Friday, January 25, 2008

Back to School; and, A Day in the Life

Hello everyone! Sorry to write so seldom, but the problem I was having before – not being able to think of anything interesting to write about – continues. Honestly, I think I’m getting so used to things here that I don’t notice what’s interesting anymore.

An example of my obliviousness: when I was in Germany with Mary, I emptied out my purse to show her my cool PC identification badge, and crazy-looking Ukrainian money. I also pulled some hard candy out of my wallet. She asked why I had hard candy, and I explained that when clerks at stores don’t have enough change, they will occasionally give you candy, or a stick of gum or a box of matches, as a substitute. She could not believe this – and I guess I never mentioned it here before. Hard candy is, as a matter of fact, accepted as currency. Seriously – Volunteers who are short of change have discovered that hard candy is accepted in its stead. So it goes both ways. This is normal for most Ukrainian stores. Mary declared that that was the weirdest thing I had ever told her about Ukraine, and that I should write about it here – so there you are.

Around the time I last wrote, we had another big city English club, and that week I was inspired to discuss the American election process. I researched caucus and primary procedures, which I had not really understood before – man, caucuses are weird! People literally stand in a room, grouped by allegiance, and try to convince each other to change sides (at least, they do for the Iowa Democratic Caucus . . . Republicans get blank slips of paper, apparently)! Bizarre.

I’m back at school, and it’s business as usual. My new strategy for dealing with my silent 9th and 11th graders is to make each student say something during class, usually by going around the room as we go over vocabulary lists. So, instead of me saying a word and having everyone repeat it, I have a student say the word before everyone repeats it and I explain what it means, and then another student says the next word, etc. Ok, it’s not rocket science, but this way I do hear voices I literally haven’t heard before, and it cuts down on chatter when students realize they might be called on.

I don’t know what to expect with my jaded 11th graders, but my silent 9th graders promised me that they’d do better this semester: I gave them a lecture on my last day last fall about participation. They have a habit of whispering amongst themselves whenever I ask them a question – and even though they’re discussing the question, it doesn’t really help me, because without outside intervention they will continue whispering in panicked tones until the end of class. Even if the question is as simple as “What do we buy at the store?” they respond with deer-in-the-headlights faces and frantic whispering. In order to encourage them to address me directly more often, I gave a short multiple choice test on the chalkboard, with questions like “Why am I here? a) to listen to you talk, b) vacation, c) to teach you English” and “How long will I be here? a) forever, b) two years, c) until next fall.” Once they were clear on the answers (for those two, both “c”), they were slightly chastened, and so far they’re doing pretty well with speaking at normal volume.

My first English club of the semester, for the younger kids, was about tongue-twisters. There were only a couple of girls from the 5th grade (my groupies), and one from the 7th, but they had fun. I taught them “Fuzzy Wuzzy,” “Peter Piper,” and “How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck?” I ended with some silly enunciation aides like “unique New York” (but decided to omit the “Anchorman” classics: “The arsonist has oddly-shaped feet” and “The human torch was denied a bank loan.”) They did well, and later asked me to write them down so they could study them further.

Last weekend, I was invited to Kyiv to join another grant review committee; this one for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. It’s a newish group, so I wasn’t the only one slightly unclear on the rules. It’s different from the other group I’m in, SPA, in that the wording of the grant is much more important. That makes sense, I guess, because PEPFAR money is for a very specific goal, with specific guidelines. Most of the grants are for AIDS education and trainings, but some go further; one for this round even included plans for a television ad, which I thought was nice.

This is the time of year when Ukrainian priests go from house to house to bless each one with holy water (you may remember me mentioning this last year). Nina was very worried that the house be in order for the blessing, but they didn’t show up until last night, when neither of us were prepared. I had planned to turn on a tape recorder to catch the beautiful singing – so when I heard them, I turned off the stove where I was making dinner and ran across the house, back to my room to get it. I ended up catching some of the singing, as well as the subsequent conversation in Ukrainian between me and the priest about whether I liked Ukrainian men, and my plans for the future. Glad to have that saved for posterity.

That’s about all that’s happened to me. But I thought I’d offer you something different, this entry. A few PC Volunteers I know will occasionally include an entry or two from their personal journal in their blog, when they don’t have time to write an entry, or just want to give their readers a taste of A Day in the Life. I’m always amazed at how nice and civil their journal entries are; there’s really no difference in tone between their regular blog and the journal excerpts. You see, I save all civility, and cute, amusing stories for my blog; my journal is for venting frustration, or for tedious rambling about my schedule and all the things I have to do.

