The close of 2009 will also mark the close of 2 weeks here in my permanent site and I’m happy to report that all’s well. The timing was a little tricky as we wound up alone and bored during our first Christmas abroad which seemed like a recipe for disaster, but thanks to my family, friends, and a miraculous little thing called Skype it actually was a pretty good day. My thoughtful parents emailed me a list of presents to buy for myself at the bizarre in the morning & then the 5th graders at school had a Christmas party where they put sparkly pink garland on me, gave me cards and candy & sang ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ with their little Ukrainian accents. I successfully freaked them out by crying. I think that PC service may have confused my body’s ability to identify emotions because tears seem to be my standard response nowadays whether happy, sad, or just confused. Oh well, at least my contacts will stay clean 🙂
After Christmas things felt much closer to normal & between the immediate connection to the world through internet & the absence of anything left to count down (leaving for site, Christmas, ect.) I’ve finally started to settle. I’m getting to know the Yampil natives a little better and the kids in particular have been extremely welcoming and helpful. I’ve spent much of my time tutoring some of our brightest students for our Olympiad (kind of like a Spelling Bee but for English) & was really encouraged by their ability to communicate & their appreciation. One of the 14 year old girls told the judge during the speaking component of the competition that I was her favorite teacher. I don’ t really think that was a fair estimation on her part but I’m definitely flattered nonetheless.
I also was able to teach a few lessons yesterday. I thought I was going in to observe but I asked the teacher beforehand if there was anything I could do to help & she asked if I wouldn’t mind running the lesson while she finished grading their tests. Normally that would have been a little problematic but our resources are so good that I was able to just follow along with their text & make up activities on the fly. It was really encouraging and with classes of 9 students that can already produce whole sentences I really think I’m going to enjoy teaching here. I must confess my guilty conscience though; part of the lesson included teaching unknowing 13 year olds that Pluto is a planet. Probably not the most progressive lesson but the alternative seemed a little bit like telling them Santa’s not real so I went the ‘ignorance is bliss’ route instead.
My other favorite Yampil resident is my landlady who introduced herself to me as ‘Тьотя Луся (‘Aunt Lucia’ in Russian) & comes over every evening to feed sticks to the little metal heater in my kitchen that keeps my apartment nice & warm through the night. The whole process takes about an hour and a half but she sits there patiently talking with me despite my embarrassingly broken Ukrainian. I think she might be secretly working for the cattle council for the amount of lectures I’m given about how I need to eat meat in order to live, but she’s cute so I shrug it off & say ‘I don’t like it’ & then switch the subject. She calls me ‘Aleychka’ using the diminutive suffix which basically translates to ‘little Alei’ & is not alone in thinking I’m a child, as I’ve already been asked by a teacher if I was 18 years old & am regularly called ‘little girl’ by shop vendors & babusias alike.
Communicating is still a bit of a trick as evidenced by the time that I needed matches to light my stove & went into the store closest to my building (like our equivalent of a White Hen Pantry but half the size of a baseball concession stand) without knowing the word. I said ‘I need…stove’, mimed striking a match, and then said ‘Pojejah’ which we were taught meant ‘fire’. It worked, the little old woman laughed and sold me the matches, but I found out later that I’m an idiot and pojejah actually translates closer to ‘catastrophe’. Oy. But I’m able to get by and was even capable of buying my bus ticket to Kyiv for tonight that will take me to visit my host family for New Year’s. They still call every night to chat & I’m thrilled that I’ll be back with them in a few short hours.
That’s pretty much all that’s new around here. There are still some adjustments to be made but overall things are feeling more normal by the minute. I’m also kind of embracing that I’ll be ringing in the new decade with contradictions between old and new like when I peeled mushrooms with a tiny knife while watching a church service in perfect picture on my computer, or set an away message online that said ‘fetching water from the well’ (granted it’s not with one of those wooden contraptions that rests on your shoulders, but still). Welcome to 2010. And on that note I hope you all have very Happy New Years!
Oh yeah, I put up a new photo album story of PC Training here: it’s a lot of the same pictures but a bit more chronological.