·                     Thursday, 31 August 2006

The Circus is in Town!

If I press my left cheek against the left side of the living room window, I can see the bright red and yellow circus tent that went up yesterday afternoon! The regulars sitting at the outside tables at the local store almost have a ringside seat!  I can almost smell the canvas!


We have tickets for the Sunday evening performance of the Bim-Bom Circus from Simferopol.


I especially like the wild animal acts – I hope there are big cats and elephants!


·                     Tuesday, 29 August 2006

0930: The confused parakeets are roosting…

Outside it is as dark as night.  Thunder rolls in the distance and a gentle rain is spilling down, splashing on the pavement; reminding me that summer is behind us now.


On the official Ukrainian calendar, Fall begins effective 1 September.  Americans hold out until late September, when the moon and stars and the sun all signal a change.


The rain is pounding down now!


0945: The storm abates, the power is off…

The rain has slowed.  Cat-Woman is out doing inventory of the courtyard cat population.  Two men rollup their pant legs to their knees, tote their shoes, and wade through the brown river that was a paved street just a short time ago. 


The curbs that define the street are underwater.  My flat now looks out on a brown rapids, raging down to the sea.


The storm, at its height, was a symphony of percussion. 


1000: Thunder plays a solo with rain playing harmony…

It is mid-morning, but I sit here in the dark.  My laptop battery is good for only an hour and a half. It provides a warm glow, in an otherwise dark room. 


With no power and trapped indoors by the steady rain, the day ahead may seem long.  Mark has class after his day at the library, so he will not be home until after 1900, maybe later.


·                     Monday, 28 August 2006

Ukraine is 15 now and a typical teenager I guess.  There is a stubborn, recklessness about the teen years and this adolescent country shares the symptoms.


Ukraine has moved forward and handled many major challenges, but the top three still loom large and hinder success: ubiquitous corruption; business monopolies and a ridiculous, pointless bureaucracy keep this country down.


Of course we are outsiders here, but even so, we experience the effects.  We witness things, we hear the stories, we see it in the faces of the people and in the way they interact and make decisions. 


I cannot say we have truly “walked a mile in their shoes”, but during these 27 months of Peace Corps we have had and will have time to observe and learn.  


·                     Sunday, 27 August 2006

Visiting a Fortress by the Sea…

Despite our challenges at the train station on Friday, our day ended happily.  We met one of our English Club members in the late afternoon for a hike around Yeni Kale.  J. is a delightful young student of economics who is eager to practice her English skills. She is also quite enterprising.   She suggested this excursion because she loves history and wanted to share her favorite site with us. 


The frustrations of the day fell away when we reached the old fortress and climbed to the walls over looking the Kerch Strait.  The Sea of Azov and the Black Sea below glistened under the late afternoon sun.  Russia, just 4 kilometers away looked close enough to reach out and touch.  We scrambled around like mountain goats, listening to our young guide spill out facts about this deserted Turkish fortress.


The fortress is situated only a few meters from the sea.  While most of it is in a sad state of ruins, anyone with imagination and a sense of theater can people the hillside with soldiers and drama. J. came here to celebrate her birthday a few weeks ago.  She would like to don Turkish garb and have her portrait made posed on the turret of this wonderful fortress.


After our tour, we walked along the railroad tracks by the sea toward the setting sun and then my tour guide lead us down a steep, hidden path to a hidden beach.  We stood talking, the sea lapping at our feet.


By the time I arrived home, the sun was long gone.  All the cares of the day, the challenges of the week, had dropped away.  


Yeni Kale, the Turkish fortress in Kerch, Crimea!

·                     Saturday, 26 August 2006

Yesterday morning we attempted to buy train tickets for our vacation.  Usually the best way to get tickets is to go to the station about two weeks early.  Then, stand in line for an hour or two until you can finally speak to a bureaucrat trapped inside a tiny booth behind a Plexiglas window with poor acoustics.  You have to yell to be heard, so everyone in the station knows your travel plans and also has a chance to comment on your grammar and pronunciation.


After a long wait in line, Mark negotiates with the clerk.  I stand across he room and observe hand gestures.  She is sending him to another line across the room.  (When a train comes into the station, the clerks must serve only those who need tickets for those trains.)


After another extended wit, Mark reaches the window and explains our travel plans.  People are watching him.  Nearby a small, stout wrinkled woman wearing a bright, flowered headscarf, elbow the young man next to her. “What did that foreign man say,” whispers the babushka, in a loud stage whisper,  “What language is he speaking anyway?”


“I think he said is speaking Russian,” answers the polite young soldier, “but I am not sure.” 


Meanwhile Mark attempts a smile and wipes the sweat from his forehead.  I fan myself with my passport.  On this trip Mark has printed all the travel information on a piece of paper, so he can simply slip it under the screen to the attendant.


She taps information into a huge old computer.  She shakes her head and picks up a phone.  She hangs up and starts speaking in loud rapid-fire Russian. 


The booth muffles the speech and the problem is compounded by the extraneous noise in the station.  She repeats her tirade. Finally she opens the door and emerges from her cell. 


By now everyone is listening, straining to hear over the sounds of the trains outside.


All eyes are on us when we finally understand that no tickets are available on the day we wish to travel.   Mark tries to ask about the following day, but the tired attendant refuses to negotiate.  The soldier in line behind us suggests we speak to the station supervisor.  The attendant scalds him with a barrage of Russian and they continue to talk loudly and quickly.


“What is happening?” says the curious Babushka.   So we are not the only ones puzzled by the turn of events.


After more discussion, it becomes clear that we are not going to get tickets.


This is not unusual, just frustrating.   


Many times the task of buying train tickets becomes a challenge.   PCVs serving here in Ukraine all have tales to tell about buying tickets.   The stories make us laugh, but when the event is happening, it is harder to find them humorous.


We have come to understand that buying tickets in this country is a strange and magical event – it is not a simple process in any case.  It is a puzzle for even the locals. For us, it is compounded by the language and cultural expectations. The act of going to the train station to get tickets is approached with trepidation. 


Mark has gone to the train station alone today. 


NOTE: A recent plane crash and a separate politically motivated munitions factory explosion are adding to transportation challenges currently.  During the summer season, travel in and out of Crimea is always a challenge.  There is virtually no airline service available in Crimea, particularly on this end of the peninsula.   If I were an investor, I would explore opportunities for air transportation in and out of beautiful Kerch by the sea…rich foreigners would do a lot for the local economy and tourist opportunities here have not yet been tapped.  Most tourists here are from Russia.


·                     Friday, 25 August 2006

I feel like the dragon slayer in a fairytale film…

As I swing my sword to fight off the attacker on one side, another is at my heels! 


This week Mark and I seem to be standing back to back, wielding our sword and doing battle.   


Maybe we just need to drop the swords and hug each other!


An oft-repeated PCV phrase around the world: “It’s a good day when you accomplish one thing.” 


Setting our sights low? No, life is just different here. The advice means: be reasonable, be realistic, see with the eyes of a local rather than a corporate American worker. 


Often the local rhythms and the ways of doing things can become road blocks if you are a typical (or even an atypical) American!  Even mellow, laid-back people can find it frustrating to accomplish simple tasks in a foreign element.


Though we were not able to accomplish several tasks we set out to do, the day ended beautifully.  In part, because we gave up the illusion of control and simply stated acknowledging the abundance.


Part of this learning curve is figuring how to trust that things will work out.


Our culture makes us rather goal oriented – checklists, purpose, agenda…heck, we even have a phrase about pursuing happiness!  We can never relax and just let things happen.


The day ended well.


·                     Thursday, 24 August 2006 – Ukrainian Independence Day!

In Crimea, this is a holiday, but it is not exactly celebrated. 

Crimea is still very Russian and it is the homeland for the Tatars so this holiday, which is very special in the heartland of Ukraine, is simply a good day to go to the beach here in Crimea.


School starts next week, so this holiday brackets the end of summer and provides a play-day to mark the passage into Fall.  Many people will have a “bridge day” on Friday, making this a four day weekend.


On Wednesday, the library ladies decided to close early and start the holiday even earlier.  Unfortunately we did not anticipate this so Mark found himself thrown out of the library at about 4 on Wednesday afternoon. 


Most of the staff was long gone before that.   The last lady to leave had the onerous job of informing the silly-foreigner that he had to leave so she could lock up.  (I suspect she was pretty patient and probably could have left much earlier had she the courage to simply tell Mark to “Get  out!” 


In any case, I arrived at the library about 5, expecting to have English Club as usual.  Mark emerged from the shade of the park across the street and met me at the door.  “No English Club tonight.” He said. 


Since there was no way to contact members and let them know the library was closed, we decided to simply wait on the library steps till 6 PM and meet with those members who arrived. 


