·                     Monday, 27 February 2006

E-Mail Extract Follows:

The plans for next weekend (4th of March) include taking the bus to Feodosia for a day of shopping, museum visits (a little culture) and a nice lunch out.  With the snow gone and hopes the good weather will last through the next weekend, we hope to have a fine outing.  Since my return, we have been busy settling in and then had  two trips back-to-back trips to Kiev (24-hours each way - one trip was the Crimean Poultry War evacuation) followed by the holiday season and then that record-breaking cold spell.  We also entertained a few house guests who enjoyed Mark's cooking and the hot showers we could offer.  With all the activity we have not strayed too far from our Kerch home.  (We did make it to Stary Krim for a holiday party for a group of Tartar children at the library there.) 


The plan is to meet a couple PCVs there for lunch.  We will rise early and bus over (about 2 hours) to visit the bazaar there.  We will look at a few dishes and fabric (I want to have a couple skirts made) and then visit one of the museums there.  There is a fine museum of art featuring the works of the artist our street is named after: Ivan Aivaznovsky, a prolific seascape painter.  There is also the writer Alexander Grin's museum which is in his former studio which resembles a ship.  There are several wonderful medieval towers and the remains of fortresses there too - we will pay a return visit during picnic weather to visit those.  During summer months Feodosia is swarming with vacationers who come for the beaches and a break by the sea. 


Mark is working on his International Women's Day (8 March) offerings.  He is the lone male who works with about 23 women so he is at a real disadvantage!  Usually men give co-workers a flower and a chocolate bar or other small gift.  Mark, the resident computer geek, is ginning up a lovely bookmark (a computer generated, hand-colored, laminated piece of art).  Since he works in a library a bookmark seems apropos. He will also give each woman a few hundred grams of chocolate in a small, red-tulle and ribbon bedecked package. 


Last year on International Women's Day we were still in residence at our Host families' home.  Mark cooked the evening meal and managed to have a cross-cultural incident!  Part of his menu included a tomato and raw mushroom salad - yikes!  No one in Ukraine eats raw mushrooms and our host family's home was within the Chernobyl zone so they were/are extremely sensitive to the potential for problems...mushroom and radiation... needless to say, our hosts were not too impressed - N, our host father, took one look, and walked out of the room! 


International Women's Day is a big deal here.  Never heard of it?  Well, the women here have trained the local men to honor this holiday and the women in their lives.  This event is bigger than Valentine's Day! 


Someone gave Mark a Scrabble Squares puzzle for his birthday - sigh.  I am addicted to trying to solve this puzzle.  I am not a puzzle-person, but this one is deceptively simple.  We encountered another one in the series a few years ago at sister-in-law Lynn's place where I wasted many hours of my Thanksgiving break swearing under my breath as I tried to solve this puzzle.  Aye-aye-aye!  Every night since we got this crazy puzzle I end up spending several hours re-arranging the nine tiles until my eye-balls bleed...


We watched "Brokeback Mountain" over the weekend.  Apparently we are part of the Academy Awards reviewing committee because the disclaimer that occasionally scrolled across the bottom of the screen reminded viewers that this video is intended only for folks on the committee.  We got a copy from a friend - we elected to watch in English rather than in Russian, though that was a choice.  (The male voices on Russian dubbed films are always very macho, testosterone-rich and bass while the female voices are very feminine and musical and pitched either very high or in a resonant, cello-esque range.)  The film is haunting for many reasons.  I have so many questions about motivation and behind the scenes events.  It is quite a topic - amazes me it made the Academy Awards Best Picture since we American's seem to prefer action films and avoid anything to controversial.  The film captures so many things so well...I am left with questions though. I wish I could spend an evening of discussion with other viewers.  I was interested to see writers Annie Prouloux and Larry McMurtry both worked on the story and screenplay...I would loooove to read the original story that inspired the film.


Well, more later,...I am heading off to the shower and then will read a few chapters in the latest novel: "When Summer's in the Meadow" by Niall Williams and Christine Breen...Manhattan couple abandon's city life to carve out a life in rural Ireland (cows, etc)...


Be sure to check out the additions to the web site: price comparisons, links, a tour of our flat…



On the Eastern Tip of Crimea



I solved the puzzle!  8-)


·                     Saturday, 25 February 2006

Caleb J. Pulver, 1976-2002


·                     Friday, 24 February 2006

It is not where you live, but how you live that matters - not exactly profound, but it is something I am keenly aware of as we live through this Peace Corps experience in Ukraine.  We are more conscious of choices here.  Making conscious choices enriches daily life.


Pups are Out

Now that the snow is gone and temperatures are so wonderfully spring like, White Dogs’ pups have made their debut appearance. They are delightful.  I must tear myself away from the window because their antics hold me spellbound.


I have never really been around puppies so their activities seem especially amusing to me. 


These four spindly-legged creatures are so confident and exuberant.  They must be about 6weeks old (where have they been hiding?) and are so independent and curious.  Mom and Dad Dog are not too attentive, but seem to share the task of supervising their young ones.  They all queue up occasionally and I laugh aloud at all the tail-wagging and the constant motion.


Mom and Dad Dog are regulars outside the store next door.  When people exit the shop, the dogs are at their heels, tails wagging and noses thrust against the shopping bag swinging at the end of the human’s arm.  People often sneak a small treat to them.  So far, the pups keep their distance and simply observe this panhandling technique.


Pups are curious about the neighborhood cats.  The streetwise cats are large and threatening looking, larger than the pups, yet they are wary of the small canines that are eager to sniff at them.  So far no daggered claws have swiped any of the pups, but soon some pup will overstep the bounds of polite society and get a lesson from one of these fierce felines.


·                     Thursday, 23 February 2006 – Grandson Cameron’s Birthday!

My Current Project

Today my brain is muddied by a project I am immersed in: translation work for the library’s web page. 


I am not, strictly speaking, translating.  I am using a couple computer-based document translators to provide me with documents in rudimentary English, which I am editing into something meaningful.  It does not seem as if this would be too difficult or time-consuming, but clearly anyone who believes that is naïve. 


