· Thursday, 28 December 2006
We have money to buy shoes for orphans - we need someone in the USA to shop & mail…
For some time now, we have been working with a local liaison (she directs a charitable foundation) to get shoe sizes for a group of local orphans. These children lead Dickensian lives.
It is hard to imagine how they survive in these bleak conditions. It is not that people are cruel – no, many of these kids are petted and hugged and loved. They are just poor.
There are no social support systems.
The orphans here often live with elderly grandparents getting by on a pension of $50 a month. Alcoholism, disease, cold, poverty, trap them. The infrastructure is undermined by age and is the legacy of corruption in government; AIDS/HIV rates are sky-rocketing; human trafficking is rising; and the list of challenges and indignities goes on and on.
One of these local children lives in a cave, with dirt floors…there are no real social services in this formerly Communist country, nor are there many church communities to pick up the pieces. Family takes care of family, but many people are falling through the cracks…victims of the harsh realities of changing economies and revolutions of government…
We cannot tackle the big challenges, but for a few dollars we can put good shoes on these kids’ feet.
The facilitator we work is a shrewd business woman and has traveled in the USA. She has seen shoes discounted at Wal-Mart and such places. These are excellent quality shoes, better than one can purchase here in Eastern Europe. For a few dollars in the USA you can pickup a decent pair of shoes on sale and pay postage to surface mail to Ukraine.
We have some cash, donated by an anonymous donor. We can use it to reimburse people who purchase and post shoes for these kids.
At this season, there are many sales and shoes are marked down significantly.
We are waiting for a list of shoe sizes, but it seems like we can get some great deals on shoes if we could shop the post-Christmas sales now….
Drop me an e-mail if you want to know more or have an idea of how to help.
(Mark is a PCV, so his hands are somewhat tied, but since I am NOT a PCV, I have more freedom on this…)
· Wednesday, 27 December 2006 – FULL MOON!
When each day is filled with praise, each day is filled with joy.
- Janet Hegarty, CS
Do you hear what I hear? A bell, a bell, ringing in the night….
We were awakened in the hour of deepest darkness, between midnight and the dawn, by the sounds of the cell phone merrily ringing as it vibrated its way across the windowsill. Mark, crawling out of bed, stumbled over me and made his way across the dark, dark room, to the kitchen window where the cell phone lives. Just as he arrived, the phone stopped ringing.
Just as suddenly, the land-line phone on the other windowsill at the opposite side of our cozy flat began to shriek. The cell phones peals are somewhat pleasant, like the sound of the ice cream man’s bell on a hot summer day, .while the landline has a very urgent, forthright quality about it. It is more like a fire alarm, than a phone ringing.
I lay there in the dark listening as Mark yell expectantly into the mouth piece, “Hello! ...Hello? ...Hello????”
Over the Christmas weekend, we have been summoned to the cell phone several times, but each time, sadly, we were never able to connect.
Being far from family and friends can be a challenge - you can get the blues and a reassuring phone call can make a big difference.
On the other hand, the excitement of a ringing phone and then the dead air of failed technology can be quite a letdown. Despite the disappointment of dashed hopes, there is the blessing of knowing someone has at least made the attempt!
This morning was different though! Mark’s parents got through! Alleluia!
We listened to a brief recap of the family Christmas – we were the only first cousins on that side of the family not present at the party. There were lots of babies and small children to cuddle and at least one expectant Mom in the crowd which made the gathering even more festive.
Yes, this phone conversation was routine, but of course, as is often the case, it is not so much what is said, but rather that someone says something.
So after the middle of the night phone call, I drifted back into pleasant dreams, fueled by fresh memories of the happy sounds of loving voices and the image of a smiling spouse as he connected with people he loves.
My Phone Aversion, E-Mail, and Holiday Cards…
Frankly, I am not big on using the phone. It is the written word that comforts and delights me. I seldom initiate phone calls, not because I do not care or have nothing to share, but because I am not comfortable with them. Back in the USA, I rely on the answering machine or voice mail. I actually prefer to leave a message rather than to actually connect! .Most people who know me are aware of this aversion of mine and are forgiving of it.
I guess I see the phone as a tool and consider it somewhat intrusive.
I am so grateful for the magic of e-mail technology. The words of family and friends arrive and are tucked into my heart as a backup to the copy in my laptop.
And of course a handwritten letter in the post office box is a real delight too!
At this time of year we eagerly anticipate holiday cards, notes and letters. The walls of our rather Spartan flat are decorated with a handful of happy Santas and holiday trees sent through the old-fashioned postal service. (And we are grateful to know that a few more will eventually find their way here!)
In our pre-Peace Corps life (and probably in our post-PC life) when our holiday season ends (late January), I tuck away the newest cards (and the old ones. When the next Christmas comes, I eagerly pull them out and spend some quiet time relishing them all over again.
Each year I choose one or two cards to mat and frame and add them to the ever-growing Annual Pulver Holiday Gallery display that I am the loving curator of! The others delightful cards (and annual letters and photos) fill a large red basket that I keep prominently displayed near a comfortable chair by the Christmas tree so I can peruse them when nostalgia strikes.
I do love the holidays – it is so wonderful to connect, to reach out and to celebrate all the joys and hopes of friends and family!
· Tuesday, 26 December 2006
For me, prayer is a surge of the heart;
it is a simple look turned toward heaven,
it is a cry of recognition and of love,
embracing both trial and joy.
- St. Therese of Lisieux
We woke to a snow-covered world…
Walking home from the Christmas party last night, the rain seemed to be trying hard to become snow. Under the glow of the street lights the raindrops glistened white and as they accumulated on our coats and hair, they suggested snow. Almost snow, but not quite snow yet.
This morning in that half-sleep when my mind swims up from the depths of the dark sea of sleep, I became aware of that special kind of stillness that means a blanket of snow has fallen. I lay there with my eyes closed, treasuring the anticipation.
“Look outside, sleepyhead,” Mark’s voice prodded me from the kitchen, where he was making coffee and setting out bowls for our breakfast cereal. “It’s snowing!”
I jumped up, and looked out our street-side window at the white world outside. I voiced a small prayer of gratitude for the special magic of the first snowfall of the winter.
As I watched, a few children came outside to test the snow, tossing it, tasting it, laughing and tumbling in it. The neighborhood cats, not amused by the turn of events, tip-toe fastidiously through the fresh snow, trying to keep their delicate paws dry. The dogs, on the other hand, seem delighted. They are as joyful as the children and bound about, barking happily and enjoying the surprising developments.
I stand by the window, sipping hot coffee and embracing the moment. There are places where people never have this special pleasure – the first snowfall of the season.
· Monday, 25 December 2006 – CHRISTMAS DAY!
Christmas is NOT a holiday here –YET!
During Communist rule, religion was expunged from daily life. Devout Christians had to hide their worship. And, most people who practice religion here are influenced by Orthodox churches – there is a confusing and complicated discussion of the significant split in the Orthodox churches so Ukrainian Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox and Greek Orthodox (and others) are quite distinctive having different hierarchies, etc. In any case, they do seem to share the same calendar - the OLD calendar so they celebrate Jesus birth on the 7th of January (not to be confused with discussions of Epiphany though!). So, Christmas as we in the USA know it, is NOT really celebrated here.
