Digressions from 27 months of Peace Corps in the Borderland.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I forgot that I had this.

I FORGOT THAT I HAD A BLOG. NO JOKE. haha. It's been nearly one year since I've posted here.

Ukraine has a weird way of making time feel like its creeping and speeding by simultaneously. I can't believe it's been nearly a year since I've written. but in some ways, this year has felt like the longest of my life when measured against being away from the people that I love in America.

I want to update you on everything, but I feel like it's kind of hopeless. In a nutshell, I have changed a lot but not changed that much at all - I'm closer to the person that I used to imagine myself being. I'm more self-aware and generally more thoughtful. I haven't decided if I'm more or less patient - more patience after service seems like a common theme among PC Volunteers but in many ways, I feel like I have gotten less patient. Less patient with carelessness and unreasonable helplessness. I'm also much quicker to push people out of my way in "waiting lines". America, look out.

About what's been up in Ukraine: I have accomplished so much in a year. so so so much. but when I try to put it into words, I'm at a loss. How do you chart smiles that used to not exist when you first came? How do you graph the impact that was made on you from having a conversation with your favorite teacher about her life growing up under communism? How do you diagram all the students that rush to give you hugs in the morning? To me, these are accomplishments - the kind I cherish the most.

I've no doubt done a lot of tangibly evident things in Ukraine which have been very meaningful and I could go on and on about them, but who cares? because the most lasting memories and changing experiences have come from those conversations, those hugs, the smiles, and the emotional connection that has developed in the past year.

With the changing of seasons and the promise of spring and warm weather - I promise to be better at keeping you updated :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Hey Friends,

It's Summer! What does that mean for me in Ukraine? NON-STOP CAMPS!
On July 3, I started my summer with a two week stint in Crimea. Crimea is an autonomous republic that is part of Ukraine. It is a peninsula at the bottom of Ukraine that is surrounded by the Black Sea to the East and the Sea of Azov to the West. While I was in Crimea, I stayed at a resort that doubled as a type of small summer camp for children. I rode an 18 hour train ride South into the beautiful Southern city of Simferopol but the actual resort I stayed in was about a 20 minute Marshrutka ride from the small city of Alyshta (2nd most popular tourist spot in Crimea). While I was in Crimea, I took two days trips to Alyshta - it was gorgeous. The small city was located on top of a small mountain and was surrounded by other sky-scraping mountains. If you looked down from the city on a hill, you could see the boardwalk, the large bazaar of local produce, and many locals making their way to rather overcrowded public beaches.

Luckily, my resort was private so I was able to enjoy the Black Sea with out too much commotion. In all my free time, I walked the beach, watched the World Cup with vacationing Russians who were always rooting for the wrong team, and read: John Grisham, On the Road, and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Don't Judge. They were all very good. Grisham's not really my style- but he's an easy read and very good at story-telling. On the Road made me incredibly homesick, Kerouac's travel-writing scenes of America made me crave some apple pies and student life.

Things I was taken aback by during my stay in Crimea : the Rock Beaches, kingsize Airmattresses replacing beach towels and floatational devices, unexpected hitch-hiking, the great lack of coffee at my resort, and two icecream cones (at a minimum) per day ritual.

Also, I taught 3 hours of English lessons/ day to 12 students from the Lingustics School of Simferopol. They were cute kids, but other than our English lessons - we didn't have much interaction. I did get some awesome drawings from the bunch of them. My favorite is a drawing of how to save the environment. "Don't pour oil in water because we need to save the Jellys!!! (aka Don't dump oil into the ocean so the JellyFISH can live). lol.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Dream within A Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow-

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it therefore the less gone?

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream.

... Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

- E.A. Poe

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Living Deep

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I WANTED TO LIVE DEEP AND SUCK OUT ALL THE MARROW OF LIFE, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. -- Henry David Thoreau

Peace Corps Ukraine is undergoing many changes right now, mostly due to the huge expansion of PCVs that will be coming through the system in the next two years. I don't remember the exact numbers, but the number of PCVs will be doubled by 2012- which means there will be about 400 PCVs serving in country. Exciting News!!

With these changes has come the induction of a new Country Director, Doug Teschner. Our new CD came to us in January and although I've yet to meet him in person - I have discovered through his monthly e-mails that he is a man of quotes. gooody! because I am a lover of quotes. His latest quote is the one above written by Thoreau.

