Thursday, February 14, 2013

Off to a running start!

Since my return, life has been jam-packed, stuffed, spilling over the top full as we all settle or re-settle into life here in Kharkov. Of course, this is the only excuse I've got for why this update is so late. It has been, as  it often is in Ukraine, a rollercoaster of laughter, frustration, happiness, excitement, and confusion.  There have been incredibly busy and incredibly relaxed days, composing the first of many Ukrainian weeks to come this semester!

As I said in my last post, most of Monday was spent relaxing and recovering from Sunday's traveling.  In the evening we all gathered at the other apartment and then took a walk. The new apartment is looking very classy after its winter repairs and even smelled like new apartment. When we got back there we found ourselves on the roof of the apartment building admiring the impressive night views of Kharkiv and breathing in the crisp winter night air.

Tuesday was our first day of program activity with an orientation session at Karazina.  We were shown our classrooms and then filled our belly's with cafeteria food.  Nothing particularity exciting happened on Tuesday.  We went to the store to buy notebooks for classes and I spent most of the evening with my nose buried in a good book.

On Wednesday we found ourselves in our first History of Ukraine class. Getting back into classes felt good and I can tell that our professor is really on top of things and 100% passionate about teaching.  We had enough time after class to head home for a short time before the ballet.  We saw a ballet called "Жизель" (Giselle).  The beauty, grace, and power of the dancers made up for its rather tragic story line. I really enjoy live performances, so I was quite happy when on Thursday we had another group excursion, this time to the Kharkiv Philharmonic Hall.  The performance was unlike anything I had seen before.  It alternated between the reading of poetry by a woman while a man played soft piano music in the background.  After she had read a part of the text, the piano and poetry duo was replaced by a duet of singing and sand art, which was projected on a large screen.  I was kept in awe as the pictures in the sand were delicately created, transformed, and wiped away.  It was such a magnificent combination of art!
At performances in Ukraine, it is not uncommon for friends, family, or fans to approach the stage with flowers and small gifts for the performers during curtain call.  At both the ballet and the performance at the Philharmonic the performers each cradled several bouquets in their arms.

Please enjoy these terrible quality photos of the Philharmonic Hall:

Friday came very quickly, thanks to our busy week.  I had some errands to run in the late morning and early afternoon.  I got to experience another aspect of the Ukrainian medical system, something worth mentioning, as it's much different than what I have ever experienced at home in the United States.  First of all, no appointments.  You just show up and the fun starts.  I could have asked one of my directors to accompany me, but, being the independent spirit that I am, wanted to tackle this one on my own.  The lady at the information desk obviously hated people, her job, and possibly her life and made this quite clear in her tone of voice.  I went to the student hospital/clinic (it's all just kind of mashed together in one big building) and it was somehow less unnerving simply being surrounded by only other young people.  Since I am a foreigner I had to go to a special place to pay, but I'm still not sure if the Ukrainian students had to pay anything or not.  I must have misheard the cashier because as I began to hand over my 30 hryvnia (not quite 4 dollars) she shakes her head slightly and tells me that it's actually 13 hryvnia (about $1.50)! What?!? I don't think $1.50 will get you a glance in your direction even from the receptionist at an American clinic.  Even with insurance I think I have to pay 15 or 20 dollars for a visit back home.  Well, I'm not complaining! After I paid I had to go back downstairs to a small room where a woman wrote out a little information card which I in turn had to show to yet another woman upstairs so she could "assign me" a doctor.  I ended up unintentionally playing the foreigner card awfully hard, as the woman exclaimed that already 100 years there hadn't been an American in their clinic.  I was quickly escorted directly to the doctor instead of getting a number and waiting to be called.  So, maybe being a foreigner isn't always so bad! The hospital might make an American patient a bit uneasy, but for all its lack of frills, the hospital is really quite clean and while the equipment may be old, the doctors are nothing bu knowledgeable and caring!

Friday night we decided to have our first friends gathering of the semester and our company of Americans, Ukrainians, a few Frenchmen, Germans, and a new Uganda friend enjoyed ourselves late into the night!

Dragging myself out of bed after the previous night's festivities wasn't easy, but I wasn't about to let myself bail on my Saturday plans.  Max and I met up and navigated the metro and trolleybus system to find our way to a certain children's clinic.  There I finally got to see my dear Mila again, as we worked on painting a mural featuring fashionably attired youngsters and mustached bees. Hopefully next weekend we can get it finished up! There was lots of laughter and chatting and we all had so much to catch up on after the winter holidays.  We worked until about 7 and then met up with the other guys for pizza at Pizza Maranello, which I have heard much about and have been eager to try. It definitely didn't disappoint!

Mila and Misha hard at work

Undoubtedly our favorite part of the mural!

Sunday Alex and I went to church and I was so happy to see everyone there again! They even gave me chocolates and a card for my birthday which passed while I was away.  They are so sweet! After church Alex headed home because he was feeling ill, but I met up with Megan, Sasha, Vova, and Nadia.  First we went to Artishop, where the handiwork of local artists could be admired and bought.  We then went to a cafe to play some board games.  The cafe had all sorts of board games to choose from and even a couple of workers who came around with game suggestions and even explained the rules of the game.  We played for nearly 4 hours and I can't wait for our next "playdate". :)

Monday I was back to teaching some of my kiddos!  Teaching only two classes before I had to run off to my own university lessons seemed so short compared to the five lessons I used to teach at a time last semester.

Tuesday was kind of a bust.  I got a call from Jason the night before, saying that I wouldn't be able to go to my first class because Elena, who was supposed to tell me which room it is in, wouldn't be at the university.  I later saw her and even spoke with her at the university.  Then, we arrived for our first class and found out that the professor wouldn't be coming and we thus had an hour and a half to kill.  During our third class Elena  showed up to tell me that the seminar section of my class, originally scheduled for Wednesday, would be held Tuesday at 13:25.  After searching for this mysterious classroom and having no luck in finding it, I went to the office where Elena told me I could find her если что. Well, she wasn't there and eventually a kind-hearted Dima ran around the building with me until we finally determined that said class will actually not be meeting until next week.  I had to cancel my promised Tuesday teaching for nothing and I had really been looking forward to that lesson with the fourth formers.  I came home, collapsed on the couch, and vented to Megan before trying to turn the day around.  It is extremely frustrating for me to feel like everything is out of my control.  I am disappointed that I can't teach more, but my class schedule is out of my hands.  It is frustrating that the university's system is unorganized and chaotic, but I have zero power to change it.  So I just have to breath deep, drink another cup of tea, and at least be happy that I have new impressively shiney light bulbs in my room! :)

And so life in Ukraine goes on!

1 comment:

  1. Way to go on the murals!! : ) Hopefully moments like that help make up for the frustrating aspects of life here.

    What is this game cafe you mentioned? Do you remember the name/location? Sounds interesting!