9.29.2009

a hole in my heart.


_____________________________________________________________

'You and I will meet again
When we're least expecting it
One day in some far off place
I will recognize your face
I won't say goodbye my friend,
For you and I will meet again...
Maybe someday our paths will cross.'


-Tom Petty, You and I Will Meet Again.
_______________________________________________________

9.21.2009

100 words or less: since Ukraine.

-
Home. Unpacking. Culture shock. Adjustments. Reunions. Decisions. Really, really big decisions. India. Planning. Uncertainty. Packing. Waterloo. Moving. Final semester of my undergrad career (woo!). Questions. More adjustments. Stress. Questions. Lots of 'em. Action. Unpacking... again. Frustrations. Learning. Reflection. Classes. Learning. Loving. Constant reflection, constant education, constant exploration.

8.31.2009

my Ukrainian home.

Alina.


Аліна (Alina) is fourteen years old, and was known to Jessica, Miri, and I as 'little Alina.' This was simply to differentiate Alina from an older Alina. [The older Alina being the infamous 'Alina Boss,' a well respected figure amongst the Інтeрнат girls and staff, one who was an incredibly huge help to the three of us throughout the summer.]

While going through the Інтeрнат documents in July, we learned that Alina's parents lost custody of her several years ago. This 'route' [loss of custody] is shared by several of the girls; many are not actually orphaned. Many simply have parents who are unable to care for their children due to addictions, poverty, or other similar circumstances.

As Alina is fourteen, she is grouped in the third 'class' of girls. Favourite activities of Alina (as well as the other girls in her class) include arts and crafts, singing karaoke, enjoying time outside in the courtyard or at the Інтeрнат park, playing badminton, and watching movies and television. This is all in addition to hours upon hours spent listening to music and, of course, dancing!

Alina seems to be an introvert, as she tends to be in the background of larger group situations. She is hilarious without seeking extra attention, her mannerisms and quirks crack me up (for instance, her nonchalant attitude towards the bizarre sunglasses we brought). Alina has a matter-of-fact way of being; she is laid back and patient, a positive member of her class.

8.18.2009

home sweet home.

-

    Nearly a week has passed since I left Austria, finally arriving home to family and friends... and I am still slightly overwhelmed by the fact that I am back to 'real life' in Canada, no longer in my Ukrainian world. Counter-culture shock? Maybe.

      My body has finally gotten over the jetlag and various time differences. It was iffy for a few days; it felt like I had a unique time zone, one of my very own... A time zone existing somewhere between Caledonia, Vienna, and Ternopil (all of which seem to be worlds apart).

        My taste buds have been in total shock - Cheerios, chocolate milk, (salt and vinegar) chips... oh my! I polished off three servings of pita bread tonight, to go along with my spinach dip. I have also already enjoyed Momma's homemade waffles, salami, and unlimited ketchup. It's pretty safe to say that at least half of the items on my Official Taste Bud Wish List have been eaten/inhaled.

          My last few days have been full of reunions with family, friends, and a certain Lagerwerf. I also gained a new cousin, as Elise is no longer a Vos. Welcome to the fam, Joshua! Their wedding was incredible - how often is it that a backyard reception includes a visit from the ice cream truck?! An incredibly fun and beautiful day spent with people I've missed dearly.

            My travels have led to adventures in Austria as well as Slovakia (!) since leaving Ukraine. More Wanderlust? Yes, please. (Oh, that nasty travel bug... it's bitten me again! Hrmmm...) Pictures of Vienna, Bratislava, and Salzburg to be posted soon-ish.

              And now, my to do list is a monster. It has (once again) taken on a life of its own, and I can hardly keep track of all of the odds and ends that I need to catch up on in the next few days and weeks. All I can really say is that I have some significantly large decisions to make in terms of my plans and whereabouts for the next few months.

                  [Check in again soon... I plan to post pictures of the Internat concert and final days, my last few days of travelling, in addition to continuing my series of Internat profiles. Thanks all!]

                    8.05.2009

                    farewells.


















                    "In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it."


                    - Marianne Williamson

                    8.02.2009

                    sick of Сметана.

                    -

                    I have eaten approximately 76 omelettes since my first breakfast in Ternopil.
                    I have slowly warmed up to strange dishes such as varyneky and borsch, and even gotten used to espresso-sized cups of coffee.
                    I am incredibly grateful to Slava for the generousity she has showered me with over the last few months, but there are a few foods that aren't viable options in Ukraine.
                    What kind of foods, you ask? Look at my latest list for a better understanding of what my taste buds have been missing... Смачного! (fyi: the Ukrainian equivalent to 'bon appetit!')



                    Jen's Official Taste Bud Wish List

                    1. Bowls upon bowls of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios
                    2. Cereal in general - Alphabits, Rice Krispies, Froot Loops, Honeycomb... it's all good.
                    3. Carly's infamous grilled cheese sandwiches, with a large side of (free) ketchup
                    4. a Large double-double from Timmy Ho's
                    5. minimum 6L of glorious chocolate milk (Ukrainian dairy products do not agree with my body, with the exception of ice cream)
                    6. salt and vinegar chips (of the vast array of unique Ukrainian potato chips... there is nothing that comes close to Miss Vickie's)
                    7. Popsicles
                    8. fish and chips... heavy on the vinegar, please
                    9. a Chocolate Extreme blizzard a la DQ
                    10. Garlic. Bread.
                    11. a Spicy Italian sub from Subway
                    12. popcorn so buttery it could only be found in a movie theater lobby...
                    13. Cheese Capaletti
                    14. SALAMI.
                    15. "Oma" Pancakes, with sprinkles and maple syrup
                    16. mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce
                    17. onion rings
                    18. granola bars (preferably chocolate-dipped)
                    19. hot dogs... yes, that's right. Street meat? Yes, please.
                    20. a Muffaletta sandwich (served fresh from the Black Hole Bistro)
                    21. Rockets
                    22. saltine crackers
                    23. Skim milk... like I said, my body hasn't agreed with Ukrainian dairy. Unfortunately.
                    24. Kraft Dinner
                    25. Anything else that I can load with (complimentary) ketchup.
                    26. freezies (blue, red, or peach)
                    27. my momma's homemade waffles on a Sunday morning
                    28. spinach dip... mmm.
                    29. having a brewski or two with my dad and brothers, sitting on the deck with our dogs after a days work. Not necessarily a taste, but a taste of home that dirt cheap Ukrainian beer just doesn't compare to.


                    7.30.2009

                    my Ukrainian Bucket List.

                    -

                    It's close enough to Friday as I write this, meaning that my time in Ternopil is rapidly drawing to a close. I have merely one week left in Ukraine, before Jessica and I fly out of Lviv and into Vienna. After a few days of exploring Austria, I'll be heading home sweet home - absolutely crazy to think about!

                    There are a million and three things that I would love to accomplish before next Friday, but chances are I'll run out of time (and probably money as well). As I'm a big fan of lists, here is a glimpse at what I am affectionately referring to as my 'Ukrainian Bucket List.' Enjoy.