It is, in fact, challenging and tedious.  In addition to language and grammar challenges, the material is dull and poorly organized.  I am inclined simply to re-write it all - but, that is not my role.  Since the materials will appear in three languages, they should mirror one another somewhat consistently.


There are puzzling sentences that give me flashbacks to some of the instructions that come with electronic devices imported from overseas.  You know those odd word choices that make it clear the technical writers are not native English speakers. 


Here is a random sentence from the text:

“A department will organize the use of single book fund of libraries in the conditions of centralization, active popularization of him.” 


This experience makes me wonder how translators of literary work ever succeed; imagine the work involved in making “War and Peace” fluent and meaningful and accurate in English. 


Today is Men’s Day (Formerly Army/Soldier’s Day)

Yet another obscure holiday!  We talked a little about this at English Club last night.  Today we are supposed to honor men, but this day is not highly observed. 


International Women’s Day (8 March) is well supported in this country and God pity the man who fails to bring chocolates and flowers to all the women in his life!  Poor Mark – he works with has about 23 women and has a female tutor too!  


Men’s Day actually started out as a day to recognize soldiers.  In recent years, it has morphed into Men’s Day.  We noticed a gathering at the local Veteran’s Club up the street last night.  We caught glimpses of men decked in all their medals lifting toasts of vodka to one another as we walked past the open window.


Grandson’s Birthday!

Off in AZ our grandson is becoming a teenager today!  What an occasion that must be! 


I remember his arrival with great joy.  We gathered at the hospital on the 22nd when our daughter disrupted her Brother Caleb’s birthday party with the news she was in labor.  We simply packed the party into the car and re-grouped birthday banner and all, in the waiting room at the local hospital. 


Cameron made his appearance shortly after midnight, thus claiming his own birthday, rather than sharing his special day with his Uncle Caleb or with former President of the USA George Washington!


Now the red-headed boy is almost a man himself!


·                     Wednesday, 22 February 2006 - Caleb’s Birthday (1976-2002)!


Caleb – at around 2 years old              



·                     Tuesday, 21 February 2006

Mark’s Birthday Party at the Library

Toting bags to the library Monday morning was hard work!  Mark has about 23 co-workers and we are self-catering a Ukrainian-style birthday party.


We stagger under the weight of all the purchases necessary to do this properly.  It is traditional to host your own birthday party and shower friends with food and beverages and a chance to laugh and relax and enjoy. 


The library opens to the public at 11AM so the party begins at 10.  At 9AM, after some last minute shopping and bag-toting, we are hard at work slicing. dicing, arranging and getting ready for the guests.


Mark prepared a wonderful seafood salad (“How can a salad have cold macaroni in it?” the local ladies all ask?) and he used some marshmallows a friend recently sent from the USA to make a traditional Midwestern Jell-O dessert (can’t have a gathering Iowa without Jell-O either as a salad or for dessert!) .  Our friend Art also sent some summer sausage that we sliced up and shared with our Crimean friends who have often asked about the American versions of kohlbasi.  White bread is becoming quite popular here so we spread some blueberry jam on slices of bread and that was quite a novelty too.  (People often serve jam and preserves as if were fresh fruit and spoon it into their mouths rather than spreading it on bread so this was a novelty.)  There were plates of Ukrainian cheese and bowls of tuna stuffed olives and several plates of a spicy shredded carrot salad that is popular here and quite tasty too.  In addition to the snacks, there were two tortes and several bottles of champagne, some vodka for toasts and coffee and tea. 


Unlike in America where we would have probably had a buffet line and paper plates, here everyone gathers around a small table and squeezes together around a table laden with small glass dishes.  The food offerings are heaped onto several small plates strategically placed around the middle of table.  Each person has a small plate to eat from.  Food is not passed.  People reach and take what they wish.  Occasionally they will ask for something that is out of reach. People do not hesitate to reach for things nor do they seem concerned about using their own cutlery to serve themselves with.  The champagne and vodka bottles are distributed at intervals for easy access and freshening glasses for toasting.  People do not really drink them, but use them to toast.  There were many toasts. 


Many of the ladies stood and made short speeches or sang songs or recited poems.  Many struggled to speak in English.  They presented Mark with several bouquets (the long-stemmed roses are astounding – soooo tall and sturdy and beautiful…a breed apart from what we see in the USA) and many small gifts.  There were computer-generated cards (Mark taught them to use clip art on the computer and they make laminated cards).  Photos are always taken so everyone squeezes together to be captured in the viewfinder. 


The library keeps a stash of assorted glasses, cutlery, plates and tablecloths. They are mismatched and well-used.  These women know how to set the table in such a pleasing way you do not notice these details. 


People do not use disposable products much here at all.  (When paper napkins are used, they are invariably very small and cut in half prior to being distributed – this is true in cafes and bars too.)  When it is time to clean up after the meal, they boil hot water in electric hot pots and do the dishes in a small dishpan right on the serving table.  The janitor/cleaning ladies handle this chore. 


The mailbox at the post office had several cards and a package from the USA.  Mark’s cell phone chirped throughout the day with birthday greetings from PCVs and locals.  Last night our e-mail held many nice greetings and served as a nice end to a happy birthday for Mark.


The next two big Ukrainian events are International Women’s Day on 8 March – this is a huge event here and men are well-coached so no one is neglected!   This holiday equates somewhat to our Valentine’s Day but men honor their co-workers as well …  The other event is the ten—day Butter Festival!  This is a pre-Lenten blini-festival carried over from the old orthodox church and the ladies at the library decided to do it up in true Russian fashion for our benefit!  Yum!


·                     Monday, 20 February 2006

Flooding & a Winter Thaw

Mark’s birthday (Sunday) coincided with a significant change in the weather here.  Saturday the temperatures went up well above freezing for the first time in weeks and the rains came tumbling down in earnest.  The city streets became impassable rivers as the gutters filled with chunks of massive ice.  Friday pedestrians could barely navigate along sidewalks and through streets due to the think layers of ice that had melted and re-frozen numerous times, but during the rainfall on Saturday, it was also a challenge for pedestrians to find ways to ford the streets and to avoid being splashed by passing vehicles. 


