Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Put Another Hole in Your Belt…

Churches on the outskirts of Lviv.

Oh boy, I’m enjoying sitting eating nothing in my flat. It isn’t for the lack of food, but because I had another Easter extravaganza. Friday morning, I headed to Komarno which is a small town outside of Lviv with my PCV friend Melissa. She has relatives, because her pops’ parents are from Ukraine. So I took the marshuka to Lutsk, bus to Lviv, marshuka across town to the train station, and another bus to Komarno; around eight hours to get there. But oh let me tell you it was well worth it.

Slava, Hanna, & Bohdan showin' me the cake business.

We stayed with Bohdan and Slava Krut who are Melissa’s second cousins. They might possibly be the nicest Ukrainians ever. Their daughter and son-in-law along with their two kids live with them. (It is normal in Ukraine for many generations to live together in one house) I made quick friends with Iryna, an entertaining 6 year old. The first evening I got free admission of the family business; a cake bakery of sorts. The family made around 150 cakes for Easter, and they also baked many paskas (Easter bread) of all different sizes. Throughout the year, they bake cakes for events and weddings. I can testify that they areдуже смачний (very delicious).

Old wooden church where we watched Easter performances by the local children.

After getting to see the ins and outs of cake making, we headed off to the Orthodox Church. People from town were busy cleaning, dusting and hanging traditional clothes for Easter weekend. It was beautiful church and awesome to see lit up at night. Our little group made up of Ivana (Bohdan’s daughter), Iryna (Bohdan’s granddaughter), Kristina (Melissa’s other cousin) and Olya (Kristina’s daughter) stopped off at the Catholic Church before headed back to their part of town.

Some of our decorated eggs made the Easter basket. Unfortunately my I {heart} Ukraine red one didn't make the cut.

Saturday, Melissa and I got to sleep in and then were fed breakfast before another busy day. We headed across to the street to Kristina’s family’s house to color and design eggs. Some eggs were crafted really beautiful. Mine…ehh, but I can say I had a little more attention to detail than the six year old that was sitting next to me. After finishing the eggs, we hit the backyard pond with Kristina’s husband and three kids (all university or just out of age). With the collapsible cane poles, we caught some small fish. We used a catch and release system so it could have been the same three fish in the pond for all we know. After taking in some afternoon sun, we gather back in the kitchen to have some sandwiches as well as try some delicious homemade cake. I’m guessing that I probably sampled at least 15 different types of cake over the course of my stay.

Linin' up of the baskets.

At 6pm, all dressed up we headed off to get our Easter baskets blessed at the church. Each family brings a basket sometimes more than one to church. The standard basket ingredients are sausage, butter, cheese, salt, eggs, horseradish, ham, but aren’t limited to just that (I saw some kids with their own little baskets that had chocolate bunnies). Scriptures were read, songs were sung, and Ukrainians crossed themselves many times before the priest made his way around (people made a huge circle around the church) to bless the baskets as well as toss holy water on the Easter worshipers. Saturday night, we had a normal dinner and then enjoyed each others company before calling it a night.

The crew at the end of the Easter house crawl.

I opted to sleep instead of going to the 6am service. I figured God would understand that I needed enough rest for the Ukrainian Easter Crawl that was about to happen. On Sunday, Melissa and I ate at three different houses besides Bohdan and Slava’s were we started off with a heavy Easter brunch (all types of delicious dishes made from the ingredients that were blessed at church the previous day). Bohdan was kind enough to drive us around in his thirty year old Lada (soviet era). I thought my Whitey was a sweet car; his Soviet made wagon was a pretty pimping ride. We were welcomed at different extended family members’ houses with very similar traditional dishes. It was fun visiting with all the family. The Krut family has some pretty interesting businesses: cake, bees, rabbits, fashion design, and glass/mirror creations. They were no dull moments on this Easter excursion.

Slava and Bohdan giving us a warm send off.

