Saturday, April 25, 2009

This week in Ukraine

Please forgive me if I repeat myself from earlier blog posts. I am writing this at home where I don’t have access to the blog to see what I had previously posted.

Though it is cold here still, the trees are starting to bloom a bit—apricot trees seem to have the first blooms. And plants everywhere are starting to come up, tended lovingly by the babushkas and other women. People are really into gardening here. I wonder how much of that comes from the collective memory of the engineered famine of 1932 in which an estimated 4 to 10 million Ukrainians died. The Holmordor, as it is now called, is consided a genocide by most historians, a deliberate effort of Stalin’s to wipe out the Ukrainian peasantry. One of the PC’s in my group is from Ukraine—she immigrated to America with her parents when she was 5 years old. Her mother’s family was almost totally wiped out by the famine—only one of her six brothers survived. We were sitting around the kitchen table with another one of our instructors from Ukraine, Ira, and I asked Ira if her family was affected by the famine, and she said that everyone in Ukraine was affected by it, that it is a part of every family’s history.I went into the library this week and talked with the libraian in the foreign language department about starting a reading group in English to help people learning English. There is an English Club, as they are called, where people gather once a week to have conversations in English. It has been run the last year or so by John, an 80 year old PC volunteer. Talking with Irynia was an interesting experience. In the US, of course, it would be pretty clear how to go about doing something like that. But in a country where I know neither the customs or the language, even a simple idea—which she was excited about—proved difficult. Of course, there is no money for people to buy books, so I proposed we copy short stories to read, but there is not even money for that. And people would not be able to afford the $2 it might cost to have a story copied. I’m going back on Sunday to talk to her boss, Victoria, to see what she thinks. Today our group visited another NGO, which provides services for families in need-mostly single unemployed moms and their kids. They were a great group—get a lot of their funding from a British humanitarian organization. All of these organizations are run by high energy and very intelligent women who seem totally dedicated to their mission. On a personal note, I’m eating well, but I look forward when I can do my own cooking and eat more fresh vegetables and less mayonnaise! Went to dinner tonight with my group—we had a really nice meal—cost about $6 including drinks and tip. Though that $6 is about a sixth of what they give us to live on for two weeks, so can’t do that too often. Asia, the host family cat, seems to be in heat—kind of makes sense. I can’t imagine people can afford to have their pets fixed. Would also explain the abundance of cats and dogs you see roaming around. Though they all appear pretty well cared for, though we were warned to stay away from stray dogs.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Photos explained

Well, I see my descriptions did not end up with the photos. But I think you can figure it out. I'll try again next time, but maybe if I send few enough photos it will be okay. Or maybe I will try facebook.


Here are some of the PCVTs. The woman in the front with the plaid coat is my language teacher Tamila.
View from the bell tower of one of the ancient churches in Chernihiv.

The bell tower--we climbed to the top.

Asia, our house cat.

Me in front of a staute of Lenin. This is in the town center which is a short walk from my house.

Two sculptures at the retreat center we where at outside of Kyiv right after we got here.

One of the buildings at the retreat center--
soviet built.

My wonderful host family--Lena, Maxim, and Artom (4 year old).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter Day in Ukraine

This is a high holiday here. The more religious--not my family--go to church at midnight and stand until 5am for a continuous service. Someone in my group is going with her host family. She grew up in an Ukrainian family in the states so she has done it before. In my family, we got up early (6am) and took a basket of food to the church to have it blessed by the priests. Which basically is standing outside with a lot of other people, the priest walks by and sprinkles water on you and the food and says something.
I thought we were "going to church" as in the states, and got all dressed up in a dress (my first time). Well, all the other women had on pants as it was a long cold walk. Oh well...another fashion faux pax due to lack of understanding the language. However, I did fit in with the babuskas which is my role here, I believe.
So another week has passed. Working very hard with language lessons, organization visits, and general peace corps info transfer. I'm pretty exhausted by the end of the day, but I usually help Lena cook dinner and sometimes do the dishes. And I like to hang out with them a bit.
We visited an organization this week run by a very passionate woman which works with disabled people--called invalids here. What a hard, hard road they have. Like most of the world, this is a very difficult place to be disabled. There are no services, very little accessibility, and the sidewalks and roads are crumbling and filled with potholes. Even the org's offices in a run down building had steps and no ramp. Also the wheelchairs here are very heavy and clunky. This org has produced these incredible dance performances with abled body and disabled people in wheel chairs--they showed us clips--and you just ached for people trying to dance in those chairs when you know what is available. They also work a lot with children of Chernobyl victims, which unfortunatly is only about 70 miles from here, I believe.
I love all the women I have met who work for the PC (they are all Ukrainians). They seem like very strong feminists, though I don't think they would use that word. This week hopefully I get to visit the League of Business Women, or something like that.
I've been trying to stay healthy--eating as best I can, though it is a high starch diet and low on fresh veggies, because there are few fresh veggies right now. Though they are starting to show up in the bazar. Friday we shopped in the bazar and then cooked a meal at Tamila's house. Very fun. And the bazar is a trip--great place to practice my language skills if I could just understand the numbers well enough to know what they are charging! And are they speaking Ukrainian or Russian or a combination?
I've been walking a lot and trying to do yoga in the mornings. Sometimes I do get waves of what the hell am I doing, but mostly I'm loving the adventure. It's hard to imagine what it will be like when I go to my site and don't have all the support of the trainers and other PCV's that I do here. But I also kind of look forward to it. I like being with the Ukrainians despite the language difference, and sometimes some of the PCV's (as in ex-businessmen who think they know everything) drive me crazy. But, of course, there are also many wonderful PCV's-men and women.
Well, maybe that is enough for now. Hope all is well with everyone there.
Much love from the Ukrainian adventurer.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Week 2