                    1. Buy (or make?) an appropriate thank you gift for Slava - something that she will actually use and appreciate, not something that will collect dust in one of the many shellacked wardrobes in this apartment... I am going to recruit Ira for help with this project ASAP.

                    2. Two words: Gelato. Mafia. We've been hearing delicious rumours about this little cafe from our tutors since May... our Ternopil experience would be incomplete without a visit.

                    3. Visit the family dacha. I need to represent the Vos family well, and prove that I do have a green thumb (even if it's a stretch). If nothing else, it will be a yummy experience - fresh berries and vegetables galore.

                    4. Go bowling with Olga and Yevhan. Another thing that we've been meaning to do with our tutors since May. Nothing like the last minute, eh!?

                    5. Host an Internat concert. We have rearranged concert plans several times, and will end up having a casual performance and a small party with the girls on Monday. Videos to be posted later, definitely.

                    6. Eat an entire "roll" of Морозово. Ukrainian ice cream (otherwise known as 'Морозово') is packed in the same fashion as sausage. Jessica and I plan to eat an entire roll of ice cream at some point in the next week (preferably while watching Saved By the Bell or Flight of the Conchords).

                    7. At least one evening per week, Jessica and I get together to catch up with the gang from Bayside. Zack, Slater, Kelly, Jessie, Lisa, and Screech have been a major part of our lives in Ukraine; it's sad, but we reference these characters as if they are our friends back in Waterloo. The two of us are determined to finish watching Season Three of Saved By the Bell over the course of the next week. (You know your life is rough when this is a task on a to do list...)

                    8. My Opa has a massive collection of license plates from all over Canada, the US, and the rest of the world. I'm pretty positive that I've yet to see any plates from Eastern Europe gracing the walls of the greenhouse barn, which still houses all of his license plates. I've talked to some of my people, who know people... but I still might have to beg, borrow, or steal a Ukrainian license plate for Opa. Not sure how I'm going to explain it when I go through customs in Lviv. Have I mentioned how intimidating these ex-Soviet guards are? Is anyone else familiar with the term 'KGB...?'

                    9. Finish taking pictures and videos of my Ukrainian life - and somehow organize (and minimize?) the hundreds of photos I've already taken over the last few months. I'm hoping to also copy the Internat documentary that our friend Vera, a journalism student from Kyiv, has put together to show everyone back home. It will also hopefully be used as a great resource for Beyond Borders or anyone interested in future placements.

                    10. Finalize my Vienna plans. I've booked a hostel (Mom, it seems safe, no worries) and have a few ideas of what I'd like to see and do in Austria... but am definitely open to any other suggestions from anyone that has visited the area before!

                    11. Have an order of Krapka fries, one last time. Given my reputation as a French fry connoisseur, me and my taste buds have ventured into many strange little restaurants in both Ukraine and Poland in search of the perfect fry. Turns out the ultimate Фрий (fries) were on the menu of our neighbourhood bar, Kрапка. Random fact of the day: in Ukraine, I have to pay for ketchup seperately. It's not free. It's been an issue.

                    12. Somehow bid farewell to the people that I have met and grown to love and appreciate here in Ternopil. My Ukrainian 'family' consists of Slava, who has graciously opened up her home and her life to an overwhelmed Canadian kid; her sons, Ihor and Olleg, their wives, Iryna and Tania, her granddaughter Ira, and her sister, niece, and grand-nephew Nazarycik. Other people who have been a huge part of my life here are our friends and tutors, Olga, Yevhen, and Oksana; our translator, Orest; Gayla and Paul, the American missionaries; Jill, another American with a heart of gold; the church community of Calvary Chapel; and The Davids (David Alenga and David 'Kenya'); Miri - the Third Musketeer and fellow partner in all activities Internat-related; and countless others who have welcomed us here.

                    Veka.


                    Века (Veka) is, like Deanna, grouped with the second-youngest class of girls. She is eleven years old, and is a big fan of hugs. She knows that despite my tough appearance (right?), I'm actually a softie deep down inside. She caught on to this little known fact quite recently and has been hunting me down for more hugs ever since.

                    Veka is a nickname, as her full name is Veronica. And not surprisingly, there are several Vekas/Veronicas currently living at the Internat (as well as several Yulias, Jannas, Iras, Natalias... the Ukrainian name database seems limited, no?).

                    One of Veka's trademarks is, unfortunately, drool. I like to think of this trademark as simply one aspect of Veka's charm :) She has big, gorgeous brown eyes, lips that would make Angelina jealous, and an all around sweet persona. Veka is non verbal, and to communicate, we rely on charades. She is not particularly social; she tends to sit alone or hover behind the rest of the girls. She is shy, but we have seen her begin to progress relationally over the course of the summer.

                    Veka enjoys being outside, whether in the park or sitting in the courtyard. The animal puppets were a hit with Veka, in addition to the bubbles Gayla and Jill distributed last week Tuesday.

                    7.29.2009

                    Deana.


                    Діяна (Deana) will be ten in September, and is part of the second-youngest class of girls. Deana has Down Syndrome, and her parents often visit her, in addition to taking her on holidays [according to the Internat documents that we viewed a few weeks ago]. The fact that Deana does have parents who haven't officially lost custody of her and even take the time to visit her is rare. In this way, she is one of the lucky ones at the Internat as she has somewhat regular contact and exposure to family life. Many girls have been abandoned at birth, are unaware of their parents whereabouts (or even their parents identity!), have experienced the death of one or both parents, etc... the circumstances for each girl are unique (as well as heartwrenching).

                    Deana has a raspy voice, and she is a fast talker. When I see her, our conversations tend to be abrupt - they sound something like this: "Dobrahdenjennyfuryahksprahvay?" She's got drive and spunk, which is great to see. This gives me some hope - maybe (just maybe) she will not have to live in an institutional setting for the rest of her life.

                    Deana is always on a mission, always on the go. This is especially true at the Internat park, when a particular swing (The Best Swing... emphasis necessary, as use of this swing can be very competitive) is free. Deana literally bolts over to The Best Swing, and it seems to be her happy place. She'd swing all day if she could.

                    Deana is very social. She has strong motor and communication skills. Besides swinging, she also loves to pick flowers (I was presented with a huge bouquet of daisies yesterday).

                    7.28.2009

                    Vera.



                    The last of the malankas (eight girls in total) is six year old Віра (Vera). Vera is Miri's 'little buddy,' she is also a little ray of sunshine. The picture above is of Vera in action: she is absolutely full of smiles, always laughing. Once this girl gets going with the giggles, it is tough to calm her down...

                    Vera is one of the most high functioning malankas. She has strong motor skills, a large vocabulary, and is very talkative. Able to communicate with all three of us in addition to those around her, Vera is inquisitive, full of questions. She seems to know what is going on with the rest of the girls in her group, whether we are in their classroom or playing in the park outside and shares this information with us (though our Ukrainian is of course, limited).

