Well, it's been another fun-filled week here in Ostroh. As you might imagine, complacency is setting in. I'm not exactly saying "YAYY OSTROH!" so much as I used to.
Still, last night, when I went to bed filled with momentary frustrations (mostly due to communications failures) and cursing the day I decided to come to this (censored) place, I stopped self-commiserating for a moment and made myself think of all the good things about being here, past and present. Before long I started thinking about Poland too, and without tiring you with the actual list, let me just say that only about thirty seconds passed before I was grinning with warm glee, and as far as the mental list went I wasn't even a quarter of the way through.
The weekends are pretty dull these days, because most of the students go home for the weekend, even if "home" is 100 or more kilometres away. In Nova Scotian terms, if you could go home to Halifax every weekend from Acadia, for less than $2 each way, you probably would go home too. There are a plethora of cheap and kind of cheap transportation options, including the train, which is probably the cheapest for the distance you cover. Unfortunately, the Ostroh train station has a lot in common with the Halifax airport, as neither are really in the communities with the aforementioned names, so a marshutke or (more expensive) bus or taxi is needed to reach the train here.
Right now I'm listening to classical music on a disc my friend Dasha lent me, while in the background I hear the lovely sounds of an old Nokia. Roman discovered some access codes for new ringtones, so he and Volodim (my host cousin / roommate) are utterly captivated. The funny part is that it's his sister Olya's phone. Well, I guess the upside of this is I'll get to hear a new song at 5:30am tomorrow morning when Volodim gets up to go home for what's left of the weekend. Last week he pressed "snooze" instead of "off" and I got to hear the alarm ring again. I got up, pushed a button, and went back to sleep. Naturally, the alarm went off again, probably because I didn't know the difference between "off" and "snooze" in Ukrainian. This time I got up, and in my stupor I briefly considered throwing the phone out the nearest window, but I didn't think Olya would like that, so I tried to play with some buttons, and I think I had to unlock the keypad or something like that - my experience with my crappy 3390 in Poland helped - and I finally turned the blasted thing off. I went back to sleep with a deep sigh of relief.
Last weekend was cold and rainy; I didn't leave the house at all on Saturday, but on Sunday I went out to catch the last parts of the "Ostroh Day" festivities. There was a large concert, including an appearance by Skrabin, who are apparently fairly well-known in Ukraine, and everyone was saying how nice it was of them to come down to little old Ostroh. (Although Ostroh is small now, it's sort of the Ukrainian equivalent of Chełmno (Poland) or Shelburne (Nova Scotia) -- they were both really important at one time -- and the town does have its own Wikipedia entry.)
They had inflatible "rides" for the kids as well as popcorn, balloons, and some of the usual festival things. I decided to try some popcorn, and they asked me what I wanted on it, but of course I couldn't do anything but make a motion for butter (it's "maslo," but I forgot it just then) and so they gave me icing sugar. I had to laugh as I walked away with my almost-treasure. Typical Ukraine.
The food here continues to be an adventure. A few days ago I think I really stumped my poor host family. We were having potatoes one night and I took a sample of the chicken bits suspended in gelatinous fat, but I declined to slather my entire plate of potatoes with it. This really confused my host mother, "Will, why you not want?" I'll leave the obvious only-in-my-head reply to your imagination.
Yes, Ukrainians have a reputation for making food out of nothing, and my opinion is that it's an unfortunate consequence of history. Salo, which is essentially pig fat, is actually pretty good. It's delicious with scrambled eggs. My host family also makes the best perogies ("vareniki") I've ever had. They also make chebureki, which are similar but not slick like perogies are, and they're filled with meat and rice. Delicious! They have a larger variant of the same thing on sale at the Academy café every day, and I've taken to eating them instead of bringing a lunch. Since "lunch" usually costs about fifty cents or so (I get two big cheburekis and a yogurt), I just can't be bothered to spend time at home making one.
But there's one dish that I like above all else. Every time I have this dish I want to take someone back to Canada with me, and I pause and wonder - Warning: Misogyny two words ahead. - if all Ukrainian women can cook this well. It's called "Perohi," and from what I can determine it consists of a corn-meal-like flapjack filled with a kind of cottage cheese, and then you put cream on it. Of course, all these ingredients come straight from the farm, so the cream is the best you've ever had. The milk is delicious too, but I don't drink much of it.
The bread here is also just as good as the bread in Poland, although I belive it was store-bought in both cases. Of course, here there is homemade butter, so the finished product ends up being a cut above. On the flip side, in Poland we had lunchmeat in the kitchen all the time, along with an electric food slicer. That little gadget really helped make my trip what it was.
