Saturday, December 01, 2007

Seminars, and Thanksgiving

Hello again! Still here. Happy late Thanksgiving, and happy general holidays!

I’ve been so busy that I only just now finished writing about my trip home in my journal (of course, anyone who’s ever seen me try to keep a journal knows that my compulsion to record every detail of everything makes journals sort of a tricky thing with me . . . the answer is to type it, which makes being compulsive less time-consuming) . . . however, I’m officially done with my month of seminars, so hopefully I’ll have time to breathe now.

The first seminar, about human trafficking, went well, as I said. The next day, I went up to my big city English club to talk about Saturday Night Live. I think it’s an interesting part of American culture . . . but most people outside of America aren’t aware of it, even if they’ve seen dozens of movies starring SNL alums and based on SNL skits. Luckily, I have several “Best of” SNL DVDs, and had a variety of skits to show. I started with two old ones – Gilda Radner opening the show by answering “audience questions” off the top of her head, very cute, and later, dancing dramatically but awkwardly with equally clumsy Steve Martin, parodying Fred and Ginger. I also had Christopher Walken singing “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” but only singing “pot-ay-to” and “tom-ay-to” instead of alternating, which they thought was funny (several club members are convinced he is British, despite my efforts to claim him for our own. I know he talks weird, but come on). Also had “The Continental” (ironically, a parody of Eastern Europeans), and Chris Farley’s awkward interviews with Jeff Daniels, Martin Scorsese and Paul McCartney on The Chris Farley Show. (“Remember . . . when you were in the Beatles?”)

That weekend I attended a birthday party for my former neighbors’ grandson. I brought the grandkids toys from America, and everyone’s very enamored with the interactive baby doll I was asked to get for the grand-daughter – she cries when you lay her down, but then when you give her a pacifier, she sleeps. One of the guests, a teacher at my school, said we should give them to the 11th graders for practice. (Which made me wonder . . . did anyone ever really have to take care of an egg to learn responsibility, like Sam did on “Clarissa Explains It All” . . . or was that only high schoolers on TV?)

The next week I taught HIV/AIDS lessons after school in preparation for our seminar that Friday. They went really well! I’m thankful that I never spoke Ukrainian in class before this, if only because the announcement that I would teach these classes in Ukrainian was enough to attract lots of students. Students who never spoke much to me before were full of questions – I guess they only just realized that I could answer them in Ukrainian. I was going to have a girl from the local Technical college translate, but she could only come once for part of one lesson, so I was on my own. However, the students were patient and forgiving of my Ukrainian, and we got along fine. The first day, we talked about biology, and I explained, with ridiculous drawings of B-cells and T4-cells, how HIV works (ridiculous because science has always been my worst subject . . . oh well, they got the point). The next day, it was just 11th graders for “Transmission and Prevention,” and even though they never speak much in English class, they were all ears for what was essentially a sex-ed class. Ha. All week, the students were wonderful – participating in the activities, playing the games, listening to me and even occasionally writing things down. On Wednesday, we did “Stigma and Discrimination,” and on Thursday, I gave them testimonies written by Ukrainians living with HIV, and they made posters telling the stories.

The only crises for the seminar that week were finding a room with curtains to show the film (yes, I’ve been planning this for four months . . . but it turns out things are never fully arranged until they’re fully arranged, I guess), and the fact that I had to point the projector at the wall from an angle (where I had it plugged in), so the all-text movie (“Svetlana’s Life”) was slightly hard for them to read. Anyway, I succeeded in delivering another mini-speech in Ukrainian (which the girls who went to Camp Heal with me translated from English), a local doctor spoke, and we watched the movie. Everything went well, and the next week my coordinator told me that the kids asked for me to do more AIDS lessons in December! We agreed to hold off until the spring, but it was nice that they enjoyed it so much; they do AIDS Day (Dec. 1st) every year, but many said that they hadn’t understood much of what it was about until now.

That Saturday, I got to meet some newbies!! Yes, Vinnytska oblast is due to receive four new Volunteers in December. Clara and I were very excited, and went to meet the two who will be nearest to us – only twenty minutes each in either direction from me! They were both very nice, and it turns out that one, Matt, also lives a short drive away from me in Virginia. And, on top of that, my neighbor was his high school history teacher. More proof that I know everyone in Peace Corps (also referred to as “Six Degrees of Virginia”).

