Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Groundhog Day Experience: Every Day Was Monday!

My hometown near the main road to Lutsk.

Boy and Girl beer glasses (Travis is pulling a 'Wilson' from Home Improvement).

The two Illinois Chicks.

The crew heading down to the park for adventures.

Lutsk Castle (Travis, Allison & Kelsey).

Little pre-gaming and popcorn before singing our hearts out.

Allison's Ukrainian boyfriend; looks like she even struggles to find a guy tall enough.

This week for a reason that was never explained to me our school operated on the Monday schedule which was nice because Monday is one of the days I get to sleep in and start with the second period. Another bonus was being able to see the same classes four days in a row and being able to pick up where I left off. So I had classes in the 8th, 11th, and 5th forms which overall aren’t my most difficult classes.

On Monday one of the 5th form classes that I teach was having a hard time focusing. I stopped mid sentence writing on the board to get everyone to stop yapping with their neighbors, but one kid (one of the brightest students) kept saying “Miss Kate, Miss Kate.” Finally, I called on him thinking he is probably going to correct some Ukrainian word that I have written incorrectly on the board. I was surprised to hear, “Miss Kate you look beautiful today.” The reason was because my hair was down. All winter with the weather so cold, I normally wash my hair at night and have it half or completely pulled up in the morning when I go to school. But with the weather warming up, I can wash it in the morning and not have it freeze on the way to school. I smiled and don’t mind if my lesson is interrupted for those type of comments.

One of the days this week I was at the post office sitting writing address on the envelopes and this old Ukrainian woman started chatting me up. She noticed it was English on the address and asked where it was going. I said Chicago because no one is going to know Chillicothe or really Illinois. Most Ukrainians have some Al Capone connection when you bring up Chicago. Anywho, we sat there and chatted for a few. Mom, I think she made some sort of comment about how my handwriting is small so you have one more thing in common with Ukrainians.

What else interesting from the week...oh, I had some 8th grade boys who like to cuss. I was writing on the board and I could hear the boys behind me softly saying cuss words like ‘shit, damn, hell, f**k.’ I turned around they stopped but as soon as I started writing it started again (even with my vice principle who I teach with in the classroom). So I turned and say “Cussing. Awesome. I’ll give you a minute to say as many cuss words you know in English right now.” They quickly started blaming the boy on either side of them. I was like this is your opportunity. The rest of the class was laughing at them with how I was calling them out. Let’s just say I didn’t have much of a problem the rest of the class period.

On Thursday, this week my regional manager came out to my site. He was originally suppose to see me teach a lesson but because of a schedule change last minute, he only had the opportunity to meet with me, the school director, and the vice principle. We changed my schedule a little and also discussed the issue of locating me a flat. I’m trying to remain optimistic but I’m not getting my hopes up too high.
Friday, my region had a ‘meet your neighbor’ meeting at the university in Lutsk. There were I think of 12 of us. We got to introduce ourselves as well as talk about things we are experiencing, you know successes and failures. We also talked about the influx of volunteers with the very large TEFL group coming in this December. I learned that I might be getting a site mate either this May or later in December. I would welcome the idea of having someone to hangout with right here in Kivertsi even though it might change the dynamic of my experience not being the only volunteer in the community.

After the meeting, a group of eight of us PCVs (mostly my cluster/link mates from training) rented an apartment in Lutsk. PCVs like to party so I guess I’m living the party life that I didn’t have much time for in college. We went out to a few bars and restaurants as well as hit up a karaoke bar on Saturday night. Let just say that Blue Brothers, Spice Girls and the Rolling Stones have never been covered so well in Ukraine.

Besides partying we did some sightseeing. We walked through a park that had a very interesting playground for children (see photos on face book). We took the opportunity to snap many photos. Also went to a historical castle that was built in the 14th century by a Lithuanian prince. I embarrassed myself a little with getting a little freaked out by heights and unsteady wooden stairs. I think a photo from someone else’s camera will eventually show up on face book (bastards).

It was so much fun to hang out with 8 other PCVs. It sort felt like a tiny little American Village with how much language was spoken that I actually understood. Saturday morning, I especially enjoyed because some of us where in the kitchen cooking breakfast while others were cleaning up and making the beds from the night before. It was like we were a little family.

