· Wednesday, 28 February 2007
I Guess She’d Rather be in Colorado…
I am riding high on a small fantasy inspired by a job description. It is not unusual for me to mentally play out a whole happy life, imagining all the details, both good and bad. I lookup information about the community on the Internet, I speculate on community events and attitudes, I write letters to the Chamber of Commerce requesting information packages.
It is a relatively harmless way to explore the many roads not taken. But it may be stressful to my spouse as he listens to me weave the vicarious details into a potential plan. What if I actually act on a plan?
This detailed speculation is really just a hobby. Life is so full of interesting opportunities and dynamic lifestyles…it is hard to not conjure up images of who I might be in another circumstance.
So today, I am planning a rich, fulfilling lifetime in southern Colorado.
Incoherent, Introspective Ramblings about Character and Influence…
Where you live and what you do for a living certainly do influence a person. But the person also influences the place and the people they come in contact with. Having lived a variety of diverse places (small towns, major cities, isolated peninsulas, foreign countries, Northern climes and Southern), I find myself contemplating on which influence has proven strongest in my own life.
Someone once sent me an e-mail that is apropos. I do not remember exactly how the homily went, but it involved putting a variety of items into hot water and observing the outcome. A raw egg becomes hard boiled, carrots soften, while coffee grounds color the water and add flavor.
Do we leave a mark or are we changed.
Of course we absorb much and we share much. And we can seldom really know who or what is influencing who or what.
But I do know, as a result of my experimentations with my life: I am myself, my character, my values, and my beliefs are intrinsic. I am pretty much the same me, regardless of where I go. I am not as malleable as I thought I might be. (Flexible, accommodating, yes, but not impressionable or threatened by ambiguity.) I know this because I have been tested and have proven this. What I do not know is whether this simply comes with age/maturity?
OK part of my Colorado fantasy involves wearing a cowboy hat, blue jeans, and flannel shirts and having a big dog…breathing in the fresh mountain air while I sip coffee by a campfire…owning a small building on main street where I have a business on the main floor and an apartment where I live above…and I can walk to church and the library…and….
· Tuesday, 27 February 2007
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
Pontificating on Checklists…
Yes, I am repeating myself. This quote above reflects where we are right now. I feel strongly that people often miss wonderful opportunities because they think too hard.
I have grown cautious and suspicious of those decision making matrixes that managers and business folks encourage people to use. There really is a need to listen to ”that still, small voice” to guide our choices. (Divine guidance, angel thoughts – maybe) This takes courage, especially in the face of those who are caught up in the goal setting, controlling nature of modern-day life.
I have found that these decision-making exercises tend to limit our sense of possibility. For example: if you consider taking a job in say, _______ (pick any great urban area). One of the elements on the list will no doubt be about the high cost of living. You may think, oh, I can have a wonderful house if I choose _______, because it is sooooo much cheaper to live there. And the list goes on, generally piling up bunch of stuff, which frankly may be pretty irrelevant when you are trying to measure happiness and joy.
People scare themselves out of taking a risk or pursuing a dream. They make tradeoffs. They settle. (Newsflash: the reason the house may be/ or is cheaper in _______, is because no one really wants to live in________ and they remain there simply due to inertia and fear!)
I remember learning about Ben Franklin’s system of listing pros and cons. It appealed to my developing sense of logic (I was about 7-8 years old) I used it a few times (and other checklists like it – I own lots of life-choice, self-help books, majored in psych and have a masters in org management), but ultimately I found it gave me a false sense of control. And, the choices I made did not bring me joy.
These checklists also leave out a very key element: the heart (Soul, Spirit, etc). Why? Because there is really no way to quantify it! Yet it is among the most important element in any matter of consequence!
The illusion (delusion) of control (akin to fears about security) has squelched many a dream.
People bury their dreams under a blanket of comforting”logic”.
Look inward, reflect, pray…listen…
“We should examine ourselves and learn what is the
affection and purpose of the heart, for in this way
only can we learn what we honestly are.”
- Mary Baker Eddy, S & H, With Keys to the Scriptures
Dustinovsky is Back!
As I type, I hear the faint, but urgent, sound of a cat’s meow. I open the door and venture into the kitchen (I am wearing my snow boots indoors today because it is cooooold) where I can see my breath. On the windowsill I delight to see a familiar form: Dustinovsky, the tail-less courtyard cat! I have missed him! In fact, I have mourned him.