About 8 people arrived and we set off to a local outdoor café to sip tea and talk for an hour or so.


We spent our Thursday in front of the television.  The state channel runs wonderful movies on holidays.  Once Mark turned on the TV, I was lured into a wonderful version of a Gogol tale.  We were glued to the set by the costumes and music – this particular tale had the feel of a Renaissance faire only set in a Ukrainian village – the peasants wore beautifully embroidered traditional costumes and there were dramatic Cossacks and gypsies and all kinds of delightful imagery. 


This movie ended and then a classic film began.


During the commercials I baked and frosted a chocolate cake and Mark chopped up veggies and threw together a delicious meal.  I sat on the couch with my knitting and soaked up several more films.  There were 11 classic Ukrainian films aired back-to-back and we whiled away the day and the evening in front of the tube.


-----------EXTRACT FROM UKRAINIAN NEWS-----------

UNIAN news agency, Kiev, in Ukrainian 1347 gmt 23 Aug 06
BBC Monitoring Service, United Kingdom, Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006

KIEV - Only ceremonial events will take place in Kiev and other Ukrainian
cities on Independence Day on 24 August, Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro
Tabachnyk has told journalists.

"There will be no parade-ground concert by 35 military orchestras, it will
be held on Saturday (26 August - UNIAN). Also on Saturday, there will be a
big folk concert, which has been prepared by the organizing committee, and a
pop concert prepared by the Culture Ministry and the Family and Sport
Ministry. The fireworks will also be put off and will end the concert,"
Tabachnyk said.

Accordingly, fireworks, concerts and festive shows in other Ukrainian cities
will also be postponed from 24 to 26 August, Tabachnyk said. [Passage
omitted: more details of Independence Day celebrations]

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko today signed a decree "The issue of
marking the 15th anniversary of Ukraine's independence", which moved some

of Independence Day festivities from 24 to 26 August.

The government appealed to central and local authorities to postpone
concerts and fireworks planned for 23-24 August due to the crash of a
Russian Tu-154 airliner in Donetsk Region [Ukraine]             -30-


     45 children killed in third major accident this year: Crash raises questions

        over 'flying cigar' "The big question is: how the hell did the pilot get in

                                          the middle of a thunderstorm?"

Tom Parfitt, Moscow, The Guardian,
London, United Kingdom, Wednesday, Aug 23, 2006

A Russian airliner that crashed in eastern Ukraine yesterday killing all 170
passengers and crew on board was probably struck by lightning as it
encountered heavy turbulence, a preliminary investigation suggested last

The Tu-154 was flying from the Black Sea resort of Anapa to St Petersburg
when it went down in open countryside about 30 miles north of the city of
Donetsk. More than a quarter of the aircraft's passengers were children.

Russia's transport ministry said bad weather had probably caused the crash
on flight 612. "A report about heavy turbulence came at 15.37 Moscow time
from the aircraft, which was at an altitude of 11,000 metres, and then the
plane disappeared from radar screens," a spokesman told Interfax.

St Petersburg-based Pulkovo airlines told reporters that the crew issued a
second distress signal from a lower altitude but air traffic controllers
could not make out the sentence that followed.

Aviation experts said the aircraft could survive a lightning strike, but
flight instruments may have been knocked out, disorienting the pilot. The
crash was the third major aviation tragedy in Russia this year.

Witnesses said the plane plunged into the ground intact, suggesting there
had not been an explosion on board. A large bang was heard in the nearby
village of Sukha Balka followed by a series of smaller bangs.

At least 45 children were among the dead, according to the airline. Most
passengers were thought to be Russian holidaymakers from St Petersburg
returning home, although foreigners including at least one Dutch citizen
were reportedly among the dead.

Andrei Tyutyunikov, a reporter with local newspaper Donetskiye Novosti, who
arrived at the scene shortly after the crash, told the Guardian the aircraft
had been destroyed. He said: "It's just in pieces. I can see one large chunk
with the letters on it. Emergency officials are dragging fragments of bodies
from the wreckage. There's no one left alive."

Television pictures showed firefighters dousing blackened hillside covered
in de bris. Thirty bodies were recovered by late afternoon. Rescuers
prepared to comb the wreckage through the night but they did not expect to
find any survivors.

Irina Andrianova, a spokeswoman for the Russian emergency situations
ministry, said a preliminary investigation indicated a lightning strike had
caused the disaster.

A team of medics and psychologists was dispatched to Pulkovo airport in St
Petersburg to help distraught relatives waiting for the flight. The
Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko, cut short a holiday in Crimea to
monitor the situation.

A 60-strong Russian emergency ministry team also flew from Rostov to help
the rescue and clean-up effort. Relatives of the dead will be flown to the
site today to identify bodies.

In July, a Sibir airlines Airbus A-310 crashed and burst into flames after
veering off the runway in Irkutsk, killing 122 people. That accident was
blamed on a malfunction in a thrust reverser. Two months earlier 113 people
died when an Airbus A-320 belonging to Armenian airline Armavia crashed on
its way from Yerevan to Sochi. The disaster was attributed to the pilot
flying through bad weather.

The Tu-154 is known as the "flying cigar" because of its long fuselage and
cramped cabin space. It is still one of the most commonly used planes in

"So far this crash is a mystery because the Tupolev is robust and every
aircraft has a weather radar," said David Learmount of Flight International
magazine. "The big question is: how the hell did the pilot get in the middle
of a thunderstorm?"  (www.guardian.co.uk/russia)



·                     Wednesday, 23 August 2006

I am out of deodorant…

I am also on my last bottle of cologne.  Of course there are deodorants and colognes here in Crimea, but not the kind I prefer.  (Ban GEL and Avon’s Candid cologne)


Part of the adventure is to try new things, but there is a need, at times for our own comforts and routines.  This is when people who never touch peanut butter in the USA, suddenly have an urge for a PB&J, etc.


We have adapted to things Ukrainian pretty well.  I have no real longing for any particular thing from the USA.  Yes, I have occasional bouts of homesickness – missing people and sometimes things, but being flexible and adapting is essential to getting along here.. 


Yesterday I was in a funk and I spent about an hour listing stuff I would like to do and things I miss – I haven’t driven a car since February 2005!  It would be great to hop in the car, crank up the AC and the stereo and head on down the highway to a shopping area for a little retail therapy. 


In my head I made a trip to Target (black jeans and a couple t-shirts and some sandals) followed by a stop at AC Moore for about 8 balls of thick knitting yarn.  Next a stop at a huuuuuuge book store for some good reading and a cup of latte.   Dinner at “Outback Steakhouse” - …then maybe a movie or a stop at a rental place.  Oh, too bad I ate already cuz take out Chinese or pizza would be wonderful with the movies…


OK, I am back now…in less than a year I will be stateside and will have my consumer-fix! 


Now, I have to walk over to the library.  One of the things that sometimes challenges people serving here is the feeling of being in the spotlight.  Of course, there is an element of paranoia to that feeling, but it is also true that people know who we are here.  They see the “American” and not me.  The feeling of being on display can be challenging.  (It would be worse in a country where the physical differences are more obvious.)  Here, I can “pass” as a local.  Sometimes.  But not here in our own community – no, here the people know about us, whether they let on or not.


My “funk” is also fueled by feeling lonely.  I like to hear from friends and family and though I know rationally that they do a great job of keeping in touch (most of them anyway!), I get a little testy now and then.  Yes, I tell myself, they have busy, full lives…soon they will write. I consider confrontational actions and then decide to take the high road…I pray, I sing, I count my blessings, I cultivate patience and humility… Then I whine to myself a bit more, feel sorry for myself, miss Mom…and so it goes… 


There is a third component to this slump.  My role here is very ambiguous.  This is OK, most of the time.  Since I am not an official PCV, I can pick and choose what I do.  This is wonderful, but it also means I do not have regular contact with people or a workplace relationship to carry me through the tough times when I am so aware how cut-off my life is. Of course, my wonderful spouse shares his adventures with me, drawing me into his projects and making me feel useful and included too and I do have legitimate projects of my own to wrangle.  


Well, thank goodness for technology and good friends and family. I usually can count on some personal e-mail each day and one dear friend frequently sends me clippings and comics via snail-mail so my trips to the mail box provide an occasional lift. 


They say if you smile, you will actually start to feel better.  It is time for me to give it a try!  I’ll splash on some Candid first.


“Look, there goes that pleasant American woman…Americans sure smile a lot!”


