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.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Life in the Carpathians

From Monady to Wednesday of the past week, Jen and I were able to the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine. Given the opportunity to join Jen's host family's grandaughter and a friends on a three-day excursion, the two of us wlaked into the travelling situation not knowing too much about how it would turn out or what was on the agenda. The morning of we were dropped off on a bus with two teachers, and approximately 15 sixteen-year-old pubescent teenagers for a fun filled bus ride complete with heat, closed windows (for fear of fresh air), and body odour to the max. Jen and I couldn't help but laugh at what we had landed ourselves into when we first got on the bus. In the end I am really glad to have met this group of (although admittedly obnoxious at times) kids who managed to find a spot in our hearts.

Our final destination was a cottage nestled in the mountains, complete with a river just behind and mountain scenery all around. On our first day we took a hike up one mountain, had our first campfire complete with roasted potatoes and kolbassa, and explored the river just in behind the house. Jen and I were able to get better acquainted with the kids this day, who were every excited to be in the presence of the Canadians. We felt a bit like celebrities as they asked to take pictres with us, or showed us card tricks, or asked us questions about canada or how we liked Ukraine.

The next day we climbed a mountain that made the previous mountain feel like a mole-hill. It was 2061 metres tall, and the path went STRAIGHT up. Going up may have been a cardio workout, but going down was MUCH more intimidating. We could barely see our path mere steps ahead of us because it was so steep, and Jen got a kick out of the way I "danced" my way back-and-forth to get down. As much as the view was beautiful for the top (especially granted that we laucked out with AMAZING weather for the day), I was very glad to be back at the base. In the end what kept me going was not wanting to be one of the only Canadians these people met who was too chicken to make it up and down a mountain. I was determined to keep the Canadian reputation we had built up pristine. The hike consumed the greater part of our day, leaving just enough time for a second campfire that evening and off to bed to catch up on sleep.

The next day we left our cottages early to pop by a ski hill, then visit a tourist-oriented town with many souvenir shopd and a beautiful waterfall. Before heading on the bus and out of the Carpathians, Jen and I were admiring the tethered mountain goat in the front yard, and how extremely dirty it looked. We teased each other about getting near it, and finally made a bet that if I managed to milk it Jen would eat one of its droppings. Well, Jen only consented to this thinking I would never be able to milk her, but with the help of another student (all of whom eagerly participated in encouraging me after understanding what was going on), I got my hands dirty and milked that goat so Jen could see. The idea of eating the terd was revolting, so we settled that one kiss on the head would do. Jen had a huge audience; the teachers, students, and cottage owners all came out to see her successfully land one right on the end of its muzzle.

After our trip to the Carpathian mountains, I arrived safely back in Ternopil with stronger calves/thighs, a solid sunburn on my shoulders/face, a few new friends, and one more check off the Ukrainian to-do list.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Nausea and Tourism

After this past week, I am proudly able to check-off a few more items on my Ukraine “to-do” list in order to ensure a complete experience. One thing I am now able to say I accomplished successfully is getting travel-sick. It seems a necessary component to fully experience life in another country for any extended period of time, and one I hope I won’t have to re-visit. I have spent one solid day feeling pretty nauseous and tasting every food I ate twice over, and almost four days now after that running to the washroom trying to ensure that nothing I eat lasts too long inside my system. Can’t say it’s been fun, but I definitely have come to appreciate certain things more. I appreciate Luba, Sacha and Tanya for trying to do everything they can to keep me healthy; the Canadian healthcare system; my parents for calling and receiving phone calls at any hour just to talk and see how I am; Jen’s company on otherwise long and boring days; and home-cooked food.

Apart from this, what was supposed to be my first full week at the internat became a short week of growing slowly more acquainted with the girls and their routine. It has not become any less overwhelming, but certain things are at least more familiar. Slowly I am learning the names of the girls, mannerisms of each, and things they enjoy. To my, Miri’s and Jen’s delight these girls LOVE to dance. Dance parties have quickly become a daily tradition, and some girls express a lot of personality. Suffice it to say that videos will be necessary.

Scott came for a visit on Friday, and it was nice to see him again and meet his wife. You forget how much you appreciate talking to people who knew you before you came here, and I really enjoyed being able to share some experiences with someone who could see it first hand. Scott and Megan were able to visit the internat as well, and left to continue their trip later that day.

Yesterday our group of Canadian students (Miri included this time) spent some time in Lviv. After climbing more stairs in one day than I have for the past 21 years of my life, we managed to see some pretty amazing (and VERY old!) architecture and city sights. It is the biggest city in western Ukraine, only two hours away, and really beautiful to visit.

Today will be devoted to relaxation and preparation for my trip to the mountains tomorrow. I’ve also devoted a solid chunk of time to listening to Harry Potter audiobooks recently, and am thoroughly enjoying them all over again! Because my eye-lids are shutting on me as I write this, I think I’ll take a nap before I head out to do some grocery shopping…pa-pa for now!