I keep trying to make this post and it keeps disappearing. Ah well....tomorrow I will try a wifi place with my laptop.
I am doing well, am happy to be here, enjoying every minute of this experience. Well, almost every minute. (Sorry about my typing--their keyboard is very sticky). My days so far have consisted of breakfast with the family at 7, leave at 7:30 and walk to the apartment of my language teacher Tamila where I and my "cluster" --4 other PCVT's (PC Volunteer Trainees) have language class from 8-11:30. I am so0000 glad I took that Russian class. Feel like I am doing pretty well, though on the street and at home it is, of course, pretty impossible to understand and be understood! But a few words get in there now and then. And it is only week 1 we have to keep reminding ourselves.
The rest of the day is spent in working in a larger group with training on community development and meeting with organizations and government groups. I usually walk home around 5 or 6, hang out with the family practicing my language and helping Lena cook, sometimes doing the dishes--Max and I take turns--and studying.
Today (saturday) I went with some of the other PCVT's to visit an old church and monastery and underground caves where the monks used to live. Very very interesting. Chernihiv is one of the oldest cities in Ukraine--900 years old.
Tomorrow I am going to the central library where an English club (Ukrainians practicing their English) is run by a 80 year old PCV here. I wondered into the library at some point this week, and they were very excited to see me--the first Volunteer that had come in they said--and they were looking for volunteers to help with the club. This Sunday they are discussing why there are so many single mothers in Ukraine. Should be really interesting.
Next week is the Ukrainian Orthodox Easter holiday--very big deal here, of course. So should be interesting. My family doesn't seem to be religious, but maybe this is when we will go to church (and I will wear a skirt!)
There are mostly older PCVT's here--some of them can be a bit whiny about conditions--but mostly they are a good group. Though I actually like best just hanging out at home with my host family. They are such a loving family, it is nice to be around them.
The food is quite good, though heavy of course on some things I don't normally eat. But what is really wonderful to see, is that Lena makes everything from scratch--and I mean everything. Sour cream, fruit juice, all the vegetables and fruits she uses are mostly preserves she made. If she uses walnuts,she cracks them and picks out the nuts. Stuff like that. It's wonderful to see
Trying to do some yoga in the mornings, walk as much as possible. Did have a bad cold a couple of days this week, but feel okay today. Despite missing you all, I am so happy to get to do this.
They did have a display in the library and there was a picture of Itasca. Made me homesick at bit...
One funny incident. On my way home one day, a babushka stopped and asked ME!! for directions. I had to tell her sorry, I'm from america and don't speak russian. All of which I was able to say in Russian so not bad I guess. Though now Tamila says we should say we speak russian a little... very, very little, I would say.
Much love, Barb

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Week One in Ukraine

Hi friends,
I have so much to tell, I don't know where to start. The host family I am staying with (as of yesterday) is Lena (45), Max (14--knows some English and got me on the internet), and 3 year old Artom, who I have been playing logos with the past hour. They are quite wondeful. Max spent the day walking around the city with me and a group of other PCT (Peace Corps trainees) and their host moms showing us the beautiful old churches and a lovely park.
I am in Chernigi, a city of about 300,000 (though it doesn't seem that big--no high rises, etc) north of Kyiv, not far from the Belarusa border. I'm learning Russian (yeah!) for eventually assigment somewhere in eastern or northern Ukraine, or the Crimean pennisula.
They have a small apartment in one of the old soviet high rises. I have the largest room, which I think normally is their living room. Has a balcony. There are two other rooms, bathroom (with a washer!), and a kitchen.
Unless you have experienced this, and I know a few of you have, it is hard to describe--being in a totally foreign environment, living in close quarters with basically not understanding almost anything that is being said. It is pretty overwhelming, but of course it is only the second day. I'm exhausted!
The first couple of days once we got to Kyiv, which was an ordeal in itself, we were at a wooded retreat center built in Soviet days outside of Kyiv. Some interesting statues--I took some pics, but I'm using the family computer, so I don't know if I will be able to load any. Eventually I will make it to an internet cafe and can load some of them. I saw my first Ukrainian bird there! Something like a chickadee.
Lots of great PCT's, though now I am mostly with my cluster of 5, I think. There are 25 community development trainees in Cherkigi, so I am sure we will see lots of each other. The PC is VERY organized. I love my language teacher, who is basically the person fromPC I will have the most contact with. Her name is Tamila. She is really a delight.
I feel like I need to get off their computer, so more later, I hope. And maybe pics!--I'll talk to Max....