Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Morning Bazaar

The sun rises over the bazaar every morning to reveal that it is alive! I’m not sure what time they all set up shop, but at 8 in the morning, the market was bustling. I have made a half victory today. I bought eggs from a woman (1 грн/egg) and asked her where I could find good cottage cheese (творог) and sour cream (сметана) and she brought me to a few babushkas. I tasted their home made products and they were rich, creamy, and slightly sweet. I prefer a little more sour, but I bought from them—14 грн for ½ kilo of творог and $28 грн for a liter of сметана. I think that's slightly expensive. It is my goal to taste all the products at the bazaar, in time, so I can compare tastes and prices.

As of right now, I know no vendor's name. They may have told me their names, but it's hard to understand what everyone says to me. I have been told I speak Russian cleanly and with only a little accent. So, I can speak, but I can't always understand. I did, however, chat it up with all the vendors and though I do not know their real names, I have my own for them: Egg Lady, Herb Lady, Mushroom Lady, Sweet Apple Lady, Chicken Lady. These are just temporary names, I promise. Sweet Apple Lady was one of the first food vendors I met. She had the warmest smile as Logan and I explored the bazaar for the first time. Egg Lady advised me on fresh dairy products. Mushroom lady helped me buy mushrooms because I wasn't sure how much I needed. Chicken Lady sold me chicken, behind a glass counter for about 40 грн/kilo (a kilo is about 2 pounds, by the way). I think this is expensive, but I'm not sure yet. Herb Lady sold me dill for 3 грн a batch (which is about $0.40 USD). I found out that she has a twenty-year-old daughter who wants to learn English. Well, either that or her mother wants her to learn English. She wanted my phone number, but I told her I'd start an English club soon and that her daughter could come and speak English with me. Baby steps.

On my way back home, I saw a pick-up truck with a big container in the back and a line of people waiting for their turn to purchase something...I think. I'm actually not sure what they were waiting for. I think my next goal will be to find out what the Pick-up Man is all about...

Fears, Goals, and Cottage Cheese

Melitopol has welcomed us warmly, literally, with a sign in the university’s entranceway: “Welcome Kerry and Logan!” I’m really excited to be here and I’m loving every second of it. This week, I met with the administration at both my school and Logan’s. They are a great group of people and I think we will do great things with them. Meeting the administration at my school may not sound like a big deal, but my school happens to be one the largest schools in Melitopol: three floors, 12 English teachers, four Vice Principals, and about 1,200 students. (There is also a ping-pong table on the first floor that students can play between their breaks. There is a long 10-20 minute break between classes here in Ukraine. Another interesting side note is that there is no lunch period for students. Because of the long breaks, students can go to the cafeteria and grab something quick to eat between classes.)

When my counterpart, the very wonderful Olga, said I should give a short speech (in Russian) at the teacher’s meeting, I assumed it would be just the English teachers in a small room. Lo and behold, I had to speak in front of almost all the teachers about myself and my work experience. This went very well and I’m glad I got to use some Russian. This meeting was proceeded by another one—entirely in Russian—about my work load and teaching schedule. So, my day was filled with Russian and I am still alive!

I’d like to talk about fears, goals, and first impressions now that I am at my site.

Fear one: upsetting the Babushka’s at the bazaar if I like one Babuska’s cottage cheese over another’s. I’m not too keen on the bazaar etiquette here, but I’ve been told it’s good to stick with one seller because they will get to know you and they will take care of you. However, it’s hard for me to say no.

My biggest fear is not learning Russian. I have to study and practice now that I don’t have 4-5 hours of classes a day, but everyone’s so nice here, and they all know that it’s important for me to learn Russian, so I hope they will test me over the next two years.

I’m not afraid to teach, but it will definitely be a challenge to get some of the adolescents really interested in English. I think the 9th graders will be my biggest challenge. They have a lot of energy, but I think they don’t know what to do with it and maybe some of them don’t see the benefit in learning English. It’s my goal over the next two years to make it fun for them and to convince them that it’s important. Wish me luck.

I am setting weekly goals for myself to help me ease into life in Melitopol. Of course, it is my professional goal to be a good teacher and to do the most I can here. But, it is my personal goal to find my favorite cottage cheese vendor on my own. I need small goals and small victories.

Reading over this post, I see that my fears have transformed into goals. That’s because I’m an optimist?

Tomorrow, I will write about my first impressions on buying said cheese. My first impressions of Melitopol are very positive. It’s a small city with a lot of culture and motivated people who are as happy as I am about taking part in a positive cultural exchange.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Switching to Russian Mode

Last night was the night—I decided to change the language settings on my phone. Instead of “wake up, the time is now 7 o clock”, I get “время просипатся! Время восим.