But soon enough Sunday morning arrived we cleaned up the apartment one last time before everyone headed back to their sites. Instead of heading back to the V.V., Allison came to my house. We had a lazy Sunday talking while watching ‘Mad About You’ episodes and listening to music. We even relived 7th grade study hall by playing the game M*A*S*H that predicts your future husband, job, how many kids you will have, etc. Dorky I know but we are pretty good at entertaining ourselves.

On Monday, Allison and I took in the warm weather and sunshine by walking out to the Kivertsi sign on the outskirts of the town. We also witnessed two men trying to tie up a huge pig to get it into the trunk of one of the tiny old Soviet cars. It was interesting. The best are some of the photos that are in an album on face book. In the afternoon, Allison accompanied me to the stadium where she is sat while I got in my first outside run. It wasn’t the most fun or fastest two miles but it’s the effort that counts.

One of the most intense moments was a marsuka ride today. Our driver got cut off by another marsuka driver so then they exchanged words and no so nice jesters. Then an old lady who was a couple of seats back from the driver started to yell stuff at the driver. Not a few moments later another car cut us off where the driver had to slam on the breaks almost sending me along with some babushkas to the floor. The driver blocked the car to the curb and then proceeded to get out of the marsuka to open the man’s door and yell at him. As soon as he got back into the marsuka the lady started yelling at him again. From what Allison could translate for me there was something about him being drunk and her threatening to call the police him. Oh, just another crazy day in Ukraine.

Random Observation of the Week: on a bench that would seat 2 Americans comfortably, 3 uncomfortably, Ukrainians are able to seat 5 with no hesitations or reservations about personal space.

Well tomorrow (Wednesday) I’m headed to the V.V. for a few days to enjoy my spring break with Allison, Aidan and Travis. They allow me to be a commuting member of the Voldymyr-Volynski gang. Hope everything in America is peachy. Miss you all.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kate’s First Ukrainian Date…

Monday's gift to the American who now hates winter.

Centre in Lutsk.

Statue of I don't know who near the Opera House.

One of the many churches in Lutsk (sorry for the wire couldn't find a good angle).

This week was another week at school. Pretty much the same highs and lows as the average week. One embarrassing moment was when I was giving a talk about religion in one of my 10th grade classes. I can’t remember what I was saying but at the same time I made a hand gesture that means sex. Let’s just say the laughing lasted a while.

Monday of this week there was 4 inches of snow. The rest of the week it slowly thawed. Right now the roads of town are super wet and muddy. I’m hoping this week I have seen the last snow until next winter but who knows. All winter I needed a pair of ice skates to get to school and know I’m thinking that I might need a swim suit and a pair of goggles. When summer comes, I don’t think I’ll ever appreciate warm and dry weather as much as any other time in my life.

Someone wrote me and asked me about the Ukrainian men. Mom don’t worry I haven’t seen many men taller than me. But I did make myself laugh yesterday when I was on the bus. A man got on and he had to tilt his head while standing in the bus. Instinctually, I looked at his wedding finger. Damn, he is already taken. I’ve had to adjust because Ukrainians are mostly Orthodox which means their rings on the right hands instead of the left. I would like to think I have adapted, but haven’t found any suitors yet.

I often like to think of my life as an interesting movie or HBO mini-series. After deciding that a hybrid Kate Winslet and Julia Roberts actress would play me, I often try to figure out what songs would be appropriate for my daily actions and experiences. I still have a lot of work to do but I know that for my daily 30 min walk to school would have to be shown with One Republic’s “Stop & Stare” playing in the background. I really think I get more stares here than I did being a white person in Africa. Some people will literally stop on the side walk and turn to stare at me while I walk by them. At first you think oh, I’m sort of interesting. Then you get to the paranoid state where you think oh my god do I have toilet paper coming out of the bottom of my pants. Eventually you moved on to a little annoyed stage. Like yeah people this act will be here for a whole two years so there is no need to gawk.