                    We did not see much of Vera for the first two or three weeks of our work at the Internat. According to the documents, both of her parents have passed away, so we are unsure where she was - she appeared out of nowhere (we are generally not provided with updates on the girls' whereabouts if we do not see certain girls for a period of time).

                    Friendly and full of enthusiasm, Vera is content with her environment. She looooves spending time on the teeter totter and hanging upside down on the monkey bars with Znyjana. She prefers the park to the classroom, and is a positive influence with her fellow malankas.

                    7.25.2009

                    Merma.



                    I affectionately call Марусія (Maroosia) by a nickname: "Merma." Now, Orest has told me that merma is a Ukrainian word that refers to an old, unattractive woman. I had no idea - this nickname was not meant to be offensive for Maroosia, it is just the result of me asking her what her name was. Her verbal skills are weak, yet she was able to answer quietly, "Merma." And so I refer to Maroosia as Merma, as an innocent term of endearment.

                    One of the eldest girls of the Internat, Merma is 26 years old. She is a child at heart; her abilities reflect this. She adores anything that is soft and cuddly, whether it is a stuffed animal or another person. I've often been the target of her bear hugs. I sometimes feel as though I have a shadow, when Merma is trailing behind me when we are outside in the park or in the courtyard.

                    Merma is taller than me, and I don't think that she realizes how strong she is (for example, the bear hugs - I've been squished as a result of these on several occasions). She tends to scrunch up her face to express her moods, whether she is happy, sad, excited, or scared. For the most part, Merma is non-verbal. She communicates by various gestures and sounds, and once in a while uses the few words that she does know.

                    Merma is also fascinated by random objects, just as several of the other girls are. Objects may include string, paper, a broken toy, or a scrap of garbage. She was especially ecstatic on our animal theme day, when I gave her a chicken puppet - her face was priceless. Merma also loves bubbles, holding hands, and her pink tshirt :)

                    7.23.2009

                    Vaselena.


                    Васельіна (Vaselena) is fifteen years old, and to be brutally honest, I wasn't all that fond of her at first. I found her antics to be rather obnoxious, and thought that she was acting out on purpose due to a need for attention. I did not want to fan the fire (or as Gayla would say, "Don't feed the dray-gon...").

                    But think about that need - ALL of these girls are in desperate need of attention. I've said it several times before, that because of the way that the Internat is structured, negative attention is still attention. And negative attention is still better than recieving no attention whatsoever. So, let me reintroduce you to Vaselena.

                    At fifteen, Vaselena is grouped with the second class of girls. I have yet to see an angry or upset version of her, as she is always in the best of moods (sounds impossible, but it's true). She is an intense and energetic girl, and she is LOUD. Vaselena is easily excited, and the smallest things seem to thrill her - for example, painting her face, a hug, stickers, bubbles. Things that may seem insignificant to me are treasures to Vaselena.

                    Vaselena does not have an extensive vocabulary or particularly strong verbal skills, but she makes up for this by the wide variety of noises that she makes. She tends to be the first person that we hear when we arrive in the morning, and she gives us a royal welcome daily. The three of us thought that the girls would be used to us, maybe even bored of us by now. Nope. Every single morning, we hear a mix of crazy noises and see Vaselena bolting across the park, just about bowling us over with her hugs.

                    We were able to recognize Vaselena from the pictures taken by previous Beyond Borders alumni. She has a twinkle in her eyes that never disappears, and a smile that is too big for her face. Her blonde hair is buzzed short, and is all limbs - very tall and lanky. Obviously very mischievous, Vaselena also is incredibly affectionate ...to the point where it could be borderline inappropriate. I often scold her, trying to convince her to stop swatting my butt (I appreciate the flattery and all, but really, it's getting old) or to simply let me go.

                    Vaselena has so much energy, she doesn't seem to know what to do with it. It is a shame that there is not more organization or programming at the Internat, where this restlessness could be channeled positively and productively. We have initiated a few different ideas with Irena; the problem is working around The Director (side note: capitalized intentionally... he is very mysterious and also rumoured to be very corrupt. I feel as though I am introducing an evil character in a fairy tale, like Ursula the Sea Witch or the Wicked Step-Mother).

                    Lastly, Vaselena's favourite place appears to be the park on the Internat grounds. She seems happiest when she is outside, hanging upside down on monkey bars (or anything else, for that matter). She also loves using the swings (another important side note: swing time can be quite competitive - this will be discussed/explained in the future).

                    "just dance."






                    On a lighter note (in comparison to the latest Інтернат news, at least) - we're still hoping to go ahead with our concert plans, to be held during the first week of August. As Lady Gaga would say, when times are tough, "Just dance, it'll be okay..."

                    As of this point, we haven't heard whether or not community visitors will be allowed to attend. But if worse comes to worse, it will be a great chance for the girls involved to dress up and perform for the staff [as well as the rest of the girls who are not necessarily participating].

                    I managed to get ahold of some footage of recent dance practices... the choreography is supposed to be top secret and all, but I'm posting a sneak peak for you since you may not be able to fly in to Ternopil for the big day. Enjoy!

                    7.21.2009

                    Інтернат emergency.

                    -
                    While we were in Poland, Internat staff discovered that Marina, 23, is five months pregnant. We were told about this 'emergency situation' (their reference to Marina's pregnancy) once we returned to work last Wednesday. Thankfully Orest was with us that day, translating through the chaos... we would have been lost without him amid the confusion.

                    I'm sure some of you (most of you?) might be thinking, How does a girl get pregnant at an isolated, all girls orphanage?! I'll explain what I can, which isn't actually a whole lot. I encourage you folks at home to read Jessica's blog, as she has posted her reactions to this situation and explains it well.

                    There is an Internat for boys that occasionally partners with our girls' Internat. When these boys reach a certain age, they are 'graduated' or transferred to an old age home. The old age home that they move to happens to be around the corner from the Internat for girls. According to Bogdan, a certain young Casanova named Sascha frequently visits our girls. Sascha has had relationships with several girls; some of these relationships have also resulted in pregnancy. Yet these pregnancies were discovered early on, and were immediately 'taken care of' (read: terminated, aborted).

                    Bogdan has done his best to discourage Sascha from visiting the Internat. But as Sascha is bigger and stronger than Bogdan, he can easily intimidate him, usually pushing him around and by making other threats of violence. There is only so much that Bogdan can do. The staff of the Internat also need to be held accountable for ensuring a safe and secure environment for every one of the girls who call the Internat home.

                    In the past, all girls of a certain age were regularly checked for pregnancy on a monthly basis. As mentioned earlier, if a pregnancy was discovered, an abortion would immediately follow. Marina's pregnancy had not been 'discovered' as these monthly checks have not taken place for the last four months. Others noticed Marina's fuller figure as she worked in one of the gardens recently, and sure enough, Marina is approximately five months along. This is why Internat staff refer to the circumstances as 'The Emergency,' and girls over 12 were made to take pregnancy tests right away.

