i’ve always been a #1 fan of laura ingalls wilder and her little house on the prairie. when i was younger my mom read her books to me each night, every day of recess was spent playing a ‘make believe’ version of her life, and certainly i never missed an airing of it on the hallmark channel. i dreamed of a life like hers and i idolized her simple smock dresses, wagon rides, general stores, and playing toss with a pig bladder from pa.
her life seemed so different, so curious, and something i wished i could have been a part of. so never would i have thought that my life would ever be anything similar to hers. a life of teaching everything from 1st to 11th grade in one day, where your students come to school with hoes and rakes to work in the school fields, going to the bathroom at school involves a trip to the outhouse, and when you come home it’s time for laundry by hand, bucket bathing, and mending your shoes cause you can’t afford another pair.
of course my life isn’t exactly like hers…there’s my macbook, an ipod, the internet, cars and a few other 21st century things thrown in there…but at times it’s hard to remember what era i’m living in. and i must say that i thoroughly enjoy that.
…okay maybe not the school outhouse part. but i feel lucky to have such a chance to live an alternatively slow paced life in a village in nowhere ukraine…though maybe ask me again in the dead of winter when i’m cooped up in my house with no running hot water and i’ll have a different opinion.
so life as it goes in my little house on the ‘prairie’ has been pretty slow and not very eventful. i planned to get away one last time before school started meeting up with some pcv friends in crimea for a jazz festival. i went to the city, bought my train ticket, which unfortunately would have me leaving my house at 4:30 am the next morning. well it just so happend that my landlord installed a new front gate that same day. one that, when i went to quietly leave in the dark the next morning, was locked. i was locked in my own yard. needless to say…i didn’t see that coming.
i debated climbing the gate but couldn’t even see without a light and didn’t want to risk walking through people’s fields in the back. so… like failed teenage-escapee i just went back inside my house, and crawled in bed. i planned on going back to the city and buying a ticket for later in the day or the next day (when i thought the gate wouldn’t be locked) but it ended up that i got sick to my stomach (again) and decided that it was probably best i didn’t go.
so instead of spending my last few days of summer camping on the beach listening to live jazz, i was in the village…reading war & peace, practicing my calligraphy, and attending school’s first bell ceremony…so exciting. when i started to feel better i went to my landlord and asked if the gate would be unlocked for my early morning run. he said it would be and then asked ‘…wait should it be locked for you?’. as if he knew of my failed attempt the other day, he’s always quite the joker!
some friends of his that were visiting were in the room with him and couldn’t help but ask ‘why do you run?’. i’ve definitely had many odd and interesting opinions from ukrainians on the topic of running. some say it’s bad for your heart, some say don’t run you need to eat, and by the looks i often get some just think it’s super weird. i told the questioning lady that ‘it’s helpful to run. for me it’s helpful with stress’. i thought this was a rather simple answer, one easily understood, but to my surprise she said with a scoff, ‘stress?? how could you possibly have stress!’. i thought listing the ways in russian would be a little too time consuming so i sufficed for a more polite, ‘of course, everyone has stress’.
along with the topic of running, ukrainians (and some americans alike) also seem to have a mixed idea of what life is like for peace corps volunteers. some show great empathy for being far away from home, loved ones, and adapting to a foreign place. while others think…i’m not sure…that we’re robots? that it’s a piece of cake to be here? that somehow this little house on the prairie life is stress free? who knows what she was thinking. i went for a run (and nearly got rammed by a goat) to blow off my non-existent stress anyways.
by the time saturday came, the first of september (the day of knowledge and the official first bell of school), i knew summer had ended…rather less excitedly than i had hoped. but it was over just the same and i had to come to terms with eating my last watermelon, which served as a reminder of the glory of summer and as a very good footrest at my kitchen table.
first bell is a big big deal in ukraine. so much so that even though it fell on a saturday, everyone one showed up to school wearing their black and white uniforms — the girls with their puffy bows, the boys in their suits with clip on ties, all whom carried flowers. it’s a grand affair. the entire school lines up, parents encircle with cameras trying to capture the moment, and then every award ever given to any student (and teachers alike) is read. one by one. yes. all 68+ of them.
during the ceremony, thankfully at the one part i was paying attention to, my director announced the school’s involvment with peace corps and the exact amount (to the thousand) each volunteer has brought via grant to the school. NO PRESSURE KRISTEN. then later somewhere between the 40th award, figuring i wouldn’t be mentioned again, and not being able to see, i was able to leave unnoticed and pick a few things up at the nearby store (bad teacher). it was still going on when i came back…an hour and twenty minutes of awards, the same damn songs about teachers, and dancing with stuffed animals. ukraine really doesn’t know how to keep things short.
after my last first bell ever (halleluia!!!) the students went to one lesson. not sure where i was needed to go i followed my counterpart to her classroom, but just as i was about to enter she shut the door on me (though i think accidentally). oh well i figured, i guess that meant i could go home! and since i hadn’t been invited to any teacher party, i just walked back. it wasn’t until later when a befriended german teacher asked why i wasn’t at the party that i knew i had in-fact missed it…and also been forgotten about to invite. but thankfully she said she would make sure i knew about the upcoming teacher’s holiday in october.
the first week of school here is more of a shit show than i remember them being back home. the official schedule isn’t made for a few weeks after school starts (this seems to be a problem in all ukrainian schools) so temporary schedules are posted the day before. there are no such things as rubrics or objectives to be read like most first days of school in america, so the students just show up, usually without the required material, and somehow sort of dive-in.
with the addition of a very nice english teacher back from her allotted 3 year maternity live (can you imagine!?!!) i’m now being fought over by four teachers to choose their classes to teach. i keep insisting i’ll have a decision by the time the set schedule is out. but the addition of the new teacher, whom i already enjoy working with, means i could technically decide not to work with one of the teachers that i don’t enjoy working with. but then again i don’t want to cause drama…so i guess i’ll have to decide what is more important. teaching what i enjoy oooor not pissing teachers off. hmm.
today was national sport day at school (or something like that…god ukraine loves their national holidays). lessons were cut to 25 minutes long and the rest of the day was spent outside competing in various field day games. it was a lot of fun to watch…well…until my counterpart sort of lost her cool after her class repeatedly lost. but! besides that it brought up a lot of memories from my elementary school days in arizona. ohhhhh those sweet days of three legged races, tug of war, and being picked last on a team. ; )