Thursday, March 3, 2011

Traveling, conferences, the Carpathians

With Vera, assistant director of the Children's Library, showing our winning poster at the HIV training
PCV Vickie (on right) and her counterpart, Leana
PCV's Robin and Jim in Ivano Franciske
Framed by junk!
Real winter finally--a snowy walk in the foothills of the Carpathians
The view from the balcony at the COS conference.
Carpathian Mountains village.
My PCV buddy Fran.
Where the COS conference was held.
On the way to the opera house in L'viv.
I see it has been several weeks since I did a blog post. I really wonder where my time goes sometimes. Maybe trying to talk Russian with my neighbors….
However, these last couple of weeks I know exactly where my time has gone—on the road, traveling here and there for various Peace Corps activities. I was gone for a little over two weeks, the longest I have been gone from my site since traveling to Turkey last year. And I really didn’t like it—I missed the Seiptaptiev’s a lot—even managed to talk on the phone (in Russian!) with Lenura and Neshet several times. I also had a bad cold the first week and lost my voice for a couple of days, something that has rarely happened to me. But all worked out, and here I am back in Simferopol, at the library, feeling pretty good.
The first week of my traveling was to an HIV/AIDS prevention training sponsored by the Peace Corps for PCV’s and their Ukrainian counterparts—in my case, Vera, the new assistant director at the Children’s Library. I thought she should have the opportunity to go to the training because she was very interested in it, but, to tell the truth, I was concerned about traveling with her. I barely knew her, and she speaks no English and very fast Russian and seems to have a hard time understanding how to communicate with someone like me. But it turned out fine, as we traveled on the overnight train with another PCV and her counterpart—who also doesn’t speak English—and the two counterparts got along great and ended up rooming together at the conference. The training was for 25 PCV’s and 25 counterparts, and much of the time we were divided into two groups, though at times the groups overlapped with translation provided. Ukraine has the largest growing HIV infection rate in Europe, so there is a lot of emphasis on education and prevention training. It was interesting to watch the Ukrainians slowly change their attitudes towards people with HIV, especially after two HIV positive women talked about their lives. I think their courage to be there and tell their story opened some peoples’ eyes to who suffers from the AIDS epidemic--that it can happen to anyone.
For me the most powerful moments of the training were listening to these women’s stories and also watching two US produced movies on AIDS, both of which I have seen before but nevertheless, continue to move me with their documentation of the AIDS epidemic. Vera and I produced the “winning” poster of prevention projects we planned (or rather she planned) for when we get back to Simferopol. However, like so many things here, the real result is yet to be determined. On the last day of the training she seemed to lose her enthusiasm and said she would have to “check with the director of the library” about project ideas, and now, a week later and I am back at site, I have been told that they have “dropped” the idea of doing a project. I hope it doesn’t mean that they really don’t want to pursue HIV prevention work because besides the fact that the training would be a waste of my time and the Peace Corps money, it is such needed work. Perhaps I will find another organization to work with on this.
Following the HIV training, I took an overnight train to Ivano-Franciske, a city in western Ukraine, and met up with two PCV’s there—a husband and wife team in their 50’s from Alaska who have done a huge amount of work with their site, securing almost $100,000 in grants for various projects. They, as always apparently, were busy with work, but Jim still found the time to take me on a snowy hike along a beautiful river in the foothills of the Carpathians, and Robin to show me around their museum and library (and feed me some great food!).
On Tuesday morning, Jim and I (Robin came down with a cold and didn’t go) headed off to our “COS” conference. (I’ve never been part of an organization with so many anachronisms—COS stands for close of service.) Even though I am not “COSing”—nor are Jim and Robin—we are still required to go to the conference. It was held, as always, in a beautiful village in the Carpathian Mountains at a nice resort, sort of a gift to the PCV’s at the end of our service. It is a ski area and there had been some fresh snow, so a few people took off to the slopes. I checked with a few places to see if they rented cross country skis, but though people knew what I was talking about, no one had skis for rent. It is a pretty funky old place—no fancy lifts, etc, mostly tow ropes—but it is affordable and maybe a possibility for a trip with the Seiptatiev’s next winter.
Our group of 50 is divided into Youth Development workers, all of whom are young people in their 20’s, and Community Development workers, who are a mix of older and younger people. A lot of the conference was socializing, especially for the younger folks. Though I was glad to see everyone and spend some time together, I really don’t feel that connected to many of the other volunteers, certainly not the way I do with my Crimean friends and neighbors. PCV’s never became the primary support and social network for me that it has for many volunteers, though I do feel close to some of the volunteers here in Crimea, especially now that there is another older woman here that loves the outdoors as I do, and I do have a few friends in my COS group. Sadly, one of them had to leave early to go back to her site and then to America to get a health problem checked out. Hopefully, it is nothing serious, but PC treats everything as if it is, probably because of liability issues.
The conference ended on a Friday morning, I took the train back to L’viv and spent a snowy afternoon wandering the old city center and then that evening to a ballet performance of Don Quixote in the beautiful old opera house. I stayed at a hostel that was filled with PCV’s and then took the 24-hour train back to my site, also traveling with two other Crimean PCV’s. So by the time I finally reached my wonderful little home in Ak Mechet, I was ready to be done with Americans for awhile, as grateful as I was for the company on much of my travels.
Next week I have to return again to Kyiv for the medical tests I need to do to get my medical clearance to stay another year. But after that, I hope to just stay put for awhile. Especially with spring coming and the wonderful opportunities it will provide to explore my beautiful Crimea.
Love to all.

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