The canal that cuts through town near the bazaar was deluged during Saturday’s rains so on Sunday morning crowds of rubberneckers supervised a man using a large construction vehicle to remove ice chunks lodged under the bridge between the canal and the Black Sea.  From the mud and the murky-brown puddles of standing water, it was clear the area had been flooded.


The flooding was interesting, but the warm weather on Sunday was the topic that held most people’s interest.  It was balmy and bright.  We opened our windows and listened as turtle doves cooed and the neighbor’s puppies made their debut outdoors.  The streets were crowded with couples strolling arm-in-arm.  The adults wore jackets and some even appeared without headgear, despite the words of wisdom thrust on them by concerned babushkas shaking their heads and predicting dire outcomes for such people.  Though the adults were inspired to strip off a few layers of insulation, the children waddled about in bulky snowsuits that make moving about cartoonish and difficult.  With their arms and legs bulky with sweaters and snowsuits and so much padding, their tiny arms and legs stick out and they resemble puffy little colorful stars. 


Ahhhhhh yes, it was a beautiful day; but I suspect there will be more winter ahead.


A Houseguest

We had a houseguest this weekend, a PCV who lives in a Tartar village about two hours from here.  As on his other visits, we stayed up until almost dawn discussing all the pressing concerns PCV have.  Being able to relax and share thoughts with another American is pleasant.  There is shorthand that emerges in the conversation.  So many things must be explained to someone when reaching across cultures.   


There is also venting.


Our guest will be visiting another site this week and it is likely he will move there.  We will miss having him nearby. 


Our site is far from the other PCVs.  Sometimes we feel left out of the joys of interacting because of the isolation.  On the other hand, our experience here is enriched somewhat by the fact that we do not spend time visiting with other PCVs. 


We are an older couple and consequently our sense of home seems different from most of the PCVs we have interacted with.  We have lived overseas for many years in the past and long ago stopped feeling as though our home was fixed somewhere in the USA.  I suspect many PCVs do feel tugs of homesickness and distance that we may escape somewhat.  We also have one another to provide balance in our lives.


Being a couple keeps us somewhat apart from the social life of other PCVs because we do not actively seek out others.  This is also somewhat true in our experiences with local people too.  Single POCVs are often taken under the wings of their co-workers in ways that a supposedly self-sufficient older couple would not expect. 


I like our life here.  Our flat is our own turf and we go forth and interact with enthusiasm and pleasure, but come home to our private space to relax and recuperate and recharge.


·                     Thursday, 16 February 2006

I am the Token American

I spent a delightful day at a local secondary school watching teenagers using their English skills.  I also had the opportunity to interact and be part of their events; they were celebrating English Week and the activities today focused on life in America. 


Most people here have never met an American.


They know all about America and can tell you the value of the American dollar within a tenth of a point on any given day!  Television and movies have been a window into American culture – The Swan and The Apprentice air nightly and portray our culture is such a representative way (sigh…).  Desperate Housewives is debuting here soon. 


OK television and movies can do some serious damage by warping impressions, but they also have some positive effects. 


We have a friend (and house-sitter) who has shared some thoughts on how the Cold War ended due to the availability of music, movies and TV.  I think he is right.


When we first lived in Franco-era Spain television programming was extremely limited within the country.  There was strong censorship and not many American programs aired (Bonanza did!).  Once the ban on media ended, it was amazing to observe how the culture changed.  There were moments when it appeared the changes would ruin life there, but as it is with raising teenagers, it is with counties coming out of paternalistic regimes. 


Following the day’s events at the school, I had coffee and pastry at the apartment of an English Club member and one of the teachers.  


Three News Stories to Share

                  Travel through Russia, Belorus, Ukraine, Moldova

The Independent, London, United Kingdom, Wed, Feb 15, 2006

LONDON - Travelling for fourteen-days between 3 to 17 June 2006 and 2
to 15 June 2007, from St Petersburg during its 'white nights' period and
Moscow to Crimea, this is a journey to delight.

The "Crimean Express" will take you from the iconic splendour of St
Petersburg and Moscow, to Minsk and Brest in Belorus, Lvov (Ukraine)
and Kishinev (Moldova). Heading south you arrive at the Black Sea and
Odessa before continuing to the Crimean Peninsula to visit Yalta and the
Tsars summer palace at Livadia' the site of the 1945 Yalta conference, the
'Swallows Nest' (pictured) and much more.

In Balaclava from a hill overlooking the 'Valley of Death' you will remember
the "Charge of the Light Brigade" before arriving in the Ukrainian Capital
of Kiev.

The 'Crimean Express' is hauled by the Trans-Siberian Express train. The
Independent has arranged special prices, including flights, from pounds
2,995 travelling in Heritage class and pounds 5,995 in Gold Class.

Heritage class cabins feature two side-by-side beds, luggage storage and
are air-conditioned. Located at the end of each carriage are toilet facilities
and purpose built shower car is provided.

Gold class has twin or double beds, ultra modern furnishings, en-suite
facilities, power shower, DVD with plasma screen, air conditioning and
under-floor heating. Prices include return flights from London, taxes,
hotels and on-train accommodation, all meals including drinks, all
transfers, all off train excursions, and the services of an experienced tour

An English-speaking doctor will also travel on the train. Telephone: 0161
928 9410 or email independent@gwtravel.co.uk

This holiday is operated by GW Travel Ltd, Atol 3408, a company
independent of Independent News and Media Plc. For more information
write to The Independent Offer, GW Travel Ltd, Denzell House, Denzell
Gardens, Altrincham, Cheshire WA14 4QF.  -30-

                      OPERATING IN UKRAINE BY END OF 2006

Interfax-Ukraine, Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, February 13, 2006

Kyiv - Ukrainian national rail company Ukrzaliznytsia is planning to launch
the first Finnish-made Pendolino high-speed train by the end of 2006,
Ukrzaliznytsia head Vasyl Hladkykh told journalists last week.

"An instruction has been issued that by the end of the year one Pendolino
train must be operating in Ukraine," he said. According to him,
Ukrzaliznytsia technicians will go to Finland to hold talks next Sunday.

