Sunday, September 29, 2013

Weddings, in a Nutshell

Hello all,

As I type, I am very much aware that I am missing the culminating event of the summer for Jack Pine Stables: the skill showcase. Hopefully everyone does their best and has fun. I have been promised pictures, and hopefully can share one or two soon. Meanwhile, my laptop has been rather uncooperative for pictures and poor Internet connection, but I shall press on nevertheless.

Why Weddings?
Well, it all started a while ago, with my host mother wanting me to bring my language teacher over to watch her wedding video with me to provide commentary. He wasn't too thrilled by this idea (matched only by level of embarrassment of actually asking him after several days of hounding!), and we settled on a plan to have me watch and write down any questions. However, then Hugo was invited to dinner. Leanne had already drilled me on him, and knew his name before anyone else in the group. She feels very sorry for his "deprived" situation, and last night I actually discovered why. Well, I actually learned a lot. Maybe even possibly too much. He arrived and she immediately said that she had a secret. Through the help of her translation program, she explained that she had wanted to host a boy, and her husband a girl. They then rock/paper/scissor-ed it out, with her winning. However, when Sparta informed her there was only one boy coming, she agreed the more spartan living conditions would be easier for a boy. So I was slightly chopped liver. I made the joke they would send me home and not Hugo, but apparently I have met at least basic expectations and they'll keep me.

Anyhow, we ended up looking at her wedding album before her friend the English teacher and husband came home to eat...which culminated in her and Hugo having 6 shots of vodka...oddly enough (by Ukrainian standards) her husband does not drink vodka, and she was happy to have a guy to drink with. I was not offered, but at is not really a path I want to explore. My low and abrupt tolerance would probably not do me credit. Thankfully Hugo is an archeologist, and has plenty of field experience....

On the First Day of the Wedding...
That's right! Weddings are apparently yet another thing we do wrong! Thankfully, not all traditions around world have been lost. On the first day they dress in what looks like typical western-world wedding garb- and Leanne looked GORGEOUS. They brought along a intricately designed loaf of decorated wedding bread, which got blessed by their mothers. They stood on what looked like a table runner, beautifully embroidered by Leanne, and got married by a priest. Next they headed to the Dnieper to take pictures and drink champagne. When the bottle was empty, they blew a wish in, along with a slip of paper and chucked it into the river. (Perhaps not the most ecologically-friendly practice, but quite romantic, no?) Then the real fun started. On the way back to the party, the groom must carry his bride across 3 (different, we clarified) bridges, including the vast Dnieper in this case. So that was impressive. Next? We DRINK!

Day 2: The Dirty Work
So, the next day when they get together, it is a time of some real family bonding...the mother-in-laws test the respect of their new children in a ver interesting way. First the bridegroom washes her legs, which she has generously smeared with earth. Then a second washing with vodka, and he presents her with new socks and boots. Then the bride must wash her mother in law's equally dirty face with water and vodka. Since they will likely live in close quarters with at least one half of their family for the rest of their lives, these are not particularly empty gestures...

Anyhow, I am flagging here, so you will have to stay tuned for the continuation, as there are still another FIVE MORE DAYS to cover...and some of it is pretty unbelievable, even after seeing the photos!!

Hope all is well,


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Washing my Rainboots...

Hi all,

So it was another eventful day. We trooped over to the school, which is terrifically close to my host family's house. We got a tour of the school in English from some students, one of which is Curly's hostsister. We also got to poke our heads in some classes, and I got a wave from the twins. One of my clustermates, Harmony, caused a bit of a stir. She's a true blue Brooklyn-Eric, and is African American. Sine there is about zero pro cent racial diversity in terms of skin tone here, she soon attracted a gaggle of children. I have already been told I look Ukrainian ( which is sure to come with its own set of problems) but in a culture where individuality has long been considered a dangerous and undesirable trait, I would not want to trade her places and have much respect for her.

