grapes of wrath and of mice and (wo)men

i’m starting to think grapes in my village are a more pleasant version of the quickly passed off fruit cake like easter bread known as ‘paska’. everyone has them here and there’s certainly no shortage. each house has them growing wrapped around metal structures awning their driveways bearing bountiful heavy masses of grapes, which now wait to be harvested. my fridge has been filled with the kindness of my neighbors, students, and colleagues, in the form of one very very large mound of grapes. more grapes than one girl knows what to do with. just as soon as i glean off one vine of grapes, i’m handed another bag full and my fridge will soon be over run by this ‘paska’ of a fruit.

this isn’t even all of them

i should say that, of all the things i’m given by my neighbors and colleagues, grapes are a very welcome gift…i love love love grapes. always have. but i’ve just never been in the situation that i’d have so many i don’t even know what to do with. but when harvest time comes, the benefits come in the bucket loads, and everyone here is probably trying to figure out the same thing as me ‘what do i do with all these grapes?’.

my neighbor luda and her grapes

sure one could go on a grape binge, which would be a nice change from my potatoes, rice, bread diet, but even with that, i’d still have some grapes left rolling around on my plate. there are just too many of them. i thought about giving them to some students, but they trickily presented me with a bag full of grapes first. and my colleagues, nope. they’re all trying to hand them off too. so i guess that leaves the (realistic and not so realistic) options of: making jam, making raisins, grape pie (a hartman family specialty), wine (hehe), making juice (non-alcoholic),  annnnd whatever recipes for ‘butt loads of grapes’ as the number one ingredient i can find online. but for now, i’m left to shovel them in mouth (while trying to remembering that they aren’t seedless) for every breakfast, lunch, dinner, and moment in between.

future wine? i wish

while my supply of grapes is daunting thankfully everything else this week has not. monday morning when i went to school to check the teaching schedule, the head teacher asked me if it was a lot of lessons. twenty-two lessons a week….uhhh yes that’s a lot of lessons. i thought i was sort of odd she was asking that now and not 4 weeks ago when my counterpart disappeared. but it’s just become a fact of life now and some how i’ve been getting through it, however exhausted after each day.

classes went decent on monday, though students are notorious for not wanting to learn after the weekend. i don’t blame them, i still don’t want to work either. my 8b form was still not behaving, but also not killin each other or swearing so that was good. towards the end of their lesson, since they were decently somewhat behaved, i decided to show them some pictures from america (they were the only class that hadn’t seen them, for obvious reasons). like i predicted the second i started showing the slideshow, my problem students started causing problems, though nothing terrible i kept going. with the door to my classroom open, another teacher passed by stopped in doorway and came in. she apologized to me for disrupting my class and marched straight to the back of the room where the trouble makers were standing out of their seats. they. were. in. trouble.

ukrainians, women especially, know how to raise their voice. most people visiting ukraine would mistake everyday conversations between ukrainians as all hostile. it sounds like they’re yelling, but that’s just how they talk. so if their talking sounds like yelling, their yelling is much much scarier. pretty sure ‘to have a good bellowing voice’ is a resume requirement for teaching in ukraine. so my colleague reached jenya, a constant trouble maker, and yelled at him just inches from his face. he was backed up into the corner with a petrified look on his face, and braced for a hit. i know that look. sure enough, my colleague took the hard wallet she had in her hand and hit him repeatedly on the head. i didn’t even know what to do. i stood at the front of the room watching this all happen and the other students just a sort of ‘ha ha you had it coming’ smirk. she grabbed him by the hear, gave him a final whack, he sat down at his desk and began to cry as she left the room.