Speaking about the route of the train, he said: "It makes sense for the
Pendolino train to operate on the southern railway network." He said the
purchase of another four similar trains is planned for 2007, one of which
may be built in Ukraine.

As head of Southern Railway Viktor Ostapchuk explained, Ukrzaliznytsia
plans to purchase one used Pendolino train, which will cost approximately
EUR 20-25 million. Pendolino trains can travel at up to 300 kilometers per
hour. -30-


By Mara A. Bellaby, Associated Press (AP)
Kiev,Ukraine, Wednesday, February 15, 2006

KIEV - The United Nations' top official for bird flu warned Wednesday
that Ukraine is at high risk of further outbreaks of the disease and said it
must be ready to cope with human infections.

"The threat is still there," David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator for
combatting bird flu, said during a visit to the Ukrainian capital. "Avian
influenza will continue to come to Ukraine ... health services must be ready
and prepared to deal with people who are infected with avian flu and to be
ready for the possible arrival of human-to-human transmission."

The lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu was recorded in Ukraine's Crimean
Peninsula in December. The virus has spread to 24 villages, and another 18
have recorded suspicious numbers of deaths among domestic fowl. H5N1
can be deadly to humans, but no human cases have been confirmed in
Ukraine. Officials fear the virus will spread in the spring when birds start to

Gudjon Magnusson, a World Health Organization official, said Ukraine was
among five countries in or bordering Europe that have recorded large

The others are Russia, Kazakhstan, Romania and Turkey. Magnusson said
those major outbreaks differed significantly in scope from the "sporadic
outbreaks in migratory birds" found in other European countries such as
Italy and Greece. "It is up to us to see that avian flu doesn't become an
epidemic in Europe," he said.

Ukraine has asked for more help to prepare its laboratories and other
diagnostic tools in the case of another major outbreak or the appearance of
human infections. President Viktor Yushchenko also offered the country's
assistance to other nations that are just starting to cope with bird flu.

Nabarro praised Ukraine's response, citing its speed and the coordination
between different agencies. His words appeared aimed at critics who
complained that the appearance of dead birds in Crimea was initially kept
secret, and that the response was disorganized and chaotic.

Meanwhile, Christina Carlson, a U.N. specialist working in the former Soviet
Union, said that experts had studied the capacities of hospitals in Crimea
to deal with cases of human infection and found "they have sufficient
capacity to handle such cases if they will come up."  -30-


·                     Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Roses, champagne and caviar - I may never leave Ukraine!

I heard acknowledgements of Valentine’s Day on radio and television and even purchased a few of the tiny Valentine’s Day cards sold in the kiosks around town, but the tradition of sharing cards and flowers and candy hearts is not really part of the culture. 


Here, the day is always referred to as Saint Valentine’s Day and the Catholic church is always mentioned.  They are tied together.  During the Soviet era, religion was forced underground.  Valentine’s Day did not develop into the major event it is in the USA (but wait for 8 March – International Women’s Day…more on that later!)


In the USA, Valentine’s Day is about love (unless you are among those who believe it is about cash - a “Hallmark Holiday” cultivated for purely commercial reasons).


Someone is missing the boat here.  There is a huge untapped market; people who already routinely purchase chocolates, flowers and champagne for small celebrations. 


I cannot believe that the huge garish, heart-shaped boxes of Valentine’s chocolates have not edged their way onto the shelves here.  They are not available here in Kerch.  A walk down the always-packed chocolate aisle in two local “yuppie” stores did not turn up a single heart-shaped box or any red satin, beribboned, extravagant box of special Valentine’s Day sweets.  No, it was business as usual here.  Excellent chocolate in modest packages, modestly priced and available everywhere; packaging is not an issue here. 


Roses available here are stunning.  There are none of the rather inferior (can any rose be considered inferior?), puny blooms we often see in the USA – the ones I refer to as “grocery store bouquets”.  Roses here have stems between 18-24 inches long; stalks may be a more appropriate word.  The bloom itself is the size of a porcelain teacup and the colors are extravagant, exotic, amazing.  These roses are not the exception.  One does not need or want a dozen of these exquisite blossoms; a single stem seems lavish and charges the room with beauty.  


Champagne (Shampansky), is always in large supply and local and Russian brands cost only a few dollars, so living on a champagne budget here is not the same as in the USA!  (FYI: On a sad note, Ukraine must change the name of their sparkling wines from Champagne to sparkling wine if they plan to become part of the European Economic Community – France is adamant about this.)


Frankly, I like the approach to life here.  Chocolates, flowers and champagne should be integrated into life and not simply set aside for special occasions. 


Buying Caviar

Another component of lavish living that is available here in all the grocery stores is caviar.  


Mark decided to add caviar and blini (thin, Russian-style buckwheat pancakes – like crepes) to our menu for Valentine’s Day.  He made a trip to the market an consulted on caviar with the local expert behind the counter.  On the way to the store, he practiced the Russian phrases required to make the purchase.


After spitting out his request, the clerk smiled, tilted her head sidewise and asked,  “Are you going to eat this caviar?”


She stood there looking at Mark.  A bit puzzled by her question, my spouse carefully chose the words in Russian and attempted to determine the gender and case, and then wrestled with pronunciation and stress before finally spit out his reply, said, “Yes, that is my plan.”


“If you are giving it friend, you buy this one,” she explained.  “Same product - pretty bottle.  You pay more.  You eat caviar - you buy this in can.  Not so pretty, but tastes good.”


Another employee, attracted by the sounds of an American trying to speak Russian, moved closer and offered her opinion too.  “Da,” she said, “Is good.  You will like.”


Once the choice was made, the clerk carried the can of caviar and escorted Mark to the checkout.  Caviar is a controlled substance, like razor blades.  The customer can not be trusted to carry this purchase to the front of the store.  This small cat-food-size can of rare roe cost about $7, which is a day’s wages for many of the Ukrainians we know. 



·                     Monday, 13 February 2006

E-Mail Excerpt

…Last year at this time we were packing up for our departure to Peace Corps.  We left on Caleb’s birthday and started training on the anniversary of his death.  It seemed like a portent; a sign of good things to come…a phoenix rising from the ashes of a sad memory. 


