Friday, February 29, 2008

Grants, Surveys & Questionnaires

Oh, guys. I am so boring. Don’t be upset that I haven’t written in more than a month . . . you haven’t missed all that much. It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing – I’ve been crazy busy – just nothing very blog-worthy. Basically, I’ve been reviewing grants, learning how to write grants, and writing grants. Who knew I would leave Peace Corps with a bankable skill?

Soon after my last entry, I went to Kyiv for a SPA meeting, and my mid-service medical exam. There were some very interesting grants, including one involving scientific experiments on a boat! I got to see my cluster-mate Jasmin for the first time since training, since she was there for a meeting of her own, and we went to TGIF’s – which unfortunately has the same prices as it does in America (keep in mind that it’s five hryven to the dollar).

That weekend we started a series of big city English clubs about world religions, which we have yet to complete. This was inspired by questions our club members had about Mormonism, after visiting the Mormon missionaries’ English club in town. So Cindy, Clara and I decided to split up the major religions we could think of, and do a little Wikipedia research. I was in charge of Roman Catholicism, Judaism and Islam; Cindy took Protestantism; Clara took Mormonism; and Lee visited the first Saturday to hold forth on Buddhism and Hinduism. You may recall that our club members can be extraordinarily opinionated, and this is a subject that inspires a lot of random conversational tangents, among Americans as well as Ukrainians. I tried my best to keep the train on the tracks in terms of allotting twenty minutes or so per religion, but the conversation has nevertheless lasted a month and a half. It’s a process that makes me recall a phrase I first heard from my cousin, when I visited home, last October: “The plural of anecdote is not data.” Well, we’ve had plenty of both, to be sure. I had fun discussing Judaism two weeks ago, because I got to reminisce about a class I took in high school about Jewish holidays, nicknamed “Happy Hebrew Holidays.” Tomorrow we are due to wrap up Islam, and we’ll hear from our club members about Orthodox Christianity, something I’m very ignorant about.

The following week, I went to Kyiv again, this time for PEPFAR training. PEPFAR, as you may have heard, is the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. PC Ukraine receives some funds from PEPFAR for projects our Volunteers do, and we hold periodic trainings on how to write PEPFAR grants. I went with my coordinator, Lyudmila; it was nice to travel with a Ukrainian so I didn’t have to worry so much about hearing the train information correctly from the announcer (you have to listen to know whether the train is numbered from the back or the front, so you know which direction to run to get your train car). The train ride was interesting – I slept most of the time, but could hear my neighbors discussing me and the fact that they had heard me speaking English. I opened my eyes at one point just in time to see the guy sitting across from me throw a blanket on top of me, which was a little startling. Nice that he wanted me to have a blanket, but still. I talked with them when I woke up, and they were very nice, just curious about a foreigner.

We stayed at a sanitarium outside of Kyiv, which was nice, and I saw my other cluster-mate, Katie, for the first time since July. For the most part, we split into two groups: Americans and Ukrainians, so we didn’t have to wait for every statement to be translated. We had trainers from a Ukrainian organization, the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. The trainers were really amazing – the discussion of the biology of AIDS and its treatment was the most in-depth I had ever had, and I learned a lot. On the second day, we met with our coordinators to plan projects, and Lyudmila had a lot of ideas. She was really excited by the training, and we planned what I think is a very good project. Because of all that I’m doing now, related to another grant I’m writing, we won’t start this one for a couple months. The next day we all presented our project plans to the group, and Lyudmila was the only coordinator who presented in English – they had to translate for her, it was funny. (Ok, maybe you had to be there.)

Here are some other stories from the past month, in no particular order . . .

A student of mine has taken to wearing a pale pink turtleneck sweater, with the word “Yacht” written in pink, cursive letters, accented with rhinestones . . .

As I was leaving school one afternoon, a man I didn’t know passed me on the street and said “Good morning,” in English. This isn’t unusual, and I kept walking, only to hear him continue: “I’m sorry I am late . . . may I sit down?” . . .

