Yesterday (Saturday) we got to skip our cross-cultural class in favor of taking a day trip to the city of Nizhen, the hometown of our technical trainer Katerina. I think traveling is much more cross-cultural than sitting in a room full of Americans talking about culture anyways : )
We took the train to Nizhen, so me and my cluster-mates met at the bus stop in Kolychivka bright and early so we could get to Chernihiv, where the train was leaving from at 8:30. I thought I’d left enough time to get to the bus stop, but as I was walking there my cell phone started vibrating in my purse. I fumbled to get it out and answer, and then Andy was asking me where I was. I was two minutes away, but the bus was already at the stop! So I ran the rest of the way, and the bus waited for me. It was a little bit too close for comfort! The rest of the trip went as planned though. We met with our link (another cluster that we have class with once a week) in Chernihiv, and set off for the train station.
When we got to the station (or Вокзал, in Ukrainian), the first thing I noticed was the hammer and sickle underneath the sign on the building. Its so interesting to find remnants of the USSR in Ukraine, and all the buildings that are more than 20 years old (as in, pre-1990s) have tell-tale signs of Ukraine being a former soviet state. Today Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine, but all the old buildings have signs written in Russian. To this day, most of the large cities in Ukraine speak Russian, while only villages and cities in the west speak Ukrainian. It can be hard when I go to the city for Internet, because even when I order food or ask for directions, people respond in Russian. Hopefully my permanent site will be a location where Ukrainian is spoken… otherwise, I guess I’ll be learning Rusian too!
In the train station, we got to practice our language skills by each buying our train ticket in Ukrainian. I got off easy though, because I was the fifth person in a line of Americans to go and the lady already knew where I was going before I asked : ) Once we all bought our tickets, we went outside and found the right train and got on. The train was packed, and not one seat was open in our car. So we all stood in the aisles, wondering if this was normal. I asked Natalia, and she said busy morning trains are often jammed packed with standing room only. She said you have to get there early if you actually want a seat. We made the most of it though, and Janira and I talked with Michelle, who is from our link cluster, about how training in Chernihiv is going. Michelle is training to be a university English teacher, so she’s had a lot different experience than we have had teaching in the secondary school! Here’s a picture of Janira and Michelle, so you can see exactly how crowded our train was : )
The train finally started moving, and after a couple stops enough people had got off the train that there was room to sit down. I ended up sitting by Sabina, who is the new language trainer for our link group in Chernihiv. She’s from Crimea (southern Ukraine, on the Black Sea), and was so interesting to talk to! She asked where I had traveled before, and I told her about Egypt. She asked if I spoke Arabic, and I told her a little bit. She told me that her father is trying to learn Arabic and that it’s a really hard language to study. I asked her why her father wants to know Arabic, and she ending up explaining her heritage to answer my question.
Ethnically, Sabina is a Crimean Tatar, which is much different from being Russian or Ukrainian. Tatars have a long history in Crimea, and are Muslims, whereas most Russians and Ukrainians follow the Orthodox Church, or at least they did before the USSR decided religion was a threat to the socialist identity. Today in Ukraine there is freedom of religion, but back in the days of the USSR, religion was outlawed. In the USSR’s quest to purge the empire of religion, many people who refused to recant their religious views were either tortured or forced into exile. Sabina told me about many horrible forms of torture used to make people recant, such as being chained standing in water up to the waist for days, without being allowed to sleep, eat, or even sit. She also told me that before she was born, when Ukraine was still part of the USSR, her father and his family (who were practicing Muslim Tatars) were forced into exile in Kazakhstan. She and her sisters were born in Kazakhstan, but when the USSR fell and Ukraine declared independence, her parents moved back to Crimea where she has lived for most of her life. It was a fascinating story, and I enjoyed getting to know her better. Here is a picture of us in Nizhen!
In Nizhen we spent the day walking around, seeing the town and its monuments, and visiting schools. We started out at the House for Children, where parents can pay to have their children go for extra lessons in music, art, English, etc. Katerina teaches English there when she’s not training Peace Corps volunteers, so it was nice to see what her life is normally like. We sat in on a class of 4 and 5 years olds learning words like “ball, doll, car, lorry, etc.” (In case you’re wondering, “lorry” is a word used in Britain for trucks. Don’t even get me started on another British English rant!)
After seeing the school, we went outside and got to watch a reenactment of Cossacks sword fighting. It was a blast, and I’m pretty sure I enjoyed the sword fighting more than I enjoyed touring the school ; ) We whipped out our cameras like a bunch of tourists, and took pictures of the fight. I told Janira and Tammela that I thought one of the Cossacks was cute, only to find out he spoke English and heard. Something like this could only happen to me : ) After the fight was over, he showed us all the traditional weapons Cossacks used to fight, and offered to take pictures with us. I even got to hold the saber : )
Our last stop in Nizhen was at the university where Katerina studied English, and it was beautiful. The weather was also cooperating, so we enjoyed being outside in the nice fall weather. We took pictures of the campus and explored the grounds surrounding the school, and just enjoyed spending time together. I really do like my cluster-mates, they’re pretty great people : ) And our link cluster is a lot of fun too, so I’m glad they came too! Here is a picture of the ladies of our link. From left: Michelle, Tammela, me, and Janira.
Next Saturday our cluster is headed to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. So we’ll be doing a lot of traveling this week! An interesting linguistic note: Kiev is pronounced “Keev” to Ukrainians, while only Russians (or foreigners) pronounce Kiev “Key-ev.” Seeing that I’m learning Ukrainian, I’ll pronounce it “Keev.” : ) I think its really interesting how even pronunciation can be an issue of nationalism; even how one says the name of the capital says something about political allegience… hmm. Food for thought : )
All my love!