Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Just updated my books read and a suggested partial packing list in my secondary page. Check them out, leave comments. Will try to get more up on the main blog soon.

January is almost over and the start of February will be starting with a conference for my entire group to signal the beginning of the end. The conference is signaling the end of service, which will actually happen sometime in April or May. But that doesn’t mean this past month hasn’t been at all just looking toward the end. I haven’t truly been able to think too much about that as I have been keeping as busy as possible with day-to-day activities and the full phalanx of holidays that started with New Years and continued through Orthodox Christmas and a second New Years based on the old calendar. This doesn’t include all of the smaller holidays. So it all boils down to me keeping plenty busy, but not in the general work centered way of thinking. I guess you could say I’ve been too busy to work.

Since New Years eve and my birthday coincide, I wanted to have a good time, so along with Ira and some of her friends we planned to stay in a hostel in Lviv. I had met the owner of the hostel during a party for Halloween and he was a good guy, originally from Australia. He was accommodating and it was a great time there. It was fun to see the mixture of the two styles of celebrating New Years since other Peace Corps Volunteers were celebrating in the same hostel, which was a surprise to me. Parties in general are a little bit different, Americans tend to have parties with people standing up more and walking around, they will carry their plates and drinks and eat standing up. Ukrainians have the party centered around a table, heaps of food is put on the table and they tend to sit around the table the entire time and often will watch the television shows that are on. There are shows in the U.S. too, of course, who hasn’t watched the ball fall in Times Square at least once on TV?

But the fun was to go to the center in Lviv by the Opera Theatre, a huge crowd of people had gathered around the central Christmas Tree, since Christmas had not come yet in Ukraine. A large screen showed a countdown, but what really showed the start of the new year was the near explosion of fireworks that happened. Growing up in Oregon was a tame experience since it was illegal to buy any truly exploding fireworks or rockets of any type. As far as I could tell, there is no limit on what people can buy beyond the amount they want to spend. Rockets were flying everywhere, M-80s and a variety of other fireworks were blowing up, it was absolute chaos, and a lot of fun. The best advice was to stay in crowded areas, because any open space was almost guaranteed to have a explosive of some sort thrown into it. I had no desire to visit a hospital that night, so I tried to stay as safe as possible.

After the actual turn of the new year, we headed back to the hostel, but it definitely didn’t signal the end of the night, we headed out again and didn’t actually head to sleep until somewhere around 4 a.m. All in all, I can’t complain about the night, it was a good time. But the festivities didn’t end that day because Ira’s brother has a birthday five days after me, which is followed by Christmas Eve and the holy supper and then by Christmas the next day, January 7.

Holy supper is almost considered more important than Christmas day itself. Although all of the days include quite a bit of eating. The supper itself traditionally consists of 12 different dishes, none of which have any meat in them. Although fish is in quite a few different dishes. The dishes are almost a menu of traditional Ukrainian cuisine, which consists of holybsi (cabbage rolls), vareniky (a kind of dumpling), rice, potatoes and fried different dishes. One of the dishes I only see around the holidays is called kutya, a mixture of poppy seeds, raisins, sugar and occasionally nuts. The dish is really sweet, but also quite tasty. I ate my fair share of it, and probably a bit more.

All that makes for a busy week, well at least a celebratory week. Of course the next couple days afterwards were also minor holidays or at least angel days. One of the early things I learned in Ukraine, is not only are there names that are quite common, basically every name has its own name day, most likely more than one. So the people named Tanya get to celebrate their day, Igor, Sasha. They all get their own days when people congratulate them for having that name and have a party.
I had a few days at home after that before.

I had a few days at home, before taking off to the next trip to visit another volunteer and then to Budapest, Hungary. At fellow volunteer’s site, there was going to be a wine festival. Why they hold a wine festival in the beginning of January is beyond me, but there is so I headed to Robert Henderson’s site and things just didn’t work out the way we expected. On the way, he was bit by a dog, in itself, it doesn’t seem like a big problem, although painful, but Peace Corps requires anyone bit by a dog to either quarantine it, or go to Kyiv for rabies shots. They wouldn’t believe his story of being able to contain the dog and it was only a small scratch, so he needed to go to Kyiv, which put a crimp in our plans to celebrate the festival with him. But he left us the key to his place and we had a good time, even without him and ended up meeting up with him in Budapest, rather than him traveling with us.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


