Wednesday, June 27, 2012

You're Never Lost When You Can See The Temple

After about a week of being in Ukraine and not having figured out where the nearest church was or how to get to it, I was feeling uneasy.  Tania and Igor came by to check on us one day, and when they found out we still hadn't been able to find our way to "temple," they offered to drive a few of us over just to show us the way.  They dropped Kilee, Kirsten, and me off at the bus stop.  I was SO HAPPY to not only how to get to church, but also to see the Kyiv temple!  Of course, we didn't just take the bus back to Boyarka; we walked over to the temple grounds and spend some time walking around; we took pictures, asked about baptism sessions, and even went into the church.  Something about that visit to the temple grounds just made me feel so, so happy!

The Ballet!

Tania got our group tickets to go see a ballet in Kyiv! The tickets only came to about $5 each, and it was a legit Ukrainian ballet rendition of Don Quijote. I was very excited!!  It was a very fun experience, and the performance was incredible.
 This is the opera hall.
 Inside the theater!
 We got to sit in these awesome little, well, I thought of them as "box seats," since they were sort of separate little compartments on the balcony.  It made me think of the ballet scent in Anastasia, maybe because we'd watched that a few days earlier.  :)
I just wanted to pretend to be a beautiful dancer after the performance. :)
The only downside of the whole experience was staying in Kyiv after.  Someone decided that it wouldn't be safe for us to go back to Boyarka that late in the night, so instead we slept at an ILP school in Kyiv.  I slept on mouse-and-cheese print carpet with another peice of carpet at a blanket, and I was still cold.  One of the girls was sick and snoring really badly.  It was kind of miserable.  But I'd say the ballet experience was worth it . . . and we're here making memories, right?

First Session Kids

We have three two-week long sessions of teaching here at the summer camp, with a new group of kids each session.  Here are some pictures of the kids we taught the first session -- quite possibly my favorite group.  They were just adorable and it certainly brings a smile to my face to look back on these pictures of a few of my favorites.  :)  Love these kids!

Getting ready to sing in the "disco hall!"
They don't exactly look excited for lessons. Hmm.
They have all sorts of activities in the evenings: competitions, "discos," goofy games, tournaments
 "Hello. My name is Vaniya."
Costumes for the Little Mister America competition.
Did I mention they call this camp "Little America?" I didn't realize that is what this us until a couple weeks in . . . I guess the title is almost validated seeing as they have shipped in honest-to-goodness Americans to teach little kids English.
Yegor. Adorable. Also the winner of the Little Mister America competition. Kiersten says I look like Yegor; I am flattered.
Clearly I planned an elaborate lesson for the last day of classes.
My boys. :)
This picture was actually taken during the second session; Roma came back just to say hello and bring all the teachers thoughtful little gifts. He is such a sweet, thoughtful young man. There are definitely some wonderful Ukrainian parents out there who are really raising some great kids. :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

First Impressions of Kyiv

The first day we got to explore Kyiv was our first Sunday afternoon here in Ukraine, and I confess I was not in the best mood after missing church in the morning.  Olia, our adorable Ukrainian coordinator, rode the bus with us from Boyarka to the Zhitomirska metro station, and told us how to get to the main square in the center of the city.  From there, we just sort of wandered around.  We had some maps, and a few of the girls brought tourist guide books.  We were able to find some pretty awesome things.  The buildings, especially the churches, are spectacular.  The onion domes that remind me of Jasmine's palace in Aladdin are a prevalent, iconic aspect of the Ukrainian architecture, and as is color.  This weekend happened to be Kyiv days, so there was lots going on in the city.  There were lots of souvenir salesmen out, and people dancing and playing music, and ladies and girls all dressed up with flowered headpieces.  Having just made it sound like this was an unusually festive weekend, I must give a disclaimer:  it seems like there has been some holiday or festival every week since I've come here.  Kyiv Days, Saint's Day, Children's International Holiday, and now that the Euro cup has opened, it will certainly be a perpetual celebration here.  Anyway, here are some pictures from our first excursion into Kyiv. 

