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)!