Saturday, November 10, 2007

Back from Murka

Well, I’m back in Ukraine, and things are going full-speed again. It’s strange how my life is moving faster in a village of 3,000 than it did at home . . . but then, I purposefully made my trip low-key . . .

My trip home was very, very good. Turns out – America is really nice! Who knew. As I wrote to one of my former clustermates: in a year, all that will be ours. I told my mom that it was probably better than most two-week periods I’d had there before . . . it was nice to do a “greatest hits” trip. But I’ll discuss that a little more later – first, I want to write about a few things that, in my pre-trip frenzy, I forgot to mention earlier.

As I’ve said, I now live in a house, with a “baba” (or grandma) named Nina, who’s very nice. I didn’t think that I would really enjoy living with someone, but everything’s going well! We get along great, and I get to practice Ukrainian now that I’m not just talking to myself anymore (though I still do that, too). One small problem, though, was that she doesn’t have a kitchen sink, so it took me a while to figure out where to wash my dishes; I didn’t want to let her do them, and I didn’t want to wash them outside like she does (in the “summer kitchen”). I decided to wash them in the bathtub – and strangely enough, I felt relieved to be washing dishes again. That’s how domestic I’ve become.

The day after I moved in, I went to the big city for our English club, where we talked about haikus. Brittany taught our members how to write a haiku, and offered a few examples. My favorite was from a Facebook group she found on the subject: “Haikus are easy / But sometimes they don’t make sense / Refrigerator.”

A little while later, while shilling for my seminars, I was invited to visit an English class at the local technical college, where I hadn’t really spent much time before. I was thinking recently about how my students would fit in really well in 1980s America: the girls especially, with their layered, brightly colored tops that fall off the shoulder, and big, sequined scrunchies in their hair. At the Technicum, however, I felt like I’d walked into a 70s movie, set on a college campus. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason, but the girls have teased hair, and both girls and boys wear tight-ish jeans and jean jackets. It just seems right. They asked me questions about America and my likes and dislikes, how we celebrate “the Halloween,” and whether I listen to Ukrainian music (I don’t – I just can’t take that much Ukrainian, I need a break).

Afterwards, the English teachers (including my friend Ira, who recently got a job there) served me tea, and one of them excitedly explained that she frequently prints out English poems from the internet. However, when she showed me her binder full of poetry, I realized they were all song lyrics. Carole King, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, etc. I broke the news to her gently. I happen to have several of the songs on my computer, so I was inspired to make a CD for the English teachers in my town. I picked twelve songs that I thought were appropriate, and which had lyrics that were easy to hear, and then typed out the words for them. I included Carole King and Billy Joel, but also Ben Harper, Frank Sinatra, ABBA and even some Appalachian music. I did not include the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” since people here already have an unhealthy obsession with that song. To top off the “leaving on a good note” packages, I also baked chocolate chip cookies for them. Nina had never seen chocolate chip cookies before (not surprisingly), so it was fun to show her why they need to be spaced out – since they go outwards, not upwards – and to give her a sample.

I taught a couple of interesting lessons before I left. I don’t have the 8th graders’ book, so I borrow one at the beginning of each lesson and teach off the cuff. (Wish I could say I had recently planned for my other classes’ lessons . . . that’s just the only class I have an excuse for.) They had been reading texts about celebrating Victory Day – singing the national anthem, etc. – but had run out of texts for the quarter, so I decided to teach them the American national anthem. I didn’t sing it, but I wrote out the lyrics on the board and explained the story behind it . . .

The second interesting lesson was for the 10th grade. They were reading about how Ukraine joined the European Council, and how one of the conditions for joining was establishing legal protection of minority rights (the text assured us that Ukraine is very progressive in that area, and has perfect, free elections to boot). I was explaining what a minority and majority are, and trying to get the students to name some minority groups in Ukraine. They understood that immigrants, like Georgians and Belarussians, are in the minority, but were having more trouble with my questions about religious groups. I explained that while Orthodox Christianity is the majority here, it’s a minority in America. I asked about other minority religions, and they were stumped; so, thinking I was making things easy for them, I drew the Star of David. No response, and even when I said “Judaism” in Ukrainian they were lost. They said that they had heard the word, but didn’t know what it meant. I’m not sure to what extent that’s true, but they definitely didn’t know much (they got the basic questions totally wrong, like: Do they believe in Jesus Christ? Go to church on Sundays?). I was sort of taken aback, and so the next lesson I taught them was an overview of Judaism: the history, famous Jews, etc. The only names they recognized were Einstein and Steven Spielberg, though one girl knew Adam Sandler (whose “Hanukkah” song was running through my head – but most of the really well known people he mentions in the song are people he proudly explains are not Jewish, such as O.J. Simpson). It was a pretty good lesson, and I’ll probably revisit the topic in the future . . .

