23 February 2007


It's been an interesting week in class, as Larry referred to below. I've been teaching about "American Families," and all that entails. I've been challenging the students to define family, helping them with some vocabulary along the way, but mostly focusing on their opinions and ideas of who makes a family.

We've had some heated debates and discussions. I love it when they disagree with each other and aren't afraid to express their views. I try not to impose my views on them, and encourage them to respect each others' ideas, especially if they disagree.

This week they did it all.

We start by drawing our families. It's interesting to see if they only include those who they live with, or if the extended family makes it into the drawing. Sometimes they include pets, and we discuss whether or not pets can be family members. We go over some key terms (related by blood, by marriage, extended vs. nuclear family, co-inhabitants, etc) and then I challenge them to write a definition of "family." Most come up with something along the lines of "a group of people related by blood or marriage, who love and support each other." Some leave out the feelings aspect, others include the idea that "family" doesn't have to be related, but just people you feel strongly commited to.

I pass out notecards with different living arrangements, and they discuss whether or not each is a "family." Often they begin to contradict their own definitions, so we discuss it. They have a difficult time with one example couple I included, together for over 25 years but not married and no kids. They argue over whether or not this is a family, because they have no stamp in their passport (apparently something that happens in Ukraine when people are married), and no proof of their relationship. Some argue that a couple must have children, but then when I mention same-sex couples they change their minds.

I realize that most of these are new questions for them. No one has ever challenged their very traditional notion of family as a mother, father, and children. Many of them don't know any other model. They are shocked to learn that the majority of households in the US are comprised of a married couple with no kids (29%), followed by a person living alone (26%), only then do we have married couples with children (24%).

They also have had interesting discussions about what the "official stamp" means. They ask me why two people would live together so long without getting married. They don't know any people like this. Some seem to believe that without this stamp the relationship could end tomorrow, even in the case of the couple together for 25 years. They worry about the future of this relationship more than my 2-years-young marriage.

They shared openly and maturely, in most cases. I was impressed by their willingness to reevaluate their own definitions.

* * *

Check out the "Photos" link for some new Mardi Gras photos. I believe it was my first time celebrating this holiday. It meant a lot to Edwin, and we paused for a moment of silence for the city and people of New Orleans.

Sending you smiles from L'viv.

22 February 2007

sadly it's coming to an end

the q, that is.

it's time to start working in the classroom again, come monday. i doubt any of you feel sad for me, and i don't blame you. i would complain that having nothing to do is rather boring, but i'm very good at filling my time and my life. i have no complaints on that front.

on tuesday, we had a big ol mardi gras party. our citymate, edwin, hosted. he's from nowlins, so he knew how to do it right. we made masks and ate beans and rice and gumbo and the famous king cake--replete with the seven pound, six ounce baby jesus buried under the sugary green and blue crust. no idea what i'm talking about? i didn't either until two days ago.

the king cake's a big deal. if you find the baby jesus--which one fo the ukrainian guests did--you hafta host the next party. as he's moving to america with his new american bride, i guess we'll have the hoedown next year in the states.

the spirit of the party was thrown into stark relief by a comment one of karen's students made about new orleans during class. she mentioned how a lot of people felt katrina hit the gulf coast because god wanted to punish the area--specifiaclly n o--for its sins. nothing else i've heard in this country has made me so slack jawed. the hate that religion breeds...it's so old testament. and the main reason i stay aloof from (of?) religion. all that religious leaders (and political pundits who have become the spokespeople of the church) can talk about is hate and seperation. and, frankly, i'm fucking tired of that kinda talk.

