Friday, May 15, 2009

This week in Ukraine

Going to try and write this as the week goes along. Seems that so much happens every day, I tend to forget things I wanted to write about by the end of the week.
Sunday I walked all over the place—my only real physical activity here. I do love wandering the city, checking out the parks, the neighborhoods, the buildings. Ended up in “Central Park,” the major city park which had a lot of what you would expect—a little amusement park, refreshment stands, a small amphitheater. Of course, it does have that run down Ukrainian look to it, but I am so used to that now, I almost forget the appearance of Minneapolis parks that I took for granted.
Yesterday I had a rather annoying day with my fellow Americans, but at the end of the day I had a real treat. Went with another PCV to an area on the river where we would have a chance to paddle kayaks. We had met Larissa at the English Club on Sunday who coaches women teams in kayaking, and she invited us down. Naturally, I was quite excited at the prospect…. Well, in turns out that what they call kayaks, we could call rowing sculls, I think, though they do use a kayak paddle. Very narrow (and very crudely built except for a few super sleek and fast ones we saw) and super tippy. We also tried a “canoe” that was sort of built like a bowl—it was even more tippy. Barbara, the other PCV, eventually dumped in that one. It was all very funny—Larissa had a great time trying to show us how to do it, I think. She spoke very little English, and of course, we speak very little Russian, but we were all giving it a good try. The most fun was that eventually I went out on the “Dragon Boat” which has 20 paddlers paddling in unison to a drum beat. I’m pretty sure they have them in the states, too. That I really loved, moving fast down the river, stroking with 19 Russians, the steersman behind me calling out directions, the drummer in front beating. I would love to do it longer, but I don’t think I probably have the stamina. Barbara went out with them for an hour, but she is younger and in better shape than I am. Anyhow, I did love those few minutes I had with them.
Later in the week now. Weather has gone from beautiful spring to very cold, rainy, and windy. They need the rain desperately, so that is good to see. Merat, who is head of the PC Community Development program, has been talking this week about NGO’s. He started by telling us what it was like when the Soviet Union dissolved and Ukraine became an independent country (in 1991)—the start of the NGO’s here. The country was in a turmoil, people didn’t know what to do. Some couldn’t survive the radical changes and either left the country, or in quite a few instances, killed themselves. Or became hopeless alcoholics. The inflation rate soared to 10,000% (really, I’m not adding a 0)—a record worldwide. Many men left their wives, which is one of the reasons there are so many women without husbands here. Merat was a teenager at the time and talked some about his mother, who was making $7 a month and trying to support her family. I hope that at some point in my PC service I get to the place where I am fluent enough to have deeper conversations with Ukrainians. The history of Ukraine is endlessly fascinating to me. So much here looks like a very run down version of the U.S., but it is so, so different.
Monday we are going on a “field trip” to a smaller Ukrainian community to see what life is like there. I look forward to getting out of the city and seeing the surrounding countryside and learning some about life is a small town.
There is a lot of discussion among the PCV’s about where we will be “stationed.” I’m pretty open about where I go and how I live, but many have some pretty strong opinions about what they want—like hot water and indoor plumbing. But there are definitely no guarantees about what kind of living situation one will find oneself in. Most of us, however, won’t be in large cities—the housing is too expensive.
I have run out of thoughts and need to get to bed. Hopefully I will post this tomorrow and maybe some more pics.
Love to you all.


  1. I can feel the "kayak" experience - what a RUSH! All is well on 16th avenue. I had a party at the house, in the yard and in the garage. We toasted you via the Volvo (hoisted our glasses in salute of your service -- toward your car). I'm glad things are well with you.

    Americans in large groups can be annoying -- especially if they don't / can't appreciate the "when in Rome" bit.

    Have a great week.

  2. So great to read your blog. I love your openness to all that is new and being discovered daily. It is inspiring.
    Sending lots of love to you over there!