One more story that I forgot to mention before: I went to a Ukrainian sauna! There was a sauna at the hotel we stayed in for our yoga weekend, so a group of us went. It was my first time in a sauna, and I really enjoyed it! Several people had been with their host families, so they knew the routine: you lay in the unbelievably, inconceivably hot room until you can’t stand it anymore; then someone (in our case, fellow Volunteer Simone, who had been trained by her community for just such an occasion) swats you with a leafy broom, to exfoliate; and then you jump into freezing cold water. It may sound crazy, but it’s great! We had a nice sauna with a little pool; some Ukrainians go to saunas in the summer and just jump in a nearby river. Ukrainians will spend the whole day there, taking breaks to eat and drink (vodka). I think it’s very fun, and hope to go again.

Post-Murka, I’ve been slowly getting back into the swing of things. Jet lag coming to this country is like nothing I’ve ever had before – I don’t know why it gets me so badly. I finally made it back, after traveling for hours on a plane, a van, a train and a bus, and went right to sleep even though it was around 8 o’clock. I slept for a while, and thought I was going to be fine, but then couldn’t sleep for more than three hours the next night. Bleh.

I think the people who were most excited to see me again were my groupie 5th graders, who continue to be adorable and very good students. They literally huddle around me before class begins, asking me questions, or just standing there smiling at me. Very funny. Thursday, they invited me to their Fall celebration, so I stayed late at school to watch. It turned out to be a “Miss Fall” competition, with contestants from the 5th grade, both halves of the 6th, and from the 7th and 8th. The girls wore fancy dresses (one decorated with fall leaves), and competed in several areas. They recited poetry, made artwork using leaves, sang songs, and danced. It was pretty impressive, and their classmates sometimes helped, singing back-up or joining in the dance routine. They all did really well, and the 7th grade girl won by a hair.

Yesterday, I finally had my first seminar. Everything went well! It was at the technical college, and focused on human trafficking. I gave a little speech in Ukrainian, which one of my girls had translated for me (and which I practiced for Nina the night before), and I managed to pronounce everything. Afterwards, we showed a movie, produced by the International Organization for Migration, about human trafficking in Ukraine, and my new Ukrainian contact Larissa (Lee’s coordinator) spoke. There were forty students (though some left early for a school celebration, which was inexplicably changed from 4 to 3:30), and they all paid attention and behaved. So, one down, and three to go!

I’m glad to be continuing in my various projects here in Ukraine, but it was nice to visit home. My dogs remembered me immediately, although a few other people had trouble recognizing me (aren’t you supposed to be in Eastern Europe?). I made a list of things to do while I was there, and did just about everything! I shopped at Target, sat on the couch and watched “10 Years Younger” (while drinking Diet Coke with Splenda), and ate ethnic food of every type. I went to a movie in a movie theater, ordered pizza, and saw family and friends from all over. I carved a pumpkin, and passed out candy to trick-or-treaters. My only real culture shock seemed to be my inability to keep my shoes on inside of a house – my feet felt heavy, it was bizarre. I had a wonderful visit; rest assured, no matter how much of a wild and crazy time I’m having here, I still like America, and will be coming back when this is all over. Thank you to everyone who came to visit me, even just to drive somewhere and catch up (cousin!) . . . my friends here listen to me talk about you all the time, and now they’ll have updated information.

So, keep in touch, and I’ll do the same. Hope everything’s going well, and I’ll write again soon!

Love, Virginia

P.S. Two days after I got back, it started snowing

P.P.S. I was a Ukrainian for Halloween: rhinestone bedecked jeans, a shirt that says "High Society School for Privileged Girls" in Gothic letters with more rhinestones, and ridiculous, sequined, red and gold stilettos.


At November 11, 2007 8:23 PM, Blogger Louisa said...

It was great seeing you!!!!! I've had "I love chinese" stuck in my head for days, so I've been thinking of you :) Can't wait to see you again!!!

Louisa :)


Post a Comment

<< Home