I throw on my coat, grab the open box of Whiska’s Cat Chow I keep on top of my refrigerator and rush out the door to spread a feast for him. He stands waiting on the babushka bench where I feed my feline friends. He polite and greets me with meows and rubs. Then he settles down to eat, and eat, and eat. I stand happily watching him.
I have not seen Dusty since the end of January. Since I arrived in Kerch, he has always been my companion, my cat-host. Since Cat-Woman died, there have been fewer cats in the courtyard (many were poisoned). Dusty, who lost his tail last Fall in some kind of Tom-Cat battle, is one of the few survivors of Cat-Woman’s original crew.
Dusty, is not typical of most courtyard cats. Somehow, he has developed manners usually more typical of an indoor cat. He appreciates ear-scratches and back-rubs while his mates are too wary of humans to permit much physical contact.
Dusty generally greets me on my window sill. I crack open the window and he stretches his long, lean body up, reaching a paw to tap my fingertips that extend from the window frame. I am reminded of the Michelangelo painting of the angels reaching fingertips to connect with one another.
I am so grateful to have my friend back and to see him devouring my extravagant gift of store-bought cat chow.
· Monday, 26 February 2007
Here are two photos from the Peace Corps Close of Service conference (I got these from Sandy and Eric’s blog!). This is a shot of a few of the dishes in the “Beet Off” cooking challenge. Mark’s Beet Gnocchi is on the square plates in the middle. At the top of the photo is Beet Risotto and below are platters of Beet Stuffed Mushrooms. There were about 15 dishes competing including Beet Ice Cream and Beet Martinis!
Here’s a photo of the three married couple from Group 28. The youngest married couple (Chris and Shanif, on the left) were newlyweds when we came to staging in late Feb 2005. Eric and Sandy (middle) published a cookbook (Florida Bounty) during this PC adventure and they edited the existing PCV Ukraine Babba’s Cookbook. That is Mark and me on the right! Not too bad a photo since we spent all evening toasting and dancing!
· Sunday, 25 February 2007 – Remembering Caleb (1976-2002)
It has been five years now.
As we drove Caleb’s Jeep down the mountain following our son’s memorial service, the huge comforting moon spilled into the vehicle and somehow that lunar embrace gave me peace and hope. The next morning, this photo, Moon over Phoenix, was on the front page of the local paper
These words from Wordsworth give a sense of the illusive and seemingly contradictory feelings that welled in my heart on that night and even now, five years later.
...And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
- Wordsworth ("Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," July 13, 1798.)
· Saturday, 24 February 2007
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
Logistics of Leaving…
Today I began filling padded envelopes with odds and ends I have collected here in Ukraine over the past 27 months. I will mail one every day or so – this will get expensive fast: about 45-50 UAH per kilo (roughly $9-10 for 2.2 pounds).
This winnowing and sorting can be painful. In the end, we will have to leave behind so many things. It is amazing how much stuff you accumulate. And the stuff takes on meaning. It represents your life. It is proof of your existence.
I get sentimental over trinkets. What to do with cards and letters? What about all the gifts local people have given us (Mark received several things for his birthday earlier this week – among them a huge dolphin pillow!) And books…they are so heavy, but some are irreplaceable. And there are piles of paper – official stuff and souvenirs. I am mailing our photos and CDs…hope they make it!
There will be more stuff as people begin to say their farewells…someone always gives you something huge just as you are ready to leave – in my Air Force experience this was always true…leaving Spain, I unexpectedly received a beautiful, large sailing ship suited for a mantle and a lovely sword when I was actually enroute to the airport!)
There is grief work involved in moving on. The pains involved in gypsy life are reminders that we are alive.
There are joys in it too. You sort through things, are reminded of moments. You make plans to give special items to special people. You live consciously, knowing that this mortal life is fleeting, foolish, fickle.
My heart expands. I confuse joy and pain. It is good to feel.
It’s hard to believe that in less than 3 months, we will be back in the USA! Lots to do between now and then!
· Friday, 23 February 2007 – Cam’s 14 Today!
In Ukraine, it is “Men’s Day”
Men’s Day is pretty low key, especially compared with the major hoopla associated with International Women’s Day (mark your calendar: March 8th!). The women have the men well-trained, so Women’s Day is a huge event!
Our local sources tell us this day is really kind of an armed forces day, but since there is compulsory military service here, all men have served and are therefore honored.
