Monday, March 24, 2008

Pen-pals, Wikipedia, and Happy Easter!

Hello again!

First – thank you so, so much to everyone who has donated to my Pipe Dream project online. You are wonderful, and I adore you (always have, but this gives me the excuse to say so). PC says that I’m raising money at quite a fast clip – and everything’s going well!! Thanks to you! This project is sort of on the down-low in my town right now . . . but I will let you know all about the reaction this summer when we get things started!

As I said, we finished our big city English club series on religion with Islam and Orthodox Christianity. I did my best with Islam, answering a lot of “Aren’t they all [like this]” or “Don’t they all hate [this group of people]?” questions. When one member said that their attitude towards women was “ugly,” I pointed out that plenty of religions have specific roles for men and women to play, like Catholics allowing only men to be priests – so are those religions ugly too? In the end, I found myself quoting the West Wing episode aired after Sept. 11th, called “Isaac and Ishmael,” so we decided to show it for the next time and just let Aaron Sorkin explain it all. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it! Season 3. We showed it last week at club, and they liked it a lot. It covers an absurd amount of material – questions of fundamentalism vs. the mainstream, terrorism’s success rate, racial profiling, etc., etc. The club members told us a little about Orthodox Christianity, and how it makes Catholicism look hip and modern. For example, you don’t sit during Orthodox services – you stand the whole time. They also had several stories about saints, and a flame in an Orthodox church in Jerusalem that never goes out (anyone ever heard of it?).

Back at school, I’ve been tutoring an 11th former who wants to study English at university, and the other week we worked on a sample test she had on the use of articles. You may recall that I made a couple of posters for my classroom on the subject last fall – and I really thought I had it down. Well, I don’t. How do you explain the difference between “Some girls” and “Some of the girls”? Or why someone is more likely to say “I saw a man pass the house” instead of “I saw a man pass a house.” (I tried to explain that you might say “the man” and “the house” if you had a specific man and house in mind . . . but if you are in a stationary position, you’re more likely to say “the house” – while if you are the man, walking, then you would say “I passed a house” . . . ugh.) This is all especially difficult because Ukrainian and Russian have no equivalent to “the,” “a” and “an.” She had no frame of reference for what I was babbling about. What finally seemed to make sense to both of us was the idea that when we are thinking of something specific, we say “the.” “A book on the table” and “the book on the table” are both correct, but we would use the latter if we had a specific book in mind. This might sound obvious to you all – but when it was no longer just a matter of explaining why we don’t say “the New York City,” it was hard to get my bearing.

March 8th was International Women’s Day . . . what, didn’t you celebrate it? Hallmark needs to get its act together with this one. Flowers a
nd candy just for being alive and having two x chromosomes – way better than Valentine’s Day. I made lots of baked goods for the women I know here – chocolate chip cookies for baba Nina and my former neighbor, Lyuba. Chocolate chip brownies for the teachers, and the women who work in the school kitchen. And chocolate-chip banana bread to bring to Clara’s house – where we had a party with other Volunteers for my birthday, the day before Women’s Day!

My birthday was very fun, and it’s especially nice to have it combined with Women’s Day, because I don’t even need to tell people it’s my birthday to get presents! People knew, however, and I got loaded down with Ukrainian treasures just as I did last year. Nina gave me an orange stuffed cat, a fifth grader gave me a dish shaped like a cow, Lyudmila’s daughter Yana sent me a beautiful Ukrainian doll, and students
gave me wonderful, elaborate, hand-made cards. I have to say, though, the most excited present was waking up that morning to the news that the Partnership Grant I wrote for my school had been officially approved, one day after I submitted it! (See previous blog entry.) So that was especially nice, and good news to bring to Lyudmila and the school director.

As I said, I went to Trostyanets to visit Clara and have a big party – for which we made great food. We made fajitas, using the salsa I made last summer, and she even had lettuce! We also made a yellow cake, though I wasn’t paying attention and put way too much butter in; everyone swore it tasted fine anyway, and Clara’s cat, Vanilla, seemed to like it, too.

Another highlight of the past few weeks has been my pen-pal project! My friend Katie M teaches the 4th grade back in Newport News, and we arranged for our students to become pen-pals this spring. Well, their letters finally arrived right after Women’s Day, and they were fantastic. It seemed that every kid was from a different place – New York, Puerto Rico, Louisiana, Hawaii – so different from here, where people rarely move more than ten miles in their lifetime. They had great questions for my kids, including “Will you write back in Ukrainian or English?” I distributed the letters among the 45 or so kids in Bratslav who had signed up for the project, from all four schools. This past week I collected the replies, and they are many and colorful. Lots of pictures, stickers, drawings, questions, and, of course, the ever-popular phrase “As for me.” I hope the 4th graders enjoy their replies, and can figure out how to respond to such queries as “Do you go in for sports?”