Monday morning, we (Melissa, Bohdan, Slava, Iryna, and myself) headed to one last Easter feast. It was another extended family’s place that was just one village over. We again enjoyed many cakes, paskas, sausage and here I even had my second helping of holodets (meat jello) of the trip. By 12:30, we were headed back to Bohdan and Slava’s house to pack up our stuff. There we were greated by some of the family who came to see us off. We were not able to leave without being given an Easter bag of goodies. They were a little heavy to haul back to Lutsk, but worth it in the end. Bohdan and Slava drove us to the center of town to catch our bus to leave, even stood alongside the bus to waved good bye as we pulled out of the parking lot.

I may have not received a chocolate rabbit from the Easter bunny, but Melissa's family didn't send me home empty handed.

It was a long journey back to Lutsk. There was even an unfortunate incident with a puker on the bus ride home (inquire about details via email), but I eventually returned home to Kivertsi around 8ish unharmed. Easter of 2011 provided to be a great one despite being far, far away from home.

Miss and love you all,


Monday, April 18, 2011

Boxing Out

Val's English teacher party at her doma (home). For being a vegetarian meal, it wasn't too shabby at all.

Howdy, howdy all. It is another Monday morning which means a later start at school for me. I slept in…woo 7:45am is really late. I do appreciate being able to slowly get ready. Ample time to read NPR (I’m not too happy about New York Times limiting online reading), make a hot breakfast, wash my hair, and most important morning ‘to do’ layering appropriately for school.

You are probably thinking why layers. Well last friday was the last day of heat in my school. Not like it the school was ever too toasting, but it took the chill off. Now, I’m back to long sleeve t-shirts under my sweaters, but no three pairs of pants are needed so that is something to be happy about. The weather has been all over the place the last week and half. Some afternoons it broke into the low 50s and after a cold winter I don’t feel like I even need a jacket. Then the next day it rained with a strong wind and I played with the idea of getting my winter coat back out. I’ll look forward to a constant sunshine and warmth of the summer months.

Along with dribbling, we should probably teach boxing out.

Nothing too incredibly exciting in the last couple of weeks, I’m really waiting for summer to get here and in the mean time trying to survive school. The warmer it gets the more rowdy the students are. I keep telling myself just a little over a month and I’ll be free. I have full blown summeritis.

Lately, I have been reading a lot which is great. Nothing like losing yourself in a book to pass the time. Something that makes this even more enjoyable is that I finally cleaned off my balcony (taking all the glass jars and junk and shifting it to the fair end of the balcony). Now, I have a lovely place to sit on a stool and read while people watching. Oh, I’ve seen some interesting things.

I've seen goal tending. Ukrainians take it to a whole nother level.

I saw three older woman who I’m guessing late 50s/early 60s walking arm and arm just laughing. The type when someone can’t even get out a full sentence without starting to burst into laughter. It made me miss my friends especially Bre. The other interesting thing was a drunken bicycler. Drunken strolling around town isn’t super dangerous, but to drunk cycling. It is one thing to take a NCC red bike on a tipsy cruise down to your friend’s dorm (I never did this), but potentially playing chicken with marsukas on their route to the next village…no thank you.

Most frustrating moment of the week: getting cussed at and rocks thrown at me by a 10 year old as his little gang laughed. All I wanted to do was to get a run in at the track. Next time, I’m taking my own ammo. I was decent softball player back in the day. He better watch out.

So that is where the bathroom sink is.

Most fun thing of the week: hooping it up with a group of kids in the park next to my house. Val and I split the kids and tried to match them up to guard each other. It would work for all of one possession before all hell would break loose. There was mass amounts of traveling, double dribble, fouling and goal tending (please see photo). Val and I might purchase another ball so we can do little group activities like a layup line and some dribbling exercises. Organized basketball doesn’t really exist here.

Well that about it. I hope everyone is well. Know that I will be very excited when the time comes that I see you all on a normal basis or at least have an unlimited nights and weekend plan we were can chat without the use of Skype or international phone cards. Miss and love you all.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Two for the Price of... None

Tourists don't know where they've been; travelers don't know where they're going.

Upon My Wall

I sit and stare at it upon my wall-
board the closest ship
voyage through the North Atlantic
try the Indian ocean again
no stopping until the shores of Asia
recollect the sun going down over West Africa
never disappointed

green fields of Ireland have still gone unseen
maybe onward to County Clare
roots also lead to farm lands of Germany
house built in the hillside waits to be photographed

infinite places to go
even more stories to craft
drinks to share, cuisines to try
laughs to hear, images to capture

but longer the stare, bigger it seems
longer I’m away, more I’m drawn toward where I started

-not time yet anyhow,
pins hold the old crinkled map
along with my dreams
upon the wall.

