"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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kolky Lyceum's Day of Health (aka Forest Chaos Day)

From the photos (and captions) below, you will see what last Friday looked like for the students and teachers of Kolky Lyceum. A crazy day of many students being let loose in the forest, with some friendly class vs. class events and competitions mixed in. I had no idea what was going on the whole time, but such is life in Ukraine. Definitely a fun day had by all!

Check out the photos below! (Click on any of them any they will pop-up much bigger!)

Also, a Myxa update: Myxa (Moo-ha) is the puppy the school cooks adopted about 3 weeks ago and let me take care of. Well, a huge school yard isn't the most ideal place for a curious and little puppy, so she has found a new home thanks to a caring family. One of our Primary School parents asked if they could have her for their daughters first puppy, and we happily obliged. She will get lots of playing time with this young family I'm sure. They even promised to bring her to school sometimes to play!

Walking to the forest!

Walking through the next village over

See ya later!

The Medical Kit...in case anyone got hurt...

With my counterparts!

The 5th Formers competing in a sprint!

Bohdan, from my 6B class...winning!

Some kids fooling around with the tug-of-war rope.
(Notice the right end of the rope...tied to a tree)

Nastia from the 6B class

Vova's turn!

Then the long jump

Final competition...Tug-of-War
Class vs. Class (This is 5A v. 5B)

My 6B Class. They were happy because they were winning!

My favorites...the 10B Form, who also won!

Sashlik or Ukr. BBQ with teachers!
A delicious (and well deserved) after Chaos Day treat.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Enjoying Fall with my Little Black Fly

Fall is definitely being felt as the mornings and nights are really starting to cool off. The days have been beautiful, staying in the 60s and 70s! Can't complain with temperatures like that.

Not too much longer before I start drying my clothes inside...
(My apartment is through the blue door on the right)

My front yard, the yellow primary school,
the "school shop" on the right, and my Lyceum way in the back.

I've certainly spending most of my free time outside with this little bundle of joy!

My new Ukrainian love

Муха (Moo-ha) or "Fly" in Ukrainian is the new addition to my life! The cooks at school adopted, and named, this little black puppy earlier last week and now she's the schools pup! The cooks feed her, but I was told to look after her and take care of her. Everybody is spoiling her the way a puppy should be spoiled...I even made her some toys from some fabric I had. She is always sniffing around my door in the mornings, wanting to play. Every afternoon and evening, we hang out on my stoop, play in my front yard, and run around the fields. SHE IS SO MUCH FUN! Oddly enough the students don't seem too interested in her. I guess when the snow comes, we know who will keep me company!

With one of the cloth chew-toys I made!

Surveying her domain


On Tuesday, our the students English books arrived at school! The students must purchase their own books every year (or sell to younger students) and the parents demand paying for only Oxford Textbooks. This is something that is very rare in small Ukrainian communities, and it's so amazing that the parents are so invested in English education. You hear horror stories about the books that some Volunteers have to work with...but I am one of the lucky few. Go Kolky Parents!

(Of course the English Department had a celebratory dinner after the books were delivered. Lots of food, lots of English, and LOTS of toasts! So much so, that I forgot to take pictures!)

Not something you see in most village schools

Only the best for pupils at Kolky Lyceum!

This weekend I'll be heading into Lutsk to help with the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) testing. FLEX is an American Governmental Program that sponsors Ukrainian students to spend one year of High School in America. Last year, around 250 Ukrainian students went. I'm excited to take some of my students to the testing and see how far they make it. If anything, it will be great testing practice for the English Olympiad. I can't stay away too long though, Муха needs someone to play with!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Packages, Support, and Dead Mice.

Occasionally I miss "things" from home. "Things" like cheetos, and hand written notes, and Candy Corn, and good coffee, and peanut butter, etc. But then those things show up at the Post Office!!!

Yep! Last week I received TWO packages. One from Wes and Stephanie Sullivan, and one from my family. The loot is (was) amazing, but I really think the best part of my packages is the walk home from the Post Office. I have a huge smile on my face the entire way, partly because I know something exciting is waiting to be opened, but mostly because I know I am so supported and loved. I'm two weeks shy of one year here in Ukraine and the emails, letters, FB posts, Skype calls (failed or not) and packages help me push through when the distance is felt the most. All I can say is I am so lucky and extremely blessed...Candy Corn, or not.

Whoa. My Fan Club is better than yours.

On a VERY different note, I killed a mouse today!!! (Don't look at the photos below if you don't want to see a dead mouse) With all the potato picking and cooler temperatures Fall has brought the field mice seem to be scurrying around looking for refuge. Well this sorry sucker chose Mr. Benjamin's apartment and boy is he sorry. While the Ukrainian version of a mousetrap is a cat, (seriously, I've had offers to borrow cats if the mice get too bad!) I chose to go the more unconventional route and make my own.

As you can see from the first photo, I made a ramp from my oven (top left corner) to the top of a box (WHAT UP PACKAGES!) and then a ramp up to the bucket fulled with soapy water. On the end of the top ramp, I put a makeshift "tube" and on the end I put a little piece of bread and THE SMALLEST amount of peanut butter (like I'd waste much of it). When he walked on the carefully balanced tube to get the treat, SPLASH! into the water he went.

