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.
  • Flickr Photos

  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 15 other followers

  • Advertisements
  • Skype Me

    My Skype name is defyphysics. If you do not have Skype, you can download it here.

  • Disclaimer

    The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

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.


3 Responses to “Week Whatever!”

  1. Wynne T. Black said

    We are enjoying your writing. I gave Barb some questions to present to you. Some have been anwered but it you could…

  2. Barb Magee said

    Hi Casey,

    Hope everything has been going well with your language training. Here are a few questions the classes have been asking me to ask you:

    Are there any nightclubs?

    What is there to do for entertainment?

    Are there any alcohol issues in the country? And is their alcohol different from the United States?

    What about the female population?

    Biggest differences from the USA?

    Any big surprises? Any big disappointments?

    When can we SKYPE? Can you send pictures?

    Are there any communist legacies in the Ukraine?

    Mrs. Magee and Mr. Black

    • Are there any nightclubs?
      In my small village there is a discotech, which is in the “House of Culture”. It is basically a room that has a disco ball in it, and they turn off the lights and turn up loud music. . In the city, which is about 25 minutes by bus, there are a lot of dance clubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, and rock venues.

      What is there to do for entertainment?
      Training is very hectic and there is little time for anything. However, if I weren’t so busy, there are plenty of things to do in the city. The things I have done are walk around the city, shop at the bazaar, hang out at the cafes, take tours, gone to museums, and sat in the parks. In the village there is a lot less to do, but there is a watering hole that people go to when it is warm, and the mahazin (local market) is a place to meet people and hang around. We just found a new cafe in the village, so my group is anxious to check it out soon. There is also a really cool picnic location next to a lake where we’ve hung out a few times.

      Are there any alcohol issues in the country? And is their alcohol different from the United States?
      Alcohol is an issue. I wouldn’t say it is more of an issue than the US, but it is something they deal with. Even though it is illegal to drink in public, just like the states, it is a lot more acceptable to drink in public, and a lot of people do. The most readily accessible alcohol is beer, vodka, wine, and cognac. Everything else is hard to find and expensive.

      What about the female population?
      This is a good question. Ukraine has one of the highest ratios of women to men, which mean women outnumber men. My group was just commenting on a girl that was dressed in a very fancy dress that was out with a guy in an adidas track suit. Generally, the women dress very classy, sometimes provocative, ,and almost always in heels. Guys generally dress in jeans and a sweater, or a track suit… unless at work.

      Biggest differences from the USA?
      So far the biggest difference for me is living in a small village. There are chickens, cows, horses, dogs, and cats just hanging out in the streets. Sometimes it feels like its out of a movie. Obviously the language is a big difference. I’m actually asking my group this question right now because I’m having a hard time figuring out which differences are the biggest, because most of them are small, but there are TONS of small differences. Here’s what they said. “They sell EVERYTHING by weight here.” “The concept of 8 of their dollars (hirivni) to 1 of ours is hard to figure out.” “Things aren’t as convenient here, stores close whenever and there is no 24/7 shops.” “Everything is written in the cyrillic alphabet. “Some people speak russian, some people speak Belarussian , some people speak ukrainian.” “It is weird being a minority in a place there are hardly any travelers that don’t speak at least Russian”

      Any big surprises? Any big disappointments?
      The biggest surprise for me is the range of development. What I mean, is that while having internet and cell phones, for some things they use very old technology. Someone may own two cell phones and have the internet, but will have an outhouse and take bucket showers. The disparity is a huge surprise, and is very intriguing to me. The biggest disappointment for me is my language skills. Although I feel confident doing some things, and it is fun to make small talk with the neighbors and old men on the street, it is very hard to express what you want a lot of the time. I’m getting better everyday, but every time I can’t say what I want to say to someone it disappoints me. It is a big driving force in keeping up with my language classes though.

      When can we SKYPE? Can you send pictures?
      I’m trying my best to figure out when I can skype. Our big community project is done on May 22nd, so I’ll have more free time after that. Maybe sometime the week after that day, or two weeks after that day we can set it up. I’m going to try my best! I have a lot of pictures on my blog, so check that out. I now have pictures from my village and the nearby city.

      Are there any communist legacies in the Ukraine?
      Some people loved the way it was under the USSR, and wish it was back that way. Other people want a quicker transition to capitalism and look at the US and some of Europe as examples of how they want Ukraine to be. It is an interesting time in the country. I went to a parade earlier this week that celebrated the victory in World War II (It’s called the Great Patriotic War here). Since at that time they were part of the USSR, there was a lot of the old communist symbolism like flags and old armed service uniforms. The country is very divided on the issue. There are still a lot of statues of Lenin, but everything related to Stalin is gone, for obvious reasons if you know history.

      I hope I answered some of your questions. Always feel free to email me if you want some more in depth information. I don’t get much internet now, but in the summer when I get assigned to a site I should have internet and would love to answer questions. From what I hear, the first few months I’ll have a lot of free time while I integrate into my workplace and learn the language even more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: