Friday, April 29, 2011

Kym Starno Celebrity Post!

Dear Friends and Family of Matthew T. Brady,

My name is Kym Starno and I'm Matt's favorite cluster-mate! I'd like to share with you my perspective on Matt's new life in Ukraine. When I first met Matt, I kept confusing him with another person Peace Corps Volunteer who looks just like him, however he has quickly become one of my favorite people in Ukraine. I wanted to let you all know that even though he's the only man in a cluster filled with very loud, unbelievably crazy women, he helps maintain our sanity and he has a great sense of humor.

Our days are long and we have a very short period of time to study, integrate into the community and plan lessons, but Matt seems to handle the everyday stresses with ease. I've already taught 1 lesson with him and  he's a fantastic teacher. The students love him and I know for a fact that he loves them as well. In language classes he excels and he's great to work with. However, his faults are the following: he tries to make laugh when I'm drinking, he never walks me home with I'm in grave danger, and he teases me on my perfect Ukrainian speech.

When Matt isn't making fun of everyone in our cluster, he's jumping off random objects all over Ukraine, complaining that he doesn't have any internet and uses me to get my wireless internet at my sweet host mother's house, speaking with Kozelets community members and telling secrets he shouldn't be telling!
Anyways, I hope I'll be able to write to you all again very soon! Unfortunately, I had a much longer post, but I'm unprepared at the moment. Matt at this current time is telling me to rush through my post and is making fun of me because I've been on his computer for a pretty long time and I've only written this much. Just for your information, Matt is doing incredibly well and I'm most likely certain that I would have never been able to do Peace Corps at his age. I know you all must be so worried and concerned, but have no worries because you should all be proud of your son/friend/cousin/nephew/grandson. He has 4 women looking after him in case he needs to be hit over the head.

I wish everyone well and Matt will call you soon : )


Monday, April 25, 2011

Holy Water Splash Zone?

So Easter - a time for scavenger hunts, easter bunny paraphernalia, candy, and that annoying plastic fluffy material that lines your easter basket that somehow finds it way into the most obscure spots that you find weeks later. 

However Easter here in Ukraine is a far different story. 

It began with a church service at the cathedral in town at 3:30AM to 5:30AM - yes, 3:30AM. The service actually began at 8PM the night before and continued through the night. Let's just say I was very happy to find out we were only going for a few hours. I attended a church service a few days before with my host mother which only lasted an hour - sadly I realized standing silently while understanding nothing that is being said for an hour feels like a lifetime. Seriously though, there is really only so times you can stare at the murals (which were actually pretty neat) or play with the candle. 
However Easter service was very different. Like I said, a 3:30AM, my host family, some neighbors (and an old PCV who lived in Kozelets for PST), and myself made our way to the cathedral. We arrived to a very large crowd of people encircling the church - all lit up from the massive amount of candles that children and adults were carrying. Because Kozelets is the only town around with a cathedral, people from all over the area come for the service - there must have been a hew hundred people present. We proceeded to find an open spot around the church to set up camp. Each family in attendance also brought an Easter basket filled with pastries, eggs, and meats they plan on eating during the day to get blessed by the priest. 3:30AM to 5AM was mostly just light chit-chat. I found other volunteers in my cluster to say hi and chatted with other old Kozelets PCV's who also came to the service. At 5AM, chimes began to ring from the bell tower and people started to settle down. A small group of chorus singers being lead by the priest made their way around the circle of people three times. On the third time around, the priest had a bucket of what I presumed to be holy water which I also presumed would be used to bless the food. I was right in the sense that he was going to bless the food, however I was unaware that the priest was also going to bless the people as well - meaning I got a face full of holy water. I responded with, "Я не резумію" (I don't understand), and my host mother just laughed. One of the host mothers told their volunteer that she way very happy she didn't start to burn from the holy water because she wasn't catholic. The water works marked the end of the service and we made our way home to what I hoped for was some sleep - I was wrong. 
We got home and immediately got in the car and drove to grandpa's house where we had breakfast. We sat down to eat probably around 6:15AM. A variety of meats, breads, and salads were the main course - all equally delicious - oh and of course vodka. Unfortunately I one was still feeling sick and was still half asleep so I didn't partake in any alcohol. We was stoked to find out Ukrainians played the same egg cracking game which my family back in America plays as well! After breakfast, we head back home for some long overdue sleep. 