                    The Internat director has since sent Marina away, to an orphanage in a smaller village. We have been told that this other orphanage is worse off: the conditions are poorer, and the girls there have less resources/support then even our girls do. Marina left the Internat at some point over the weekend; the last day that we saw her was on Friday. Apparently, the director was also upset at how far along Marina's pregnancy is - for it is too late to abort, and he had suggested giving Marina some sort of drug that would kill the baby. (Again, I am just explaining the circumstances going on the limited information that we have been given.)

                    So, it was decided that the best 'solution' for 'The Emergency' was to dismiss Marina. We have also been told that she will have a C-section and will have her tubes tied (I apologize for not knowing the appropriate term here!). I am unsure as to whether they intend to schedule the C-section soon, assuming that the baby will not survive, or if they will allow Marina to carry the baby to term and then place the baby in yet another orphanage. Either way, Marina does not have a voice in the whole scenario, over her own body, her own child, or her own life.

                    This unexpected turn of events has led to a million questions, with very few (if any) answers. We are no longer allowed to take the girls into Ternopil for further excursions, we assume that this is to limit outside contact and to keep a tighter rein on the rest of the girls. We have instead held mini-excursions for small groups of girls within the Internat campus, to make up for the fact that we can no longer visit the city with them. At this point, we are not even sure if we will be allowed to invite our host families, friends, and other community members to the concert we are holding in August.

                    As Jessica writes on her blog, the three of us are completely, absolutely overwhelmed with this situation, how it has been handled, and the issues that are related.

                    We debated posting this story on our blogs, but I firmly believe that in order to improve conditions at the Internat we must shed as much light on the circumstances as possible. If we do not share their stories and experiences, they remain hidden and any future change is impossible. Awareness is something, a step forward, and is at least better than sweeping the ugly bits under a rug.

                    I hope that there is truth to what I said to Jess and Miri on Monday, "The more light that we can shed on the Internat, the more accountablity we hold them [director, staff, etc.] to."

                    7.20.2009

                    the latest.

                    -
                    I know it's cliche and all, but the time in Ternopil has flown by. I honestly can't believe that in about three weeks, I'll be home again. Readjusting to Canadian life. Reuniting with friends and family. Eating pizza pockets again, and cereal, and spinach dip, and salt and vinegar chips... As much as I love Slava, I'm a little sick of omelettes.

                    Anyways -- I wanted to provide a reallyreallyreally brief update on Ukrainian life, an aside from the recent Internat profiles that I have posted. This week we have begun planning a concert with the girls, and we hope that we'll be allowed to bring in people from the community to watch the performance. We're hoping to make up an audience of our host families, tutors, university contacts, church family, and anyone else that we've managed to connect with over the last two and a half months.

                    Trying to organize the girls, maintain their attention (not to mention my own very short attention span!), and choreograph a dance definitely keeps us busy in addition to our regular Internat 'routine' (I use the word routine very, very loosely!). Tomorrow Gayla will be visiting again, accompanied by her friend Jill. Jill is a teacher visiting from the States, and will be here until the beginning of August. It's a relief knowing that there are people besides us who are consistently supporting the Internat; definitely a blessing.


                    Photo credit: Jessica Vorsteveld.


                    Before we left for Poland, a small celebration had been planned at the Internat by Bogdan. Bogdan is a grandfather figure to all of the girls, and has been a great resource and help for us. He provides keys to the auditorium, rigs up the stereo, takes the girls berry picking, and is generally a positive figure in their life. (Another blessing.) He also plays the accordion, and has recently been hooked on the Hokey Pokey (and makes me sing it constantly). Bogdan's party was a good time, a great midweek boost for the girls as well as ourselves.

                    Nastya.



                    Настія (Nastya) is ten years old and is (surprisingly) grouped with the malankas. The thing is, she has clearly outgrown this age group as she is often babysitting the smallest ones (i.e., Olya, Irka). She spends the rest of her time trying to keep up with the second group of girls. The only reasoning I have seen for considering Nastya a 'malanka' is that she sleeps in the same bedroom. (The 'malanka' bedroom is the largest, and has ten beds in it. The rest of the bedrooms, which the older girls share, only have four beds.)

                    Nastya also functions at a much higher level in comparison to the other malankas. She does not have any obvious delays, disabilities, or handicaps that we know of. She has excellent communication skills (despite sometimes using her words to aggravate us with a snarky tone!). She is clearly very bright, but unfortunately, the Internat structure does not offer any formal education or any other outlet to channel this energy.

                    While Nastya doesn't fit with the malankas, she doesn't quite fit in yet with the second (read: next oldest) group of girls either. My guess is that this is because most of the girls in this class are between 11 and 13, and Nastya is a very 'young' ten. She's almost there, but not quite... as if she is hovering between the two groups until she figures out the best way to fit in with the others. She's just trying to keep up. I think this aawkwardness explains the split in her behaviours - often she acts out, sassily sticking out her tongue or mouthing off, generally obnoxious. The rest of the time she behaves more appropriately: happy, energetic (and especially eager to ham it up if she sees a camera). Like all of the girls, Nastya is in dire need of positive attention and someone to nurture her. And because of these circumstances, any attention - even if it is negative - is still considered better than recieving no attention at all.

                    Nastya is tough, maybe from being bounced around between age groups and not having a sense of security. She has an attitude. She is fiesty. She has become so much friendlier since our first few visits, and enjoys being involved in any sort of activity. Nastya especially loved the picture frame project that we did last week (craft supplies courtesy of my Auntie Cheryl back home, much thanks!).

                    7.19.2009

                    Lecia.



                    At age 26, Льесія (Lecia) is one of the eldest girls living at the Internat. She grouped in the seventh (read: oldest) class of girls and is quite independant. She displays a strong sense of responsibility as she completes routine tasks - which may involve supervising the 'malankas' at naptime, tidying up after lunch, or mopping the hallways.

                    Lecia made quite the impression on us during our first few visits, as she was one of the most enthusiastic dancers (and always sported her trademark green track suit). Her moods change quickly and drastically, as Lecia can go from upset to calm to mischievous within a span of ten minutes.

                    Lecia's verbal skills are minimal, but her communication skills are fairly strong considering. Through the combination of the words she does use, the sounds (and grunts) she makes, and her various facial expressions, we are usually able to understand whatever message Lecia is trying to convey. She also has a sly sense of humour, and despite our limited Ukrainian vocabularies, we have been able to joke together (Lecia usually shakes her finger at me when this takes place).

                    For the most part, Lecia seems to be content... especially if we give her a few moments of undivided attention. She roams the Internat hallways in her free time, and once followed us to the bus stop. Lecia will be 'eligible' to live at the Internat until she turns 35, due to recent changes in age policies.

                    7.18.2009

                    Inessa.



                    Інеса (Inessa) is 17 years old, yet looks as though she is only 11 or 12. We have been told that she is the only Jewish girl of the Internat. When we first met Inessa, two things were memorable about her:
                    1) her constantly runny nose (Miri dubbed it 'Niagara Falls'), and 2) her hyper-nervous actions. She seemed afraid of us no matter how we tried to reach out, no matter how we tried to connect.

