Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On Time and Rivers Flowing

On Time and Rivers Flowing

I arrived in Luhansk in what is euphemistically called the monsoon season. As Nataly and her husband Dima drove me from the airport in Donetsk we were able to watch the brilliant lightning storms that have been plaguing the region in recent weeks. Indeed these storms are far more violent than what we are used to in the northeastern US and continued for much of last week. Their sudden onset was likely to catch someone walking down the street leaving them soaked to the bone and cold.

The storms did cause some damage. The internet servers at the university were damaged, leaving us without the ability to do any online work. In addition, some neighborhoods in the city were left without power for a few days and some regions of the Donbas have been without power for about a week. As those of you who have been to Luhansk know, the storm water drainage system seems mostly to consist of evaporation. When the storms have been particularly violent the streets and sidewalks have become raging rivers. I have been lucky to have been spared the worst of the effects of the storm and have never been more than drizzled upon. My poor friend Kate was caught in one of the violent downpour and told me she was completely soaked in seconds. But since the purchase of an umbrella on Thursday, the weather has been picture perfect and the town has dried out, leaving a few isolated mud puddles and swarms of mosquitoes.

My classes have been going very well. We start at 9am and work until about 2. On a typical day, we start with a warm-up exercise, usually describing what we did the day before (this week we are working on the past tense) and then play a few rounds of a game in which the students have to reproduce a structure built of Legos by giving each other directions. From there, I will give a lecture. This week’s topic is US business culture. The students and I will then engage in a discussion on the topic and then move onto some comprehension and vocabulary work.

I really do not know how I used to get all of that done in four hours. When 2pm comes around, we have scarcely finished our vocab work and I still need to also get the students prepared for their weekly presentation. This week, their presentation will consist of a mock job interview. If we can get the internet back, I will have them do a job search for a US company and then perform organizational research on the company. If not, Helen, my fantastic co-teacher, and I will assign companies to the students and give them a brief rundown of what they need to know to prepare for the interview.

After class, I go to the university café for my dinner. Lunch is the major meal of the day here and it is really too much food. The first dish is a vegetable salad which usually consists of cabbage, tomatoes, and sweet peppers. From there I get a large bowl of borsch. There are several varieties of borsch and the café ladies change it around for me pretty often. Then comes the final course, which consists of meat and vegetables or noodles.

After lunch I go to the Internet Café for a few hours to check my e-mail, Facebook, Kontacte (the Russian Facebook), and my classes for Franklin Pierce. I have been going to the café across the street from the University as I only have 3 hours between lunch and supper- not enough time to go to the center of town. If there is enough time after checking my classes I will walk to the Polana café and have a beer or coffee before supper and read. Vica still works there, and some of the waiters are still there from previous years, but for the most part there is a new batch of waitresses, who have learned the ins and outs of taking care of the “Amerikanitz.”

After dinner I meet with friends or go back to the café to read. After 6 years of coming to Lugansk, I have developed a number of friendships with former students and colleagues. Probably my oldest friend here is Victor. Victor is a bear of a man and the master of all things outdoors. He is now dean of the Institute of Tourism, but his background is in biology and botany. At least once a year, Victor will organize an outing to the university farm and botany research center situated on a beautiful river n the Russian border. A more gracious host and friend you will never find.

It is the custom here to go for walks in the evening, so after my dinner I usually walk with one or two of my friends. The other day I had a nice walk in the university gardens with my friends Alina and Galina. Alina is about to enter the Master’s program here for teaching English. Galina recently gave up her teaching position to explore business opportunities. Sometimes I see Lee and Utoshi, two ladies who are were not my students, but who I met on Facebook. They are both lovers of all things Japanese and fascinating to chat with. Lee was an exchange student in Vermont. Utoshi has never been to the US, but her English is very good. Both are also “foodies” and the pictures they take of their creations make me hungry! Sometimes I see my friend Kate, who is also an English teacher. She teaches English to second graders and has a second job at one of the many English schools in the area. She is also trying to help me with my Russian.

After the walk, sometimes we go to a café for a snack and then I will walk my friends home, or at least to the bus stop. If it is not too late, I will read for a while in my room or call home to the US to see how my son and mom are. Around 11, I call it a night and start the whole process over again.