telling time and three hour tours

well it’s sunday, and like everyone around the world i’m wishing i had just one more day to get everything done that i was supposed to do. the whole idea of staying focused until i leave for vacation is good in theory, buuuut sorta hard to implement. i’m ready for a vacation.

yesterday, to prepare for this said vacation i went to zaporizhzhia in hopes of getting bus and train tickets ahead of time. i hadn’t left my village on my own for quite some time. partly because i think i was just getting to used to my little safety net here and also for the fact that marshutka travel is certainly not my favorite since getting stranded by a marchutka somewhere is a highly probable (and has already happened once resulting in a very pricy taxi ride). but i psyched myself up to go, well…not enough to make me wake up for the 6am bus, but i figured the 11am was just fine.

chucha came joyfully bolting towards me as i made my way to the marchutka stop and sat waiting by my side, like a mother seeing her kid off to school. cute. when the marchutka arrived i recognized one of the teachers from school and her daughter sitting in the back. i talked with them until we reached the next town where they got off to go to the bazaar and i continued onwards toward zaporizhzhia. the marshutka was so packed with people, the narrow isle completely crammed, but after a few stops in the middle of no where, people got off one by one and towards the end of my two hour ride just a handful remained.

once we got to zaporizhzhia i got off at the bus station and headed to the ticket booth for my ticket back home. i bought my ticket and looked at the time printed on it. shit i thought. this only gives me one hour. if there’s anything you should know about transportation in ukraine, it’s to travel early in the day. something i full well knew but ignored that day, so i suffered the consequences. in a huge city like zaporizhzhia , one hour is certainly not enough.

i tried prioritizing in my head what was absolutely necessary to get done. my bank was in one direction, the train station another. i decided the best plan of action was to get to the train station first. buuut i didn’t have any money to buy a ticket so i decided my best bet was to just use any ol atm (even though i’d be charged interest). i found the nearest one, tried it, but nothing happened. great. i looked at my watch again…and thought maybe maybe i could make it to my bank and back in enough time, but then i’d just have to forget about the train station. i hopped on a marschutka and headed to the direction of my bank. the whole ride picturing myself sprinting to get my money and sprinting back and possibly missing my bus home.

it seemed like the marshutka stopped more than usual and i anxiously waited in my seat. i looked at my watch again. no time i thought, i should just head back, but i spotted another atm, the driver let me out, and i ran to it. to my delight it worked (i didn’t forget my bank card this time) and i had my money, though 200 hryvins less since it wasn’t my bank. i got on another marshutka heading back to the bus station with 15 minutes till my bus left. i was cutting it close. the driver thankfully was in the same hurry, driving like a maniac and pulsing his break at the stop light to his techno music. but despite how quickly he was driving, he, like all marschutka drivers, will stop for just about anyone anywhere, take their money, and squeeze them onto the bus.

by the time we made it back towards the train station, i was out of time and my marschutka was probably departing. i ran, full sprint, towards the station hoping if it was leaving i could catch it on my way. i drew even more attention to myself running like a maniac than i usually do. i lept over guard rails and dogged potholes as i ran fearing the worst. that was the last bus home. i reached the platform and looked around frantically for my bus. the spot where it usually stands was empty ‘oh no no no!’ i though as i searched some more. i obviously looked distraught since a bus driver came up to me and asked if i needed help. i showed him my ticked, he looked at it and said ‘it doesn’t leave for an hour’.


i looked down in disbelief at my ticket. he was right. my bus didn’t leave for another hour. it was 13:30 not 14:40. ohhhhh my kristen. i couldn’t help but burst out laughing. as if people there didn’t think i was already crazy enough for running around 007 style. i knew i had a problem telling military time, which i really shouldn’t after living in military time france too, but this was pretty bad. maybe i should apply my student’s lesson of ‘telling time’ to myself, i clearly need it.