Despite the way things turned out, I am happy with the work I am doing here and the life we are leading.  Struggling back from my surgery and the broken dreams last summer was hard work.  I think I was more disappointed about losing my Peace Corps dream than I was about the cancer and mastectomy! 


But, we are so happy with our lives here ­ the honeymoon continues! 


The weather, on the other hand, is not great!  Have you followed the weather for Europe recently? I think I mailed the news story yesterday.  Here in Ukraine they are having the worst winter since 1978 and since mid-January about 800 people have died of the cold.  So far we have fared well, but the soviet-era infrastructure is in bad shape and several cities have a real dilemma dealing with bursting pipes. 


… at English Club I shared pictures of some of my friends and family’s homes back in the USA.  We had quite a discussion on houses and homes.  People here generally live in flats (an apartment is bigger than a flat… people here correct me when I use the word apartment, though flat is not in my online Merriam Webster dictionary!) so the houses are interesting to them.  They pay cash for their home (or flat) purchases ­ none of those 30 year mortgages here!  Amazing huh?  Amazing and out of the question for most everybody!


One of the photos showed a friend in front of her open refrigerator door.   That prompted a lot of conversation!  They were all looking in the fridge, examining labels etc.  We talked about how Americans grocery shop and stock up food and then complain cuz there is nothing to eat!  Here people walk to and from market and shop almost daily.  The refrigerators are small ­ actually the newer ones are very narrow and quite tall.  Since people live in flats rather than houses, space is limited so the refrigerators are getting taller.


… I have a couple crafty questions which you may be able to help me with since you are learning all about working with glass.  Have you seen those flattened wine bottles people sell at craft fairs as cheese trays?  I spoke to a couple people who made them years ago and they said you can make them in your own oven.  I am curious about how to do it.  I know you can do it with a kiln, but of course I do not have access to a kiln.  It would be fun to flatten some local wine, champagne, and vodka bottles for gifts and souvenirs.  (The EEU says they cannot call their sparkling white wine champagne (shampansky) anymore so they will be collectors items soon!)  I would like instructions on how to do it…   


I am also looking for some really basic knitting instructions for socks, mittens and simple sweaters.  I have made lots of scarves and stocking caps and I think I am ready for more of a challenge.  I am not, however, up to the challenge of deciphering instructions in Ukrainian or Russian!  Maybe you know someone who can forward some simple patterns…


Well, time to get some work done ­ my novel is tempting me too: I am reading Graham Green’s “The Quiet American”…I am engaged by the contrast between the older “veteran” and the innocent (and altruistic) young man.  I also like the way the author deals with cynicism and cynics ­ I see far too many young people who fall victim to this bad habit, though it is no more attractive or useful in older people either…



From Cold, Cold, Cold Crimea by the Black Sea


·                     Saturday, 11 February 2006

Try these words with a few blues chords:


Got the Avian Flu scare blues,

Can’t eat no eggs,

And I ‘m chilled to the bone, 

It’s snowin’ again

And I’m so far from home.

I want a hot bath, but there’s no water, no gas!

My Russian sucks: I can’t say a word,

Holidets?  Molidets?  It all sounds the same

All of these words just stick in my brain,

A few more days and I’ll be insane

Time to sip vodka or try some champagne

Cuz I’ve got the mid-winter, mid-tour, Peace Corps Blues…



·                     Friday, 10 February 2006

Pretty in Pink

The building that houses our flat is pink.  All the flats and the store that comprise this side of the courtyard are pink.  With a blanket of winter white spread all around and a cat or two perched on windowsills, it looks especially charming.


When we approach our building from the park side, it pleases me very much.   I am reminded of a painting I saw at an art show in Chicago many years ago.  The works of two French impressionists were displayed.  Among the paintings was one of the big yellow house they shared.  Something about our pink building makes me think of this painting whenever I cross this street.  I feel an affection for my pink home and the yellow house somewhere in France.


The street we live on is, in fact, named after artist Ivan Aivazovsky, a painter of seascapes.  His tomb and a gallery of his work is in Feodosia.  I do not know if he ever lived in Kerch or painted here, but the association pleases me.


Mark observed something the other day concerning the snowfall here.  In most places we have lived, snow becomes stained with the dirt of everyday living.  A few days after a snowfall, the slush along walkways and streets are grimy grey.  There are piles of graying snow.  Here in Kerch, there are few cars and no snow removal equipment to disturb the snow and no fumes belching out dirt to stain the pristine snow.  The snow retains its almost magical bright, clean quality.  It remains, for the most part, undisturbed.


The street in front of our living room window rarely has vehicle traffic.  Several days after a snowfall, it remains white.  The street cleaners arrive each morning and these women use brooms to sweep paths for pedestrians to navigate through the snow and ice. 


The large, open town square in front of the post office that people transit enroute to various locations in the central city remains fresh and white.  The patches of pavement that peek through are slippery and dangerous so people avoid them, walking instead on the snow.  The hero’s monument with the griffin perched atop is lovingly kept free of snow.  The statue of Lenin looks cold and lonely standing in this icy plaza.


Kerch is a sprawling city of about 50,000.  It extends parallel to the sea for about the distance a marathon runner travels.  The landscape retains the white of new fallen snow throughout.


The beauty of the snow makes the inconveniences of winter more tolerable.  I recall walking the miserable mile to the T when we lived in Boston.  Brookline was beautiful immediately following a snowfall, but almost immediately, the grit and grime of city life destroyed the charms of winter.  Here in Kerch after the snowfall, there is a feeling that time stands still.  The whiteness stays undisturbed for days and days.


The weather forecast (or what we can decipher of it with our limited Russian skills) indicates a thaw is coming.  We may have rain tomorrow.  The snow will melt away and become simply a memory as we begin to deal with mud and puddles again. 


Underneath this soon-to-disappear blanket of snow, my brave and hopeful daffodils are emerging, looking for the sun.   


·                     Thursday, 9 February 2006

It’s a Cold World Out There…

Last night our English Club members kept their coats on in the cold meeting room at the library, but the frigid temperatures did not deter them from coming out for the evening of conversation.


