Cliff Gardner

Friday, March 23, 2007

Good luck at NPDA, Willamette! :-)

For the second straight weekend, I will miss a national debate tournament starting in about three hours...not that I counted or anything. So, to honor all the debate I'll be missing, here's a list of reasons why speech and debate prepared me extremely well for my job teaching in a Ukrainian school:

--the work never stops, and I can handle it. Just as I was constantly researching and preparing for tournaments, I am pretty much always lesson planning.

--I am flexible. This is key in the Peace Corps. At tournaments I would get a wacky impromptu topic or a strange resolution about an issue I didn't know much about, and I often had to think on my feet. This prepared me well for random schedule changes at the last minute--I'm not the least bit taken aback by them and I never was, and I think forensics is a big reason for that.

--public speaking skills come in handy. I don't think this needs much explanation, but I'm basically responsible for keeping the attention of teenagers for hours at a time, in a resort town when they could be easily at the beach, using nothing but my entertaining and hopefully interesting speaking voice. THANKS, EIGHT YEARS OF COMPETATIVE SPEAKING! I'm about as prepared for this as I could ever hope to be.

--I can stay strong in the face of angry folks. See, students get daily grades in Ukraine, and every so often a student will just disagree with the grade I gave them for the day and loudly say so. One thing judging debates between ego-filled college students for a year gave me is the ability to defend myself calmly and rationally, even when people are very mad.

--I can really wear a suit. I had to dress up for speech and debate, and now I dress up every day. There's something comforting, and even exciting, about that for me.

The moral is this: if you're reading this and are involved in speech and debate, you would probably be a great Peace Corps Volunteer!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Back to telling jokes!

Me: Dayte pajalusta decit yitza. (give me please ten eggs)

Nice lady who works at the store by my apartment: y menya nyet. (I don't have any)

Me: Hmmm...y vas yest kuritza? (do you have chicken?)

NLWWATSBMA: Da, konyetchna. (yes, of course)

Me: Ya ne ponimayu! Yest kuritza no nol yitza? Pochimu? (you have chicken but no eggs? WHY?)

NLWWATSBMA: *laughs hysterically for two minutes*

In unrelated news, the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence happened this weekend. I was the guy waiting for the internet cafe to open at 8 am on Sunday so I could get the results. Yup, I really miss debate!

Monday, March 12, 2007


This is one of those stories that starts off with good intentions and ends with me flooding me apartment building. Brace yourself. My bathtub been draining really slowly so by the end of my bucket bathes I had been ending up standing in six inches of soapy, shampoo-filled water, and last night I decided to fix this problem myself, because by golly, I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer! :-) So, after my bath and as the water was draining, I figured I would just take the grate off the drain, remove whatever was clogging it, and screw it back on. What I didn't realize, though, was that the pipe that the water drains out of underneath the tub is only attached to the bathtub by the very screw that holds that grate in place (in my defense, doesn't that strike you as a pretty terrible system to begin with? Anyway...), so when I un-screwed the grate, the pipe dropped three inches lower from the bathtub and six inches of water immediately started to flow onto my bathroom floor.

After my panic attack subsided a little, I realized what was going on and decided to push the pipe back up to the tub with one hand and screw the grate back in with the other, a very difficult enterprise that requires lots of stretching and patience that I lacked while kneeling in a pool of murky bath water. After trying for a few minutes and with most of the water drained out anyway, I decided to just clean the clog out with a pencil and try again later. For the record, there is nothing in the world more disgusting that cleaning out SOMEONE ELSE'S hair clogs from your bathtub drain. It looked like a small petting zoo had crawled in there and died. Anyway, an hour and a sore neck and back later and I was able to screw the pipe back on. My bathtub now drains beautifully and the pool of water is gone...where it went, I can only assume, it to the apartment below mine, but no one angrily pounded on my door last night, so I assume everything is ok. The moral of the story is that plumbing is hard and we shouldn't ever make fun of plumbers. And that I'm an idiot sometimes. :-)

Friday, March 09, 2007

You know that scene in Rocky III?

I went for my first run in four months today and although it was painful, the fact that I was running on a beach (think Sly Stallone in Rocky III) while listening to "Eye of the Tiger" certainly helped. Also, I got stared at quite a bit, but I think that had as much to do with my FSU Film School hat as it did with me running. It's getting hotter--about 55 degrees today--and Ochakiv is just gorgeous! I've just started to realized that there might be a bigger problem for me down here than it being too cold--it could get too hot, and without an air conditioner it could get pretty bad. Still, I don't think I get to complain about my resort town being too hot! Today is International Women's Day (meaning we don't have school), so I gave my coordinator and all the other women of the English department at school some chocolate and one of the cards my mom made and sent me, and they all went over really well. I even gave a card/candy set to my babushka, the grandma who I stayed with for a few months, and it made her day I think. Glad I could help. I love and miss you all!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Don't flush groceries

A few nights ago my land lady came over and explained that she was collecting three Griven (Ukrainian money) from everyone in the building to fix the plumping. Apparantly there had been some problems, and I was asked to not flush potatoes and/or maceroni that I don't want down the toilet and instead put them in the garbage like everyone else. I was A) entertained and B) slightly defensive as I explained that although I would be happy to pitch in my three griven, I NEVER flush groceries. Hahahaaa...that's a first. It's worth mentioning that the entire conversation took place in Russian, so I guess my language skillz are coming along.

I came to two realizations yesterday. First, I haven't eaten a vegetable in almost two months. Ooops. Second, I have never been happier than I am right now. I work in an exciting and challenging job that I love, I have really great friends, and my emotional, physical and mental health is tip-top. Basically, what I'm saying is this--life is good. Life is very, very good. :-)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

I took advantage of my school being quarantined and went all over Ukraine in the last week. First I went to Konotop (a city of 90,000 north of Kyiv) and visited Jessica from my training cluster for a few days, then spent a day walking around in Kyiv hanging out and waiting for my night train back to Nikolaev, then I hopped on an early morning bus to Odessa (about three hours away) and spent some time with seven other volunteers at a "meet your neighbors" Peace Corps event designed to help us meet other pcv's in the region, and now I'm home with no school until Monday. It was all really awesome, but by the time I got back to my site it had snowed a foot and a half! I'm really glad for my Yak Trax (little snow shoe things that wrap around my boots) because they've kept me from falling about 200,000 times in the last day or so.

Oh, and since it's snowing, I've noticed something else really awesome about Ukraine. See, people here walk pretty much everywhere they want to go unless the weather prohibits it, and no, 18 inches of snow doesn't prohibit it. That means they often take their toddlers with them, and they're sometimes at the age where they're too heavy to carry but not steady enough on their feet to walk a block without falling a lot and hurting themselves despite being wrapped in every piece of clothing in the closet. The solution is really simple. Many Ukrainian parents just set the little guys on sleds and drag them with a string wherever they're going. The visual struck me as really funny at first but honestly I can't think of a better solution to the getting around problem, so at this point I just applaud the creativity and I think it's really very cute.

One more update on my egg addiction. I'm seriously considering just cutting out the middle man and buying a chicken and a hen, sticking them in my pantry, pouring some read wine into their dish and putting on my Purple Rain album. I'm all about efficiency. OH, and I got a huge package from my parents containing books and curtains--so mom and dad win! Kristen and David also win for sending me a postcard with a giant dog on the cover. Yay for mail!