In Odessa, a huge, progressive port city with access to western-goods, we found greeting cards recognizing the day. One card has a cute puppy (cocker spaniel) wearing a red military beret cocked over one big brown eye. The dog is toting a scary-looking machine gun and wears a gun belt with lots of ammo.
Mold and Mildew Wars, Slugs and One House Mouse…
Who says my life is not exciting! I face amazing challenges all the time! Currently it is mold, mildew and slimy slugs - moldy bread, mildew and mold on the walls around the windows, a closet full of mildewed clothing…and it happens fast.
I am a warrior queen, stalking through our flat, armed with a lethal solution of bleach and water in a large spray bottle, poised, ready to attack unsuspecting mold and mildew. No fungi or protozoa are exempt!
The slugs are another story. They are not exactly charming or endearing creatures, but they are not really disruptive. I generally advise them of their rights as I transport them out the door into the garden. “You have the right to co-exist with us, but you must be discreet. Under no circumstances do I want to SEE you in my midst. Violators will be captured and released!” I say when I encounter spiders, ants, mice and other living creature (with the exception of mold and mildew of course.).
Actually, there is a resident mouse here. We discovered his teeth marks in a carrot. He did not bother the potatoes, onions or garlic, stored adjacent to the carrots. We see no other evidence of him. I attribute this to the stern warning I gave him the one time he made an appearance.
I actually saw him as he paused in the doorway between the kitchen and living room. We locked eyes.
I leaped up, and in a very loud, drill sergeant tone, laid down the ground rules (see above). Mouse bravely remained still, mesmerized perhaps, as I ranted away. When I ceased my diatribe, the little guy scampered off and has kept a very low profile ever since.
Peaceful co-existence is possible (except in matters of mold and mildew, of course!).
Note: We woke to a surprise snowstorm today – the world is delightfully white! It is a record snow fall and really cold!
· Thursday, 22 February 2007 – Caleb’s Birthday (1976-2002)
Visit: http://www.radloffs.net/memoriam.html to see memorial photos of Caleb collected by his cousin Chris R.
· Wednesday, 21 February 2007
Greenie and Bluey are back. They are happily splashing in their basin of water as I sit here tapping out these sentences. I enjoy watching this joyful routine. My happy cheepsters are home!
Cross-Cultural Opinions on Pets…
Mark collected them from Ira last night when he went for his Russian tutoring at her home. Ira’s father (who seldom speaks to Mark) stopped him as he was leaving to ask why we do not let the birds fly.
“They are birds. Birds must fly.” He says
This seems to be the general consensus among many Ukrainians we have met. Caging birds, especially putting two in one cage, is not appropriate. They need to be free to fly.
Birds are popular pets here. And people often let them fly free in their tiny flats.
Ukrainian dogs and cats must also be free to roam. They may come in at night, but must be free during the day. Neutering is not a popular idea either. Nor is purchasing prepared animal food; it is wiser (and more economical) to make meals for dogs and cats.
If I have birds in the USA, I will consider constructing an aviary, but my two little Ukrainian parakeets seem pretty happy, cheeping and preening as they complete their morning ablutions.
I am glad to have my feathered friends home again.
· Tuesday, 20 February 2007
The Class Reunion Last Summer…
Class Colors: Navy Blue and Silver
Class Flower: Cymbidium
To look up, not down;
To look forward, not back;
To look out, not in;
And to lend a hand.
I was excited to receive an e-mail from someone I went to high school with. I was delighted to see that it included a list of my high school classmates and their mailing addresses and a few notes on what some of them had been up to for the past 35 years.
The listing and e-mail I received were prompted by the 35th reunion held last July. So I kind of expected to read something about how the actual reunion activities went, who was there or any of the gossip, maybe even some photos, but sadly, there was nothing about the actual event. Sigh.
I skimmed through the pages. I have fond memories of these people and often wonder about their lives there in the happy heartland. There were very few notes. Several classmates have died, but there were no indications of how or why or who to send belated condolences to.
When I read my own information I was quite dismayed and disappointed to see that they posted an out of date mailing address - I have not lived in Boston since the mid-1990s (about four moves ago!).
There was no mention of what I have actually been doing since high school (I am pretty sure I mentioned that I am living in Ukraine now and probably mentioned joining the Peace Corps, my Air Force career, kids, spouse, college…etc…)
They did post the correct e-mail address though.
I was also really disappointed that so few people posted notes about what they are doing or have done.