E-Mail Extract …

…The whole being in the public eye thing is odd isn't it?  …People have opinions and attitudes about the stars and how they should behave.  Sometimes being a foreigner in a strange land has the same feel....everyone knows about you and they discuss your decisions and choices and habits. There are days when you want to blend in... Even in Greenwood, SC there were times when we felt the sense of being observed and discussed - outsiders)  I used to feel this on AFBs at times. When I was TDY (temporary duty) at a location, I  would become aware that I was the only woman and then even going to dinner on base became more challenging.  Imagine what it is like for PCVs in countries where they really do not resemble the locals...ie: my blue-eyed brother in Malawi...  Having a degree of anonymity is nice at times.   I call it "reluctant-ambassador syndrome"...Ginn


NOTE:  I found this in the weekly CS lesson…very helpful when we feel foreign and strange….


Ephesians 2:19–21

19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but

fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and

prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;

21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto

an holy temple in the Lord:


·                     Tuesday, 22 August 2006

A thunder storm moved in quickly. 

This is the first rain since early spring.  A sign of September and autumn I think.


I moved my parakeets from their usual place on the windowsill and observed people scurrying for cover.  Across the street, a large while cat huddled at the base of a tall tree. When the rain began pounding down, the cat meowed mournfully, circling the tree,  


The smell of rain on ht pavement held my attention as I lingered by the window. After so many hot, humid days, the cooling storm breezes felt welcome.


I turned from the living room window and on the opposite side of the flat I saw a cat-shaped shadow on the windowsill in the kitchen.  I strode over to the window and looked down into the questioning eyes of my favorite courtyard cats.  Dusty huddled there, shivering.


“No fella, I am sorry, but you cannot come in.” I said to him in a calm voice.  Dusty took a step forward and I repeated myself, “No Dusty. You may stay on the window sill till the shower is over, but you cannot come inside. 


He is a good cat, and part of me wanted to welcome him into the kitchen with a dry towel to soak up the water puddling around his feet.  He hunkered down next to my tomato plant, geranium and the chinook we use to boil water.  Dusty seemed to understand. 


I sat at the kitchen table watching Dusty and waiting for the storm to subside. I knit a few rows, breathing in the sweet smell of rain and thinking about cats. 


In about ten minutes the shower abated and my well-behaved, tiger-striped guest stood, stretched languorously before jumping down into the garden and then disappeared under the thick berry brambles outside. 


Oh how easy it would be to make him a pet, but I wisely think he will be better off to remain simply a friend.


·                     Monday, 21 August 2006

The Thrill of an Oprah Magazine…

What a thrill to open the mailbox and find something in it. 


Yesterday a thick, padded airmail envelope arrived – our so-very-thoughtful house sitter splurged and airmailed us the June and July copy of Oprah Magazine (Yikes, Jim!  Postage was $25!  Media Mail rate from the USA is slower, but is only $1 a pound!)! 


I did a little happy dance.  I love to get mail. 


I love that my friend Jim is so thoughtful! 


I love my Oprah Magazines too!   


This is one of life’s simple pleasures, but often our mailbox here in Ukraine is empty. 


In fact, our visits to the post office are usually about mailing things, rather than receiving mail.   We rather randomly, but regularly, send small items, just tokens really, back to friends and family in the USA.  We mailed some Ukrainian flag stickers to friends a while back. It was fun to imagine them putting them on their cars and having Americans ask them about their stickers.  We have sent magazines (Cosmo in Ukrainian is entertaining!) and chocolate bars, coffee and napkins, greeting cards and calendars.  We sent some doggie and cat snacks to our pet sitter…it seems funny to see the Russian and Ukrainian writing on familiar products.   At Easter, we sent egg dye – the famous traditional Ukrainian Pysanky (tediously detailed decorated eggs) can be replicated in just minutes with shrink-wrapped versions available at the bazaar! 


We once sent some loose tea and the recipient thought it was potpourri! 


I would love to send more stuff – I really want to share some of the everyday life we lead here in Ukraine.  But, it is expensive to mail things from here, so we limit our cross-cultural gifts to lightweight things.  Still, the postage cost alone on most things we mail is more than what a typical Ukrainian (or a PCV) earns per day.  Many times the cost of mailing a package is as much as the average Ukrainian makes per week!  (The official national average per month for June is up to $200 a month which is what we try to live on too.) I hate to actually mail a package when there are other people in the post office, because inevitably when the cost is announced, heads snap and people stare at the “rich” Americans. 


I suspect we may be the topic of dinner conversation at times.


Oh, and did I mention, you cannot just wrap a box at home and take it to the PO to mail it?  Noooo, they must look inside and examine what you are sending.  Once they are satisfied the contents is safe and legal, THEY seal it up. It becomes a challenge to pack things safely or logically – bubblewrap, Styrofoam, shredded newspaper…no such stuff!  No, they will just put stuff in a big box and seal it up…not acceptable by the US Postal Service. 


Back in the USA, I also eagerly anticipate the daily mail.  That moment when I reach for the daily mail seem almost magical.    


I miss my Mom’s faithful and delightful letters, but back in the USA, I still get mail everyday, even though Mom’s letters are history.  I always had lots of magazine subscriptions and catalogs coming in.  My brother in Malawi was (is) a regular correspondent and there were occasional letters from other folks too.  There were birthday, anniversary, and holiday cards too.  There were (are) often post cards from my mother-in-law.  Sometimes packages would arrive too and as Internet shopping became easier, more packages made their way to our doorstep via US Mail.  (Amazon.com…my favorite bookstore!)  And there were bills and statements too.   Of course some days, the bright red mailbox on South Mail St was filled with junk mail – flyers and leaflets advertising local businesses.  I read them as I walked toward the “circular file” by my desk.   


While our mail box here in Ukraine is often empty, I am grateful when I find something in it. 


Today, I will curl up with some coffee and sit by the fan and read my Oprah Magazines cover-to-cover and think grateful thoughts about my thoughtful friend!


Thanks Jim!


·                     Saturday, 19 August  2006

This Babba’s Opinion on the Revised Babba’s Cookbook…

I guess I am disappointed and it is compounded because I have no where to vent my feelings.


Last Fall, my spouse and I submitted some recipes to Babba’s Cookbook, a fun collection of recipes garnered from Peace Corps Volunteers serving here in Ukraine. 


Isolated from things American and from fast food and restaurants, PCVs must learn to survive.  For many PCVs this is the first time they have had to cook.   The whole idea can seem pretty intimidating and the original Babba’s Cookbook was a helpful tool for even the most inept cook.   


Ukraine has wonderful produce available and one can eat like a king or a queen with a little practice and planning. One of the earlier training groups realized that many PCVs have never really prepared food from scratch. They also knew that trainees were interested in leaning the basics of preparing good food.    So they collaborated, collected recipes and put together a cook book which many PCVs had a stake in.  Not only were the recipes”tested” by trainees, there was personal commentary that made the recipes even more appealing.


The earlier versions of Babba’s Cookbook were not a sophisticated collection of recipes and clearly not a text book nor a gourmet cook book, but one that encouraged others to give cooking a try.   It was an enjoyable collection of offerings and commentary shared by people far from home and eager to help each other survive. 


Tonight I read through the revised version of the cook book. 


All the life has gone out of it.  It is sterile reading –just straightforward instructions.  For a non-cook it may even be intimidating. 


No appealing notes or recommendations or humor – just dry processes. 


Why, you could buy such a cook book from a stranger!  Someone obviously confused efficiency and effectiveness (I hate when that happens!). 


The very things that made the old cookbook worth having and using are gone!


Not only are the personal notes omitted, the individual contributors are no longer even acknowledged.  Half the fun of the cook book was in knowing who submitted the recipe and where they got it from. 


The recipes have also been edited. 


Yep, someone decided to make changes to the recipes submitted. My spouses’ excellent Sweet and Sour Pork Recipe has been watered down with changes including the addition or soy sauce and flour…My Mother’s special chocolate cake recipe appears with changes to the ingredients.  We family has used that recipe for about 80 years….  My own Russian Vegetable Pie recipe suddenly has carrots added to it….sigh


I wonder if the person who edited our recipes ever even cooked them. 


While these changes to recipes may not seem significant, it is almost as if the editor is saying, “Oh, what do these people know, let’s jazz this up a bit…”  I guess I am glad my name is not associated with the actual recipes printed since they are not longer mine.  I shared them, thinking that my Mother’s cake recipe would be honored. 


I guess maybe our recipes were just not good enough.


I wonder how many others feel that way.


For me, the spirit of the cookbook is gone.


Of course there are probably good recipes in it, but hey, I can find good recipes, or better, on the Internet. 


The original cookbook was a success because it was a collaboration and used PCVs actual experiences.  


In my opinion, this new Babba’s Cookbook may just collect dust. 


This cookbook should be more bout people and not about the food…but, this is just one Babba’s opinion…


The Original Chocolate Cake Recipe……

Here’s My Mom’s Chocolate Cake Recipe (as originally submitted).  I baked it for Ukrainian friends and they lovvvvvvvved it!  Try a chocolate butter cream frosting on it and use REAL butter!  I will include it below too!



