Friday, February 09, 2007


Oh man, I have fought tooth and nail for internet today. Guy at methodologist’s in Nimeroff said to come back next Monday, and the only other internet available was the post office, which was great! but I couldn’t use my flash drive because the USB ports didn’t work. Soo, I have finally come to the first school in Bratslav, where the internet is slow (VERY slow), but I am determined. So, here we go . . .

Wanted to clarify: I was too lazy to add this last week, but the two pictures of the statue of Lenin and the cathedral in my last post are not in Bratslav, they are in Nimerov (district capitol). Also, no pictures this time . . sorry . . .

It’s still snowing, I’m still teaching, all is still well. I worry that my posts will get boring as I settle in more . . . but then, I talk to other Volunteers and tell stories about Bratslav that have them in hysterics (not that they’re not having their own crazy time, it’s just that we’re all seeing different kinds of craziness) – so, even though I might be getting used to things, I realize that my experience is still unique . . .

Last Saturday I went to Vinnytsia, my oblast capitol (and home to the only McDonalds between Kyiv and Lviv (large medieval city in the west), apparently), to visit the Volunteers there. The cookbook authors, Eric and Sandy, showed me around the Windows on America library – where Volunteers are allowed to check out books and DVDs, and I got a library card. There are several of these libraries throughout Ukraine, in oblast capitols, full of books and movies in English. We also saw a Volunteer from my group, Grant, and Patrick, my fellow W&M alum in this oblast. We went to a sort of faux-Irish-Scottish restaurant (the accent on the sign was over the “c” in “Mc”), that played Queen CDs on a loop, and featured a suit of armor, and a life-size Braveheart-type figure emerging from a wall, in a kilt. I got so used to speaking English in this group of Americans, I could barely order lunch. Sandy and Eric were off to their COS (Close of Service) seminar, and were excited to be bringing a copy of the DVD “Red Dawn” with them. I don’t know if any of you have seen this movie – I haven’t – but apparently it’s become somewhat legendary in Group 28. Russians attack a small Midwestern town, apparently (obvious, I know). So it was funny to hear the plot details of that . . .

Also, there were ice fishers out on the river!! I was so surprised, I almost fell off the bridge. According to the other Volunteers, the ice is not solid enough for that . . . but there they were.

Vinnytsia is soo big, it was slightly disorienting to get back to little Bratslav, where I fell twice on the ice on my way home with my host mom. We were told that the reason Ukrainian women don’t mind the ice is that their stilettos act like anchoring ice picks, but even when they’re not wearing particularly sharp shoes, they have an easier time than I do. I’m getting used to it – but for most of the roads here, it’s as if you had a stretch of beach, all bumpy and totally uneven from people walking on it, and then it turned into solid dirt, and then you covered that with ice and snow. So, not always so easy to get across . . .

Teaching continues to go well, although my novelty has worn off enough for the less-than-model students to start acting out a little. So far, my coordinator has moved two students from my half of certain grades to hers, which is nice, because I do have several smart students who really want to learn, etc. etc., which is harder when I have a few who couldn’t care less, and make that apparent. One was a sixth grader who I caught drawing swastikas on his copybook. I nearly raised cane, but it would have been pretty pointless since he wouldn’t have understood me, so I only went so far as a few pointed words (nonsensical to him) and let my coordinator deal with it afterwards. He should thank his lucky stars we don’t share a common language; the discussion that that doodling would have prompted if I had been teaching American students would have been neither short nor fun. I don’t think it’s that he didn’t understand what it meant either. I heard a lot from the other Volunteers in Vinnytsia about experiences they’ve had hearing Ukrainians sharing their views about Jews and black people – not very tolerant ones, in general. I haven’t really seen much intolerance, but it’s certainly there.

