Know My Velocity

My Peace Corps Experience in Ukraine

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Making your home in a foreign land.

Posted by defyphysics on August 12, 2011

Thursday August 11th

I am sure I have expressed my total respect to anyone who has moved to a new country without the training and support I have received.  However, I want to dedicate a whole entry to the respect we owe to immigrants in the United States.  I can only imagine how much more bravery it takes, how much more challenging it is to get here, and how much more they must adjust to everything on their own.

I am lucky enough to be coming from the United States, where I know if I fail or can’t take it anymore; I can call family and friends and be home in no time, with even more comforts than I currently have.  Immigrants do not have this safety net.  When I came to this country, I knew a handful of words, but I had a also had some of the best language training in the world, lived with a family who fed me and taught me their culture, and I had classes that taught me how to succeed in a new country.  I struggled, but immigrants come into the country without any of that.  When I tell someone I am an American here, I am the center of attention, asked a barrage of questions, and offered more meals, support, and tours of the city than I know what to do with, even without speaking more than a few common words.  I know immigrants in my country often don’t get the same reception.

I’m not going to say Peace Corps service is easy, because it is not always easy.  I will say that  it is just as honorable for someone to come from America to a developing country in order to help do something bigger than yourself, as it is to come to America in hopes of providing for your family and raising them out of poverty, persecution and hardships.

In Ukraine, people travel to other countries or try and bring international people to their country in order to share ideas, learn new ways of doing things and gain an international perspective to help develop their organizations, government and business.  They need to reach out and look for influences from around the world in order to better their perspective of themselves and develop their country.  However, in the United States, we don’t have to look far in order to find a global perspective.  I can’t tell you how regretful I am that I haven’t invited someone new from another country to my home and fed them, shown them around their new town, and supported them in their transition to a new place.  I now know that I will do this when I get home, and I hope I can inspire more people to do so as well.  We owe immigrants a lot.  Most Americans are descendents of immigrants.  Also, unless you have lived somewhere where there are few immigrants from other countries, especially from as far and wide as the US, you’ll never appreciate what may be our biggest national treasure, our “melting pot” of people.

If you’re reading this, I dare you to invite someone you know that comes from another country to your home for dinner.  Cook them something from America, or food from your heritage.  Ask them questions about where they’re from, why they left, and how they got from their country all the way to your dinner table.

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It’s been a while!

Posted by defyphysics on August 6, 2011

Monday July 25th

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and it would be impossible to sum up my transition to my new city, my new job, and my new apartment. It would also be impossible to recall every amazing, inspiring or weird event I have experienced since I’ve written last.  I will try and recall my impressions and some highlights since my last entry though.

Ukrainians know how to celebrate.  Every time I’ve been to a Birthday Party, holiday, a wedding, or a christening of something new, it’s been fun.  There is always food, always great people, and always a great time.  I’m always learning a new Ukrainian tradition that usually dictates my future in some way.  Ukraine is full of traditions, and I’m starting to believe every family has different ones, because sometimes an action can be a blessing or a curse, depending on who you are around at the time.

Some of the amazing things I’ve done are running in the morning along the top of the valley where cliffs drop 150 feet below, watched people jump from a bridge crossing the valley on a rigged up swing that takes them close to the water when they drop (almost bungee jumping), mountain biking around a beautiful park, rowed a boat to an island with an abandoned nursing home, and jumped 10 feet from rocks into a spring-filled rock quarry.  One of the cool things about being a visitor in a town where there aren’t many tourists (like Orlando), is that everyone wants to show you their favorite places and favorite things to do in their hometown.  I know I haven’t even hit the tip of the iceberg here, since I’ve had many invites to people’s favorite places all over Ukraine, not just my city.  That will come later I suppose.

As for the people I’ve met, my list of people I know and trust grows daily, and it’s been really cool to meet so many great people.  Sometimes it’s even overwhelming! I’ve found that when you decide to do something exciting and extraordinary in your life, you attract other exciting and extraordinary people into your life as well.

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First weeks in Житомир

Posted by defyphysics on July 9, 2011

Monday June 27th

So I’ve been in Zhytomyr for over a week so far.  It has been a great 10 days.  Of course it’s always hard to move to a new city, learn your way around, find friends, find stores, and orient yourself.  I haven’t been without problems, like getting lost on a marshrooka ride (twice), language barrier issues, or being overwhelmed by all the new things.  However, I’m lucky to have a great group of people I work with who always make me feel welcome, help me find my way around and really just making sure I’m comfortable.  I’ve been meeting many new friends, exploring my new city and just settling in.

Wednesday July 6th

Sorry for the lack of updates and that last really short update.  As of tomorrow I will have been in Zhytomyr for two weeks.  I love it so far.  I fit really well into my partner organization, Modern Format (Сучасний формат).  They are a bunch of awesome, talented people.  I see great potential for them in this city.  They are a youth organization that teaches youth about social issues through hands on experiences, interactive media and classes.  One of their main focuses is journalism, and they have their own online news show that the kids from Modern Format’s School of Young Journalists create.

My apartment is located one block from the city center.  I am surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops, stores, and people walking the streets.  The city itself is very old, over 1000 years.  There are trees and parks everywhere, so it does not seem as big as it is (almost 300,000).  There are a few really cool squares, parks everywhere, and of course it’s all very walkable.  I’m still figuring out the Marshrooka system, but if I ask people I can get to anywhere in the city.  I hope to be able to post pictures soon.

Monday was July 4th, so I had everyone from the office over.  I cooked hamburgers, french fries, and potato salad.  Sasha from the office brought some pizza.  It was a lot of fun!   I had to improvise a lot of ingredients, and the buns I had bought (and somehow found) had gone moldy after one day.  I pulled it off though, with the help of everyone!


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Last days in Ivanivka, First days in Zhytomyr.

Posted by defyphysics on June 21, 2011

Friday June 10th

Well, I haven’t had the time to write the last 10 days..  I’ve basically been doing something from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed every day.  I can tell you though, it’s been awesome.  I will try and sum up some of the best of times I’ve had the last week and a half the best I can.

One day last week, after a long day of lessons and feeling a bit homesick the night before, X, Amanda and I went out to this stream that goes by the village and out into a meadow.  I had also been roasting in my room because I thought none of the windows opened (more about that later), and was basically living in a greenhouse sweating day and night.  We threw down a blanket by the river, turned up the ipod and listened to some music, studied a bit and just relaxed in the sun.  There were several horses that just walked by, a herd of cows passed us and some locals walked by.  It was very surreal.  It felt like a movie (there are many times in Peace Corps Ukraine where this has happened).  It was exactly what I needed to keep me going.  It was also finally a bit cooler out too.