i’m a firm believer that (while you may secretly want to) it is never appropriate to hit a kid it doesn’t solve anything but create anger and rebellion. hence why jenya is still one of the problem kids. corporal punishment is not uncommon in ukrainian schools so i shouldn’t have been surprised, but it wasn’t very very hard to experience regardless. during my second day of peace corps training, even before i had gotten on the plane to ukraine, we had a ‘what would you do scenario’ which my situation, right then at school, read word for words as. even during training it was hard to think of what one would do in a corporal punishment situation, but witnessing it was even worse. it’s easy to say we’ll do such and such if such and such happens, but when the shit hits the fan, things change.

while it was happening i wanted to say ‘no no it’s okay you can stop, please!’ but she is much higher in rank than i am and i don’t even know how that would go over. so yes, i shamefully did nothing. it was certainly hard to carry on class after that ordeal and even harder to forget about it. but thankfully the bell rang and my loving 6th form class was next in which misha, a slightly chubby boy, who tried to ‘secretly’ eat potato chips in class shoved them all into his mouth as i turned around to call on him, knowing full well what he was doing. i know i should have scolded him, but it was just too funny and a much welcomed laugh after a such heavy morning.

later that evening i was absolutely exhausted after the day. not just because of teaching, which is tiring itself, but the damn mice (i’m guessing there’s more than one) keeping me up at night. there’s been chewed up pink evidence that they in fact eat the so called poison, but contrary to the evidence, they scurry about all night long despite the fact that i taped up their visible holes. and to my dismay, jeff confirmed what i already guessed, that he had learned on the discovery channel that mice do indeed to move indoors during the colder months. great. so it’s going to be a very long looong winter of sleepless mice ridden cold nights. can’t wait.

so just as i was about to take a much needed mouse induced nap when someone knocked at my door. i answered the door, hoping it wasn’t obvious i was about to nap, to find my counterpart’s sister standing there. she told me that for the rest of the week she’d teach 5-7th form and i’d teach 8-11th. HALLELUIA! i thought this was too good to be true, but sure enough i understood correctly. too bad she’s teaching the classes i actually love teaching. but i’ll take all the help i can get.

so the next day, tuesday, i had three lessons instead of six. so amazing. i planned to continue my lesson on profession with the 11th formers by printing off some career quizes. i thought they might find it interesting since, well, i do lol. but i should have predicted that from a class what answered ‘alcoholics’ as ukraine’s number one profession, this wouldn’t go over so well. it might have to do with the fact that they couldn’t understand what to do, they’ve all had a serious case of senioritis since day one, ‘the world is yours, just reach out and grab it’ american attitude is certainly not the same here in ukraine, and most of them don’t need a career quiz to tell them their only option is a career at the nearby mine. all of these things, i carelessly forgot about….but at least i know what not to do next year.

as i promised, i went over tuesday evening to ‘learn’ how to make ukrainian crepes with my neighbor lena. it was really the last thing i needed to be doing since i, as she instructed, had been eating the cake we made for breakfast, lunch and dinner (which by the way after much reflection i’ve pinpointed the flavor to chocolate pudding with crushed up honey gram crackers. yup that’s it. and it was darn good). i didn’t even really help that much besides stir the batter, play with ira, drink tea and eat them hot off the skillet with homemade jam. tough work. but despite my lack of ‘in class participation’ lena thanked me for the help and so kindly sent me home with, yet another, bag of peppers, tomatoes, and a squash the size of the world’s fattest baby. little ira insisted on helping me carry it all, loading the bag of peppers and tomatoes into the back of her tricycle and headed home with me. that’s what i call service. ; )

yummmmy crepes

cutest girl ever

ira’s delivery service

wednesday turned out to be school photo day at school. i was encouraged the day before by my 11th formers the day before to look pretty for them (i guess they think i’m not always? lol). yearbooks in ukraine are nothing like the ones in america, well i only know this from having seen my host brother and sister’s yearbook. it’s only a small book with staff photos, 11th formers, and lot and lots of gradients and terrible graphics…sorry, the graphic designer in me can’t help but comment on that. regardless, i felt honored to get my photo taken for the staff picks and then group shots with some of the 11th former students. i sure hope i can get a copy of it, even if it’s a few decades behind in graphic design.

