22 February 2006


All you warm ones (except Celeste),

Well, we're marching ever onward. The cold that hit the country while
we were in America didn't sweep away with our arrival. The following
monday, we got hit with -28c weather. Only one day, and the day I
happened to be walking around downtown with nothing to do. I'm sure
some of you have been in weather where, when you bearth, your
nosehairs stick together. Where you face feels like you're laying it
on a block of solid ice. All of this, and the sun was still shining.

It's a cruel trick, looking outside the window and seeing sunlight,
long forgotten here, creeping through the snow bound tree limbs and
thinking, "Today will be a find day to wear my non-artic clothing." A
quick trip back inside to change back into that artic clothing, and
the day finds its start...

So our first full week back, we taught as much as we could, but the
cold weather drove most of the students away. It's like snowed-in days
back at home, only here the snow's constant. We've got "too cold to
move; foolish to go outside days." I think I taught maybe nine classes
the first week back. Karen, less, but not just because of the cold.
She's got some schedule problems at her site. Something about two or
three classes shoved into the same time slot. The confusion is
understandable if the schdule there is anything like the schedule at
my school. Take graph paper and draw along the x-axis (is the
horizontal axis really x? It's been so long since imaginary numbers
and parabolas) all of the grades (or forms) that study at the school.
Along the y-axis, draw all of the of the tiem slots available,
grouping each day of the week seperately. Now, on different colored
pieces of cardboard--some the designs of christmas wrapping paper,
others all cardstock from Soviet times--type the names of all of the
classes. Each class gets it's own color--some of my English classes
have this weird chess-piece design. Now, spend a whole day arranging
those tiles on the graph paper so that none of the classes conflict.
Impossible, say I , but they manage to get it almost right. Of cours,
my schedule changes every week. Of course, of course, I haven't
really been at that site much because of going home to America and the
language conference we just had in Kyiv.

Oh yes, language conference. PC sent us to Kyiv for a Ukrainian
language refresher. We'd have four days of content-based language
instruction while staying at that fine Ukrainian resort, P-sok. All
the egg-dipped chicken and egg-dipped beef and egg-dipped mystery meat
we could eat. So, we're at the conference, and we get to see our
friends again. Kris and Jen and Ben and Nate; names meaningless,
maybe, to you all, but pure joy to us. So we have our classes, which
were quite good. I got to do in a class what I do at home--read
newspaper articles, practice ukrainian cursive, sing along to
Ukrainian songs, etc.... Good stuff, but I felt, once again, like a
second grader. I've really come along with the langauge to a point
were I feel realy comfortable with what I know--that plateau thing.
Being there, and taking the advanced course, the world was once again
laid bare to me; the skeletons of the earth that I saw were made up of
every bit of Ukrainian I (a) still don't know and (b) didn't know
existed. One class I attened was more a philosophy of the language
than anything tanglible or useful (now, although on work for my MA at
MIIS it'll be invaluable, I feel). I learned how the three genders of
the language (male, female, and neuter) give way to a fourth gender
(spilny) which is really the hermaphrodite of the language as words
that fall within its orbit take both male and female gender. Oh my God
I'm boring you with nerdy word facts....

Anyway, it was good to see our friends. Ben got a (not!!!!) pirated
copy of Brokeback, and we watched that one night. Good movie, but I
liked the story better, I think. I played chess (finally!!) all three
days and got my ass royally kicked by my former Ukrainian teacher. It
was cool though, cause we did it all in Ukrainian, and now I know how
to say the useful word "castling" which some people don't even use in
English and I'll barely

(oh, oh, just gave an impromptu English lesson in the Library)

be able to use the word in normal conversation with people here. I
thought here'd be some chess playing fools, but I've only seen people
playing once. And that was while they were trying to exchange Dollars
for Hryvnia in the street.

Anyway, back in S-town now, and we're thinking about the way of things
here. How much easier life could be for people if only a few things
were to change. How our work here is really affecting our students.
Our we really helping them? Is knowledge of authentic English really
going to help them when they teach with the Ukrainian variant of
English like "to go in for sports" and "the US is washed by three
oceans" ? If the students don't go anywhere but here, are we really
helping them by teaching them Englosh as it is really spoken by native
speakers? Or are we hurting them because they'll use words that even
their teachers don't know? And will later correct out of them? ?s ?s

Started working with a Ukrainian tutor. Got off to a slow start
because she wanted to take me back to Ukrainian 101 when I'm already
in 301. Had to really convince her that I already knew what she was
talking about (and that I really wanted speaking and writing practice,
not listening practice and vocabulary drills). I'm starting with a
second tutor today, so I'm up to four hours a week, which really isn't
much, but coupled with actually living in the culture I'll use the
langauge in, it's a big help. In a few weeks, I'll get that piano
tutor. One lives across the hall from us. I'll learn piano, something
I've always wanted to do, and I'll learn some language at the same
time.Just gotta find a patient teacher.