1 c.  sugar

2 c.  flour

4  heaping T. cocoa

1 c. mayonnaise (Miracle Whip)

1 c.  hot water

2 tsp.  baking soda

1 tsp.  vanilla


Sift together flour, sugar and cocoa into bowl.  Dissolve baking soda in hot (not boiling) water and then add salad dressing.  Add vanilla.  Beat until smooth and creamy.  Pour into 9 x 12 inch pan (or two 8” layer pans) and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Cake is done when you can insert a knife in the center and it comes out clean.  Very delicious served warm. 


Serves: 6-8

Preparation Time: 10 minutes plus baking time




his frosting is part of any cake baker’s repertoire.  It is quick and easy and you can improvise on it with excellent results.  It tastes rich and creamy on a classic chocolate cake (like my Mother’s mayonnaise cake) or on brownies.  When we were kids, we often mixed up a batch and spread it on graham crackers for a quick and satisfying treat. 


You can modify the consistency of the icing by adding more milk or using less milk.  You can also play with how much butter you want to use or how much sugar or cocoa you prefer.  You can even leave out the cocoa and have a white icing.   Or throw in some coconut for fun!


This is a good first-time cook recipe to try with young children.


1 - 2 c.  powdered sugar

¼ - ½ lb softened butter

2 - 4 T milk

¼ - 2/3 c cocoa powder

1 – 2 T vanilla


Use a fork to combine cocoa, powdered sugar, and butter into a smooth paste.  Add a few drops of milk and mix.  Continue adding milk until icing is suited for spreading.  Stir in vanilla.  Add more powdered sugar or cocoa to thicken frosting if you add too much milk. 

 Serves: 9 X 12 cake

Preparation Time: 10 minutes


Another Recipe… 





 did not invent this recipe.  I found it long ago in a cookbook whose name I have since forgotten, but the recipe, yes, I remember it well! It was very popular with my children when they were young and hungry! We would gather in the kitchen and chop and cook and talk as we prepared this meal. 


Over the years I have taken minor liberties with the recipe.  I cannot consult the original because it is scribbled on a food-stained note card in my mother’s old golden-oak recipe file at my house back in South Carolina waiting for our return from Eastern Europe.  You will see that it is easy to prepare this dish and you can improvise on the theme quite easily.  It is a dish that is very appropriate to Ukraine since it uses locally available produce. 


This hearty main dish is very tasty and will fool most people into thinking they are dining on a meat pie, when in fact, it is vegetarian fare.  I make it because it tastes good and it warms the kitchen on cold, blustery days.  Even skeptics will be won over by this dish!   


Step 1: Read through Recipe & Assemble Ingredients:

Note: you will have to boil eggs and prepare pie crusts ahead of time

Pie Crust (top & bottom) - Use your own recipe, but if you have cream cheese, use it in the dough too – it is goooood!


Hard Boiled Eggs X 4-6 – Have them cool and peeled when you start…why not boil a few extra just to snack on!

Fresh Sliced Mushrooms X  2 Cups – Be generous with these!

Chopped Onions X   1 1/2 Cups – Biiiiig onion…you can’t have too many!

Shredded or chopped Cabbage X  3 Cups or so

Softened Cream Cheese X  6-8 Ounces – You could substitute stiff sour cream or a fresh cheese like Tvorog (sp ?)

Dill, Salt, & Pepper to taste

Oil for Stir Frying – If you are brave and have a healthy heart use butter otherwise use some low fat oil.


Step 1: Stir Fry Veggies.

Use salt and pepper throughout this process.  First stir fry onions in oil at a medium temperature.  When they are soft and transparent, remove them from the pan.  Add shredded cabbage to the same pan and stir fry until the cabbage is soft.  Remove cabbage from pan and now add mushrooms and stir fry them briefly. 


Now, preheat the oven to about 400 degrees and begin assembling the pie. 


Step 2: Assemble the Pie.

Place the bottom pie crust in a deep pie tin and cover crust with thick layer of cream cheese (or suitable substitute – be creative).  Place slices of egg on the cream cheese base (you could just chop them and scatter them on the cream cheese base).  Salt and pepper and add some dill, lots of dill.  Add extra dill.  Dill is good!  Now add a layer of mushrooms, next a layer of cabbage and a layer of onions.  Alternate layers till all ingredients are used up.  The recipe says to make the mushrooms the top layer, but you are the cook here!  You will have a big mound rising above the pie plate several inches – it will cook down a bit.  You may want to salt and pepper the veggies again, one last time. 


Now place the top crust on the big mound of cooked veggies.  Crimp the edges of the pie shells together so nothing leaks out. Don’t cut off the extra dough, just fold it under.  I enjoy making a decorative design when I crimp the edges, but this is simply an artistic deviation rather than a matter of taste!  You will want to put about two or three slashes in the middle area of the top crust to allow steam to escape.


Step 3: Bake!

You can put it in the oven now and let it cook for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Do the dishes and then pour yourself some wine and read a few chapters of a Russian novel while you wait.  Make a salad and set the table too.  When the crust is a golden brown it is ready to come out of the oven.  Don’t let the bottom burn!  Let the pie sit for about ten minutes before you attempt to cut and serve. 


I think you will like this one dish meal!  And next time, you can add your own variations.


Serves: 4-6 People                           Preparation Time:  About Sixty Minutes 



·                     Friday, 18 September 2006

No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged

from the kingdom of night.

          -  Elie Wiesel


As I read through some Christian Science literature this morning I was reminded several times of our English Club conversation this week.  The CS lesson this week is “Mind” and the English Club topic was “What do YOU want to be when you grow up?” 


During the oppressive August heat, most activities here in Kerch close down.  Without air conditioning, many activities come to a halt, resuming only when the weather becomes temperate again.  (Here in Ukraine, we live closer to the weather than in say the USA, where you can actually be uncomfortably cold in stores and public buildings during summer months…try explaining that to locals!)  So, I was surprised when fifteen sweaty, enthusiastic people showed up at the library on this hot, humid August evening.


Most of these die-hard members are 20-something types so discussing what you want to do when you grow up was a good topic.  They began with predictable talk about goal setting – making strategic plans, considering security, considering your life as an investment, etc.  Money and material things are big considerations, particularly among people who have faced hard times (Ukrainians have had a shaky history and economy at best so security has never been much of a reality),so this conversational trend is to be expected.  I listened, coaxing conversation from the more reticent members and biting my tongue to allow others to share their opinions. 


The conversation moved on to consider the more esoteric side of the topic.  It might be summed up by saying they conversed about whether work and life choices should be based on human logic or on love.  My ears perked up as I listened to my Russian-speaking companions struggle to articulate their thoughts on this topic in English.  (I am constantly amazed, impressed at the extent of their English vocabularies – it can be humbling actually.)  This rather unexpected turn in the conversation pleased me.  


As a person who studied psychology and organizational management, I have often been encouraged to adopt systems of prioritizing information in order to make a decision (from Ben Franklin’s pros and cons to Covey’s 7 Habits and many other more academic and sophisticated approaches).  I have experimented with these ideas and read extensively on them.  What I have learned is this: In decision–making, as in love, you must listen for that still, small voice, that inspiration, that angel thought that makes you smile.  Just as you know when you are in love, you know when the decision is right.  And the challenge often comes when the decision defies human logic. 


Fear drives people back to that human logic.  We attempt to rationalize, objectify, justify, and sometimes as a consequence, we pursue a course that looks good on paper.  (An opportunity missed!)


The best course is one you can put your heart into. 


Yes, you may be afraid, but listen to the joy and let it guide you.  Let it keep you buoyant. Ride the wave of it like a surfer.  


I think that spark of joy, is Divine Inspiration.  We are offered joy and we often choose drudgery because we look at the human picture rather than the divine.  Feel the joy, commit to it – trust that spirit…


So I listened happily as my English Club members opened up and spoke.  Experiences of Holocaust and Holodomor came up – how people guide their lives listening to the voice of joy inside of them.  Fifteen people were engaged, thinking, sharing.  “What do YOU want to be when you grow up?”  - I heard the words joyful and grateful.  The word abundance came up.  We spoke of relying on inspiration versus intellect.


When our ninety minutes was over, we stepped out into the courtyard and welcomed the cool, evening sea breezes, but I was oblivious to them.  I was  still wrapped up in my thoughts about the level of conversation and sharing that went on tonight. 


I was thinking about how grateful I am that I listened to the small voice that said, follow that Peace Corps dream…life is good. 


·                     Thursday, 17 August 2006

My husband’s flip-flops are five years old this month!

