Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Letter

As we approach our final days at the internat, it feels more and more like crunch time. I decided that before I left I wanted to write Hanna a letter. Without reciting its entire contents, my letter essentially explained how I knew I could never understand her whole life, and I know we haven't become great friends over my stay here... but despite everything she did to keep me away, what she really did was make me want to try harder. I also wanted her to know that I would go back to Canada and remember her and talk about her, not just for her giving me a hard time, but for the determination she instilled in me during my stay. So, I gave my letter to Orest who translated it and we were on our way.

When we went to give her the letter, she was very reluctant to come with me so we could be somewhere more private. SHe was saying she was busy listening to music, and ignored us by talking to her friends and turning her back to us. Eventually she caved under peer pressure from her friends to come with me...but they were all very interested in what was going to happen so it became more difficulkt to find privacy. When Orest read the letter to her (because she is illiterate) she seemed surprised and ust listened. Immediately afterward she did not say much in front of me, but left with the letter in hand and laughed in the hall. SHe went back to her classroom, and I thought that was that.

At this point I was feeling again like I had done my part, and as Orest and I made our way outside was surprised to find that Hanna had come back. She did not have any response to the letter still, but simply asked Orest and I a few questions then sat with us outside as we worked on another translation project. It was nothign fancy schmancy, but it was a deal in itself that she came to hang out by me of her own accord.

Since then she pays more attention to me, not necessarily talking to me, but noticing me as I do things and where I go. She gave me the finger when I went to go talk to her the other day, but I think this was more od a joke than anything else. Orest commented that he thinks the letter meant more to her then she lets on, and that she'll keep it.

Another interesting thing to comment on, is that another girl at the internat, named Ivanka, who in the past had never given me a hard time, is now giving me the finger and shooing me away the way Hanna started out. I am not sure if I started a bad trend amongst the girls where they think they will get special attention if they try to bug us... but it is ust something I have noticed.

I am not sure exactly what Hanna thinks of me still, and don't think I will ever come to this realization. But what I do know is that I was honest with her, and hope she can come away from this experience at least understanding my side of the story better.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Change of Plans

Time at the internat seems to be passing all too quickly. Jen, Miri and I had hoped to organize a concert similar to last year's for Monday August 3rd, but because of recent happenings and limited time we have decided to alter these plans. The recent "emergency" has made the Director skeptical of any outisder interaction with our girls. Excursions have been executed completely, the sleepover we had planned for ourselves with the girls has been cancelled, and the idea of inviting the "outside world" to watch the girls perform is not the next card to play.

The "club" room that was to host our concert (complete with a stage and proper seating), is currently unaccessible due to construction, and the stereo system has been taken away. While we were told that it should be accessible by the concert date, we can not rely on this. Practices for our dance routine have been on and off. It is difficult to find, collect, and practice with the same group of girls every day because they all have different duties and are all over the place. When we do practice the girls enjoy it only for a bit, but an abundance of practice also seems to get tiring. All these factors have lead us to reconsider the timing and "officiality" of the concert we hoped to host. Our main intent is for the girls to have fun. Last year it seemed that concert plans got underway early on and were much more spread out, allowing the girls to enjoy their experience at a more leisurely pace. This year it seems that the time constraint puts more pressure on everyone.

We have decided, thus, to have more of a party than a concert. It will still be on the Monday before we leave, we will still get the girls to dress up and perform the dances or sing a song if they like, we will still have Bogdan play his accordian, and will still supply snacks and drinks. The bonus of this is the pressure it alleviates. No longer will we worry about where to host the party, outside should work perfectly. There won't be seats but the girls won't be standing for long and it makes for a perfect dance space. We won't worry about whether the dance routines look perfect, or if the songs are just right...their will be no pressure to achieve will just be loose, fun and on the spot. Also, we will have more time in our final days to focus on a variety of activities while also preparing packages for each of the girls (as per Miri's grant plans).

