the four missing chocolates from my trader joe’s chocolate advent calendar my mom sent tell me it’s already december. but i find it hard to believe…hard to believe it’s already december and hard to believe i haven’t eaten all those little advent chocolate rations at once.
nine months ago, i stared blankly at my calendar trying to absorb exactly how much time i’d be in ukraine. imagining just how slooowly the months, days, hours would pass. and they did for a while. but now that i’ve been here for some time, i’m finding there’s truth in the adage from seasoned volunteers — ‘time begins to fly’.
i’m looking at my calendar now, but this time not with the mentality that those grains of sand couldn’t possibly fall any slower, but with an excitement for what’s ahead and having something to look forward to. next weekend i’m heading to kyiv for the swearing-in of a new batch of trainees (so i won’t be a freshman anymore!) and later a christmas party with a few of my favorite volunteers. then it’s off to israel for winter break with kate, peace corps ukrainian language refresher camp in january, jeff comes to visit for a month in february, prague/budapest in march, mixed in with ‘learnin kids some english’ and then my first school year is basically almost over!
well, i probably shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself…i have a tendency to do that. i’ve got a lot of work to do between now an then. like, um, write an entire grant in seven days for a possible summer camp i’ll be directing at my school…but i’ll talk about that some other time. writing about what has happened in my happenin lil village since i last wrote is much more interesting i’m sure ; )
my thanksgiving weekend sadly didn’t result in any big dinners, black friday, small business saturday, cyber shopping monday or any other gluttonous activity. though, i was invited by some other volunteers in my oblast (i was beginning to think they didn’t exist!) to join them for thanksgiving (mainly because my regional manager pitched it to them that i’m very very lonely in my tiny little village lol). and while i’ve been seriously needing to meet them and get to know the people around me, and by around me i mean more than two hours away, i just couldn’t go because: number one, i had yet to unpack my suitcases and do my laundry. number two, i had so much work to do in planning the worlds AIDS day at school. and number three, like the black friday shoppers come saturday morning, my wallet was looking pretty grim.
the medical trip to kyiv and then onward to poltava cost me a pretty penny. we’re technically supposed to have money in our peace corps account each week that would cover medical expenses…but it certainly wasn’t enough to even cover my one way trip to kyiv, let alone my hostel stay. so i unfortunately had to dip into my own dismal funds last month. and just last week peace corps informed us of yet another budget cut, so all of our wallets have been pretty tight. and right now, i’m more broke than ever. i actually just spent my last bit of money on a bag of sugar, to make my neighbors treats with, which ripped opened and spilled out half its contents onto my floor. sigh. times are tough right now. and while i may not be the most sensible shopper at least i can laugh at myself, my spilt sugar, and the twenty hryivns ($3) left to my name.
so living the poor life, i didn’t get to go out and play with my friends that weekend. instead i did my laundry and learned that hanging sheets and towels outside in the cold temps will only result in steam-rollered cartoon like sheets of ice. out of money and out of boredom i cut paper snowflakes for my window to make it seem a little more christmasy. but my extended use of scissors that night made me go all edward scissor hands on my hair as well. and while the results were probably no less terrible than if i were to let a ukrainian cut it (with a rate of mullet infection at 99.8%) there was still way more hair on the floor than i initial wanted and lead to the inevitable decision to wear an up-do for the week.
come monday, no one at school even detected my hair mishap and the day was fairly productive. my school director finally had a free minute to talk with me about project ideas and i paid a very long overdue visit to my neighbors. it had been a few weeks since i’d seen lena and co. and quite frankly, i missed them. so after school i walked over to their house and just as soon as they invited me in and gave me a hug, it felt like i was home. i’d been neglecting to spend time with the one family here that really cares about me, the family that has become my family.
somehow through the grapevine, lena heard that i’m eating meat now. so of course, even though i had already eaten lunch at school, i was forced to have a second lunch of their fried riceish dish they cooked over a fire in the backyard. which was pretty tasty. little ira was as crazy as ever, with the energy of drinking five consecutive redbulls, and about cute as all the cutest things in the world combined. she never makes it easy to leave. but i had to get back to lesson/project planning. so i tossed ira into the air ONE last time, said my ‘see you soon’s and left with a bowl of fried rice, preserved cabbage (like sauerkraut), a huge bag of carrots and the last beets of the season, and a full heart from their astonishing kindness.
by wednesday things were well underway with my world AIDS day poster competition at school. over the weekend i’d painted some additional posters with a few students who stayed in the dorms and planned on adding final touches that morning. but, like pretty much everything in ukraine, nothing goes as expected. just as i was about to sit down and finish my posters two students came to my door and told me svetlana volodimerivna (a teacher at school) wanted them right now. i tried to tell them i wasn’t finished and planned on hanging them up that evening at school. but they were on strick orders to get the posters from me and hang NOW.