Christina and I have also been playing a lot of soccer (football) every night with the kids around the village.  Dima wanted to go one day, so he went and he was a riot.  He’s pretty decent even though he says he can’t play, but he’s also a comedian and keeps the game from getting too serious.  That night I told Dima my room was really hot and asked if the windows opened.  He said no, but then thought about it and said maybe.  He looked at the inner window panes and realized they were taped and stapled on   He ripped out a pane, set it on the other side of my room, and we opened the outside pane.  My overheating problem had been cured (although its still a bit hot at night, its tolerable).  The next day we played soccer again with Dima.  That was my last night with Dima, since he left for Belarus the next day.  It was sad to see him go.  As a parting gift I gave him my ipod shuffle, since I’ve used it about twice since I got it two years ago.  He loaded all his music onto it and I saw it get used more in one night than I’ve ever used it.

Also, some day last week we finally walked all the way to “the river” which is a watering hole about 5 kilometers out of town in the middle of nowhere.  I went three more times this week with different clustermates,.  There were people camping there, and I think I could have lived there all summer myself.  It was surrounded by beautiful meadows, and the walk out there is absolutely stunning.  The world gets a lot bigger when you walk out into the middle of a vast meadow.

I’ve also been helping out in the field a little bit here and there.  I have no clue what I’m doing, and usually my host mom or the people that come over to help have to explain what I’m supposed to be doing a few times, but it is actually very relaxing work, even though its hard work.  You hear nothing but the wind, the people working next to you, and the sounds of the village.  It’s amazing how much there is in the little field behind our little house. We have a ton of potatoes, grapes, apricots, tangerines, watermelon, tomatoes, melons, beets, radishes, onions, what I think are zucchinis and spices.

Today we went to the bazaar, and the girls in the cluster bought some stuff.  We had Kvac (which is something between a non-alcoholic beer and a root beer).  I also got my haircut, which was much needed.  Speaking of which, it is something I have been dreading doing since I got here.  How can you explain a haircut to someone in another language you barely know the basics in?  Well, it turned out great even though all I could say was “shorter please” in Ukrainian.  She did a great job cutting it “shorter” though.

After that we met up with our link cluster (the cluster we do some trainings with and the only other Community Development volunteers speaking Ukrainian instead of Russian).  We went down to another beach off of a lake in Chernihiv.  We lounged around, ate some snacks and got sun burnt.  We were supposed to come back for a wrap up class in Ivanivka, so we packed up and went to the same Marshrooka we got off of, thinking it would take us to the city center.  Instead, it ended up going all over Chernihiv for over an hour.  When we finally got to somewhere familiar we just got off and walked the rest of the way to our stop that goes to Ivanivka, way later than we were supposed to be.  So now we have one last class tomorrow for a bit, and then a picnic with all our cluster’s host families over by the swimming hole.

It kind of sucks that Ivanivka now feels like home and we have to pick up and leave and start growing our roots somewhere else yet again.  However, it will be nice to have my own place, cook my own meals, and be more in control of my own daily life.  I’m also anxious to see more of Ukraine, and see the differences between the small sections I’ve integrated into.  So far though, Ukraine has not been anything that I expected.  It is a place of many paradoxes, a place stuck between old and new, and a place that has luckily been very receptive, hospitable and diverse.

Friday June 17th

What a whirlwind the last few days have been.  On Monday Peace Corps sent us a bus to pick us and all our luggage up from Ivanivka.  We bid farewell to our host families, and went to Kiev, still not knowing where we would live for the next few years.  Once we got to Kiev, we all put our bags into the dorms and greeted everyone we hadn’t seen since starting our adventure in DC and the arrival retreat in Chernihiv three months ago.  Then, it was time to unveil where we would be going (FINALLY!).  We all gathered into the main conference hall, and they talked for about 30 minutes, with not one volunteer listening to what they had to say.  We were all dreaming of the many possible places we could end up.  Would we be in a city or a village?  Would we like our counterpart?  Would they speak the language we’re learning there?  Would we be close to our friends in the Peace Corps?

Finally, they announced what regions everyone would be going.  Each region is three oblasts (Ukrainian states), of which each is probably the size of Connecticut.  I ended up in a region in the “mid west” of Ukraine.  We all still had no idea where exactly these places were, what city or village we would live in or what we would be doing there.  We split up into our regions with our regional managers after that, and we were finally handed our assignment, which told us what oblast, what city/village, and what organization/school we would be working with for the next two years.  I ended up in a medium sized city of 270,000 people called Zhytomyr (Житомир).  I also found out I would be working with an organization called Modern Format, which is a youth organization.  I read the description over and over, excited about what it said and what they wanted me to help them with.  We still did not know who our counterparts would be, and had little information on our cities and villages.  We asked questions but our regional managers had a lot of information to disseminate in little time to everyone going to our region.  We had to wait another day for more information and meeting our counterparts.  We all headed back to our dorms and hung out with everyone we’ve become so close with over the last three months.  We all knew bittersweet goodbyes were coming on the near future.

The next day we went to the main hall where they talked to us for a while, and again nobody was listening because we knew our counterparts were arriving and we would be meeting them very soon.  The time finally came, and all the counterparts were in the main conference hall, and we had to hunt them out.  This is where I met the amazing Zhanna (Жанна).  We made an almost instant connection, and I can already tell it will be great working with her for the next two years.  The next two days were filled with more meetings, trainings, seminars, hanging with old friends and me and Zhanna trying to figuring out how I could fit into their small organization.

Yesterday we had our swearing in ceremony where we become official volunteers.   It was all pomp and circumstance in a hot, but very cool looking building where the first Ukrainian Parliament met called Teachers House.  There were many speeches, and a reception at the end.  Everyone’s departure was staggered, but I was one of the first to go.  We headed off in an SUV that dropped me and another volunteer off where Marshrookas and busses go from Kiev to Zhytomyr.  Zhanna and I got on the bus to Zhytomyr for our hour and a half trip and learned more about each other and her organization.  When we got to the bus stop, most of the people from the office I’ll be working at were there.  They gave me and all my luggage a ride to my new place.

I’ll be living in the 5th floor of a two bedroom apartment.  It’s old, but has a lot of charm to it.  Once we got me and all my stuff into the apartment, Sasha went to pick up some pizzas and my Zhanna and the rest of us went over to the store and bought some food to last me a few days.  We sat around and talked for a while and ate Pizza.  Zhanna speaks very good English, and throughout the night I found that the rest of them spoke fairly decent English as well.  Better than my Ukrainian!

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me the next two years.  I can tell I’m surrounded by great people and my Zhytomyr seems like a great place to call home.  Here’s to my new home, my new friends, and the great adventure that Peace Corps is.

