Saturday, May 23, 2009

Traveling around Ukraine

A LOT went on this week—
Monday we took a “field trip” to a small town—12,000 pop.—about a 2 hour bus ride from Chernihiv. It was an interesting day. A PCV works there, so we got to see where she lives, works, and talk with her about her life in general in a small town. She lives in a high rise much like the one I live in. Even the small towns have them—most people in Ukraine live in apartments. There were several things I loved about the town. Bicycles seemed to be the main mode of transportation—you saw all kinds of folks on them, including babuskas with their bags and high-heeled, business suited “ladies.” The town was surrounded by beautiful forests, and we learned that over 60% of that rayon (county) is forested. The PCV is assigned to the city council but has a hard time coming up with a project to work on. When she asked them what they wanted, they said a university (!) because all the young people leave home to go to school. She is doing a HIV/Aids education workshop—a common PC project all across Ukraine as the HIV rate here is the highest in Europe. But it was clear she is feeling frustrated by the lack of direction. A common PCV problem, I think.
Wednesday we had the first half of our community project we are doing here. It was a crafts fair at a local university with the organization Chance, which is an advocacy org for disabled people. It went pretty well, though there is much that could have been different, of course. One of things that you all will find pretty funny is us (my cluster group) singing with the Chance folks in a little performance. I will try to put a clip of it on my blog.
While at the fair without a whole lot to do, I spent quite a bit of time talking with Ira, one of the Ukrainian Peace Corps staff we work with. (You will see her in the pics I will post of our visit to the small town). We had such an amazing discussion about communism, Ukraine and the U.S, evolution of human consciousness. It came out of me bringing up the lecture we had yesterday about the struggle of Ukraine to form a democracy after 75 years of communism. What a transformative, difficult time this is in the history of Ukrainian people. Ah, I have no words to describe how it feels to be here in the midst of all of this change. Maybe later it will come to me… I do know how much I love getting to know the Ukrainians—the PC staff, the librarian, my host mom, even the babuska who checks bags at the supermarket (whom I finally got a smile out of). I will miss them all when I leave Chernihiv.
Friday we went on a day field trip to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, which is about 75 miles south of Chernihiv. Kyiv is a large (2 million pop. I think), bustling metropolitan area with a “Metro”—a subway system. Quite the change from the little town we visited on Monday and the city of 300,000 I have been living in. It is quite beautiful and very Western European looking. We took a bus to the city and then took the Metro to the city center area where the Peace Corps office is located. Walked from there all over the place—train station, Independence Square (where the famous million strong gatherings of the Orange Revolution occurred in 2004), visited St Sophia, a church built in the 11th century. Climbed the bell tower there for some amazing views of the city. It was a great day—fun to be in such a city, such a contrast from the last couple of months.
Today is my reading workshop, but I think I will bring my computer into town with me and post this before then, so I will report on it next week. Three more weeks here and then a few days in Kyiv, and then we will be off to our permanent site. Much, much speculation about where each of us will end up.
Hope you all are well. Much love from Ukraine.

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