Journal Excerpt: Ukraine Series

September 9th, 2013

It is cold. Ukraine offers four full seasons with cliff dropping transitions. Only a few weeks ago I was enjoying the hot impact of summer. One morning I stepped outside and it was instantly fall. The trees were still vibrantly green and the streets were littered with soft, verdant leaves that died swiftly in the night from shock. As the next couple weeks unfolded Ukraine dropped heavily into autumn. In America we know fall is coming from the variety of pumpkin spiced everything. Out here it is declared by swift color changing trees and the sniffles. 

Today I stepped into winter. The wind rattled the windows of my concrete and welded steel balcony and woke me from a drug induced slumber. My only thought as I made my way to the bus stop is that I need to boil my winter clothes tonight so that they can be worn as armor for the coming school week. The rotation into winter is favorable in that it will solve the remaining bed bug cleanup for me. I can take the remaining sealed trash bags and place them on the balcony and the 4-6 months of winter will cleanse the remains in a much more delicate way than harsh boiling. 

The drama club yesterday was quite interesting. The students all arrived and we played an improv game. After that they just wanted to talk. They are ready to start rehearsing the play. I am going to look online tonight for a children’s version of A Christmas Carol to save me from heavily rewriting the play into simpler English; otherwise it will be an interesting and long weekend as I rewrite the entire play to make it foreign language friendly. The change is more for the audience than the actors but the actors will benefit so much from this experience – three months of speaking perfect english to each other in planned out dialogues. I only hope that they pay attention because then they will have so many perfect things to say. 

I shot the gun on my last post;
today it is cold, very cold. I spent a few months using only the metric system because I have long been embarrassed that America is one of the few countries the doesn’t use it.

After a couple months I was no closer to being knowledgable and will admit that it still escapes me. I told my wife that if I had a car and some free time that I would become an expert. I am not good at standard math but when it comes to distance and speed I am quite skilled at ‘feeling’ the appropriate distance or speed at which I travel. I heard about a TED talk that discussed this style of math, that people would be far better at mathematics if they didn’t learn it in the traditional sense. My only claim of this working is when we traveled a distance in a car and we all guessed how far we went and I said, ‘Just shy of 14 miles, probably 13.7,’ and the GPS confirmed 13.7 exactly. 

I am sure a lot of luck was involved. 

As Peace Corps Volunteers we are not allowed to drive a car and we are not allowed to be a passenger on any kind of motorbike. We also signed a contract that declared we would always wear a seatbelt when traveling in a car. Once you leave America the concept of car safety disappears. They don’t abide by speed limits, barely recognize traffic lights and most cars cut the seatbelts out because they think they are uncomfortable. Because of Hollywood films America has a bad reputation about driving but statistically speaking America has the safest and most reliable drivers that actually follow driving rules. One of the reasons Americans are banned from driving here is that we would get into many accidents trying to follow the country’s driving rules. Local drivers are purely opportunistic. 

I went to the bus early this morning because in the night the temperature dropped to 30 degrees and we are not expected to see anything above 50 today. When I say that it has suddenly become winter overnight I do not say it lightly. I am happy that I boiled my winter coats last night and laid them over the plug-in electric heater as I slept. The urge to dry my clothes quickly saved me from shivering in the night. The building will most likely turn on its heating system within the next couple weeks. To save money the local government waits for it to be cold for at least two weeks before flipping the switch. 

The school building is cold, like the building is encased in a thin layer of ice. It permeates through the wall like a vibration that sifts through clothing right into the very bone. I took notes today on the teachers and their methodologies for my government report. Sample:

‘The teacher utilizes a communicative approach and engages students in a peer based exercise that fosters an environment of consistent English speaking to encourage the use of English out of the school environment.’ 

Translation: The teacher got the students to speak directly to one another once and maybe they will do it again sometime.

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