Yesterday, I had one of the most enjoyable afternoons I have had in a long time. I treated myself to an afternoon with myself: Great Kate Date. I took the 30 minute marsuka ride into Lutsk, the nearby city. I went to a swanky restaurant that is the only place I known that has Wi-Fi. It was a very nice restaurant but not very busy because it’s expensive compared to the average. I sat for the afternoon nursing three beers (I would drink coffee but I don’t want to have a vice, haha). It was strange to drink alone especially as a woman in Ukraine but I say screw norms. I’m a 6’2, earmuff wearing, non-high heeled, anti-makeup American girl with a nappy, curly high bun. I never really had much of a chance of blending in anyways.

I just need to survive this week and then it is SPRING BREAK 2010!! Miss you and love you all at home.

Cultural Questions I have:
Can weather effect blood pressure?
What does liver pain feel like?
Why do some Ukrainians say “good day” at 7:45 in the morning?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ukrainian Mexican Food to Celebrate an Irish Holiday

Allison making the first Ukrainian Mexican burrito.

Allison, Travis, & Aidan better known as the V.V. crew.

Allison and I got to make traditional Ukrainian Eggs alot more complicated process than what I'm use to.

As you can guess these were done by kids and not the two American girls.

Boo for the snow! (view out Allison's window)

The V.V. murial/art work at the bus station.

This week was another four day week. But sometimes knowing that I only have to survive four days in the classroom instead of five makes the classes periods drag as if time is barely moving. This week was alright. I have classes I really enjoy and others that aren’t a walk in park. Overall, it was an ok week at school.

On Thursday, I got to speak to a group of 30 foreign language teachers at the district building. I had a PowerPoint about myself as well as another one about Peace Corps. It is so funny how speaking in front of large groups doesn’t really faze me that much anymore. I can remember being asked to speak at chapel or focus on campus and I would reluctantly suffer through it. Now I can get up in front of a group microphone or no microphone and handle it pretty well. I count my successes in how many laughs I can get out of them. Normally, I’m pretty good at crossing that cultural barrier.

Working out at the gym was a little slow this week. I missed two days of working out because of Women’s Day celebrations. But I enjoyed hopping back on the treadmill and getting some ever so slow miles in. I was really hoping that this past week was going to be the week that I could finally start running outside. The snow was almost melted completely with icy roads and sidewalks defrosting enough for a mid day run but on Thursday the snow started falling again. Over the weekend, it has continued to flurry enough to cover the ground. So for now I’m trapped running at the gym on the treadmill which normally only gets me two or two half miles depending on how busy the gym gets.

But good news is that the group organizing the half marathon that I was going to do on April 16th also decided to offer a 10k as well. In my circumstances of limited running, I have signed up for the 10k. It is still 6 miles and the course is near the Carpathian Mountains so it isn’t going to be the flat running of central Illinois or Chicago land that I was getting use to this summer. Allison and the V.V. boys are going to volunteer to help run the race. So I’m looking forward a nice weekend with my crew as well as many other volunteers.
riday, I headed to Voldymyr-Volynski which is roughly 2 hours on transport from my town to visit Allison and the boys. Mama Perrone had sent me a St. Patrick’s Day packages with many American snacks so I kept from eating them until this weekend. M&Ms have never smelled so good in my life. Besides snacking on the theme green candies and snacks we also made Mexican food. Or should I say that Allison did most of the work while Aidan, Travis and I reaped the benefits. Hung around Allison’s place as well as hitting up the bar below her apartment.

The rest of the weekend Allison and I just lounged around trading media on our externals and PCs. We got some movies in that I hadn’t seen; Ironman not too bad. Also saw Crazy Heart that Jeff Bridges won Best Actor for. The best part of the movie was when he was fishing and drinking a PBR, I nearly cried. Yeah, so just a lazy weekend.

Oh, I haven’t confirmed it yet but I think I might have set a world record for the most peanut M&Ms in some one’s mouth with 70. I’m sad to report that I don’t have a photo but I do have a great video. Hopefully sometime I can find a faster internet connection I can upload. It was pretty impressive I must say.