Independence Square
The legendary founders of Ukraine (I think)
The buildings across the street
(There's a McDonalds over there.  They are swanky spots here in Europe, not to mention it's nice to know there is somewhere that feels a bit American-ish with a free restroom)

This one is for Michelle McMurray:
"oh, the world seems in tune on a spring afternoon . . . "

One of several absolutely spectacular cathedrals in Kyiv
(the inspiration for Princess Jasmine's palace?)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ode to the Food

The food is always an exciting part of a new culture.  We have our meals here at the school prepared by the cafeteria cooks, and boy, is it  . . . interesting :)

We all slept in pretty late the first morning we were here.  Someone brought in breakfast for us and set it on the piano.  (And Sister Linde taught me that the piano is allergic to all foods and drinks!).  Those are some sort of little meat-filled potato fried things that we decided would be better with ketchup.  And the jug is this tea stuff that they serve all the time.  There are variations: the red berry kind, one that one of the other teachers says smells like a bonfire, and a few others.  I think at least some of them are herbal and maybe okay to drink . . . ???  But they all seem gross, so we often end up dumping them out.  Maybe we should just try and find a way to communicate with the Russian-speaking kitchen ladies that they don't need to keep giving us jugs of their strange tea. 
Here is one of the lunches they served us teachers before the students arrived.  They seem to be pretty big on sour cream and mayonnaise (or some variation) here.  The sunflower bag thing was I think some type of mayonnaise that was pretty good on the brown bread that they serve all the time.  Sometimes it's kind of a guessing game as to what we're eating.  I think that may be some sort of barley?  With a patty of ground up chicken maybe?  The fresh tomatoes were nice.  Way better than the gross cooked ones they serve sometimes. 
Here is a meal we got once the students had arrived.  Note the fancy double-plate place setting.  Also note the red borshe soup, a very traditional Ukrainian dish.  It's pretty good, at least, I consider it one of the better things they serve here.  In fact, this is probably one of my favorite meals.  Borshe, real chicken (not all ground up suspiciously) sort of fried in egg (one girl said "it's like they were going to make French Toast, and then used chicken instead of bread"), and a weird mashed up side of ??? I think there are carrots and egg in there . . . it's pretty good with the bread. 

So, the way meals work here is as follows:  we have breakfast at 9:00.  Sometimes they serve something soupyish, sort of cream-of-wheat/oatmeal-like but sweeter.  Sometimes it's a plate of barley and pumpkin paste.  The grossest thing they serve, though, is this stuff thats like a chunck of sour milk ( I don't know, maybe that's what it is.), or some sort of cream cheese mixed with cottage cheese.   It comes in many forms: as chuncks, as crepe filling, in a breakfast casserole.  After our lessons, lunch (I think they call it dinner here) is served at 2:00.  That's the main meal.  Usually there is some kind of soup (often a broth with potatoes and other stuff . . . sometimes chunks of eggs or pickles are included in the soup), and a plate of  . . . something.  The pictures above should give a general idea.  Dinner (or supper) is at 6:00 and is like a lighter version of lunch.  It doesn't usually come with soup.Sometimes it's sort of crock-pot-ish, chuncks of potato and meat.  Last night we had rice with a brothy sauce that I thought was pretty good, and chuncks of meat that was a little strange.  One girl eventually concluded it must be liver.  I'll believe it.    There is a second lunch and also a second dinner, so between lunch and dinner we can go get an apple and cracker-cookie thing, but usually we forget, so at dinner they give us bags of both second meals, and sometimes we eat them all right there.  Basically like eating three meals at once, if you count a banana and a strange, poppy-seed filled roll as a meal.  Or we take the bags back to our rooms and snack on them later.  Things like the poppy-seed rolls sit around for quite a while.

Perhaps I shouldn't judge Ukrainian food based on the cafeteria-style meals we always eat.  We have been out a couple times.  There are some places to get pizza (still, it's kind of different), and there are plenty of McDonald's in Kyiv (people love McDonald's here.  The kids seem to think it's the best place in the world.  They do seem like upper-class restaraunts here, much nicer than in the U.S., with a separate little counter for the McCafe items.  We did go to a more Ukrainian sort of restaraunt and I do think the food was somewhat better.  All the same, I am really looking forward to barbecues, anything Mom makes, really just any normal American food when I get back.  

