Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Make a Photo Day

Throughout the school semester, I've held photo club sessions. The first one was a great session with an overflowing room of eager students. Soon after I realized they were only showing up to look at my photos, especially my photos of life in America. Not the worst thing ever but no one was actually taking pictures on their own. Turns out, most of them don't have cameras and/or access to computers. So I changed my game plan. I waited for the ice to melt and the rain to stop. When the sun appeared, I gathered up my 8th form girls - who are smart, trustworthy, and eager for anything - and invited them to a photo outing. The plan was to meet up during our May Day break and wander around. 

It was a grand success. I had four girls show up at my front door ready to go. None of them have cameras but, luckily, I have two. Pairs were made and cameras handed out. I'm not usually the type to just hand my cameras off to anyone and the girls were stunned when I shoved the large black boxes into their hands. Walking down the street to our village pond, they were coming to terms with the weight of it all. They carried the cameras like each piece was an infant. Gingerly and protectively. After putting all the settings on auto (figured for the first day this was best), giving a few instructions, and showing a few examples, I stood back to watch. I watched them climb trees, hide in bushes, lay in flower beds, jump off benches, etc. for about 5 hours while they captured as many frames of our village as they could. They mastered buttons and settings I gave no instruction about. Using each other and myself as models, everyone got to see what it felt like to be in a frame and to create a frame. Video was taken too. Interviews were made. It was amazing. 

The entire day was something I've hoped for since arriving in Syhnayivka nearly 5 months ago. Two of the girls that attended are girls I haven't had a good relationship with at school. They are sweet but sit on the side and prefer play with their cell phones over listening to me. On photo day, I had their complete attention. Our time in the classroom has greatly improved since. My favorite part was watching my girls hunker down or climb on things or do whatever they had to do to get the picture. They looked so serious yet funny while they worked. I have to laugh since I know I look just as silly when I work. As we worked our way across town, Yana Danilko said to me, "People look at us like we are crazy now." I smiled and said, "That's how they look at me every day." She replied, "Well that's because they don't know how cool this is." Once again, I love my job. 

Now, please enjoy a selection of frames from the Syhnayivka Photo Club. 

All the ladies at the lake.

Yana Keshanco felt a little overwhelmed at first! 

Photo of Yana Danilko by Sveta Lotisman 

Rolling through town. 

Photo of Yana and Yana by Sveta Lotisman

Sveta Lotisman working on some depth of field. 

A very happy teacher! 

Alona  Pachna working on a few details. 

And this is what she got! 

Alona multi-tasking like a pro! 

Yana Keshco mastered the action frame quickly. 

The ladies gladly documented my first ice cream of the season. 

Photo of Sveta Lotisman by Yana Danilko

I had a second photo outing a few days later with Sveta and Yana? due to their skill and willingness to learn. They are now experimenting with pushing and pulling aka changing the setting to places the setting shouldn't go. They like to make intentional blur. They like to find something happening on the street and follow it. I couldn't be more proud. I just need to find them a better model but until then, they gladly photograph me! 
The classic 'mirror portrait' a bit stirred up. 

Photo by Yana Danilko 

May Day! May Day!

May Day is a three holiday from school and work that celebrates working aka kinda like Labor Day in the US. Many people travel so this past week, I got to host three PCV ladies - Christine, Julia, and Kathleen - at my house. My host family was over the moon to have extra people around since our house was already filing up with neighbors, relatives, and other friends. My new host mom, Luda, and I had a long conversation over coffee about how much we both love a full house and people running around. It gave me an opportunity to tell her about my childhood when my house was full of neighbors and kids and constant motion. She said her house used to be much busier when her children were younger (Sasha, her son, is 22 and away at college and Masha, her daughter, is 19 and works at a hair salon in the next town over) but now she thinks I can keep the house noisy! I got to help prepare and cook until our kitchen overran with food and drink. We planted our fields with potatoes, tomatoes, cumbers, onions, beets, watermelons, and pumpkins for several days before our grand fest. The ladies showed up and the party started. Shaslick is the word for barbecue that is the traditional dish of May Day or May 1st. Our shaslick was divine. My host father, Peter, and his brother-in-law took care of the shaslick cooking while all the ladies got the picnic and kids ready. We ate far too much mouth watering, brazen meat with all the fixing and Betty Crocker chocolate cake! The weather was nice enough we stayed outside until well past dark still eating, drinking, laughing, and swatting at all the bugs.  