He paid about 80 cents for these ordinary black rubber flip-flops at a rural market in northern Malawi and happily wore them trekking through the mountains.  He has been wearing them pretty much everyday since then too.


The impulse to trade boots for flip-flops was the result of experience and observation. The local people walked through the mountain terrain effortlessly and most of them were barefoot.  Many wore flip-flops.  One trip up the mountain in sturdy leather boots left Mark with sore feet and a twisted ankle.  I have photos of him soaking sore tootsies in mountain streams.


Human logic (at least to many of my fellow Americans) would say that practical leather boots would be the right gear to have on such a trip.  Sometimes we must look beyond our own experiences and opinions.  (We must look for inspiration rather than to intellect!)


Those flip flops have many, many miles on them now, but here they are, five years later and those same trusty flip flops are quite at home in Crimea. 


That 80 cents was certainly well spent!


(Wow, can it really be five years since our wonderful trip to Malawi?  Time to have another look at My Malawi Travel Journal and CALEB Library Project site both at www.pulverpages.com … that trip to Malawi was the start of big changes in my life.)



Rusky Rock ‘n’ Roll!

I came home from English Club last night with several Russian and Ukrainian rock and roll CDs…one of them is titled “Legends of Russian Rock and Roll”!  Our resident artist (a very gifted painter who really needs to get a gallery show!) shared these CDs with me. 


This will be a cross-cultural experience I will surely enjoy.



·                     Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Bird Encounters of a Close Kind…

Birds on a windowsill are an attractive nuisance.


Especially when your window fronts a well-trafficked street and neighbors a local mom/pop grocery store.  Already this hot morning, my open, bird-filled window have attracted a babushka selling oranges, cucumbers, and honey.  She would not have stopped if the parakeets had not lured her over.


My negotiations and purchases inevitably draw a crowd since I do not have correct change.  Here in Crimea, it is common to simply hold out your hand and the vender will fish through the change for the correct amount. (No matter where you shop, this happens.)


If you want to be popular here, carry lots of small bills and change.


If you ultimately do not have the correct change you are likely to get pieces of penny candy or matches as change.


Once the fruit buying experience was over and the gawkers dispersed, a young boy and a sweet blue-eyed 2-year old wearing a Celtic cross around her neck appeared.  The boy hoisted his sister on his narrow shoulders and peppered me with questions rolled out in a deep, resonant Russian voice more suited to an old, old man. 


We conversed for quite some time. 


Moments after the children left, a bare-chested smoker arrived, puffing black smoke into my living room and gazing at the two birds as if they were some exotic creatures. 


And then S. arrived to lean on my window sill for a while. She is the manager of the store, the store we share an electric bill with (the store whose electric bill is likely generously paid for by us since our share of the bill is so exorbitant and we use so little electricity while they have freezers and AC!).  S. has sort of given up on me. I feel like I have become the “stupid American woman” to her.  I find it hard to chat with her and in my encounters with her I seem slow to catch on to what she is asking. 


The language barrier can sometimes leave intelligent people looking foolish and feeling even more foolish.  Couple language challenges with cultural differences and it becomes even more uncomfortable.


 In Ukraine, the cultural difference may be subtle, especially at first.  As a people, we look similar and share many traditions and ideas, but there are patterns of thinking and attitudes that differ significantly from those of the average American.  It is easy to make a faux pas and be oblivious to the insult you may have unintentionally made.  The expression: “not-cultured” is thrown about sometimes and this expression (in Ukrainian and Russian) is a rather significant insult.  I hope they do not use that expression about us.    


So, these hot summer days, my small domicile provides little privacy, but I never have to leave home to practice my Russian language skills or to buy a snack!


The birds on my windowsill offer me a window on the local culture too.


Of course if I remove the birds from my windowsill, I suspect there will be no real opportunity for others to speak to the crazy American lady.


(Travel advice: if you want to interact with the locals anywhere, travel with a pet or a charming small child.  They are a perfect excuse for people to engage with you! I am having flashbacks to my years in Spain traveling with our German shepherd and/or our two children.) 


·                     Tuesday, 15 August 2006

I awoke to the smell of fresh muffins wafting out of the kitchen.

Mmmmmm – muffins and black coffee.  My thoughtful spouse is also creative and inspired! 


Some of the oppressive humidity has disappeared (at least at 7 AM) making it tempting to roll over and catch 40-more winks, but I can not ignore the invitation teasing my nose and making me salivate.


Lured, Tempted or Forced…

Later, after Mark headed off to work (in the steaming bowels of the un-air conditioned library), I stood in our tiny garden sipping coffee from my Russian-blue mug.  I watched Oscar, Socks and Dusty wolfing down my offering of Whiska’s kitten chow. 


The early morning sun is gentle. It feels good on my shoulders. I glance over at my laundry – a row Mark’s bright white t-shirts catch the breeze and a faint clean small of bleach reaches my nostrils.


Dusty (Dustinovsky), my most ardent cat fan, is looking battle-scarred and too lean, as street cats do.  He is missing large patches of fur and someone (Cat-Woman most likely) has doctored him with the peculiar green, all-purpose antibiotic that they use here.  He has scabs and bumps under his fur. 


Dusty is an affectionate creature.  He is consistently happy to see me and tells me so with purrs and ankle rubbing.  He is teaching his nephew, Oscar, to be like him.  When I arrive, they act like suitors and make me feel loved and very special.  Socks, on the other hand, is skittish.  When I reach my hand out and encourage her to be pet, she (sadly) scampers away and casts suspicious looks my way. 


I scattered the kitten chow to distract my cat friends a bit so I could hang the laundry.  Without a bribe, the two boys do figure eights around my ankles and Dusty stretches his  long body, planting sharp claws in my upper thigh, as he flagrantly vies for m undivided attention. My upper thighs have many love-scars from previous encounters.


It is good to be outside.   If I did not have to hang laundry outside (say I had a dryer or even a large space to hang laundry indoors) I would probably not know the simple pleasure of lingering in the garden in the early morning.  It is sad to think I would have missed these chance encounters, these interactions that make me happy.   


In my experience, there are many times when I have been lured, tempted, pressured, pushed to participate in an activity or try something new.  Sometimes, I acquiesce and join in, other times I refuse, even dig my heels in and say an adamant no. 


Hanging the laundry out is technically a chore, one I do not look forward to.  But, ultimately, when I arrive, I find my heart opens a bit.  I catch the scents, see colors, feel the air, am greeted with joy and affection…Oh, how grateful I am that I can see beyond my own agenda, my own idea of how to do things and when and where.   (My mind moves to the difference between efficiency and effectiveness…a nuance many people underestimate or ignore in their Type-A, checklist, quantitative approach.)


These ventures, whether they are as simple as hanging out the laundry, walking the dog or doing the shopping at bazaar; or more complex ventures, such as reaching out across cultural and language challenges to work on a project or opening up to people and becoming friends rather than acquaintances, or listening to the still, small voice that promises our needs will be met if we move forward with honest motives, these ventures are what life and living are about. 


The angel thoughts that guide us to be adventurous and try things a different way…making this small move, taking that small risk is part of practicing our faith. 


Oh, what unexpected blessings we miss if we shrink from the surprises life offers us!   


Quote hanging on my kitchen cabinet:

When you die

God and the angels

Will hold you accountable\for all the pleasures you

Were allowed in life

That you denied yourself.

                                     - Anonymous


·                     Monday, 14 August  2006

Summer in the City…

The two windows are thrown open, the oscillating fan is stirring a small breeze in our stifling flat.  Everything feels sticky to the touch this time of year.  Laundry does not dry.  Hair hangs limp and lank.  Sweat beads on my upper lip   and my eyebrows.  Occasionally salty drops sting my eyes.


I am grateful I am not working in an office these hot August days.


I wear a dampened tea-towel around my neck to keep me comfortable and sit quietly, listening to the sound of droning cicadas in the courtyard trees.  


In the USA, I would probably have air conditioning.  Or, I could go to a mall, a grocery store or a movie and shiver in the notoriously frigid, over-cooled air.  (The paradox of life in the USA: in summer, we carry sweaters and in winter, we are uncomfortably warm even in a sweater!)


Here in our Crimean nest, I can take a leisurely stroll (1 block) and catch a sea breeze or take a dip in the public bathing area.  Babushkas in skimpy bikinis (or failing that, simply in their bras and panties), are oblivious to the effects of too much food and age on their bodies.  They strip down and soak up the sun while they watch their naked grandchildren splash in the Black Sea waters.  Improvised bars sell beer and juice to the captive audience sprawled on blankets on the grass and pavement near the port. 


This is a great place to people watch and to catch a cooling breeze.


The water in the city bathing area is cool, but not inviting to me – my American sensibilities make me uncomfortable with the oily water (the proximity of ships).  And in truth, I have never been inclined to swim, in pools or the sea. 


