Saturday, June 23, 2007

Back in the saddle again . . .

Hi everyone! I hope you’re all enjoying your summer. I will try my best to summarize mine so far . . .

[Speaking of summarizing, I just looked over some old blog entries. You all are saints to read the obscenely long entries I write (or to try to read them). I swear I will try to keep it short . . .]

So, almost a month ago, the Volunteers in my oblast gathered to say goodbye to Patrick, my former-college-RA-turned-neighboring-Volunteer (Patrick, you will be missed!). He brought his cat (on a leash – which prompted a Ukrainian to say “You do know that’s not a dog, right?”) to transfer her to the ownership of another Volunteer, which was interesting (both Volunteer and cat spent the night at my apartment . . . and the cat briefly disappeared, like completely, but in finding her I discovered a compartment in my dresser that didn't know was there!). Afterwards, I went home to get ready for my family’s visit by making potato crust pizza (basically a pizza on thinly sliced potato crust . . . not bad!).

On that Tuesday, I went to Kyiv to get them, and we managed to get back to Bratslav that same day. During the taxi ride from Vinnytsia, they saw a lot of typical-Ukraine sights that I realized I had gotten fairly used to – a horse pulling a wagon piled with hay, and traffic stopping to let cows be led across the road. I feel like it’s almost snobbish for me to say – since becoming acclimated is something of a holy grail in PC – but the sight of cows crossing a highway doesn’t even make me blink anymore. The idea of blinking at the sight is actually stranger to me, now, than the sight itself.

For the last real day of school, I supervised speaking tests while my family rested at my apartment. When I ran out of 5th graders to ask to recite texts, I decided to make the day “Translate Your T-shirt” day – since every day, a good half of my students will be wearing clothing with English on it. So, kids with English on their t-shirts came to the front, and I tried to explain what each one meant, although most of them don’t really mean much of anything (“Disco Beach!”).

That afternoon, my tutor offered to have her son and two of his friends lead us up a hill to see a Cossack memorial cross, and a Jewish graveyard. It was literally up a hill – through bushes and past wary goats etc., and I’m not sure I’ll be able to find my way back later, but the hike provided a really great view of Bratslav. From what I understand, the man who founded Hassidic Judaism was from Bratslav, and is buried in the graveyard there – which overlooks the river. Apparently tourists from other countries come to see it, but I’d never before heard it mentioned by a local. It was a really pretty hike, and it let me see more of Bratslav than I ever had before!

Later, while we were grocery shopping, Bratslav got a heavy thunderstorm – more experienced Volunteers tell me that the storms we’ve been having this summer are very rare, but they are needed, and thankfully the temperature has dropped a bit since then. So we were soaked from walking back, but like a good Ukrainian I had hot tea at home. I think it was interesting for my family to see my apartment; there are some things I’m so used to now that I forgot to explain them, like how you have to turn on the gas separately before you turn on the oven, etc. The next day they saw the “Last Bell” ceremony for the end of the school year – and we all met my coordinator’s daughter for the first time, since she just returned from studying abroad in Mississippi the day after my family came! I have now heard the result of mixing a Ukrainian accent with a rural Mississippi one, and it is priceless. The ceremony was a little long – I think the national anthem was played twice – but it was cute to see all of the students dressed up, complete with massive white hairbows for all the girls. A little girl was carried around in a circle while she rang a bell, signifying the end of the year, and graduation for the 11th formers. I passed out marshmellows to some students afterwards; I had asked my family to bring them after I taught a lesson about camping and realized that no one has any idea what they are, here, and I had no idea how to explain them.