Of course as a secular event, Christmas as we know it in the USA is making inroads here. The influence of media has made Santa Claus and Christmas trees almost mainstream. But, they still tie these traditions to New Year’s Eve, as they did in the Communist-era.
This year, the progressive Kerch city officials splurged and erected a huge holiday tree in Lenin Square, right in front of the equally huge statue of Comrade Lenin. The tree-lighting will coincide with sunset on our Christmas Day. This event, involving the arrival of Father Frost and Snow Maiden and troops of dancers and probably fireworks, kicks off a week of revelry, just as things are winding down for our friends and family in America.
We Missed the Tree Lighting…
I was disappointed to miss the tree lighting ceremony, but felt obliged to attend a holiday party organized by people at the center where we have been teaching cross-culture classes.
The Director of this organization decided to host an American Pot-Luck Dinner, an idea hatched from her experiences with American pot luck dinners during her whirl-wind travels to various church groups in the USA to solicit support for the local orphanage her organization sponsors.
We arrived, expecting to be guests, but we were quickly handed scripts and asked to teach several songs, organize some typical American activities, advise on the table layout, tell the real Christmas story, say grace, etc. This is not unusual here, but I am a slow learner.
We pulled it off and I think N. was happy with our efforts. It is sometimes hard to tell. Generally people are not very effusive (compared to Americans anyway) here and seem pretty noncommittal about things…hard for us to read them. You learn to just do your best and not be concerned about feedback.
But, once again, we were surprised to find ourselves suddenly among a warm, caring group who indulged us as we spoke of missing family, friends and holiday traditions. They encouraged us to sing, dance, share stories, prayers and toasts.
Most of those present could be described as agnostics I guess and at least one is a Moslem, yet they listened, asked questions, and shared in the activities. Only a few present could speak English, yet despite language barriers they were genial, and responsive. Sitting there in the glow of holiday lights under a decorated fir tree with a small illuminated crèche taking center stage,
I wondered about the diversity I have experienced in celebrating my Christmas holidays this year, in this city where Christmas is not celebrated. In this isolated, small 2600-years-old Crimean city with its Greek roots and Russian and Tartar peoples, there is amazing diversity, but one thing is consistent: the people here are warm, genuine and loving.
· Sunday, 24 December 2006 – CHRISTMAS EVE!
The Most Unlikely Christmas Eve Day Events…We Celebrate Hanukah!
Sometimes my own life amuses me with the odd twists and turns it takes. Today, Christmas Eve Day, I was delighted to find myself gathered together with a group of joyful Ukrainian/Russian Jews, celebrating the last day of Hanukah.
The candle flames in the Menorah seemed to dance along with the young women who lead the congregation in a spirited celebration. Soon many of the guests joined in the snake dance – the dancers wound their way around the room, clapping, laughing, smiling and singing praises. Other members of the congregation moved through the rows of seated people and offered latkes and other traditional foods.
Far from family and friends on a very special Christian holiday, we were unexpectedly blessed (and grateful) to be embraced by this community of exuberant strangers.
· Saturday, 23 December 2006
The Plumber Arrives!
Yesterday we came home to a potential disaster. I had a big dead, dirty bird in my refrigerator and it needed to be cooked. So the plan was to have our holiday dinner Friday night. But, when we arrived home yesterday, our plans changed.
Expect the unexpected…
This time – plumbing problems! A valve snapped off (rusted through) in the shower apparatus and spewed water everywhere. We turned off the water to the flat. All I could think about was the morning dishes in the sink (that impromptu tea party that had us off and running yesterday AM!) and the need to cook that turkey very soon. (The turkey really needed a bath!)
So, no water yesterday, and no holiday meal. The plumber arrived at 0830 this morning and made a quick-fix (temporary).
Soooo the happy holiday meal happened on Saturday evening.
While the big “fish” (as we jokingly called it to keep our two parakeets from knowing we were eating a fellow bird) roasted in the teeny-tiny oven, we made our traditional holiday wreath cookies and a couple batches of chocolate fudge. We cranked up the holiday music and had a wonderful time.
The turkey was a moist and flavorful treat. Mark’s dressing was excellent too. Now we can relax and enjoy leftovers, eat chocolate fudge and wreath cookies for the rest of our Christmas holiday!
· Friday, 22 December 2006
Tea with L. and her Collective.
L. ambushed us. She coordinated a small impromptu holiday tea. Since the Ukrainian holidays don’t kick-in till late next week, we were not prepared. We scrambled around selecting boxes of cordial-filled chocolate-covered cherries and scribbling holiday sentiments in Russian onto greeting cards and still managed to arrive only a little late.
The usual group that comprises L.’s collective raised glasses of champagne and plied us with sweets as we relaxed in the sunny area near the library’s check out desk. Something about champagne at 10 AM and this library right out of an old soviet-era film makes me laugh.
I explain that in the USA, champagne is very expensive and seldom shared except maybe on New Year’s Eve or for a wedding toast. They found this amusing. Typically, the conversation circles around cultural differences and similarities and holiday traditions and then on to other small talk. It is a pleasant little party.
L. is heading off to her son’s home in Moscow for the New Year’s celebration this year. So this tea party is the extent of the holiday merriment this year.
Once again I am caught off guard. Last year, we learned the ropes about New Year’s celebrations in Ukraine at a huge costume party at the library. This year we were ready with costumes, piñata and ideas for our portion of the entertainment. But, typically, when we are prepared, the test is cancelled! 8-)
Expect the unexpected here.
You’re not from around here are you?...Or, small linguistic victories!...
“How much are the potatoes, sir?” I asked in Russian.
“Ahhh, those are Crimean-reds! Very tasty,” he said, stooping down to pick up a handful show me.
“Beautiful! A kilogram, please,” I said, smiling at him.
He looked at me a moment and then eyed Mark who sported a typical fur hat. “Are you two from Bulgaria?” he asked as he handed me my purchase.
I really smiled then. “No, I am an American,” I laughed.
We exchanged a little more small talk before we walked away.
“So, Mark” I said to my husband with a happy sigh, ”My Russian must be getting pretty good! He guessed a Eastern European country!”
· Wednesday, 20 December 2006
We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
- Joseph Campbell
Tom Turkey Arrived for Dinner…
Mark just came home unexpectedly with a guest (also unexpected) - our holiday turkey was delivered to the library so Mark brought him home to be refrigerated.
He is quite a large bird and the refrigerator is quite small. And not very cold. And frequently defrosts, dribbling water all over the front hallway.
I think I may roast this bird tomorrow rather than on Christmas Eve Day, as I had originally planned.
The logistics of this will be a challenge too. The oven is very tiny (but I am grateful we have an oven - many PCVs we know have no ovens. They cook on small stove-tops - like a hot plate)
Crimeans seldom prepare large pieces of meat or big birds. I suspect they cook parts of it as needed. There are still people who do not have refrigerators. When you shop daily for your food, you buy smaller portions and so not having a refrigerator is not so bad, just inconvenient at times.