Well I got some lesson planning that needs to get down on this Sunday evening. Hope everyone is well at home. Think about you all a lot. A lucky few faces were shown in my PowerPoint (Mom, Dad, Tob, Kev, Lou, Bre, Sluis, and Kenya #1 group). Miss ya, love ya all.

Still no flat if you were wondering. Patience is a virtue...I guess.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

let go, let god

In March of 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave an executive order to start a volunteer program where young Americans would dedicate two years of service to a developing country with the hopes of providing needed skills while also creating a better understanding between our country and theirs. So 49 years later this is how I find myself spending two years of my life in the classrooms of a small Ukrainian town as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Peace Corps Volunteer.

After probably one of the most frustrating weeks, today I decided to pull out the Peace Corps “Core Expectations for PCVs.” I’m trying to regroup and rededicate myself to what it is I signed up for because with many bad days adding up I feel like I’m starting to become pretty apathetic about my being here.

1. Prepare yourself personal and professional life to make a commitment to serve abroad for a full term of 27 months.

2. Commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom you live and work; and, in doing so, share your skills, adapt them, and learn new skills as needed.

3. Serve where Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.

Here are some thoughts that are getting in the way of the top three expectations:

No being two places at once. This week I missed a good friend’s birthday, my mom’s 50th birthday, a family wedding shower as well as my sister’s baby shower which is today.

At the moment, I’m not feeling as though I’m improving the lives of people around me too much. Sure I give the old babushkas a kick when I try to speak in Ukrainian and the 3rd graders love me but they would probably enjoy a trained monkey too.

Serve where Peace Corps asked you to go… I had always pictured myself in a small mud hut preparing materials while I could hear the laughter of African children outside my window. I was ready to use a pit latrine, collect my water in buckets and be disconnected from modern technology. I never knew a long, cold, snowy winter in an eastern European country with many luxuries could be this hard.

But I guess I got to get past all that. My new motto for this experience is “let go, let God.” Next week is going to be a better week. Good days are coming…

Teachers room in between the break, notice all the flowers for women's day given to the teachers by students.

Haha they are going to hate their moms when they grow up. Some students performing a chicken dance routine.

Myself and Svitlana, one of the ENG teachers I work with. The other teachers thought we coordinated our purple shirts.

The spread of a Ukrainian teacher party.

Game is you draw something from the hat and have to do it. Here is one of my math teachers playing the drums on some bottles while singing with the director. She lucked out, I had to dance infront of everyone.

Victor, the math teacher and also the man who gave me my first Ukrainian kiss. Marisa if you see this he is waving hello to you.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Didn’t know God was Ukrainian…

This is what I look like in case you forgot.

Jon being the "man" at the Chinese place.

The university in Lutsk at night.

Coco munchies in Ukraine!!! I might be able to survive after all.

Making Jiffy Popcorn in the new kitchen.

How's that sugar/burnt popcorn, Allison?

Funny moment of the week: I was walking from the gate to the front door of my house after a long day just sort of spaced out talking to God (I do it a lot here). Then I heard a voice from above “Katrine” (it’s that or Katya here). It is said soft but loud enough to catch my attention. I look around and see no one. I’m like did God just call out to me with a Ukrainian accent? I looking around confused and then I hear it again. I look up and my 50 something year old host mother is on the roof cleaning out the gutters.

This past week marks me being 10% through my service. The time has really started to pick. I feel like the warmer the weather the fast each day passes. So Mom it will be no time until you see my bright shining face.

For the first time since coming to Ukraine, I got to work out. I am allowed to work out at a nice new gym in exchange for tutoring the owner’s daughter. The gym has very nice lifting machines as well as a treadmill. Got a little over 6 miles in. Felt pretty good. Now the roads just need to dry out so I can get even more miles in outside. But patience is a virtue, right?

My first workout I started with running 2 miles on the treadmill followed by a weightlifting circuit. It’s not that I’m lifting heavy weights but the fact it is a quick pace from one machine to the next. Toward the end of the workout, I really thought I was going to pass out which would have been horrifying because they would have thought they killed the chubby American on the first day. I was praying please God don’t let me and guess what I survived. Thank you Jesus!