I got to thinking about the Peace Corps motto the other day. “The hardest job you’ll ever love.” I guess it was because there have just been frustrations recently with how much good I can actually achieve here. I can’t compare to other countries, but there are many times it feels like the work I’m trying to do is not always appreciated or wanted, and have heard some of these feelings from other volunteers as well. Not all of them, some have wonderful jobs at their sites and love them. But as I was thinking about it (I was on a marshrutka going to a club) I remembered that is probably part of the challenge. I don’t know how my physical challenges stack up to someone serving in Africa or South America, but I deal with my own challenges here and struggles. Some of them are entrenched in the culture, and some are entrenched in me.
In less than three months will mark my being in the country for two years. I am not the same person I was when I came to Ukraine. Or maybe I am, but have been able to find parts of me that have been brought out by the circumstances here and challenged my true self to expose itself. One thing I have already begun to realize and start to plan for is how will I incorporate this experience into my future life. Peace Corps is great at helping people try out things and truly find what they like and are good at, at least it has been for me.
I came to Ukraine with a background in newspapers and little experience working with youth, despite what PC may have thought by putting me in a Youth Development program. I haven’t been able to “save” each kid I’ve worked with, and haven’t even been able to make friends with each student I’ve worked with, but I can hope I have at least influenced some of them to look at different options in their life and help expand their horizons. I came to Ukraine with conflicting ideas of what I wanted to accomplish here, I told myself if I can change at least one kid for the better I will consider it a success and then got caught up in the idea that somehow I should try and influence every student I encounter. The true goal should be somewhere in between, I can’t help, nor does every student want to work with me or want my help. But hopefully what I have been able to do thus far is help some students who have looked for experience to show them something new.
In the remaining months I have left here (it is counted in months now and not years), what I think I will try to focus on is that. There are students who want to work with me; I need to recommit myself to that.
So in closing, I struggled with the idea of if I truly love my job with PC. In the end, I think I do. There is no other job I would prefer to be doing now. There are struggles, but when I put them in context with other jobs I’ve held, they aren’t necessarily harder. And while I don’t always get daily satisfaction with what I do, I do have great days that I can look back and feel some sense of accomplishment, even if I don’t know the exact result of them. Peace Corps is unlike any job I think can be taken, as it is so flexible and dependent on the individual. This can be extremely stressful, because there is not much of a safety net to fall into. But it can be fulfilling in that part as well. It isn’t a permanent job (thankfully) and I will be ready for whatever step is next after Peace Corps. But yes, I do think this is by far the hardest job, and I do love it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Winter has definitely come for those who have kept up looking at my photos over at Flickr. Although it is hard to tell exactly what kind of winter is coming. Today has seen a lot of weather that was not especially cold, but more along the lines of miserable with wind and rain most of the day. But there also was about a week where it snowed or there was at least snow on the ground and below freezing temperatures. It meant I was able to get out some of my cold weather gear and see how well it stored (it all was just fine). Got to test out a new scarf Ira got me and a new hat. I’m ready for a winter the babusyas are saying will be a cold one.

One other thing you may have noticed in the pictures is our celebration of Thanksgiving. While the holiday is being in America, there was the ironic part of our celebrating it on the same day that Ukraine was commemorating Holodimor, or the great famine that was forced upon the country during Stalin’s rule. So while we Americans were celebrating and feasting, Ukraine was remembering a time when thousands upon thousands were dying because they had no food. It was a fact that wasn’t lost on us as we cut up the turkey and shared what we brought. If anything there were some interesting parallels, because there is the history of so many Pilgrims dying the year before because they didn’t have enough food. We did light a candle that night to put on the windowsill in solidarity with others who had lit candles to remember that time. It is a sad fact that Ukraine suffered so much during that time, with horrific numbers of dead, and it was almost completely covered up at the time. At least it has been remembered in history. A famine completely caused by choice.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

13 November 2007

So it has been months since I actually got down and put something into my computer to detail what has been going on here. It isn’t that I’m absolutely swamped, or that I’m just lazy and bored, but I have been busy and at least a little lazy at points in keeping this updated.

But I did need to read what I had last read to catch up where I left off. Obviously I did short shrift to my summer, since I didn’t include much in the way of camps I participated in, one being a multi-cultural camp I helped with and a second being an environmental camp. You can find photos from both at Flickr, so go take a look, if you want more details send me a note and I can fill in holes.

More recently I got back from my first trip to Eastern Ukraine, and some of the fears I had of only hearing Russian and people from the east being meaner were unfounded. I took a weekend trip to celebrate Halloween in Kharkiv (Kharkov, Russian spelling) and had a good time, in and outside of the party. Pictures for that are also up. Probably the hardest part of all if it is just the sheer amount of time it takes to get there. I needed to board a train to Kharkiv from Lviv in the west Friday at 8 in the morning and we did not arrive until Saturday at about 4:30 in the morning, which made for a long day. Thankfully there was a 24-hour cafĂ©; only problem was it closed at 8 in the morning. No one could figure out why it closed, especially since it was there was a sign written in English and Ukrainian stating it is “non-stop”. Oh the life.

The main reason going to Kharkiv was the party, however, Peace Corps was concerned about the potential for trouble and was trying to discourage people from attending, being said, there were still around 100 attendees and as far as I know, not a problem was reported. I had the idea ranging back a bit to try and acquire a military uniform, fortunately Ira’s father was willing to give me some of his old uniforms that were lying around so I was able to get as dressed up as you see in the photos for free. The only thing it cost was were the confused looks I got from people as I walked down the street. They weren’t really sure what to make of me, since I didn’t really look the military type, but had the full uniform to play the part. I didn’t go overboard while dressed up, was a little concerned it might attract attention, but most people I knew and who saw it thought it was a good job. I thought it was fun.

