"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Finding Саксаганського 111A

I can't really believe it, but I had a few minutes to myself at home this afternoon, without anything to do! So I listened to music, blogged and ate борщ (which I am obsessed with). But then my internet when kaput, so I am posting this now. Cross-cultural and technical sessions this morning, followed by my 6th attempt to get my hair cut - still closed, maybe Monday. At 6 we had dinner at Evan's host home, with his host Mom Hala and host sister Oluna. We go to a different host family every Saturday for dinner. All of our families want to have us over every single week, but we can only take so much food, plus want to visit with each one. Tomorrow is totally free, so I am going to sleep-in, eat more борщ, play with Spook, and answer e-mails. We'll see what my internet has to say about the latter. Probably walk to town to see if the barber is felling better, but it's doubtful.

Returned from Kiev late last night after an absolutely fantastic visit. The weather was so beautiful, and the gold on top of the cathedrals was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Our day started at a cafe, where we had some long anticipated and much deserved lattes. The 6 a.m. bus was a little early, so a wake up coffee was most definitely in order. Lena did great empowering us to find our way around the city and communicating with people, but also showed us how to use the Metro, the buses, and train station. Big city transportation made me miss Buenos Aires a lot, but it was great to be experiencing and explore a totally new city and extremely different culture.

After a few buses and Metro rides later, we made our way to the Peace Corps office, quaintly located on Саксаганського (Sound it out...Sak-sa-han-sko-ho) Street. It is very hidden, and has sort of a secret ally way entrance. Luckily, I spotted more buildings down the ally, so I ventured off the beaten path and there it was! Lena was shocked when I returned to the group and told them where it was. "You're not supposed to find it this easily," she said with a big girn. (Apparently it took her close to an hour, and she speaks the language!) We checked it out, talked to some Volunteers in group 35 that were doing COS (Close/Continuation of Service) medical clearance, and met more of the staff. There's a lounge for Volunteers, as well as computers; a nice spot to stop in and visit when I'm in Kiev again.

After the business was taken care of, we were free to explore! First things first, food. We were told about a falafel place down the street, but we found a Crimean restaurant that looked good, and fit into our training budget. Plus we wanted to eat close to Independence Square. There we took pictures, and saw some of the monuments, as well as just relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful sun and sites. We continued walking around "Old Kiev" to St. Sophia's cathedral, ascended the bell town, and took in the amazing view. We also had time to visit two more cathedrals, St. Micheal's and St. Andrew's. I could have spent all day walking the grounds, looking at the architecture and paintings. I am now so interested in more of the history behind the cathedral's, and want to read more in depth about each one -actually more about Ukraine in general. I know I'll have plenty of time to read this winter, and hopefully return next summer full of knowledge and have more time to check things out. Today in our Cross Cultural session, we learned more about the history of Ukraine, and it also sparked my interest about so many things. So many books to read, so much frozen time to soon do it!

Our day concluded next to one of the symbols of Ukrainian statehood, the Днiпро (Dnieper) River. Walking the streets, seeing in the sites, and taking in the city life was just what we all needed, because as loud and crazy as it was, it reminded us of the lives we left back at home. Unlike Kivshovata, Kiev is a bustling place, and it was nice to have that for a few day. Isn't it funny how sometimes the craziest of situations, such as a jam packed Metro car in the middle of Kiev or asking for directions to strangers in a train station, can not only humble you, but relax you. Reflecting on the day as I walked home in silent Kivshovata, I could only smile, laugh, and be thankful for everything Ukraine has given me in my 4 weeks of being here.

Next week we have a break from teaching, which couldn't come at a better time. We can focus on our Kivshovata TEFL project, as well as our individual cluster projects, and lesson planning for the weeks to come. Thank you to everybody for the e-mails and updates. Expect a reply soon, internet depending. I'm off to check on Spook before heading to bed. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Off to Київ!

What a week! I am really having a hard time believing that tomorrow is Friday, let alone the 22nd day in October. Life is Kivshovata is going well, and although simple, definitely not slow. My alarm has been set between 6-6:30 every morning, so I am able to be to school by 7:30/8 to prepare for lesson observations and/or teaching. Tomorrow's alarm is set for 5 a.m., but I'll get to that later.

Classes are coming along swimmingly, and I gain more confidence each time I teach. I taught the 6th form again on Tuesday, and it was fantastic. I had a sense of comfort this time, and so did the students. I recognized them, knew a few names, and was much less of a novelty/circus act. We went over the "My Parents" lesson, and introduced adjectives to describe them. Again, I showed my pictures, and they were fascinated, but I think mainly by my Mom's good looks and Dad's dapper appearance. More critical thinking, more speaking, and more family...always a good time!