                    Several weeks later, Inessa's nose is constantly runny. But now she allows us to clean her face. She is still extremely nervous, always pacing, always breathing heavily and rapidly, and always waving her hands. But now she will accept a hug, and begin to calm down when we rub her back. Overall, her actions are much less frantic. Best of all, we get to see her truly light up - her shy smile is absolutely huge. It has been amazing to see her slowly (but surely) become more and more comfortable with us.

                    Inessa seems to be grouped with the girls in the fourth classroom, although that is only my educated guess. She can often be found pacing the hallways of the Internat, and prefers to be on her own. She is non-verbal, and makes a few simple sounds which tend to accompany excitement.

                    A related anecdote: lately, Inessa has shown signs of an innocent crush on Orest, and stubbornly stays by his side on the days that he translates for us. Inessa will wait patiently outside a door if Orest disappears into a room - for more than an hour at a time. (It's kind of adorable to witness). Orest has a good rapport with her, and its further proof of how far Inessa has come out of her frightened shell since the early weeks of our work!

                    7.16.2009

                    Zoreana.



                    Зореяна (Zoreana) is seven years old, and has a few 'Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde' qualities. Some days she will be in a fantastic mood, eager to play with anyone and everyone. On other days she takes a turn for the worst - is snappy, mouthy, hitting people as well as spitting on them. With Zoreana, we never know what we're gonna get.

                    It took Zoreana a few days to warm up to us; initially she would not respond to anything we would say or do. She seemed to be oblivious to anything else going on around her, and would sit and stare into nothingness. By now, Zoreana's definitely come out of her shell (has she ever!) but can still be a bit of a space cadet, removing herself between activities and her own world.

                    She is also incredibly mischievous, often seeking attention. (Keep in mind that at the Internat, negative attention is still attention, and is better than being ignored.) Zoreana is grouped with the 'malankas', and more often than not seems to be bored. She is perceptive and smart, but is not stimulated or challenged. The lack of programming at the Internat means that the girls do not have consistent opportunities for growth and/or skill development.

                    7.15.2009

                    100 words or less: Krakow edition.

                    Trains. Tylenol. Trams. Tourists. Toast (lots of toast). Hocus Pocus Hostel. Unlimited coffee. Nutella. A tram party. Rynek Glowny. Auschwitz-Birkenau. Haunting. History. Florianska Gate. Flamethrowers. Wieliczka (salt mines). Wawel Castle. Walking tours. Kazimierz. Kebabs. Mmm... Kebabs. And panini. And pretzels. Pizza at midnight (the best kind). Exploration. Cloth Hall. Main Market Square. Dancing. Nightlife. Cafes. Architecture. Adventures (so many adventures!). Fellow Canucks. Speed limit debates. Sunday markets. Hostel friendships. Golonka. Nuns. Tons of nuns! Nowa Huta. Buses. Borders. Hours and hours, happily wandering. Wanderlust.

                    7.10.2009

                    good morning, Krakow!

                    -
                    A quick post from POLSKA...

                    We - the three musketeers, Jessica, Miri, and myself - are currently exploring Krakow, Poland. We managed to take a few days off from our work at the orphanage, and this journey has already proved to be an all around great 'boost' from our routines in Ternopil. A chance to clear our heads, relax, explore, and escape for just a few days is bliss.

                    Last night we wandered around the main market square, enjoying the street theatre festival and all the characters out and about. One of my favourite things about Krakow this far is the aromas floating out from the little pastry shops that are absolutely everywhere... I have yet to cave in, I'm sure that before today is up I'll cave and snack on delicious Polish donuts.
                    Today will be spent wandering around the city, and tomorrow we have booked tours to the salt mines as well as Auschwitz-Birkenau. Sunday's plan involves free museums and the Wawel Castle, and we hope to return to Ternopil at some point on Monday.

                    To say that I have been bitten by the travel bug is an understatement... God's handiwork is found in every nook and cranny, in every new city, in every new acquaintance. Life is beautiful, breathe it in.

                    Mmm... Wanderlust!

                    7.07.2009

                    Irka.



                    Іра (Ira) is the truly the littlest girl at the Internat. According to the records, she is five years old; initially, we had been told that she was only four. The three of us all know her by a different variation of her given name Irena. I know her as Irka, Jessica knows her as Irenka, and Miri may refer to her as Ira. [Side note: for simplicity's sake, as well as the fact that there are several Ira's at the Internat, I'll refer to her as 'Irka' here.]

                    As the youngest (the baby of even the 'malankas'), Irka is rarely short of attention. A few of the older girls look out for Irka. Ira (15 years old, and one of several Ira's!) often watches her in the malanka room. One of the Yulia's has been playing with her lately at the park (they both love the swings). Nastya is either holding her or scolding her, and I've also seen Alina (aka the infamous 'Alina-Boss') calm Irka down at nap time. Today, some of the girls had even placed her into a crib for their dolls (see? never short of attention!).

                    Irka is non-verbal, but not at all quiet. She has quite the growl, and it is surprisingly loud, given her petite size. Watch out world, when Irka is frustrated! She's definitely not shy about sharing her emotions. When she is upset, she crosses her legs and then puts her face down to the ground. She tends to rock herself (and growl) at the same time.

                    Always on the go, Irka is spunky and can be aggressive. She is affectionate, and I'm no stranger to her slobbery 'kisses' - she opens her mouth and digs her chin into my face (or leg, or arm... whatever is closest at the time). This is accompanied by her little fist twisting my nose off, so that I can no longer breathe well enough to wrestle her away.

                    7.04.2009

                    Janna.



                    Джанна (Janna) is 22 years old - the same age as me. More of a peer than a child! As she is in her twenties, she is one of the oldest (or is it eldest?) girls at the Internat.

                    [Another side note: while going through the records on Thursday, Luba explained that the girls are now able to stay at the Internat until they are 35 years of age. This is a fairly recent amendment to the old procedures; in the past, girls were only able to live there until the age of 25. This policy change took place in 2007 - so all of the girls are still 25 or younger, but have future security and care for at least a few more years. However - back to Janna.]

                    Janna is very trusting and soft spoken, a sweetheart. She tends to appear out of nowhere - she must have a sixth sense for when we are about to start an activity because she is always ready to involve herself, it doesn't really matter what we happen to be doing. Despite her relatively quiet personality, she has been so open to us and is friendly and patient, with us and with the rest of the girls.

                    This past week, Janna and I were able to spend a bit more time together preparing the strawberries on Canada Day. She followed me back into the building, and understood my request for some sort of container for the berries. She was SO eager and excited, she ran to the kitchen and ran back, berry-bowl in hand. She gathered Lesah and Yulia (note - not the Yulia previously introduced to you... there are quite a few Yulias living at the Internat!) to help. Within minutes, we had a great little production line going, mostly due to Janna's enthusiasm for the task. In no time at all, we were back outside distributing juicy strawberries to the whole gang.

