Faith, Hope, and Love Remain

Alei's adventures in Ukraine

Climb Aboard the Crazy Train October 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 4:08 pm

56 days away from the best Christmas Break ever 🙂  But who’s counting?

It’s been a fairly anecdote-free few weeks so this will be a post for the visual learners.  PC volunteers spend a sizable percentage of their time in transit & I just happened to find an informative little video detailing my personal favorite means of transport.  Enjoy:

Delightful, huh?  Now please keep in mind that each lovely train experience is enjoyed for a minimum of  4, maximum of 18 hours per trip.  While I have no idea what program that was recorded from &/or the context I must say it was pretty accurate especially

  • How hard the studio audience was laughing.  TV cracks Ukrainians up.
  • The use of the ever popular phrase ‘Come to me, baby’.  If you know nothing else about English, you know that tacking on ‘baby’ instantly renders the phrase romantic.
  • The amount of fragrant food that everyone hauls with them because carrying bulky suitcases isn’t enough fun already.
  • The smelly feet that can & do descend at any moment from the top bunk.

Really, the only thing inaccurate was the amount of English being spoken- highly gratuitous.  I actually kind of love train rides though because as long as I make it to the right car & throw my bag on in time I’m pretty confident that I’ll make it to my end destination & usually on time.  Plus, barring placement in the unfortunate upper bunk, I can have a solid few hours to read, listen to music, knit & watch the landscape rolling by pretty comfortably.  AND those cool looking chalices are readily available & filled with instant coffee for just 3 hyrvnia (50 cents).

I had the pleasure of taking a train to Emily’s last weekend where I left my town after school at 4, arrived in Volochysk at 12:30 & was greeted with a taxi that Em had called to pick me up from the station & bring me directly to the discotheque.  I think the weirdest part was that I wasn’t even phased.  It was a wonderful weekend though reminding me of how much I love my PC friends, hot showers with water pressure  & her town with a tanning bed one block away.  All sorts of red flags were flying, but I couldn’t help but use it twice just for the sake of feeling warm again.

I’m not sure how this is possible as a native Chicagoan, but I seem to have forgotten what cold feels like & the past few weeks have been a cruel reminder.  There are, however, benefits as I no longer have to worry about what to wear to school since in the absence of indoor heating I teach bundled up in a coat, scarf & gloves leaving only the bottom foot of my pants & shoes visible.  There was also a bit of a head scratching moment when in my daily phone conversations with my Morozivka friends we all noticed that the leaves had fallen literally overnight on the same day last week despite living in towns all over the country.  Initially the only viable explanation seemed a secret national holiday in which people assembled outside at midnight & violently shook every tree until morning.  Sadly, frost was to blame instead.  I’m guessing that luckily between my warm socks, long underwear, & refusal to care what people think of my wearing a sweatshirt every day after school, I’ll be just fine.

I’m hibernating this weekend as it’s cold & rainy & taking the opportunity to clean, read, make Christmas presents, & try to understand the current economic crisis thanks to NPR podcasts.  I’m also looking forward to a short week because on Wednesday we’ll have a Halloween Party at English Club after school & then at 8pm I’ll get to witness another reenactment of that video while I  ride to Kyiv for 3 days of meetings for grant reviews followed by a week of fall break 🙂  We’re trying to arrange another Morozivka reunion for a few days & then all of us will hopefully try to spend the rest of the week relaxing together at someone’s site.

For the token culinary comment- I found peanut butter at my little grocery store today!  I think it’s the only Ukrainian brand out there & it’s usually only in a few big city stores that are literally hours away.  I thought I had seen it in Yampil one time last December next to the Nutella & have since made it a habit to check the refrigerated section each & every time to no avail.  Imagine my delight then today when the double take proved that the wonderful jar was no mirage.  The employees made the mistake of asking me about it bc it was a little on the expensive side & I flat out gushed about its many winning qualities in hopes that the news will get back to whoever does the ordering.  They asked me what it tasted like & I was only sorry that I didn’t know the Ukrainian word for ‘freedom’.

That’s all the news around here.  I hope you’re enjoying a slightly more gradual change of seasons & I can’t wait to see you soon, soon, soon (that might have to be a standard closing for the next 8 weeks).