We also heard from some teachers - including Leanne's friend I met at dinner. We got a better idea of the functionality of the Ukrainian school system in practice .... And we thought we had budget issues! At least we Have a budget back it is beg from parents! We also found out that soon it is (just reread this...clearly my syntax is already off!) a special holiday to celebrate teachers. A whole day of pampering! They come to school and get their hair cut, students do their nails, parents bring chocolate and nummy food for lunch. Meanwhile the top two forms take over teaching, which is probably to Really guarantee they get an understanding of how thankful they should be!!! We, alas, will probably not get to see this in practice, but it is a pretty cool concept!

Washing my Rainboots
So, I had heard about how fastidious Ukrainians are about keeping their shoes nice (they use portable baby wipes to clean them off as they enter buildings, for example) and this had given me pause in my contemplation of whether or not rainboots are exempt. I reasoned that since they are constantly getting dirty and stay in the mudroom, surely they don't require the same constant vigilance. I was wrong. Last night, as I went out to meet Curly on her way to my house to study, Leanne drew my attention to a demonstration of how to properly clean ones boots (/maybe all shoes???). They keep a basin the tub, and you place your shoes in it and use a sponge kept specially by the sink for this purpose. (I don't know what the other two larger sponges in the tub are for yet, and undoubtedly my language teacher, Sparta, would say "ask ask ask!" - but one day at a time!) thus, armed with the knowledge, I told her I would do it after I walked Curly home and she was satisfied. I did indeed wash my boots, and it was a mostly unremarkable experience.

Now, that's not a particularly exciting story, so I'm glad to say there is more. I discovered that there is also a second, equally important step in this process as I headed out the door today. It hinges on the fact that Rainboots are just as watertight on the inside as out...and splooshed my right foot as I made this observation. Had a good little puddle going on! Clearly I am not as competent as I'd like to think, and I am quite glad there were no witnesses!!

My Amazing Host Family
I will admit I was initially a little concerned that I was the only one not getting a tried-and-true host family, but I feel I have really lucked out. Tonight I spent HOURS studying with Leanne...she doublechecked my homework, and corrected some pronunciation: which was particularly helpful as I found out I was saying the verb "to sleep" as "prostitute" (also impressive as it does not have a verb action ending...). Which makes me think Sparta must be one hell of a poker player!! Additionally, between sleep and prostitute, I managed to also hit upon "to spit", so this could prove problematic.
She is also working on her English, so we joked that in 3 months we will just have our own hybrid language, instead of surjek (Russian/Ukrainian). And, of course, the children are already so dear that I'd throw myself at a bus for them. Slippery things, children...they slip so easily into your heart!

Anyhow, going to try to FaceTime with , my mom.

Hope all is well,


Monday, September 23, 2013

Tima Attack

Hello all,

Once again on the iPad. Drained my battery (and had a minor heart attack that the plug was not going to fit into my adaptor until I punched out a plastic piece) looking at pictures with my host mother, Leanne. She showed me lots from a thumb drive and I showed her family ones I had uploaded from old albums for my parents' 30th anniversary this summer. We had a good time and conversation wandered endlessly. We started talking about technology, she claims Ukraine is 10 years behind the US...although some houses here still do not have running water and thus no indoor plumbing. So I got to share my own story for the day...

In Which I Have My First Blush
 Yay! Cultural differences! Well, to be very honest, one can get stuck in a bathroom in America - but I can almost guarantee that the bathroom would not double as a kitchen as well. It was my second trip in for the day, having washed up dishes from tea break. I had noticed that the door did not close properly - no large hardship as our meeting room is 2 rooms away. However, as I entered the room, the door shut smoothly. When I was ready to leave, I attempted to turn the handle...without any results! Left, right, shimmying up, down, sideways...I tried it all. Now in a state of moderate disbelief, I whimpered "dopomojheet?" (Transliteration of 'help!' in Ukrainian...) to absolutely no effect. Mind racing, I came to the realization, that yes, this was going to end in embarrassment. Now, dont't get me wrong, I know it is inevitable, and sure to happen more times that I will care to admit - but I was really hoping I could get through at least a full day of classes! Clearly, this was not to be. So, in graduating modulation, I began to say one of my clustermate's name... "Curly?...CUrly...CURLY!?!"

