Know My Velocity

My Peace Corps Experience in Ukraine

  • My name is Casey and I'm going to Ukraine with the Peace Corps to help develop non-governmental organizations. This is my adventure, and I'd like you to know my velocity.
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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.

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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