As I said in the last entry, it’s been very very hot here, and my dad very nicely put up two screens in my windows, one for each room. I don’t think I could have managed to do it by myself, so that was very helpful, and I’ve come back to a cooler apartment. At the end of my family’s stay in Bratslav, we had my coordinator and host mom and their kids over, and I made them try my banana bread, which they liked, and my coordinator nicely arranged a taxi to come get us for the next leg of our trip – to L’viv!
We got on the train around 1 in the morning during another thunderstorm, but thankfully slept the whole way til L’viv, or, as we call it here in central Ukraine, “Western Europe.” L’viv, a city in western Ukraine, is very nice: there are very old houses, squares, good restaurants, lots of churches and a huge cemetery. One of the nicest things we did was to climb up to the highest point of the city. L’viv also has a very pretty, very old opera house – where I got to see my first opera! We went to see “Cavalleri Rusticana” (no idea how to spell that), which was short but good. The highlight was realizing I could understand the Ukrainian captions over the stage – thankfully, the storyline wasn’t terribly complicated, and the emotions expressed are pretty basic: “Where is your son?”; “Why do you want to see my son?”; “I’m really sad.”; “I’m riding my horse in a field!”

We also met up with two Volunteers in the area: Katie, from my training cluster days, and Chris, from my training link-cluster days, so that was very fun. It was the first time I’d seen them since December, because traveling in Ukraine can be fairly involved/tiring, despite being about the size of Texas. Katie was getting ready for her fiancé’s visit, but unfortunately we boarded our plane a few minutes before he arrived at the tiny airport, so I didn’t get to meet him.

Our next stop was Prague, which was nice because I was no longer responsible for translating everything (although I found that Czech has some very similar words/phrases!) I went to Prague two years ago, when I was studying abroad in Dublin, so I had a short list of things I insisted we see, starting with the Museum of Communism. It’s a tiny, but really good museum focusing on the history of communism in Prague; I had really liked it the first time I went, but it was definitely more interesting after having lived for a little while in Ukraine. We also saw the old Jewish Quarter, and Old Town Square. Unfortunately, I had had a sore throat since about the time my family arrived, and amoxicillin (over the counter here!) wasn’t helping, so we went to a doctor, who gave me different medicine and told me to sit in the hotel and rest. So, for the next two days, I sat around, but I couldn’t complain, because the hotel had internet, and two English-speaking news channels! Which is why I know all about the TB guy thing, and Paris Hilton going to jail.

We lengthened our stay in Prague a little, so that I could sit around and get better, and on the last day I got to see the castle with them, and we also went to the Mucha Museum (Art Nouveau, very pretty). Next, we took a train to Budapest, and saw some beautiful countryside in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. We were in Budapest for less time than we had planned, but still saw most of the main sights, and some very nice buildings, like the opera house.

We finished our trip in Kyiv, where we saw the Pecherska Lavra – caves where the remains of Orthodox priests were naturally mummified due to the climate. You buy a candle to light your way, and follow the (generally devout) crowd through the narrow passageways to see the covered priests, under glass. It was definitely interesting, though I’m not sure I’ll go a second time. Then we went to St. Sophia’s and St. Michael’s cathedrals, and to a large, well-stocked bazaar of souvenirs and Ukrainian art. In the PC office, we ran into my fellow Volunteer Clara, and later met her and my Ukrainian teacher from training, Yulia, for dinner at a restaurant where we had a good view of Kyiv out the window. It was a nice way to end the trip!

The next day, my family flew from Kyiv back to New York – where they arrived just about the time I finally pulled into Bratslav. As I said, travel here can be intense (want proof? Look at Kyiv and Bratslav on a map. Now, Kyiv and New York). So, I’ve mostly been resting, doing lots of laundry, and attempting to restock my kitchen since then. My summer schedule is soon to pick up again, but I’ll spare you the details until I’ve begun the running-around process.

Thank you to Kristen and Gigi, who wrote me wonderful, sprawling letters! I especially liked the pictures included by Gigi.

And finally, thank you very much to my family for a wonderful visit!

Take care all!

Love, Virginia


At July 09, 2007 4:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you stopped writing your blog?
It's been over two weeks! Hope you'll add to it soon!

Betsy Greene

At July 13, 2007 5:55 PM, Blogger Virginia said...

Whoops, thought I replied to this - it doesn't help that instructions only appear in Russian on the computer . . . yep, sorry for the delay, I wandered off for a bit, but I'm back!


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