Backless Stool

Shadows slowly emerge on the dirty kitchen floor
from the coming of the morning sun
dew rests on a few colorful arrivals
cared for garden beds lay quietly
the old babushka creaks by on her antique bicycle
hum of the ancient refrigerator is heard over the neighborhood dogs
whose cries announce their presence on this Soviet block
birds slowly congregate in the trees across the street
as do faithful believers of the little blue church with the golden dome
whilst their melodies flood out the cracked windows
smell of cheap coffee lingers in the air
the cool breeze floats into the still slumbering flat
on my backless stool I gaze out the window
I wait patiently for my most desired morning company;
her name is April.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Excuse me teacher...but why?

Enjoying another day with the 7th formers.

Why do I have to ask to go sharpen my pencil?

If I have the correct answer, why can’t I just say it, and why do I need to raise my hand?

Why do we have to stand in a single file line to get our lunches?

I do my work and listen, why do I have an assigned seat next to the class trouble maker?

Why can’t I pass notes, it is better than talking in class?

I know where the gym is, why do I have to walk in a line with everyone to get there?

Why can’t I write in pen?

It is recess time why can’t we rough house?

Why can’t I snack in class?

These are questions that floated around my head as a student. I sometimes thought teachers enforced the dumbest rules, were all about control, old and outdated. As I stand in front of a class that I’m a decade older than, NOW I completely understand. I would argue teaching is one of the most challenging jobs. As a teacher one has to balance the crazy energy and emotions students bring to the classroom. Teachers try to guide each individual through personal learning obstacles while advancing the class as a whole.

Through teaching in my Peace Corps experience, I’m realizing on how large of an impact that teachers have on people’s lives. Teachers play a huge role in shaping every student who walks through their doors. We have the strict teachers to show us sometimes the rules won’t bend, so we shouldn’t expect them to. We have the goofy teacher who shows us that on some level we really never have to grow up. We have the encouraging teacher who makes every student feel like they are her favorite. We have the challenging teacher who sees our potential and pushes us. And if we are really lucky, we have a teacher who wears all these hats.

I’m closing in on finishing my third semester of teaching at my Ukrainian school (5th through 11th formers). I don’t think I have had the impact like so many of my teachers did on me, but something else special is happening. I realize that I’m not only teaching them, but they have taught me a few significant life lessons. Students will always point out when I have chalk on the back of my pants. Patience is one if not the most important qualities to possess. Small victories add up to big ones over time. Teachers enjoy holiday breaks as much if not more than students. No energy is wasted when helping a struggling student. Sometimes, I need to loosen up and just laugh. They might not remember all the correct grammar tenses, but they will remember how I made them feel. Roll with teaching moments even if they aren’t in my lesson plan. Leave personal problems at the door and come in with a good attitude. Simple praise for a student’s work can really motivate. Sometimes an entertaining game of Heads Up, 7 Up is needed.

I write this as I’m struggling to focus and, along with the students, I’m developing Summeritis and longing for the school year to wrap up quickly. I have my good lessons as well as not so good lessons, but hopefully they all balance out in the end. I hope that every teacher, TEFL in Peace Corps or normal school teacher back at home, on their not so good days remember why they do, what they do.


A special list of teachers who have shaped my life for the better, I thank you for your patience, kindness, encouragement, humor, support and showing up every day to get the job done.

Mrs. Mc Mellon, Mrs. Nalley, Mrs. Kennedy, Mrs. Hentchel, Mrs. Deyo, Mrs.Watts, Mr. Webb, Ms. Lane, Mrs. Griswold, Mrs. Boyle, Mr. Blew, Mrs. Kinney, Ms. Perry, Ms. Wente, Ms. Gribble, Mrs. Webb, Mrs. Harding, Mrs. Jennings, Mr. Mercer, Mrs. Patty, Ms. Frost, Mr. Flagg, Mr. Schmidt, Mrs. Heth, Mr. Grey, Ms. Singer, Mrs. Rickey and all other teachers and staff members who behinds the scenes support the students as well as their co-workers. God bless you all.