They singed the feathers off this bird. There is still a bit of stubble on the bird; it is like a five-O-clock-shadow. I am reminded that the bird was recently alive and happily strutting around at some Babushka’s dacha rather than raised in a large sterile turkey farm and processed at a packing plant.
I think we paid 150 UAH (about $30 USD) for this bird. Very pricey (many people we know make 20-50 UAH a day…3-5 UAH an hour) In America turkey is an inexpensive meal, here it is a luxury.
So, in the interest of my typical American fixation with hygiene, we will have to cook up this holiday bird soon and reschedule our holiday feast for a few days earlier I guess…
Sooooo, we can get in the holiday mood early with a fine meal, and then just relax on Christmas and enjoy a lazy day with great leftovers.
· Tuesday, 19 December 2006
To those leaning on the sustaining infinite,
to-day is big with blessings.
- Mary Baker Eddy
Excerpts from an E-Mail I Sent:
Concerning what "I did NOT expect to do that in the Peace Corps!"
I sent the following post to the Peace Corps 2 Yahoo Group forum where prospective volunteers share concerns, questions and issues while they while away the long months from application, nomination, through medical and dental clearances and then on to staging and training. There are many current PCVs and returned PCVs who also interact and provide a voice of reason or take on a mentoring role. Today I thought it would be fun to invite people to discuss a topic…sooo, read on….
…I have been thinking about stuff that makes me say "I did NOT expect to do that in the Peace Corps!"
I guess we "PCV-types" generally expect to deal with privation and have a picture of what that means. Of course the PC lifestyle is generally pretty basic, but there are moments that seem like aberrations...I suspect that phrase (I did NOT expect to do that in the Peace Corps) runs through the minds of most PCVs at some point in their PC tenure. It might be fun to share some of those moments...
I recently received a boxed DVD set of the first season of "Desperate Housewives "series in the mail. Stateside, I would probably NEVER have tuned in to this soap opera (and seldom watched TV) - but here, isolated from America, Americans and the English language, I have become addicted to it! (Ditto with "Lost"...I am eager to get season 2!) Another PCV I know watched alllllll the episodes in a marathon 24-hour session! Somehow, I did NOT expect to watch junk "TV" during my Peace Corps experience.
I also did not expect to drink champagne as part of my Peace
Corps experience. In Crimea champagne is CHEAP and available and people
celebrate life often, lifting toast after toast of bubbly. Even at work (where
the outhouse is stocked with old magazines and books for TP) one is faced with
celebrations (almost daily!) and the offer of champagne. (These are not
affluent people - these are people who went live with five people in a one room
flat, went five winters without heat...their lives still resemble old black and
white films of the bleak Soviet era!) American's associate champagne with
wealth and luxury - Americans usually only break out champagne at weddings, on
New Year's Eve and when you want to impress a special date. People here
in Ukraine are struggling economically, battling a horrible infrastructure,
dealing with crime and corruption, human trafficking issues, the fastest
growing HIV/Aides rate in the world, may not have water or heat, and face a
long string of other challenges - but they find something to celebrate and a
glass of champagne is raised. (FYI: Here, a large bottle of champagne is
faaaaar less expensive than say a small bottle of Coca Cola.) I did NOT expect
to drink champagne in the Peace Corps.
(Ditto on wearing fur coats and fur hats...here this is not luxury, it is practical! And yes, I have a fur coat!)
One more "I did NOT expect to do that in the Peace Corps!" moment...My brother, who served in Malawi as a PCV for several years in the mid-eighties, and then returned to make it his permanent home, recently got a cell phone! The man has to deal with baboons and hauls drinking water... He lives on top of a remote mountain and only recently moved out of his mud hut into a brick home (made his own bricks!) with a corrugated metal roof and a single light-bulb that strains to work from the power generated by a small solar panel on his roof; he cooks over a wood fire and has no running water or heat....but he has a cell phone! It just strikes me funny...
So do any of you RPCVs or currently serving PCVs have one of these "I did NOT expect to do that in the Peace Corps!" moments you would like to share? I imagine we would enjoy hearing your tales and your stories may give the prospective PCTs in this forum a clearer picture of what to expect when they finally get their opportunity to serve
I must add this - I am very grateful for this forum and the people who are willing to share their opinions and advice and experiences about our common bond, the Peace Corps experience.
I look forward to some amusing reading! 8-)
Dawdling Here, When I Should be Planning a Christmas Gathering for my English Club
Read our Ukraine & Malawi Journals: www.pulverpages.com
· Monday, 18 December 2006
Excerpts from an E-Mail I Sent:
Concerning the Crimean Postal Experience…
…We made a post office run and sent some envelopes off in the mail this weekend...not really gifts, just some local stuff (local snacks, paper dolls, etc).
I am not complaining, but you would not believe the postal experience here - the expression “going-postal” could have started here, only it would be the customers who go off I think!
The whole post office experience is a hang-over from the soviet-era mentality. The old building with high ceilings (in excess of 20 feet) is dim and stuffy. They do not turn on lights here until night time, even when it is dark and grey outdoors and then it is one bare bulb (....even at the hospital it was like that.). The process is very bureaucratic: cannot seal the package before the clerk views contents, clerk seals package, there are several special stamps and seals, several people involved in transactions, pushy people butting into what is a line (but to American-eyes it is a crowd huddling and watching).
We spent about 240 Hryvnia or ($48 USD) about 4-5 days pay (for a Ukrainian librarian, teacher, or a PCV) on postage and, once we got to the head of the "line", about an hour getting the actual transaction done. People turn to stare when the clerk announces the tally. (The Rich-American light comes on or maybe the Stupid American light)
We have learned that it is wise to bring along a chocolate bar for the clerk...this is typical of any business place you go. Often you must go back several times, but those who bring along a chocolate bar, are usually treated better. This is odd, because the chocolate bar costs only about 50 cents...When we mailed the Flat Stanleys back to XXX we had to go to the post office about five times - after they were mailed the clerks contacted us and needed more money...
This is a great place for learning patience...though people tend to be rather passive-aggressive really since you can't ever get stuff done as planned. We Americans are so Pollyanna perky, even the cynics among us, at least by comparison.
Well enough of my opinions...Just want you to share in our experience. Please let me know when/if the big envelopes arrive.
(Footnote: We mailed several packages to the USA in early - November and they have not arrived to the recipients yet. Even mail inside Ukraine seems to be waylaid – we mailed5-6 envelopes with certificates of appreciation to Flat Stanley participants and they have not arrived yet. In-coming mail, on the other happier-hand, is quick and arrives unopened and in good condition. No requests for customs fees so far!)
My niece in Des
Moines shared this humor with me - Subject: Christmas Stamps
A blonde goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Christmas cards. She says to the clerk, "May I have 50 Christmas stamps?"
The clerk says, "What denomination?"