So, yea, it’s harder to use my phone now. I couldn’t help but put some more challenges on my plate. I’m also pretty sure I agreed to sing for someone on the 11th of December, but I’m not sure.  The verbs for to drink and to sing are mighty familiar: пить and петь. Although, maybe these two glorious verbs will be combined to form a more perfect union and a night of drunken sing-a-longs? Someone did tell me that after three strong drinks, everyone sings...

On yet another note, I have picked up the habit of eliminating articles when I speak English. Let’s go to store. I have idea. Mean man bad! Ah, language. I am amazed, though, at the Russian that’s floating around in my head. It may not all connect the way I want it to, but it will, eventually, and I’ll be there saying “Ah ha! That’s what that was about!” and I’ll thank my Russian language teachers for their patience.

I am feeling extra reflective now. I’m remembering when Logan and I said goodbye to family and friends for what seemed like forever, when I told my boss I was leaving for the Peace Corps, when I took a very American summer trip with my best friends, when I was bussed to the Soviet-style hotel in Ukraine and given my first Ukrainian meal, when I met my host family and was awkwardly silent because I didn’t know they all spoke English and could understand me, when I realized that my Ukrainian mom was an amazing cook, when my host brother Vanya started taking my hand and bringing me to his toy box, when Nastya celebrated her 14th birthday…when my Peace Corps cluster started fusing together…So many things have happened in such a small amount of time.

What I’m trying to say is that we’ve been through a lot so far. More importantly, next week, we actually get to find out where we’ll be for the next two years! I can’t even think about how two years will feel. My concept of time is thrown off because of how busy we are and how many things get thrown into our faces. If we find out next week, that means that in a little over two weeks, I will have to make the switch to full Russian mode. я готова?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

пятница, вот мой деньги

Пятница вот мой деньги (Pyatnitsa, vot moy dengi) has done it again! We have won the Chernigov Scavenger hunt! Our prize was not only getting to sing our theme song for all of the other Peace Corps cluster participants, but a nice pin and a "key to the city." When I say key to the city, do I secretly mean just that or do I really mean a key chain with the city logo? Only time will tell.

When I arrived in Ukraine, we were assigned to live in Chernigov where we would study Russian with a small group of other Peace Corps volunteers. Here is the mighty group below, with one of our language teachers. Our group has become quite the tight knit cluster. Every day is filled with laughing with and at each other as we try to trudge through the Russian case maze. It's so much fun.

From left to right: Kerry who can not tell a lie, Paul / Mufasa and Markiza, Денис (cough once or cough twice), Jordana без rabies, and Merideni who likes to watch films.
Only in Ukraine is it possible to shake hands with the Director of the city's art museum and sit in his office while he converses in Russian while you nod and admire his polar-bear-like fur couch and African artifacts. Cluster mate Paul and I wandered into the museum, pictured below, for the scavenger hunt and the Director beckoned us to follow him into his office. There, he gave us some magazines, без платна. Of course, I didn't know what без платна meant at the time, but I totally understand now--free of charge! He gave us some lovely books about a previous exhibit at the museum. I think my new favorite thing to do is wander into someone's office and pretend you understand what they're talking about. Give us some credit, though. After all, we did win the scavenger hunt and we did find out that it only costs 2 грн to go to the museum.

We totally learned other things, but maybe we will only understand them later. That's usually how it works, right? I have been suffering from delayed reactions all my life and when it comes to language learning, this means being slightly embarrassed while something is going on and being extremely embarrassed later on, when the "d'oh" moment sets in. Below are some more photos of our day of scavenging, exploring, and meeting so many interesting people along the way.

Art Museum of Chernigov
Meriden and Kerry on the Marshrutka!
Loose Cannons?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Good Feelings, aka пят, пят, пят.

I've been having good feelings lately, about Ukraine and the people that surround me.

I wasn't sure what was going on at first as I arrived late to a concert at Lyceum 32, where I teach. My cluster friend and I were standing on our toes at the auditorium entrance, peering over the heads of high school students to see the stage. Two young male students were dancing behind a young lady singing and they proceeded to strip down to leotards and fancy steps. A Ukrainian teacher spotted us and found us seats so we could get closer to the action. The show went on. The young ladies took turns reciting poetry, declaring what they loved the most about Ukraine, and singing songs. There was a group of three teachers holding up little blue signs with numbers on them, which were scores for the competitors. The concert was a competition for the title of Fall Queen, дама осен. The winner was a very serious performer and an excellent singer. пят, пят, пят, so said the signs.

After the show, we went to a nearby cafe to meet with some other Peace Corps volunteers. A young man approached us at the table and graciously asked us if he could practice his English. He asked for all of our names (we were at a table of 8) and I introduced myself in Russian. For the rest of the conversation, he thought I could translate for him, which I liked, but I had no idea what he was asking me to translate!