Thoreau's words are a perfect capitulation of what I feel most PCVs are so urgently pursuing here and I am not an exception. Everyday, I try to live deep. But what is "living deep" you might ask? So far...For me, living deep is such a colorful collage of humorous and serious, mundane and ideal that it's hard to name each specifically or to clearly distinguish one from the other. Of course, I'm endlessly in the process of defining what Living Deep means to me, but for now, this is what it means to me in Ukraine: I think, most importantly and something I am beginning to truly learn by being in Ukraine is that Living Deep means investing myself and my time in developing meaningful personal relationships with other people - my students, my counterpart, my colleagues, my new friends in Ukraine, my family, other PCVs, and my friends from home. At once, this is one of the most challenging and most satisfying deep living endeavors. Yes, it's often exhausting, progress can be frustratingly slow, sometimes you can be disappointed, sometimes heart-broken. But even more often, it's heart-warming, inspiring, impacting, and infinitely satisfying so I'm forever conversing, hearing people out, sharing in small daily activities and even more important ones with the people near and even far from me - from walking home with my students every day after school to celebrating family holidays with the Ukrainian families in my town to traveling all over Ukraine with other PCVs and even skyping with my family... these things are what have mattered the most. Living Deep has been learning to cook Ukrainian food. Living deep is traveling with good friends. Living Deep is reading good books. Living Deep is developing an ever-increasing relationship and reliance with Jesus. Living Deep is writing in my reading journal. Living Deep is learning Russian and not being too timid to use it. Living Deep is navigating a new city. Living Deep is a good conversation over (battery acid coffee) coffee or a glass of (overly sweet dessert) wine or french fries at McDonald's. Living Deep is teaching each lesson so it's a little bit better than the last. Living Deep is walking miles everyday in stilettos in the mud, ice, or pot-hole ridden sidewalks and paths. Living Deep is going on a run and having Sasha and Slava push me to do "odeen ee sho raz" rep at the gym. Living Deep is learning to immerse myself in post-soviet, Ukrainian culture. Living Deep is adapting to a different way of life and appreciating it for what it is, not judging it for what it isn't. Living Deep is not "sticking it out" but discovering and valuing the happiness of being who you are, doing what you're doing, in the place that you're doing it.

I don't think you have to be in the woods or in Ukraine to live deeply. But wherever you are, it's something to remember.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm alive

loyal readers,

I've been neglecting you. but Dude, whoever said that PC would be that one chance in your life where you could pursue all the hobbies and interests that you could never do before because of all the free time you would have in PC could not be MORE WRONG!!! I am 500 times busier now than I ever was in college or any other time of my generally, busy/overly involved/extended life. Training was a MADHOUSE of activity. I thought life would be slower once I got to site but much to my dismay, it has only sped up. I'm in overdrive now. I'm alwayssss exhuasted and my poor and abandoned introverted personality has almost been frazzled beyond repair. SO what I'm trying to say is: yes, I still have my blog. BUT (very unfortunately) I have not been writing in it lately. I'll try to add a few posts to keep you updated every now and then though ;) millions of crazy, insanely amusing things happen to me every day... every minute. and they all absolutely deserve to be written about. but I gotta find the time.

PS. I went to a Sauna last weekend in a nearby village.
I had dinner with one of my students at her family's apartment last night. They were gypsies and SUPER interesting to talk to.
I'm going on a field trip to the Carpathian Mountains on Sunday for a week to teach a mini English camp there and ski/snowboard (obvi).

I just finished judging the Olympiad competition for my region. I'm attending a latin american dance class in russian two nights a week. I'm taking tutoring lessons and currently translating "Bambi" from Russian to English once a week. I'm sort of learning to play the guitar in my "free time" = usually 2am in the morning on a school night. I went to my first Ukrainian club two Friday nights ago - it was a fun night of dancing, vodka, and hooka that ended with a bowl of spaghetti being shattered on my kitchen floor. I usually have at least one PCV come and stay the weekend with me from about thursday through monday morning. I have yet to spend a friday, saturday, or sunday alone in ukraine (day or night). I baked my first banana bread for some of my co-teachers. it was a huge success. I read exerpts of Harry Potter in English with my 8th formers. I went ice skating with my favorite English teacher and her family. I suck at ice skating. ...
....so I should tell you about all of these things, when I have more time :)

Friday, December 11, 2009

notes during training to my dad...

11/27: Thanks for calling me yesterday, dad. it was comforting and really sad all at once. you know how it is.

ukraine is loving me, everyday. and i love it just as much. i cant believe ill be leaving my host family in two short weeks. theyve been my rock and i think i might be lost without them.

11/3: I've been learning how to cook Ukrainian food. I usually try to watch my host-mom in the kitchen as much as I can and she always ends up letting me help her. well, last night: I "skinned", gutted, and chopped the head off of my first Ukrainian fish. I cleaned a 2 foot fish that my host-dad caught that morning) :D Someo...ne told me that you know you've arrived when you start to get treated like a Ukrainian and stop getting treated like an American. After last night, I think I've arrived. (probably not, there's a lot of other things that I'm sure that I need to do to prove myself... but I'm climbing that ladder. fosho.) and, I'm learning how to cook it tonight ;)

ohh. I don't eat the fish here b/c I'm scared of radiation. and my family knows that. they laugh, but my fears are grounded in truth. I think that I will have really "arrived" when I take my first bite of their favorite fish dish. ... what to do, what to do.

