"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, February 23, 2012

If you call yourself a mushroom...

Happy "Day of the Defenders" to all! Most commonly in Ukraine, it's known as Men's Day. When I walked into the teachers room today, I was asked if we celebrate Men's Day in America. I replied that we celebrate Fathers Day and Veterans Day, but we don't have "Men's Day". It has been explained to me that this day celebrates all those who have accomplished Constitutional duty, defend the national frontiers, Independence and security of Ukraine. But today, a teacher chimed in saying that it also celebrates those who take part in international peacemaking missions. So I was promptly told that I'd be celebrating Men's Day today, because "назвався грибом - увійти в корзину" ("If you call yourself a mushroom - get into the basket!")

This week, I seem to be teaching everybody two new words: "slush" and "puddles". I can't quite imagine it still, but we are thawing out with temperatures sitting around 3°C, or about 35°F. The snow in the sky has turned to rain and the snow on the ground is turned to slush. This rain/snow mixture has the perfect consistency for snowball packing...and the youth of Ukraine sure know how to chuck those little suckers of ice! And if the snowballs weren't enough, even the icicles are brutally falling from the sky. One of my students had a big lump on his head from some ice falling him when he left his house. I'm trying to watch out as best I can from all forms of snow torture.

Since finding out I'd be giving the speech to Parliament, I've been wrestling around with ideas and themes. I had been told I'd have 5 minutes to say whatever I wanted about on the topic of "Educational System in Ukrainian Village Schools". Well, I finally wrote out a nice speech with a flow and balance of ideas that I was comfortable with. I gave it to my friend Andriy who was gracious enough to translate with me and it was sent off for approval. There have been plenty of times in my service when "Ukraine wins" but this time, Ukraine won bigger and better than before. 

It seems some of my ideas addressed problems "too minor" to be legitimate critiques, and I've now been given talking points of what I should say. Originally, the Peace Corps staff working with me on this asked the Ministry of Education for talking points -- and were told repeatedly they just wanted an honest assessment from an American PCV's point of view. When that honest assessment is exactly what you've been hearing from other international organizations and partners working to make the educational system that of a democratic society, you obviously ignore it and look for greener pastures.

So, back to the drawing board I go. Actually, that's a little dramatic because the skeleton of my speech is there, I just have a lot of reworking to do...but at least this time I actually know what they want from me. I had an great talk with one of the American's in the PC Office today, as well as a Ukrainian who has been overseeing me with this project. We talked about how this is the struggle with Ukraine, the denial of some of the most basic principles when teaching in a democratic society. It goes against everything that got them through some very difficult time, and letting that go is, like most things in Ukraine, a process (in a good sort of way). I just have to understand that this is a political forum and I'm a guest there. I've been invited and should read the script they give me play by their rules. But right now, it's hard for me to be a mushroom, and just hop into the basket.

I'm off to a "Cossacks Pride" event tonight, in which my 10th and 11th Formers participate in a series of different challenges showing off their skills as real Ukrainian "men". Challenges include, but are not limited to: assembling and disassembling a gun, shooting said gun at a target, some sort of basketball relay, sprints, pull-ups/push-ups/sit-ups...you know just a bunch of things that make you proud to be a Cossack. My Operation Respect Seminar went really well last week, and I will share photos and stories soon (A much more uplifting post, I promise). Also, my students are getting excited for the Leadership Seminar next Saturday, and I'll be keeping busy with preparing for over the next week. Thank you all for your well wishes and support. Your prayers for patience and guidance are, as always, extremely appreciated.

The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position or opinions of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

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