The woman says, "God help us. Has it come to this? Give me 6 Catholic, 12 Presbyterian, 8 Mormons and 22 Baptists
· Sunday, 17 December 2006
· Saturday, 16 December 2006
A Troubling Finding…
The following article presents a troubling side to the Ukrainian psyche. I wonder how accurate the poll is and also how representative it is of our friends and neighbors here in eastern Crimea, where the ethnic Russian influence is so strong.
Over a third of Ukrainians believes that Jews should not be
citizens of Ukraine, according to the poll
Over a third of Ukrainians believes that Jews should not be citizens of Ukraine, according to the results of a recent poll conducted by
Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.
Based on a survey of 2,000 respondents, the poll found that 37 percent of Ukrainians would not want to share their nationality with Jews.
This figure jumped to 45 percent in the 18-to-20 age bracket.
The situation has deteriorated since 1994, when just 26 percent of those asked said they would not like Jews to have Ukrainian citizenship.
The survey also asked the respondents to answer whether they were sure that Jews were completely like other citizens of Ukraine. Only 57.4 percent of respondents completely agreed with that statement.
Respondents to the poll felt even more strongly about Roma and ethnic Romanians not being citizens of Ukraine, with 71.8 percent against the former having citizenship and 61.4 percent against the latter.
The regions of Ukraine were also broken down by the degree to which they consider Jews to be the same as regular citizens of Ukraine:
Western Ukraine came in last, with only 45 percent of respondents saying that there was no difference between Jews and other Ukrainian
citizens. Central Ukraine, including Kyiv, appeared to be the most tolerant, with 68 percent reporting that they considered Jews to be
the same as other Ukrainian citizens.
The survey also featured questions as to who should be allowed in the country, with almost 15 percent responding that they were against
Americans visiting Ukraine. Only 6.6 percent were against the country having Jewish visitors.
Questions about other nationalities were also asked. A total of 22.7 percent of respondents would consider having an ethnic Russian as a
close friend, versus only 12.2 percent who would consider an ethnic Jew or 7.8 percent who would befriend an ethnic American. The
respondents said they were more comfortable with North American guests (52.2 percent being comfortable with American guests, 58.7 percent being comfortable with Canadian guests) versus 29 percent being comfortable with Jewish guests. Almost 53 percent would be comfortable with German guests, and a whole 59.8 percent with French guests, a much better showing than for Roma, who only 31.1 percent of Ukrainian respondents would welcome as visitors.
Leading Jewish authorities in the country were skeptical of the poll's results, believing the situation for Jews in Ukraine to not be as dire
as the survey suggests.
Chief Rabbi of Kyiv Yaakov Dov Bleich was among the skeptical. "I would not say that there's no anti-Semitism [in Ukraine], I'm not
saying that there's not a problem, but to put it at that level, that's something that we've never seen, have never heard before," Bleich
said, adding that he would like to see how the questions were formulated.
"Polls can never be taken at face value," he said. "The onus is on them [Kiev International Institute of Sociology] to prove that they
did a normal and true poll."
"Anyone who says there is no anti-Semitism in Ukraine is lying," he emphasized. "The important thing is how the government is going to react."
Dr. Anatoly Podolsky, director of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies, a five-year-old non-governmental organization, also found
anti-Semitism in Ukraine to be less than the results of the poll suggest. "I am not sure about the results of the survey, a project
done by my center has other information," he said.
"Ukraine is a multicultural society. It's not only Ukrainians, Jews are part of Ukrainian society," he said.
Vyacheslav Likhachev, an expert on anti-Semitism for various organizations in the country, was also dubious about the results of
the survey. "The results of other research I have seen before was much better," Likhachev said, citing a recent poll by the International
Tolerance Center. In that poll, "the situation with Jews was better than with Poles, Moldovans, Hungarians and other close neighbors of
Ukraine," he said.
"The general tolerance for Jews is quite good, very good, because in general, the situation of xenophobia in Ukraine is not good, but it is
better than for many other ethnic groups," Likhachev said.
A total of 103,600 Jews were counted in Ukraine's 2001 census, making up 0.2 percent of Ukraine's population, according to the State
Statistics Committee. National minorities account for 22.2 percent of Ukraine's population.
Two thousand people across the country were surveyed for the poll, which was conducted in mid-October.
· Friday, 15 December 2006
· Thursday, 14 December 2006
Excerpt from my E-Mail Reply to an RPCV…
(He was a friend during graduate school. We lost touch and then re-connected Online through our mutual Peace Corps adventures. He is now an RPCV and recently decided to go back to the country he served in. He is there on his own dime this time.)
…So what are you up to in V….? Are you a certified
beach bum living your days out in paradise, or are your employed somewhere
there? 8-) My brother was a PCV in
Malawi and he also returned to the country he served and has happily-ever-aftered
there since 1985!
My Peace Corps adventure has been rather convoluted - I was actually medivaced before I swore in - I was medically separated and would have to wait two years from my last surgery to even re-apply (breast cancer). So I became an RPCT!
Since my spouse was still in Ukraine, I just got a visa and
returned on my own. My Mom died and left me exactly what I would make as
a PCV and enough for roundtrip tickets!
I joke about being here on the Wanda Thompson Jeys Foundation Grant for
the Fulfilling of a Lifetime Dream” (WTJGFLD)... So I am here in
Ukraine, working hard at a variety of challenging projects. One perk is I can
ignore the "BS" real PCVs deal with! 8-) (Hmmm, some gallows
humor here - I could just be a PCV and say it stands for Post Cancer
Volunteer...or maybe change the Peace to Pieces...)
Sooo, I am happy and healthy and yes, we do head back to the USA in May or June. I am not certain what is ahead, but I know in my heart that life is good...and there will be adventures! 8-)…
Keep in touch and I will too!
Happy Holidays from Our Home by the Black Sea
Read our Journals: www.pulverpages.com
OIGINAL NOTE FOLLOWS (I deleted name and location)
At 10:20 PM 12/12/2006, you wrote:
This is T… here from your former UOP Online days. I read your post in the PC yahoo group...So, you only have 5 months left? Sounds like you have enjoyed the experience much in the same way that I did in V….. In fact, I liked it so much I came back to V…. in August 2006 and have yet to leave. Anyways, enjoy the remaining time as it will fly by, and congratulations. It is quite an accomplishment.
RPCV V….. 2003 - 2005
· Thursday, 14 December 2006
Excerpt from an E-Mail to Perspective PCVs on Kitchens & Cooking
The e-mail traffic from perspective PCVs is interesting reading (for us) and we have many opportunities to interject some opinions and share our experiences with them. Packing lists are always a big conversation. Many potential PCVs seem to think they are going on an extended camping trip and outfit themselves with packs and sleeping bags, etc from REI, and other upscale retailers.
Here is one of my recent responses…(someone is very adamant about brining measuring cups in their two-bags-allowed…seems pretty crazy to me, but I must admit, I brought along two small porcelain rabbit napkin rings…a little touch of elegance for our home. 8-.) Well, read on…
Cooking in the Peace Corps...Cooking and shopping was
actually integrated into our initial language and culture training.