Our (my cluster's) time in Kiev was a great time of being lost, asking for directions, denying taxi rides, awkwardly approaching strangers, and taking in the beautiful architecture and charming side streets.

Being there reminded me of my city life in New York: crowded subways, people watching, expensive everything, and just wandering happily along. Asking for directions was the easy part--it's the responses that were hard to understand. Two old men in the metro station helped me figure out that we needed to transfer at a different station. I love the little lights that go on in my head when I understand something, even if it's small. Even if it's way too late. So far, understanding comes after the fact for me. I find myself saying, "OH!!!! That's what was going on there" a lot. It's pretty awkward and funny, but it's better than never understanding, I say (now, anyway!). I'd love to go back to Kiev and explore more, especially as I get a little better at Russian (with every day, I think). Here are some photos from Kiev:


I said yes.

Add your own caption for the guys in the poster on the top left.

I walked around the Bazaar on Saturday in search of wall paper. Instead, I bought a nice warm scarf. I think I'm ready for winter. I will survive the frost, snow, and darkness! Right? I'm thinking positively while the sun is still shining and the icicles aren't hanging from my nose.

Frosty morning walk
Saturday was also the first time I cooked for my host family! It was nice to move around and really get to know the kitchen. I haven't cooked in so long and I miss it. I also miss Italian food. I made Chicken Cacciatore and it was pretty good, though I miss my spice rack. It felt pretty awesome when my host father got a second helping, though:)

English Club at the library was awesome. There were about 15 attendees and there was a really great discussion about the future--the future of ourselves and of our countries--and I learned a lot about different Ukrainian mentalities and I shared mine with the group. Next week, we're trying to organize a volleyball game with some of the English Clubbers--which should probably be our team name.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In the Garden

I wandered into the garden on Sunday, past the chickens and the ropes that keep them away from the vegetables. In the distance was my little host brother, Vanya in his body jacket!

The neighbor passed us some fresh-picked raspberries over the fence. The last of the string beans needed to be picked so I put on some gloves (it's getting pretty cold now) and gathered the frozen beans while my host mother uprooted some plants and placed them around the trees in the garden--as compost, but also to protect the roots of the trees during the winter. The seeds from the dried pods will be used next year, when they are ready to be planted in April or May.

The two things I hope to have when we get to our sites are a kitchen and a garden. I definitely want to grow some cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, and berries. And basil. I miss basil. And Italian-American food, though my host mom is an excellent cook. Logan and I plan to cook on Thanksgiving for our family.  Any recipes are welcome! Logan wants sweet potatoes and marshmallows. I'm craving mushroom sausage stuffing...maybe with Kilbasa, of course.

Twas Indian Summer

A little over a week ago, the weather was fine in Ukraine, but I forgot to write about it. Hoorah for a short lived Indian summer. It feels long gone now--frost covered the ground this morning--but there was a time...

I will go to the Forest
to walk
or run
or sit in a pile of leaves
and throw them in the air
to watch them fall
while the weather is fine.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Photos from the First Few Weeks

Ballroom dancing at an award ceremony for Ukrainian Teachers

View from the hill--one of the first sights in Chernigov

On the way to Vol, the park with a million canons

Beautiful Ukrainian sky...and man with dog

Folk dancing at the teachers' ceremony

Desna River

Traditional Music, softly played

Russian Greetings and Farewells

Happy Birthday Chernigov and Kerry's culture shock

Logan and I at Vol

One of one million canons


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Little Did We Know

Logan and I arrived safely in Ukraine last Thursday, 22 September. After landing in Kiev, the entire group of volunteers (all 97 of us) were bussed to a retreat for language, cultural, and technical preparation. A few of my favorite pieces of information or advice upon arriving at the retreat:

1.) "If it's too cold, wear two pants."
2.) "No" usually means "yes." Saying "no" while smiling means "yes." Saying "no" while maintaining eye contact means "definitely yes!"
3.) Never (ever) throw away bread--no matter what.

As I write, it's already October. We have officially made it through our first week in what seems like a parallel universe. Logan and I are very lucky to be staying with a wonderful host family in Chernigov, in the Northern part of Ukraine. It's a pretty big city and the family is very nice. They have two kids, 13 and 1.5 and we learned how to can peppers for the winter on our first night!
When our host family arrived to pick us up, they helped us get everything into the car and then we drove through the city to their house. The ride was very quiet since we didn't really know how to say anything in Russian. Michael Jackson was playing on the radio. I managed to ask my host sister her name, but immediately forgot it. We finally arrived and silently loaded our bags into the house. Little did we know that the family spoke English very well! That shaved some of the awkwardness away. Only some. Even though we were in Ukraine and in a Ukrainian household, everything still felt surreal.

