it’s finally the weekend. which means: no language lessons, no technical teacher training, no business attire. ohhh how we all look forward to the weekend. though don’t get me wrong there’s still stuff to be done and things to be learned. pc trainees don’t get off the hook that easily.
every saturday our cluster gets together with another cluster group in a town nearby for some more training, cross cultural interaction and an exciting chance to get out of our town. so this morning my cluster piled onto the small bus called a ‘marchutka’ and (for less than the price of a chocolate bar) traveled to the other cluster’s town. and when i say piled on…i mean piled on. it literally felt like a clown car. there were 20 seats and at least 12 people standing in the narrow isle. jsut when we thought the marchutka was full the driver would let one..or two..more people on. we were all neatly (and somewhat uncomfortably) packed in so it made for quite a cozy ride.
after the first stop or two, a few people got off and you could feel the marchutka (and the passengers) heave a sigh of relief. eventually a seat opened up, so i sat down and had a chance to look out the window. we passed fields upon fields of green yet to come and amidst all the gray, there was sunshine way off in the distance. unfortunately, our destination wasn’t the sunshine speckled fields, but rather a small small town that was just as cold, if not colder than ours. despite that, it was still nice to see life in a urkainian village where everyone knows your name…well…at least that you’re american.
the town i’m in is pretty big…big enough that you wouldn’t get scolded by your host mother who found out through the grapevine (within an hour) that you went out without a hat that day (as has happened with another trainee). our town has 4 schools and a ‘stadium’ with an uneven running track and not everyone knows who you are and where you’re going (though i’m sure people talk about those weird americans they saw).
this week was our first class observations at two of the four schools. classes in this region only last 40-45 minutes as part of a regulation passed for areas near chernobyl. i guess the idea is that the lessons need to be short so the kids can go home and rest. though i doubt they really do that. we observed a 7th grade english class at one school and a 5th grade english class at another school (lyceum).
i couldn’t get over how well dressed and behaved (for the most part) the kids were. most boys wore dress pants, turtle necks and suit coats. they even ran off to recess all suited up (literally). dress and appearance is in the top three important thing to ukrainians (up there with food and family). whether you like it or not, you’re judged on how well you’re put together. so i guess it’s good kids start practicing that at a young age. even though they were impressively disciplined, standing to answer questions and greeting the teacher good morning, kids are still kids, and i couldn’t help but laugh when i saw a chubby cheeked boy quickly hide a bag of potato chips in his suit coat pocket before the teacher began class.
similar to america, and maybe the rest of the world, the best students sit in the front and the level of participation decreases as you reach the back of the class (where you’ll find potato chip boy). after the school bell rang, the teacher quickly summed up the lesson and gave out marks for the students, one-by-one verbally scoring them for the day on a 12 point scale with the front rows scoring the highest. so basically everyone knows your grade, which could be a good and bad thing. but that practice certainly wouldn’t go over well in america.
i haven’t even been here a whole month and i’ve already eaten america’s entire potato consumption. saying they’re a staple is an understatement. they are life. but a wonderful part at that. selling them by the bucket at the market and including them in every dish. potatoes and i are very good friends now. one evening i was helping my host mom peel and grate some potatoes, which took me exponentially longer than her highly practiced grating skills, but never the less she seemed to enjoy my help. while i was standing there grating, she opened the oven to pull out the one pan they own only to find it still encrusted with food and dirty spatula. ashamed, she slowely set the pan on top of the stove, shaking her head, said in one of the veeeery few english words she knows ‘ohhhh ho…bad mothzer’. it was perfect. we couldn’t stop laughing for a good 5 minutes. she is the furthest from a ‘bad mothzer’.
while i still have a LOT to learn, i’m already understanding so much more. i’m able to go to the market and ask what things cost and buy things. which i feel pretty proud about! and as megan said ‘oh no…now we have the power to buy’ (megan and i quickly mastered buying chocolates at this little store on our way to class hehehe). but honestly one of the best things i’ve eaten so far wasn’t from the bazar or supermarket…it’s the conserves my host mom makes from the fruits and vegetables grown in their yard. ohhhhhhh my they’re so amazing. i already knew her jams were to die for, but tonight i had conserved apples grown from their trees. and it was like eating apple pie it was SO GOOD! she even poured me some of the juice from the jar they were floating in…the best apple juice i’ve ever had…and i’ve had a lot of apple juice in my time. maybe that’s because it’s mainly sugar. but whatever. it was absolutely out of this world. she also has conserved squash, pickles, and tomatoes that you poke with your fork and suck out the insides (yummy, messy, and fun!). i can already see that canned things, like potatoes, are going to be an important part of my life.
the other day after dinner when my host mom said she had a surprise for me i expected some type of fruit which is what usually happens…she says ‘suprise!’ handing me a banana/apple/orange/kiwi to which i say ‘christmas??’ (it’s kind of a goofy ritual we have). but this time her ‘suprise’ ended up being a small glittery pink smiley face sticker with hearts for the eyes. she found this sticker for me as a kind of ‘bandaid’ for the dent on my computer (that i got for knocking the lamp out of the wall and onto my computer). she was so happy to give it to me she excitedly walked to my room with sasha and jenya. sahsa told her not to stick it on my computer since it would look silly, but like dressing a wound she gingerly placed it on the dent. and pointed to the other small ding, told me she’d find another one for that. sure the sticker may not exactly be my style (as i think sasha was trying to tell his mom) but i was so touched by her thoughtfulness and it seemed to make her so happy that i think i can certainly live with a glittery pink smiley face. : )