Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Gravity of the Situation

One more Ukraine post!

Alright. Before I begin, I just want to give you fair warning: this post is serious. While the previous Ukraine blogs have been funny (or maybe not, maybe I actually have no comedic skills and no one thought my puns and lines were as funny as I did...) I want to make a point with this post and its a fairly serious topic. Ok, ready? I did warn you. Let's go. 
One of the most surprising elements of our Ukraine trip was witnessing the corruption that riddles the nation. As a child I didn't catch on to anything going on around me, or maybe I was sheltered from it, but coming back this time, I was absolutely shocked by just how deeply and tightly the fingers of The System reach. There are major examples, but mostly, on a day to day basis, its the little things that make the difference. 
Ok wait, before I go on, I want to just put it out there that I feel this experience is important for me to retell. You, as the reader, might not care, in which case I totally give you permission to stop reading now, or you might disagree, maybe you know better. But in the event that someone reads this, what I observed, someone who can make a difference somehow, even maybe far in the future, then this post will have mattered. Or maybe its just important to draw a little awareness to a world issue. Ok then. 
The mafia is real. It's not just history, or a game played in summer camp cabins, neither is it confined to Latin and South America as I'd thought (forgive me if this stereotype offends anyone). And its big. It controls everything. Small businesses are shut down if they refuse to "contribute" to the "state". Government officials are... "connected". The richest parts of the city are beautiful and clean and sharply contrast the poorest neighborhoods.  

One of the sharpest shocks was that the mafia is in every organization, including law enforcement. Especially law enforcement. Drivers can be pulled over for anything (or rather, nothing), or even for violating a sign that is illegally positioned. Ok, fine, enforce driving laws, sure that sounds great. But most policemen give the people the option to bribe them immediately, instead of paying the fine. And most people do, because they think they're getting the cheaper option, when, often, if they argued their case they might be able to get off, as the offense was imaginary. 

The corruption reaches even to children. Students do not earn grades, they pay for them. No joke. And it comes from the teacher. A family friend of ours recounted having to decide whether to submit to such corruption, to allow her child a chance to get the grade she deserved, or to oppose the system but cost her daughter her academic record. It's insanity. How can the society hope to improve and evolve past this primitive system when they teach even their children such manners?

Seeing veterans standing on the street begging for a penny from the people they fought for, children worried about their future because they don't want to be part of the system that is inescapable, and family members working to provide for themselves but stay undetected so as not to have to share their "wealth".

It was... very educational. This post is just a very brief glimpse into what we saw or what what I understood. It's difficult to share it accurately. But don't think it's a miserable place; people are happy and do what they can to live how they want to live. But still there's a lot of work that needs to take place, a lot of growth that could help the people so much. Reminds me of why I'm at UWC. I just hope that one day, as cheesy as this souds, each child can earn their grades and have dreams for the future.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Whole New Year

     Boy, if I thought Second Year was going to be anything like First Year, I am learning every single minute how wrong I was. Yes, the big things are the same, but I don't think I realized how powerful the incoming class is. There are 113 new students on campus. That is definitely more than the second years and frankly, though they probably don't know it, the first years are intimidating. Not that they are individually frightening, most of those I've met are really very nice, but that the idea of having first years is terrifying. It means that we are second years. It means we have many more responsibilities, both to them and to ourselves. And it means, as administration keeps reminding us, that in 9 short months we are going to be alumni. Alumni. Ew. I'm sure it'll still be wonderful, UWC is a lifelong community after all, but we'll be gone from Montezuma, NM, and, at least right now, that's scary.
     But it is exciting, of course. It's fun to be the teachers, the leaders, and to be able to share our experience with so many new people. This year we have many new countries represented, and one of the largest classes thus far. I have yet to meet a lot of people, and I hope the firsties know that this time is just as strange for us as it is for them; we've never been second years before.
     It's also extremely challenging, and I feel like there's a lot of pressure to "do it right". Our class is struggling to stay strong together, to not miss our second years so much, and to give the first years the best possible UWC experience. My mom says its a good experience (she's probably right, learning how to balance all of these challenges and new voices) but it's also difficult and I just have my fingers crossed we'll do half as well as our second years did for us last year.
     As it's a busy time I won't write too much just now, but know that life here is as busy and crazy as ever and I'll come back soon!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Life Accomplishments

Second blog of the day, but it's important. I just realized that today is a momentous day! Today I get to cross an item off my Life List: keeping a blog for a year. Yay! Just wanted to share that with you guys and thank you for reading- nearly 5,000 pageviews so far :) Whoo! Keep reading and, as always, feel free to comment, email me, or anything else. Thanks!

Friday, August 16, 2013

We're Baaaaaaack!