i grabbed my coat and headed to school in hopes that i could delay the urgency. the posters still had much refining to do and the deadline to turn the class posters in was still hours away. i walked to her classroom confident that i’d tell her, ‘no this is what i have planned’, but as i walked down the hall i already saw half of the class posters hanging and pretty much lost all confidence…and control. apparently there was to be an excursion at school and they wanted the wall finished asap. so i obediently went back to my room, rolled up my unfinished work and realized that this is just how it’ll have to be.
i’ll be the first to admit that i’m a control freak. well a control freak when it comes to art and anything design related. in the world of graphic design, the more OCD you are, the better you are. it’s true. who else would really care about the placement of every single letter and space on a page? so needless to say it was sort of hard for me to watch the part of my project i had looked forward to doing myself, the actual layout of posters and decorations for the wall, be taken over by someone else. but as i sat there in the backseat, only being allowed to help by cutting pieces of tape, i realized that while it may not be my ideal project implimation, it’s definitely not the end of the world. and sure it won’t be the layout display i was thinking of, but i’m probably the only one that actually cared anyways. sometimes you’ve just got to pick and choose your battles.
so the posters were hung, the semi-finished ones and all. and it was a good feeling to look at all of them up there and think that i actually made this happen. i did something with a visible outcome! and it looked great. even if that one poster could have been moved over a few inches. while we all stepped backed and admired the work, another teacher came by, paused, and said ‘you have a spelling error. and that needs a comma’ and continued on. with a second degree in english, i take grammar mistakes with the upmost seriousness (though i ironically don’t always have time to proof read my blogs). but i made these posters in ukrainian. which, if you don’t know, is NOT my first language.
well aware that i didn’t want to look stupid, i had asked THREE different ukrainians if my grammar and spelling were correct before i went ahead with a public display in paint. confident that i had the right corrections, i made the posters. but somehow they were still wrong and i ended up looking stupid anyways. i guess i should have gone straight to the teacher of ukrainian literature in the first place, the whole ukrainian/russian/sourjic mish-mash of language makes even the ukrainians unsure of proper ukrainian grammar.
i didn’t mind the pointing out of my grammar mistakes, i probably would have done the same…but ukrainians are just SO blunt. there’s certainly no candy coating in this society. i had hoped with some silliness that as the teacher walked up she’d say ‘oh wow! this looks great, what a good project!’ but i shouldn’t ever expect a pat on the back or much positive reinforcement here for that matter. in america, i probably could have spelled ‘america’ wrong on a poster and still gotten some type compliment for trying.
americans LOVE candy coating things. and are pretty darn good at it. but not here. case and point: my host mom cut paul’s hair (another trainee in our group) just before swearing-in. while this was the second cut she’d given him, something went terribly wrong this time and she decided to give him what she said was ‘practical for the ukrainian summer’. well…this look, sort of a reversed mullet, wasn’t exactly the best for paul. but i wasn’t about to say anything to a woman with a pair of barber scissors. so i of course lied to her, said it looked fine and assured paul that it wasn’t all that terrible and it’d grow back in no time.
the next day our ukrainian language teacher katya flat out asked paul what happened to his hair, and said it looks terrible. still being new to ukraine, no one saw that bluntness coming. or the fact that several other ukrainian women were legitimately upset with me for not stopping the horror from happening. we explained to katya that we don’t say that in america. even if it is bad. so yes, while i don’t really have anyone to impress here, my hair was decidedly to stay in an up-do. i didn’t want ukrainians telling me that my haircut must have been chopped off with a blind axeman. that, i already knew.
ukrainian bluntness aside, when i looked at the wall of posters, there was another problem staring back at me. and it wasn’t my missing comma. it was the fact that nearly every student poster had been copied from an image i’d already seen. i predicted this might happen, it certainly wasn’t outta left field. the posters looked great! but nearly everything these students do is copied from somewhere else. homework copied from the internet, artwork copied from other artwork, and hairdos copied from the 80s. but to them, it’s not wrong.
for them, copying is so engrained into their heads a simply helping themselves out, just as copying to us is a slew of intellectual property lawsuits and academic probation. after an education in the arts, both written and visual, the rules of plagiarism were shoved down our throats until, like french geese, we just couldn’t take it any more. it’s disappointing to say the least that it’s okay for these kids to copy and get away with it. not only because it’s someone’s work to begin with, but because they’re never challenged to have to think critically on their own. and i guess what is really to be expected after only twenty years of independence from the soviets. that mentality is going to take a while to change. that’ll be my next project.
at the moment, i had world AIDS day to get underway. english club that week became a mini AIDS awareness program. at first i was sort of apprehensive at how the students would take it, but some giggling aside, they really enjoyed the activities i planned and thanked me for the interesting lesson. the next day, on the first, i had a small presentation in ukrainian for the school with the help of some of my english club students. the turn out wasn’t as impressive as i liked, but then again, not many kids would willingly go to an AIDS seminar over their lunch break. but dismal numbers aside, it was better than not having it at all. and who knows maybe someone even learned something. i’m already planning for next year, to make it bigger and better. hopefully with zero grammar mistakes…and a better haircut.