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Big Post

Posted by defyphysics on June 1, 2011

Wednesday May 4th

When I first arrived here in Ivanivka, I saw the village through my suburban American eyes and saw a lot of things I did not understand. Much of the village looked ugly and old. After being here for a month, I have noticed my opinion is changing. Although some of it can be attributed to the beauty of spring, I have also begun to notice the splendor in this Ukrainian Village’s ability to beautify function. In suburban USA, the beauty we create either adds no utility or even prohibits the utility of the objects around it. As an example, in suburban America we spend time, money and energy keeping up a lawn which is rarely used and exists almost solely as a symbol of beauty. I don’t think that would fly here. Generally, in Ivanivka, every object serves a purpose, and everything is either used for something or will be used for something. When something breaks, the first solution is to fix the utility of the object, and the afterthought is to make it look good, if possible. A lot of times, this creates an organic beauty of sorts. I am constantly amazed by the resourcefulness of people when their first priority is utility, and not beauty. In America, we may just buy a new fence if there is a hole in it. Here, they patch it up with some board and chicken wire they had from a pile of scrap they keep for such occasions. In America, a lot of times our suburban neighborhoods feel artificial, almost like they are faked. The beauty, conformity and neatness feels factory manufactured. When we decorate and beautify our houses, we buy decorations, art, and furniture made by someone else, usually in a factory. That isn’t to say Ukrainians don’t buy things from factories or decorations other people have made, but it is to say that I have noticed much of the decorative facets of the house are placed around and on objects of utility. Ukrainians in Ivanivka do their best to beautify their world, but never place that precedence over that of utility. In America, image takes precedence and inhibits our ability to fully utilize the world around us.

Monday, May 16

Unfortunately, I somehow deleted some entries in my blog up until this point.  They were some really cool entries about the parade I went to and some other stuff.  If I ever find them I’ll post them, but as of now it’s been too long to recall the parade in too much detail, but I’ll have the chance to experience two more while I’m here.

Nothing extraordinary has happened lately.  I’ve had a lot of long days working on our project and socializing with the other host families.  There are days I have left my house at 7:00am and do not get back until 11.00pm.  There are a few hours in the day where there is nothing to do, but for the most part we have been meeting with local businesses, the school, the house of culture, the village council, and going into the city to make copies and print things out.  When we’re not out and about, we’ve been working on our grant proposal, making advertisements for our picnic, and drawing up invitations to local organizations.  All of these have to be translated of course!

Yesterday I noticed a little kitten in the house and wondered where it came from.  My host mom says it is to catch mice.  Normally I’m not a huge fan of cats, but seeing the look on its face while four dogs surround it, not knowing where it’s at or where to find shelter or comfort in a new home made me an instant friend. It doesn’t have a name but I call him/her Kitchka, which means “cute little cat” in Ukrainian.

Today after dinner a couple came over and I said hi.  Then my host mom said something about help, backyard and potatoes.  I guessed right when I put on some old clothes and went to the back yard.  Time to plant potatoes.  It was actually a blast.  I couldn’t believe how quickly it went, how cool the dirt felt between my toes and how much fun I had planting potatoes.  Who knew?

Something I’ve noticed while being in a new country that is both terrifying and awesome is that while immersing yourself in a new culture, you find out a lot about who you really are.  When you start stripping away the layers of your own culture and realizing what behaviors are yours and what behaviors are the product of where you are from it becomes confusing and enlightening.  I’m still reevaluating who I really am daily.  I think when I first got here, who I am crawled up inside myself and I tried to reflect everyone and everything around me in order to fit in.  I’m slowly letting the guard down on myself, making sure it is me and not my culture that is emerging.  It’s a pretty cool process to go through, but it is also really confusing at times, and not without its harsh realizations about me, my culture, and Ukrainian culture.  I have a feeling it will be a process that will take all two years, but it has definitely began, and I may regress a bit when I get to my permanent site and readjust again.  I’m anxious to see what I’ll find out about myself the next coming years.

Wednesday May 18

The last two days have been spent doing language classes, and then heading to Chernihiv to work on our picnic.  We’ve revised our grant proposal at least 6 times, and I think we finally nailed it today.  I hope.  Tomorrow we have a long technical session in Chernihiv, and after that I’m supposed to meet up with one of Dima’s friends Yaric.  His English is worse than my Ukrainian at this point, but last time we had a really good conversation somehow, and it’ll be cool to see him again and see what he’s been up to.  I’m also supposed to play some soccer tomorrow.  On my way home from walking Amanda home tonight, I decided to walk through the cemetery and take some pictures, which leads me through the school yard.  There were a bunch of kids playing soccer there, and they said hi as I walked by.  Then they called me back and motioned me to come over, so I did.  They invited me to play soccer tomorrow at 7pm, all in Ukrainian, and I understood almost all of it.  It was pretty cool!  I was even able to set a time and tell them that more Americans might come.  I hope time permits us to get it done.

I’ve had a lot of people ask what I eat, so I think I’ll start naming some of the more interesting meals I’ve had during posts.  Tonight I had leftover raw fish, fried potatoes, and some spicy stuff I just call “Kim-Chi” even though it’s made from carrots and beets I think.

Monday May 23

This weekend we had our event(s) for our community development project during training.  We trained some volunteers that our picnic had about HIV/AIDS so they could help with our poster contest.  During our picnic we held games, had some people sing and play some music.  It was really a lot of fun and I think the towns people enjoyed it.  Nothing went according to plan, but everything worked out great.  Couldn’t have asked for better weather too.

Once we packed everything up we decided to go to the local hangout and celebrate our finishing of the project.  About halfway there though, the sky opened up and we got soaked. We decided to stick it out there and hang out and play some cards.  I was a soggy mess  once I got home and changed into some comfortable clothes.  I read for about an hour and called it a night at about 8:30.  What an exhausting couple of weeks it has been!  The last three weeks of training should be pretty easy.  We can focus almost wholly on language classes and tutoring, plus we’ll have some free time to hang out with our host families, tour around the area and just relax at the picnic spot.

As for food, last night I had fried potatoes, and a meat cutlet, which my cluster refers to as meatcakes.  I also had some of that “Kim-Chi” stuff.  The day before was the same, except instead of fried potatoes it was pasta, and it also had an egg on it (which by the way, the yolk makes a great sauce for the pasta).

Tuesday May 24

Today was awesome.  Now that we’re done with the picnic, we’ve had more free time.  I even had a lot of homework today and still got a lot in.  After language class Amanda and I went to Chernihiv to do our field trip homework, which was to go to some stores and check the prices of some things.  We bought some terrible ice cream.  Going to have to stick to McDonalds ice cream.

So after the picnic and before the crazy rain happened, my neighbors came up and tried to talk to me and of course I understood nothing as usual.  However, there was a Ukrainian Peace Corps staff there that helped translate for us, and they told her everyone on the street loved me and that it was really cool of me to always say hi and ask how they were doing in Ukrainian.  It really made me feel good.  Today I stopped by and talked with Serjay, Gregori and Michael, and I told them I was going to play soccer.  They asked what my favorite team was, and then Serjay ran into his house and brought out a scarf of his favorite team (Хактар).  Then he said it was for me to keep.  I just couldn’t believe it because I could tell it meant a lot to him.  Once I got home I got out one of my cheapo souvenirs from Florida with Disney characters and an American flag on it and gave it to him before I played soccer.  I felt like I couldn’t give him anything nearly as cool as he gave me.

After that, I went and played soccer with some kids from the school, and that was a lot of fun.  We tied 10-10 and then had penalty shots for like 30 minutes b/c nobody could get it into the small goals.  After the game, I talked to some of the kids, and they asked me some questions.  They couldn’t believe I’ve only studied Ukrainian for 2 months.  I can’t either really.