still following the ‘teach only 8-11th’ suggestion i only had three classes on thursday. i should have foreseen that this nice load off my shoulders would have resulted in many of my younger students running up to me in the hall, sadness in their eyes, asking why i’m not teaching them anymore. aww break my heart they’re so adorable. but i told them once my counterpart gets back, i’ll teach their class again. which i hope is soon, i miss them already!

teaching older, no hug giving, very hormonal kids is not always as fun. but something amazing happened with my 8a form that day. something so wonderfully beautiful i keep replaying it in my head….my students…actually LEARNED something! you have no idea how big of a triumph this is. i was so proud of them. i did a presentation of pluralizing nouns (thrilling i know but something they need to know, they didn’t even know what a noun was actually), then did fill in the blank worksheet and for the last minutes of class did a tic-tac-toe game boys vs. girls. they were only allowed to mark an x or o if they pluralized the noun correctly. they didn’t get all of them right (can’t expect perfection) but within the last minutes of class it was tied, head to head, Xs to Os, anybody could win. i wrote the last word on the board. roof. the girls got it wrong so it went to the boys, they thought for a minute and max remembered that ‘a vowel before an f just gets an s’ and triumphantly wrote ‘roofs’ and as the bell rang, the marked final X on the board, claiming them as champions. i felt like the teacher in ralphie’s dream in the movie ‘a christmas story’, joyfully running around the room marking A+ in their grade books. *sniff* i was so proud of them.

friday, today, resulted in no classes since the other teacher has the four 5-7 forms. sweet. i went for a lengthy run in the morning near the fields and down the one street, breathing in lots of cow manure, waving to neighbors, and reflecting how the land has changed since the harvests. ahhh village life. i’ve watched my students walk past my window, bags packed and headed for home. i took a break from writing and went outside to see them off. two of my fifth form girls saw me and ran to me for a hug. having seen them riding bikes around last weekend while on my bike ride, they asked me if they could give me a bike ‘tour’ of the village. pretty sure i’ve seen the vast metropolis of my village by walking, running and biking, but i loved that idea. so they told me to meet them at school on sunday and be sure to bring my camera.

another one of my 5th formers, andrie, mom approached me and said she wanted to talk to me. i thinnnnnk i understood what she was saying, but i was definitely guessing from what most parents go to their child’s teacher to ask, ‘how is he/she behaving in lesson?’. andrie, who knew the most english in the class, could not pay attention for even the smallest amount of time. but i buttered it up and told her that he needs to pay more attention and listen in class, but he’s otherwise very good. she said that she’s there every friday at 2 and wants to hear if there are any problems. or at least i think that’s what she said….

in other news, international news that is (and no this isn’t about steve jobs), i have two exciting plans to look forward to. firstly i finally booked the prague half-marathon i’d been thinking about doing since i got to ukraine. i think my cake and crepe bingeing nudged me to finally decide yes. unlike the prague marathon in may that i originally wanted to do, the half-marathon falls on the last day in march and the same week we have a school break. perfect. and having ran two half-marathons before, i sort of know what to expect. though this time i’ll be running outside all winter long with no treadmill or energy gu insight. it’ll certainly prove a challenge. but having that race, and trip to prague, to look forward to will make me get out there and run on the very very cold dark winter days. it was only right after i signed up did i find out that five or so other volunteers plan to run it too, making it even all the more fun and me all the more happier that i signed up.

secondly my regional manager and school approved of my fall break trip (the last week of october) to istanbul, turkey. i’d heard of some other volunteers going and for round trip tickets under $150 i had to jump on that train (or rather plane). so it’s official, i’m going to istanbuuuul!! i’ll be there for 4 days with 4 other PC ukraine volunteers. two of which have been there before and know their way around. the travel channel tells me istanbul is an amazing city and since i haven’t left my village for a good month, i’m really REALLY excited to go. now i just have to stay focused and keep working till then. ha.

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