However, there were some fun parts of teaching this week! My 10th graders have been pretty terrified of me, only one girl answers questions and the rest just stare. I asked if they thought I was crazy and they laughed – so it seems they understand me . . . I’m just extremely frightening. So, I decided to resort to “Baby Shark” this week. Not sure if any of you have heard of this song/chant, but we learned it from a PC teacher trainer, and I realized that it was a perfect way to make them participate. You basically pantomime a shark attack, and every new motion (to go along with the phrases) is repeated to the refrain “do do . . do do do-do” with a little jazzy beat. The song goes “Baby shark, do do, do do do-do, baby shark, do do” etc., listing all the shark family members, and then singing “Went for a swim (do do, etc), saw a fin, swam real fast, shark attack!, lost a leg” (at which point you stand on one leg). Yes, it’s humiliating, but the teacher trainer was right – they absolutely loved it. Like, I don’t think anything I ever do will make them that happy again. They learned it quickly and we had time to do the whole thing once, and afterwards they all wandered around school singing “Do do . . . do do do-do!” and bursting into laughter.

The 5th graders are very cute – it’s fun because I get to start each Monday with them, feeling like I’m a kindergarten teacher, or something, at home – because we talk about things like balloons and teddy-bears the whole time. I made the 11th Grade some Mad Libs this week, which they liked. The one they did went: “Today, I went to Trafalgar Square because I wanted to travel. I saw Catherine II and he said ‘It’s great!’ We decided to visit at Hyde Park. I couldn’t believe how many pens there were! Like my brother always said, ‘I’m not afraid of you!’” Can you tell the curriculum is centered around Great Britain??

Tuesday I had the great surprise of a whole lot of mail! It was unexpected, but in one visit to the post office I got: a nice package from home (with a Spanish dictionary! there is hope for my Spanish yet); wonderful letters from family, Kristen, Gigi and Little One; and no fewer than five Newsweeks from the PC. My host family came home to find me sprawled on the couch with envelopes and Newsweeks everywhere – very nice. So, thank you to everyone who sent me mail!!!

In other news, my host dad put red light bulbs in the bathroom. I’m not really sure what to say to explain this . . . it just . . happened. They were like, Virginia, come see!! I was sort of similarly speechless then . . . now, I just feel like I can’t quite see everything when I’m in that room, like it’s foggy or something (but really, it’s just tinted red).

Yesterday, I only had one class (such as it was) because the day was devoted to watching government movies sent from Kyiv. I had substituted for my coordinator on Wednesday (my marathon day of six classes in a row, and then Ukrainian tutoring), so she told me to come in late, and then that morning called to say there might not be classes at all. Everything seems to just sort of happen here – oh, there are movies! Maybe we should watch them. When? Um, we’ll see, whenever. None of the students or teachers seemed to know what the schedule is – my 9th graders told me they were due for the viewing in twenty minutes, and then, twenty minutes later, they said fifteen (I understand this – sometimes, when confronted with questions in a foreign language, you just answer anything, usually “yes,” to avoid problems . . . though of course you then occasionally cause them). Apparently, there were different films, some about smoking and drugs, and one for the older students about childbirth and abortion (maybe? remember, this is my translation of what I am told). However, during the five minutes of the movie I watched (before I escaped to have tutoring), there was a reenactment of Christopher Columbus coming to America. Literally, with actors in armor, arriving on the shore and everything. I could think of a few links to impolite subjects from that beginning on my own, but wasn’t sure that that was how a Ukrainian government movie would choose to introduce the topics of things like rape, etc. I asked my host mom later, and she had no idea what I was referring to, and then remembered that they had used 1492 as an introduction for the subject of tobacco. Obviously. They might as well have started with the Bering Strait and brought things a little closer to home.

Ok, that’s about it. I hope that you’re all doing very very well! In a little while, I’ll be caught up on my Newsweeks and might have a better idea of what all is going on over there, or maybe not. Think about taking me up on my news-for-poetry exchange offer (see last post). Anyhow, take care of yourselves and have a great weekend!

Love, Virginia


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