My Hometown Sandpit Days…

In my youth, in those days before we knew about the effects of the sun, I spent hours of each summer day at the local beach as a sun-worshiper, working on a perfect tan.   The local sandpit had a golden beach and I would arrive about 1 PM daily, often astride my blue, Western Flyer bicycle (which I fantasized was a horse).  I would slather myself with baby oil and stretch out on a beach towel to marinate. 


Mid-afternoon, I would climb the steep steps up to the bathhouse, an old WPA facility perched on a hill-top, and visit the canteen. My usual selection was a frozen, sticky-sweet chocolate concoction that when melted could be sipped through a straw like a milkshake.  I would resume my sun-worshiping following my short break.  I remember the hot sand under my feet as I crossed the crowed beach to my beach towel, transistor radio and my book.


At five, I would jump on my bike and head for home, my hair flying out behind me in the breeze my cycling legs generated. 


Did I mention swimming? No. Well, I really only viewed the cold, spring-fed pond as an place to rinse off the sand and maybe chill-out for a few moments. It was incidental to my real purpose, which was, browning my young body.  Yes, I usually took at least one dip in the pond, but usually only because of peer pressure, rather than any genuine inclination.


I am like a cat I guess. 


These days, sunbathing is not recommended, but here in Crimea, it is still very popular. A golden, seamless tan is an asset here; a sign of health.  And swimming (or bathing as they say) is something everyone participates in.  We are frequently faced with the question of whether or not we have taken a dip today, to which we each seem to find difficult to answer.


If you say no, there are many more questions and implications.  My language skills are certainly not strong enough to explain my lack of enthusiasm or interest in swimming.  The alternative is to just smile and just say yes…the social lie.  


Or, I suppose, I can fudge the truth -  “Yes, I bathed today and it was delightful!”  Of course, between you and me, I would be referring to the wonderfully, rejuvenating and cooling effects of a long, leisurely shower right here in my flat.


·                     Sunday, 13 August 2006

Lovely, Lazy Sunday…

Today was a lovely, lazy day. The kind of day you want to paste into a scrapbook and remember in years to come. 


Nothing really special happened, but it was just a day that unfolded in pleasant and unexpected ways.   Each simple event lead to another.


We visited the bazaar south of town, made some small purchases, and people watched a bit.  Later we donned our sun-hats and took our red-striped hammock, some books and a picnic hamper to the seaside park and lazed away a few hours there.  In the evening we watched a DVD (“Must Love Dogs” – I love John Cusak).  


Buying a Sun Hat…

My straw sun hat is brand new.  I purchased it today.  The vender did not want to sell it to me.


I have been keeping my eyes open for a straw sun hat for several weeks.  People in our sea-side city seldom leave home without a sun hat.  Hats are sold everywhere.


I enjoy observing people and their hats.   The women’s hats are usually straw and often have flowers or bright ribbons and big brims to keep the sun off the face. It amuses me to see them wearing their hats even when they swim.


Yesterday as we walked along, I spied a hat that appealed to me. Over the years, I have learned to follow my impulses about what I want, but have found that when I arrive with a particular agenda, I often have a hard tome finding what I want. So the is a balancing act – I keep my eyes open, and let my heart speak to me when it sees what it wants.  So, I saw a suitable hat, but the saleswoman did not want to sell it to me.


“May, I please try on this hat,” I said in Russian to the vender as I pointed to the hat in question.


“Oh, you don’t want that hat,” she said, “Try this one instead,” pointing at a decidedly frilly pink hat.  I looked at Mark and refrained from rolling my eyes.  


“No, I prefer to try this hat, please” I said pleasantly, but standing my ground. 


“Oh, that hat is bad - too hot.  You won’t like it.  Try this one instead,” the vender insisted.  


I obliged and tried on the hat she proffered. 


I did not need to even look in the mirror to know this was not the hat for me, but I attempted to be polite.  Mark eyed my image in the mirror and wrinkled his nose.  He then took the liberty of handing me the hat I was originally interested in.


The attendant shook her head and encouraged me to consider other hats, but I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw.  This was the right hat for me. 


We made the purchase, I donned my bad-hat and walked away, just a little puzzled by the transaction we just experienced.  This kind of thing happens often here, yet we are unable to really understand it.  It may be that the clerks are genuinely interested in providing us with something they consider appropriate or good or a good deal, but they totally overlook our wishes as a customer.


We have met this experience of a sales person unwilling to sell us an item when we went out to purchase clothes hangers, sheets, sausage, Pelmeni (a Russian pasta), and even bread and cheese, among other products.  I suspect the person is being helpful, but it is vexing at times.  We have often gotten home with purchases we ended up making simply to be polite because the salesperson would not sell us the item we actually want.  


Is this a selling technique we just do not understand - some reverse psychology?  Is this a legitimate effort to educate the goofy Americans?  Are they hoping to pawn off something on us or saving the good stuff for their own uses? 


I choose to believe they are being kind and helpful, but I have learned to listen to my own instinct.  


This peculiar shopping experience is a puzzle, but it happens frequently enough that we seldom discuss it anymore.


I like my hat.  It suits me.  It is a simple hat.  It was no more expensive than other hats ($5). 


“Mark, do you think the saleswoman will go home and talk about the strange Americans she waited on today?” I asked my spouse as we walked away.


“Yes, I do,” He responded, “but, I like your hat.”


And so do I.         


·                     Saturday, 12 August 2006

This “poem” is really an ad…read on and see the last line…

Here's to the crazy ones.
The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They're not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.


You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can't do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They invent. They imagine.
They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.


How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.


Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do.
(Advertisement for Apple Computer)


·                     Friday,11 August 2006

Shoe Connection for an Orphanage?

A local orphanage here in Kerch needs kids and young people’s shoes.  A local businesswoman, L. is a very entrepreneurial individual, is on a charitable board  and mentioned this need in passing.   


In the USA, the options would be easier to see, but here, there is no Wal-Mart shoe dept (to donate stuff) and no cash available….hmmmm.


Charity and philanthropy is not yet well developed here.  Extra cash, fund raising and so forth, are not familiar concepts.  My theory is that people here take care of their own, but outside the family or immediate work-group, they  seem to close their  eyes. 


Orphanages here are Dickensian.   They are generally hidden away from the community.   There are some bureaucratic attempts to assist these organizations, but it seems like the help extends to merely giving used clothes  and a few cheap toys at holidays.


Of course craftsmen (carpenters and plumbers) here make only about 75 cents an hour...it is a challenge to live on $8-10 a day.  People get by because they own their flats or dachas.  It is confusing to see consumer goods filling the shelves. 


Old people tell us, “We  once had money, but there was nothing to buy.  Now the shelves display plenty of foreign goods, and we have no money to spend.”


This need for shoes at the local orphanage is something to pursue…an opportunity to bless in a direct, immediate way and to look for sustainability for later needs.  A few hundred dollars would go a long way.


The Official “Intellect Camp” Song…

More about our recent camp adventure; this is the camp song:



(Tune: “Hotel California”)


We are called English campers,

We’re the best in alls kills,

And we love English language,

‘cause it’s cool and it thrills.

By all means we will take part,

By all means we will win.

We are fun and we are smart.

Listen what we mean:

Welcome to Sudak to summer English Camp

Such a lovely place, such a lovely sea.

We are a super team called English camping,

And this camp, you see,

Good for you and me.


Kinda catchy huh? Nice title too. Ahem. 


Well, I go on record saying I did not write it! Hearing them “sing” it is almost scary…kind of a dirge-like quality to it actually!


(Sung to the tune of “Hotel California” – a puzzling choice since the song is hard to sing.  It was probably never popular here in Ukraine anyway, so the tune is not familiar to them. It was popular in the USA long before most of these campers were born!) 

·                     Thursday, 10 August 2006


Forweeks,myspacebarhascontinued togetworseandworseandworse…Iamactuallyusingthespacebar,butasyocanseeitisNOT WORKING!  ImustMANUALLY insertspacsifIwanttoe-mail orwrite!Iamawritingtypoeperson…youcanimaginethevolumeofstuffItapouteachday…thisisaseriousissue! Arggggggghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!


OK,Iwilladdspaces,but it is a sloooooow laborious project to write this way…


I Tawt I Taw Puddytat…I DiD, I DID…

It is hot.  I am sweating. I do not like to perspire! So I finally relented and opened the living room window, hoping to catch a breeze.  (I am not Ukrainian, and there for, I enjoy breezes in my home and on bus rides!)


Why had I refrained from opening the window previously?  Because I suspected neighborhood cats would enter my flat. There are soooo many cats wandering the streets of Ukraine. Our two windows have grill work, but at street level, the bars only keep the glass from being broken, they do not keep out cats!