                    Janna does not demand or seek out our attention, and displays a calm, gentle nature with everyone. She is content to be in the background, soaking it all in. Her enthusiasm this past week made a simple task a fun experience. I'm sure there will be more of these experiences over the remaining weeks.

                    7.03.2009

                    Yulia.



                    Уюлія (Yulia) is ten years old, and is in the second youngest group of girls. [Side note: the girls are usually grouped by age/size/ability into different classrooms, but the 'malankas' are really the only group with a name.]

                    Yulia is difficult to describe, because it is so hard to get close to her. She is non-verbal, but does make a variety of noises. She is always by herself, and it seems as though she prefers her own company to anyone elses. Maybe this allows her some form of escape.

                    Every day, Yulia can be found sitting on a small chair in the corner of her classroom, alone. The other girls in her classroom give her space to do as she wishes, which is generally to sit in peace. I greet her and ask how she is doing (ie, 'Priveet, yak sprahvay?') and am patiently waiting to garner a response from her. She may be stubborn, but so am I! Most days she doesn't even glance in our general direction when we come through the door.

                    Yulia finds comfort by rocking herself, and this is a common practice for many of the girls - especially the girls who are unable to communicate well or do not really enjoy the company of others. I make her angry when I am near her for too long, and she especially hated my camera (I had a bunch of shots of her hand, swatting me away). Because Yulia distances herself from everyone, it is tough to coax her into participating in most of our activities. Maybe, just maybe, over time she'll warm up to us. I don't want to invade her space, but want to reach out to her in some small way.

                    7.02.2009

                    a reality check.

                    -
                    This morning we had the opportunity to go through the files of each girl at the Internat, through the help of Luba (staff) and Orest (translation allstar). Personally, I had been surprised when Irena (supervisor) gave us permission to access these documents - girls who have spent time at the Internat in past summers did not seem to have a lot of background information on any of the girls.

                    These beautiful, beautiful kids have arrived at the Internat through a wide variety of heartbreaking circumstances. Compiling records on nearly seventy girls, and finding out how they individually arrived at the Internat was a huge task. Again and again, Orest would translate stories of dysfunction and brokenness, of pain and loss.


                    "Her parents are dead."
                    "Her mother is mentally ill."
                    "Their mother was in prison, and their father is dead."
                    "The custody rights of her parents were taken away by the authorities."
                    "Both of her parents are alcoholics."
                    "Her fathers whereabouts are unknown."
                    "Her parents were junkies."
                    "Her mother abandoned her when she was born; the abortion had been unsuccessful."


                    I don't think that I can comprehend these realities just yet. There hasn't been time to process what each girl has been through, how they have been affected by things far beyond their control. Maybe it isn't real to me right now. Maybe it won't even really hit me until I'm home. There is so much more that I'd like to say and express about this experience, I hope in time I'll find the right words.

                    7.01.2009

                    oh, Canada!

                    -
                    Appropriately enough, our second Internat 'theme day' celebrated all things Canadian. We incorporated as much red and white as possible into our activities - Miri brought fresh strawberries from the bazaar (because they are red, therefore festive), and enough make up supplies to paint maple leafs (maple leaves?!) on the girls' faces and to do some festive manicures. We also had a few small flags, and obviously we each wore red and white (this was done without any organization, by the way... we're proud of ourselves).

                    Orest, Miri's host brother and our translator, also visited the Internat today. He made his first appearance yesterday, and all the girls adore him (not much testosterone around these parts, eh!). He helped us with our Canadian festivities today, and we definitely appreciate having him around.



                    6.30.2009

                    summer in the city.

                    -
                    A handful of photos from our second excursion with the girls.





                    6.29.2009

                    Anya.




                    Ання (Anya) is seven years old.
                    She is grouped with the 'malankas', like several other girls I have introduced you to this far. She is not, however, as tiny as Olya, Nadya, or Znyjana. My guesstimate is that she is more than four feet tall (mind you, I don't have my dads gift of accurate estimation. I won't be following in his footsteps as a framer, I'll leave that to my brothers). Anya has big, brown eyes that are always laughing, and she is very affectionate. She loves to touch, grab, hug, and kiss. Anya also enjoys biting me, which is really not as violent as it sounds. Her mouth is usually wide open in a look of excitement, sometimes sharing her saliva with the rest of us :) (And for the record, I'm comfortable with slobber, boogers, and various other bodily fluids now. I like to think of it as bonding.)

                    Anya has limited motor skills. One of the older girls, Marina, usually aids Anya with movement. She supports Anya as she begins to walk, guiding her by the arm. Thanks to Marina's help, Anya is able to spend time at the Internat park with most of the other girls, and is also starting to take steps on her own. Marina will walk ahead of Anya, and keep moving backwards as Anya shakily inches forward. Gradually the distance between Marina and Anya grows, and occasionally is encouraged by onlookers. I admire the patience and gentleness that Marina displays with Anya!

                    Anya also lacks language skills. She makes loud, happy noises and I interpret them as signs of contentment. She loves naptime, finds comfort in sucking her thumb (as shown), and shows affection to everyone (especially Marina!). Like Znyjana, I have yet to see Anya in a less than positive mood. She is a hard worker, I can see this as she is beginning to learn basic movement skills.

                    6.28.2009

                    Znyjana.




                    Like Olya and Nadya, Зніжана (Znyjana) is another 'malanka.' And like Olya and Nadya, Znyjana is absolutely tiny! She is six years old, and is almost always a happy little camper. I haven't witnessed her in a bad mood at any point in the last few weeks. She is content to play by herself but at the same time is very social, and is easily entertained. She also loves being outside, and also loves climbing all over Miri, Jessica, and myself (we are becoming regular jungle gyms).

                    Znyjana has a small vocabulary, so she is more communicative than some of the other malankas. When we arrive, she usually says "Upah! Upah!" in hopes that we will pick her up, and/or tickle her. She tends to repeat what I say, so I tell her that she is "harna, harna" (pretty, pretty!). Another favourite phrase of Znyjana's is "Ni, ni, ni." Meaning "no, no, no." She has a bit of a mischievous side to her. When I notice that twinkle in her eye, "Ni, ni, ni" are usually the next words out of my mouth, and are then echoed by Znyjana.

                    6.25.2009

                    Nadya.




                    Надія (Nadya) is also considered one of the malankas (like Olya, below). She is six years old, and, like Olya, looks much younger than her actual age because of her extremely small size. Nadya prefers to play by herself, and often ignores people (staff, the older girls, as well as Miri, Jessica, and myself) who try to communicate with her. She seems to be non-verbal - although I could be wrong, I might not have been around to hear her. She occasionally laughs, and when she does, she's all smiles. Those big toothy grins are rare but beautiful!

                    Nadya is independent, and is often fascinated by the tiniest objects that are usually overlooked. Some examples are string, scraps of paper, or what parts are left of a broken toy. The picture above displays this! She seems to be happiest when she is outside playing at the Internat park, or when one of the older girls swings her upside down. Maybe we will be able to coax Nadya out of her shell a bit by the end of the summer.

                    6.24.2009

                    Luba.