Going back a little further chronologically, my parents visited the first part of October for about 10 days. It was a good visit, nothing went exactly as I had planned it, but there was a general order to it. They had a chance to visit Europe, meet people I know and experience what life can be like in Ukraine, the good and not so good.
We started out when they flew into Kyiv and ended up leaving that night on the train to Lviv. I had hoped we would have a little time in Kyiv to start out with, but I was stuck with the unavailability of tickets. Once in Lviv, my parents got to meet Ira as she met us at the train station before we were whisked away to the bus station to go to my town. Once there, we were able to relax for a bit and my parents caught up on sleep they hadn’t been able to do earlier. Sleeping on a train that bumps around was a new experience, I think. We spent more time in Dobrotvir, than I expected, but it worked out in the end as they were able to adjust a bit to the time change and get some energy, attend teachers day with English teachers from my school and meet other people from my town.

From there we started to see a bit more of the touristy parts of Ukraine, mainly Lviv and later Kyiv. One of my only regrets was we were not able to meet up with my first host family Ira also came along with us for the trip to Kyiv, which was great and we even were able to get a little extra information by going to a graduate school fair that was held that evening, most conveniently. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of schools that caught either of our attention. The fair was for schools worldwide. I’m still undecided if I will go back to school when I finish my Peace Corps service. Right now I am leaning towards waiting at least a bit so I can have a specific goal and degree in mind before I start.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I left off at the part where we took the money and ran off to Poland. Yeah, sure this was the end of June when we did this and it is currently the end of August and I’m typing this on a place back to the U.S.A., but the story is good so read along, or just skip down a couple paragraphs.

After having the travel agency make a royal screwup in the visa process, we changed plans and looked at places to go in Poland, which Ira had the visa for already. I wanted a beach, so we headed north to the Blatic Sea city of Gdansk. There was a brief stopover in Warsaw to look around a bit, we had our first experience couchsurfing. For those who don’t know what couchsurfing is, it is a website that allows you to contact other individuals and meet up with them in cities you are traveling to or you to meet them traveling through your city. This can also be used to find places to stay. I had hosted one person at my own place before this experience and had met other people in Lviv before. But this was the first time I had traveled and especially stayed with people I hadn’t met beforehand.

The first experience was with a couple who had this small house on the outskirts of Gdansk and it was an experience just getting there. We made it onto a bus without a problem and rode it to the final shop taking us to this cement plant where they met us. We found it a little odd, but then we proceeded to walk straight through the plant and out the other side and into a wooded area. At this point it was getting interesting where exactly we were being taken, but we shortly came out and up to their newly built house. After a delicious vegan meal, we looked at going out and meeting up with some of their friends that evening. (Side note: I don’t think I could ever be fully vegetarian after the experience. While it was tasty, it never seemed as filling as I might prefer.) The evening ended at about 5 in the morning and included going to a club and fire shows, lots of fun stuff.

After several days of Gdansk, Ira and I planned on heading to Lublin, east of Warsaw and see a small town there that still has its medieval wall. The train was late and we made a split second decision to jump on a train and off we headed to Krakow. Original plan was either Gdasnk or Krakow. This way we got both. Fun times! You can see pictures I posted from Krakow at Flickr.

More on the summer and start of school soon!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

So wow, it’s August and it has been months since an entry showed up on these pages. Apologies to those who have wondered what happened to me, life has come at me pretty fast these past few months and it’s hard to believe it is almost time for school to start again already.

For those of you who follow international news and saw there was a Phosphorous spill in the oblast I live in, don’t worry I wasn’t around and although it was a pretty big mess, it was overblown. I’ve just been forbidden to swim in my local river for the rest of the summer. What was most disturbing and admittedly a little funny in retrospect was the specter given by an official that it may be the next Chernobyl event. Talk about doing nothing to assuage the public, that caused unnecessary panic and from what I heard he was a little drunk when he made the proclamation, he apologized later. The real situation was nowhere near that bad and although there was a cloud of phosphorous that sent people to the hospital, no one died that I heard about.

With that, here is a little bit of a fill-in on what I have been up to during this time. One of the original reasons I didn’t blog for a while was my hard drive crashed and I lost everything on it. That really sucked, since I lost about five months worth of pictures, documents and everything else on my computer. The good thing is that I had a lot of data backed up on an external drive so I didn’t lose as much as I might. Music and many documents were backed up, unfortunately I hadn’t backed up the most recent pictures, so some of those will only be found on Flickr now from those five months of service. At least I posted some from that time. That was a pretty rough patch, but ended on a positive note because I was able to find someone to fix my computer in the country, which meant replacing the hard drive and reinstalling all system hardware. All of that cost me only the cost of the drive, and I have a much larger drive now, hallelujah.

Shortly after my computer was repaired school ended, summer started and I began traveling, both for business and even a weeklong vacation. The first was a trip around Poland, which turned into an almost comprehensive look at the larger cities. The original plan was to visit Prague, which you may have heard of my plans, but the travel agency Ira and I were working through to simplify the visa process for her basically did no work and left us with no visa to go on the trip. At least they gave us the money back. So we both missed out on Prague, but took the money and spent a week in Poland.

Will try to catch this up more soon. Check back to find out how Poland was and assorted summer camps.