Thursday May 26

Yesterday it rained and I didn’t get a chance to play soccer.  Bummer.  We also had our site placement interviews, which everyone has been making a big deal out of.  Basically, some of the people responsible for placing you into a site in Ukraine come and ask you some questions and put a name, face and the essence of you with your qualifications and experience that they have on paper.  Mine went really well, and all I can do now is wait and see where they send me.  I won’t know where I’ll be heading until I go to Kiev and “grauduate” from training and swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I’m not troubling myself with where I might be, but it is fun to imagine the different places I might be going.

The rain yesterday made today a beautiful sunny day with a cool temperature.  After our tech module in Chernihiv, we went to a park where our link group was putting on an event.  Even though we were too late for the event, it was awesome to see the park, and I got to eat a hot dog with mayonnaise, lettuce, and horse radish.  It was actually really good.

I’ve been tired lately for several reasons.  My allergies bother me a bit here in the spring, so I’ve been taking allergy medicine which makes me tired.  I’ve also been jogging or playing soccer a lot which tires me out.  On top of it all, the sun doesn’t set until about 10 oclock at night (which is when I should be getting to bed, but it feels weird when it’s still dusk).  Then, the sun rises at about 5am.  I wake up sometimes at 5:30 and panic because it’s so light out and I think I’ve overslept.  I suppose I better appreciate it while I can, because once winter comes I won’t see much daylight. Maybe I just need one really good night’s sleep.

There’s so much more I wish I could do around Ivanivka and Chernihiv while I’m still around, but with training every day, and weekends packed full of events, it looks like I’ll have to pick out the few best choices and go with those.  There’s a swimming hole in Ivanivka that sounds like a blast.  Plus there’s a few more bazaars in Chernihiv that I want to check out, and there’s a circus that might be really cool.

As for food, last night I had raw fish (I think it sat in lemon juice, which I’ve heard kind of cooks fish).  It was pretty tasty, but the rest of the night my hands smelled like fish.  My poor book probably smells like fish now.  We also had fried potatos that I had helped peel, and some bread.  Dinner is being cooked now, but I can’t tell what it is.   It smells good though.

Tuesday May 31, 2011

It’s been almost a week since I’ve written anything.  It seems like I just wrote something yesterday!  This weekend was pretty cool.  On Saturday, I went to Chernihiv and had some sushi with X… it was so-so, but not bad for what you’d expect to get in Ukraine.  Then I went home and did a little work in the fields plowing a small area with a hand plow.  Then we had big dinner with a cabbage/dill salad, bbq’d chicken and sausage which is called chasneek (часник… I think).  It was delicious.

On Sunday I went into Chernihiv with Dima.  He wanted to show me the city and where he used to live.  He lived in an old soviet block style apartment.  I went into his friend’s apartment a few buildings over and it was nothing like an American apartment.  It is more communal and void of privacy.  After hanging around the neighborhood talking to some old neighbors of his, we went with a group of his friends to the beach by the river.  It was great to hang out with his friends, and see what the beach is like in Ukraine.  All I can say is it is nothing like the beach in Florida.  We bought dried “fish jerky” (whole dried fish) off the street from a guy and ate it while lounging around on a blanket in the grass while playing the card game dorak (дурак, which means fool), which I still don’t quite understand.  We hadn’t planned on going to the beach, but I dove into the river with my shorts on.  It felt great because it was so hot out.  Dima’s friends were telling me there is a huge party every night there in the summer, with loud music, and sometimes bands.  It would be a cool setting for a party, but since the last bus to Chernihiv leaves at 7:20pm, I won’t get a chance to check it out.

The last few days have been pretty average though.  I felt pretty sick yesterday, which has been like the 4th time I’ve gotten a cold since I’ve been here.  I’m feeling better today though after resting most of yesterday after my classes.  Today I got to talk to my sister and Courtney while I was in Chernihiv at Cuba Bar, which was great.  I love hearing about home and how things are because I feel very disconnected from home since I don’t have internet and the hours are so far off.  It’s less than two weeks until I leave for Kiev and find out where I’ll be living for the next two years.

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Just a quick update.

Posted by defyphysics on May 31, 2011

Hey everyone. Just wanted to let you know I’ve been without internet but for brief periods of time, and haven’t been able to upload my blog posts. I’m supposed to be getting internet back at my host family’s place tomorrow, so expect a huge update! Everything’s going fine. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I only have 2 weeks of training left, and then I find out where I’ll be spending the rest of my two years here.

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Week Whatever!

Posted by defyphysics on May 5, 2011

Saturday April 23rd
We’ll start with Thursday.  Thursday started normal.  I went to language class in the morning at the village.  Then the cluster got on the bus to Chernihiv for our tech session with all the other Community Development clusters.  This is how it goes every Thursday.  This particular Thursday though, Christina notices something stuck to my shoe on the way into the school where we meet for tech sessions.  I wipe it off, no big deal.  We get into the classroom and sit down.  After about 10-15 minutes I notice something smells pretty bad.  We’re talking some kid took a dump in his diaper bad.  I’m looking around at the other volunteers wondering who hasn’t showered in a while when I suddenly remember that something was stuck to my shoe.  Well, I take a gander at the bottom of my shoe and see a piece of manure the size of a baseball.  I try to nonchalantly scrape it off on the table.  Whoops.  That intensified the smell.  I alert everyone around me that the smell is me.   Everyone chuckles.  I’m sure they spent the next hour hating me, and I spent the next hour finding the best position to not be smelled.  I go to lunch, and I thought I had most of it off my shoe by now but… nope.  I stunk up my table and the surrounding ones.  When I get back to the classroom, our TCF had noticed the smell and someone tattled it was me.  It was actually a relief to be able to clean up my mess, so maybe it would smell better.  Yet again, this only intensified the smell.  Also by now, I’m sure most of the 45 or so people in the room had realized I was what reeked.   That was Thursday.
Today I went into town on my own for the first time.  I met up with some volunteers that were going on a tour.  The tour guide was super knowledgeable about the city, and it was a lot of fun hanging out with different Peace Corps volunteers.  I love my cluster and my “link group” (the other cluster we share some classes with), but it was good to get close to even more people.  Hopefully some of them will know me by name now, instead of by manure boy.  After the tour, we went to a football game (soccer for you Americans) . It was a blast!  The weather was great, there was a group of people singing and chanting with militsia (the name for police in Ukraine) surrounding them.  Good times.
Tomorrow is Easter, or “pasco” as they call it here.  It is a huge holiday here, and my clustermates are all getting up at 3am to go to church and do the orthodox thing.  My host mom isn’t going though.  I thought about it.  What a cultural experience it would be!  I’m exhausted though, and have been a little sick, so I think the best thing to do is get my sleep.  I’ll have two more easters here to figure out how its done.  We are having a BBQ tomorrow night.  Sounds like fun!

