Recently spotted in Yampil: the lanky American meandering around the perimeter of town with her headphones. That sounds a little creepy, but I was quite thrilled that today’s sunny, warm weather made my podcast accompanied walks possible again. Aside from the chance to escape the confines of my apartment & catch up with church services & chickens alike, I love being able to note the change in trees & nature in my little town. Right now there’s only a smattering of tiny green buds but I’m eagerly anticipating charting their progress as the temperatures climb. I’m a summer girl through & through, but winters here have a particular knack for making me appreciate spring & its almost palpable message of hope. I’m not going to say it’s my favorite season (unless El Nino’s Ukrainian equivalent makes it a steady 90 degrees), but I do think that the cherry blossoms and apricot trees make it the prettiest season & I’m ready for some beauty after months of grey slush.
And slippery slush at that. Lately every trip outside (pun fully intended)has been a bit of an adventure requiring balance & poise (that I just don’t have) & a pretty elaborate inner monologue in which I remind myself to not scream if/when I fall & keep my tongue on the roof of my mouth so I don’t bite it off. I didn’t even realize that was strange until I had to explain it to my friends last weekend, but I’d much prefer another addition to the weird quirks list than a trip to the local hospital that I am moderately terrified of. Common knowledge here is that seasons start at the beginning of the month in December, March, June, & September which means that I should have been enjoying eleven days of spring so far. While I didn’t see how that seasonal system could be true, I felt that at the very least my complaining about the cold was justifiable after February 28. I don’t like to be a whiner though so between that & the tongue amputation I guess there are two less (probably unwarranted) things to worry about.
This is the first weekend in over a month that I’ve been home & I am equally happy that a) I’ve had so much fun stuff to keep me busy with & b) I get to sleep in tomorrow. The ‘stuff’ includes touristy travels with my Peace Corps friends & a trip to Vinnitsia for the Olympiad (English competition) with my students. It’s a two-day extravaganza of writing, reading, listening, & speaking tasks that I went to last year just to help tutor the kids during their breaks. This year I was asked to go as a judge when I saw the coordinator a week beforehand at a seminar. Always looking for something to add to my calendar, I agreed & joined about eight other Ukrainian English teachers in the grading group. The first day’s reading & listening tasks were pretty straightforward, but all heck broke loose the second day when I expressed some qualms I had with the scale for the speaking task. I’m really not one for confrontation, but this was a national test & for simplicity’s sake I’ll just say that the scores seemed more than a little subjective. Voicing contradictory opinions is not often appreciated here though, which I found out the next day when my student’s scores were negatively affected. It was a teary & terrible day at school to say the least as these scores are a pretty big deal for both the students & the administration, & for once I was not the one crying. These kids had been studying for months including 2 hours of tutoring/week with me & speak extremely well, so it was brutal to think that their efforts could be cast aside like that because of something that I had said. I hated the idea of letting it drop, but my teachers worried that challenging anything further would result in lower scores next year & honestly at this point I don’t doubt that at all. I’ll definitely remember it as a trying time, but justice is a message that could stand to be sneaked in here occasionally & I’ve been blown away by the support I received from my school & Peace Corps through all the drama. I was feeling quite sheepish about causing so much trouble, but they really backed my decision 100% despite the consequences & I’m extremely grateful for that.
My school life has actually been a lot more social as of late. I think people finally figured out that I can speak Ukrainian (albeit poorly) & have been very generous with their invitations. I roomed with one of my teachers in Vinnitsia & she happened to have an old friend that was staying at the same dorm so our evenings were filled with feasting & sipping on homemade wine. They both tried to speak nice & slow & stopped to involve me in the conversation which was hugely appreciated. I had to fake a stomach illness (by repeating “I will throw up” since I didn’t know the polite sentence construction) to avoid exploding from all of the food, but overall it felt like being with my host family in Morozivka & I definitely enjoyed the warm company. Then Valya, a computer teacher at my school & friend of Olha’s, has always been nice to me but recently had me over after school to show me pictures, talk knitting patterns, & play with her two cute daughters. She also invited me to go to the concert in town for Women’s Day last Thursday & I think it feels much better to walk into a crowded event with someone so I was thrilled. Our group also included Olha & another teacher, & I was reminded of my college crew when we left the concert after like 5 minutes because it was too crowded &decided to get tea instead.
Speaking of Women’s Day, along with flowers & chocolates the holiday (March 8th) gave us a four day weekend which I used to go explore castles with Ashley, Katelin, Kasey & Becky. Our adventure included twelve legs of travel (including inadvertently hitch-hiking when the bus dropped me off 12 km from where I needed to go without a person, bus stop or even gas station in sight), but it was definitely worth it to see the 1,000s of years of history. The fortresses in Kamianets-Podilski & Khotyn are two of The Seven Wonders of Ukraine & now I see why. Despite the brutal cold it was still pretty amazing to wander along & wonder how much history had enfolded within the walls, although at the time we were (mistakenly) under the impression that the movies 300 & Monty Python were filmed there so much of my time was spent daydreaming about walking where Gerard Butler had tread. I have more pictures of the castles (as well as a summary of the past year) here for your viewing pleasure. Our time was also spent plotting our next adventure which will include four days at a “spa” in the Carpathian Mountains for spring break next week. The hotel boasts an indoor pool, sauna & salt room as well as many other intriguing pampering options & thanks to the exchange rate the whole trip should be under $100. I started the P90X workout this week & am hurting enough that I may even defy my ticklish-ness in order to get a $5 massage.
Nothing else too newsy here. I’ve discovered that I’m within 100 days of starting the job search, which is very exciting at this point (maybe not so much later) & a mere 130 days from escorting Ms. Ashley Chamberlain around Ukraine. That plus two very wonderful care packages have made me a happy girl & I hope you’re feeling the joy as well 🙂