Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grab A Book Kind of Day

Shannon (linkmate) and I gettin' some rays.

A big hello from a small Ukrainian town. I’m back at site after a little over a week spent at a camp outside Odesa. Camp Bereg (beach) was at a sanatorium about a hour and half our bus ride from Odesa. There was around 30 students and almost as many counselors. It was staffed by Peace Corps Volunteers as well as international volunteers. In my group (The Chocolate Killin’ Pirates), we have leaders from Morocco, Poland, India, China and of course the US of A. It was a 1 to 1 ratio with the campers.

Camp Bereg at Sparonza grounds outside of Odesa.

We were on a lagoon so the beach days we would take a short ferry ride across to nice beach that wasn’t too crowded to take in the sun and the surf. We did other activities such as sports, talent shows, English games and bracelet making. Since there were so many counselors and I had stuff that I needed to get done at site, I decided to peace out a little earlier than scheduled.

Odesa Opera House on a beautiful summer day.

But don’t worry before leaving, I had the time to tour around Odesa with Shannon (linkmate) and Courtney. One of the best things of summer is meeting other volunteers from other areas of Ukraine. Courtney is from a younger group (I am group 37 and I believe she is 39 or 40) and she lives in Crimea which you know from previous posts is quite far from my most northern oblast. Anywho, the three of us made quite the trio. When we had to take a hodge podge way of getting to Odesa after accidentally letting the bus we wanted drive by without flagging it down. We jumped on a marshuka and then went on a wide goose chase for around an hour before getting our path corrected.

Eventually, we got to Odesa. The girls did some standing in train station lines before we hit the streets. We met up with Sam (another PCV that they had just worked a previous camp with) and grabbed some delicious lunch. Camp food is camp food so it was nice to get something that wasn’t koshi or super soft sausages. After lunch, we hit up the musts of Odesa: Opera House, famous steps, Katherine statue, and the port. That was pretty easy considering they were all not more than a block from each other. Also somewhere in that mix we stopped to what I would argue was the best gelato I’ve ever had: chocolate, banana, and mint.

Life is hard for TEFL PCVs in the summer; got to love the beach.

The girls and I got back to camp by 8:30, which was just in time to grab a ride over to the house that we were being switched into. Apparently, there was a dance group coming for the second week of camp and the Ukrainian directors of the camp wanted to house them in our living accommodations and we were switched to a beach house or should I say lagoon house that was a 20 minute walk away from the camp. I think it was a little crappy to make us switch, but it came as no big surprise since earlier in the week we were left on a beach (remember we have to take a ferry) to hide us from Ukrainian health inspectors for 6 hours while the camp was being approved. Oh, did I mention that they didn’t bring us lunch as they had promised. Let’s just say there we some unhappy counselors that day.

Anywho, on Monday evening I grabbed a train back to Kievertsi. It was one of the least enjoyable rides of the summer: 1. It was super hot that day, 2. I had a side top bed on the train, and 3. Ukrainians don’t leave the windows open for the fear that the draft will kill them. It was one hot and sticky ride. In the end, I arrived without suffering from heat stroke Tuesday morning. So I’ve just been chilling.

Shannon and I infront of the famous Potemkin Steps in Odesa.

Yesterday, Val (my site mate) and I caught up over pancakes at my place and then later on in the afternoon I had my “Friends”/Uno Club over to my place.
My plans for the rest of the week are to relax and enjoy some reading in the comfort of my quiet and cool flat. Today it is overcast and low temperatures. So I’m about to get comfortable in my bed and finish reading “The Good Earth.” Hope everyone at home is good. Love and miss you all.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Speedin' Through Summer

The kids walking me to the marshuka stop when I left camp.

No, I haven’t bought a car, but I still feel like I’m going a 100 mph through summer. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a little MIA from blogging. Why you ask? Inter Camp in Crimea. On the 24th of June, Melissa and I embarked on a great journey south. It wasn’t the cabin fever created by a 23 hour train ride that drove me crazy, but more so Ukrainians not opening the windows in fear that the ‘draft’ would kill them and all their countrymen on the train. All and all it wasn’t too bad and Melissa and I arrived to Simferopol unharmed.

From there we hopped an hour and half bus ride to the west side of Crimea’s peninsula. We then grabbed a marshuka for the last 30 minutes of the trip. We were greeted by some of the campers who chatted us up on our 10 minute walk back to our camp site while helping us with our bags. The sanatorium we stayed at had two rows of rooms with a cement patio in front of them. In between the two rows was a large garden and gravel paths. It wasn’t what I imagined (I was thinking/hoping of a 3 star hotel pre-arrival), but I soon loved our set up.

Emily and the kids who learned the High School Musical dance.

The average day started at 8am with morning stretches and small activity to get the blood flowing. 8:30 breakfast. 9:00 small groups reading our daily InterCamp newspaper. 10:00 workshops led by PCVs in small groups. 11:00- 1:00 sea time. 1:00 lunch. Rest time until 3:00. Small Group Work on Movie Script 4:00. Large Group activity til 5:00. Dinner 6:00.