My afternoon ended up being just as fun as the morning. Zhenya & Sasha invited me to go with them and their friends to a BBQ in the forest near town. Again, more bomb food was consumed and we played soccer and volleyball. I explained to Zhenya earlier the concept of continuous shot photography and his friends had a field day with it. Here are some of the results.
I was able to also get some sweet shots of the sunset which I hope y'all will enjoy.
Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Two Cities, One Weeks, Time to Jump off Things!

As you can tell from the title of this post, I may have caught the travel bug just a bit - but it's not my fault (or so I tell myself). Kozelets is perfectly located an hour and a half in either direction from two big cities - Chernihiv and the capitol Kyiv.On the 17th, four of the five of my cluster mates made the trek by Mashuka (mini-bus) to Chernihiv in the wee hours of the morning. 

One may ask why the fifth was not in attendance? The lone ranger was actually under the impression she was going to milk a cow that day - which she's been wanting to do for some time now. Unfortunately... said activity never happened (which was quite hilarious) and this presumed cow wasn't even mentioned at all throughout the day, haha. Anyways, Chernihiv was a blast. The weather wasn't pristine however it was perfect for a day of walking around. We met up with a few groups who are doing PST in Chernihiv so we got a mini / fast paced tour of the city. We had an awesome time with only a little blip in figuring out how to get home to Kozelets - however it all worked out.
On the contrary, the 22nd turned out to be a scorcher in Kyiv - however the Ukrainian people still managed to be in their winter coats while I was sweating my life away. We were advised to not keep anything of importance in our pant pockets due to the prevalence of pick-pocketing so it was all zipped away in the million compartments of my North Face. However that meant I had to basically keep my jacket on the whole time! If I lost that - my life would have been over. The field trip to Kyiv was actually part of our PST curriculum so our LCF Natasha came along and had a scavenger hunt planned for us. Kyiv is really pretty with all the conveniences of what I think of as a city - McDonalds, Subway Station, and even an underground mall! We had to ask for a lot of directions to locals in Ukrainian and most people were very willing to help out - so it was much appreciated. The main point of the visit was to get a tour of the Peace Corps Ukraine headquarters. There was actually a fair amount of current volunteers visiting the office as well so it was fun to ask questions and get perspectives of people who've been there for quite some time. They had internet stations and showers for volunteers to get cleaned and caught up on life which was pretty neat. 
With all the new sights I've managed to overlook one of Ukraine's favorite things - EASTER - which happens to be in two days! I'm not actually sure what's going to happen but I do know that there is an eight hour church service that spans though the night and into the next morning, delicious delicious comidas, and hopefully wifi, haha. My host mother Natasha has been in the kitchen the entire day cooking / baking and our house smells bomb so I can only assume good things are in the near future. I looked in my fridge last night and there was probably 75 eggs - so maybe I'll go hide a few to share the easter egg hunt tradition.

I've actually felt a bit under the weather the past couple days so I plan on sleeping all day tomorrow to hopefully knock out the bug that's got me down.