(To my English teachers, I apologize I still don’t like or use commas appropriately and hate proofreading. Maybe in my next life)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Flags, Smoke, Police, & Futbol

Volyn's fan/young & crazy section!

Another normal week in Ukraine, and by normal I mean a week filled with the most random of things. This week I’m going to use a list format, because…well I want to. Please do enjoy.

-“Teacher: A teacher’s job is to take a room full of live wires and try to ground’em all.” Off of the country saying of the day calendar. I would concur.

-I found probably grey hair number five. I would explain it from the previous item on this list.

-April Fool’s Day is celebrated in Ukraine (sometimes). I was greeted at the school door by four dancing Roma women (gypsies as Ukrainians would say). Very…interesting.

Pre-gaming with potatoes and vodka.

-Sweatin’ with the oldies. By that I mean, sweating with the little old babas on the bus who still wear winter coats and scarves. It is only early April and I’m already screaming on the inside for some to open a window. Going to be a long summer.

-Until this week I had never played Frisbee with a man who had a fake leg. Outside of Val’s house, we played Frisbee in the street with her two Ukrainian neighbors who were at the youngest in their fifties. Good times!

-2 quiet PCVs + 1 loud PCV (not me) + 1 extremely loud Ukrainian teacher counterpart + 1 old curious and looking to get married Ukrainian man = awkwardness for the whole bus the 30 mins from Lutsk to Kivertsi.

-Always make friends with the man sitting next to you at the football match. You will get free sunflower seeds and they will be entertained with your American cuss words as you yell at the panzie from the other team who was faking an injury.

Jay gets best fan of the day award. He traveled from northern Volynska Oblast 6 hours all together. (Left Jay, Right Terry being a goof)

-plus10<20 cups of coffee. With my lack of energy this past week, I have finally taking up coffee. It is the fake instant coffee that is sold in single packets. I feel so more adult now reading NPR and the NYTimes online over a hot cup of joe.

-Sad. Is the best word to describe the situation of being on a public shitter and discovering TP when you forgot to bring your own and the excitement it adds to my life. Oh, and the second saddest thing would have to be finding a public bathroom that has a toilet seat.

-“She wears high heels, I wear sneakers
She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers
Dreaming bout the day when you wake up and find
That what you're looking for has been here the whole time”

Me enthusiastically singing this Taylor Swift jingle that was being played in the Ukrainian grocery store to a not so enthusiastic Melissa. Oh how this was the best day ever in Tam Tam (grocery store). I heard country music and I made the best purchase every, drum roll please… a BASKETBALL. Now, Val and I can finally hoop it up on the courts next to my building. Ukraine isn’t going to know what hit’em.

Why not celebrate with smoke bombs and fireworks in a crowded stadium. Final score them 3, us 0.

-Congratulations to Corey and Casey Barrette! They got hitched this past Saturday. Really wish I could have been home to celebrate with you, but I was thinking of you the whole day over here in Ukraine. Love you both Mr. & Mrs. Graham-cracker!

- The beginning of April is here and I’m already hardcore yearning for June. Can you say summeritis?

-Parks & Recreation I would like to add to my ever growing list of loved TV discovered in Ukraine. Amy Poehler is no Tina Fey, but still pretty funny. Just finished up season two, now need to get some at the next PCV get together.

-Fresh air and more sunlight are now enjoyed in my flat. This weekend I took down the plastic that had been nailed up around my windows in the room I sleep in. My balcony needs some seriously cleaning. I found my missing sink, but from the looks of it I doubt it will be returning to the bathroom any time soon.

-UConn loses in the first game of the final four. Suck it Geno! Since my Lady Vols aren’t in it, I can cheer for the team that knocked them off. Go Irish!! Oh, how I miss March Madness and all types of familiar sports and teams I like to watch. Go Cubs!

As you can see from above nothing too crazy happened, but not anything too boring either. Hope everyone is enjoying spring weather and that green grass as well as colorful flowers soon surround you. I can say I’m thoroughly enjoying walking to school with no scarf, gloves, and double pairs of pants. On days like today, I even get to rock on with sunglasses on my walk across town. Miss and love you all.