so feeling quite stupid but seriously relived that i made a mistake, i decided that i could try and make it to the train station after all. after asking several people on the streets how to get to it, i only had the vague idea that i need to ‘walk that way’. so that’s what i did. i walked through a rather questionably people-less area wondering if i understood which way was ‘that way’ but i kept going. fifteen minutes later i made it to the place i recognized. the last time i was here, i just got off the train from kyiv after swearing-in, luggage tumbling all over the place, and headed to my village for the first time. seems like forever ago weird. i went inside, read the time table, and stood inline to buy my ticket from kharkiv (where i fly back to from istanbul) to zaporizhzhia. i wasn’t nearly as nervous as i was the first time i ever bought a train ticket with jeff. i noticed people in the lines watching me with curious eyes. sometimes i forget how obvious it is that i’m not ukrainian. when it was my turn, i stepped up and was so thankful that the lady i pinned for being nice (trut me, always go for the nice ones at the ticket counter), turned out to be just that. within a matter of minutes i booked what i needed and was thrilled at how well it went.

i collected my ticket and my money, stepped aside to let the next people past and read over my ticket, just to be sure ‘the thirty of october, kharkiv to …kyiv?’ oh no. i stood there hoping that the nice lady would still be nice enough to help me. i felt like an idiot once again, now trying to remember if i said kyiv…but i was sure i didn’t. she saw me standing there ticket in hand, not leaving the window. i apologized to the people that were after me, in the middle of their transaction, and explained that i need kharkiv to zaporizhzhia.

unlike many ticket ladies, she didn’t yell at me but instead apologized and voided the ticket. she then went on about the ticket i needed, wrote something down and handed it to me. i had no idea what she was saying because she, like most people in eastern ukraine (except for villages), was speaking russian. the woman behind me kept telling her husband to translate from russian into ukrainian for me. i can usually understand enough russian to get by since it’s similar to ukrainian, but at that moment, i just couldn’t understand. a few minutes later, and a bit of rephrasing on the part of the ticket lady, i finally understood that i can’t buy that train ticket no more than three days in advance. oh. well so much for that.

leaving the train station ticketless, i looked at my watched and realized that this time my bus will be leaving soon, for real this time. i hopped on a marshutka since i didn’t think i’d have enough time to talk and made it to my bus with 5 mintues to spare, just enough time to by my bus ticket to donetsk (where my flight departs). i sat on my marshutka, waiting to leave, and felt like i really didn’t get much accomplished after all that. i had no train ticket, no grocery store or cafe visit (sad day), and was out of about 300 hryvins. oh well…no experience in life goes without learning something.

on the ride back to my village i got out my kindle to read, hoping that wouldn’t draw too much attention to myself. i was deep into my book, so i was fairly surprised when a woman’s hand gently squeezed my arm to get my attention. i looked up from my kindle to see the lady sitting across the way from me holding my arm and looking eager to talk. eyeing my kindle she said seen them on tv, but never in person. she went on to talk about how there’s been discussion that schools will now use electronic books rather than real text books…interesting idea seeing as how i think the least amount of the budget now is spent on text books.

i’m not really sure how the budgeting here works. and by here i mainly mean my school. my school is really really nice and certainly feels completely out of place with the rest of my village. it has all new windows, a few flat screen tvs, new wallpaper and paint and my recent discovery an interactive screen/white board…basically this school is nicer than many in america. and makes me wonder to myself why i’m even here sometimes.

but just because something looks good, doesn’t mean it is good. the text books for the school are outdated, only held together by tape on every page, not even every student has one and my students are way way waaay behind the national curriculum. now, i may be a silly girl, but i believe text books and knowledge are more important than new wallpaper or flatscreen tvs….but that’s just my opinion. i don’t know where my school gets all their money or who’s in charge of spending it, but i do know i’d spend things a little differently, though who am i to say. i guess this is mainly why i don’t like the fact that i’m being seriously pressured by the school director to write a grant for her. i’d be more than happy to do that if i knew those american tax payer dollars were going towards something that was actually needed and not another thing to glam up the school.

school wise things have been going well. ahhh life is so much easier now that i’m not teaching all of the english lessons. there’s still no guessing when my counterpart will come back, though i will guess it won’t be anytime soon. while i still have no guidance as far as national exams and curriculum go, from always megan’s sound advice, i came to the realization that i still needed to give an exam. so i did. four of them. i wrote them out trying to be tricky but not impossible, making two different forms of each to make cheating less easy.

