Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Month in Ukraine 2

Dear loved ones near and far: I typed for an hour and lost my 2nd posting. So I'll try again. It's a very Ukrainian experience. I've been here a month. Hard to believe. I feel more comfortable in my new home. My Russian is coming along, slowly. I understand Valya and Nicolai more and more each day. I remember how it was the first few days, not understanding one word. Now my day begins with morning pleasantries and breakfast (usually leftovers from our dinner the night before, by the way, which is another new experience). Then I take a matrushka to Lyrisa's, my language instructor, about a 15 minute (crowded) bus/van ride, about 1.50 Hgr (HGreevnias, it's pronounced). It's 4-5 hours a day of Russian language, and a few more hours before bed. I can say Kak dela, dobry otre, meenya zavoot Fran, ask a few questions, and get along and get around. Can they understand my Russian? Well that's another thing, but we are all trying. We say "yanipanimayo" a lot, which is a loose transliteration of "I don't understand!"

Then it's 4-5 hours of "tech training" twice a week, which is learning about Ukraine and doing work here. Very insightful. We historians study pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial society and social relations a lot, but here I am discovering a new phenomenon, Post-Soviet society. We are in the very process of this social and economic development and national identity formation. It's fascinating; it affects every aspect of life here, in every way. There's even arguments about movies, like the one I saw about the Cossacks fighting off the Turks (it was in Russian with Ukrainian subtitles!) on what is now Ukrainian soil, but what was then part of Russia (Kievan Rus, or maybe even before that). Is the film Russian propaganda or Ukraine history? On and on it goes. The culture clash is evident in the language, too, with both Ukrainian and Russian being spoken, and a combination of the two. It affects politics. And of course the work of peace corps volunteers. That's what I'm learning about. How important it is to form relationships and social networks, to earn trust, before even attempting any project when we get to our sites after this training period. I tell the younger volunteers who talk about going to graduate school when they get back to the states that it would make a great thesis. They look at me in astonishment and we have great conversations!

I especially love discovering Ukrainian cultural ways, music, food, crafts, families, buying and selling in the bazaars. One of the things we did in our language class was to make borsch, a Ukrainian favorite. We set a beautiful table, with red tulips, and toasted with great gusto to Urkaine, America, and Peace! We also explore Chernigov, now green and flowering. We discovered the house and garden of a famous Ukrainian writer, (something like Kovosynski) in a beautiful part of CHernigov where craftsman cottages predominate, rather than Soviet style apartment buildings, like the one I'm living in (with its dark entry and hallways, uneven stairs and, ahem, challenging elevators to get to the 9th floor). Our walk to the writer's house, from the center's MacDonalds, took us into a different world, pre-war, and there were flowers and lilacs all along the way. It was beautiful. It was 1 May, a big holiday. The day ended with my helping Valya make vareneky, another Ukrainian national dish, pastry with stuffing, having it for dinner, studying some Russian, and nodding off to sleep. I think I dreamt in Russian last night. Love from Ukraine.

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