Well, it happened today. 

I was in the kitchen briefly and heard the parakeets fluttering excitedly in their cage.  I rushed to the living room to see a large, fluffy, gray cat staring back at me!  I hollered at him and apparently, he understands English because he leaped out the window. 


I examined the birds and though the guys seemed rather quiet (maybe in shock!), they seem fine.  There is, however, a big rip in the paper lining the cage floor.  I believe the uninvited feline visitor had a paw (claw) in the cage.


This story could have had a sad ending! 


Mark’s Adventure…Safely Home…but Not Happy

Mark arrived home around 11PM from his whirlwind, pointless, practice-evacuation to Simferopol.  He was broke, tired, smelly, very hungry and frankly, very irritated about the whole drama.


I listened, as good spouses do, as Mark uncharacteristically spilled out his irritation. 


He prepared himself a much-needed midnight meal (an omelet), banging the pans loudly and chopping the ingredients with a frightening authority.  He talks as he cooks. His voice is loud. His usually placid face shows his emotions.  


This morning he received a call and had to unexpectedly put aside an work urgent project, and spend a grueling 12 hours racing around to accomplish a thankless task ( a practice-evacuation) in uncomfortable conditions (bus travel in summer Crimea!), which was made more challenging by communication gaps and poor planning. (Since no return busses were  available and no hotels in the village where the manager dropped him off, they actually flagged down a Kerch-bound bus on the main highway…there are more details and this story has the makings of a great, ”remember that time in …” story, but for now,  a tired, irritable, over-hungry Mark is not amused! He is diabetic, so the fact that he had no opportunity to eat during this interminable day does not help matters. This tale sadly does not represent Peace Corps as a professional organization does it?)


It is hard to watch Mark wrestle with the raw frustration and disillusionment he feels.  (The expression ”jerked around” seems appropriate and relevant too!)


Here is a selfless man who puts aside his own needs in almost all cases. He is a man who understands the meaning of service before self and lives by it.   He is a man of integrity and a man who is respectful of the demands of the organization and the people who make those decisions (even when he may disagree, he is gracious and cooperative).  He is a man who has demonstrated a significant commitment to the organization – he is a renaissance man, capable of handling diverse challenges that other men would turn away from. He often handles the behind the scenes challenges that others never even know about. Mark is the man you want to have on your team and he has proven it to me time and time again in countless places of business and in his personal life over the past 40 years that I have been privileged to observe him!


He is a man who does not whine; he disdains whiners. He avoids them.  He is a man who always has time for you. He is a man who is consistently pleasant and kind. He smiles often.  Though he has faced significant challenges that might humble a weaker man, he believes that life is good, because it is good.  


So, it is difficult, it is painful, to watch this good man deal with the defeats of the day.


But, it is a joy to know that tomorrow, he will smile and listen. 


The events of this day will ultimately build his strength rather than deplete it.


How Can We Use this Experience?...

How do we learn from this? How do we use this experience?  How do we make sure it does not happen to another member of the team? 


People terminate their service (ET) over this kind of thing. 


To be fair, in all organizations, there are procedural and management problems. It seems to be human nature to only consider one’s own needs and discredit or ignore the needs of other team members. Of course the unexpected happens too, contributing even more challenges to the events.


Nonetheless, when these events unfold, there is disappointment, particularly when the organization is one that purports to be a service organization. 


This is not the first time our idealistic visions have been tainted.  Nor will it be the last time we face disillusionment, I am sure.


One reason is that we both know and believe it is important to choose your attitude.  Attitude is the ONLY thing you have control of and when you remain positive and proactive and express joy and gratitude, you can move forward and get stronger. You can make things better.


When you fail to do this, you sink into the mire.  You become bitter, jaded, surly, suspicious. You loose your ability to be effective.  You give away your strength and your joy. You close your eyes to the abundance that is temporarily obscured by these events.


I have seen too many people (including PCVs) indulge in this kind of response.(The recent newspaper article and the e-mails filled with negative, toxic comments.)


This is one of those situations where you get angry because something has been poorly executed with no thought to the human element of things.  The problem is, after you have dealt with your own anger and attitude, there is no clear way to elevate the situation, or to provide effective feedback to those in charge.  Comments will be considered reactive, personal.  They will be perceived as whining. 


Large organizations (PC Ukraine has around 300 people to manage) have a large challenge – People, and their needs, become faceless.  Balancing effectiveness and efficiency become more difficult.  The human element gets ignored as the bureaucracy grows.  


The humans must become vocal.


Somehow people must learn to talk and listen; learn to share and network better…learn to accept criticism and morph it into something positive and useful….learn to take anger and criticism and turn them into proactive opportunities.  I guess that is a life’s work in itself isn’t it?


·                     Wednesday, 9 August 2006 – Full Moon Over the Black Sea!


This Evacuation is a Test and Only a Test…  (Another e-mail excerpt)

It is Wednesday noon and Mark came charging in here around noon - he has to catch a 1 o'clock bus to Simferopol (pronounced kinda like ”simply-awful” and while funny, actually reflects the charm of that city well.  It’s in Crimea – about 4-5 hours west of here in a sweat box with the windows up. Windows up?  Yep, Ukrainians think drafts and iced drinks cause illness!!  Don't even think about AC!)  


This is a security exercise!  More like an exercise in frustration though!  


The idea is to test the emergency evacuation system. So once Mark gets there, he will basically turn around and come back...another 4-5 hours on a bouncing, hot bus over the mountains!  Eight- ten hours of bus time plus the expense (2 days budget!) and logistics on either end...and it is conceivable he may NOT be able to get a bus in Crimea during tourist season!


Mark has a tight schedule on a grant he is trying to submit by Friday (key people disappear for 2-3 weeks of vacation then!) so he is not too happy.


I suspect of all the almost 300 PCVs in Ukraine, Mark is the most isolated, geographically.


The Country Director in Kiev is new here.


Hmmmm...hope the evacuation does not turn out to be REAL! 8-)


Soooo, I may see Mark sometime late Wednesday night...I will manage English Club solo tonight


Guess this e-mail won't get out till, ohhhh, maybe Thursday!  Despite frustrations, life is GOOOOOOD...more later...



On a Hot, Humid August Day in Crimea


Did I Mention the Old-Beater TV Died?

With Mark away, this seems more important to me. 


I doubt the landlady will fix it. I like to watch old classic Russian films on it and I often watch the news too…not anymore - now it just sits there.



·                     Tuesday,8 August 2006

Did I mention Ed the Duck went to camp with us?

Our little, yellow, rubber friend and his chainmail suit created a stir among some of the campers.  It was fun to take him to the Renaissance-fair at the old Genoese fortress too.  There were others wearing chainmail, but Ed was the only rubber duck and he wore his mail proudly.


I take Ed the Duck with me sometimes.  He provides a way to open a discussion on values. In this case, he demonstrates what “Service Before Self” means.  (This phrase will clue some people in to my Air Force past, but I continue to keep it as part of my personal mission statement.)


A duck wearing chainmail gives up a lot of things ducks like to do.  He cannot fly nor can he swim or even float.


I felt bad for Ed as I caught him gazing out at the azure waters of the Black Sea just outside our door.  But, in my heart I know that Ed, like the good soldier he is, is proud to serve and finds other joys to satisfy himself.


Life is good.


An E-Mail Excerpt….Book Review & a Word Picture of the Bazaar in August…

I just finished reading a book review that I want to share with some of my "foodie" friends!  (The actual review is in the 31 July "Newsweek" if you want to go online and find it.)  There are two titles actually and though the books are aimed at those who love cookery and the pleasures of preparing food, neither is a cookbook.  The reviews really draw me in though.   

Here's my comments on "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan.  The review includes pithy quotes from this novel and I laughed aloud when I read it over my breakfast coffee.  (I had brief visions of the "Supersize Me" documentary that has been popular lately).  The man can write and it sounds as though it would be a great read. Those of you in the land of the "Big Bookstore" (and/or access to progressive libraries) may enjoy this read! The author walks the reader through 4 meals, and as the title suggests, he discusses meat and animal rights issues, but with some surprising punches. (The Whole Foods folks are probably not laughing!)  FYI: this guy kills his own chickens.

