Friday, May 29, 2009

This week in Ukraine May 29th

Saturday was our little reading seminar. It was a very good start, I think. There were 13 Ukrainians plus Fran and I. Their English fluency varied, but they were all able to understand the readings and to talk about the ideas in the two excerpts. We got into some great discussions about what it means to be an immigrant, the comparison between serfdom in Ukraine and slavery in the U.S. and how they were at least legally abolished at about the same time; what “freedom” means. Really a pretty amazing discussion given our language barrier. They wanted us to try it again so we are going to read two Ukrainian authors and an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s I Had a Dream speech, the common theme being they were all “freedom fighters” in different countries at different times. Hopefully we get as good of a group. It could be an even more interesting discussion.
Sunday night I went to a performance that was a benefit for the organization we are working with. It was at the philharmonic theater here, a very nice old building, and was sort of like a dance recital. Many people of different ages from little kids to a 50 plus woman performing various dances, plus some people in wheelchairs. Not traditional dances, but the kind you see at dance competitions in the U.S., though, unfortunately, they weren’t quite that good. But it was fun and a pretty Ukrainian experience, I think. I really love the tradition of people constantly coming onto stage and giving people flowers. After every dance almost!
Wednesday I had my “site placement interview” which is where you talk with the Peace Corps staff—in my case it was the country director and the Community Development head—and discuss where you might be assigned and what your preferences are. I realize that I have come to have no real preferences. When I first got here, I wanted to be assigned to an area where I would have more access to outdoor activities, ie the mountains, or near the ocean, or down in Crimea. But now I don’t really care where I go. I know I can find ways to be out in the woods or on the river wherever I am—I certainly have here in Chernihiv—and I have come to the understanding that the real adventure is the people. Most volunteers I have talked to seem to have definite ideas of where they do or do not want to be, and seem a bit stressed out about the whole idea of placement. But surprisingly enough for those of you who know me well, I have not been doing my endless speculation on where I might end up. I just have the feeling that I will end up wherever I am suppose to be, though that might not be so evident right off the bat.
Thursday my little group went to a “social action” put on by an NGO that we met (as in the guy who runs it) at the crafts fair. It is an organization that works with disadvantaged youth to teach them healthy lifestyles. It was sort of a show—singing, the kids playing games, a couple of women performing circus acrobatics who were quite good. It was all very fun and energizing. We had to get up and sing with them the Ukrainian song we learned (sort of). By the way, I haven’t been able to load the clip of me singing, but maybe at some point I’ll get it on the blog. Then I worked with Fran at the library putting together our reading seminar. A good day, all in all.
Here’s a slice of what life is like here in Ukraine. The hot water went out in my apartment building several days ago. Seems to be no projection as to when it will be fixed, so it is heating up water for baths or cold showers. My host family seems quite used to it…. At my friend Fran’s apartment building, someone stole all the copper wire out of the elevator, so it no longer works. She lives on the 8th floor. And once again, no info on when it will be fixed. Her host family just shrug and say that’s Ukraine. They, by the way, are making plans to move to Russia and become Russian citizens. They apparently have had it with the independent Ukraine.
Well, I better get some language studying in. Only two more weeks. I felt like I was doing pretty well, but today my brain seemed to empty out all the words I had learned and nothing made sense! But it will come back, I’m sure. Patience….I need lots of it!
Love to you all.
ps The picture is the one we did for my "graduation" certificate.


  1. I thought of you while watching a lovely Russian animation called "Hedgehog in the Fog", whose message is "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid."

    If you can find a good enough internet connection, see

    Really wonderful. I am loving your stories here. --sandy

  2. reading your blog continues to be one of the brightest lights in my life. i can't thank you enough for sharing your experience with us. your stories bring back memories and more than that, they give me such an appreciation for ukraine and its people. its so wonderful to hear of the fascinating things you are doing, like the reading group and your great discussions on the changes ukraine is in the midst of. wow! you are doing a wonderful job of dispelling my assumptions that the best peace corps experience had to be one in africa. eagerly awaiting next week's installment...