Following (see below) are excerpts from a news service concerning recent weather conditions in Ukraine.  There are other stories that detail what life is like in homeless shelters and orphanages during this extreme winter weather, but I chose not to share them.  News reports here do not “sanitize” stories like they do in the USA so on television, if they speak of people dying, the accompanying footage will show people dying. 


The stories below do not address heat the numbers of people going without heat.  Steam pipes burst and cannot be repaired leaving whole cities without heat.  One city put about 100 children on a train and sent them to a school in Crimea where they would have heat.  These significant infrastructure and economic issues add fuel to political fires as election time approaches next month.


The weather is not the only news here.  One of the teachers said something about an outbreak of tuberculosis, but we did not hear the details of this story because newcomers interrupted us.   


We are grateful to be well and happy. 


Agence France Presse (AFP), Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, January 7, 2006

KIEV - A cold snap in Ukraine killed 21 people over the past day, bringing
the toll since mid-January to nearly 800. The 24-hour toll added to a
surging death rate since a first cold wave hit Ukraine on 16 January.

The Health Ministry said that most of the deaths occurred during a period
when temperature plunged to record-breaking lows. The ministry says
most of those who died were homeless or intoxicated.

The ministry said in a statement that a total of 7,800 people sought medical
treatment and 4,470 were hospitalized in the same period.

Temperatures in January fell to below minus 30 degrees Celsius. A new cold
wave set in on 5 February with temperatures of minus 31 degrees Celsius in
the northern Sumy Oblast. Forecasters expect the cold weather to last until
10 February in some parts.  -30-
[The Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
Ukrainian News Agency, Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, February 6, 2006

KYIV - According to the Health Ministry, 7,522 people throughout Ukraine
sought medical assistance in connection with cold-related injuries during
the January 16-February 6 period. Out of these, 4,464 were diagnosed with
hypothermia and frostbite while 738 died.

During this period, the highest numbers of deaths were registered in the
Donetsk region (117), the Kherson region (66), the Kharkiv region (64), the
Dnipropetrovsk region (45), and the Crimea (77).

Eight people have died and 99 hospitalized as of February 6 as a result of
hypothermia and frostbite suffered on Sunday, February 5. The press
service of the Health Ministry disclosed this to Ukrainian News.

According to the press service, two people in the Crimea, two in the Donetsk
region, one in the Dnipropetrovsk region, one in the Kirovohrad region, one
in the Zhytomyr region, and one in the Chernihiv region have died in the
past 24 hours as a result of hypothermia. In Kyiv, five people have sought
medical assistance in the past 24 hours in connection with hypothermia and
all five have been hospitalized.

As Ukrainian News earlier reported, the Weather Center has warned of a
sharp fall in atmospheric temperatures during the February 5-8 period, with
temperatures falling as low as -27 degrees throughout Ukrainian territory
(excluding the south). Because of the current cold snap, the Health Ministry
has called on citizens to reduce the amount of time they spend in the cold
and not go outside unless it is necessary.   -30-
[The Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

·                     Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Another Wednesday and thoughts of English Club clamor for attention as I dispatch my morning chores. 


We neglected (or forgot) to choose a conversation topic for this week so I must plan something that will stimulate timid speakers to wrestle with their English and share their thoughts, hopes, dreams, opinions.  I like it when they speak from the heart, with some urgency or enthusiasm.  They forget the rules of grammar, but catch the rhythm of conversation that will give them confidence and encourage them to try again.  


I like this task of drawing people out and facilitating a discussion.  I can make it look easy and I make it fun, but it is because I prepare.  I consider my crowd as any theater person or public speaker would.  I consider their strengths and weaknesses, using my business and management skills.  I prepare provocative or scintillating phrases to motivate them to speak or at lest interact.  I want them to engage.  I want them to return next week.  I want them to learn to speak English, not just repeat their structured phrases honed in years of classroom sessions with non-native-speakers.


English Club is one of the unexpected pleasures that came with my life here.


I am mentally exploring topics as I tap out this post.  Since participants will not have time to prepare and consider their thoughts, the topic must be non-threatening; something that does not require them to take a stance. 


Perhaps we can discuss home.  What makes a house a home?  What kind of home would you like to have? 


Hmmm...there are many directions to go with this topic.  I can easily prepare a list of questions which will expand the topic and keep the conversation dynamic.  I can bring in some photos of houses and homes of friends and family in the USA.  I have some e-mail humor that might prompt some conversation – an oil baron’s middle-eastern mansion comes to mind immediately.  Yes, I think this topic may well meet our needs. 


Before I withdraw to prepare my materials I feel compelled to share a few observations I have about houses and homes.  I have moved often, sometimes out of necessity, and sometimes because I was glad to go.  My associations with the Air Force and Peace Corps have contributed to my gypsy life (I would love to actually own a gypsy vardo, but that is another topic, for another day perhaps!).  A consequence of all this moving is I have opinions and standards for the houses I will call home.  Of course I deviate from time to time: one does fall in love and throw caution to the wind on occasion; but even giving in to an impulse is better if you understand the rules of what make you happy. 


So here, in no particular order, are some things I routinely consider when I look at a potential home.


I favor a small, cozy home (with high ceilings and tall windows) over a large, grand house.  There are advantages to both, but my life centers on my home so I want it to be manageable and pleasant, not high maintenance and intimidating.  (I can always entertain at a restaurant or a hall if more than a cozy crowd would overwhelm my house.)


My rule of thumb in considering the size of a home is this: Can I sweep all the floors everyday? 


(Of course, this should not be construed to mean I am a fastidious housekeeper who actually sweeps the floors everyday, but it is something that I strive to do and this rule of thumb, like most rules of thumb serves as a guideline to keep me within a practical tolerance!)


That is the short version of my thoughts on size.  I hate vacuum cleaners and I find carpet under my bare feet distasteful and dirty-feeing.  I prefer to use a broom and I like to live with hardwood or tile floors.  I find some pleasure in sweeping the floor, but if it becomes a chore, I do not want to deal with it.  The optimal sized home allows me to do routine maintenance joyfully – long enough to take pleasure and pride, but not long enough for it to become work. 


A second rule of thumb concerns bathrooms:  I want them clean and I am the one who cleans them.  Multiple bathrooms do not impress me.  All I can think of is cleaning them.  