The other book sounds good too, but it is more esoteric I guess.  "Heat," by Bill Buford explores food made by hand-which the author indicates is "an act of defiance" in the modern world we live in (uhhhh, maybe not for those of us those of us currently in Ukraine!)  He writes about a butcher in Tuscany who prefers to be called "the Maestro"an artist "whose subject was loss"

Summer is a cook's paradise here
Here in Crimea, as all over Ukraine, the summer bazaars are full of voluptuous tomatoes, fragrant melons, and a riot of other colorful and exotic  fresh fruits and vegetables. Their perfumes dance on the sea breezes and even before we arrive to do our shopping, we are imagining the sensual taste of a ripe peach and the pleasure  of sweet,.sticky juice running down our chins.  After months of dark, grey winter, this bonanza of color, scent and flavor is hard to fathom..  In winter months, we see only dried-up apples, cabbages, carrots, beets, onions and potatoes. But in August the black-and-white documentary film we have lived in all winter becomes a Madison Avenue ad for the good life!

I feel what Dorothy may have experienced when her Kansas farmhouse landed in the Munchkin village.

I long to paint or photograph the beautiful scenes at the bazaar.  I satisfy myself with soaking it all in through my eager eyes.  Sun-browned children beg for watermelon or ice cream,as they dance around the equally brown legs of their mothers and fathers.  Babushkas smile and laugh as they offer fragrant bouquets of herbs or flowers to passersby.  Summertime in Crimea has a carnival-like quality, even at the bazaar where the abundance of the good life is on display.

For those of us who have never tasted a "real" tomato, those of us who have only shopped in sterile, air-conditioned comfort under florescent  lights, this panorama for the senses is hard to imagine.

Those of us who are wise, will bottle some of this sunshine and line our kitchen shelves with treats for the bleak months ahead.  We will also, if we are wise, take time to prepare a few feasts. We will take time to, spread out a beautiful tablecloth, put flowers in a vase, light the candles,, open some Crimean wine and luxuriate in the gift of these hot summer evenings that may never come again!  .Life is short - we must learn to live it well...storing memories for those frosty winter nights ahead!

Well, time for a second cup of coffee ...Life is good...

On a Hot, Humid Day in Crimea by the Sea

·                     Monday, 7 August 2006

I have am sitting on my couch in front of an oscillating fan. Sweat beads my upper lip.  Outside, the midday street is silent.  The inhabitants of Kerch must all be bathing in the sea.    


Mark returned to work today after our camp adventures in Sudak.


He wore a tie. 


I suspect he is the only man in Kerch wearing a tie today.


August is hot, hot, hot.


A large jar filled with black-eyed Susans dominate our improvised coffee table.  Next to it is a plate bearing my simple lunch - an open-faced black-bread sandwich with a dollop of tangy mayonnaise and slabs of a beautifully plump, scarlet tomato purchased from the local bazaar. Tomatoes, melons, peppers and all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables fill the marketplace with color and smells and whet the appetite.  These hot August days many people are wisely canning summer sunshine – squirreling it away for the long, cold, winter months that seem so far away now. 


Eating this time of year is such a pleasure.  There is nothing like the fresh fruits and vegetables that appear here in Crimea during the summer months. I have flashbacks to the wonderful produce my parents had in their Iowa gardens during my youth. 


It is hot.  Last night, it was hard to sleep. Sweat soaked the sheets. I remembered nights like this when I was a girl.  Sometimes my sister and I  would take our pillows and sheets out into the back yard and stretch out under the stars on the green, sweet-smelling  grass and the loamy earth.  Falling stars would rain down on us.  From indoors, the sound of late-night television shows would spill out into the streets.  Johnny Carson’s (or was it Jack Parr?) laughter would reach our ears.  You could see the flickering light of the TV screen through the windows.  We would tell ghost stories and talk far into the night.  


One summer night like that we heard the sounds of gunfire and ran into the house to see another Kennedy dying as the television announcers tried to explain what was happening before our young eyes.


Lots of E-Mail

Later today, at the library,  Mark will download my e-mail.  My evening will be filled, catching up with ten days worth of news from friends and family.  I will sit in the dark, in the light of the flickering computer screen, reading abut events half-way around the world. 


·                     Sunday, 6 August 2006

It is Good to be Home Again!

The camp experience was lots of fun.  I forgot how much I enjoy interacting with teens.


Of course, there are frustrations.  Anytime you enter a different arena, there are organizational-culture issues.  And of course there are actual cultural issues since we are from the USA and trying to assimilate into a Ukrainian camp environment.  Sometimes you do not even know there is an issue. 


I will write more about camp encounters and experiences later, but now I want to make some notes about a couple excursions we participated in. 


No Postcards or T-shirts Available!

The boardwalk and several streets near the sea are jammed with entrepreneurial venders with all kinds of food and others wares for sale.  What we could not find was postcards.  We wanted to send postcards to friends and family, sharing the stunning views of picturesque Sudak, but the cards that in most touristed areas of the world are widely available, just did not exist here! 


We spent many hours attempting to find a few post cards. 


The closest thing to postcards available at tourist sites here in Crimea are often those collection packages with photos of selected sights on one side and the back of the card has narrative describing the scene.  These is no space for an address or tamps or a message.  These are intended as memorabilia for the one who purchases them.  (Actually, in the Kerch Central Library, you can checkout such bundles of cards.)


I have found a few postcards as I know them available on occasion, but they are not ubiquitous as they are in the USA.  


In Ukraine, until recently, a post card had to be mailed in an envelope.  There is no reduced price for mailing a post card as there is in the USA. 


We finally found a few postcards.


Don’t even think about finding a souvenir t-shirt at these beach towns!  


You could, though buy a wide variety of straw hats, flip-flops and stunning beach sarongs and all manner of jewelry.  You can also get your photo taken in period costumes or in fairy tale attire. 


And of course karaoke, food and beer are always available.   



We spent one afternoon, clamoring all over the walls of the wonderful 13th Century fortress on the bluff overlooking one end of the beach.  


Another day the campers and us boarded an ancient bus and crept up the steep, winding grades over the mountain to the neighboring beach community of Novy Svet (New World).  I kept my eyes closed as we slowly wended our way up the many switchbacks in the longest 6 kilometers I have ever endured. 


When we got off the hot,  sticky bus, our excursion leader became quite concerned because I had no hat.  “You have dark hair so you must wear a hat!” she insisted. 


One of the counselors, a bare-headed young blond, handed me a black scarf she had in her bag. 


“You have such fair skin, won’t you need the scarf?” I asked.


The tour guide replied for her, ”You wear the scarf!  She is blond and she will not need to cover here head as much as a brunette does.”


I still do not understand this encounter, but I docilely carried the black scarf along on the long hike under the blazing sun, attempting to avoid the tour guide as much as possible. I had no intention of wearing a black scarf to ward off the sun.  


The long hike on a narrow goat path up a steep embankment lead us to a glorious hidden grotto, which was once the site of pirate bands.  The grotto is sometimes used for musical performances because the acoustics are so good and the location is so appealing. I try to imagine the musicians carting their instruments up the treacherous trail.


The grotto was once used to store wine too.  Currently there are several photographers there who will make an image of customers wearing Viking (?) garb or sword fighting. I had my photo done with a beautiful eagle perched on my arm. Adventurous souls could bungee jump here too!


We proceeded to hike down the mountain to the cove below.  It was midday and not a bit of shade in the area.  The campers and the tour guide stripped down to their swimsuits and began swimming in the azure sea.   We were not prepared to swim, so Mark sat on the shore and I waded a bit while the rest of our crew swam.


We resumed our hike, ascending to another peak, where we had a sensational view of yet another beach.   As we hiked along, we often stopped to photograph the campers who were photographing one another. Many of the campers stayed close to us, practicing their English skills and listening to our observations as we hiked along.


The bus ride back was downhill most of the way and I am not sure whether it was the views of the fortress as we approached Sudak or the mountain road that left me breathless! 


Boat Ride Across the Bay…

We must have missed something at the nightly meeting, because when we headed off to breakfast at the usual time, we were told to be ready to go on a boat ride in 5 minutes!


So, the schedule had been changed.  Following a quick breakfast, we boarded one of two small boats and motored across the bay.  We arrived at a delightful cove where the captain beached the boat.  The campers frolicked in the water, diving from the rocks and acting like otters. 


Sigh, once again, Mark and I were not prepared to swim.


On the trip back to Sudak, we saw several dolphins leaping from the water     


·                     Saturday, 5 August 2006

Just at sunset, we stood at the bus station in Sudak, baggage piled around us, waiting for our driver to allow us to board the bus. 


“Americans?” asked a Russian-speaking woman sitting with several people on a bench.


“Yes,” said Mark.


“I could tell! All that luggage!” she said with a smile.  Her friends laughed along with us.


“What is that instrument?” another man asked Mark, pointing at the banjo.


Mark played a few bars and then a song. A small crowd gathered around us while Mark performed.  When he finished there were smiles and polite applause. The bus driver finished his beer and encouraged us to board the bus.  Our trip home began. 



·                     Sunday, 30 July – Friday, 4 August 2006

Gone to Summer Camp!  (See my 30 July Journal)