[/end rant]

yesterday, we went to a club in lviv. it's the first time we've went out to a late night venue in the city--safety being our #1 priority whilst living here. our friend, who lives in a neighboring town, knows a guy in the band, and we got invited out. and we are so glad we went. besides the fact that the music simply rocked our socks off (and the singer could sing his everloving face off), it was nice to be around ukrainians that reminded more of the states than of ukraine. by this i mean, they looked and acted different than each other. everyone had a different style. everyone seemed to be respecting everyone else. no one was passed out on the floor hammered. all of the negative things i could say about ukraine were absent in that concert venue last night. instead, we met smiling people. happy people. people just having fun and dancing to music. everyone was young adn just into being themselves, it seemed to me. in short, we saw a face of ukraine that we haven't seen until now. it was a fresh breath of air. we hope to go back to that club.

after the club, we walked around the center looking for a taxi. we found one and, karen and i believe, the driver was the first guy in ukraine not to think we were foreigners. we chatted about the weather (his forecast ended up being, of course, incorrect) and the route to our house. he never once asked if we were foriegn--which EVERYONE else does. well, more like, they just make a statement about it--"you're a foriegner"--and proceed to stare.

and am i about done with the staring. everywhere we go. and i mean like 10 or 20 minutes worth of staring. just cuz we're speaking a different language. i wish they knew how staring, to us, is an act of aggression. and just plain rude.

anyway, life is chuggin along. looking down the calendar to our cos date, which karen implores me not to do because it "gets my hopes up." but, when the day comes, i'll not be sad. we've had a good run, but i'm tired. tired of being stared at, as you now know. but also tired of a lot of other things.

but, i suppose, the ukrainians around me are more tired of things that i am--a new try at a new draft of the constitution being just one thing--so i'll put my head down and keep going.

i guess that's how i feel right now.


17 February 2007

there is snow somewhere

while the streets are currently clear of the soft white stuff, the ski resorts are not.


taking advantage of the quarantine my school--and my friend's school--is under, casey and i went to slavske (o) for an adventure. i've lived in this oblast for almost a year and haven't yet seen the carpathian mountains; i figured now, with the little bit of time off, would be the best time to see them. and ski them.

of course, i chose snowboarding instead, and snowboarding is the single biggest thing in the world that i SUCK at. but, more on that later.

first, we took the 730 train from lviv to slavske. i had been reading my return ticket instead, so we hopped onto the wrong wagon. noticing we were in platskart (a whole lotta people) as opposed to koup (not a whole lotta people)--and there was a little boy sleeping in one of our spaces--casey realized our (my) error. so we ran back outta the wagon, grabbed our tickets, and booked it down to the other end of the train, where our real wagon awaited.

three hours, and a lotta flat land WITHOUT snow, later, we were in the trans-carpathian region. there were actually mountains there. slight peaks that jutted out of the earth. rimmed with snow. pulling into the train station, we gotta look at some of the ski runs coming down the side of some of the mountains. i just gotta say, they were mostly dirt and mostly now snow. yet there was snow on the ground, so we had hope.

we walked from the train station, down a crooked road full of potholes, and toward a hotel. across from the hotel was the "prokat"--the rental place. casey rented some skis and i opted for the snowboard. i wanted to try something new.


so, as i was getting geared up, casey asked where a mountain was with snow. the name he got was a mountain that translates as "high on top." now, hearing that, i jumped up and reminded everyone that i was a beginner. i wanted bunny, not treachery. they assured us that there were beginner slopes. we shrugged and headed outside to find a taxi.

now, if you're thinking yellow cab from Crazy Taxi or NYC, think again. well, actually, keep the Crazy Taxi part. for 60 uah (12$) we got loaded into a soviet style green jeep with a nice new steering wheel grip but not new not nice suspension. halfway down the road, the man driving points up



and says, "there's your mountain." I freak again and reiterate: I AM A BEGINNER. he assured us there would be no problem.

so we get to the base of the hill and we see the line for the ski lifts and lift passes and we get cut in front of and we get cut in front of. (ukrainians love love love to cut in line). finally we get a ski lift pass and stand in line for the ski lift and ukrainians cut and cut. then we get to the front and sit down.