Today, Evan and I team taught the 4th form, which I will continue with in the following weeks. We had a blast teaching together. The topic: Food and the Present Continuous. "I eat the apple - I am eating the apple, "She/eat/peach - She is eating a peach" "They/cook/vegetables - They ____ cooking vegetables." (That one is for you to try!) I was so glad the lesson came together and was executed well. Oksana, as well as Marina, our Technical Coordinator, really liked the lesson which made us feel even more accomplished. We weren't give our material until yesterday at noon, and had 5 hours of Ukrainian, so at 6 p.m. last night, we were able to talk through our lesson and plan, finalizing everything at 7:45 this morning. Not ideal, but it is what it is and we managed. Flexibility and patience, that's what it's all about! Next week classes are on a break so students can help winter preparation at home, so we have a bit of a 'break', but I will start with 3 classes the following week, adding the 9th form.

All the work and stress of the week, however, is put aside tomorrow as our cluster of 5 embarks on a journey to Kiev! We want to catch the 6 a.m. bus, so that is why I have to get up so early. Only having an hour to get ready, eat breakfast, and walk to town may be a bit of a rush, but I knew I couldn't handle seeing a 4 on my alarm clock in the morning. We are supposed to sit with and converse with Ukrainians tomorrow on the 3 hour bus ride, but who really wants to be chatty with an American at 6 a.m. trying to comprehend very broken and butchered language...not any Ukrainian I've met. I'm pushing for conversation on the ride home, and sleep on the way there, unless my seat buddy is a sweet Babucia, in which case I will a) be fed copious amounts of food from her bag, b) get pet every time I say something correct in Ukrainian, and c) be introduced to her granddaughter(s) via phone.

Once in Kiev, Lena (our language teacher) is not allowed to speak to us in English, nor really help us out getting to the Peace Corps Office. We are supposed to use the phrases we've learned, and our heads, to take the bus to the Metro to the train to the office. We want to also explore the city a little, and maybe sit down and order something from a menu, so we allotted time for that. (And if I'm really lucky, sit down to do other things!) I will most definitely take pictures, and get them up when I can. My internet laughs hysterically when I try to upload any photo, whether it be to an email, Facebook, or my blog. Sooner or later, I will get some up and will take a flash drive tomorrow in case we go somewhere with internet/computers. I even made a video, so get ready!

Hope you're all enjoying your week, and have fun weekends planned. I'm not really a TGIF kind of guy, because I appreciate all the days independently for what they bring...but I am, however, thankful that tomorrow is Friday. For tomorrow means: another busy yet productive week in the books, more Ukrainian learned, and Kiev.

 (P.S. Lecia and I adopted a kitty/It followed me home and we kept it/I fed it so it would follow me home knowing that she would want to keep it. More details to come, but to wet your palate, he is tiny, black, and in the barn with the pigs.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Word of the Day: Гарбуз

Late night blogging, and an early Saturday morning tomorrow...you'd think I'd learn from college. Definitely excited for the weekend, not that it's a break, just a change of pace. Tomorrow, we're catching the 9 a.m. bus to Тараша (Tarasha) so we can have some time in the city before our Technical and Cross Cultural sessions at 10:30. Really hoping I get my hair cut...but many of you may know the disastrous situation that happened last time I got my hair cut in a foreign country. But what was the lesson I learned from that cross-cultural misunderstanding? Hair grows back! Sunday my cluster is going to Бiла Церква (Bila Tserkva), also known as "Little Kiev". Excited to see an even BIGGER city, and explore. And after our adventures tomorrow, Lecia is hosting Evan, Asia, and Laura over for a dinner. Dima will be in town for the weekend, so he is really looking forward to hosting as well. I helped bake a cake this evening. It was a flat cake, and we spread fresh plum jam on top, then rolled it and cut it into slices...and of course ate some. I'll probably get it for breakfast, too!

This week was great, and teaching on Wednesday went really well. The class was impressed with my photos of friends and family. They are great learners, and really want to know as much vocabulary as possible. So after they got over the live museum exhibit (me) teaching in front of the classroom, they quickly picked up on the lesson. But like I mentioned before, there was no grammar to teach, it was mostly critical thinking. As strange as it may sound, it was really interesting to watch a group of children think; not only to figure out what this American was trying to explain, but also the questions presented by him. "How many people are in your family", "Would you like to have a bigger or smaller family", "What traditions do you have in your family". Something these students had never been presented with before.