Hey y'all. It's been a busy week back here in New Mexico! It's great to see everyone (though we're still missing our second years :( we love you guys!) and we've been working really hard to get all of the orientation components together- just two more days until we welcome 113 new firsties to the UWC family! I won't write too much just now (can't be late for our first hallway meeting!), but I just wanted to check in, let y'all know there will be many new stories coming your way- and at least one more Ukraine post- so get ready!

Love from Montezuma :)

Friday, August 9, 2013


In a quick break from the Ukraine segments, I wanted to take a moment to confide in y'all. Ah, this is difficult to get out... Ok, deep breath. Ready.

I think I might have scared my first year.

There. I said it. In a moment, ok, ok, an hour's worth of moments, I might have been a little overly excited to meet him and talk about the coming school year.

We got together on Wednesday to "officially" meet (B went to my old high school- not only a state- mate, but a city- mate and a... school-mate?) In all fairness I did tell him I was just over excited at that moment and would calm down when we get to school, but at this point I'm just hoping he'll still come.

No, I'm sure that's an exaggeration, and he'll still come and learn I'm not crazy and it'll be great. He really is a cool guy and I'm excited for him to be starting this journey. We're a little different, for example B has had three pet snakes (THREE), likes physics, and theatre. But we're also alike in some ways, we both love languages and international stuff and coffee. Having a first year state mate will be fun and I hope we can be good friends!

And to B: I'm sorry for being a little... Overwhelming? I promise to chill out soon and be normal, or as normal as UWCers can be :) see ya in NM!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The [No One Goes Hungry] Games

     If you think you know anything about Russian cuisine, you're probably wrong. But it's alright, don't worry, I'm here to catch you up.
Here are the basic points you should know:

1) We eat and drink more than just borscht and vodka
2) Russian cooking is... what a good friend of ours calls "labor intensive"
3) If you ever go up to your Russian friend and try to describe that one food you tried last week, "you know, the one with meat inside of dough, it's really good, you know it?" there is a good chance they'll laugh at you. There are at least 5 different foods I can think of off the top of my head that are variations on meat inside dough.
4) You will never, ever, under any circumstance, go hungry in a Russian household. Not ever.

     I've always known that what my parents cook at home is "Russian". Duh. I just never realized how legitimately authentic our home cooked meals are. In Ukraine, I walked into restaurants expecting to get to try really real Russian food. What I was served was almost exactly what I could have gotten at home (so y'all are all welcome to skip the expensive airfare and come over to my house instead).
     There are variations on dishes, of course, just like in any cuisine. Some people add carrots in their salat olivye, some put sugar in varyeniki, and some make okroshka on mineral water instead of kvac. But what holds true for most dishes is the cooking process. I don't mean the ingredients for each dish (although if you have meat and dough you're like 90% there), but the mentality. Russian dishes are not easy to make. There are different doughs for different dishes, varied lengths for cooking, but always a lot of time spent in the kitchen. My mom often prepares Russian dinners for holidays; they usually take a full two days to prepare.
     Nevertheless, Russians will continue to spend such time on their food. Food is a big part of culture. "Well, duh, Jess, just like in any other culture". No, no, I mean like food is a central component, not just for meals but for socializing, at any level. When you walk into a Russian household, we will offer you something to eat and drink. If you say you're not hungry, we'll only bring out 2/3 of what we've prepared. If we ask about seconds, you might as well say "yes". "No" will only cause the babushka (pronounced BA-bush-ka, not ba-BUSH-ka, it's a pet peeve of mine) of the house to tell you "nonsense, you're too thin, have some more". Resistance is futile; we will feed you.
     On the bright side, you can relax and just enjoy the meal- it'll be delicious and mostly healthy. None of this additives nonsense; we like things natural and home grown (like actually, in our backyard, where my uncle keeps 5 cows, 3 calves, a plot of tomatoes, a start to some grapes, and still expanding). Once you've eaten, I'd recommend you stick around for tea and chocolate; we have really good chocolate. I'm pretty sure that in 3 weeks in Ukraine, I drank more tea (a cup after any and every meal, of course) and ate more dessert than ever in my life.
     Anyways, I hope this short look into our culinary world has been enlightening. And don't forget- Kansas is probably much closer than Ukraine, so stop on by and we'll fill you up.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ukrainian Sports

     Across history, one of man's favorite pass times has been sport. For centuries humans have shed sweat and blood in the pursuit of glory, banded together for a common goal, or torn each other limb from limb in passion. Now, you may be thinking "alright, alright, that's all very nice and dramatic, but sports today are controlled and play out on neatly manicured soccer, ahem, excuse me football fields, and in arenas". Not so, my friend. Let me tell you about some of Ukraine's favorite "sports". 
Arguing with Policemen: this sport can accommodate multiple players but is most commonly acted by 1 policeman and 1 civilian. The object of the policeman (hereafter known as P) is to leach as much money from the civilian (C) as possible. This can be done one of two ways: convince C that it will be easier for he or she to bribe P, or, if C is tougher and unwilling to submit to such bureaucracy, to stop two more drivers to act as witnesses and write C a "protocol" (ticket). C's objective is to weasel his or her way out of paying. This can be accomplished through arguing, pleading, yelling, crying, or any other way C can imagine.
*It should be noted that C is often stopped for no real offense or for having offended an invisible sign.     