thirty minutes later (literally) we're on top. way on top--you can check the pics at the bottom.

and they were right, the beginner stuff was at the top. so i dicked around falling on my ass for about four hours, ate some shashlik, and fell some more. casey did the same thing, except with skis and except without falling.

it was beautiful up thee and cold up there and i'm glad we went up there--despite the height.

after our skiing, we took another cool ass jeep down the mountain (50 uah this time) and returned our equipment. then we toured the small town (five minutes) (seriously) and then sit in the train station to wait for our train, which will come in thre hours.

train stations are much much much better than television.

we got to watch people open wine bottles with ski poles. we got asked if we were foreigners--to which i replied, "we live in lviv." we got to listen to a really really really really wasted old woman sing horribly to people waiting for trains. (which was less funny and more sad and depressing; alcohol is the ruin of this country).

and then we took the train home.

all in all a very very fun day. a surreal day for a pcv.

and all in russian. one person on the entire mountain--besides us--was speaking ukrainian. the rest was russian. boo.

enjoy the pics.

me and a snowboard




the hil (and slavske the town in the distance)




11 February 2007

hittin' the q

or the k.


that's how they say it in ukrainian. this seems to happen every year, according to the people i talk to. it's already happened in several oblasts, and now it's hit the city of lviv.

the q.


and if you're like me, that word strikes fear into your heart. images of deadly diseases come to mind. being locked up in your house.

but here, it's really just an expected vacation. a few of my students came down with the flu (glad i got my flu shot) and didnt come to school. right around the same time it happened last year.

and the year before.

and then othe students dont come to school because their friends dont have to come to school.

and the eventually no one is coming to school and they call a quarantine because of having too few students. i had, on average, four students in each of my classes last week.

so, on friday we hit the q. we have it for ten days and then we reevaluate the situation. probably wont go longer than ten days, but who knows.

so i've got some extra time to work on some projects i'm in on.

and i've got time to take a day trip to slavske (www.slavsko.com) and check out what this ukrainian skiing thing is all about.


04 February 2007

Making up for lost time

It seems the snow is making up for lost time. It's been snowing pretty constantly since Winter finally decided to show its face. The snow's been pretty wet though, and doesn't always stay on the ground for long.

I'm still on a sort of extended vacation since returning from the States. My classes at the College start up on Feb 9th, and I will have a whole new schedule, but hopefully all the same students. They are usually pretty kind to me with my schedule, not giving me too many classes in one day, or having me work so late that I'll be walking home in the dark. Just found out this week that my colleague Yulia teaches nearly twice as many classes as I do. On top of that, she teaches private English lessons from home to supplement her salary. I'd be willing to bet almost all of my colleagues do. They also probably cook and clean a lot more than I do...but that's a whole different entry.

By the way, I've updated the "Photos" link on the right-hand side with some of our photos from the holidays in the US. Check us out!

Hope you are all staying warm and eating lots of finger food for me while watching the big game. Go Chargers! Oh wait...well, I hope it's a good game, anyway.

I heard the groundhog is predicting an early Spring. Tell that to Ukraine, please.


snow in l'viv

the snow's finally hit. not too bad. we're hovering at around 0
celsius, so the snow melts during the day. for the most part. put
then, during the night, the temp drops and all the melted snow turns
to frozen water. let the slip sliding commence!

off to another oblast center this coming weekend for warden training.
happy to be able to see a new city. not happy that i'll probably have
to go overnight to a city that's less than 135 KILOMETERS (prolly)
away. bah.

writing away on my novel, which i haven't mentioned at all up here.
getting a lot of good work done on that. maybe it'll be done by the
time i COS outta here?

school is going okay. i've really parsed down my lesson plans to five
vocabulary words that we can work on in a conversational setting.
seems to be working so far. ss seem on task--those that come.

off to see blood diamonds in a bit with some fellow volunters. it'll
be in ukrainian, which is great.

at least it's not in russian.