Well, that's enough for now. Gotta teach in 40 minutes. Hope all's
well with you and yours.

Your friend (or relative) in Ukraine,

03 February 2006

a new start in ukraine

Though it's been only a few short days since I've seen some of you, and I apologize for not being able to contact more of you while I was home, I feel I should take advantage of the Internet while I have it and send in an update. Access is limited, and I've probably got something to say.
Home was bittersweet. I was overwhelmed by seeing my family, whom I dearly miss, and by watching the woman who raised me, who loved and was loved, lowered below the earth. It's been an emotional tilt-a-whirl. After four months in Ukraine, I got to go home. After 24 years as a grandson, I am grandparentless (excluding the spiritual side of the matter). At home, I was lucky enough to have two weeks with the most important people in my life. We were able to grieve together. To laugh together. To remember together. And to share the occasional beverage together. There was a lot of closure in my trip that I never would have had if I weren't allowed, with Karen, to fly home.  I am indebted to the PC Ukraine staff for the work they did to get us home. I owe them what I've already given them: two years of my life.
It was hard to leave my family again, but I knew I had to.  I didn't belong in America.  At least, not yet. I was embedded in Ukrainian culture just enough to experience some culture shock upon returning home.  It's hard to put into words that make sense but there were so many things that I had gotten used to not having. Having them again, all again and all at once, shocked me a little. It was an important lesson to learn: having everything I wanted, doing anything I wanted was hard to get used to...after four months.  I can't imagine what it'll be like after two years.
I felt in a dream, stuck between the American culture I knew and the Ukrainian culture I was getting to know. From buying a bottle of water with a $20 and not being harassed for exact change to being transported anywhere I wanted to go (a) in a timely fashion and (b) without being squished up against a hundred people, all the little things added up, giving me a glimpse of how I'd feel returning to America in December of 2007 (or Dec 2006, if I go home for Christmas).
Being back here is just as strange.  Having to come up with exact change. Slipping on the ice. Being forced to speak Ukrainian again. Adding to that the jet-lag, which is befuddling my mind. [Example, last night, in the hotel, Karen's cell went off, and I began grilling her about when my grandma would be calling]. So, some of the things are the same. But there are also some things that are different. It's kinda like having a new start. Some of the negative things we've experienced, or the negative attitudes we have, we can reshape or redefine.  It's like coming to Ukraine for the first time, only being very informed about what it's going to be like. We know a lot about the culture, so we can react better to those things this time around.
After 19 hours on various planes, living through delays and such, we returned to Ukraine, flying low over the same patch of land I saw back in the beginning of October, only this time fitted with layers of snow instead of naked, burning fields. Back at the office, we learned from the Director of PC Ukraine that we had missed the coldest winter he'd ever seen in Ukraine. Everyone here is talking about the black frost, the -25 to -30C weather, the snow. The coldest winter in years--and hopefully the coldest for years.  I don't feel too bad that I missed that part of the winter.
Back in Kyiv, everything's the same.  Snow falling in sheets. Slush and ice of the ground. Women freezing in the streets to sell their wares (mobile phone cards or jars of pickles). Men wandering, talking into their cell phones. Today, on the street, we heard a Brit talking into his cell phone. Two weeks ago, I would have died to hear him talk; after being home for two weeks, listening to all the English I could handle, it wasn't such a treat. I realized, though, in another couple of months, I'd be back, roaming the streets of Kyiv, listening for that man's voice again. Until you're in another country, living under a different language, you might not understand the joy in hearing your native tongue.
The political parties are out on the streets, gearing up for the elections. It's nice to see people out on the streets, supporting causes that are important to them. Everyone has his or her flag, scarf, or banner in support of their candidate. There are so many parties, I can't even begin to count. But they must be worthy candidates because these people are standing out in the freezing cold, waving their flags all day.  Worthy or else rich.
Karen and I are in Kyiv for another 24 hours. Then we take a train up to S-town. We'll get in at 11pm, so we'll get to lug our suitcases home in the dark. Looking forward to being in our new home--as we've just switched host families. We didn't even have the chance to unpack; we were there less than 24 hours before I found out about my grandmother and had to go home.
Anyway, I should end this before I ramble on some more.  Missing in all and wishing you all health, love, and life.

02 February 2006

back in ukraine

Just writing to let you all know that we are safely back in Ukraine. Jet lag is crushing my brain, but other than that, we are okay.  It was nice to be home in Cali, although I wish it wasn't a funeral that took me home. It was nice to see my family and my friends. Also, it was nice to avoid the -25C weather here.

Hope all is well.