I do have opinions on the arrangements so I would focus on having a well appointed bath rather than having several.  Toilets are too often adjacent to the tub which makes the joys of soaking in a bubble bath less satisfactory.


Another aspect of choosing a home has to do with light; Let there be light!  I love to have a room that allows the sun to spill in and brighten my day.  I have a catlike tendency to seek out sunny places.  I like to linger over coffee and start my day in the morning sun.  Maybe this has something to do with the home I was raised in: the eastern sun falling across the golden oak floors in the dining room and living room of the big yellow house on 8th Street.  I can almost see the tiny specks of silvery dust that dance in the morning sun in that warm womb of a room. 


I also consider this: Will I use this space.  I find it sad to have rooms that are seldom used; guest rooms that collect dust or formal dining rooms used only a few times each year.  I want a lovingly lived-in home.  I like to use my rooms.  I want to enjoy them, take pleasure in them…so I may use a formal dining room as a study too.  I like rooms to serve multiple purposes.


Where will the Christmas tree go?  When I tour a potential home (or even visit someone else’s nest), I immediately start to imagine finding spaces for my favorite things; that includes the Christmas tree.  One of the joys of moving is seeing how my treasures take on a new life in a new domain.  Sometimes they surprise me with how they are enhanced in a new setting.  Or perhaps I am simply seeing them with new eyes.  An occasional move is wonderful for lighting a fire of inspiration and love.   It renews the spirit!


Is there an outdoor space?  A yard means many pleasures, but ultimately there is work and maintenance involved.  I do not want to commit to it.   I don’t want to be seduced into a commitment to work.  Public parks, botanical gardens, and other people’s yards can fill any vicarious need for my own green spaces as long as have a fine wide porch or terrace or even a small courtyard.  A place where a hammock might hang or a comfortable chair is available for reading the Sunday paper or a novel.  A small table suited to a late supper by candlelight or a leisurely breakfast among the potted plants.   


And now I consider this: Can I grow old here?  Can I walk to the store?  Is there a park nearby?  What can I see from the widows?   Will I slip on the steep staircase?  I want to be able to happily stay in one place as I get older.  I want to have a neighborhood and old familiar turf as I begin to slow down and lose my senses.  I want to wallow in my memories and my treasures.  I do no want to be uprooted from the place I have called home.  I want to be an old potted plant which finally gets to put down roots somewhere and just allowed to grow and vine and cling to things…No pruning please.


I want to live happily in my home and not feel the need to clean and maintain all the time.  Maintenance and upkeep should be just enough to bring pleasure, but no guilt.  This balance is difficult to achieve (it means having the courage to say no at times).  But, it is worth the effort. 


I do not speak of a paired-down, Spartan life, but rather a life filled with those things that matter most - a dynamic life where beautiful things and wonderful people come and go and bless us all.  A home, as Mary Baker Eddy says, somewhere in the Science and Health, “…is the center, not the circumference of being…”.  My home is where my life radiates from.


Does my current home meet these criteria?  For the most part, yes.   Mark chose well.  The things that matter to me are here.  I take pleasure in this humble space.


And yes, I have danced with the broom as I swept all the floors today!


·                     Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Outside, the World is Pristine

I expect an ermine-clad snow-queen to sledge past in a troika pulled by strong draft horses with the music of happy bells singing in the quiet morning hour.  The birch trees in the park adjacent from our window shimmer with fresh snow.


There is a special stillness after a snowstorm and when the sky is brittle blue and the virgin snow crunches underfoot, it is a fine thing.


Soon people, dogs, cats will be about and the magic will recede.


Yesterday, fat flakes of snow fell urgently, covering the brown mud and dead leaves again. It was dark and grey, never feeling like daytime.  I felt isolated and comfortable in my cozy flat.  I imagined life as a pioneer out in western Montana and played out scenarios in my head.  The winds here in Crimea did not howl, but in Montana-in-my –mind it did; it howled like a pack of wolves.


About 20 centimeters covers the ground today.


Swimming With the Sharks…

Inside I catch up on a week’s worth of e-mail.  (The library uses the just-in-time method of payment for its Internet bill, but hasn’t yet perfected the timing so most months they lose their service for the last week.) 


One e-mail concerns the death of a Peace Corps Volunteer assigned to one of the tropical places.  She swore-in as a full-fledged Volunteer only weeks ago.  She died in a shark attack.


I stop reading the story and walk to my window.  Opening it, I lean out as far as I can.  The cold air washes over me as I catch glimpses of the Black Sea and here the sound of it thrashing the seawall only two blocks away.


I try to imagine palm trees, sand between the toes and burning sunshine on my shoulders.  Instead, I breathe in the icy breath of winter and watch a tear fall from my cheek and melt the snow on my windowsill.


Somewhere, a Peace Corps Volunteer’s family is grieving.


·                     Monday, 6 February 2006


·                     Saturday, 4 February 2006

Something Aspiring PCVs May Want to Add to Their “To Do” Lists

I recommend aspiring Peace Corps Volunteers find time to get familiar with the nuances of the English language.  Study a good grammar book.  Do this before you depart the USA.


“Why?” you ask, as you think of a hundred other things you would rather do with your precious time during your pre-service, countdown stage of life in the USA.  You continue, “It’s not like I will be teaching languages.  I am a business/agriculture/youth development/(insert your title here) volunteer, not TEFL!”


Three reasons really.  First, you will be learning a new language and much of your success at mastering a new language is based on your current knowledge of your own.  There will be references to transitive, intransitive and reflexive verbs; questions concerning declensions and tense; exercises involving cases; and more.  It can be intimidating.  It can be overwhelming.  You will be glad you refreshed your memory on basic grammar before you jump into learning a language like, say, Russian or Ukrainian.  It will also help you ask better questions.


The second reason to become familiar with English grammar is that you will be asked questions about the English language on a regular basis.  Co-workers and total strangers will consult you on definitions or pronunciation or rules of grammar.  Often the questions will be quite detailed and even challenging.  These matters are complicated when British English has influenced the local people.  The English spoken in Great Britain is not the same as that spoken in the USA.  Sometimes you just won’t have a good answer, but when you are forced to say “I don’t know,” you undermine your credibility to some extent.  If you “wing it” that comes back to haunt you too.