The next week, as you may know, was Thanksgiving. I headed to Vinnytsia on Wednesday, armed with my cookbook and a can of pumpkin from America! I had big plans, and we managed just about everything. Rather than search for a turkey that might have required any number of things (plucking? who knows), our hostess, Lee, made her famous chicken marsala, and I did my best to fill the table with traditional sides. Clara made apple pie and I made pumpkin pie (first time for me – crazy crust process), stuffing, and glazed carrots (with cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, etc.) We also had mashed potatoes and corn, and for appetizers, Clara made tortilla chips (made them!) and bean dip to go with the salsa I canned last summer. Overall, way too much food, but very, very good. It was just the girls of the oblast, and we even felt festive enough to put on my Christmas music playlist (well, for a while . . . the whole thing is nine and a half hours long).

Friday, I traveled back to Bratslav with Clara and Larissa #2 (another Larissa who works with Lee and was willing to help with my trafficking seminar). This time I made sure we were early, since two weeks before, Larissa #1 and I had to run halfway across town with a laptop, projector and speakers in order to make it in time. However, this meant that people had time to wine and dine us: Nina fed us leftovers from her birthday (on Thanksgiving, so I missed it), and what good are leftovers without wine (seriously), and on top of that, we were served tea and cookies when we got to School #1. When we were finally allowed to begin, we had a few false starts (mostly due to well-meaning helpers accidentally flipping the switch that controlled the room’s electricity . . . twice), but after that, things went well. I made it through another spiel in Ukrainian, and everyone paid attention to the movie and to Larissa’s talk afterwards (25 to 30 students and teachers came).

After that, we jet-setted back to Vinnytsia (to the extent that one can on an hour and fifteen minute-long bus ride), to enjoy T-Day leftovers, and English club. For that meeting, we discussed discrimination, which was interesting, to say the least. It’s a country without much (readily apparent) diversity, so what generally comes to people’s minds when someone says “discrimination” appears to be the divide between Ukrainian and Russian speakers. People were slightly less enthusiastic about discussing other divides in society . . . but it was interesting . . .

This past week I taught more AIDS lessons, at the local orphanage. About forty students (from grades 8 through 11, as was the case for all the seminars) showed up for each lesson, so it was pretty crazy, but despite having to raise my voice a little to be heard, it all went well! The English teacher helped translate a little (the kids had less English than my students had for me to work with), and we made it through fine. Like my students, they were delighted to hear me ramble on in Ukrainian. In the middle of my “Transmission” lesson, one boy blurted out “Where did she learn to talk like that?!?” I think it was a success: during the first lesson, when I asked what we could do about the epidemic, one student suggested we isolate people who have HIV/AIDS . . . by the third lesson, we had moved on to the point where they understood that it’s not dangerous to be near people with AIDS, etc., and they advocated understanding and education instead of quarantining. On Thursday, I showed them the first half-hour of “A Closer Walk,” including the segment on the spread of HIV in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the projector would only show the first line of the Russian subtitles, so whenever the subtitles went over one line, they were in the dark as to what was being said. They tried to fix it, but then watched patiently despite it, which I appreciated. I’ve seen the movie a couple of times, and watched the subtitles to make sure they didn’t miss anything major, and I don’t think they did; I left the movie there, in any case, so they can give it another try. It was really great to finally do a project at the orphanage, the kids were wonderful and really enthusiastic, and I hope to do another project there soon.

After that last seminar, I went up to Kyiv for a day with three others from my oblast – to get flu shots, etc., and do some Christmas shopping. I saw the new PC office for the first time, and climbed the winding street where the Andrivsky market is held every day (despite the cold and snow) to get lots of pretty souvenirs to send home.

So – I hope everything’s going well at home! Now that I’m done with these seminars, I swear I’ll get to writing letters again. Enjoy what I bitterly assume is comparatively warm weather (for most of you), and keep in touch!!

Love, Virginia


At December 08, 2007 11:46 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

I LOVED that episode of Clarissa Explains it all.

At December 15, 2007 7:10 PM, Blogger Mary said...

by the third lesson, we had moved on to the point where they understood that it’s not dangerous to be near people with AIDS, etc., and they advocated understanding and education instead of quarantining

Congratulations, your orphans are officially smarter than Mike Huckabee.

In other news, holy crap, I'm seeing you in one week!

At December 21, 2007 3:47 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Little One: me too, ha - I have since been told that people really do that, also - bags of flour?

Mev - wow. I would tell them that, but I doubt they'd care. See you soon!!!


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