My fellow Volunteer Clara had a problem with a student of hers who liked to curse in English, during class. He’s very smart, but she couldn’t get him to stop showing off his extensive knowledge of English curse words. I suggested she teach him some old-fashioned, silly exclamations to say instead, like “fiddlesticks.” She liked the idea, but called me later because she couldn’t think of any more. Suddenly I was in the zone, and rattled off about forty, including “good grief,” “oh my stars and garters,” “for the love of Pete,” “horse-hockey,” “fudge,” “sugar,” “son of a gun,” and “holy Toledo.” More proof that I am secretly 80 years old . . .

For my last English club at school, I decided to teach the kids a game I used to play when I was little called “Miss Mary Mack.” It’s one of those hand-slapping routines girls do that involves a song that makes no sense but has rhyming lyrics. I still remember it quite well, so I taught them the lyrics, and then the hand motions (they apparently have their own hand-slapping games here, so they were familiar with the concept). It was really fun, and even the boys tried to keep up, while everyone sang along about Miss Mary, her fifteen cents, and the elephants she went to go see jump the fence . . .

In other news, teaching is still going fairly well. My fifth graders are still my groupies, and they frequently gather around me to ask questions about what I’m reading, what we’ll do in class, and various things about my family. They remember my answers, too, and during a class discussion about hobbies, my student Diana pointed out excitedly that my dad plays tennis, and my sister was on the swim team! I was like . . . yes, that’s true, thank you. Very funny.

My older students are doing well too, although I recently had to lecture my ninth graders on the concept of understanding what they are saying. They were reciting memorized facts about Washington, D.C., but the problem with trying to memorize something you don’t understand is that it will likely come out completely wrong. For example: “Ze Library of Congress . . . is all books America.” So we had a little talk, and they seemed to understand that it helps to know what a library is if you’re going to talk about the Library of Congress. I also gave a lecture to my seventh graders about doing original work, since they routinely show me identical homework . . . they have promised to do better, we’ll see.

Although we members of Group 31 are nearing the 2/3rds mark of our service, we just recently filled out our one-year survey for PC. The results were returned to us, including many of the comments we all made – anonymously, of course. It’s sort of like for Group 31, though less scandalous. I thought I’d share some of the more memorable lines – some made me laugh, some made me nod solemnly, and some were so easy to identify with that I had to think hard to remember whether or not I had written it myself:

“Dear [PC], a drunken bum was mean to me on the street… again :(“

“At the rural posts in Africa, you expect the mud hut, but here you are given an apartment and it ends up being like a mud hut (to put it bluntly).”

“Could be worse.”

“Winter in the village is cold, dark and lonely. Not sure what Peace Corps could do to change that, but, you know, whatever.”

I filled out another questionnaire recently, at the request of the director of – I’ll include some of the questions and my answers at the end of this entry.

Recently I’ve been spending my time writing a grant for my school, and enjoying the arrival of warmer weather. It may or may not stick around – but it’s nice in the meantime! 45 degrees Fahrenheit seems summery to me now.

Thank you so much to Ellen, Mel B, and Gigi for their wonderful letters!!! I may no longer have my act together with regard to writing letters home to you all . . . but I do think about you every day, and I’ll try to do better!

And finally: some of you may have seen my note on Facebook, requesting opinions on whether or not I speak with a Southern accent. I have been hearing my own accent more and more, and I don’t know whether this is something I’ve always had, and just never noticed, or whether I’ve developed it here in Ukraine out of sheer boredom. Katie, my cluster-mate, claims that I speak the same way I have since the first day of training, and Mary swore she didn’t notice a difference, when we met in Germany. Paige R. suggested that it may have been accentuated by having to speak slower for Ukrainians. I’m still not sure what to think – I need more help! Think back to the last time you heard me speak, and answer as honestly as you can . . .

Hope you are all well, keep in touch, and I promise to write more often!