Sorry little guy...back to the field you go.

I think he was the only one scurrying around my oven the past few days, but I have set the trap up again to make sure any of his friends and or relatives don't try any funny business. I have a feeling this won't be the only mice I catch this Fall, but rest assured it will be the only one I blog pictures of!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An afternoon I'll remember forever.

Sometimes the most unexpected situations turn into some of the best memories. Yesterday was one of those days.

One of my favorite photos from Ukraine so far

This happens quite a lot in Ukraine, mainly because nothing turns out the way it was supposed to. I have learned to live with and love this fact of Ukrainian life because never know what each day will bring. My lessons at school have been scattered and random because there isn't a finalized schedule yet, so much of my day is spent researching projects, chatting with teachers on their breaks, and starting/finishing a few books. Yesterday, I went home to do laundry and about 5 minutes later heard a knock at the door.

"Benjameen!" It was Anastasia Serhivna, a fellow English teacher and one of my Counterparts and mentors in Kolky. "You're coming with me to pick potatoes" (Obviously she knew I have no plans). I hurriedly changed into what I thought would be appropriate potato picking clothes and we walked to the other side of Kolky.

We arrived at a house I'd been to before, but only briefly for tea right before school ended. It was the home of a former English Teacher (in fact she was the English Teacher for all of the current English Teachers) and she was delighted to see us. She is now retired and uses crutches to get around, but her spirit is contagious and she British accent when she speaks English is endearing.

We walked around the side of her house and I heard lively and quite familiar chatter coming from the small field. There were 5 other teachers from my school who had already started digging. "Benjameeeeen," they squealed! Next thing I knew, I was getting a 10 second tutorial in digging potatoes, and then it was off to the races.

Natalia Vasylivna (Vice Principal/English Teacher) with some of my colleagues

After about 15 minutes of digging, it became clear that I should be the bucket runner and take the buckets full of potatoes into the potato shed (behind the corn stalks in the photo above). It seemed like every time I'd get back, two more buckets had filled up! I quickly realized these ladies were professionals and had obviously done this before!

This is about 1/3 of the potatoes harvested yesterday!
Still kicking myself for not getting the final HUGE mound

It only took about 2 hours to finish the back lot and the side, but time absolutely flew by. I had such a great time listening to the stories these ladies were telling, laughing at the gossip they had to share, and taking to heart all the advice they had for me. A little translation was needed at times, but for the most part I was in my Ukrainian mode and not only building my vocabulary but also my confidence in communicating. They were really surprised when I told them I understood their plotting to get me married to a nice Ukrainian girl. Ukrainian women LOVE playing matchmaker, especially when you're "such a handsome, intelligent, and funny young man"! (And you wonder why I love it here so much!)

Making progress!

Backyard is all finished! Enjoy the worms, Ms. Hen!

Carrying in the final two buckets!

Finished with the side yard, too!

Gladly accepting a few peaches!
(...Actually, A LOT of peaches being forced on me!)

Of course no potato harvest would be compete without a celebration, so we took advantage of one of the fast disappearing warm evenings and had a meal outside. Of course there was vodka and wine, toasts and tears, food and more food, and then more food and dessert. The perfect reward for an afternoon of hard work. 

Enjoying a nice after harvest meal
(Anastasia Serhivna on my left in blue)

Can you find the vodka? It hiding...
(Natalia Vasylivna on my left)

I don't know what made this particular afternoon so special, but it certainly will be a highlight in my Ukrainian experience.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Falling into things

Nothing quite like spending the last few days of Summer hanging out with these little buggers...

A catsitting job well done!  

No Mom, I'm not bringing home two cats at the end of my service... I was catsitting for my friend Val who was touring her friends from the States around Ukraine. Жарт (Pronounced "Jart" English for Joke) and Marley "Moo" were the perfect pair to spend the last days of freedom with!

But gone are the days of alarm-less mornings and here are the days of showering, ties, and learning! Yes indeed, school has started! The first of September is known by many names here in Ukraine. Not only is it the Day of the First Bell, but also the Day of Knowledge, and the First Day of Fall! 

A blurry photo of my School Administration and Mayor
That one of my English Counterparts/Vice Director,
Natalia Vasylivna, speaking at the mircophone!

There wasn't much to the First Bell Ceremony, other than a lot of speeches, the National Anthem, twice, and students giving flowers to their teachers! Then a party for teachers to kick things off right!

The two local Priests (Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox) blessing our school year

The First Bell of 2011-2012!

And just like at the Last Bell Ceremony, one of the 1st Form girls sits on the shoulder of an 11th Form Boy and together they ceremoniously ring the first bell of the school year!

One of my favorite school traditions!

To be honest, I had an amazing summer, but I am so excited to be back at school. It's nice to be in the classroom with my students, to see those wide eyes as I explain some new grammar rule or the spelling of 'ancient'. Yes the noise of the summer breeze blowing while reading in my hammock is nice, but so is the noise of laughter from school children right outside your door.