The biggest lesson to be learnt in all of this is to not feel disappointed with our change of plans. Part of me can't help but feel like without the concert and sleepover and excursions what difference am I making. At the end of the summer, what can I actually say I've DONE? To go ahead with the concert would make it all too much like a chore, like another task to add to my list of ways to "help" the situation. But instead, Pedagogy of the Oppressed reminds me that it is not about "helping" so much as it is about dialogue and truly being with the "other". So with that attitude, I intend to complete my last 8 internat days with as much energy and patience for understanding as I when I entered this experience.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Moments to Remember

1: The other day a girl at the internat named Nadya was wearing a cute pink sure with a puppy on the front. The puppy was holding a leash in its mouth...and the caption on the shirt read, "Please take me home." The irony that Nadya is an orphan girl who could thrive in a home to call her own really struck me.

2: Another elder girl at the internat, Natalia, often sits on her own. She is quiet and shy, but sweet none-the-less. Whether people are around, or on her own, Natalia can be heard saying "Ya Mama hochu, hochu," which literally translates to "I Mama want, want." She may not say much, but this speaks volumes to me.

3. Today I was busy braiding the girls' hair. Because I was so distracted with hair, Hanna could have easily passed by without being noticed, but instead she called out my name, waved hello (not the finger!) and continued on her way. It literally made my day.
(p.s. if you have not read my previous post on Hanna, this will seem out of context)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Hanna Situation

So I know I just finished one downer of a blog, but I am going to throw another your way. Most girls we meet at the internat receive us with open arms and are looking for love and friendship. Some of the older girls seem to be more impartial to our visits, but Hanna seems to actively dislike us. As Jen has mentioned in some of her blogs, some girls will do anything for attention, even if it is negative. These girls go back and forth from being sweethearts to headaches. This is still does not explain Hanna.

Hanna is 24 years old, and our first experiences with her include us saying "priveet" (hello) and her replying "Dopobachenya" (see ya). When I asked if I could sit near her and her friends, she would say I was not allowed and try to send me away. When waving hello to many of the girls, Hanna would give us the finger. One day while Jen was walking with a group of girls past the gates where Hanna was sitting, Hanna pulled out her lighter and attempted to burn Jen's earlobes.

Each day I have been trying to interact with Hanna a bit, understadn her better, and possibly have her open up a bit more. Last week I went to the front gates where Hanna was holding a small black puppy. I asked if I could pet it, and as I began to Hanna made barking noises and thrust the puppy towards me, startling me as she did so. I was determined not to let her bug me or see that what she was doing was getting a reaction out of me, but rather just to pleasantly pass time in her presence. She quickly got bored of trying to startle me and let me pet the puppy and ask questions. Later, she even saw Jen and I sitting on our own eating lunch, and came by with the puppy allowing us to pet her again. Progress, finally! However, the next day Hanna greeted us again by giving us the finger. I went over to ask where the puppy was, seeing as it seemes to be something we both agreed on, "dead", she replied. That was that for the day.

Yesterday Hanna was at the front gates with a couple of her friends again. I went over to see what it really was that happened here. Initially Hanna was teasing me about my language skills (something she does often), then asked if I wanted to smoke or drink (alcohol) with them. No, I replied, but continued to sit with them enjoying the music. She then proceeded to light her own cigarette and blow the smoke in my face. Again, being stubborn, I refused to let this be another reason for her to shoo me away and continued to sit with her. She bored of trying to irritate me and asked me a few questions instead. When I asked her what she liked to do, she said "have sex." What am I supposed to say to this? Instead of replying, I quickly accepted the interuption of another girl who asked me to dance with her. Hanna seemed to enjoy me dancing, whether she thought it was ridiculous and funny or sincerely impressive I'll never know (I'm leaning towards the first). I wasn't sure whether to write the day off as progress or not, but at least I was trying.

Today Hanna again was giving us the finger, and getting frustrated with my lack of comprehension of the language, calling me names and yelling at me at one point. I understand that to Hanna I might be some rich Canadian kid who walks in and out of that internat on a daily basis knowing little to nothign about her life. This is the frustration for me. How do I reach a girl who I know nothing about, and who knows that I haven't got a clue? She has resorted to sex, alcohol, and cigarettes as an outlet it seems. She has a tough shell to break because she is tough and her experiences have shown her that she needs to be. There are people you meet in life that treat you like crap and you tell yourself not to think about it because in the end they aren't worth your time of day. With Hanna it is different...I can't help but want to keep trying. I know I have little time, and I may not get any further than where I am right now with her, but I strive for the patience required to keep trying.