Next week, Evan and I will be team teaching the 10th Form (15/16 year olds) and we're pretty excited. He will continue with the class independently, but we have to have team teaching experience and thought it would be fun with older students. I will be continuing with the 6th Form, as well as the 4th and add 1 or 2 more classes as the weeks progress. I wanted the challenge and experience of working with new English learners, so I'm diving right in with the 8-11 year old's. Fun vocab, more activities and games, and a chance for me to really work on classroom management in Ukrainian.

Language is going well, but still difficult. 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. After 4-5 hours a day of language lesson, my mind is mush. The 30 minute walk home is a good time for me to relax and enjoy some silence, as well as repeat all of the new words and phrases swirling around in my head. Lecia is impressed with how well I'm doing, but it is quite the struggle. I also have some new friends my walk home, 3 Бабуся (Babucia's - Ukrainian Grandmother's) that love to tell me I need to be wearing my hat or sometimes give me food. (It's not quite cold enough for a hat, but of course I take it and have it in my pocket in case I walk at night) They kids from school told one my name, so now they all know to wave at me as I walk by. It's actually really great to have a Бабуся on your side; many Ukrainians say she's the only one that can scare off mad dogs and drunk men. Haven't had any encounters yet, but when I do, you know where I'll go.

Hope you're all enjoying Fall in the states. Eat some Candy Corn for me please, and I'll have the rice and meat stuffed pumpkin with mini-pancakes on the side!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time to teach!

Tomorrow, I will teach my first English lesson and couldn't be more excited. I feel very prepared, and my Technical Coordinator has been working with my cluster closely to prepare the perfect first lessons! In Ukraine, you are required to have a written lesson plan for each class you teach, with a very detailed outline to be followed. At any time, the principal of the school could walk into class and ask to see it. If you don't have it, you won't be teaching that day. Not sure what the kids do...we really didn't go that far. It was just emphasized to us that a written lesson plan is a must.
I didn't get to choose my lesson topic, but rather it was the next one in the book of the form (class) I've been paired with. But had I been allowed to choose, this most definitely would have been it. The topic: "Different Families, Different Lives". My 40 minute lesson focuses on critical thinking rather than the traditional grammar or vocabulary, and I explore what other families and lives from around the world look look like. For me, this is a great first topic, because I essentially get to teach the lesson while introducing myself! One of the many things that I am thankful I brought was a photo album of my family and friends. Not only is it a fantastic ice breaker for the first meal with a host mother you can't communicate with, it fits in perfectly with my lesson of explaining lives from different cultures. Funny how things work out sometimes.
To say that I'm not nervous AT ALL would be a lie, but I've put a lot of time and effort into these 40 minutes. One thing I do know, I won't be going in with the "You know what they say about the first pancake..." mentality. I am confident in my ability, and have a well planned out, structured lesson. I'm excited to let you know how it goes, and what they say about my wonderful family and friends! If you happen to wake up in the middle of the night tonight, think of me showing off your picture in a small Ukrainian village and have a laugh.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Settling In

Well, as you can see I have internet. I'm posting four blogs in one day, two from the end of September and one from the first of the month. I've been writing them in Word, and then saving them to a flash drive in case I got near a computer to post. Well, a week went by and that never happened. But that's ok, more for you to read. Hopefully no one thought I gave up on blogging! One thing is for certain though, Kivshovata yields a lot more potatoes than it does e-mails.

Today my cluster (Evan, Laura, Asia, Lena - our language teacher, and I) went to Trarasha, a neighboring town about 20 minutes bus ride. Another cluster, our link group, is living and studying there. We do Saturday training days with them, as well as random information sessions. Today was health day, and we talked about safety precautions and health risks, watched some videos etc. After, however, my cluster had some time in the CITY before we caught the bus back! It's much more of a town, but we felt like we were kids in a candy store! Our village of 2,000 has 3 stores and a cafe, the school and the church...aaand that's about it. So going to a town with paved roads with street names was a little overwhelming, but definitely a thrill a minute. Trarasha does have multiple cell phone and electronic stores, so we were able to purchases the phones we'd been strongly recommended to buy, but reluctantly resisting. There was something nice about not having a phone in my pocket for 10 days. I bought a little internet card too, an investment for my two years here. It wasn't expensive at all, but it requires phone service to work...which means in Kivshovata it's spotty. But that's ok, if I sit in my living room, with my legs not crossed, I can get it for about 15 minutes at a time. I'm praying for patience, but also asking you stay patient with me as e-mails might not get returned the quickest.

Even though we're in a small town, life for a PCV moves very quickly. I have 4-5 hours of language class a day, mixed in with technical training for teaching English, lesson observations at the school, and next week...teaching! The school is fantastic, so I'm nothing but excited to get into the classroom. My walk to Lena's is the farthest, maybe 25-30 minutes (Side note: Lena is my language teacher. native Ukrainian, early 20's, linguistics major, just graduated University like me, but with her Masters, an awesome hip-hop dancer, and so funny and patient with us silly American's trying to learn Ukrainian) but I love my walk. It is cold, yes, but it gives me time to be by myself. I bounce from school to class to craziness of communicating with Mama Lessa, that my walks are cherished times to be alone. Soon the snow will come, and the temperatures will dip below 0, and I'm sure I'll wish my commute were shorter, but I still think having the time to myself is ideal in the wonderful whirlwind of training.

Excited to see what tomorrow will bring. Tomorrow evening, I think Mama Lessa will be showing me the washing machine and how it works (i.e. me, two buckets, and the clothes line). I need to figure out how to ask if they're going to freeze when I leave them out overnight! Hope all is well with you too.

Happy Teachers Day in Ukraine! (10/1)

Friday, October 1, 2010

I can even begin to describe how EPIC today was. In Ukraine, it’s National Teachers Day, so we were invited to the school to celebrate. The children put on an hour-long program (planned and prepared by the teachers in their classes) for the whole school. They danced, they sang, they told poems and stories, they acted out scenes from plays, they sang and danced some more. All of the grades participated, from the 1st graders to the 10th graders. It was really a special time for all of the teachers.

And OF COURSE we were presented to the entire student body and got to tell a little bit about ourselves…IN UKRANIAN! Talk about pressure, but it was really good for the kids to see us stumbling over our Ukrainian, making it ok for them to stumble over their English in front of us. Our speeches included “Good morning! Hi, my name is Ben. I’m from America, state Colorado, city Grand Junction and I went to University in California. I am a teacher and Peace Corps Volunteer. I specialized in English. (We tell them that because to them, we’re experts in the English language.) Pleased to meet you!”

So the program ended about 1 pm, and then the children left because the teachers get a break on their day! It’s a win-win for both the teachers and the kids…half-day! And then, it was time to celebrate being a teacher, and what better what to do that than eat TONS of food and drink in the gym! We had quite the celebration, and Evan and I limited ourselves to 1 shot of vodka. We were, of course, with our colleagues, even though they most definitely wanted us to help ourselves. It was so special being at the table, breaking bread, drinking wine, and just laughing, even if there was no comprehension of what was being said. We were apart of their family; teachers welcomed us, introduced themselves, and made an effort to include us. The meal could have lasted much, much longer, but after many traditional Ukrainian songs were sung, and speeches were given, we cleared the table and danced for a good half hour. Now you may be thinking of sloppy teachers over celebrating the day dedicated to them, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was just a community of friends, celebrating each other; their hard work, and the rich history teachers have in Ukraine. As Eisenhower once said, “It was teachers that defeated the Soviets, by demonstrating and reinforcing brotherhood and acceptance of neighbors”.

Today, I felt so welcomed, and loved. I am proud to be working with the teacher’s at the Kivshovata School, and know that over these next 3 months, I will gain a deeper understanding of the acceptance and brotherhood that only Ukrainian teachers can teach.

This weekend looks like it will be just as exciting and fun filled as the past week has been. We go to our neighboring community in the morning for a cross-cultural lesson with another cluster. Together we make a link, and visit each other every Saturday, either we go there, or they come to us. Their town is about 10,000 people, so more opportunities to hopefully get these blog posts posted! Thanks everybody for being patient with me! 

Arrival Retreat and First Few Days (9/27 & 9/28)

This post was originally typed on September 27 – 10 am

Well, I made it and could not be more excited to be here, with my bags! Right now, I’m on the porch of my room that is at the retreat center where we are spending the first couple of days. It’s an old Soviet retreat and heath center, but nothing like a Club Med or Spa. We’re in the forest, about an hour and a half outside of Kiev. After spending time in smoky airports and crowded planes, the fresh air of the forest is something to be valued.

The plane rides over here weren’t anything to complain about at all. DC to Frankfurt was 8 hours, nothing I couldn’t handle. I wish I had slept more, but I was sandwiched in between some fairly large German men who most definitely needed the extra space. After a short layover in Germany, (Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa Jerry for the Euros! They bought me a MUCH needed bottle of water and I didn’t have to use US Dollars!) we headed to Kiev which was a shorter 2 hour flight. I sat next to some other PCV’s and had the aisle, so I could stretch out a little more.

