"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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March is the Best!


Why if life in March so good for Mr. Benjamin?

A. New Age.
B. New Apartment.
C. New Weather.
D. All of the above.

Easiest quiz ever.

My birthday was awesome and I couldn't have dreamed of a better weekend. I spend the first part of the weekend at school, because we had classes on Saturday to make up for out lack of school on Women's Day (March 8). After the morning lessons, I went to have dinner with my friends in Lutsk. My friend Melissa spoiled me with empanadas...the perfect birthday dinner for sure. Then our group met up with some Ukrainian friends to do a little dancing and celebrating, Ukrainian style! Why I didn't take pictures at dinner or the cafe I don't know, but it was a fantastic way to ring in 23!

On Sunday, I went back to Kolky to have a celebration with the English teachers. They told me they would be coming over to my place for a celebration, but that quickly turned into them taking me to a cafe to celebrate with a man who also had his birthday on the 13th. (So much for all the food I prepared!) An interesting situation to say the least because the English teachers didn't exactly stay at the cafe. Instead I was left awkwardly sitting with 40+ strangers, all of us collectively wondering why I was there and why I was way under-dressed.I was able to make a quick escape 3 hours into the party (that's a very short party in Ukraine) because of a phone call from America. (Thanks guys!) I also opened my care package from my family. Check it out and be jealous:

Thanks to everybody who contributed to the love and amazing gifts that were in my box. I continued the celebrations at school where my day of birth was celebrated with way too much fanfare. You are supposed to bring in treats to share with the other teachers, (candy, juice, fruit, cookies, etc.) so I made Snickerdoodles and Double Chocolate cookies to share. They were a hit, but only about half of the teachers really believed I made them. My day consisted of gifts from all of the forms that I teach, gifts from the teachers, a mini concert for Mr. Benjamin, a few toasts, and about 10 groups of students singing "Happy Birthday" to me throughout the day. All of my gifts were things I conveniently needed for my new apartment, so now I am all set!

(Check out the pictures of all the festivities below! I will try to load some more pictures tomorrow morning, including some of my new place!)

That's right, I've moved! I knew that my previous living situation was only temporary, so I never really felt completely unpacked or at home. It would have been the perfect living situation for this Volunteer, but I could only live there while my permanent place was being renovated. I'm all moved and all unpacked, now I need to organized everything and buy a few things. Although my new place is quite a bit smaller than my previous place (and all of my previous college Res Hall rooms), it's all mine, and I like that. It's got everything I could ever need, plus a sightly defunct washing machine. AND I can cook on my stove from the shower! YES!

Short day tomorrow (not sure why classes are short...probably a concert) and then it's Spring Holiday! I'm headed to Kiev on Saturday to meet up with Evan, my clustermate, and we shall head to Kivshovata for a few days of smiles, laughter, awkward Ukrainian conversations, way, way way too much food and tons of Kivsho lovin'! I'm excited to see Lecia, Spook, Baba Hanna, and the gang, but also to hang out in a place where I feel like I grew up. From there we will travel to our friends Asia's house near Turnopil, spend a few days visiting Volunteers around there, and conclude the break with a hike to the highest Ukrainian mountain, Mt. Hoverla! Busy as ever, of course, but excited to be on the move for a little bit.

After posting photos tomorrow (hopefully), I will be internet and computer free for a week! I will only have a backpack, Atlas Shrugged, some Candy Corn, and idealism with me...as well as a great big smile. Talk soon and I hope March is treating you as well as it's treating me.

Buried with gifts on my desk. More came throughout the day...

With the 6B class! Roma and I are the only men of the group.

With my school Director and new Ukrainian shirt, a gift from the English teachers.

With the 1st form class in the teachers room. They gave me a giant plant!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

PC 50th, the procurement of a cow (almost), and of course, Women's Day

With a title like that, it's hard to know quite where to begin.

March came in with celebration, as Peace Corps marked it 50th Anniversary! I seem to be attracted to 50th Anniversaries because when I joined camp, it was their 50th, I served on the 50th Committee for CLU, and now I get to partake in another golden anniversary with PC. Barack even made it an official national holiday, but I still had to teach at school...and what do you know, my school threw a surprise concert and party for me! I remember talking to my Counterpart about the 50th in Kyiv, and then again a few weeks ago, but little did I know my school would put on such a show. (Spoiler alert: I'm making a Top Ten Favorite Things about Ukraine list and one of them is how Ukrainian children/teens will get on stage and sing for ANYTHING and EVERYTHING). It was exciting to say the least, and the cocktails and shots of cognac after work were a nice way congratulate such an awesome organization and the hard work of the international citizens around the world.

A few days later, the phone in my flat rang and someone asked me if I wanted a cow. Granted, many people call all the time with the wrong number, talking to me about who knows what, but this time they wanted to talk to me and the crazy talk was actually real! As it turns out, someone was moving from Kolky, but couldn't take their cow and thought the nice American could use the milk. (I think that's a lot of milk, but really what do I know). I was beyond excited thinking about the money I would save on milk, and the pictures I would have of me and my cow. I probably said yes without knowing what I was really agreeing to, but figured the worst case scenario would be either a lot of milk in my fridge or a steak on my plate. Again, what do I know. As it turns out, she was able to move the cow because she gave her couch away and there was room. As they say in Ukrainian, "Bleen!" or "Dang!"

This last weekend was really awesome because I had 5 days off! Friday, I had a regional Volunteer meeting in Lutsk which was really productive and informational. I really look forward to meeting likes these, or just casual gatherings with other Volunteers that have been in country longer, because they are such amazing sources of information. I'm surrounded by other hardworking, motivated, and successful Volunteers and I couldn't be more excited. Saturday was a lazy day in Lutsk with friends which involved card games, cooking (mainly by Melissa) and baked goods (Melissa again). My friend Jon and I reaped the benefits of having such a fantastic hostess, benefits including banana bread, snicker-doodles, and oatmeal raisin cookies. Kolky threw a Women's Day concert on Sunday, so I made an appearance there. No concert would be complete without a few good job high-fives from Mr. Benjamin. The Mayor even gave a few because he saw how popular they were. Stealing my moves to win votes, I see how it is. Monday and Tuesday were days off as well for the holiday, so I enjoyed some downtime with friends, a lot of booking reading, and even a few runs!

Looking forward to a quiet weekend in Kolky, even though we have school on Saturday. Because of the days off for Women's Day, we make up for it on Saturday. Although knowing Kolky Lyceum, we'll have a half day and a concert, and call it good. The sun has been shining lately, giving me hope that there is a light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel that is winter. Spring Break is soon, and I have some exciting plans for that, but I'll end here to lesson plan and finish my book.