Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nearing the End of the School Year

Hello everyone! How are you? Summer is here, and it’s pretty hot outside. We’re also having thunderstorms fairly often – much like last year. A sign that soon I’ll have a lot of free time on my hands . . .

Soon after I last wrote, the girls in our oblast got together for a Jane Austen movie fest. I invited the boys too, with the following text message: “We girls are having a Jane Austen movie party on Friday! Boys are welcome, but be advised: we shan’t be persuaded from our chosen genre. So if you want blood and gore, stay away.” None of them responded, shockingly.

Our fellow PCV Cindy has several Jane Austen movies, including the recent “Becoming Jane,” which I was eager to see. I thought it was interesting, sort of “Shakespeare In Love”-ish. We also watched “Sense and Sensibility,” which was amazing, of course. The last time I saw it (in high school) was before I fell in love with Hugh Laurie, so at the time I did not appreciate that he has the best line in the whole movie: one word, “Try.” (Rent it and see!)

Back in Bratslav, I had my last English club of the year, for younger students. I decided to talk to them about how to introduce yourself and others, in person and on the phone. I taught them “So-and-so residence, So-and-so speaking” even though I’ve never used that phrase myself, and the phrase “This is he/she,” which I have. I also used Bridget Jones’s advice for introducing people with interesting details, such as “Tom, this is Mary. Mary plays the piano. Mary, this is Tom. Tom is a gourmet cook.” So they had fun with that . . .

In the big city, one of our English club members requested a discussion on the American Civil War. Brittany and I split the topic up, and did our best to research it. I borrowed a CD-ROM on the subject from the Window on America library, but unfortunately it was about 10 years old, and made my computer freeze every five minutes. So I was forced to turn to Wikipedia, in the end. I had a few notes left from writing my senior thesis on Civil War-era literature, but they have little to do with battles and dates: I’m so clueless about the latter that I actually remember having to ask my roommate, at one point, which side wore which color.

We showed a few scenes from “Gone With the Wind” and “Glory,” and Grant told a family story relating to Sherman’s march to the sea. It seems one of his ancestors carried the flag for General Sherman, and was given the flag afterwards. Unfortunately, other members of the family came up with the idea of using the flag for target practice in the barn – so Grant is now the proud owner of some very tattered remains. When I couldn’t think of anything else interesting to say, I showed off pictures of Mev’s and my visit to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, on our way back from college after graduation. We’d been driving by that highway sign for years, and I had read about it in Tony Horwitz’s “Confederates in the Attic” (which I highly, highly recommend), and we just couldn’t resist finally seeing it for ourselves. I also told the story of my tour-guide in Beauford, SC, whose grandmother, after taking the tour, admonished her sternly for referring to “the Civil War.” “That war wasn’t civil,” she pointed out – she preferred “The war of Northern aggression,” or even “the recent troubles.”

In other news, my toilet took a three week sabbatical from flushing unaided. It’s ok; it’s working again. The repair-man took a while to come because everyone is extremely busy working in their gardens and fields lately, mostly planting potatoes. So you can see how that need might take precedence over functional plumbing. After many fields – including the one behind our house – had been planted, he arrived to save the day.

My classes on HIV/AIDS and human trafficking have continued, though slightly hampered by the spring-time activities I just mentioned. After school, students have to stay and work on beautifying the school yard; and that’s if their parents even allow them to come to school at all, considering all the yard-work to be done at home. So it seemed that offering my classes after school was not going to work. Instead, I just turned all of the English classes for the week (for grades 8 through 11) at my school into HIV/AIDS lessons. It worked out very well, and allowed me to reach many more students than I would have if the lessons had been optional and after school.

