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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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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