3 Weeks Down, 105 Left To Go!

biker gang of Kozelets
While I apologize with my lack of conversing with friends and family on the other side of the world, it's really hard to put into words all the experiences and differences life here in Ukraine is. But for starters, here's a list of things I've accomplished so far...
  1. helped save a cat from an attic of a babusya neighbor
  2. set a few outside fires as a means of agriculture
  3. seen horse drawn carriages on the regular
  4. taught my first healthy lifestyles class to 10 - 11 yr olds on conflicts
  5. seen the inside of the cathedral in town
  6. was finally able to buy sausage from the market without the use of presumably awkward hand gestures
  7. resisted the urge to dance on local buses with cluster mates as pop / techno music blares from the bus stereo
  8. yet to be pick pocketed or lose anything
  9. eaten probably a good 30 different types of candy / cookies (including cell phone cookies)
  10. learned how to make borsch
  11. found a store that sells Ukrainian Harry Potter (pic at bottom of  post)
  12. finished the first season of Fringe
  13. ran a mile / 1.5 miles consistently 4 to 5 times a week
  14. I've found yet another more awesome magazine (produce store)
my room
tank near Mary's house
Life in Kozelets is slowly becoming a routine. And by routine, I mean long school days where I probably only understand 60% of what's truly going on - but I'm ok with it. With spring just around the corner, it's interesting to see the changes in the city. I've deduced that during winter, people basically give up on city and home external upkeep - which I guess makes sense when it's -17 F with light out for only 5 hours. Every day, something different seems to be getting a fresh set of paint. I'm probably most excited for all the new produce spring time has to offer. While potatoes will always have a special place in my heart, it's cool to see slowly new fruits and vegetables makes it way into stores. I've also heard day light can last until 11PM!

Language lessons is of course still going on in the background of everything. I've come to grips that learning Ukrainian will prove to be more challenging then I anticipated - not to mention that my town mostly speaks Russian / Sourgic (a Russian/Ukrainian mix). Past volunteers have said that people who study Ukrainian usually pick up conversational Russian as well due to the wide population of Russian speakers whereas volunteers that learn Russian usually don't pick up much Ukrainian.  But it's slowly coming along, with each day learning a few new words while simultaneously saying some bad ones on accident (which I admit is the most fun part). My TCF described to us today that Ukrainian only has three main tenses whereas English apparently has 16 - which made me feel a lot better. 

As of April 16 (today), we are allowed to travel to other towns without a Peace Corps staff member present. In honor we've decided to bus it to Chernihiv for a day trip tomorrow. Both my cluster and link are planing to attend. Chernihiv is the biggest city in the Chernihiv Oblast (duh) so there should hopefully be lots to see - and more importantly photo! I've also been informed that beer / wifi cafes are abundant so I'm excited to take part in such a heavenly hybrid. Four Community Development clusters are stationed there for PST so we'll hopefully get to hang out with them as well. 

Along the same lines as travel, we get to go to Kyiv next Friday! I plan to do reconnoissance on where the Apple Store is and apparently we have to complete this scavenger hunt. While next week will be crazy busy, Having this trip to look forward to is a great "light at the end of the tunnel". 

I've also come up with a new plan to remedy the communication / free time that I don't want to spend studying issue. While I'm not the biggest fan of Mail App for Mac's, it'll allow me to save my gmail emails on my computer. Therefore, I should be able to reply and have them queued up to send the next time I get internet. Hopefully this'll make my four hyriv (50 cent) hour spent at the internet cafe much more productive. This method has yet to be tested so I'll be sure to let you know the outcome.
important find

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Recap

Back at the internet club... one week later.

Week three is about it pick up in busyness a few folds. Besdies the four hours of language we have daily, I have to teach a healthy lifestyles lesson on Thursday on Conflicts and Their Affect to 6th formers (10-11 year olds). The best part, most of it should be taught in Ukrainian! Very much scary, but I'll deal.

I am excited for Monday - which is cooking day! Our new LCF Natasha is going to teach us how to make borch and we're going to teach her how to make stir fry.

Still in the process of mastering brick face. Had the option to eat fish heads to finner today but opted for the body of the fish - wasn't ready to take that leap.

Other then that, life is the usual, hit up the Bazar today with the cluster mates - could have bought a pig in a sack or a rooster - can't say I wasn't tempted. Also the owner of the house we do language lessons had a communication misunderstanding with me - led to awkwardness.

Well, I should get a start on some of this stuff I have to prep for the week.