It was the first time that Lyudmila, my coordinator, had seen me teach about HIV/AIDS, and she was very excited and helpful. She’s a great translator, so the kids who couldn’t understand my broken Ukrainian had nothing to fear. I tend to speak in strings of nouns during these lessons, but, much like Tarzan, I get my point across. Also like Tarzan, I use lots of gestures: my favorite is when I pantomime being pregnant (it is a sex-ed class, after all). Everyone’s usually very sweet about my Ukrainian, though. When I explained that I would be showing them a movie about human trafficking in Ukrainian, a student asked how I would be able to understand it, and Lyudmila asserted that I speak Ukrainian better than I do English. Thankfully, this is not true (though I’m sure my English has suffered some here), and to answer the student’s question: I don’t understand the movie, hardly at all. I look at the pictures, and take the rest on faith.

This past week, I taught the same lessons at the orphanage. The kids remembered my shtick from last fall, which is good, but it made them a little blasé about having to revisit it. I told them that I learned these things over and over at school in America, and so they were going to have to, too. Unfortunately, it’s a busy time of year for them as well, so I was only able to give two after-school lessons. I ended up giving the English teacher copies of the two movies, so that she can show them some other time.

Whenever I go to the orphanage and wait to meet her, kids always walk by me and say hello, which tends to stress me out a little because I feel like they’re testing me to see how bad my accent is. (This is why I prefer nodding and smiling.) One day this week, though, a small crowd of younger students gathered around me and started asking questions. They wanted to know if I was from England or America, and if I had bought a house here, etc. The younger students, apparently, visit Italy every summer and stay with families there, so they tried unsuccessfully to speak with me in Italian. It was really cute, until one of the boys started to – literally – play with matches. I was sort of astonished, but I didn’t feel that I had enough authority to intervene, so I just watched nervously. He stuck lit matches into his mouth, and waved them at other kids while my eyes got slowly bigger, but eventually he calmed down and we focused on discussing such things as the English words for “match,” cigarette,” and “pasta” (which they were happy to find is the same as in Italian).

Well, that’s about it! I’m mostly focusing on getting my Partnership project in gear, and getting a PEPFAR grant off the ground. I’m also preparing for a trip to Kyiv this Tuesday, where I will meet my Aunt Archer and Uncle Jack! They’re coming to visit me for about a week and a half, and they’ll get to see the Last Bell ceremony this Friday, like my parents and sister did last year. (And thank you to Archer for the nice card!)

Hope you’re all doing well! Enjoy the beginning of summer, when, for those of you in offices, you’ll get to alternate “code red” 100 degree weather outside with 60 degree air conditioning at work. I’ve just finished watching the third season of “The Office” (amazing), and I feel for you all . . .

Love, Virginia

6 Comments:

At May 24, 2008 7:58 AM, Anonymous HIV Chat said...

I think that is great that kids get an HIV/AIDS lesson!

www.HIVsearch.com - HIV/AIDS links (please help submit good HIV sites).

 
At May 27, 2008 1:14 PM, Blogger Mary said...

I like to say "Pasley residence" when I pick up the phone at your house. Mostly because people think it's kind of weird.

 
At May 27, 2008 1:16 PM, Blogger Mary said...

Also I finally finished Confederates in the Attic while I was in China (I had only read the first half of it when I borrowed your copy). My grandma asked me if it was something my Civil War obsessed cousins would be interested in, and I said, "Mmyeah, not so much."

 
At May 28, 2008 4:56 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

hmmm civil war...who says the 'recent troubles' aren't so recent? lol it's still being played out-that reminds me of a story about my aunt (born & raised in the south) and my mom's good friend (born & raised in the north)...
at christmas dinner, they got into a yelling match about the south vs the north and about how one of their grandfathers probably killed the other's grandfather...such pleasant Christmas dinner conversation
anyways, miss you! i'll get that movie off to you soon!!

 
At May 29, 2008 4:31 PM, Blogger Louisa said...

Blast! I should've sent you my gettysburg rap...

 
At June 13, 2008 12:30 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Lou: What rap??

Mev: Yeah, that's really the most useful time to say those sorts of things, at other people's houses, or with other people's phones. But what do you say on a cell phone - "Mary's phone?"

Gigi: Fun times. We've managed not to do that so far during a "mixed" holiday dinner (Northern and Southern), but there's always time . . .

 

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