From the moment we walked through customs, Peace Corps has been so amazing with taking care of us. Making sure we’re comfortable, not too overwhelmed, and giving us much time to read…and blog. The day is packed full, but we still have free time to adjust. I’m staying with two other guys for this quick, day and a half retreat. We are all having the same sort of feelings, overwhelmed with excitement, mixed in with intimidation from the unknown, but confidence in the process. It has just been so great to be around people who are here for the same reason, and who are in the same boat as I am. We all have common ground that is both comforting and reassuring. I have my first language lesson at 4 p.m. today with 2 other people in my cluster. We are waiting for another girl who will be joining us on Friday, then our cluster will be complete. Group 40 has a ‘B’ group who were held back because of problems with Visas. They were supposed to stage with us in DC, but were held back until Tuesday. They won’t have the luxury of free time or adjustment, their orientation at the retreat center will be all of 6 hours then they will go to their respected training villages.

My training village is Kivshovata and I will be speaking Ukrainian! Well, I will be learning Ukrainian during my 3 months of training, but could be sent to a Russian speaking community, where I will learn to understand Russian and respond with Ukrainian. A current volunteer who is here at the training site reassured us that the language training over the next 3 months is fantastic, and we really have nothing to worry about. Plus, if we give everything we have and aren’t afraid to fail, we will get even more out of the training experience. For this, I cannot wait; to fail, to be vulnerable, but to learn and become confident, and to adapt.

So far, everything is just fine…even better than fine: things are great. I have been trusting in process and have been embracing the unknown, just like I told myself I was going to. It’s kept me worry free and more relaxed, which at this time I will take every ounce I can get. Now, I’m going to sit back and listen to the guitar playing by Brett, a fellow volunteer. Between the beautiful nature at the retreat center, delicious Ukrainian breakfast that has my stomach full, and great sounds of guitar and nature, I can say one thing for sure: life is good.

This post originally typed on Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I made it to Kivshovata and have arrived at my host mother Lessa’s house! Training was a great, and quick day 2 days, filled with session on cross cultural adaption, safety, some history of Ukraine, and logistical items. There were also some “What to expect at the host home” skits by the Language Facilitators which were really funny, and very true. We were placed into clusters, and I am with 3 other people, 2 of which were in group 40A. Because there were some problems with visas, another group of 40 were held back and left this morning, so Asia, Evan and I will be met by Laura on Friday.

My village is the smallest out of all the training villages, and by far the furthest from Kiev. We dropped everybody off today before making it to our Kivsho, which heightened the nerves watching everybody meet their families. But when you’re actually meeting them, there is no time to think, let alone be nervous! Lessa is a very sweet lady, maybe 40-45 years old. She also has a son in University, but because women get married very early, it would make sense that Lessa is in her 40’s. Today’s first few hours were mixed with miming, pointing, dancing, laughing, eating, demonstrating, and silence. All of which is to be expected and very ok.

Usually I would be stressed out not being able to communicate, but I know it will take time. I can’t wait for two weeks to pass and hopefully be able to carry on a small conversation. Or at least know some of what is being said to me!

My photos I brought, the photos friends gave me, and also the book of Colorado where GREAT to be able to sit and look at with Lessa over dinner. I was able to show her my family and friends; the people that I love, and who love me back home. They helped make dinner go very smoothly and by looking at them, and her explaining me things in Ukrainian, dinner wasn’t silent or awkward. The food was delicious, but I have no clue what it was. I am pretty sure there was chicken covered in a fried egg (kind of), white bread (ALWAYS!), mashed potatoes (from her potato field), something, maybe fish, that was very gelatinous, and some chocolate that I picked up earliest for dessert. In a future blog post I will most definitely tell you about the Ukrainian “game” that is dinner. I was warned, and of course played it!

After dinner, I unpacked a little bit more, and Lessa showed me the outhouse (with a working light, HEY-OH!).  And my shower is inside the house (HEY-OH!). The shower only has cold water, so we boil what we will bathe with, and mix it in a smaller bucket with cold water, getting warm bath water. Then you sort of ladle it on yourself with a small pot. The novelty will soon wear off, but for right now I’m excited that it was a) warm water, and b) inside. Having low expectations that are surpassed…always a good thing.

Now I’m off to bed, but might trek out to the privy before calling it a night. What an adventure I’ve begun! Language class starts tomorrow, and probably exploring Kivshovata with my cluster.