Fall foliage up in the hills



We Like Our Ceremonies with Extra Pomp October 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — aleicook @ 9:15 pm

Ukrainians heart holidays, that much I know is true.   Any opportunity to break out the valeyky stil (big table) and wine shots is openly welcomed which means that the standard bank holidays are supplemented with celebrating many a random category.  There are  ‘Name Days’ for every Sasha, Dasha and Pasha.  For the sake of inclusion we’ve got Women’s Day, Men’s Day and Children’s Day so really no one is left out.  Religious celebration abound with curious correlations inluding being hit by sticks and prohibited from cooking with vegetables that are strenuous to prepare.  Even workers get recognized with a day devoted to almost every profession as evidenced by the ‘Day of Journalists’.  Not all of the celebrations warrant an excused absence, but they do often include a ceremony down at the Palace of Culture (a Soviet throwback to what’s basically a community center with a stage).  They like for things to look very professional around here so everyone dresses up & crowds together in the auditorium for the big event.  While theoretically the content differs, Peace Corps volunteers (or at least my friends) seem to perceive all of these momentous occasions pretty darn similarly.  There’s a pattern, complex yet constant, that we tend to experience without fail.  Yesterday just so happened to be Teacher’s Day which provides me with an excellent opportunity to illustrate the experience step by step while it’s still fresh in my memory.  Lucky you.

The Waiting- part of my lesson in letting go has been adjusting to Ukrainian time frames.  Yesterday was just another pop quiz.  We left school together at 10:30 & got there within 10 minutes to secure our seats for the concert that was set to start at 11:00.  We walked in to a pretty full house, the projector was on & about 15 students were spotlighted on stage with their guitars in place ready to go.  Half an hour later, the scene was exactly the same.  The poor kids sat up their patiently as we hung out reading Avon catalogues & hailing over friends from other villages.  Another 15 minutes later the kids finally got the OK to start their song & the crowd quieted down but only temporarily before outrage emerged over the blatant lack of fanfare.  Thank goodness that word is a cognate because I wouldn’t have otherwise believed the ample amount of conspiratorial questioning was in reference to the overly casual kick-off.  Literally all around me were  whispers “Where is fanfare?” “There should be fanfare.” “There’s always fanfare.” “Why isn’t there fanfare?”.  Pretending to be enthralled by the guitar song proved my best bet at not starting things off on a bad foot by laughing inappropriately right from the get go.  I was legitimately worried that the pleas for pomp were going to bubble over at the expense of the kids, but they were finally drowned out by a trumpet blast that announced officially that the ceremony had started.  Justice was restored.

The Tease-  most ceremonies begin with speeches by the highest ranked officials.  Since this was the regional center’s celebration we had the Head of Education come up with two other important administators and congratulate us all on the day.  This is also the point when I’m feeling pretty  good.  I’m usually happy to be included, surrounded in all of the energy, & able to understand at least a good 70% of the words being spoken.  I’m taking in the scene – a big auditorium, the stage decorated with 5 different types of curtains & paper flowers throughout, movie theatre seating – & listening intently to each of their speeches.  All’s well.

The Reality Check- this is the point, usually 10 minutes or so in, when I realize that my eyes have completely glazed over & I am now just looking at the flowers & tuning out the Ukrainian.  70% comprehension seems so encouraging, but it’s a fragment nonetheless and that other 30% just so happens to be a little bit pivotal.  Plus thanks to my good friend the case system, the same concept can be referenced to with 5 different words (school, for instance, could be called shkola, shkoloo, shkoli, or shkil depending on the context) leading all hopes of comprehension to slip out of reach.  Spirits are still relatively high at this point however, as my attention span is almost on par with my age & there’s plenty to find humor in.  Specifically, the fact that each new presenter is ushered on to the stage with cheesy instrumental versions of Fields of Glory, Chariots of Fire, and Lady in Red.

The Breakdown- an hour later and the 19th time it’s been repeated, Chariots of Fire has lost all traces of triumph and NOTHING is funny anymore.  The movie theatre chairs originally perceived as cute and vintage are now just wooden and unpadded to my poor, cramping legs.  This is also about the time when I remember that bedbugs exist in this world & are obviously all over me.  I itch, twitch & fidget in my chair for another solid hour as the procession alternates between 15 singing performances & what seems like every teacher in an 80 km radius being called on stage and given a certificate.  Also, this entire time audience members are speaking at a completely conversational tone to their neighbors as well as fielding cell phone calls as I wonder where the heck I am & whose mother I need to have the manners talk with.

The Grand Finale- and then, just when I think nothing will ever be funny again, my students bust out with a choreograped hip-hop(ish) dance routine to what I’m almost positive was a High School Musical 3 number (they threw around the word ‘Wildcats’) & I am again struck by my two worlds colliding & how crazy this experience is & am of course back to laughing too loud.

So there you have it- two & a half hours & one emotional rollercoaster.  The rest of the Teacher’s Day festivities were very fun with flowers & candy from my darling students & an after-party with my colleagues full of making toasts in Ukrainian & being pulled into middle of the dance floor.  Now I’m just waiting for next weekend which is, surprise- another holiday 🙂  This time it’s American though, Emily’s 25th birthday, which provides an excellent opportunity to see all my friends from training.  Hope you’re enjoying fall & Happy (every day that we don’t celebrate that you deserve recognition for) from Ukraine!

My darling 6th formers & the constant blur of motion that is my classroom.