                    Луба (Luba) is one of the most infamous girls at the Internat. Based on what I had already heard from alum Valerie and Sarah while still in Waterloo, I knew she'd be giving us a run for our money. In the past she had a reputation for being quite violent with the other girls, as well as the volunteers - Sarah had been bitten by Luba more than once.

                    Luba is 17 years old, and we never know what to expect from her - some days she is nearly manic, wildly trying to catch our attention. This may involve a dramatic scene on the balcony, in full view while we take a minute to eat our lunches in the courtyard, or fighting with someone for using her markers. Yet other days I have been pleasantly surprised after spending an hour or so quietly drawing together (no language barrier there!). Yesterday we sat together when Gayla visited, singing along to an old praise and worship video made for kids, totally relaxed. To say the least, my 'Luba experiences' are lessons in patience.

                    As I am getting to know Luba, I guess I'm expecting the unexpected. Frankly, some days she drives us nuts and we are unsure how much attention we should be giving her. Other days we may not see her, and still others she will greet us with hugs, beaming and excited. She is a talented artist, she could dance for hours, and has brute strength like no other (push ups happen to be another interest of Luba's). She is expressive, and moody, and rough. She can amaze us with her energy but also worry us with her temper. Luba, like the rest of us, is a complex work in progress.

                    6.23.2009

                    Olya.



                    Оля (Olya) is considered one of the 'Маланкий' (malankas), which is the youngest organized group of girls at the Internat. Personally, I was shocked when I learned how old this 'malanka' (Ukrainian term for little, or baby) is - she is nine years old!

                    She has koala like characteristics; she is strong (despite being oh so tiny) and can literally "climb" me like a tree. Given this routine, I often refer to her as my little koala.

                    Olya is non-verbal, and has an adorable laugh. Olya loves tickling, blowing kisses, flapping her arms, and eating absolutely ANYTHING (recent snacks have included grass, crumbs, flowers, paper, dirt, pieces of garbage).

                    spoiler alert.

                    -
                    A heads up for you: over the next two months or so, I am going to try my very hardest to provide you with an accurate look at what we are doing at the Internat. In particular, who we are building relationships with --- the gang of girls who are providing us with joy, with frustrations, with laughter, and with tears.

                    Back in Waterloo, I had many conversations with Ruby that were both insightful and inspiring. Thanks to her advice, my head was (and still usually is) bursting with ideas. One such idea was to provide the girls of the Internat with a voice - something which they've never really had. I am hoping to tell their stories, as best I can and to introduce them to the world (even if that world is only made up of curious family and friends back in Canada, it is still a world outside of the Internat walls).

                    Up until this point, it has been difficult to gather any definite information about any one of the girls. As Jessica has recently explained, the three of us may know the same girl by three different names. Many of the girls are non-verbal, others have little to no communication skills. And then there is the whole language barrier to think about. Plus - each girl has arrived at the Internat under unique circumstances. Some have been there less than a year, while others have been there as long as they can remember - the Internat is their whole world.

                    Yet after a meeting last week with Irena, the general supervisor (...or, as Miri says, the house matron) we found out (through our translater, Orest) that there are existing records and documentation of each of the girls, which we are surprisingly welcome to go through. This is a pretty big deal - and will hopefully provide us with some answers to our endless questions. Starting next week, Orest will be joining us at the Internat to help us translate the records.

                    In the meantime - I will post what I can. Bear with me. And fall in love with these precious, awesome, crazy kids.

                    6.22.2009

                    borsch for breakfast... and other dining misadventures.

                    -
                    I am not an adventurous eater.
                    If you know me at all, it is probably something you've noticed at some point. It is unlikely that I'll ever give up staples such as French fries or chocolate, or stop eating cereal for supper.
                    Before I left for the Ukraine, my dear mother would often question me, possibly exasperated at my bad habits. "Jennifer, what on earth are you going to eat when you're there?!" To which I would say, "Whatever they give me," and shrug. The Ukrainian diet was the least of my worries as I prepared.

                    I once heard someone say that Ukrainian women are born to feed people. And whether or not that is legit, my host баба (grandma) Slava is one excellent example of this myth. From day one, Slava has been offering me food constantly... first thing in the morning: "Jenny! Yiste!" right up until bedtime, when tea is prepared and snacks are laid out. Back in May, my first meal with Slava, Ihor (her son), and Iryna (her daughter in law) was an overwhelming smorgasboard of strange new flavours - борщ (borsch), варенуку (varenyky), and mysterious forms of meat (a combination of pork and beef? I keep telling myself it's just chicken) among several other dishes.

                    I always know what will be served for breakfast - my morning routine consists of an omelette (I've eaten approximately 42 omelettes here in Ukraine) and a wee cup of coffee (I'm getting an extra large coffee at the first Tim Horton's I see in August! Ukrainians are not big on caffeine). Lunch is typically sandwiches, or Канапкий, made by the Slavster. And dinner, well, dinner is almost always a surprise.It may be any combination of salad (with a healthy coat of vegetable oil? plus salt), veggies (often fresh from the dacha), borsch, a form of potato, and possibly holubtsi and/or varenyky. This is all accompanied by a side dish of sour cream - Сметана!

                    Even eating chips here has been an edible adventure - I assumed that the blue and green bag with the picture of the octopus on it would be salt and vinegar flavoured, based on the very nautical packaging. Nooooooope. They were calamari chips. Don't think they've made their way to Canada yet, nor have my flavour of the week -- sour cream and cheese. Deeeelicious.

                    One last yummy anecdote: I was able to sleep in gloriously late this past Saturday. I will not even say what time I awoke, because my parents - especially my dad - would be apalled. All I can say is that it was afternoon. (Side note: I am really good at sleeping.) Anyways, Slava was in the kitchen, pointing out the time of day and giving me a Ukrainian lecture. I know that I was not in trouble because she was laughing. However, to my great disappointment, it turns out it was far too late in the day for an omelette or even some coffee - Slava only makes coffee in the am? Unsure.
                    Anyways, out comes a heaping bowl of borsch - beets, beets, and moooooooore beets. As well as holubtsi (made of cabbage and other delightful veggies... Mom! I eat cabbage now!) and potatoes and sandwiches to boot. The breakfast of champions. As delicious as this meal was, I don't think I fully enjoyed it because mentally, I just couldn't consider these dishes breakfast-appropriate. Silly, I know. I learned my lesson. I will not be sleeping that late ever again... while under Slava's roof, at least. I value my routine breakfast of omelettes and coffee (precious coffee) far too much.

                    6.20.2009

                    Па Па, fellow Canadians.




                    Checking in to simply say farewell to the gang from Saskatchewan and that guy from Calgary.
                    From that first sleepy bus ride departing Lviv; to our lunches in the nook, praying for French fries; wandering through Ternopil's centre; our regular walks through the парк - it's been nice to get to know you all and even better to have the company of fellow Canucks in this foreign land.
                    All the best, safe travels as you head home --- you best be keeping in touch. Па Па!

                    6.16.2009

                    a blessing named Gayla.