The next day, I got to introduce my friends to some of my students during a photo club outing. My 8th form girls were far too excited to speak that we had to work out a system of asking questions in turn. In about 48 hours, I got to introduce my friends to most of my inner circle in town. They were a huge hit. Everyone keeps asking when the 'other girls' are coming back. 

As much as I love my students, it was hard going back to school after such a long, satisfying break. Luckily, there is less than 3 weeks of school left before SUMMER! 

Left to right: Julie, Kathleen and Christine 

Julia soaks up some sun. 

Kathleen enjoying not being at work! 

Luda and Baba Katya giving Kathleen the classic 'why aren't you eating more?" interview. 

This is Shaslick! 

Natasha, Luda's baby sister, with her son Vadlik and Baba Katya.
Vadlik is a sweet, four year old who has a few special needs.
He is a great peek-a-boo and cartoon watching partner.
He is curious and giggly and most everything a little boy should be. 

Luda and Vadlik hanging with a few baby goats. 

"Life is Happening and it means Everything"

For Ukrainian Orthodox Easter or Paska, my school took a break which gave me enough time to go back to Burty for a long weekend. My excitement was far greater than my visit at Christmas time due to the new set of PC people in Burty, missing Burty so much, wanting to show off my new cooking and language skills, wanting to see my cat son Pairsic, and the overall stress I was dealing with. 
(no worries, life is very chill now!) 

Moving in with my host family went smoothly and I was off to bus station after school. When I finally  arrived in Mama and Papa's yard, I was almost out of breathe due to steer joy. I couldn't find anyone for a moment - the new Americans were on a bus from kyiv - but then I heard Mama Olea's scream. She thought I was arriving on Saturday morning so seeing me on Friday afternoon in her yard was quite a shock. She wept for a while and hugged me and poked at my stomach demanding to know where all the food she gave me in the winter went. Papa V showed up a little bit later to ask why my hair was longer, blonder, and how did I get taller? Or maybe he got smaller? After the Q&A and tears were dried, I was put to work. I put my cat in my lap and went to town on a massive pot of veggies. For several minutes it felt as if I had never moved. As if I just finished language class and sat down. As if there stool under me was built just square enough for my body. As if I was home. 
Because I was home. I was home. 

Friday night turned into a massive meet up with new Americans and some fabulous Burty friends. Drew and I got to spend several hours chatting about home, burty, the future, whatever. Their group seemed get as tight as ours but also very different. Mama and Papa experienced another small explosion of emotions and questions when Drew walked in the living room like he'd been there all day. They demanded to know when everyone was moving home to stay. 

Saturday morning, I tried to get up as soon as I could but I didn't beat Grace, the new Procoliy daughter, or Mama Olea. Those two are morning birds and had done most of the chores when I arrived at 8 am! Oh well. Just a few hours later, the whole clan was in the car hauling logs and tools to a field way out of town that we planted potatoes in. It became very apparent which girl Mama Olea favored when she gave Grace the only pairs of gloves while we hauled logs around. No hard feelings, I love it. It toughens me up. Grace would get the sweet voice and I'd receive barking orders. Papa V would just roll his eyes and tell me to help him. Again, no worries. It's home and it's all good. Papa V found me a pair of gloves and snuck them in my back pocket. He had me sit up front with him in the car and I did it but I knew Mama Olea would comment. She did. Holding Grace's hand she proclaimed, "Oh I see! You are Papa's daughter and Gracie's my daughter!" I was like "Maybe I am both?" "Well of course you are!" And then everyone laughed. 

We planted potatoes after the tractor man finished his deal. For 4 or 5 hours, we sang songs, counted our steps, practiced date and time vocab (for both Grace and I). When it was all over, everyone was dirty and exhausted. We feasted on a huge meal then were assigned beds to take naps in. Being the good 'older sister' that I am, I helped Mama Olea tuck Grace into bed - fully dressed and filthily- so I could translate what instructions needed to be said. We were all a little giggly. By the time Mama Olea put me in bed, she was full on weeping. Her round face was red with squinting eyes. She kissed me over and over saying, "You are home. You are home. It's like I have two babies again. 
I have all my babies here." 

By the end of nap time, Sam was in town and Anna made a short yet fabulous appearance with her visiting, real, American Momma! Caitlin was dearly missed but doing big things in her town. I was 'given' possession of Grace for the evening so I showed her off to as many neighbors and friends as I could find. Everyone liked her just as much I do. She and I spent Saturday evening getting to know Burty better and each other. 