We are here in a small, isolated town in eastern Crimea (Ukraine). In our pre-soviet era flat, our kitchen has an ancient small two burner butane gas stove (and large gas tank) with a tiny oven (15" X 15" opening - try getting a turkey in that oven! Well, try getting a turkey here actually!). The oven has no thermostat. I have mastered it though and made a beautiful pumpkin pie from scratch - my Ukrainian associates were amazed that we made a dessert from pumpkin. Generally pumpkin is for pigs.
We know a few PCVs in Crimea who do not have ovens and have only hot plates (some PCVs live in school housing). Actually our Ukrainian neighbor cooks on a hotplate. (We know PCVs here who chop their own wood for heating and who have outhouses and no indoor plumbing making dish-washing and bathing real challenges...and we know PCVs who have DSL and other luxuries too!)
Our tiny fridge is older than the stove and almost rusted through. It wheezes and gasps and often leaks all over the floor, because the door does not seal properly. The freezer (a small compartment inside the fridge) has no door, so can't make ice... Our host family unplugged their fridge in the winter (save on electricity) and kept cold things out on the kitchen porch. People generally shop daily and simply do not have much to store in a fridge. I have photos of a suburban family fridge with the door open and my Ukrainian associates just stare at all the food inside.
You CAN buy nice refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, etc but these are still luxury items here. They are not expensive, by American standards but the average Ukrainian cannot afford them. We try to live like our co-workers and neighbors-working class people: teachers, librarians, etc. I feel like conspicuous consumption can spark bitterness and resentment among people who do not have the choices we do. So, we live very modestly and try to be culturally sensitive...that means we generally shop at the local bazaar, and try not to buy stuff that is not in season or imported for expats, etc...
As for measuring cups...my spouse and I are laughing a bit. We are puzzled by the fuss about measuring cups! Of course, we have both been cooking forever - we are older. My husband is an avid cook and I love to bake, but I cannot think of anything where the measurement must be so precise that I cannot improvise by using a simple teacup as a measure. (FYI: A standard teacup is about 6 oz so filled to the top, it is 8 oz)
Here in Ukraine, cooks use weight (ie: so many grams of flour). It is fun to use their recipes! PCVs here often can the really wonderful fruits and veggies during the summer months when they are cheap and plentiful. During the long winter months about the only thing at the bazaar are apples, potatoes, carrots, cabbage and beets.
Cooking is a cozy hobby to cultivate during the cold months! PC Ukraine PCVs put together a useful cookbook for our newcomers - lots of pointers on shopping, substitutions, nutrition and cooking.
Tonight - I think we will have borsch with a dollop of sour cream, a slab of hearty black bread and some local Crimean wine! 8-)
On a Cold Friday Night in Crimea
Photos of our PCV kitchen are on our website: www.pulverpages.com
Cooking in the PC? Stove? Fridge? ETC? Posted by: "Sarah " Date: Wed Dec 13, 2006 6:14 am ((PST))
... wanted to know how many of the PCVs cook while at their site. If they do cook on their own, do they have a stove to cook with? Do you have an oven? Also how likely is it that you have some form of a fridge or freezer? ... probably headed to EE ... Sarah ________________________________________________________________________
1b. Re: Cooking in the PC? Stove? Fridge? ETC? Posted by: midwesternguyinflorida" Date: Thu Dec 14, 2006 12:29 am ((PST))
...I am in Bulgaria, and I don't know of anyone here that doesn't have an oven, a stove, and a fridge with a small freezer. There are even a handful of volunteers that have microwaves! ... you can buy everything you need here to set up a nice kitchen (sharp knives,
non-stick pans, etc), but you will probably want to pack some measuring cups from home....Ryan Bulgaria, 2006-2008
· Wednesday, 13 December 2006
· Tuesday, 12 December 2006
· Monday, 11 December 2006
What we did this lazy weekend…
The weekend escaped me somehow. We both neglected our to-do lists entirely, so this morning I am feeling uncomfortably behind. I like my Mondays to be free of demands, but instead I have a long list today. No lingering over a second pot of coffee…sigh.
Unexpected guests arrived on the Saturday morning bus from Feodosia. The two, PCVs, called the evening before to let us know they would be in town. We met them at the bus station and shared the gray, chilly day doing some sightseeing and comparing notes on opinions about PCV life, policy and procedures. At about 5, they boarded the bus and headed home again.
Saturday evening I pulled out my small box of holiday decorations and made the décor of our flat even more like an elementary school classroom. The colorful Cyrillic alphabet poster, several large maps, and collages of inspirational postcards and family photos brighten the bare walls of our PCV home. Now a large holiday banner (Happy New Year in Russian) stretches across one wall. Beneath it, I hung red ribbon and posted the eight Christmas cards we got last year.
On our makeshift coffee table (improvised from a piece of wood, four large water bottles and a blanket) is an 18-20 inch tall tree which I purchased last year in Kiev (when we were evacuated for avian flu). It is decked with bright yellow (made from index cards) and garlanded with a strip of red ribbon I salvaged from a gift from last year. A friend sent us two small stockings last year and they are waiting under our tree until Christmas Eve, when they will be hung on the book shelf, with care, hoping St Nicholas soon will be there.
I folded white printer paper and snipped away until I had a small stack of various sized snowflakes. I used dental floss to create a snow storm in our windows.
We stayed up late watching two DVD (loaned to us) - The first, “The Gladiators” was quite good, though brutal. The second film, even more brutal, and, in my opinion, not particularly good, was ”The Passion of Christ.” This was in Aramaic with Russian subtitles, but there really is little dialog. It just did not seem to convey the crucifixion in any kind of meaningful way (for me). I do not need reminders of man’s inhumanity to man.
Sunday we hiked to the bazaar and made a few purchases for our larder and then joined our neighbors for dinner at their flat. They live in England, but often come to visit her family here. She is Ukrainian and a native of Kerch, while he is quite British. They recently purchased a flat in our courtyard. They will rent it to visiting businessmen when they can and will use it themselves during their frequent stays. It was fun to get acquainted.
So on this cold Monday morning (I have the supplemental electric heater on today and am dressed in many layers!), I find myself with several projects to accomplish. I had anticipated uploading some draft website materials for coordination for Friends of Ukraine. But, my lazy weekend did not include the 8-10 hours of work I had planned to accomplish. This puts Mark behind too. He is doing design, I am doing content. This lapse is uncharacteristic of both of us, but we had an enjoyable, relaxed weekend after a rather harried preceding week.
Tonight we teach our Culture Class.
· Saturday, 9 December 2006
Some Packing Advice to a Perspective PCV
Following is an excerpt from an e-mail discussion on what to pack for a Peace Corps experience. Of course Africa and Eastern Europe require different items, but it is the attitude (or philosophy) that is most important in refining a packing list. What is your purpose in going in the Peace Corps? This question can help streamline that packing list.
From: Virginia <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Matthew Sent: Wednesday, Subject: Travel Light...Re: Fwd: Invite to Malawi
Ahhhh, yes, the packing dilemma. It is a good diversion while you bide your time until you actually depart! My feeling/opinion is to embrace the culture and arrive ready to live among the locals in the way they live.