Now, it occurred to me that perhaps this was only going together worse before better. Bad enough to be stuck, worse to not be able to fix it myself, but having to holler at full-volume was not making this any easier on my psyche...But I steeled myself and started yelling help inUkrainian. Because, damn it, if I have to go, I am going big! Well, that brought not only the lone male (Hugo) of my clustermate's scurrying, but out instructor as well. Just to really drive the embarrassment factor higher, the door clicked open with the tiniest of gestures on the part of my instructor....leaving him bemused and me redder. Mustering a thank you, I flamed my way back into the room, to the giggles of my clustermates. Had it not been me, I know I would have been immensely amused as well, and so I am glad they all have a good sense of humor. Hugo also was kind enough to mention he had fallen into the same trap earlier, so I was somewhat mollified. However, Leanne laughed uproariously when I communicated the story in the middle of cleaning up dishes - only to erupt once more into a fit of giggles several minutes later. So I am proving myself to be entertaining, if nothing else!

Signing Off...
At any rate, it was a rather long day with a full 3 hours of language and then several technical sessions. While it would be easy to be overwhelmed, I feel that SIT prepared me well - annnnnd, Tima, the family cat just jumped up on my bed and scared the crap out of me...I have been in my room for over 2 hrs - with nary a peep from him. I think he saught refuge from the overly enthusiastic attention from the children and was apparently hiding under my bed. He has now been removed and I will finish by saying that I will remember to keep positive and have faith that hundreds of volunteers have come before me and certainly many will come after with success....

Hope all is well,


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Short, Sweet, and Picture-free

Hello all,

So I promise I started a blog yesterday, but this iPad simply has me outsmarted. I apparently need to have a picasa album to take them from but cannot find a free app for that. So I will have to transfer my pics to my laptop and the post from there. However, it is already getting late and I was told to bring my computer tomorrow, so I did not want to run down the charge. I will go more into detail on my lovely host family tomorrow, but we spent most of today together. Cracked out the UNO and then spent several hours working on vocab. At 7, the kids are the perfect age to work together to learn.

Tonight we went out to dinner ( although my language teacher told me this very rare and told us not expect it to ever happen - as they are responsible for feeding me meals 2x a day during the week and 3x on weekends out of a stipend the PC provides for them). It was decided around 5, to meet up with the couple of friends I had met Saturday night. However, we were soon behind time and 7:30 turned into 8. After a near brush with mortality (driving is interesting, and I am glad I buckled up - although it was not my host father who was the reckless one), we stopped by the friends car. By the ditch...which we then proceeded to tow. I had assumed that we were going to go to a mechanic shop to drop it off, however, it fortunately turned out that they had merely ran out of gas. Hard to say if this routine or not. We then drove into the next town over to the restaurant.

 I was introduced to a woman who I figured out ( as much as I could...?) that she is an English teacher at the local school and had taught the children last year. She asked that I work with them (after the parents wanted her to ask to make sure I did not find them a bother) and I told her we would practice together. I was also able to ask her to ask permission to put photos on the blog of the family and they said they were happy to allow me. That is what I thought, but you can never be too careful! Anyhow, a highlight of the meal was when what looked like a platter of cut up hot dogs was suddenly set aflame. And burned...and burned...and burned...they used their forks to stir the flames up and eventually out. I am happy to say that there certainly no  taste like any accelerant when I got some. Indeed, they were a much nicer sausage than any hotdog. It was a very nice evening, and I admit it was nice to talk to someone with a good grasp of English. My host father is pretty magical with the words he manages to remember from school, and my host mother tries incredibly hard, and uses her translator when we get stuck (as long as google cooperates).

Right now we are in the honeymoon, but I hope that their interest and mine stay strong on language learning. I feel incredibly lucky to have such a young family who appear to be great parents and funny, sweet and slightly mischievous children.

Hope all is well,