Third ­ you probably will get a chance to teach a class in English or at least host an English Club.  You will be the native American speaker and therefore the expert so people will come to YOU and expect correct answers from the intelligent, good-looking American in the neighborhood.


OK, that’s it.  I have said my piece and I hope it helps make someone’s Peace Corps experience more comfortable.


Back to studying my Russian grammar lesson…sigh…HOW do these little Russian kids make it look soooooooo easy?????  8-)


·                     Friday, 3 February 2006

It’s Crowded in Here!

My head is filled with so many thoughts this morning.  An inspiring article I read about integrity spins a silken web in the dusky-dark corners of my brain.  Simultaneously, in  another area of my mind, I am conscious of the fact that Peace Corps Week is coming (first week in March) and I want to express my gratitude for this wonderful opportunity to serve in a letter to the editor in a couple of publications.  Phrases form and I am eager to get them out of my head and into my computer.


I push a few other writing thoughts aside (tourist article about Kerch, my rather shapeless, secret novel, etc) and find in another alcove in my busy brain - more thoughts to wrestle with!  Before I even opened my eyes this morning, just coming out of dreamland, I found a clear map of Colorado in front of me.  The Colorado Springs area had a large red circle around it.  Why this dream?  Now I find a part of me taking virtual trips there and sending back happy commentary that distracts me (could that area be a place we could call home?).


Another part of my brain fixates on a knitting project.  (“Come on, let’s just knit a few rows while you think a bit,” says a little rebel in my head. 


There is something addictive about the way yarn takes on a new character as it is stitched up, going from a solitary thread to a solid piece of fabric.  The actual process of knitting draws me to it more than the finished item though.  It is a comforting activity rather than a goal-oriented activity.  Living in a world that seems to emphasize (deify?) goal-directed activity, this nuance is not lost on me.


My thoughts also dance with thoughts about Mark’s upcoming birthday and Valentine’s Day.  There are letters to write, cards to send and all the pleasurable activities associated with correspondence.


And of course there are the daily pleasures that come with caring for a home and our possessions.


All this mental activity leaves me somewhat polarized!  Breakfast dishes in the sink, bed unmade and me in my nightshirt tapping away in this journal.


My life is filled with so many shining opportunities and simple joys.


Weather Update

Today the brace of brown tiger-striped cats that own the courtyard blend in with the muddy turf.  It is as if they wear camouflage!


I noticed this when they eagerly scampered up to Mark when he headed off to work this morning.  They heard the outside door squeak pen and flew through the mud and puddles to greet him.  As he bent over to scratch a few of our feline friends he noticed a sign of spring: the daffodil bulbs we planted last fall are beginning to poke their heads above the ground!


Someday, maybe soon, I will see daffodils from my widow here in Kerch by the sea.


·                     Thursday, 2 February 2006

No Groundhog Shadows here in Crimea

Groundhog’s Day is not observed here.  Perhaps because there are no groundhogs, but I am not certain.  A discussion of groundhogs at English Club last night did not provide me with a definitive answer concerning this creature, but did provide some animated conversation about other small mammals.


The day is grey and cloudy, so if a groundhog did pop out of his hole today, he would not be frightened by his shadow and would probably stretch a bit and then explore the area.  After many days of cold weather, he would probably be pretty happy to just go for a little stroll outside. 


The snow is mushy.  Mark says walking through it is like walking through sand at the beach.  It clings to the boots and is heavy.  People do not walk so much as slog.


Is Latitude an Attitude?

Kerch is at about the same latitude as Marquette, Michigan, another peninsula far from here on the shores of Lake Superior.  We called that area home for about seven years.  The two climates are much the same, and many things about the terrain are similar too, though I think Marquette was actually colder and more wintry than our current home here in the Crimea on the Kerch Strait. 


In Upper Michigan at this time of year, winter would just begin to flex her strength.  We had hundreds of inches of snow annually and always a major blizzard in mid-late April.  Here, I think we will have a long, wet spring; cold perhaps, but no major snows.


Our house sitter back in sunny SC said in a recent e-mail he has the doors open and the temperatures are in the high 60s.  Soon the daffodils and forsythia will bloom. 


I am grateful to have running water and heat.  I am thankful to see the neighborhood cats at play and to see people out and about on this Thursday in February.


·                     Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Water-free Wednesday!

Day Two, no water.


In January we went without water from late on the 19th through late on the 22nd. 


It would be easier to be without water if I had started out with clean hair.  This time I was caught with dirty hair so now I have that greasy feel that comes with unwashed hair.


I am adept using soap, washcloth and a little water to keep my skin clean, but there is not much hope for getting relief for my straggly, lank locks.  Once the hair gets to a certain point it is hard to tolerate the wait.


I remind myself that not so many years ago people in the USA often went for a week without shampooing.  Or bathing.


Among younger Americans though, a daily shower and shampoo is not considered a luxury.


We do have heat.  Since city heat is provided by steam, it is possible that water issues could escalate and we could be without both water and heat.


Following is the English summary of a Ukrainian newspaper article regarding infrastructure. problems.  The national elections are in March so news may be tainted by party affiliations of course.


From: EmKay

Subject: [UTF] Heating Infrastructure Collapse not Gas Shortage Blamed for Ukraine Winter Woes


Today (31 Jan 2006), president Yushchenko visited Alchevsk town in the Luhansk Oblast, to help and simultaneously deride the local municipal authorities in their plight of facing local residents go heatless in the -20 deg C weather.  The post-Soviet central communal heating infrastructure is giving in to age and outdated system design when overstressed by extreme  weather conditions.


Alchevsk is the third known community, these days in Ukraine, experiencing burst conduit  pipes causing interruption in steam distribution, leaving locals freezing in their housing projects, as well as in public buildings, like schools, hospitals, and municipal offices. 


President Yushchenko, acting like any western leader would, offer government assistance in the emergency, of technical and financial nature, while admonishing the city fathers to shape up before the onset of another crisis by practicing preventive management.