So with that being said, because I have nothing more interesting to write, here’s an excerpt from today (with some bracketed clarifications), when I was trying to decide what to do about an electrical problem:

“Friday, January 25, 2008
Electricity is going haywire. My outlet, my one stupid outlet, is not happy with me for running my water heater [electric kettle] in here. Yesterday and today it stopped working after I boiled water, and recently it was making angry sparky noises because of the space heater. I might buy a new adapter when I’m in Vinnytsia tomorrow, but regardless I think I will not use the water heater here again. Blaaah [the space heater] isn’t working now. And winter isn’t over yet. No way am I giving up my heater. Stupid piece of junk.

Am tired. Going to Vinnytsia tomorrow to buy train ticket to Kyiv on Monday, and visit [English club members], which should be interesting. Just read book about teaching, from an insanely dedicated teacher, it was good, looots of food for thought. [Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire by Rafe Esquith – for a list of everything I’ve been reading, check my blog profile!] Stupid **** heater. I’m fruuuuustrated.

Need to work on grants. Need to write people. Only feel like reading and watching movie I got from [Window on America library] a while ago. And am cold. . . . . .

Ok, there, just e-mailed [various people about grants I’m writing]. Ha. Still cold. Cat came in to sit on my lap, but felt the need to dig claws into me repeatedly, and I’m wearing the fleece I usually stick under her as a buffer, so I threw her out – I’m just not a cat person, can only take so much of that. Stupid ******* electricity. It’s on now, but I’ve only plugged in laptop, not sure what to do, am giving it a break before trying the heater. **** stupid piece of ****. Blaaaah. Am going to [Ukrainians’ house] at 1 . . . want to eat something beforehand so don’t have to mooch or starve . . [Rambling about plans] . . . . There, I just switched on the heater, and the electricity for the whole power strip immediately died. I’m going to kill someone. What do I do? The other adapter just doesn’t work. I’m going to call Clara and ask her. . . . Ok, I did, and she doesn’t know either. Now I have it back on, working with the computer. Blaaaah I don’t know what to do. Cold. Stupid **** awful electricity. Ok, now turned heater on, and nothing happened. I don’t care what noises the adapter makes. . . . Maybe I won’t buy anything new, maybe if I just never use the water heater again . . . as a spark flashes from the outlet. ******. Just texted Grant and Jasmin to see if they are willing to advise me. Bleeeeh.

Isn’t making noise now.

How long do I have left? For goodness’ sake. Less than ten months – in ten months it will be the end of November. Still a pregnancy’s worth of time. I should write my blog, tomorrow it will have been three weeks. Can think of nothing interesting to say. Maybe if I write it tomorrow, I’ll post it then?. . . . I will risk a fire starting while I’m away to go to the bathroom . . . No fire started.”

There, you see? You see how boring my life is? I’m not going to lie – there are many days like this in Peace Corps. If you’re considering doing Peace Corps, then you might as well know. But we get through them, and having a journal to vent in helps. And I got advice about the electrical problem from my uncle – I think it will be ok . . .

Thank you so much to Karin for the lovely Christmas card, and thank you to the wonderful, talented Gigi, who sent me a fabulous package which included hand-made original Gigi-stationery, which is so pretty I’m afraid to touch it. Seriously.

That’s it. Keep in touch!!!

Love, Virginia


At January 26, 2008 10:56 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Greetings from Santa Fe...Your blog acassionally pops up onmy Google alert ... always fun to read about experiences around Ukraine. Getting students to speak is a challenge. I used t pend hours tyoing up thousands of short incomplete sentences and then priting them and cutting them into strips. Every day I would let them draw a strip - they cold read it aloud and cmplete the sentence or read it aloud and then ask a frien to complete he sentence oranswer the question. I had them write questions and sentences too and then later I used those. My goal, like you, was to get them to speak (or at least read) aloud in English once per meeting. I actially had lots of fun with it. I was glad to have my laptop and I bought a printer so I could make copies.

Ten months will fly girl! What (and where) is ahead for you?

Or, The Other "Miss Virginia"
REad my JOurnals:

At January 30, 2008 5:17 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

Silly VA. The stationary won't bite or vanish if you touch it! :-P I was just telling Katie that I have a letter to send to you but I have to remember to make sure they actually send it to Ukraine instead of Harrisonburg... Usually, at first glance they think Harrisonburg until they actually look at the word "Ukraine"...I think I'm going to put it in big block letters in hot pink...then maybe....

Katie says whats up?? and as soon as her class gets settled they'll write letters! :-)

We miss you! Love gigi and katie
(from Aromas in Newport News)

At January 31, 2008 10:19 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Miss you both! I'm meeting with kids about the idea of being pen-pals this Tuesday!


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