Wednesday, April 11, 2007

If I weren't so confused now, I wouldn't get to be so smug about understanding things in a year

Hello again! I’ve finally racked up enough interesting stories to write to you once more, and I have a few pictures as well . . .

I mostly spent my spring break waiting for repairs to be made, and two Saturdays ago I came home from a trip to Vinnytsia to find new wallpaper where the mold used to be! (To clarify, the wallpaperer didn’t break in – I had left my neighbors the key.) So now, I’m sleeping in a bed, my clothes are no longer stacked on chairs, and everything is looking a bit brighter.

Unfortunately my cold came back last week, so I missed a few classes again, but was there enough for a few fun things to happen. On Tuesday, my English club for younger students met again, and the kids were really enthusiastic and excited about everything, which was very nice. We played the clapping rhythm game where we go around and each person says a new English word, and a game where I give them made-up headlines with missing words for them to fill in. Having kids from the other school (though not from the orphanage yet, we shall see) really helps, because they’re not used to or sick of me yet, and when they yell out the right answer first, it puts my kids more on their toes. The classroom was full, and since there were a lot of excited fifth graders, the noise level was sometimes a bit high. During the beginning, my coordinator yelled at them a few times to be quiet, but then she had to leave. The noise wasn’t that bad, but I needed to have all of their attention – and so, in a flash of brilliance, I remembered the “hands up” technique from the program I taught at last summer. Teaching there, I probably said “hands up” at least thirty times a day for six weeks. So the habit came back quite naturally, including the snarky follow-up: “When your hand is up – your mouth is shut!” Like the American kids had, the Ukrainians caught on pretty quickly, and it was a nice way to get their attention again without yelling. The biggest hit was the True/False game, where I had two chairs at the front of the room, one for True and one for False, and two volunteers poised a few feet away. When I read a statement out loud, they ran to the right chair and tried to sit down before the other person. Even the really quiet little kids from the other school, who are especially shy since they don’t know me, got excited and wanted to play. One little girl ran to a chair before I had gotten through more than three words of the statement “Virginia Robertivna’s dog has five legs” – so that was really cute. They even applauded at the end, which was encouraging!

Last Thursday, I woke up to find it snowing hard outside – I heard that you all had a similar experience at home last week. It didn’t stick, but it was bizarre. I finally got to visit the “small school,” which the self-assured fourth grader had asked me so nicely to do, and that was fun. I spoke briefly to the third and fourth graders about myself, in English and Ukrainian, and they told me a few English sentences, and I said I’d be their teacher either next year or the next, which they were excited about.

At the end of the week, I took a trip through Vinnytsia again and got to eat at the Jacobs’ – unfortunately, one of my last chances to enjoy their gourmet cooking! When I came home, I attempted to make Ukrainian dumplings – varenyky – with so-so results. They were definitely too big, and the dough too thick, but I suppose it’s a start. I tried to salvage them as best I could so I could give some to my neighbors – hopefully they believe that it’s the thought that counts . . .

(But I’d like to point out that I made good alfredo sauce earlier that week . . . so I’m not totally hopeless.)

This weekend, as it was for Catholics and Protestants, was Orthodox Easter. No one had invited me over, and a trip to visit Clara and her family had been cancelled, so I was planning on just dying some eggs with dye I bought at the “Ukrainian Walmart” down the street, and giving them to my neighbors. You may have heard about Ukrainian Easter eggs – or “peysankee.” The eggs that are dyed just one color are called “krashankee” (the kind I made), but there’s a more elaborate option involving painting a design, using wax etc., to make peysankee. Sandy Jacobs went to a class and got to make one, so I hope to try that next year. Each region has its own designs – and, apparently, my region, Nimerov, has eggs that are painted all black and red. I’m assuming the best option for preserving them is the make little holes in each end of the egg to get the insides out, but Sandy was told by her classmates that actually, because it was a peysankee, it would not go bad. So there’s always that hope.

Anyway, as it so often happens here, my day did not go as planned, but that was a nice surprise. My neighbors woke me up with traditional Easter food: Easter bread, cabbage rolls, sausage and two krashankee. A habit that people have here, that is somewhat unnerving at first, is to try someone’s doorknob repeatedly before resigning themselves to knock – so at any time of day you may realize that someone is trying to get in, whether you let them in or not. My neighbors tend to combine that with yelling my name and asking if I’m still sleeping. Anyway, it was very nice, and I decided to get down to business dying eggs to give them in return. Then Ira, the English teacher from the orphanage who’s my age (but with a husband and toddler), called and invited me to come have Easter with her family. I had enough time to finish the eggs and change, and then I went over for an Easter meal at her parents’ house (and brought some eggs, which the toddler liked). They had a family of dachshunds! One of which, the daddy, even got to live inside, so that was exciting to see – and I got to pick up one of the puppies outside, later. After the meal, we went to the Russian Orthodox cemetery, where they went to one of their family’s graves. They decorated it with fake flowers (all of the graves were covered in wreaths of fake flowers, possibly a seasonal thing?), and then placed Easter bread, eggs, chocolate and candies on the sod. I was a little confused, to say the least, and wasn’t sure if this was an offering, or what. Then – little kids came by and pocketed it all! So it turns out, this is their version of an egg hunt. I’m not sure if it’s the same with the Ukrainian Orthodox church, I only know what I saw . . . Also, elderly, possibly-senile women were collecting the food and candy. I saw a lot of my students going from grave to grave with bags, and they all said “Hi.”

