Острог (Ostroh) is somewhere between the Polish participants’ worst imaginings and the Canadians’ most generous fairy tales encouraged by video clips of horse-drawn wagons through snowy streets. It’s a lot easier to function daily than the Poles on my previous program made it out to be* (yes, you can buy socks in Ostroh); at the same time there is a lot more manure to contend with than I had previously imagined. Maybe it’s just my neighbourhood.
I live on the other side of the river, at the greatest distance from downtown and the academy out of any of the participants. I wouldn’t have it any other way; I need every bit of exercise I can get, because my host mother feeds me a lot. She’s even threatened to call my real mother and tell her I’m not eating enough. I’m sure she’s just kidding.
There are a lot of loose chickens, geese, horses, and other such animals, and with the help of Lee, a fellow Canadian, I’ve learned some important techniques for handling the dogs. I like this area; it’s quiet and unpretentious, and the people are really friendly once they decide they can trust you. There are some little children who say “Hello!” to me every time I see them. They remind me of the good times I had teaching English in Lisewo, Poland.
My host brother Роман (Roman) takes me out with his buddies every couple of evenings, providing entirely too many opportunities to stargaze and wake up the next morning with a headache. They have streetlamps in Острог, but the last time we’ve heard of them being engaged was for a Presidential visit, or perhaps at Christmas. There’s simply not enough money to have them on all the time, which makes walking home quite an adventure. If I miss anything, it’ll be the stars. And a few nights ago, Roch and I came home and watched a blood-red egg-shaped illusorily-huge waning gibbous moon rise over the horizon, thanks to the fields that stretch off into the distance away from our property. Such sights more than make up for a few inadvertent steps, and Lindsay assures me that while there was always the possibility of walking into an open manhole, it hasn’t, to the best of her knowledge, actually occurred to anyone she knows of.
I hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining. I don’t feel inconvenienced in the least, not just because I’d be an arrogant bastard if I did. I’ll miss the physical reality of certain things, even washing my clothes by hand, and especially the joy of turning on the hot water machine every morning. It runs on natural gas, so it’s a 7am thrill of opening the valve and pushing the primer, in the expectation of one of three possibilities:
- Nothing happens. (Prepare to push primer again.)
- Glug, glug, glug! (We have ignition. Now keep holding down the high-med-low dial, and switch it to high, but don’t let go too early, or it’ll die.)
- Poof. (You have no eyebrows.)
* - This probably stems from the reality that Poland is, developmentally speaking, quite a ways ahead of Ukraine.
Work has picked up substantially; our boss and his associates have discovered (rightly) that Lee and I have no hope of modernizing the English Language Resource Centre’s library single-handedly. So the technical stuff (such as configuring the Russian-language library software – originally it was proposed that they’d translate everything for us and that we’d learn the whole system, and only then work on it for them) is getting taken care of for us (to the point where I feel perfectly justified in sweet-talking my way onto this program even though all I can really do at this point is make websites).
Now we’re faced with the labour of affixing about 12,000 barcode stickers onto their appropriate books. The library doesn’t really have a cataloguing system, just a unique code for each book based on when it was acquired. So if they acquire five copies of Headway English Volume 1c one day, and then get a sixth a few years later, the barcodes numbers might be 200138 – 200142, and there’d be an item with code 201799 there, such that the barcode sticker will be on a different roll, so you’d set the item aside and wait for the person in charge of barcodes to come around and give you the one you want.
Fortunately, it’s not as nightmarish as it sounds. We’re getting through many hundreds of books a day, and on Monday the entire group will be there, and we’ll call it a CAD. Say you did it, put in a check mark, and keep getting the funding. I love how this stuff works.
Well, I guess the blogging bug hath struck me again. It’s the most wonderful sort of bug, really; the kind that, when it bites its victim, afflicts the victim’s unfortunate associates more than the victim himself.
As you might infer, I’ve been whiling away entirely too much time reading the classics. I just finished Emma today, and next week I’ll start on one of the many Dickens titles at the English Language Resource Centre.