10/10: WOULD YOU RATHER... have explosive diarrhea in a stranger's match-box sized house with paper-thin walls with no toilet paper where you can't even speak the language to ask for some? OR eat a bowl of straight-up, raw, un-cooked pig fat with the pink, freckled skin still attached with a side of "natural" co...ttaged-cheese that you saw and smelled "being naturalized" on the kitchen counter for the past 15 days?

from personal experience on both accounts, I would rather have neither but I think that I'll go with the explosive diarrhea on this one.

...I thought that you would be the only one who could relate to those stories and I understand if you delete this post. :D ... its not the one hole that bothers me. its the smell. it makes me vomit, literally

Fear Factor Ukraine, anyone?

AND ... the pig fat is endearingly called "celo" and the "natural" cottaged cheese are deemed quite delicious by many people and a lot of volunteers. I'm just a slow adjuster to these delicacies. ... im not being critical at all. to each their own taste buds.

The Alpha and Omega of Training

In the beginning, I all but HATED my 3rd grade class. On the first day of teaching, when everyone else from my cluster was team-teaching – it somehow landed on me to teach by myself and to 3rd graders, no doubt. Of course, my class was the first one to be viewed by our TCF and… I was practically the premier example of everything NOT to do. I mean, I was teaching the “Present Continuous” to 8 year olds who are only supposed to be spoken to in Ukrainian. I've been learning Russian and I don’t even know how to say “hello” in UA… although, I do know how to say “police”. Regardless, it was only my 3rd week in Ukraine, so even if I had been able to speak better Russian… it didn’t really matter.

… more detail, I can’t help it. (Now that I'm remembering that first class... I have to explain how terrible it was... Those first 45 minutes were incredibly painful. My TCF was glaring at me, the regular English teacher was trying to avoid eye contact from the back of the classroom because she felt so bad for me. And my students were incredibly lost and totally out of control. They wanted to please me, but I was making it way too difficult for them.

After that class, I was sure that there was no way I was about to spend the next two years of my life teaching complex grammar rules that I don't even know the names for myself to Ukrainian oocheniks.

BUTT although that class was an epic fail, it was also a HUGE learning experience. Lesson #1 – avoid explicitly teaching grammar at all costs.

AND Hindsight is always clearer than foresight. Now, I see that that huge flop made me work harder and it has also made me appreciate every successful class that I teach where students don't throw paper balls at eachother or pull eacother's hair. Seriously though, every class after that, I’ve had those little dears eating from my the palm of my hand. (I also have a growing bag of secrets to help me out with this feat... feel free to email with questions).

How do I feel, now ?? Well, Yesterday was my last day of teaching at Boguslav School #1. I thought that I would be rejoicing to hit this milestone, which I am, but I’m also surprisingly sad. I’ll miss my little 8 year olds who tackle me with hugs when I walk into the classroom and carry all of my pencil bags and books for me down the halls. And erase the board for me before class starts. And correct all of my Russian spelling errors on the board. And hang all materials on the board for our lessons. And ask me 100 times/ day, in this exact dialogue, no varitions, ever.:
3rd Grader: Hello!!! Mmyyyy nammmeee isss Vanechka… wwwhhhaaattt isss youurr nammeee??
Me: My name is Whitney. It’s nice to meet you, Vanechka. How are you, today?
(repeat at least 3x for each student before I’m saved by the bell and class begins)

And I’ll also miss my 7th grade boys who scream “Sexy are you! Sexy am I! You are Sexy!... Sexy! everytime I see them in school and around town. At first, I was really disturbed by this, but I’ve come to embrace the fact that they can successfully conjugate the verb “to be” (a pretty crucial skill for speakers of English). And my adorable 7th grade girls, who have begun to imitat my gestures…. Now, they like to make their eyes get really wide when acting really interested in what someone’s saying during class, or putting their hands on their hips when they’re waiting for an answer from someone during a dialogue, or clicking their tongue when thinking out loud for a word in English.
And of course, I’ll be slightly thrown off with out my students screaming from across the hall in school or across the road in town, “HELLO Ms. FARMER” (I haven’t actually decided if I’ll miss that or not)

So Despite my initial classroom culture shock and related qualms, I have decided that I really love teaching especially when I have those (more-often-than-not awkward) bonding moments with my students -- even when it’s a two line dialogue, the truth remains: … It really IS/(WAS) a pleasure to meet you, Vanechka.