Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spring is Here

Hello again. How are you all? Things here are going well, we’re nearly done with Spring semester . . . and I’m about to embark on more HIV/AIDS and trafficking lessons at the schools in my town. Before we know it, it will be summer . . .

Spring Break was good; I went down to Trostyanets for a few days to visit Clara, and got to see her host family, which was very nice. Friday morning at 4 a.m. we caught a bus to Kyiv with her little host sister, Tanya (who was visiting family there), and then made our way to the new PC office! It’s nice, although there’s no elevator to take us to the Volunteers’ lounge on the 4th floor (come summer, that will be fun). I proceeded to print out reams of paper about grad school options, and got to catch up with the other Volunteers there, which was fun. Fellow Vinnytska oblast Volunteer Grant was there, waiting to meet Laura Bush on that Tuesday! That’s right, the Bushes were in Ukraine. Grant was among the few tapped to meet Mrs. Bush, which he enjoyed, and he also sang the praises of Mrs. Yushenko (the First Lady here).

We stayed for part of a Group 32 party – the group after ours, celebrating their one-year anniversary – which was interesting. Then, after a horrific train ride, involving obnoxious teenage boys hell-bent on playing the music on their cell phones at top volume all night, no matter who threatened them, we finally got back to Vinnytsia around 3 a.m. (Kids, and really people in general here, love that they can put songs on their cell phones. It’s like when people used to walk around with boom boxes on their shoulders – you often pass people walking down the street to their own personal soundtrack, obnoxious music blaring from their pockets.)

The next day, poor Clara was very sick, so I went by myself to do English club. Inspired by my favorite writer’s recent “chat” about Tom Lehrer on (Gene Weingarten, for anyone who doesn’t actually know me), I decided to play a few Tom Lehrer songs for the group. I found annotated lyrics online, which were very useful. I chose the following to play for them: “National Brotherhood Week,” “MLF,” “Pollution,” “New Math,” “Who’s Next?” and “Wernher Von Braun.” They really liked them! I passed out the lyrics, so everyone could read along. The songs touched on a lot of themes we’d been discussing recently, so they seemed appropriate.

The next day, I woke up at 12:30 a.m. with what Clara had had the day before (which kept her stuck on Lee’s couch all that weekend). So, I missed a few days of school again, but felt completely better by Wednesday. In the process of that adventure, I acquired a mercury thermometer, which I’ve been advised by PC never to touch again. They won’t even try to explain to me how to “zero” it . . . they’re just scared I’m going to drop it and spill mercury all over the place, so I’ve put it away somewhere safe.

Funny story that I’ve forgotten to tell here before – my faithful space heater has a new purpose, besides keeping me warm. Nina has put it to work making “kefir.” My dictionary defines kefir as “yoghurt,” but I’m not sure if that’s quite accurate. The best way I can explain it is to tell you how she’s making it – she leaves a big jug of milk right next to the heater for a few days . . . and it becomes kefir. Yep. At first, when I saw she had left milk there, my natural instinct was to move it far away. Well, I was wrong. I’m glad that my inability to handle Ukrainian temperatures can serve to aid a practical purpose.

On the funny English t-shirt front: one of my 9th graders likes to wear a blue shirt with the words “Blues heroes exclusive offer for milk.” Another came to school one day with a gray sweatshirt that said “Bright pearls” in white letters. And the best, recently, was a 5th grader’s purple shirt-dress with a big picture of Beyonce, and text about her written all over it.

Last Saturday, I had a big lunch for nearby Volunteers at my house, which was really great. I used the lunch as a ploy to draw people in and distribute lesson plans about HIV/AIDS and human trafficking, which the PC HIV/AIDS working group had asked me to do. I also gave out DVDs with various short movies on the topics. Clara and Cindy came the day before to help me cook, and it was a big success. I made pumpkin pie (with one of the cans I brought over from America last fall), Cindy made croutons for a chicken Caesar salad, and Clara and I made tortilla chips from scratch. Lettuce is hard to come by here, so it was a special treat that Clara was able to find some in her town for the salad. I made the PC cookbook’s recipe for Caesar dressing, but either I screwed it up or you just can’t make that dressing without anchovies . . . it didn’t taste right, so I used some Ranch dressing mix that the dear Jacobs left me instead.

Everyone but three people were able to make it, and it was really fun to show off my house. Everyone loved Sharik, the dog, and the cats were certainly happy to have attention all afternoon. And everyone enjoyed meeting Nina, who got to know several of them from their various smoke breaks outside, during which she told them that Sharik understands English (I taught him). Grant’s girlfriend Joyce made a massive amount of very spicy salsa, which we all enjoyed with the chips as an appetizer. After we finished everything, there was still a lot of salad left, so I made everyone little to-go bags of lettuce, chicken, croutons and cheese. Matt from Nemirov brought American candy his mom had sent, which was very good. All in all it was a fun time – a good excuse to get together.

On Tuesday, I had the last school English club I’ll be having for a while, because of the lessons I’ll be doing around town in the coming weeks. I made them Mad Libs, which were a big success, especially the one that ended up telling the story of Masha, the red-eyed, black-haired girl who would only eat pizza and drink Fanta, and who met Shakira in Kyiv.

Warm weather has finally arrived, and suddenly. In the past week, I’ve put away my long underwear, and traded my big puffy coat and boots for a spring jacket and sneakers. If this summer is anything like the last, I’m going to have to figure out a way to put screens in my windows soon . . .

Thank you very much to Mev for the wonderful package!! And to Kristen for the epic letter!

And thank you to everyone who donated to my project, once again. We have officially over-funded – which means more money for the PC Global Fund, and other Volunteers’ projects around the world!

That’s about it – I miss you all, and hope you are enjoying warm weather where you are too!!

Love, Virginia


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