The most important thing you can bring is an attitude of acceptance and sincerity. People have so little (materially) there. I found myself embarrassed by all the things I packed up the mountain with me. There is also a dilemma in sharing your wealth of things with people- it introduces a sense of competition/strife among locals.
No real specific advice, but I recommend you travel light and be receptive to the warm people you will meet. It will change your life.
Life is good...
On a Grey Day in Crimea
(Footnote: So many PCVs can barely carry their bags when they arrive. They look foolish struggling along and have far too many clothes and personal items, in my opinion. The local people see them as a target and hang around looking for a hand out. We often unintentionally perpetuate that rich American image…)
· Friday, 8 December 2006
Obsessing over pots and pans…
I was fixated on scrubbing a small skillet when I just stopped. I really do take pleasure in getting my pots and pans looking shiny and new. Periodically, I find my self slipping into an almost obsessive mode, scrubbing happily away.
It is a delightfully mindless activity, and rather pleasant really, but today I just stopped.
There were about ten other things I COULD be doing or SHOULD be doing on this fine sunny day, but I just decided to stop and make a papier-mâché pig.
So I did.
Year of the Pig and Ukrainian Holiday Traditions…
The year 2007 is the Year of the Pig. All over Ukraine there are New Years cards and calendars depicting cute little pigs, decked out in holiday attire, pulling sleighs or sipping champagne. Newcomers to Ukraine must be rather puzzled to see what appears to be Santa Claus (it is NOT Santa Claus) and a pretty pink pig. Maybe, the Ukrainians consider pigs to be a holiday icon – Ukraine is, after all, farm country and the people are of peasant stock so, yes, it would be reasonable for swine to …
OK, let me stop right here and clarify this!
First of all, it is the Chinese calendar that says this next year will be the year of the pig.2006 was the year of the dog, so last year all the calendars and holiday stuff sported cute and not so cute canines.
But this is not China. I do not know why this custom is so popular, but it is. (Hard to imagine the Year of the Rat…but I digress)
Secondly, Ukrainians (in Crimea anyway) celebrate New Year’s Eve and NOT Christmas (though post-Communism and now immersed in western-consumerism, Christmas, and hopefully religion, are making a comeback).
Third, the Santa-like character is in fact Dyed Moroz (sp?). Though he looks like Santa, he is from the snowy Russian forests, hangs around with a beautiful young snow maiden (Snegulochka- sp?) and is associated with New Year’s Eve. No comfy old Mrs. Claus for this guy!
New Year’s Eve is the big event of the year here. It is HUGE! (The #2 holiday is International Woman’s Day- do NOT forget to honor all the women in your life when that day rolls around!) On New Year’s Eve in Crimea there will be family and friends in costumes and there will be fireworks, elegant clothes, fine food, champagne, dancing and song, there will be gifts under a decorated tree too.
For the uninitiated, the New Years Eve festivities can come as quite a surprise.
And, what about the papier-mâché pig, you ask?
Just getting into the holiday spirit! I thought it might be fun to take an adorable, pink, pig piñata to the library’s New Year’s Eve party. And it beats scrubbing pots and pans!
I’ll post photos later.
Getting a head start on 2007 - Year of the Pig!
· Thursday,7 December 2006
Head Banging Music…
I am listening to some heavy metal from a group called Ramstein. Yep. Not my usual fare.
Every week, A. one of the guys in our English Club brings me another CD to listen to. Up till now the artists have been Russian or Ukrainian.
I think A. is about 26. His English skills are limited, but he is dogged about knowing what’s going on in the group setting. He attends club faithfully and usually escorts us part way home so he can practice English one-on-one. He is constantly amazed at how we can function with our limited Russian skills, but of course he never really hears us speak Russian because we see him only at English Club where we only speak English.
Once on a train trip we ran into A. at a layover. I suggested we have dinner at a cafe. A did not think we would find a café or restaurant, but tagged along when we suggested looking. I am sure he seldom dines out. People here are pretty thrifty and usually bring food on any excursion. Anyway, A. was quite surprised, even impressed, when we read the menu, ordered and managed to pay the bill with no problems. I can still almost see his funny grin and the way he shakes his head when he is surprised or amused or puzzled by the crazy Americans.
A. has quite a talent for painting. He is striving to get some of his work in a Kiev gallery. I wish I could be of more assistance but my art world savvy and connections are more limited than my Russian skills.
I wonder if he would let me post some photos of his work on our website?
Small Gifts and English Club
Most of our regular club members are in their early twenties, though there are usually a few older people who drop by intermittently. We also usually get to see and hear a talkative and bright13 year old girl. They are a rather quiet group, but they respond to my rather high energy, theatrical approach. We have a loyal following.
I encourage them to read and be aware of current events too, so each week I bring Newsweeks (Peace Corps sends these) and occasional Oprah Magazines (thanks to our faithful house sitter!). I also share copies of the international version of the Christian Science Monitor (PCVs can request a FREE subscription!) and Sentinels. And I share paperback books when I can. The periodicals are very useful to start conversations. The materials go home with different eager readers to practice their English skills. . (Eventually I donate the well-read magazines and papers to a foundation where children use them for cutting and pasting projects in their English classes.)
This week I., a beautiful and serious student of English, loaned me a copy of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. A few weeks ago I mentioned I had never read it. Students of English here have read many of the classic American and British authors as part of school curriculum.
Members often share books with me and sometimes they bring us small gifts. Last winter we received many jars of home canned fruit compote and pickles. I especially enjoyed the honey some one gave us once. It is typical to give people gifts of food.
I rarely come home from English Club empty handed.
Ukrainian people are kind and generous and like to share what they have.
There is, however, another aspect of bringing gifts – this strategy is a holdover from the communist era. Our English Club members say it was (and still is) always wise to give gifts to your teacher. Perhaps your teacher will remember you well and this can be an advantage at times.
The parakeets seem to enjoy this head banging music, but I think I am ready to move on now…maybe I will grab that Jane Austen book and curl up for a late afternoon read.
A Note on Gifts: I saw someone open a birthday gift on a Ukrainian (maybe Russian) TV show. Gift wrapped anything is unusual here, but this present was surprising in another way. When the young woman lifted the lid, out flew a dozen or so beautiful butterflies! 8-)
· Wednesday, 6 December 2006
My Brain Itches…
Thoughts about house-sitting for a PCV (or perhaps someone on sabbatical) during our transition back to the USA keep popping up as I go about my daily chores.
This could be a viable and innovative way to explore a new city and to get a toehold before really committing to a move there. We could (possibly) couple this with AmeriCorps positions. This would allow us to serve while we investigate local options and network within the community.
This idea may seem unconventional, not suited to everyone, but I keep returning to it with a buoyant feeling.
It is worth investigating.
It makes me feel like dancing! (Below is a Cossack dancing!)
· Tuesday, 5 December2006
How long has it been since we have seen an American?
Well, in early September we visited L’viv (L’vov), a beautiful city in western Ukraine, and spent some time with another delightful PCV from Group 28.