Monday April 25th
First I want to point out I uploaded some pictures to my flicker account.  Over on the left you can click and see pictures from Chernihiv, the closest city to my village as well as of Kiev, Ukraine’s capital.  I hope to be able to upload some pictures of my village later this week.  Stay tuned for that.
Yesterday was Easter, or “Pasca”.  There are many differences I will get into, but there are also many similarities.  No matter where you are, Pasca/Easter is a time to be with family, many stores and businesses are closed, lots of food is served and eaten, drinks are drank, and for it marks a start to spring.  In Ukraine though, things go a bit different.  For many families, Easter starts at 3am when they get up, and head to church.  I didn’t get to go because my host brother went in Chernihiv, and my host mom decided not to go.  I relished in the fact I could sleep in.  I figure I have two more years to experience this holiday, might as well rest while I’m still a little under the weather.  Anyway, once the families get to church, they wait and socialize until its time to bless the food.  Each family brings Pasca, which is the name for Easter, but also the name for a big cake that looks like a giant cupcake.  I was told you cannot eat anything on Pasca until you’ve eaten blessed Pasca cake.  It is quite delicious.  Once the church ceremony is over, many families go back home and nap before going out picnicking or having a big dinner at home.  My family started inside with a huge meal of awesome rice, some sort of salad (with beets, potatoes, fish, and mayonnaise), egg salad, baked fish, and a casserole.  It was delicious!  During dinner my host brother put on some music.  It was a surreal experience listening to Eminem during Easter brunch in Ukraine.  I’d like to hear a fortune teller predict that one a year ago.
After lunch we hung out a little bit. My host mom put on some Ukrainian pop music, and she started dancing around the house, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get up and dance.  Next thing I knew I was wearing a wig and a pirate hat dancing around the house with my host mom and the family friend Natasha.  Dima was picking up his friend from the bus stop and I’m disappointed the dancing ended before he could be embarrassed by our dancing.  We then moved into the backyard not but two hours after we ate brunch in order to start BBQing.  We cooked up some kitchen over a wood fire and then ate yet again.  We hung out the rest of the day into the evening enjoying the weather and snacking on the food.  Somehow we ate almost all of it.  It is a good tactic to let it sit there in front of everyone all day.  In the evening, Amanda and a current Volunteer visiting Amanda’s host family (she lived there when she was training) came over for a bit.  I walked them home, and on my way back I got a phone call from my whole family, which was awesome.  It was a good day.
Today we got a new LCF.  After four weeks, all the LCF’s switch locations and teach different clusters.  We will get Looda back in three weeks.  The first thing we had to do after a long holiday weekend was do an interview to mark our progress so far.  We did alright all things considered.  We had class with the new LCF, who has a different demeanor about her while teaching.  It’s a nice change.  We’ll miss Looda, but after four weeks with us day in and day out as helpless as children I’m sure she’s ready to take on a new group of helpless Americans.   In three weeks Looda will come back with us for the last month.
After language class, Amanda, X, Svieta (the new LCF) and I went to Chernihiv to learn how to use the Russian/Ukrainian ATM’s to get our living stipend out of the bank.  Our LCF mentioned a Cuban restaurant to get some late lunch and internet.  The place was amazing!  The food was great, not too expensive, and they had reggae music playing the whole time.  It had a Che Guevara poster, Cuban flag, and the check was presented in a cigar box.  It’s my new favorite place in Chernihiv.
Tuesday April 26th

Today was a really good day.  Our classes started later than usual, so I decided to take a jog in the morning before class (minus Dima being pulled by a dog).  I took a road near my house that says 7 miles until the next town.  After a few blocks of Ivanivka, it dropped me off by a ton of abandoned warehouses.  That was awesome.  Once I get through the warehouses, I see an expanse of absolutely nothing but field, with the road leading up a hill to a group of trees.  The sun had risen not long ago, and the view was spectacular.  Once I got a mile or so outside the city I realized this may be the furthest I’ve ever been from a human being.  I tried to think of a time where I may have been further from another person, but I don’t know of a time.  It was a very cool realization and a very “zen” moment.

After the run, I was in a great mood the rest of the day.  Language class seemed to go well.  When I got home from that I did laundry and ironed my shirts.  Then I met with the cluster to discuss our community project.  It seems like a lot of work.  We’re trying to put together a cross cultural picnic with the “house of culture” in our small village.  I’m pretty excited about it.  On the way home from that, I saw a man I mad met on Easter with three other guys.  I walked up to them, said hi to Sergay, and introduced myself to the other guys… awkwardly.  I learned their names, asked them how they were doing, and then said it was nice to meet them.  I think they’re all neighbors of my host family, so maybe I can get to know these older dudes and practice my language with them.

Thursday April 28th

Yesterday was pretty normal.  We had health training, and less language than usual, but otherwise nothing that hasn’t happened before happened.  On the way home I said hi again to the neighbors and introduced myself to two other guys.  They even called over to me to make sure I stopped by and said hi to them.  It was very cool!  I hope my language skills improve enough s that I can at least small talk with these guys.

Today was looong.  We started at 7:30am with about two hours of language classes.  Then we walked to the bus stop and took the marshrooka into Chernihiv for our tech sessions, where we learn about community development.  We got through the classes, then headed back home and got back around 5:30pm.  Amanda came over to my house to study for a bit so she didn’t have to talk all the way back to her place and back to my side of the village for our meeting with the House of Culture.   At 7pm we had our meeting with the house of culture and that lasted until past 9pm.  Almost a 14 hour day in my dress clothes.  Yuck!  Tomorrow is another long day.  Four hours of language classes, an hour and a half of tutoring, and then a meeting with the city council.  In the evening we will go to the discotheque that the house of culture throws on the weekends and introduce ourselves with the young adults in the community and also have a meeting with the director after that.  I need the weekend!

I did have one interesting experience this evening.  I was eating the traditional soup (but don’t call it soup!) called Borshch, and it had some meat with an odd look and consistency to it.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I almost thought it may be a weird type of mushroom.  Then I went to the kitchen to drop off my bowl when I saw a skull staring back at me.  I had a terrible epiphany that what I ate was probably the same stuff I saw all over t he meat market in the bazaar.  Yup, pig scalp.

Saturday April 30, 2011

I started my Saturday bright and early at 6am.   I walked over to Amanda’s house and we went on a run around the village.  After the run I went home and got ready for Chernihiv.  We went for our cross-cultural session with our link group, and then a bunch of clusters met up at a museum.  The museum was interesting but I wasn’t in much of a museum mood.  It was a great day outside and all I wanted to do was relax outside.  That wasn’t going to happen in PST (Pre-Service Training)!  After the museum we went to the bazaar a bit before we started our “scavenger hunt” around the city.  I got what otherwise would be called an empanada in the states.  It was very tasty.  Then we met back up for our scavenger hunt, which I just wasn’t into.  Again, I wanted to be relaxing and not doing something.  At least I was outside though.  After a long scavenger hunt where we walked all around the city, we ended the day at the Cuban Restaurant/bar.  We had a much deserved beer and I had a salad.

