks – they made us gumbo and cheese grits. In the course of conversation, they mentioned that they actually wrote the PC cookbook that I’m so obsessed with – and another one about Florida food (where they’re both from)!! I bought it (they had extras), it looks amazing (despite the sad reminders that the shellfish I love is far far away from here) – honestly, go look it up if you’re at all interested, it’s called “Florida Bounty: A Celebration of Florida Cuisine and Culture.” I vouch for them.

Another random story those of you from W&M might be interested in hearing: guess who’s in Ukraine? My RA from sophomore year. Again – I’m serious. Many of you may remember the days that I lived in Unit M, in the fraternity complex. I personally find it difficult to forget . . . and about two months ago, we got a list of Volunteers in our region, and I recognized my Russian-speaking former RA, Patrick! Not only in Ukraine, but in my oblast . . . insane. He sort of vaguely recognized me (although I cut off all my hair and switched to glasses). He advised me to get a cat, despite not being a cat person (and yes, the cat here still loves me, and sits in my lap almost whenever I sit down) – he used to be allergic, he explained, but after rubbing it in his face for a month, that passed. Always good to hear from more experienced Volunteers. They were all really nice and entertaining, and at the end of the gathering, Eric and Sandy laid out some random things that they wanted to get rid of before they leave in April, which we could earn by sharing an interesting story about our site. I couldn’t really think of any (hard to compete with seasoned Volunteers), but I did my best and offered two about my coordinator. I got chocolate, and a pig keychain – it’s the Year of the Pig . . . and the Chinese horoscope is a really huge deal here, especially now, other Volunteers explained, because Ukrainians just love pigs.

That’s about it. Everything’s going fairly well here, nervous to start teaching but on the other hand, it’s about time. Miss you all – take care and keep in touch!!

Love, Virginia

P.S. I was afraid there was going to be a Part III, but I guilted my coordinator into taking me to Nimerov, and now I think I know the way myself (turn right at the orange pro-Yushenko graffiti)

P.P.S. If my address comment at the end of the last post was confusing - sorry - I just mean that I don't need a P.O. Box, everyone knows who I am - so the address as it would be without a street number or P.O. Box . . . just look at facebook


At January 28, 2007 9:05 AM, Anonymous Virginia P said...

Hello Virginia, from another Virginia in Ukraine! I am in Kerch on the Black Sea,on a snowy Sunday at the Library Internet Center supposedly doing "research" but secretly reading your BLOG! My spouse and I head off to COS next week...time really flies here! Keep having fun and seeing things with fresh eyes! 8-)

Read my Journals: www.pulverpages.com

At February 02, 2007 2:21 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Hey! I will try to see your journal when I figure out regular internet access . . . not something I've quite figured out yet. Always nice to hear from another Virginia. Have fun at COS! (can't imagine)


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