Love, Virginia

Questionnaire Excerpts:

What are the most common forms of greetings in Ukraine? For example: a handshake, a bow, a nod etc.

For men greeting men – Men shake each other’s hands every time they see each other

For women greeting women – Women don’t shake hands

For meetings between men and women – Men don’t shake women’s hands

What is the most common communication style among in people in Ukraine? Do they tend to be direct and say exactly what they mean, or take a more indirect path when communicating, requiring creative speaking and listening techniques. Or somewhere in between.

People can be direct, but no rarely means no, and they will assume that your “no”s don’t mean no as well. If they say no when you offer them food, they expect to be offered it again and again, and vice versa. They sometimes have trouble getting to the point, especially if it’s a difficult or uncomfortable topic, and will try not to tell you things if they’re afraid they will upset you.

What is generally considered the appropriate amount of touching when speaking? For example during conversations is touching on the arm, shoulders, hands, elbows, leg, etc. very common? How much is too much? How is this different when interacting with family, members of the opposite sex, or business colleagues?

They’re not too touchy-feely, as far as I’ve noticed. A man wishing to send a woman (perhaps a foreign woman sitting next to him on a bus) a certain signal might start touching her – this is not just normal, he’s thinking he’s going to get somewhere, it is bad.

How do you view time in Ukraine? What are the expectations about being on time? Is it rude to be late? Do services like trains, buses, etc run on time? Is punctuality valued? Do people covet their time or give it freely? Does this change when doing business vs. social situations?

People are late a lot, punctuality isn’t exactly stressed – at wedding receptions, the guests wait for the couple to arrive after taking pictures by every local monument they can find, this process can take hours. Trains tend to run on time, buses do as well, but vans (“marshrutkas”) and such are sort of on their own schedule, could be early, could be late. People don’t covet their time too much. Meetings can go on for quite a while if the person in charge feels like talking. Similarly, if you’re in a post office or a store, the clerk frequently enjoys a power trip by making you wait incredibly long periods of time, even if you’re the only customer there – also, buying train tickets, etc.

What are some common gestures? What are their meanings? For example, how do you point to something? One finger? Whole hand? How do you beckon someone?

I think you’re not supposed to point with one finger. Flicking your neck means you want a drink. Sticking your thumb between your first two fingers (pointer and middle), like the sign language “t,” is very rude, it means something like, “no more for you.”

What are the generally accepted and expected roles of women in society? What behavior/activities tend to be unacceptable for women? Is this true for foreign women as well?

Women basically run the show behind the scenes. It is accepted for women to do manual labor into their old age, and to do all the cooking and the cleaning. Women are not supposed to have a man in their house, not even a friend, or to be at a bar or café (especially drinking) alone. Instead of drinking shots of vodka at a party, women often drink shots of (homemade) wine instead, but it’s not required. With foreign women, I’m sure this can vary. However, despite this conservative view of gender roles, the Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is viewed as intelligent and capable, and never dismissed as a ditz or as being overly ambitious.

What is the legal drinking age? Is it enforced? What about smoking age? Is it enforced? What are the penalties for possession of illegal drugs? Are they heavily enforced? What other laws are strongly enforced?

I think the smoking and drinking ages are around 18 . . . they are rarely enforced. It is common to see preteens, and even younger children, drinking alcoholic drinks, and beer is not generally considered to be worse for you than water. Same with smoking, and it’s not very taboo for young girls to smoke as well. I think that illegal drugs have stricter consequences, but Ukraine does have a fairly serious drug use problem – injecting drug use accounts for roughly half of all HIV infections in the country.

What are the most common titles used when meeting people in a business setting in? Mr.? Mrs.? Doctor? Lawyer?

People tend to use patronymics – the person’s father’s name added on to the end of their name, as in: Irina Mikhailovna, or Dmitro Andreyovitch.

The end! Learned anything new? You’re welcome.

Love, VA


Post a Comment

<< Home