                    -
                    Today seemed like any other Tuesday in Ternopil - started my day with Slava knocking on my door ("Jennyyyyy... yiste!"), had an omelette and Кава for brekky, caught the #19 with Jessica around 9, at the Інтернат by 10. My morning with the girls involved a rousing game of Monkey in the Middle, some soccer, a lot more dancing (much to Tamara's delight), cuddling the маланка's, and drawing... Miri and I were in a classroom with a few of the older girls, colouring to our hearts' content, wondering what had happened to our third musketeer.

                    Jess finally found us after spending some time outside in the courtyard with an American missionary named Gayla and her Ukrainian translater, Lena. Gayla and her husband have been living in Ternopil for the past thirteen years, and most Tuesdays, Gayla and Lena come to visit the girls of the Інтернат. Gayla has been teaching the girls songs, telling them the stories of Jesus, and simply loving them - slowly but surely breaking down their tough exteriors over the past few years.
                    It was awesome to get to know Gayla this morning, as she is a wealth of information. She knows the stories of individual girls, of how they ended up living here. She knows how to work around the director, to ensure that funds and supplies are beneficial to the girls - not his bank account. And she knows that each girl is of incredible worth, despite the strong social stigma that exists throughout Ukrainian society. She is a sassy woman, matter of fact and clearly full of devotion to her faith. I'm looking forward to her Tuesday visits, and am thrilled to know that we are not the only regular visitors that these girls see.

                    6.14.2009

                    Carpathian recap.


                    -
                    A week ago, Jessica and I found ourselves stuck in a mini bus with two Ukrainian teachers; a gaggle of loud, sweaty teenagers - one of whom had motion sickness; without any fresh air or any idea as to how long our journey would be. And without any clue as to what we were getting ourselves into!

                    It took us roughly four hours to drive from Ternopil to a small village in the Carpathian Mountains. We were welcomed by beautiful, lush scenery, quaint cottages plus a tethered mountain goat who later made quite the impression on me. Click the link, Jessica tells the story well. We explored the riverbank behind our cottage before climbing a miniature mountain that afternoon - approximately 900m or so. Zig zagging our way to the top, we admired the colourful homes found along the trails and the incredible views.

                    Exhausted, we thought our trek downward would be simple... but no. Instead, our guide led us through the forest, explaining the legend of Oleska Dovbush. Apparently, he was the live Ukrainian version of Robin Hood. He and his merry men robbed the wealthiest Carpathians and distributed the goods to their poor countrymen, often hiding out in the forests and caves of the area. Until, unfortunately, he was betrayed by a sly woman and executed - his body parts on display throughout area villages to serve as an example. What a badass.

                    Exploring caves and roasting delicious food was also on the agenda of our first Carpathian day. We woke early the next morning (Tuesday) and boarded the mini bus, on our way to the Карпатський Аціональний Рииодрий Парк, otherwise known as the Carpathian National Nature Park. Home of the mighty Mount Hoverla, Ukraine's highest peak of 2,061m.

                    Our Hoverla guide had much more pizazz and personality than our guide the day before, making the steep hike up the mountain that much more enjoyable. We also had the chance to get to know the posse of teens much better - turns out they were excited to practice their English, and were full of questions about Canada. Guess my first impression of them was quite wrong, and they continued to surprise and charm Jess and I throughout the rest of our time together.

                    Climbing Hoverla has been one of my favourite experiences of the past few weeks - it is incredibly hard to describe just how small and insignificant I felt as I worked my way up the mountain. Completely in awe of my surroundings and Creation in general, I sang to myself as I plugged on up the last stretch... loving life, one hundred percent. We celebrated by building an inukshuk, leaving a little bit of Canada at the top of the world.

                    The rest of our Carpathian adventure was spent around the campfire, drinking and toasting some mighty strong "Carpathian wine" with students and teachers alike (note - it is disgusting), visiting Bukovel (potential site of the 2018 Winter Olympics... right on), and exploring the waterfalls and Hutsul markets of Yaremche. All in all, an awesome three days spent exploring with new Ukrainian friends.

                    6.13.2009

                    from the top of Mt. Hoverla...




                    The view from the top of the world - or at least 2,061m.
                    An incredibly beautiful day spent in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains.

                    6.12.2009

                    one month down...

                    -
                    It seems as though I have spent more than just one month here in Ternopil. I have a general grasp of the language - at least, I'm becoming a great little actress... I can sure pretend that I understand most conversations directed at me! I've gotten familiar with the transportation system - schedules are clearly overrated, and my sense of direction has improved. Slava's antics keep me entertained each day - my favourites are her aerobic routines and the "Richku" song (or is it an advertisement?!) that is always on the radio.
                    And, not surprisingly, I am already brainstorming ways to sneak a child or two into my suitcase home... the girls of the Internat definitely tire us out - maybe even drive us crazy - each and every day, but they are all worming their way into my heart at the same time. I think the growing attachment is inevitable, and leaving this rag tag group of beautiful kids will obviously be difficult. The words "be fully present" were often used in preparation for this journey [see past blog entries, you'll know what I mean], and are words to live by each day - take it as it comes and enjoy it while it lasts.


                    Miri, Jessica, and I spent some time together this morning listing questions to ask Irena (a supervisor at the Internat) and throwing out a variety of ideas. Definitely a successful brainstorming session, another step taken towards defining our Internat plans. The three of us have distinctly different talents and abilities (not to mention personalities!), and I know that we are all capable of accomplishing whatever goals we set for the weeks ahead - if we remain flexible and maintain a sense of humour. As we plan, we're going to have to live by the words of Ms. Frizzle herself, "Take chances, make mistakes!" (...Magic Schoolbus, anyone?!) ...We've got to start somewhere.

                    6.10.2009

                    a very brief update, in 200 words or less.

                    -
                    Finishing classes at THNPU and starting full time work at the Internat has meant a drastic change in my Ukrainian routines. To say that our first week of work at the Internat has been overwhelming is an understatement - we are still learning the names, ages, and abilities of each girl, in addition to brainstorming what sort of activities or programming will make the best possible use of our time there.

                    In addition to introductions at the Internat, Jessica, Miri and I have been busy exploring Ukraine. We spent Saturday in Lviv with the rest of the Canadian students and professors Laryssa and Igor. We climbed to the highest peak above the city (400+ feet above sea level), explored the armoury, wandered through outdoor markets (my personal favourite), had a taste of home - McDonald's, and admired the view from the top of a bell tower.

                    On Sunday, I found myself at an обід feast with Slava and her family, participating in a Ukrainian festival that I have yet to figure out... involving reeds, branches, and an enormous assortment of food and гарілка! Delicious.

                    Jessica and I were able to visit the Carpathian Mountains over the past three days with Slava's granddaughter, Irynka (Ira). We climbed two mountains - over 3,000 feet! A whole new sense of admiration of God's handiwork from the top of Mt. Hoverla - absolutely stunning.

                    [Pictures and a much better description of recent events to be posted in the next few days... ]