Friday, May 27, 2011

The last bell

Just about every culture has its own way of celebrating or acknowledging the first and/or last day of the school year. For Americans, a significant portion of the last day often consists of kids running around getting their yearbooks signed by their friends. In Ukraine, there is a very unique way of celebrating both ends of the year: "The first bell" and "The last bell."

11th-graders have not only their last bell at the end of May, but their graduation on the same day. They dress very elegantly, the girls very colorfully, making for a really beautiful ceremony.

Yesterday was the last bell at our school for the 1st- through 7th-graders, and today was the last bell for the older grades, up to the graduating class. Both were exciting and fun for everybody there.

Some students who did well in various subjects received certificates, and the school administration made several speeches congratulating everyone on finishing the year. There were also a few singing performances by some students.

The bell, wrapped in a white ribbon, was symbolically rung one last time toward the end of the ceremony.

During today's ceremony, the graduating class danced a waltz, which is an annual tradition for the 11th-grade class.

All of the students came to the ceremony with a flower or a bouquet of flowers. At the end of the ceremony, all of the teachers had a lot of flowers as gifts from their students. So amazing!

My apartment looks very nice now.

Here are some more photos from today's last bell:


One of the professional photographers :)

Balloons are a metaphor for childhood, so at the end of the last bell celebration, the 11th-graders let them go.

The above photo is of the 11B class, the group that I had the pleasure of working with (English, country studies, and American literature classes.) They are outstanding students and overall amazing human beings, and I feel very lucky to have gotten to know them.

The town where all vegetables come from

Well, the title of this post is maybe exaggerating things just a little bit. However, I have to give Nova Kakhovka and its surrounding region (the Kherson oblast) props for being such a nutrient-filled land. During the warmer months, especially, one can eat very well for little money.

Today, for example, I filled my trusty, sturdy plastic bag with butterflies printed all over it (plus, it says the word "Butterflies" on it in big, cursive italic letters) with my purchases from my favorite sidewalk vendor outside my building. I left with a head of cauliflower, a few green garlic stalks, some onions, carrots, and zucchini. The total was 17 UAH. Although I shouldn't convert that to dollars because that takes everything out of context (living cost wise and income wise in Ukraine, etc.), it is approximately 2 dollars, for those not living in Ukraine. That is inexpensive (for Ukraine, too.) I often see fruits/vegetables in other parts of Ukraine with a sign next to it saying "from the Kherson region" and with the prices hiked up quite a bit.

The tree kind of defeats the purpose of this photo, but I'll post it anyway. This is the view out of my bedroom window. If you look closely, you can see some people sitting on the sidewalk with bags full of products. That makes it pretty easy to shop - I can literally look out my window to see what's available before making the long journey to the outside of my building.

There are many reasons to love Ukraine, and this is just one of them!

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Ukrainian Welcome

Nova Kakhovka had an exciting day - the EuroBus came to town. And they were treated like celebrities. No one really understood beforehand what the EuroBus is about, and what made them decide to come to our town (to Ukraine, even.) There was some excitement as well as some skepticism. However, after meeting the 10 or so visitors from all over Europe (England, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Ukraine - sorry, EuroBus, if I missed anything!), there was nothing but positive energy from everyone.

It's 8 pm now and the events of today have come to an end, but there is a new wave of enthusiasm among the youth from Nova Kakhovka and neighboring towns Dniepriani and Tavrisk. One of the members of the EuroBus asked me, "Do you think we made an impact here?" My honest answer was: Absolutely!

What's refreshing to me, being here in a part of the world (our little southern Ukrainian town), which is often overlooked, forgotten, hardly ever heard of, is that youth here really get excited and motivated. Although my patriotism/love of my country has not faltered in any way since joining the Peace Corps, I must say that American youth often have SO much opportunity and SO many choices, that things like a volunteering opportunity (to be described later in this post) presented to them are taken for granted. Some teenagers at home may have rolled their eyes at having to spend 3 hours in a training, but here, no one wanted to leave.

The training (there were several, led by the different visitors) that I got to sit in on was about the European Voluntary Service, an organization that provides people ages 18 to 30 with opportunities to volunteer in another European country. The participant is given a monthly living allowance, transportation costs, and accommodations, in exchange for volunteering for 4 to 6 hours per day, 5 days per week. The assignments are anywhere from 2 to 12 months. The website is - there, people can search for volunteering openings.

At 3 pm, at our movie theater (a popular hang-out spot in the center of town) was the location of the huge welcoming performance done in honor of our visitors. People waited and waited in anticipation. When the EuroBus drove up, people cheered and clapped, and took pictures. Then, students stood in a line (like in a procession) and, as "The Europeans" walked from the bus to the theater, they greeted and smiled at the guests.

Ukrainians really are some of the most welcoming people I've met. There were groups of dancers and singers. People gave speeches telling the guests how happy Nova Kakhovka was to have them visit. The whole thing was a mix of Celine Dion (the visitors, much to people's delight, pulled random people from the crowd and slow-danced with them), belly-dancing, traditional Ukrainian dancing, and more. Students pushed their way through the crowd to get their arms signed by "the Europeans." People got pictures with them, giggling and whispering at the prospect of talking to them or even standing within 15 feet of them. The TV station was there; the newspaper was all over the place. Everyone seemed to be there.

Honestly, while I am really impressed by the EuroBus and the cool work they do, the thing that stuck with me the most was how amazing my Ukrainian neighbors really are. The genuine hospitality and the effort to make something special here is incredible.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Rachel is leaving

My site mate, a fellow PC volunteer living 3 blocks away from me, is leaving this month, and I am definitely going to miss her. I have never experienced living in this town without her, so it will be a very different last 6-7 months of PC service. Saturday, we had a goodbye party for her, and it was great (ok, minus the goodbye part)!

We'll miss you Rachel; Ukraine won't be quite the same without you in it.