When I got home everyone at the house had been working outside in the fields, so I asked Dima if he needed help.  He said sure, so I changed my clothes real quick and went outside to help.  I ended up sanding one pipe down that will soon be a replacement fence.  After that, I just watched Dima paint the posts and we talked about the Ukrainian Army.  We also talked about Ukrainian curse words.  For dinner I had the pig scalp/face thing again.  I’m still pretty sure that’s what it is.  It was in rice this time.  Although when I told this story today someone one upped me and told me about their family killing and eating beavers.  It made me feel a bit better!  We also ate garlic leaves.  I’ve never had this before or knew you could eat them, but WOW!  It is so tasty!  It tastes almost like garlic cloves.  It did wonders to the rice.

One thing that has been striking me is how fast spring has come here.  Three weeks ago it was snowing and everything was dead, but now everything is green and alive.  The depressing, boring, dull village I came to a month ago has transformed into a beautiful, colorful, bright and vibrant village full of life and people everywhere.  It has been amazing to see the transformation.  I see so many new sights a day that seeing new things has become normal, and nothing surprises me.  Cow walking down the street?  Whatevs.  Someone is burning a tree stump to get rid of it?  Yup.  A horse drawn carriage?  Get out of my way dude.  A bunch of cars honking their horns flying around the central Chernihiv square three times with a guy leaning waaaay out the window filming it? Neat, I guess.   My senses are numb to the wild things that go on here, and I know I haven’t even seen the whole tip of the iceberg yet.  I’m loving every minute of it though.  The days are long, the language learning is rough, and there are many awkward and difficult moments every day, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now.

Sunday May 1st

Today was amazing.  I got to sleep in, and then I got myself organized and ready for the day.  I went to the mahazin (market) and bought some blankets and food for the picnic.  Then I went to the bus stop to pick up people that have lived in Chernihiv the whole month we’ve been here (some had never been out of the city since getting to Ukraine).  We had quite a few of us (mostly PC Volunteers but also some of our local interpreters) and we walked through Ivanivka toward the picnic spot in the forest Amanda had told us about (about 30 minutes walk).  We picked up Amanda on the way and I went back to pick up two stragglers at the bus stop.  When I got to the spot I was enthralled.  It was gorgeous.  It was on a forested hill that overlooked two ponds, and beyond those were rolling hills of grass.  We all ate way too much, and I drank too much milk.  I hadn’t had any milk in a month and someone from the city brought me some.  I drank almost 2 liters.  We sat around, played cards, and explored the area.  It was a nice relaxing day that I’m sure every one of us needed.  Almost everyone left around 3 or 4, but our cluster stayed and hung around a few more hours and played some cards with our local interpreter.

A few highlights were the city volunteers taking pictures of all the things we’ve become accustomed to the past month, like chickens, turkeys, cows, and horse drawn carriages. In a few weeks the swimming hole behind our town will be swimmable, so we’re hoping to invite another group of city volunteers to our village for some swimming.  Sundays are our only days off, but we’re trying to make the best out of them.

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Week 4… so far.

Posted by defyphysics on April 23, 2011

Tuesday April 19th

How do I sum up the last few days? I keep thinking “I should put this in my blog,” but I end up not writing one at the end of the day because I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted again today, but today is definitely worth writing about. First, a few things about the last few days!

I think Saturday night I got to meet my host brother for the first time. He is the exact opposite of Dima. He’s tall, lanky, and quiet. He loves listening to music, so on Sunday I got out my ipod and nice headphones my coworkers at Hyatt got me, and he was listening for hours on end. He’s a cool guy and a nice ying to Dima’s yang. Sunday we mostly hung around the house. I hand washed my clothes, which evidently I’m not supposed to do anymore because I got scolded by my host mom when she got back. In the evening, Dima opened a bag of sunflower seeds, or “nisinya” and I thought “hey, I’m pretty good with sunflower seeds, this is my chance to show them I can fit in!” Wrong! A professional baseball player would be shamed by the talent of a Ukrainian eating a sunflower seed. So would a parrot. With amazing grace and skill, the put the seed to their mouth and magically the seed jumps into their mouth and they pull away a seedless sunflower seed shell. Dima says he will teach me, but I just end up crushing the whole shell and getting shell in my teeth. I suppose, of all things, this may be the true test of when I am integrated to Ukrainian society.

On Sunday we sat around home most of the day, which was good because I needed the rest. I studied a little, and I handwashed some laundry, but other than that I sat and watched TV, watched some episodes of Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia on my laptop, and tried to enjoy the nasty rainy day that it was for all it was worth.

Monday we went to class as usual, except during our language class our LCF told us we should reschedule our trip to Kiev for Tuesday. We were excited by the chance of going with our link group, but we didn’t have much choice in the matter. After class Amanda and I went on an impromptu walk, changed into jeans and picked up Dima. We walked a bit and then called X and got her in on the walk. We tried Adam but he was busy with the host family. It was a beautiful evening, and it was fun hanging out with Dima, who has a unique sense of humor. At times, he reminds me of my good friend Mike back when we first met, if Mike had spoke mediocre English. When we were walking Dima mentioned wanting to go on a run in the morning, so I said sure, I’ll go with you.

…Which leads me to this morning. We both got up, got dressed, and walked out to the yard without saying a word. Then Dima says we’re going to take Max, his German Shepherd. He puts the dog on the leash, and we walk out the gate. We start running, and all the sudden Max is sprinting, practically dragging Dima as I run behind the scene laughing. Every once in a while we would stop and catch our breath, then it was time for Dima to be drug behind the dog and me to stifle my laughter. After about 1KM we turned around and came back. At some point an old man stopped us on the road and told us we were waking everyone up because every dog in the village was barking. Dima argued with him for a bit while I smiled not knowing if they were saying hi, arguing, exchanging information, or anything really. This is one of the many times here I’ve felt more like I was in a movie or a book than actually living life.

I got home and got ready for Kiev. We met at the bus stop, took the Marshrooka to Chernihiv. From Chernihiv we took the bus to the outskirts of Kiev. We got off at some bazaar, which was huge. We went straight to the Metro, where we shuffled into and took into the city. More, and more, and more people loaded onto the metro until you didn’t have to hold onto the handles anymore since everyone around you was propping you up. We got off near the center of the city and our task was to find the Peace Corps office all on our own. We asked directions, and after a bit we found it. The office staff was really cool, and the lounge they have for Volunteers is really nice.

After that we wanted some ethnic food, but failed. We found Italian but it was expensive. We were told Chinese food was very expensive too. We ended up at a Ukrainian style buffet. It was really good though. Then we headed to independence square. I can’t express how awesome it was to walk through the capital, which is beautiful, historic, and full of both European and Russian influence. Independence square is amazing! I could have spent three days just exploring that area, eating at the restaurants and people watching in the square, but our time was short and we had to head back to Kiev. We had a long bus ride through Kiev traffic back to Ivanivka. I’m glad I get to go back to this city a few more times during training, and often during my service. It might be a bit overwhelming to live there, but as a place you have to visit a few times a year, I’m looking forward to it.

