it’s been well over two weeks since my last post. though it’s also been well over two weeks since i thought i was done eating paska. the post-paska paska has turned into post-post-paska and is now on our table in the form of toasted sugary croutons. this traditional easter bread is apparently my constant in ukraine. i can almost hear desmond from LOST crying out ‘PAKSA…YOU ARE MY CONSTANT’ and imagine leo keeping a piece of paska it in his pocket instead of a spinning top. well, that might be getting carried away, but it is safe to say that i know there will always be paska to come home to…even a month after easter.
while my diet of paska hasn’t changed, quite a bit has happened since i last updated this. here is a randomized (minus the first one) stream of conscious list of things i’ve learned/has happened:
1.) osama bin laden was killed.
thankfully my brother, kevin, called me from singapore to inform me of this crucial information. although i, like my host family, am still somewhat skeptical of this. sounds too god to be true. proof please.
2.) it’s training week 8 of 11 and the going is getting tough.
our training schedule just exponentially got busier…but first, seeing as how i’ve never actually written about peace corps training itself, here’s the jist…the formula is:
+ 4 hours of language X 5 days a week
+ 1 hour individual tutoring
+ 3 lesson observations
+ 2 classes to teach
+ 2 teaching technical sessions
+ 2 hours of lesson plan tutoring
+ 1 cross-cultural session every week
+ 1 community project (we’re compiling an english club resource manual) and
small student song performance
+ 2 summer english day camps (that we created and will facilitate)
+ a healthy dose of host family interaction
= the (non-existent) life of a peace corps ukraine trainee
so needless to say, this is why i’ve been compiling this blog posts in short intervals over the past few weeks. often on any scraps of paper i can find. sometimes even writing while walking on my way to class (though i wouldn’t recommend it. and from the disapproving looks i get from babushkas, neither would they). but there’s light at the end of the tunnel! we’re sort of in the home stretch. the next few weeks are going to be the busiest so far, but after we swear-in and move to our individual sites, there have been rumors of finally having some free time and a say in your schedule.
3.) there’s now a celebrity in my training group
kate, from my cluster, was asked to give a speech in UKRAINIAN at our swearing-in ceremony (june 16th)…which, needless to say, is a huge honor. we’re pretty proud of her (i’ll have to hold back from shouting ‘I KNOW HER!!!’ when she gives her speech). there are 104 trainees in my group. the first group to have TEFL (teaching english as a foreign language), CD (community development), and YD (youth development) all at the same time. the swearing-in ceremony will consist of three trainee speakers: one in ukrainian (kate), one in russian, and one in english. it’s supposed to be a pretty big event since it’s also the peace corps 50th anniversary. who knows…maybe obama will even show up ; )
4.) teaching comes with tasty perks
team taught 11th grade with kate and paul. we each presented our part of the u.s. and played a game of jeopardy afterwards. it all went super well and was so much fun. and the class, well just the girls, made us seriously delicious varenyky!! yay for promoting gender roles! but speaking of gender roles, men are (not surprisingly) taken more seriously here than women…though this very well might be universal. it’s interesting training with an older male volunteer, since on several occasions he has received more acknowledgment than the women of our group. gender roles in ukraine, or any peace corps country really, will prove difficult to adjust to. for example, a seasoned male volunteer informed us that it’s when entering a room, it’s completely acceptable to shake hands with the men though not even acknowledge the women. and in ukraine, women do not shake hands (well maybe one or two do, i’ll have to meet them) which is too bad cause i really got my firm business handshake down pat before i left the states…darn.
5.) i ate REAL peanut butter!!!!!
our ‘adopt-a-cluster’ aka seasoned volunteer that gives us advice during training, sean, came to our town and brought us a small jar of crunchy peanut butter!!! he certainly knew how to buy our friendship ; ) seeing as how peanut butter is my top 3 favorite foods, it felt like christmas. such a wonderful treat. we’ve been carefully rationing it out between the 5 of us. in addition to the gift of peanut buttery goodness, sean gave us a ton of teaching resources, american movies, and some reassurance that it’s all worth it.
6.) i’ve become a ukrainian dog whisperer
like any ukrainian town, there are many stray free-roaming dogs. i’ve given names to the ones i see most often (simba & nala, trixi, wishbone, benji I, benji II, benji III…) but one of the most special dogs is basil. megan and i ‘adopted’ a small dog with the lightest green eyes we’ve ever seen and named her basil (mainly because when i taught my host mom the english word for basil she thought that would make a great dog’s name, and i thought so too). we see basil aaaaall over town, it’s become sort of a good omen…not that anything necessarily good happens after seeing her, but we’re mainly surprised/glad to see she’s not dead, we figure that must mean something good.
basil often follows us, trotting faithfully behind for a few feet and then watches us continue on, discretely wagging her tail. but this week when we passed her in the center of town, she was hangin out with a pack of her puppy pals. megan and i slowed down as we passed her to say our ritual high pitched and in-unison ‘hi basil!’ though this time basil and the entire pack of dogs (about 7 or 8 dogs) began following us down the main street. we couldn’t help but laugh when we turned around and realized we had a pack of protectors surrounding us. we felt like some sort of animal whisperers. as though we didn’t stand out enough as weird looking americans, we’re also the only ones to have a pack of dogs following us.
7.) the ukrainian word for belly button is пуп (pronounced poop)
no explanation needed. simply hilarious.
8.) went to the post office!
like every post office world wide, there are always more windows than workers and always more people waiting in-line than there are workers. and the few workers there are are never very friendly. but not so similar, there were random, and i mean random, things for sale at the post office. like toothpaste, buckets for…i don’t know what, lottery tickets, garden seeds, toilet paper, and the list goes on. ya know just incase you forgot that you actually needed toilet paper in order to send your letter. also oddly enough, cards don’t come with envelopes. that just doesn’t exist. you buy the card at one place and an envelope at the post office. hallmark could do some work here.
9.) i’ve started a ‘ukrainian athletic club association’
well that’s not really true…but i have gotten ukrainians to run with me which is a start. megan, my usual running buddy, goes running with me whenever time, homework, weather and motivation permits. but the last time we ran, megan’s host brothers (igor 16 & ilya 11) came with us. i wasn’t sure how long they would run since they certainly weren’t dressed for running but they ran our typical 4.5 miles with us! i was impressed! i also brought my camera on that run and we had a quick photo shoot break laying in the green open fields. it was so much fun. megan said she gained +10 cool points in their book for being able to run that far.
last sunday after making and eating a not-so-healthy healthy serving of varenyky with my host sister jenya and host mom, jenya wanted to go running with me to work some of it off. since she (as most ukrainians) has never gone running for fun, i figured it would probably be a short run, but that was fine, i was glad she wanted to come with! as we started off running my host family’s aged bassed hound mix came hobbling after us, tongue hanging out and ears flapping in the wind. we just ran close to the house and took a few walking breaks. after 18 minutes, we got back to the house and i continued running on my own. just as i turned to keep running, jenya said with a sigh and rosy cheeks ‘oh i will not be able to move tomorrow!’
10.) spring sprung and summer is soon
spring seemed to happen over night here, everything quickly bloomed and the weather has gotten waaaarm. so warm, that every day makes me wish i was laying out in the sun reading a book drinking some delicious iced tea (i guess i can always dream, right?) so it’s rather unfortunate that we’re training indoors all day long. i’m acutally sitting outside writing this at the moment as flies land on my computer, bird and rooster calls fill the air, and an array of stray cats come and go from our backyard.
but let me just say, the only downside: an outdoor toilet + warmer weather + flies = well…interesting