The "Emergency"

Over the past week, the internat has thrown another curve ball our way. Upon our return from Poland, we asked Orest (our translator) to join us to the internat so we could get a move on with our plans to organize a concert with the girls. However, all the talk amongst the girls seemed to focused on one subject, which they referred to as the "emergency". Apparently one of the elder girls at the internet named Marina (23) who is pregnant. At five months along they noticed her enlarged belly in the field during a day's work while we were gone, and immediately took action. Usually, health workers visit the orphanage monthly to check all girls 12 and up for pregnancy, and if they are pregnant the babies are aborted immediately. The emergency in this situation especially arised because these workers had not come in four consecutive months, allowing the pregnancy to reach 5 months. Health workers were called to the internat immediately upon notification though.

The man who impregnated her originally lived in an orphanage for boys with disabilities far away. The two orphanages sometimes program events together, so the girls are familiar with their boys. When this boy was 25, he "graduated" from his orphanage and was placed in the "old age" home next to the internat that I have referred to before. Here he became a cassanova amongst the girls at our internat, and has apparently impregnated a few in the past as well. Bogden, a grandfather figure amongst the girls, explained this to Orest and also mentioned that he has argued with this man before about staying away from our girls. Unfortunately, this man is bigger and pushes him around, leaving Bogden with little means of stopping him. Marina has now been sent to a different place which is known for being worse to live in. She will have a c-section at 5 months, the future of the baby is unknown, and her tubes will be tied.

The director of the internat will no longer allow us to do excursions with the girls, out of apparent threat of interaction with more men I suppose. In light of this Miri, Jen and I planned a small party with crafts, music and candy for the girls who we planned to do an excursion with on Friday. The whole situation is just really sad. Because of the "emergency", we are still unsure about whether we will be able to invite visitors from outside the orphanage to attend our concert, although we are hoping the Director will be in a better mood later such that we may ask him then.

I have found this information really heavy to deal with, and Jen , Miri and I even debated whether we should keep it out of our blog or not. In the end though, Jen said it right: "The more light we shed on the internat, the more accountable we make them." Before the weekend, when Marina was still at the internat, I was unsure what I could do for her. She became a spectacle amongst everyone, and everyone was talking about her. Jen, Miri and I did not have an especially strong relationship with her, and I didn't want to draw extra attention by trying to comfort her when she hardly knew me...but I also didn't wnat to "leave her to the wolves" so to speak. Now she is gone and I wish I had tried harder to give her someone to lean on. I wonder how she is doing, and in all probability will be left wondering without hearing more about her.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

1 Month left?!

Ternopil has proved to be eventful from the beginning, with dull moments being a rarity. This past weekend, Jen and I spent our Saturday in Lviv perusing craft markets, avoiding downpours of rain, and exploring the historic streets. Sunday was an adventure all of its own. Jen heard of a church in town which integrated both the English and Ukrainianlanguages, so we decided to attend. Here we met a wonderful group of people who seemed to come from all over the world. Many were missionaries who are now permanent residents in Ukraine doign service work, othgers were family visitors, still others were students either studying in Ternopil or passing through town. I can't tell you how many invitations Jen and I received to visit different families' homes for some English food or just to speak english with someone new! It was wonderful.

This also happened to be my first encounter with a student named David. David is from Ghana, a student, is wheelchair-bound, and is a character all of his own. Being both black and disabled gains him quite a lot of attention wherever he goes. It amazes me that he is even able to travel around as much as he does because Ukraine is NOT a wheelchair friendly country, but he is so friendly and seems to know SO MANY people... such that he always has a willing friend to drive him over all the bumps and help him up and down stairs. Nothing stops David. His friends make jokes that his dorm room is more like a common room because people congregate wherever David is. He is an entertainer who keeps you laughing and interested. Just the other day while with David, a man approached him and started to talk and introduce himself. It was fairly eveident how drunk this man was because soon he was shaking hands with David ...then hugging him... then kissing his neck and cheek in greeting. After a lengthy conversation with David feeling uncomfortable and trying to say goodbye, the man finally said he wanted to buy David a present and would return in 3 minutes with it while we waited. Just as soon as the drunk man was safe distance from us, we booted it. Imagine two foreign Canadian girls (who stick out because of their plain clothes and hefty backpacks), with two black men (one in a wheelchair, and the other pushing the wheelchair) trying to hurriedly evade a drunken men while bobbling all over uneven streets... I couldn't help but laugh at the hilarity of the situation because we were probably the most noticed people on the streets.