Little did I know that we arrived during the celebration of the founding of Chernigov! On Saturday night, Logan and I took a stroll to the center of town to see the sites and that's when it happened. A wave of culture shock came over me. A team of little children dressed in traditional costume came out onto a stage and started dancing in the traditional Ukrainian style. It was so cute, but when I looked around, I realized that I was so far from home.

At that point I knew nothing, but now, I can introduce myself in Russian, talk about food and hobbies, ask for help (without really understanding the response). But, I can conjugate the verb to love. It's a start.

Kak V Skázke (как в скáзке)!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Do Pobachinnya

Two point five more days left in the United States! I can't believe we're heading to D.C. tomorrow and that we finished packing today (sort of!).

Thank you family, thank you friends, thank you optimism (which I need to get me through all of these fare thee wells) for everything.

Stay posted for some insight on the tasks and travels of Kerry and Logan abroad!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Raising Funds with Art

A few months ago, I became a machine. An ultimate book binding, block printing, and writing machine. Hand-bound poetry books were sewed and scored. Linoleum blocks were carved and printed. Fingers were stabbed and pricked, all in an effort to open up my very first etsy fundraising shop!  Logan and I are trying to sell some art to raise funds for our Peace Corps mission. 
Check out my salty city sardines on Etsy!
So far, it's been really fun and we've sold some original artwork and poetry, but I'm not really keen on how to promote the shop. How many times can I update my facebook status to tell people that "it's not too late to buy some of our stuff"? I feel like a little beggar! Feel free to check out the shop, here, and Let me know what you think. It's my first time opening up an etsy shop and my first time trying to raise funds for a personal (but good) cause. I welcome any and all feedback...Are things too expensive? Do you have any suggestions, or even requests for specific prints I should make? Am I just a poor little beggar boo?

I'll be putting more stuff on the shop, soon. I have officially moved upstate to spend time with friends and family before I go abroad for who knows how long. Once I set up a little art studio, I will work on my next couple of projects: an illustrated children's book and a picture book about an evil mermaid. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Visions of Ukraine

I think it will be amusing to look back at what I thought Ukraine was going to be like after I actually get there and experience it for myself.

I must admit that I had never really thought of Ukraine before I found out that I was going there. 
It was only after I did some research and talked to people that I really started to get excited about going and about learning the language. Still, I know I have a lot to learn!  Looking through my very American idealistic crystal ball, I see visions of Ukraine. I see...

...a Yeti--which is really me trying to keep warm in the harsh and snowy winters
...a version of myself eating way too many Vereniky dumplings and, in turn, turning into one
...endless fields of sunflowers camping trips with fellow peace corps volunteers and new Ukrainian friends
...a blur of shot glasses, cheersing friends, and empty vodka bottles (duhn duhn duhn)
...drunken sing-a-longs ladies left and right

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wish List

Books and school and art supplies for my students would be greatly appreciated! The quality of school supplies here is not so good, and it would be great to have more of these materials for my classes. Especially because I like to be creative with them!

Click this link for Kerry's Wish List!

I also want to say thank you to everyone (especially my parents) who has helped me get to this point! I wouldn't be in the Peace Corps if I didn't have such supportive family and friends! So thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart.


Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, if you miss me (because I know I miss you), or if you just want to say hello.

My address in Russian and in English (which both work!):

Керри Марино и Логан Бренан
АЯ 66, пошта 18
проспект 50 лет победа, 49
г. мелитопол   о. запорожская
украина, 72318

Kerry Marino and Logan Brennan
PO Box 66, Poshta 18
Prospekt 50 Let Pobedi, 49
Melitopol, Zaporozhskaya Oblast
Ukraine 72318

Monday, July 11, 2011

Flash Forward Summer

I'm going to open my eyes and suddenly, the summer will be gone and Logan and I will be on our way to Ukraine. There is still so much planning to do and my life is flashing before my eyes. I realize this happens as you get older; all your friends get busy, you get busy, and you have to plan everything out perfectly. Your life starts to be defined by a series of tasks, events, and milestones. Maybe it's also how you stay grounded. Maybe I'd be flying around like a goose if I didn't sit down and plan things out.

Logan and I have been super busy trying to raise money for our Peace Corps fundraiser. We're leaving mid-September for Ukraine and we need to raise enough money to pay the minimum balance on our loans while we're away (Sallie Mae is trying to ruin my life). We've made prints out of linoleum blocks and some handbound and illustrated poetry books by yours truly. I want to thank everyone that has made a purchase on our etsy site! I am not amazed by the kindness of others because there are so many good people out there. I'm so lucky to be surrounded by them. Thank you for your support!

I also want to thank Smiling Tree Toys for writing about our mission on their blog! They make these beautiful wooden toys for children. (My favorite is the balancing one.)

Alright, I just blinked and now it's time to leave for work. I bet I'll blink again and be home making more prints!