Hmmm, almost three months! And we haven’t even been out of town since then either!
We have no prospects of seeing any Americans until late February when we head west to the mountains in the Lviv/L’vov area again – this time for a PC conference where we will see about 30 of our “surviving” initial-training-mates. (I think our groups started at about 42.)
So we could go five months without seeing another American!
We are pretty isolated here on the eastern-most tip of the Crimean Peninsula. We are at the end of the train and bus lines, so no one passes through here. No one just drops by.
This is not a tourist hotspot, like the resort areas around Yalta. In fact, our community was a closed military town up until about ten years ago, so outsiders were discouraged from visiting. Outsiders from Ukraine (or other places) are still rare here. (You are far more likely to meet a Russian on business here than a Ukrainian, or other “foreigner”).
Of course we have each other. And our ”imaginary friends” that people our fine collection of American DVDs.
And we have e-mail interactions.
Our situation is not the norm.
Most PCVs in Ukraine (there’s about 300 at any given time) seem to be more centrally located and can drop-by to visit one another as they transit across the country. And, many PCVs can easily get to Kiev, since it is rather centrally located. For those actually in Ukraine (not Crimea), Kiev makes a good place to meet and take a break from the isolation of village life or poor plumbing, etc…And, being single, they are probably more motivated to seek out opportunities to see other PCVs. (PCVs sometimes rent crash-pad apartments for weekends in Kiev.)
From here, it is a 23-hour train trip to Kiev.
I am torn between a social-instinct to bond and develop camaraderie with the PCV community and the urge to remain isolated like a hermit. I do enjoy quiet time alone and am content by myself.
I am happy here with Mark. Two things make it easier: my spouse is here and I am older – I have traveled and explored the world quite a bit. I have lived abroad for over a decade so I do not feel the need to make a checklist and tour every city, carefully documenting events, etc.
My sense of otherness…
I was medically separated from PC and am now in residence here with my PCV spouse. I feel a need to keep a low profile. (And anyone who knows me realizes this is not consistent with my need to contribute, participate, network and share) I am a rule-follower, or at least a respecter-of-rules, so I do not flaunt the ambiguous nature of my status here. (I like to say I am here as a volunteer on a grant from the “W. T. Jeys Foundation”) I am happy, healthy and doing good work, but at times I long to be part of the PCV social circuit.
So it is good that we are here, away from temptations. The PCVs I trained with and those others who serve around the country often meet to work on mutual projects and sometimes just to socialize. There are weddings and parties we would enjoy attending, but because of geography/proximity, marital status, age, personality and inclination we have not participated.
I know that this is the right place for me, for us. I am happy here. I am grateful for the opportunity to live in this beautiful community by the sea and the opportunity to become part of this community of warm people.
It is hard to believe that in less than six months, this adventure will be just another wonderful memory and we will, once again, be surrounded by fellow Americans!
(Hmmm…just noticed that my 1 December post was incomplete; the birthday post was there, but not my rambling reminiscence of our good friend Jim was missing! . So check below to learn more about Jim-Bob!)
· Monday, 4 December 2006
“It’s said that every cell in our bodies is replaced every seven years. So I am literally not the same person who stumbled into this role. I certainly have more gray hair, but I also have more patience, more compassion, and more willingness to look foolish.”
– Nina Utne*
I wish I had journals from my first year as an Air Force Junior ROTC Instructor in a small, economically-challenged, mill-town in rural western SC.
That is what I was doing seven years ago.
I like Nina Utne’s quote (above). I definitely have a lot more gray hair these days. Seven years later I have gone through the rigors of growing older and I have weathered challenges that all people face one way or another: death of loved ones (among them my son, Mother and dog), disease (my Dad’s Alzheimer’s, spouse’s diabetes, a breast cancer assault) and disappointments (medical separation from PC, and many others). Chronicling these mortal episodes is not wise – the point is, we face challenges and demands. Let’s move on. …
Am I more patient, more compassionate than I was seven years ago? Perhaps, but I think it is more accurate to say I had opportunities to prove my patience and compassion in very challenging situations.
A willingness to look foolish…
The phrase” willingness to look foolish” catches my attention and makes me smile. I want to explore this idea.
I must say, I have good role models for this. I consider this a genuine attribute. It is a quality that should be cultivated. In fact, I would have more gray hair than I already have, if I were unwilling to occasionally look foolish (both unintentionally and on purpose)!
I have practiced this quite literally. Living somewhat isolated in another culture with limited language skills, a willingness to take risks (and look foolish) can be a matter of survival. In order to communicate here, I must put aside any ego and often may appear rather foolish. But, I survive, I make friends, I communicate…they laugh, we laugh.
Foolishness is not fatal.
In a larger sense, I think I have mastered what Nina Utne means by this phrase. I think it is useful and important to take risks. And taking risks ultimately means you may look foolish from time to time. It is, however, seldom a fatal condition.
If you have never failed or never felt foolish, perhaps you are insulating yourself from real life…maybe you are hedging your bets. People easily get trapped in their narrow sense of security and/or complacence.
It is important to get outside the comfort zone; think outside the box; work without a net; stick your neck out, etc…all the clichés say much the same thing. The Bible is also peppered with references to being like a child: be open and accepting, trusting, humble, joyful, confident, fresh.
Like gold, we are purified by fire heat (challenges). To purge the impurities, we must endure the heat.
I think a willingness to be foolish can even be a call to faith. “To those leaning on the Sustaining Infinite, today is big with blessings!” (check this Mary Baker Eddy quote – I may have erred in accuracy, but not intent…) We have to be willing to take risks to practice our beliefs. It can be frightening, but if we believe God is guiding us, guarding us, governing us and that God provides for us before we even know we have a need, then we must be willing to act on that faith and live in accordance with it.
“…the discomfort of not knowing is an essential part of the process of creativity and change.”
- Nina Utne*
Yep, life can seem scary. It is good to put it in perspective. It is good to look past that evidence. It is good to look at what you believe and know to be true. It is good to rely on the principles (Principles) you can lean on.
It is good to know you can pass the test.
It is wise to know that there will always be tests.
To live with integrity, you take the risk, and just deal with the discomfort, distress, anxiety, uneasiness that are part of the process. (And they are always part of the process, even when your faith and understanding are strong!)
“We have had to fundamentally, continually, and often awkwardly reimagine our relationships to each other and ourselves.”
- Nina Utne*
You cannot grow stagnant or complacent. Well, you can, but to me that means you have stopped living, you are merely existing. You risk becoming melancholy and bitter, feeling cheated…you view the falling leaves as imminent signs of death and dying rather than as part of a joyous, re-affirming life cycle. You are likely to find envy in your heart… To live life, you must stay in the moment and find the joy and sweetness. That means we must examine our lives, our choices, and relationships and that may mean change and growth. That may mean uncertainty and discomfort as we proceed. (This maybe like the labor a mother endures when birthing a child - the memory of the pain fades as the bond with the child grows and as time passes)
Ultimately, what we do in life is seldom the result of conscious plans. Events occur, in part because we consider, commit; we choose, we create and we move forward.