On another note, yesterday (like many days in Ukraine) was a religious holiday. In order to properly celebrate, there was a party at the internat complete with games, balloons, a campfire and tictechko's (wafer treats)! Bogden, an elder gentleman at the internat, busted out his accordian as we did the Hokey Pokey, and Orest joine din the fun as well. Today was another good day as we planned another excursion with 5 new girls. Morozevo (ice cream) is always the highlight of the excursion!

I am also finding my self very torn with emotions lately. As many of you may have read from both Jen and Miri's blog, we were able to go through the file's on the girls last week...and realized more fully the heartbreak of each girl's past. It is hard to imagine that just one month from today I will be going home. I am REALLY looking forward to this because I miss everyone in my life incredibly...but also can't help but feel like the life I've built over the past two months here is wonderful as well. I know I don't have to say goodbye yet, but I can't help but reflect on how difficult it will be when the time comes.

In the meantime, tomorrow Jen, Miri and I are off to Poland. We plan to stay for the weekend complete with a day's tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Salt-mines, Wawel Castle, and exploring life in Krakow. I am really looking forward to this experience, and will tell more later! Until then....I've nothign more to say for now!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Make-up Mania and a Long Day's Work

This past week I have realized how comfortable with my surroundings I am at this point. My family no longer babies me through daily tasks like boiling my own eggs, making my own tea, or going to the store to buy bread for the house. I may not know every bus route to perfection (because there are a million different ones), but I know the city well enough to risk taking any bus I think goes near the general vicinity of where I live and making it work. I know which grocery stores I can go to for which products, and I am a regular at this internet café. I am able to walk through the centre and recognize some people from the university, and even able to scrape by some basic conversations without one trace of my trusty dictionary.

As far as the internat work goes… this too is really picking up. While I do not know ALL of the names of the girls, I am making strong headway. Learning names is difficult because many girls are non-verbal, others have speech impediments, and there are also many diminutives for each name such that while I may have thought one girls' name was Ira, Jen knows the same girl as Irka, and Miri knows her as Irenka. This past week we have gotten a few of our plans underway, one of these being theme-day Thursdays. What we intended to be an animal-themed day… turned out to be make-up mania. We wanted to paint animal faces on the girls to compliment the animal puppets and animal crafts, however, the girls went so nuts over the make-up nothing else seemed necessary. In the end we had a blast with all of the girls young and old outside all day. A few of these pictures are below.

Also, one girl worth mentioning is a “major” in the house whom we refer to as Alina-boss. She has a lot of personality, and a marked leader amongst the girls. She knows the ins and outs of everything, is VERY helpful with all of our plans, and also respected by the girls. When a younger girl acts out of line… Alina-boss will handle the situation for us, when we are planning the excursion for a few of the girls… Alina-boss is organizing a worker to come along and helping us pick girls who get along. She is pictured below with Miri on our make-up day, and is truly a gem. I will also mention my amazingly long day at the dacha yesterday. The dacha, as a reminder, is a plot of land typically outside the main city where families grow fruits, vegetables and flowers. My family said we would spend our Saturday there, and I did not realize the extent to which they really meant this. I expected to be there for four or five hours… but instead spent from 11am-9pm gardening like it would never end. They seemed very impressed with my work and kept telling me to slow down, but I felt like if I went any slower I would be moving backwards. A good chunk of the day was also spent moving a pile of rocks (BY HAND ONLY) from one spot to another so that they could build a fence where the rock pile once lay. To my dismay, all my hard work clearly reasoned in their minds that I deserved to eat A LOT of food… so at 9pm I got home to a feast (no luck in trying to work off any of the carbs and oil I’ve been stuffing my face with lately!). Below are some pictures from our day.