Well, it didn't help as much as my counterpart, and I'm only just now starting to realize how much of the good time I had in Poland I could attribute directly to him. He translated everything that was important, yes, but there's more than that. For instance, we had a volleyball tournament CAD in Poland. In Ostroh, we're finding things like CADs next-to-impossible to organize since there are no Ukrainians in our group and Eduard is really more like an ATM machine than a supervisor. (I say that with all the warmth in the world; he's awesome, but he's a busy guy!) So in Poland, when "our" CAD came along, Czarek basically organized the volleyball tournament. Things like that boiled down to: He spoke Polish. I did not.
Also, the Poles as a whole made our socializing a lot more smooth than it has been here in Ostroh so far. In Płużnica I was able to make several friends outside my host family that didn't speak English, thanks in no small part to Czarek's presence, which was essential at first. (After we got to know each other, we could just relax and try to approach each other's comprehension levels in English and/or Polish.)
Next year, if they run the Canada Corps program again (this is by no means certain), they will include a Canadian phase and Ukrainian counterparts. Back in Ottawa I thought that would ruin the whole thing, but now I realize just how essential those components are. Not that I want to call nine of my closest friends "components" but my friends can't help being useful, can they? =) If any of you ever read this, thank you once again, and thank you a thousand more times.
Okay, so how's the weather going? Not bad. It got quite cold at the end of last week and for a while I was afraid I was in for a repeat of Grande Prairie. But now it's nice and warm again and I don't need my coat and mitts anymore.
I am also fortunate to be living in a house instead of an apartment. We had the heat turned on last week, and we can turn it back on whenever we want - it's just a matter of opening a few valves. The apartment-dwellers and the students in the dorms aren't so fortunate. It's said that they won't be getting heat until at least October, and more likely November. Once they get heat, though, they say it's really quite comfortable. But then the weather gets warm in the spring, and they neglect to turn the heat off again. Ahhh... Ostroh.
Last week it was quite cold; one night my friend Yana, while we were standing outside the road to her dorm, suddenly decided that she'd go home to the nearby city of Netishyn instead, so then we waited at the marshutky stop.
I've spent most of the nights this week helping Yana prepare her application for the Canadian-Ukrainian Parlimentary Program. Yana was turned down for NetCorps this year, and several of her friends have been to Canada, so she would really like to go as well. So together we are using any means necessary to put together the application by next week's deadline, including blatant plagairism (on the assignments, etc.). Given the NetCorps selection criteria in the past, I feel absolutely justified in doing this.
In other news, I had to buy Roma another mp3 player off eBay*. The previous mp3 player (which I brought for him in Grande Prarie) took an unfortunate romp through the laundry in his jeans pocket and hasn't recovered since. I've heard other stories like this - was it you, Beppy, that lost an iPod Shuffle in the laundry? Someone on my Friends list did. - so I guess we all need to learn to empty our pockets before giving our pants to our mothers or others to wash. =)
* - I buy the player and he pays me back; it's necessary because he doesn't have anything but cash to pay for things with.
My new definition of globalization: A Ukrainian asks his Canadian friend in Ukraine to use the UK wing of an auction site to buy a Orient-manufactured mp3 player from an American merchant who sells to Europe in pounds sterling. The Canadian pays for this by signing into an American payment service, and Canadian funds are drawn from his Canadian bank account, converted into pounds, which are then collected by the seller and presumably converted into American dollars. The Canadian then agrees to take reimbursement from the Ukrainian in Ukrainian Hryvni. The mp3 player is concurrently shipped to the Ostroh Academy Foreign Relations Department via United States Postal Service with American postage stamps and there'll probably be a sticker saying "prioritaire" since French used to be the language of international and diplomatic communication. Allow up to six weeks for delivery across seven time zones.
And, finally, we're going to observe Lindsay's birthday on Saturday night. I'm really looking forward to this; it's been ages and ages since we've done anything social as a group. (I almost have a tear in my eye remembering Moxie's in Grande Prairie.) It'll be a good time to relax and have fun outside of the meetings, which are usually a little bit too highly-charged and confrontational for my tastes. Let's just say that we've had a few ideological differences. But at the end of the day, I can say that they're all my friends, and I'm really looking forward to just having some fun times with them. Hmm, what kind of trinket can I scrounge up for Lindsay?
Musical trends: Long live the Crazy Frog.
Update: They've just installed solar-powered streetlights here! (I'll assume that there's a battery in each installation.) Kickin! There's three or four of them, mostly at the major intersections. Nice.