Sometimes people choose not to choose.
In the end, a willingness to appear foolish, makes having the gray hairs a lot more tolerable. And these gray hairs may, in fact be a symbol of a life well-lived!
Check back with “me” in seven years.
*Footnote: Who is Nina Utne? She and her spouse started the delightful and daring ”Utne” magazine years ago. I extracted these quotes from the Sep/Oct 2006 issue. .I highly recommend this periodical, regardless of your age politics or lifestyle – lots of provocative ideas and good humor…I hope the character and quality survive the recent changes in ownership. …
· Sunday, 3 December 2006
People here have opinions about the President of the USA…
President Bush comes up in conversations here. For the most part, the locals are pretty polite about their opinions on our leader, but it just comes up sometimes. Sigh.
I do avoid talking about politics, but I can’t help but share a couple notes about the local community. I mean this happens on a TV call-in show!
The local mayor is a) amazing b) amusing c) appalling d) annoying…
The milk delivery truck goes by about 0830 each morning. The driver pulls over, rings a small hand-bell to alert the local folks that he has arrived. His loyal customers appear, make their purchases, exchange some gossip and then head home again. A nice arrangement? Yep, but unfortunately, that 0830 tinkling bell disturbs the mayor. Or so he said on the local TV call-in show where he banned the milkman’s bell. It wakes the mayor from his sleep.
Another caller complained about power and water outages in their area and the mayor’s response was to say that people in that district did not vote for him so why should he care?
Did I mention the mayor has a double-digit number of charges against him?
· Saturday, 2 December 2006
Again I Ponder Open Manholes…Why?
I just do NOT understand why manholes are often left open here. I have heard that the covers (actually made in our fair-city!) are prone to theft. It is true that the design on them, a gryphon, is quite attractive, but I suspect they are stolen for resale and salvage rather than as an innovative coffee-table or wall art.
Often as not, though, the manhole cover is not actually missing but resting nearby the gaping hole. These open manholes are not an isolated incident. Nor are they isolated geographically – what I mean is, these open sewers are in the middle of the courtyard where children play or along the walkways where people may stumble into one on a dark night. (And people, including PCVs, DO fall in them!)
Our Open Manhole…
The manhole outside our garden is now open – for several days it has been open. The outdoor funeral earlier this week took place just a few meters south of this stinking hole in the ground! (The city cleaning crew obsessively gathered up all the leaves in the courtyard prior to the funeral, but the manhole cover remained off –You might think the rank, poisonous stench emanating from the bowels of the sewer system would be more disturbing than autumn leaves cluttering the ground!)
The Police Car…
From our kitchen window I observed a militsia (police) vehicle drive through the courtyard. Though our courtyard does not have a driveway, this does not stop car owners (there are so few private car owners) from driving through if they have business. This police vehicle is often here on a mission – he delivers or picks up his child from Babba’s (Grandma’s) house.
The lights of the official vehicle shine through my kitchen window and spill into the living room on these dark afternoons so I am more aware of its comings and goings than most.
Today I heard a terrible grating sound as the police car rounded the curve and unexpectedly found the gaping manhole! Did he stop, leap out and investigate? No. The complaining tire did not get immediate attention nor did he even slow down! The driver just gave the car more gas and roared away into the night!
I suspect had he been a few inches over, there would have been a very undignified dilemma… a cop car stuck in an open manhole in the middle of a courtyard!
· Friday, 1 December 2006
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JIM!
I wish we could be there to help you celebrate your birthday Jim, but since we can’t, I thought we could have a little surprise party for you here!
I hope you like the cake!
Enjoy your special day.
Ask Chris if your birthday gift arrived yet.
I wish it could be more…
Thanks for everything Jim! You are a pretty special guy!
Some Random Reflections on Good-Friend Jim…
Yep, Jim is a special friend. Anyone that knows him well can share stories of his kindness, gentle humor, and amazing generosity.
This man literally gave me the shirt off his back when I was going through some significant medical matters back in 2005 – he also logged many-thousand miles driving north to act as my nurse and taxi driver (and no-doubt racked up some credit card bills too) when I was medivaced back from Ukraine and alone and scarred in DC …He showed up not just once, but three times in a three week period. He did not ask. No, he just did. Jim walks the walk.
Jim has been a generous friend in other ways too. Without him, we could not have begun this Peace Corps adventure. He agreed to house sit for us for 27-months, no small commitment since it meant a major move away from family and friends. And when our opportunity to serve was accelerated by several months, he was un-phased. Happy-to-be-here, proud-to-serve…or so he says! 8-)
Jim regularly sends us care packages – stuff like my monthly Oprah Magazine and catalogues. He also sends cool stuff to share with our local friends here in Ukraine. He sent dozens of red, white and blue pencils, dozens of small American flags, a couple dozen red and blue bandanas and lots of decorations to helps us make our Fourth of July functions here more festive. The locals loved it and so did we!
He recently ordered about a hundred really nice ink pens and had them imprinted with our names and titles – This creative and generous gift arrived last week. They will make great farewell gifts to our friends, associates and colleagues here in Ukraine.
Jim is a trip! He regularly buys lottery tickets regularly- every day in fact! It is easy for me to imagine this over-the-hill hippie sitting on our front porch sipping a cool drink, smoking an evil cigarette and scratching off one number at a time. He likes to drag out the pleasure of the scratching, and possible winning, process for hours. The promises always spill as he scratches and smokes. He tells us his dreams -what he will do with the money. He gives most of this dream money away. And there is always a gift to us in his musings.
He is a great guy. Don’t get me started on his obsessions with things-Hobbit or his ability to tell you trivia and lyrics on any music from over the decades (former DJ and frequent concert-goer). Give the man some fireworks and he is like a child! He also looooooves convertible sports cars…
I know about lots of good things Jim-Bob has done for other people. Of course I cannot really put people’s business out on the Internet, but trust me-this man is kind and generous, responsible and reliable, and lots of fun too! He goes beyond the call of duty. OK, imagine driving some elderly people (one with Alzheimer’s) from Maine to Florida – definitely a challenge many people would avoid. Imagine escorting a legally-blind man through the backwoods of Alaska and on a hike through the Appalachian Mountains? Jim was there and joking and laughing the whole time.
This southern-boy, misplaced in frigid Maine for far too many years, has shoveled a lot of snow, just because he is a nice guy. Missing that snow and ice is definitely one of the perks of house sitting for us!
Yes, we are grateful to Jim for being a part of our lives for well over thirty years...We met him in Spain back in the mid-70’s when we were wearing bell bottoms and embroidered shirts. Jim and Mark were wearing Air Force uniforms then. Jim ended up serving for thirty-plus years. I believe h e would re-enlist in a heartbeat too. He gets pretty sentimental when it comes to the military and really believes in service before self.
Well enough reminiscing…In a few months we will be sitting on that porch watching Jim with his lottery tickets and our life here in Ukraine will be just a pleasant memory.
We hope to share some birthday celebrations together when we get back to the USA.
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