Pot Holes: Most countries pride themselves on clean, smooth roads for their citizens to use safely, with as few bumps (physical or metaphorical) as possible. Ukraine has evolved past this stage and instead allows drivers to use their time economically, both driving and playing games, in this case: Pop Goes the Pothole. In this game, the player must dodge as many potholes as possible. There are virtually no rules, meaning drivers/players can ignore all rules of traffic (i.e, speedlimits, lanes, and direction) in the prestigious, yet nearly impossible attainment of a smooth journey.     
*Players are cautioned that Pop Goes the Pothole may have minor consequences, including but not limited to injury, loss of vehicle, collision, becoming stranded, or death. 

Guess Who: my sister's personal favorite, this game can be played virtually anywhere with anyone, as long as a conversation is in session. The object of the game is to keep track of who exactly is being talked about. Sound simple enough? The more challenging version is played when the player is actually named one of the more common Russian names; the goal in this case is to respond to your name only when you are actually being referred to. Our particular round (a round may continue indefinitely) included 4 "Natasha"s, 2 "Nastya"s, 2 "Lyuda"s, 2 "Sergei"s, 2 "Igor"s, 2 "Olga"s, and an infinite number of "Sasha"s. (Needless to say, I am quite happy to be named something as completely un- Russian as "Jessika")     
Pear Dodging: may be played with variations of fruits or other falling objects. The game is played when enjoying time outside; do not worry about searching for falling edibles, conveniently there will always be a pear tree exactly where you need to be sitting/standing. Players are advised to cover head immediately upon hearing the rustling of the falling item. Fear not: being hit is not (usually) fatal.     
Hay Wrestling: this game can only be played accidentally, preferably when not properly attired. The name of the game does not refer to wrestling in hay, but rather wrestling the actual hay. Materials include: 1 ton of hay (the pricklier the better), 1 transportation truck, and as few players as possible. The object of the game is to load the hay into the truck with no injury or allergic reaction. Bruises or other battle scars are awarded extra points; allergy should be treated with decades old rubbing alcohol. Haha, good luck!     

*It should be noted that all above- mentioned sports have not been exaggerated, but are the actual reality of the Ukrainian people as observed by my family and me.

Europe 2013

 I named this blog "25/8" in the aspiration to live life to its fullest. This past month feels like I've actually been living 25 hour days of an 8 day week. No one can say we wasted a single moment of this trip. 
     When my mom first called me at school and told me she was planning a trip to Ukraine, I immediately asked to stop in London. Having just looked at a university there, I figured since we'd already be in Europe, why not make a pit stop? Turned out my little sister, too, had requested London, so off we went. 
     My friend, M, lives in London (though unfortunately she was abroad when we visited) and she always gets annoyed when people stereotype London as gray and rainy. Nevertheless its a stereotype for a reason, and we packed accordingly for our visit. Armed with umbrellas and jackets we arrived just in time for a dry spell and the hottest day in seven years. Despite the heat we tackled nearly all of the major tourist sites, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Big Ben, a cruise on the Thames, Millennium Bridge, St. James Palace, Westminster, the Horse Guards, and St. Paul's Cathedral. We also visited some "culturally important" sites including Shakespeare's Globe theatre, Platform 9 and 3/4,  Sherlock Holmes' house at 221B Baker Street, and the Churchill Cabinet War Rooms. 
     As I've been learning in my anthropology class, to understand a culture its important to go native. I'd say we did pretty well; in 4 days we managed to conquer the metro, excuse me Tube, and bus systems, get thrown out of a pub, and enjoy fish and chips. 
     It was an incredible trip and a lot of fun. I always love exploring new countries and cultures and London didn't disappoint. 
     From London we flew to Amsterdam and then on to Ukraine. The following three weeks were... interesting, to say the least. In short, we spent 4 days in Kiev, 9 days in Donetsk, 1 in Slovyanagorsk, and 3 in Milekina. All the adventures cannot possibly be described in a single post so I'll have a short series of posts summarizing some of the highlights. Hope y'all enjoy learning a little about Ukrainian culture! :)