And now I realize I need to introduce Grace! She is the new girl living in my house in Burty. We had spoken on the phone a few times before my visit just because we could. I knew then we would hit it off in person. At first, I was a little jealous of this new girl at my house, in my room, sleeping in my tiny, springy bed but after a few hours and a few homes we began to introduce each other as our 'ukrainian sister'. Turns out, she was a little jealous of "Kasey" that everyone kept going on about. All the new people had to answer the question, "Do you know the others?" when going to the store or school or anywhere. Burty is a real little place. Grace and I discovered we have nothing to be jealous in each other. I adore having her around. I am happy knowing she is there to help Mama and Papa and watch over all my farm creatures. She is quite different than me - likes to get up way early, does her chores before class not after, runs all over the village every day, etc. - but we have similar features - being a momma bear, eager to help, laughs easy - that are must haves in the Procoliy household. I enjoyed my few days as the older sister. Grace gained access to things around the house during her first week that I struggled to understand for 3 months. Her experience is so very different than mine but we both agreed that, to us, Mama and Papa are what we need. 

Paska morning arrived quickly. Mama Olea had told Grace and I she was going to church at 4 am but we didn't have to. Joining forces, we convinced her to take us with her. She forgot. We both were awake and dressed by 4 but she wasn't home. Our phones started to ring. Drew and his little brother, Maxim, were calling to tell us to come outside. They were our escorts to church. Mama Olea had forgotten us but remembered when she saw the guys. Grace and I found her in the crowd, right close to the front door, and settled in. I took my camera because I have gotten permission the day before but I was hesitant to photograph. I didn't want to disturb the holiness of the moment for anyone. I wanted to experience what was occurring with my entire self rather then my lens. Mama Olea insisted taking photos was okay so I ran around for a bit before settling in. 

Being surrounded by most of Burty's residents before dawn listening to hymns and chants was intoxicating. I have never experienced such a sincere, quite moment so packed with purpose before. Even now, weeks later, I can't seem to put into words. I need to start inventing words to describe that morning. The sky was deep blue with hints of gray around the moon. Beams of light pushed over the horizon. People, young and old, cold and tired, meditating, praying, singing, waiting, stood still while the priest splashed holy water on our bodies and baskets. Each basket held meat, dyed eggs, Paska bread, candles, and woven scarves to represent another year of life at home (I think that right!) Mama Olea, Grace, and I stood and sat in unison with hundreds of others to be blessed. The water was crisp so it stripped away my exhaustion to force to pay more attention. Children were kissed and prayed over. Singing grandmas and granddads followed behind the priest carrying baskets for food and money donations. Younger men carried banners and Bibles while moving on beat with the chorus. The smell of candle wax and sugar was overwhelming. Everything was soaked in Paska. The scents, the sidewalk. I swear it took using all my 5 senses to their highest ability to fully experience those moments. Finally, when dawn fully appeared, the air cleared and the priest sent us home. Mama Olea, Grace and I walked home holdings hands. It felt like an Easter Sunday of my childhood except I wore a scarf over my hair instead of bright pink bows. 

We eat a bit of the blessed food then Mama Olea announced Grace and I would take another nap while she cooked the bigger feast. After a long argument, we convinced her this would not stand. Our three whipped out a few more dishes before crashing. I am not a nap take, especially after coffee, so I was awake again in less than an hour to have more coffee with Papa V. We found my current village on the map. He was happy to realize he could get to me in less than 4 hours in his car. (I plan to invite them for a weekend in the near future) Then we talked about my work, how comfort my current bed is, if I will marry an Ukrainian man and if so what he needs to be like, etc. etc. etc. I adore Papa V with everything I have. The way he speaks with his fingers, drinks his tea too hot every time, laughs with his entire upper body and pats my face waters my eyes. We were still talking when the ladies arrive to chow down. 

Mama and Papa went off to visit some friends after our meal at home so Grace and I joined our friends. We ended up visiting 4 different Paska parties and, I think, I ate continuously for about 8 hours. I do know I didn't eat much for several days after! At one house, I had dinner with Baba Tonya, Mama and Papa's best friend, with Grace, Jenny, and Ryan - more new people. My language is getting better but I didn't know I could sit and translate for 5 hours. I thought I was going inside to say hello to her granddaughters - Dasha and Uyla - who became my little pals in the fall. (Uyla has since called me on the phone demanding to know when I am coming back and if I will move in with her family so I can be her English teacher) Nope, we stayed until after dark. Drew and his host family were expecting us many hours before so when he called to ask me 'Where exactly are you?' all I do was laugh and say, "Today is the single greatest day I have experienced in this country. I don't ever want to it to end." He swiftly and whole heartedly agreed. We did, finally, make it across town. We all got to end the evening with more food and tea and laughter.  

