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?