Well, we have successfully reached the two-week mark of training and things are going as well as one could probably ask for at this point. Our cluster is meshing/has meshed together very well and our language (Lena) and cross-cultural facilitators (Yulia) have done an excellent job teaching us the Russian language, about the Russian language (three tenses, take that English), and about Ukrainian life. Please do not take this as any sort of implication that I have a firm grasp on any one of the three either – there is a reason the Pre Service Training (PST) itself last three months and it sure isn’t to make sure we receive all of our shots.
A little about our group itself: We are the fourth trainee group to come to Staryi Bilous and the first Community Development group, so this has been a good experience. We have two women and two men: Janine, who is from just outside of Chicago; Anne who is from Oregon and also a former D1 basketball player; Brenton, from Mississippi who shares my enjoyment for talking about the “glory days” of our former selves; and the elder statesman…yup, that’s right boys and girls, I am the oldest member of our group but only by two years. Three of us have our Masters degrees and it will only be a short time before everyone does – per our future academic aspiration conversation. We all have our strengths in language and professional experience while we also have our shortcomings in both areas as well. All in all, it is a great mix, we have a fantastic “link” cluster, and we are fortunate to be able to interact with a plethora of other trainees at least once a week.
This leads me to a nice little story that happened today. As all the trainees were leaving our technical training this afternoon, we made our move to the Marshrutka stop – think 12 passenger van but with room to stand and you’re on the right track; Google images may even be able to provide a better idea. Now you must keep in mind, first of all, that these may actually have capacity limits but those are typically left up to the commuter to decide – that is, decide if he or she really wants to squeeze in or if waiting for the next one may be a better option. Second of all, and this goes hand in hand with the previous point, personal space does not exist here. If it does, it is in the confines of your own room, and if that isn’t an option based on family dynamics, well then stick to walking…it is very common to be sharing breathing air with another human being on rides in and out of the city, Chernigiv. How is this important or where am I going with this? Typically, when getting on one of these – no matter where, especially inside the city – there is at least five other commuters already on, riding to their destinations.
The normal commute post-technical training is to Dva Goosya (I’ll figure out the Russian font sooner or later) for the trainees. For one reason there is good food, coffee, and tea but mainly due to the free Wi-Fi available. The marshrutka we typically take was almost full and the trainees tested the capacity for sure – these, by the way are not free and I’m still amazed at the efficiency of the women collecting fares – so Brenton and I asked the women to go ahead and we’d meet them there. The same number came back around and we hoped on. Normally, this would be absolutely normal and we would go about our business. However this time, Brenton and I were the only two to get on to the EMPTY marshrutka. Our desired stop is only about four or five from where we got on, however our driver made absolutely no stops until we were outside the city limits (if you Google Chernigiv and check the images, there will be a picture of a church with Chernigiv spelled in Cyrillic lettering in bushes, which is lovely and we were able to see), apparently at the end of the line. Our lack of understanding the Russian language quickly became apparent when we did not get off the bus, proceeded to mention Dva Goosya repeatedly and finished it up with a “nay pahneemayoo.” At that point, the driver laughed, kind of, turned the van around and turned off the ignition and struck the international, “Get Out” position in his seat. No one needs a dictionary for that and we took our cue and quickly vacated the bus. There was probably a sign up saying that it was the end of the line somewhere in the van, however we shockingly were unaware of its existence.
Needless to say, this lead to a fun excursion throughout the monument section of the city and some views of some very cool statues and old fortress-style features and overall a quick 20 minute walk – should have saved the 2 grivnia. I won’t spoil it for any history buffs but go ahead and do some research on the city, it’s pretty cool stuff really. What this also lead to was a quick tutoring session in the street learning how to ask for a specific stop and how to actually say stop – and have it refer to a marshrutka/bus stop – in Russian so this type of mistake doesn’t happen again. The reality is though, this type of experience happens all the time, all over the world and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat happy that it happened.
Reflecting back, that was my first “ah ha” moment. It wasn’t attempting to order water in a market – did that in Mexico and Italy, not a big deal – or having a conversation that lasts 2 minutes because the language has been exhausted – one can communicate in many other ways, especially if you are a champ at charades. Getting on a bus, however, in a country where I just know how to introduce myself, tell people what my hobbies are, where I’m from, what I like to do in my free time, say please/thank you/excuse me, and ask how much something costs – we know more, but this should give you an idea of where we’re at after two weeks – is slightly different than what we experienced. Let’s be honest, trying to say “Sorry, we missed our stop. Do you mind dropping us there on your next go around, or at least let us know what bus we should take from here” is infinitely easier when all people involved speak the same language.
On a lighter note, we planted trees yesterday with some of the kids from school. There was a pretty descent turn out and we were able to plant 180 trees in a shorter amount of time than I anticipated and was a lot of fun. Nothing like getting one’s hands dirty either after spending the better part of the past two weeks in a classroom type setting – nothing wrong with it, just a nice change of pace; Lena is very effective and she pushes us the right amount so a mental break is necessary at times. What was the best part of this wasn’t getting our hands dirty, it was actually that three of the kids came up to us, clearly inquisitive. We were able to break the ice and begin to get acquainted with them. Brenton and I asked the tough questions: Kak dela? (How are you?) Kak vas zavoot? (What’s your name?) Skolka vam let? (How old are you) Oo vas yayst hobbi? (Do you have any hobbies?)…really, I wish I could figure out the Cyrillic font…Gradually we turned to wrestling and music. Note, when kids are saying a name real fast and wrong on purpose, do not repeat it. Even if you are joking around with them, don’t. Period. It will get turned around back on you. Seriously. I’m pretty sure that my nickname, to at least three of the 181 kids at the school, is now “M-M-M” or possibly even “choo-choo” – there is a train track in the town, a train went by, I repeated the sound the kids made – and that number is sure to grow, I’m almost positive. Oh well, world keeps on spinning and I keep on laughing. Mama Valya (Ukrainian nickname for Valentina I have come to find out) has been telling me “oocheet” for the past few minutes. Time to make some flash cards. I hope you enjoy the pictures and the stories as much as I enjoyed experiencing them.