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A Typical Day in the life of a Ukrainian Peace Corps Trainee

Posted by defyphysics on April 16, 2011

A typical day begins at about 6:30am when my alarm goes off.  I’m usually already partially awake, and the only reason I press the snooze button is that my sweater is on the other side of the room and I know it is cold outside my covers.  Eventually after a 5 minute snooze or two, I make a break for my sweater and get my blood moving by getting my clothes together for the day.  I then head to the shower, which is outside in an unheated part of the house.  The small shower room has a space heater, which I plug in.  The unheated bathroom is next to the shower room, and I make a trip there trying to think warm thoughts.  Then I head back to the shower room which is maybe a few degrees warmer by now and brush my teeth and shave.  By then, it is warm enough to take a miserably quick shower.  Luckily, there is warm water, but this does little justice when the air temperature is still in the 50’s.  Luckily, it is customary for showers to be very quick in Ukraine, and I have no complaints about that.  It is also customary to take only a few showers a week.  In Florida that would be impossible because of the heat, but in a colder climate it has been very easy to keep clean and smelling nice.  Plus, because a shower is such a harrowing experience, I’m glad not to do it every day.

After I get out of the shower, I put on my business clothes (yuck) and head out to the living room.  Sometimes my host mom will have a booterbrawt (open faced sandwich) and some chai (tea) waiting for me.  Sometimes I have to make it myself.  Either way, I have to devour it and try and drink molten lava temperature tea in 5 minutes.  It has become an art of sorts.  Then, I go to the door to inspect my shoes.  Before I leave, I have to make sure they are acceptable.  In Ukraine, shoes are an important part of your appearance, and you have to make sure they are clean and shiny.  I mostly do this to make sure I don’t get a scolding from my host mom as I walk out the door.  I get a look of approval if I am caught cleaning my shoes.

Then, it is time for the gauntlet.  This is the space between the front door and the fence gate.  The ground is usually muddy, and there are usually several of our dogs waiting to shower me with love and muddy paws on my way out.  I rarely escape without a nice muddy paw print on my newly hand washed and ironed pants.  Once I get out to the street, I start my 20 minute walk to my LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator/language teacher)’s house.  As I walk, I dodge chickens, stray dogs, horse drawn carriages, and uneven pothole filled muddy roads.  As I walk, a chorus of roosters fills the air, along with the occasional smell of manure.  I pass by the other villagers as they tend to their farms, or walk to the bus stop to the city.  When I pass the school children, I either get a “hello” or “good morning” in English, or I can hear them say to their friends “americanky”.  It amazes me how much me and the other Americans stand out, as much as we try and fit in.

When I get to my LCF’s house, I take off my shoes at the door, as is customary in Ukraine.  The best part of this custom is that I get to go to class in my socks.  We then have two hours of grueling language training, followed by a chai break. My cluster has a “cookie schedule” which designates who buys cookies when we run out, so we always have some cookies waiting for us during the break.  Then it’s back to two hours of grueling language training.  After this we go to the school cantina at the grade school down the street. We get a really good lunch that is very cheap.  Most of the other groups are jealous of our cheap lunches.  We only pay 1-3 UAH ($.15-.75). At this point in the day is usually where the schedule is inconsistent.  Occasionally, the day is over at this point and we go home.  Usually though, there is either tutoring with the LCF, a trip to Chernihiv for a meeting or training, or some technical training at our LCF’s house.  This could mean anywhere from another hour to four hours worth of training, classes and meetings.  Once we’re done, it’s time to head home.

Once I get home I usually try and have a small conversation with my host mom or brother.  Sometimes they’re not up for it.  It’s also a bit rough because my host mom speaks mostly Russian, so even if I’m speaking proper Ukrainian, she doesn’t know what I’m saying.  Then, it’s time for a break from Ukrainian and I either hop on the internet for a few minutes if nobody is on, or I read a book, play around on the laptop or just sit around and watch my host family.  Then, it’s time for homework.  At some point during or after the homework it’s time to eat.  The meal ALWAYS has bread served with it, and usually consists of some sort of meat, and pasta or potatoes.  There is usually a side of some sort of “salad”.  Lately the salad has consisted of pickles, onions, and garlic.  If I finish my homework at a decent time, and get some vocab flashcards done, I watch some TV with my host brother or read some more.   I’m usually exhausted by 8pm and try and make it until 9 or 10 until I finally give in and get to bed.

Daily, something out of the ordinary happens.  This could be anything from a visitor to the house, an odd bit of food, an adventurous trek with the clustermates, passing some weird occurrence on the street or making an embarrassing mistake with the language.  However, most days go somewhat like this.  I rarely have the time to be homesick or think about what I may be missing at home.  Sundays are our only days off, but those days are spent catching up with everything from studying language, to laundry, to playing a soccer game.  For the most part, my other days are scheduled out for me and I eat when I’m told or someone puts food in front of me, and I rarely know who’s going to show up at the host house when, leaving me often surprised or confused.  I’m enjoying the training, but find solace in knowing it only lasts 3 months.  It is an adventure, but it is also an overload of information, stress, food, confusion, surprises, and lack of freedom.

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Week 3

Posted by defyphysics on April 16, 2011

Friday April 8th

The first half of my day today was spent struggling with Ukrainian.  I felt like I had done far worse than I have been doing during class and felt like nothing was “sticking”.  I have read plenty of other volunteer experiences about days like that (and every other situation I’ve felt so far), but it is very disheartening to have a day like that.  Once language classes were over we met with the organization we’ll be working with for the next two months.  The organization is called, in literal English translation, the “house of culture”.  They put on concerts, hold club meets, and hold events for holidays.  We had a hard time figuring out what we’ll be doing with them, but it looks like we’re going to survey some teenagers and young adults to see what they would like offered as an event or club.  That way, we’re not putting on something they’re not interested in.  Hopefully though, the teenage urge to be disinterested in everything can be overridden with the prospect of hanging with some people from another country.  Figuring out what we’re going to do was also a difficult task that added to my frustration with the day.

Once I got home though, my confidence in language ebbed from absolute zero to pretty decent as Dima’s friend Natasha, who has been over quite a few times and hasn’t spoke much to me started to talk to me.  We both are terrible at each other’s language, but I think I impressed her with my progress, and I was impressed by her English. She just has a lack of confidence with English.  Anyway, I think my host mom was impressed by my progress, since she’s been out of town the last few days.  I’ve understood what she’s said and made a few small sentences that were understood.  Progress is progress I guess.   Also, after dinner we had to go pick up some dog food from the other side of town.  We took the bike to make carrying the bag of food easier on the way back.  It was about 3°C out, and raining.  Dima let me have the bike and I rode around the puddles and mud on the dirt roads through the village.  It was freezing and wet, but I enjoyed it because I think it finally hit me “wow, I’m definitely in Ukraine.”