My departure was scheduled for 11am on Monday. I found out at 10 that I would taken to the bus stop by Mama and Papa in their car. I have only ridden in this car about 3 times before but Mama Olea insisted that I, obviously, could not walk the 3 blocks to the bus stop. 'Look at her pretty clothes! She is our child! She will go with me!' were her breakfast table statements. Mama Olea sat me down, prayed over me, blessed my luggage, my body, and all the air above me. She wept and wept. She buttoned my sweater all the way up to neck so I wouldn't get cold and men on the bus won't talk to me. Freakishly similar to my own mother's actions before driving me to the airport. She asked if I wanted to leave because she didn't think I did. She's a smart lady. Gritting my teeth, I told her I had to leave to go back to work. I love my students and they except to see me tomorrow. I allowed a few tears to roll during our short car ride. They stayed with me until the right bus with enough room showed up. I had a few hours at the big bus station before my big bus home so I went to Christine's host family's apartment and spent several sweet hours with them. Christine's host family is all women and has hosted 8 PCVs in the past. They know what's up. I was fed, again, got to use some hot water, and eat Reese Cups that former daughters sent from the States. When I went to catch my bus, Drew called. He was with his Burty brothers and they had a birthday present for me. I am the proud owner of paper made from Burty trees. It now lives in my 'book of wonder' with photos and notes from those I love. I printed a photo of the boys to paste with it. My bus ride back to Syhnayivka was long, too long, and boring. On the dark bus I could let myself mourn of leaving home again. Mourn over leaving smells, sounds, atmosphere that are so real to me, I dream about them and wake up thinking I am there. My Burty friends say it best, "We have towns here. We have places we live and work in. Those places are great but Burty is home." 

I got to go home to visit my precious people. I got to sit among friends who make my life make sense. I got to check on everyone I care for to reassure myself it's all gonna be alright. Lucky for me, this place is just up the road. I will have plenty of opportunities to go back. Until I return to the Bluegrass, Burty is where I can find true comfort. The title of this entry coming from a song called 'The Lark Ascending' by Dave Crowder. It came on my iPod shortly after my bus pulled away from my comfort zone. It's a song that encompasses my Ukrainian experience, thus far, in less than 2 minutes. Life is happening. Life is Burty happened. My time there forever altered me. My time in Syhnayivka continues to alter me. That means Everything. 

This is quite an entry but since an experience needs such an explanation. Please enjoy some photos! 

No more than 10 minutes after my arrival in Burty,  Mama Olea redressed me in work clothes and put on dinner chores.
Wouldn't have it any other way. 

When Papa V and I went spice hunting, we found a cow skull.
Who knew that was in our back yard? 

Papa V told me first thing, "I'm a pensioner now! I'm Papa Pensioner! I only work at home and on the farm."
So here he is doing just that. 

Newest members of the Procoliy household

Saturday morning breakfast line

Another new member of the Procoliy family - Grace!
Pairsic seems like her - but he is still my cat son.
Mama adores her morning chore helper and Papa always giggles as she sways her way around the farm.
I'm a big fan. 
Mama Olea's Classic "Cassie, I Don't Understand What You are Doing or Why You are Doing It" Face. 

Quick family photo with the tractor man because that's just important. 

Giving instructions and visual aids to the art of potato planting. 

Mama Olea with her Gracie close behind. 

My Burty Family. 

Papa V being awesome. 

See, how well Grace fits in?
While we worked, we sang little kid Ukrainian songs together.
Mama Olea was beaming with pride at her 'smart daughters' 

Anna showed up for a surprise hour long visit with her American mother - who took this photo. 

Meeting the new spring member of their farm. 

'Paska' morning at the church. 

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The village waiting for the priest for come outside and bless everyone and all our food with holy water. 
Paska bread, meat, dyed eyes, and scarf to be blessed.
All these things, together, represent life at home. 

A chorus of people sang hymns as the priest entering the yard. 

The church flags coming by.
(Some days I like this image, some days it still perplexes me) 

Mama Olea and her girls. 

Family photo right before being escorted to my bus. 
I like to think this photo proves that Grace and I aren't just daughters to one parent but both.
Of course, we are different women so our relationships and interactions are different but equally wonderful.
This image is quite special to me now.