Today, though, I’m going to do the responsible thing and study some Ukrainian after I upload this blog at the cybercafé.
As I’ve said before, Роман takes me out a lot, so I get to meet all kinds of really awesome people. The funny part is, everyone tells me how slow things are now because the students aren’t here. “Just wait until September 1st!” everyone tells me. It’s fun to imagine.
A few students do come by once in a while, though, to visit friends who still live here, or for other reasons. It’s because of this that I’ve met our Roma (a few weeks ago), as well as Dima (just two days ago). Dima’s doing well, and he sends his regards to everyone. He intends to go look for a job in Рівне (Rivne), the closest major city to Острог. He’ll be coming back to the Academy this Fall to get his higher degree (something between a Bachelors’ and a Masters’).
It was kind of strange to talk to Dima, because the conversation that I had with him here was longer than any I’ve had with him while we were on the actual program. I also never took the time to appreciate how much I could have learned from his attitude. Of course I noticed that everyone in the group liked him (including me) and nobody had a problem with him, but I never troubled to find out why. He had an almost infallible sense of humour, never spoke ill of anyone, and treated the whole exchange as a long vacation. While we were stressing out in Grande Prairie, he was relaxing. He didn’t take things very seriously, and why should he have? As people have said, there were many aspects of our program that made it a glorified field trip. At least this time I knew ahead of time that things were going to be sketchy, and at least this time we’re being treated like adults, something sorely missing from the previous program.
I should also add to my account that now I’m living alone with my host family. Roch thought it would be best if he went back to his previous host family (he and Lee were here on the NetCorps program four years ago, and Lindsay was here on the Core program last year); he’s been functioning independently so long that coming here was a huge adjustment for him that I don’t envy. At least I had the luxury of being exited by everything when I first arrived; he never did. It’s funny, though; now that he’s moved, he talks a lot about all the things he misses about being here! Anyway, everything was settled without a lot of song and dance, and I want to give a big shout-out to Eduard for taking care of things so well. He’s always quick to ask me how I’m doing, and to see if I can handle being alone here. I think I can make a go of it, but it feels wonderful to have such a capable guy looking out for our day-to-day needs, and I really appreciate everything he does for us.
In essence, there’s so much good about this program that I can barely encapsulate it all. (It’s like the Metamucil commercial!) Good weather, great adventures…
I’ve had many adventures so far, but there are a few I would call Great Adventures:
One beautiful Sunday I went fishing in Нетішин (Netishyn) with Роман and the gang. We went by bicycle – Belarus’ finest, and the tires were “Made in USSR.” (and probably last inflated then, though we were able to correct this before getting underway) I carefully followed them to the lake that supplies cooling water for the Нетішин nuclear power plant. There’s a long dam that goes along one side of the lake, and there’s a concrete private roadway beside it that goes on for the several kilometers between Острог and the power plant. On the way back I remember that Тераз (Teraz) had a portable radio, and when a good song came on, we’d pedal in rhythm to the beat. It got quite dark, and I again took the rear on the way back into town, to give myself the advantage of my companions’ pothole-navigation* skills. Afterwards we went to the disco and we came home around 3:30, and Lee and the others did not notice that I was drunk the next morning at work, not that I was…
* - There are potholes here that could swallow whole cars. In fact, on some streets, the drivers will pull right up onto the curb, drive along the side of the road for a bit, then come back down onto the road surface. These de-facto collector lanes can be found in many places.
Yesterday (Friday) most of the group went to swim in a river just outside of town. To get to the spot, we actually had to cross the river at one point, which I was able to do just by hiking up my shorts. We found the… Hmm. Maybe I won’t share the particulars of this adventure, after all. Let’s just say that lessons were learned. Also there was a huge thunderstorm.
Really, every day brings a new adventure, and now I’m off to find my own. Take care, my friends!
Note from the cybercafé: They have air conditioning here! I'm so pleasantly surprised! Also, the streets are deserted. Nobody is stirring today, and I noticed that some of the shops are closed. It is seriously hot here.