Tomorrow I get to sleep in and wear jeans to class (our cluster takes jeans day VERY seriously).  After class we take a field trip to Chernihiv to learn how to shop at the bazaar.  I get to try and haggle using my terrible language skills.  Then we’ll stop to get some grub.  On Sunday, Dima and some other Ukrainians want to show the Ivanivka volunteers around Chernihiv.  I can’t wait to be shown Chernihiv because all our trips there are not to explore but to go to a class or some organization or another.  A lot of times we ask about something but our trainers/teachers have no clue because they’re not from Chernihiv and haven’t had a chance to explore either.  Hopefully I’ll be able to post a bunch of pictures soon.  I really want to show people what I’ve been doing and seeing here in Ukraine.

Saturday April 9th

Today was a lot of fun.  I started the day by sleeping in a little.  Our first class didn’t start until 10.  On Saturdays we meet with our “link cluster”, who are a lot of fun.  Our classes usually go a little long but that’s’ because we’re all having a good time.  They’re living “the city life” in Chernihiv, so we like to hear about places to go there and they like hearing about our village life.  We get subsidized lunches in the village, which not only is a lot of good food, but its cheap.  It runs anywhere from 1.5UAH to 3UAH, which  is no more than a dollar.  It usually comprises of a fresh soup w/ potatos and carrots, and maybe a really good porridge or rice and chicken.  They on the other hand have to fend for themselves for food, and city prices are expensive.  I splurge every once in a while on a lunch or a luxury item here and there but I have not gone close to going over Peace Corps budget.  On the other hand, the Chernihiv group has had troubles with their allotted money.  We like to give them a hard time about it every chance we get!  We also had some current volunteers who have been here two years at the meeting.  It was fun asking them questions and getting some pointers on Ukraine.

After classes we went to the bazaar.  This place is amazing!  We went there partially as a class assignment and partially to buy stuff we had neglected to buy (for me it was a professional looking bag and a hat).  We also had to buy ingredients for a pot-luck of sorts that our cluster is having Monday, where we learn to navigate a Ukrainian kitchen and cook the food we bought at the bazaar.  Anyway, the bazaar is kind of like a Flea Market, except it is filled with things you actually need and want.  Jackets, hats, a meat section that is beyond explainable (X took pictures so sometime I’ll be able to show everyone), every food you can think of, home appliances and anything else you can think of.  It goes on forever, and whenever you walk up to a little stand some baboosya (grandma in Ukrainian) starts talking to you in Russian, presumably telling us what she’s selling.  I got a bag, but had a hard time finding a hat that fit. It is hard to shop at a bazaar with four trainees, two current volunteers, and two trainers.  It’s way too easy to get distracted by this or that.  Maybe in the coming weeks I’ll take a trip with less people.

It looks like the trip to Chernihiv tomorrow with Dima won’t happen.  It’s been too cold and rainy to enjoy any length of time outside.  Maye next weekend.

Sunday April 10th

Today all the clustermates went to visit each other’s families as part of our homework assignment.  Everyone visited my family first, and I must not have expressed what was happening to them very well because they left us alone and didn’t socialize.  They’ve already met Dima a few times, and my host mom once anyway, but the point of the visit was to “interview” the family with our limited Ukrainian.  After that we went to all the other houses.  It was pretty cool to see the houses and the people they were staying with.  After hearing so many stories about the families and their homes it was fun to put faces to people.  Each family and home had its charm, but also had its awkwardness that came with limited ability to communicate.  We ended up eating way too much food at everyone’s house.

When I got home of course, it was dinner time.  It was a meal I normally would have enjoyed.  Pork and fish; but after all the other food I could barely touch it.  When we finished, Dima, Dima’s friend Natasha, and my host mom sat down around the computer and they sang Russian Karaoke.  I chimed in as much as I could with my limited ability to read Russian.  I still had a blast.  The Russian songs were great!

Thursday April 14th

The last few days have been pretty normal.  On Monday, after our language classes we cooked the meal with the food we bought at the bazaar.  We made American cheeseburgers (the best we could given our ingredients), and we made Ukrainian pancakes.  It was really good, and it was a lot of fun cooking with all the clustermates.  Tuesday, I had a good day in class and a good tutoring session.  Yesterday was pretty typical too.  Today, after two hours of language class here in Ivanivka, we went to Chernihiv for a long technical training session.  Mind you this is the first time we went to Chernihiv by ourselves as a cluster, so when we got out we wanted to check out a few things we have wanted to see in town before we left for home.  We went to McDonalds, where X and I got a burger for 6 UAH, which is less than a dollar.  It was the regular terrible McDonalds, but it was the best McDonalds I’ve ever had after weeks of Ukrainian food.  Don’t get me wrong, Ukrainian food is REALLY good, but it lacks the diversity I’m used to.  In Ukraine, you don’t cook Mexican one night, go out for Chinese the next, and then cook some southern BBQ the day after.  It’s mostly potatoes, pasta, fish, sausages, meatcakes, and the occasional fruit.  Most of it is very good, but I’m definitely craving Thai food, Mexican food, and BBQ sauce for some reason.

Yesterday my other host brother came home from the army.  I still haven’t met him, but evidently he was home when I was in language class yesterday, and has been in Chernihiv since then hanging with his friends.  I’m excited to meet him!  He doesn’t speak as much English as Dima, but he speaks some German.  I guess tonight, from what I can understand, there will be four friends of Sasha (my host mom) coming over late tonight.  They all will be spending the night and going to a dog show tomorrow in Kiev.  Tomorrow I’ll be hanging out with them after my language classes.  That and their five dogs!

Friday April 15th

Today was a cool day.  We started off with language classes and they seemed to go pretty well.  After that I had to put on the suit and head into Chernihiv with the cluster to a meeting with an organization called apelseen (that means orange, the fruit, in Ukrainian).  This organization was amazing!  It is also called the “Center of Progressive Youth”.  We walked in and there was really good graffiti on the walls.  Then we met with the people in charge, and they told us what they did.  They held rock concerts for local musicians to teach them how to put on a gig, how to use the equipment, and develop them into professional musicians.  They also have a recording studio and other equipment they loan to developing artists.  They charge admission to their concerts, and with that they pay for the building and pay for social improvement projects.  They focus on educating youth about drug dependency, HIV/AIDS, and the development of the NGO sector in Chernihiv.  They also have educational seminars on democratic leadership, civil and electoral rights, and try and get the youth involved in their city’s future.  Lastly, they have a volunteer program where youth help improve the city by solving small city issues with things like beautification projects an.   While I was there, they also told us how they host other organizations in their space, and allow youth to organize events and projects in their space, to do whatever they want as long as it is safe, drug free, and productive.  Overall, it is a place that I would definitely want to work with if I were here permanently.  We promised to try and help them as much as we can during training, and anyone in the states that wants to help should find  a partner organization in the states that would like to work with them.  www.cpmapelsin.com.ua

After that, we headed back to the village for more language classes.  We organized a movie night, so we all headed home and changed, went to the store and got some food (Ukrainian pasta with red sauce), and headed over to our LCF’s to make dinner and watch a movie.  It was good to be able to relax around all the trainees and our LCF for once.  Everyone’s really cool, and we’re all relaxed around each other anyway, but for once we weren’t running to a meeting or trying to learn a language.

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