Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Post Script

I'm back in the United States with a laundry list of things I don't want to forget. They're pretty small, looking back, but small is still something.

Пузата Хата aka Puzata Hata. Although I generally shy away from huge restaurant chains, this place was a food haven for us. Most restaurants either had an "English" menu (sometimes so roughly translated that it still seemed to be another language) or we could point to a picture and gesture about what to order, but that always came with a degree of embarrassment, putting ourselves on display as non-speaking tourists. Puzata Hata is buffet/cafeteria-style, so we could just walk down the line with our trays and pick up dishes of whatever looked good. Other perks: a warm, clean place to hang out for as long as we wanted (sometimes hours) without the workers getting grumpy with us,  decent prices. I think my Puzata Hata visits averaged out to about once a week.

One night my sister went to bed early, wishing me good-night in English and then wishing her mom good-night, "Спокойной ночи." This is one of those phrases that plays on repeat in my head, so I can say it pretty well, so after Lesya said спокойной ночи to her mom, I thought I'd try it out. I smiled and said it to Lesya as she shut the door, but before she could leave, her mom started laughing and talking to her. I didn't understand, but Lesya told me, "She says you are a parrot." I can just see this Ukrainian mother, with her little American repeating phrases like a bird. I don't know who laughed more, me or her.

I sat next to an old woman on the bus, and when she tried to ask me a question I had to admit to speaking only English. Like everybody else who I tell "I only speak English," she chattered at me some more in Ukrainian, hoping to make me understand. I smiled, shook my head, and told her "English" again. She smiled and asked me if I spoke Russian, and I answered, "Нет." She laughed and asked, "Deutsch?" With gestures and a lot of laughing, we had a whole conversation, even though we shared no common language.

Russian classes for the teachers were supposed to be weekly, but between the swine flu scare and a lack of communication, we ended up having only 5 or 6 lessons. An older Ukrainian lady, Tania, came around to each school for an hour each week. Since Jill and Lynsie, the other teachers at my school, didn't show up for the lessons half the time, I had one-on-one Russian lessons with Tania. These usually consisted of flashcard practice, reading out loud, conversation practice, and answering questions like "Where is the park?" with "The park is to the left." Tania wrote out by hand information and phrases for us to study, and on the last day even gave us a cd of Russian and Ukrainian music. On her way out the door for the last time, she looked me in the eye and said, "Alena, be happy." Then she looked around, making sure the others couldn't hear, and furtively whispered, "You are my favorite! Shhh!"

From what I gather, this is the general opinion of Ukraine's prime minister, Юлiя Тимошенко:

 This is what she looks like with her face attached:

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