On Wednesday, I was told that the Medical College in my town invited me to come speak to students so they could hear a native English speaker. I was under the impression that I was going to be speaking in a class room with 20-30 students. I worked out right after school, came home for a quick shower and changed before walking over to the college. I didn’t think it was anything too fancy so I just threw a fleece on over my button up shirt and wore my hair in my signature nappy bun. I’m mortified when I get to the school and they walk me to the auditorium. It is a huge room with over 100 chairs with a stage complete with speakers and a microphone. Students filled the room to watch their classmates present in English a PowerPoint about Ukraine and also perform some songs in English. February was their English month and this was like the big wrap up event.

So with having prepared nothing, I took the stage to introduce myself. I gave the “hi my name is Kate, I’m from Chillicothe, IL, I went to university near Chicago, and I am a PC volunteer” in Ukrainian before taking questions from the student. I must say that the funniest question was “Do you like Ukrainian men?” I turned it into a joke saying that I am very tall and my mother doesn’t allow me to pursue short men. So for the time being, it looks like I’m out of luck because I haven’t seen a Ukrainian man taller than me that isn’t married. I was on the stage for around 20mins, and I now feel like if I struggle finding a job when I get home I would be interested in standup comedy. You know you are good when you can deliver jokes to people from another culture and still get a pretty good laugh out of them.

I’m starting to get recognized more and more around town. One day this week on my walk to school, I crossed paths with three people who stopped and said hello to me. Kivertsi is slowly starting to feel like home which is nice. I’m also pretty good friends with the people in the post office. The last package that was sent to me they hadn’t yet put a slip in my PO Box, saw me and then just went to the back. So I guess it has perks to being so recognizable. I wonder if it is the earmuffs or the fact I’m 6’2 and I’m not even wearing heels?

Classes this week were alright. Some really don’t listen or behave if there is not a Ukrainian teacher in the room which is starting to really wear on me. So by Friday morning classes, my normal chippy-self was a little exhausted. My vice principle says “Why is your mood no good.” I tried to explain I’m just tired from a long week. She then tells me that I should not come in Monday that I should just take the day off. Since I covered many extra classes when my counterpart was out for a month and after the rough week, I wasn’t going to argue with that.

So knowing that I have Monday off, I was able to fully enjoy Allison’s visit to my town and not be worring about getting lesson planning done and what not. She came Friday. We met up with Jon for dinner and drinks in Lutsk. Saturday, we slept in for awhile and were a little slow moving before heading back into Lutsk to do some shopping at Tam-tam (Ukraine’s closest thing to a Wal-Mart). We literally walked ever isle and had a pretty good time doing it.

In the store, there is a like a food court where you can select what you want and they serve it cafeteria style. I had a chicken sandwich and salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, onions and black olives. It tasted so amazing after such a long time without those veggies. Another thing that was surprising while shopping was how foreign it felt to push a shopping cart. Normally, my shopping includes going to the small store to buy oatmeal, hitting up the bread store for a fresh loaf and buying apples or mandarins off the street. The idea of walking around a store and throwing items into a cart hasn’t been familiar for awhile.

After our shopping spree, Allison and I met up with Jon (cluster mate), Melissa (PCV in Lutsk who is in our group 37) and Katie (PCV who will COS in Nov.) for dinner. It is strange to spend a week or 2 without contact with another American and then be surrounded by real English speakers. It is a fresh breath of air where I can realize that I’m not a mute and can actually express myself.

From chitchatting with Katie, I have decided to take part in the half marathon near the Carpathian Mountains in April. She said she doesn’t know how ready she will be because her working out depends on the weather since she lives in a village. She reassured me that she can’t finish but it is more about going and experiencing it all. So I’m going to run as far as I can before walking then probably walk for a little and start to run again. Hopefully, I can talk Allison into it and if we have to cheat and jump on a marsuka to finish I’ll have a buddy to be embarrassed with.

So yeah, this is what is going on with my life. Still waiting, well I’m content with life at the moment but for those of you who are still wondering I’m leaving with the host family currently with no sign of my own place yet. Hope everyone is all well.

Miss you, love you.

PS If God gives you lemons make lemonade, maybe you didn’t realize you were thirsty.