Friday, June 8, 2012

The "LADY" School

Here are some pictures of the school where I am staying.  It is a boarding school for girls.  In the summer, it is the site of the "Little America" camp.  It's a cool building located in Boyarka (a suburb of Kyiv) with fancy grounds and lots and lots of rooms -- classrooms and bedrooms (and few that function as both), "canteen" (the cafeteria or dining hall), toilet rooms, shower rooms, a random half-demolished looking ballroom, and probably more I haven't discovered. 

the school (it really is called "LADY" -- in Russian or Ukrainian)

probably about a fourth of the school's interior is pink

Not the best picture, but this is our bedroom.  Ten of us teachers sleep here.  The sheets we got were pink with Disney princess print.  The curtains are pastel rainbow colors, and there is a little butterfly attached to one of the curtains.  It's like we're in a princess house.
I don't feel a need to describe what this is a picture of. 
As a side note, we do have a cleaning lady who comes into our room every morning and sometimes tries to talk to us in Russian.  But we have to wash our laundry by hand.  Oh, this is a funny place.
Yes, there are three shower heads.  The answer to your next question is absolutely not!  But the students have similar setups, and I think they do all shower together.
The random half-demolished-under-construction ballroom.

Flowers.  Another contributing factor to why we had walked into a princess house when we came here.  First of all, Ukraine seems really big on flowers.  I love it. :) There are people selling fresh flowers all over the place, beautiful flowers that seem bigger than they are in America.  Perhaps because of end-of-year celebrations, the school had bouquets of flowers all over the place when we first arrived. 

Part of the grounds surrounding the school.  Did I mention they're big into flowers here?
More of the grounds -- here they have incorporated the school logo into the landscaping . . . with flowers, of course. :)  (It's a feminine hand, a series of little dots, and a star)

The entrance into the school.  Tania and Igor asked me on our way to Boyarka how American parents are willing to send their children to summer camps that are not enclosed by a fence.  Um . . . I guess I always thought of a camp as being out in the woods with older kids who know to stay around the camp area.  I guess I'm mostly thinking of Girls Camp.  But this camp is just right in the town, and the fence is apparently imperative. 

Frankfurt to Kyiv

When Todd drove me to the Frankfurt airport after a fun week in Germany, I started feeling just a tiny bit nervous about heading off to Ukraine, the real destination of my trip.  I was flying Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Kyiv and had been told that there would be someone at airport at 1:00 Friday morning to pick me up and take me to the summer camp where I'd be spending the next six weeks teaching kids English.  I checked my suitcase, made it through security, boarded the plane . . . and waited for takeoff . . .

 . . .After waiting for quite some time, some German announcements were made, and it became apparent that we were not taking off.  I later found out that a recent law or city ordinance or something had been passed that gave the Frankfurt airport a takeoff curfew at 11:00 p.m. so that local residents could sleep.  Well, there were a lot of airline workers and disgruntled travellers who did not get much sleep that night.   "Lufthansa will take care of you," the flight attendant assured a disgruntled traveler.  And they did.  We were given taxi and hotel vouchers, and promises of making it to Kyiv the next day. 

I have to admit that Grandma Kathy's words, "Don't follow any young man anywhere!"  were ringing in my ears as I drove for about half an hour alone in a taxi before finally arriving at the hotel.  The receptionist was nice, and got to know me well as I asked him to call about my luggage, requested a morning wake-up call, asked about scheduling a taxi ride to the airport, and wondered how I could make a call to the U.S.  The next morning, Mom called the front desk just about the same time I was going to leave in the taxi "Miss Vinters!"  that receptionist had certainly figured out who I was! 

My new itenerary included a stop at some German airport I'd never heard of before. My first flight was somewhat delayed. I remember closing my eyes to rest a bit, and thinking that had been sitting there on the runway for quite some time, and we really needed to get going if I was going make my connection. When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to see that we were in the air! I had slept through takeoff without even realizing it! We landed about the same time my next flight was supposed to be boarding, but it was a fairly small airport, everyone was very kind and helpful, and the plane waited for us straggling Kyiv-bound travelers. Finally, we did make it to Kyiv. A kind couple, Tania and Igor, were waiting in the airport with an "ILP" sign to take me to the summer camp in Boyarka.

tired, unhappy Kyiv-bound Lufthansa customers at the Frankfurt airport
my hotel room in Germany . . . perhaps the only time in my life that I'll have a hotel room all to myself! 

my connecting flight

coming into Kyiv!