7. Sugar Beets and Bob Dylan

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

9 November

Sugar Beets and Bob Dylan

Days in Ukraine can feel really long, despite the dwindling hours of daylight we are allotted here. We’re busy, and stressed, and pushed to the limit emotionally. So I’ve learned to count on small joys and surprises to get me through the harder parts of this experience. Sometimes in Ukraine the smallest things make my day, and sometimes the oddest things make my day. And I have a feeling that this will only continue to happen as my time in this country progresses. Below are some things that in the weeks past have made life here so wonderful.

the milk truck?

About once a day, I see a truck drive by that says MOLOKO (MILK) written across the side. It’s a small truck. It has a yellow cab, and a blue back half that is round…kind of like a much smaller version of a those huge gasoline semis in the States. Each time I saw it, I wondered about it, and I asked my fellow volunteers if they had noticed this truck too. Eventually we all started seeing it, and wondered what it was all about. Was it really a truck filled with milk? Was it a company name? Was is some weird word play that none of us got?

Our curiosity continued for a couple of weeks when one day, my host mom told me that there is a milk products plant in Kaharlyk. It produces milk, sour cream, cheese, kefir, etc. So when we see that truck go by (which turned out to be many trucks, and not always the same one) it really is a truck, rumbling down the narrow Kahrlyik roads, filled to the brim with milk. And for some reason, I just think it’s hilarious.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

In addition to a milk products company, there is also a sugar beet plant in Kahrlyk (it’s a very productive little town I live in!). One of our host mom’s works there, and so one Sunday we got a tour of the plant (I took a short video there, and if I ever get the time/fast enough internet, I’ll load the video on this blog). It was the most interesting thing ever! The plant has been there for more than a hundred years. It only runs during the sugar beet season (so about 4-6 months out of the year) and the rest of the year it is completely shut down. It is housed in this very old, soviet building, and all the equipment looks just as old. Inside the plant it is boiling hot, incredibly loud, and the metal floors that make up the different levels, look as if they’re starting to rust right through.

During our tour, we got to see the entire process of turning a sugar beet into refined sugar. It was incredibly interesting, and all you Chem majors would have LOVED it. At the end of the tour we walked to the room where the final steps take place. As we were walking down the hall, I noticed that on the floor were white footprints, then the walls were white. Finally, we walked through a doorway into a room where there was a complete absence of color. Everything in this room was white: the floors, the walls, the machinery, the windows. And it wasn’t paint. No, no, no. Everything was covered in sugar particles. It is the room where the sugar gets taken out of the plant on conveyer belts, and it was like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. You could literally taste the sugar in the air. I am not joking. When we took pictures, they turned out gray because the flash bounced off all of the particles floating around the room. We all made handprints and wrote our names in the sugar encrusted walls, and threw sugar-snowballs  at each other. It was insane. It was like being in a movie or in a dream.

please, please, me! (who gets the reference?)

On Friday’s I teach a class of 6th formers. They are wonderful, and I truly love them. Then are so cute. They’re at an age where they are old enough to understand my English and to understand more complex grammar and vocabulary. However, they are still young enough to just want to have fun and play games. Last week, I taught a review class to them, so we just played a slew of different games reviewing all they had learned in the past few sections. They got so excited for some of the games! They were bounding off the edges of their seats, waving their hands in the air, saying “teacher! please, please, please” wanting to be called on to say the answer or participate in the activity. They are so adorable! I love them.

how many roads must a man walk down?

Today Ben and Angie led and English club at the lyceum. They talked about American music and played some songs for the kids. Angie even brought her guitar and we all sang a little bit of “Hotel California” together.

Club lasted about a half hour. After most of the kids had left, three of the older boys stayed behind. One of them ran and got his guitar, and when he came back he asked us if we could help him sing “how many roads.” We all looked at each other blankly, trying to figure out what song he was talking about, when finally it clicked and someone said, “Oh! Blowing in the Wind,” at which point we all giggled and then promptly agreed to sing. All ten of us, six Americans, and four Ukrainians then sat together and sang Bob Dylan songs. It was so surreal. I couldn’t believe that here I was in Ukraine singing Dylan. Nathan would have loved it. J And, oh my gosh, it totally made my week!

lost in translation

There are so many happy endings to my days here. Life as a Peace Corps trainee is no picnic. We’re pushed really hard, it can be really competitive, and it’s extremely tiring. Some days I’m homesick, frustrated, and just plain exhausted. But there is one thing that week after week, day after day makes everything all better. That thing is my host family here, and most especially my host mom. I love getting home at the end of the day and having dinner with her, and helping her do the dishes afterwards. Sometimes we’re pretty silent, but other times we talk quite a bit. Some things are far beyond my comprehension level, and I just smile, nod, and say “tak. dobre.” But other times, we really communicate and have conversations, ones that are more complex that I would have thought possible after only being here a little more than a month. It’s true that some meanings are lost because of my poor level of Ukrainian. But the thing that is most important is understood—I feel completely welcomed here.

 Random other thing: Halloween! We had a small Halloween party at Angela’s on Halloween. It was really low key, laid back , and really fun. We played durak (Ukrainain card game), Uno, made chili, and just hung out. All of us from Kaharlyk except Nicole came. Jeff came from our link town in Rizhishiv. Yulia, Nicole’s host sister came, as did our LCF Ira. It was fun. And funny, seeing the costumes we came up with using our limited wardrobes. J

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