my new hobby: paint like a ukrainian

cheating in ukraine is a problem. i often find myself grading the same homework word for word as the last one….like they think i won’t notice they all had the same summer vacation. hmm curious. i mean cheating in any school it is bound to happen, but the whole cultural ‘we’ mentality versus the american ‘i’ is clearly visible. in america, your grade is yours and you want to strive to be the best for yourself. but here, you help out your fellow classmates, to them it’s not cheating, it’s helping. but no matter what i did, even though i created two different forms, some ‘helping’ still carried on. if only they knew enough english to understand a ‘cheating doesn’t help you in the long run’ lecture.

i’m still grading all seventy of their tests. it’s easy to mark what’s write and what’s wrong…but not so easy to know how to assign points. in america i could easily say how every many points i want the test to be worth and assign it according to how many answers there are…but in ukraine everything is a score of 12…well 1-12. there is no such thing as zero. which really confused my students when i first started grading their homework marking “their score / 12”. i was so accustomed to american teachers noting how many points you got out of how many were possible. but here, since that’s all you can ever get, they thought i gave them two scores. oops.

walkin with chucha and her pals. it's not this warm anymore.

but now i know better and i have to figure out a way to divy up those 12 points accordingly. not so fun. i don’t know if ukrainian teachers do this, but i gave my students an opportunity to get one bonus point on the exam, with the question ‘when is miss kristen’s birthday?’. surprisingly not a single student got it wrong, though the best answer i read was ‘everyday or april 12’. double bonus points!!!

we’ll see if any of them actually remember my birthday come april 12th hehe. though i have a feeling they will. my students are great. outside of class that is. on monday night my 10th formers knocked on my door and told me to come over to their dormitory for cake. oooooh okay! i went to their dorm for english conversation, banana cake, and pear soda. these girls really want to learn english and actually try, insisting that i speak only english to them. it was so so nice and absolutely refreshing to be with students that want to learn. inna, one of the best english speakers, told me she showed the photos i shared (she asked me to burn a cd of the photos i showed the class), with her family and they found it so interesting. so she wanted to buy a cake to thank me for that. awww they’re so nice. a few more girls came in and we finished off the cake and i had to get back to lesson planning. i know i’m not supposed play favoritism buuuut how can you not when they buy you cake?? being a teacher in ukraine has a lot of tasty perks.

my tour guides

last sunday i went on the village excursion my fifth former girls asked that they could take me on. i figured we’d be out for about an hour tops…but it turned out to be a three hour tour. que gilligan’s island music. when i told megan about this later she asked ‘is your village that big?’ to which i laughed (because it does seem quite silly) and assured her that it isn’t. while the girls had written out an itinerary the night before, complete with notations of photographic opportunities, the tour wasn’t a ‘point a’ to ‘point b’ trip. we rode all over, sometimes passing the same place several times, but it was fun. the girls showed me a secret fishing hole, two other streets (with about 5 residents) i didn’t even know about, and left me with a bag full of apples, pears, walnuts, and the excursion list so i could remember it forever. adorable. now if only i had an easier way to shell the walnuts…

the secret fishing hole

in other news it’s gotten cold here. thankfully i’m pretty far south and haven’t experience any of the snow other volunteers are reporting. but friday morning, the typical morning dew had turned into frost and i had to fish out my underarmor, gloves, and ear band for my run. and now the radiators have been turned on for the school week (and by turned on i mean there’s a constant trickle of water flowing through the pipes which makes one feel the constant urge to go to the bathroom). the heat was off all weekend so hence why i’m sitting here writing this sporting my jacket, scarf, and hat. my smartwool socks are my new best friends now. i feel bad for the volunteers from warmer states who are about to experience their first winter ever. i don’t know if there are any ground hogs here…but if there are i’m pretty sure they’d tell us it’s going to be a long, long winter.

my favorite house in my village.

but amongst the bleakness of winter, i’ll at least have something to look forward to as kate and i have booked tickets for israel over winter break (so first istanbul, now israel…apparently i’m trying to hit up all the ‘i’ countries before the end of 2011). we originally wanted to go to egypt, buuut due to the riots, there’s a travel ban for volunteers there. israel won’t be quite as warm as egypt and i don’t think they have any pyramids…but it’s sill got it’s fair share of history, sights, culture, and at least be warmer than here! so hellooooo holy land!

probably against my better judgment (since i'm not allowed to have dogs) i let chucha inside to warm up : )

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