There was no cookie cutter days, because we had some chilly and rainy days that made us switch around the schedule. The entire camp the different small groups were working on their movies. Each group chose a movie to base their own off of and recreate with their own style and flare. My group remade Home Alone 3 (Camp Alone). Other groups did Goonies, Edward Scissor Hands and a couple of others I can think of at the moment. The kids did great. I was impressed how some of my kids so quickly memorized lines. The last night of camp the kids put on a Film Festival (I was unfortunately on my way to Kyiv and missed it).

Me and my friend Blondie (Emily).

I was one of 5 volunteers working. Melissa who is from my oblast. Nick and Emily from Khemelnesky which is a 6 and half hour bus ride away from Lutsk. Garrick, a non 37 group PCV, lives southeast from Volynska Oblast and was by far a camper favorite with his musical ability on the guitar and crazy antics in the sea. We all got along really well and brought some interesting personalities and enthusiasm to the camp. The campers were so fun; ranging from 8 to 16 years old students who were engaged and excited to practice their English.

Highlights of Camp
Maryna the camp director!!!! She might be the easiest to work with and enjoyable Ukrainian I have met. She had a great ability to be prepared while also going with the flow. Super great personality and a joy to work with.UNO!!!! I got to play some great rounds with the younger campers.Blondie (Emily)!!!! The camp director told Emily that her favorite part of camp was watching the dynamic between Emily and me. Emily is a fashion diva/cheerleader/dance instructor/beautician/the loudest camp counselor ever. We were definitely the odd couple when it comes to summer friendships.Relaxing in the sun!!! It was great to just hangout on the beach. Talking, reading, playing botchy ball or just catching rays.

Everyone's clothes drying after a slight hurricane.

Unfortunately, all good things much come to an end and on the afternoon of July 4th, I headed back to Simferopol to catch a train Kyiv bound. I was sad to leave the camp and miss the film festival. I also wasn’t too excited for the lone solo trip to Kyiv. It was a little hard to be away from home on the 4th. I feel it is the holiday were I most miss not being in Chillicothe. You can throw a good Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Party, but not being in the US of A on the 4th takes a lot of the fun out of the holiday.

But don’t worry, I wasn’t too bummed for long, because I was on my way to pick up Kimberly and Joseph (my favorite former Berwyn housemates) from the airport. My link mate Kelsey was also in Kyiv picking up a friend so we headed to the hostel to drop our stuff and then grab the shuttle out to the airport. We successfully picked up our visitors, got them settled into the hostel and eventually hit the town for a Ukrainian dinner.

On Independance Square with my two favorite Berwynites!

The next day we went on a tour of Kyiv given by myself and Kelsey. I like to call this the ‘almost tour’. We did a little site seeing in the morning before planning to take the noon free English walking tour. There was a sudden down pour right before noon so we ducked into an outdoor covered café to seek shelter and played Yahtzee until clearer skies came. Eventually, we met for the 4pm walking tour. It was an epic failure, because our tour guide could barely speak above a whisper and we soon ducked out to do Kyiv once again on our own.

We hit the main sights to see before heading to the train station for the overnight train back to Kivertsi. Before boarding we stopped for dinner at McFoxy, which is a complete rip off of McD’s. It also stands right next door. The menu was interesting; I had a pineapple burger. It tasted more like a sausage patty with pineapple, but none the less wasn’t too bad for being half the price of the next door neighbor.

Shot from the bell tower at St.Sophia's Church.

Kimberly and Joseph passed the overnight Ukrainian experience without being puked on or any other unfortunate circumstances minus the super loud teenagers who were right by us. We stayed in Kivertsi for a few days. Kimberly and Joseph got to see the Thursday market, a Ukrainian pagan holiday, lunch with the Director of Peace Corps Ukraine, and tours of Lutsk and Kivertsi. Eventually, we headed to my favorite Ukrainian city, Lviv. We ate at delicious restaurants and hit most of the tourist spots. One of my favorite things about them visiting was every night we sat around and played Yahtzee. It was nice to have quality time with friends from home.

They caught a taxi to the airport the last day and I headed to the marshuka stop to ride out to the bus station. Oh, how my luck ran out. 1. It was super hot on the bud. 2. I was sitting in the very front seat without a seat belt. 3. The driver was a chain smoker. 4. The crying baby in the back. 5. The front left tire sounded if at any moment it was going to fly off. 6. The driver stopped multiple times to bang on the tire. 7. The driver still drove and passed like a crazy person. With all that said, I eventually arrived in one piece to Lutsk around 4:30. I got back did to my flat finished a few thing around my place before hitting the hay.

Can it get worse than wearing your pants high and tucking in your mess t-shirt??

Yesterday, I did a lot of hand washing and strung it out on my balcony. Today, I’m trying to catch up on emails and my blog. Tonight, I’ll head out again to another camp in Odessa on an overnight train. This time I won’t have Melissa as a travel companion, but lucky it is a shorter trip only around 13 hours. Well dear friends I have more clothes to fold and my back pack sits empty on the floor. I need to get ready for another three weeks at camp. Hopefully by the time I arrived my excitement will pick up, because right now I’m thinking of how cozy my bed looks and the unread books on my bookshelf.

Miss and love you all. Hope your summers are going well.