We went for another meal with relatives, and then Ira invited me to the café that night with her friends – basically the Ukrainian equivalent of a bar (well, they have bars, but they’re more sketchy . . . ). So that night, I got to “go out” for the first time in like seven months (did I mention that most bars here are sketchy? Not a habit we’ve been encouraged to pick up), and I got to meet more people my age, who are also married. She and her three friends, who came, all met at school, training to be accountants (even though she’s also a teacher)! So, that made me think of all of my number-crunching friends at home. After Ira explained that I majored in Spanish, I was asked to say something, and sadly came up with something mixed with Ukrainian – my Spanish is forever crippled by this whole “third language” thing, I fear. Anyway, it was fun to meet people, and very nice to be invited to Easter festivities.

Yesterday, the 10th grade had to exchange English class for a class devoted to what you should do in case of a nuclear war. Yeah. Apparently, you are not simply screwed – there are old posterboards filled with information on what to do, and covered in pictures of mushroom clouds and warheads. Although I stayed in the room, I have no idea what was said, since it was in Ukrainian, and I’m not sure I really regret that. This may or may not be a part of the national curriculum – I’ve gotten mixed reports. Anyway, it made me think of two things: first, the “Post-Apocalyptic Alcatraz Adventure” exercise that Alyssa and Rebecca B. and I organized for our youth group in high school, and second, an SNL skit I watched on a DVD, this week. The “Alcatraz Adventure” basically posited that a group of people are touring Alcatraz when the Apocalypse hits, and some how or another, blah blah, the island is saved. It was really just a pointless introduction, that we thought was funny, for one of those exercises where you have to decide who on a list is worth saving and why, do we need the nun, do we need a horse, etc., etc. Yes, a nun and a horse were taking the tour, as well as a prostitute, and possibly some chickens, I can’t quite recall. Someone else has done one of those pointless debate exercises, right? The SNL skit was on the “Best of Gilda Radner” that my parents sent me, which is hilarious – she plays Lucy Ricardo in the conveyer belt, factory episode, except instead of food or whatever she was originally dealing with, she is to decorate armed nuclear warheads with whipped cream and cherries. Of course, it goes out of control, she can’t stop them coming, and when Dan Ackroyd comes in to check on her, she drops two and they explode. When she then asks, “Am I fired?”, he says, wearily, “No, Mrs. Ricardo . . . we just have to go live underground and eat canned food for ten to fifteen years.” And, of course, she says “Waaaah!” Anyway, I thought it was hilarious – but the funniest skit was her PSA on behalf of “the extremely stupid.” That officially surpassed the Chris Farley candid-camera-decaf-coffee skit in making me laugh until I cried.

The rest of my life is just mundane cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and killing spiders in the bathroom (a major part of my life right now). I’m not quite brave enough to carry my camera around town and act like a complete tourist yet, but I’d love to get pictures of village life for you. Just yesterday morning, I passed a man walking a goat on a leash, and a horse-drawn wagon loaded with a cart full of piglets. It is my dream to pet and/or jump onto one of those horses, they’re so pretty, but, again, haven’t quite reached that point yet.

In mail news, I heard from Lauren L., in Cameroon, Gigi, and Archer and Jack – thank you all! And I got another wonderful batch of magazines from Ellen, which met my poetry-for-news exchange requirements, so Ellen, be on the lookout. A tragic element of that though, was that no one else was with me to see the look on my face when I opened her package and took out a roll of toilet paper. So, thanks very much, Ellen.

And lastly, a question from our readers at home. “Loumev” wrote in to ask, “Molly heard Ukraine has some dessert that is pork fat covered in chocolate. Is that true? Please address in next blog entry!!” This was later followed up by Molly herself, who added, “Gross!!” Fortunately, I have no personal experience with this dish whatsoever, but, to be perfectly honest, I have no doubt that it exists. Again, I haven’t seen or heard of proof, but it just makes too much sense. They love pork fat. They love chocolate. This is clearly the next step. So, I’ll let you know if I hear more, but if I can never tell you for sure, again, I won’t be too sorry.

That’s it! Thank you for your e-mails and texts, I hope you’re all having a wonderful tax season! Have a great week, and keep in touch!

Love, Virginia


At April 11, 2007 10:37 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Hi cousin! I miss you! I tried to text you this weekend so I'm hoping you got it. I sent you something for your birthday but I'm worried you didn't get it so I'm going to attempt to re-create is and send it again. I seem to be having bad luck on the communication front . . . let's hope I manage to post this correctly. Stay warm!!

Little One

At April 14, 2007 3:26 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Cousin! I wouldn't worry about the package just yet - sometimes it takes a while for things to get here (unless you sent it in February or something . . then maybe) . . .


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