The fifth graders are still my groupies. I was three minutes late to class the other day, and the moment I opened the door, they swarmed me – they ran from their desks to hug me, and pinned me against the door. Very, very cute . . . though it makes me worry about the looming goodbyes next fall!

It’s now Spring Break, and the end of another quarter. Because most of my classes were running out of texts to discuss in their books, I decided to try something different for the last two weeks of lessons. I had recently looked up Ukraine on Wikipedia (try it! -, and realized that a lot ofthe entry is similar to the texts they read in their Plahotnyk textbooks, only more . . . accurate. Not so much with the “and then the Americans stole our space secrets.” So I printed out the first few pages, and taught the opening summary to my older kids (9th through 11th) for a week. Even though the entry uses lots of big, unfamiliar words, it wasn’t very hard for them to understand because the material itself is so familiar. It went well, and it was a nice break from those textbooks.

For my younger classes (5th through 8th), I borrowed books from the little English library we created from the donations some of you sent me last summer, and Xeroxed stories for each grade. The 5th graders read The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes, by Phyllis Krasilovsky; the 6th graders read Jim Meets The Thing, by Miriam Cohen; the 7th graders read Cowardly Clyde, by Bill Peet; and the 8th graders read the first chapter of Pleasing the Ghost, by Sharon Creech. It was really fun – they loved the pictures and the stories, learned new vocabulary, and did very well reading out loud.
Unfortunately, my experiment was cut short a little bit before Spring Break started, because a week ago I came down with a cold. I made it to school on Tuesday, though, to show “The
Princess Bride” for English club. There was a core group of about five devotees that stayed for the whole movie, though at its largest the audience swelled to about fifteen. There was enough physical comedy to keep them entertained when the dialogue was too complicated, but the more advanced students laughed at some of the jokes, like when Fezzik points out that he is pulling three extra people up the Cliffs of Insanity, while the Man in Black has only himself. I explained the story as the movie went on, but they seemed to understand it well enough on their own, and they really liked it.

Besides that, I’ve been recovering at home all week. Nina knew that I was interested in going to the Catholic service for Easter morning, yesterday, so she arranged for her Catholic neighbor, Rosa, to take me. I’m glad she arranged it – I was feeling too lazy to find out anything about the service on my own, and would have definitely stayed home and slept. Rosa insisted on leaving at 5:30, which wasn’t entirely necessary, but we were not the first ones there for the 7 am service. The service began, finally, with a procession around the building (built in 1884). The congregation sang and chanted as they processed three times around, holding banners and carrying a small, tent-like structure. I didn’t understand much of the service or the sermon, but it was interesting. The music was very pretty, and a few women, including nuns, chanted what I assume were prayers. For communion, the congregation lined the aisle, and the priest and the altar boys went to them. Towards the end of the two-hour service, the younger children went to the front of the church to recite poetry and sing. After that, the babas in attendance (and maybe others, I’m not sure) lined the aisle with Easter baskets – filled with sausage, painted eggs, and traditional Easter dishes, including cake with white frosting and sprinkles. The same food is traditional here for Orthodox Easter. They placed white candles in the cakes and lit them, so the aisle was filled with candlelight while the priest went up and down, splashing holy water on everyone (he got me right in the eyes . . . not used to that tradition). It was very nice, and I’m glad that I went, though it was good to get home afterwards and sleep for a long time.

I’ve gotten some wonderful mail in the past few weeks! Thank you very much to the Landrums, Grandma, Kristen, Clarissa, and Aunt Mary for their colorful and thoughtful cards and letters!! (Hope I didn’t leave anyone out!) They decorate my desk, and I am very appreciative. And Gigi has outdone herself again, with a grand total of three letters and another video! Thank you to the “stars” of the video – Gigi, of course, Kristen, Susan, Marc, Renata and Ethan (whom I’ve never met, but now I feel like I know . . . ok not really). It was adorable, and quite high-tech, and I am planning an in-kind response as we speak.

I hope everything’s going well at home. Thank you again to everyone who has donated . . . miss you all, take care!

Love, Virginia


At April 07, 2008 5:11 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

We had fun making the video for you!
I just got your letter! Thanks. Glad to see you are writing letters again :-)
Miss you! Love Gigi

At April 08, 2008 12:13 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Ha, well I will try, truly I will . . .


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