It was a pleasure to spend time thinking about each of them. I sat on my couch considering each name in the Class of 1971. I had my own virtual reunion as I sipped my coffee and reminisced.
My curiosity is piqued – I wonder how my girlhood friends have turned out (Marty W. is your beautiful red hair still red?).
Thoughts on My Hometown…
Maybe people who remain in small towns and seldom leave have no idea how wonderful and magical their somewhat quiet, routine lives can seem to those of us who have been long-gone out into the bigger world. I had a career in the US Air Force and did a stint in the Peace Corps, raised children, nurtured a marriage and despite hundreds of moves, still consider Le Mars my hometown, my personal Lake Woebegone.
My small Iowa hometown is part of who I am; and even now, so many years later, I am influenced by it. There is a Norma Rockwell quality about my hometown. If you want to visit, I recommend you come on Memorial Day and watch the flags flapping in the breeze on the courthouse lawn as the city band plays and the locals stand and remember their dead.
When our son Caleb was killed in a motorcycle accident five years ago (Feb 25th), we returned to my hometown to have a memorial service with our family in conjunction with the Memorial Day activities. Caleb was a USAF veteran so it was fitting that we present his flag at the Memorial Day services. It pleases me that each year now, his flag flies alongside the flag of his grandfather Byron D. Jeys, a WWII veteran. Some of Caleb’s friends from Phoenix came to those services. They were delighted with my small Midwestern hometown and still comment on what a good place it is to call home.
I do not keep in touch with anyone from my hometown, except my sister. I married my best friend from there (my debate partner in high school!) and together we went off to see the world. .But I still feel like Le Mars is home.
Back when the plans for the LCHS high school class reunion were being made, I received several e-mails from one individual asking for my mailing address and an update on what I have been doing since high school. I responded enthusiastically.
As I write this, I realize that those people, who I graduated with or who remained in Le Mars, might be surprised to know how interested I am in their lives and the choices they have made. The story of their lives intrigues me.
I would love to hear from them.
But in reviewing the class motto posted at the start of this entry, it may be that I should look forward, not back, out and not in…
· Monday, 19 February 2007- Mark’s Birthday!
Make a Note of That…
I wake early after a short night (bedtime: 2AM) and no sleep (head pinging with great ideas, to-do lists and questions for the unexpected houseguests sleeping just inches away from my head ,behind the fabric wall on the couch in our “living room”). I get up, sneak into the kitchen.
I shuffle around in my Ukrainian house shoes and make coffee. Then I find paper and a pen to scratch down some notes – my head is too full; I must resort to taking notes while my brain lectures. I become my own administrative aid
I often make notes.
I seldom refer to them. When I do, it is usually at random. For example, in the midst of a mad cleaning frenzy, I may stumble on a slip of paper covered in cryptic notes, often highlighted with small arrows or underscoring. There are enigmatic quotes, ambitious to-do lists, inspired project ideas, book or film titles, writing ideas, etc, all indiscriminately littering the page.
I think better on paper. Yet somehow it is almost frightening to see the haphazard, hodgepodge of unrelated ideas right there in black and white.
If the paper is so cluttered and unsystematic, what must the inside of my head resemble? I do not dwell on this thought.
By the time the coffee is ready and my notes are penned, our guests are up and the day is off and running.
Breakfast and Off to Work…
Mark, the good host and a man who likes his breakfast, quickly throws together a tasty frittata. We gather around the tiny kitchen table in the tiny kitchen and enjoy the meal and the company.
Unfortunately, the birthday boy has to head off to work. This is his first day back after a long hiatus. (We’ve been gone most of February!) He has quite a personal agenda and is a bit preoccupied with his timeline for the literary magazine. He has promised his students a test upon his return. He is sleep-deprived too. He also has the challenge of providing a suitable birthday party consistent with Ukrainian tradition.
He is, like many Americans, inclined to ignore his own birthday, but here in Ukraine the birthday person is expected to provide some kind of birthday treat, even at work. Friends will arrive and there will be toasting and elaborate wishes. I suspect he is mentally trying to adjust his personal expectations for work with the fact that this day will become a social occasion. We Americans can learn a lot from Ukrainians. They take time to show they care. They have social rituals we could learn from.
While Mark is off at work, our guests and I lounge about in PJs sipping coffee and working on a crossword puzzle. It is a bit cold to go sightseeing so we huddle around the electrical auxiliary heater and talk till noon.
· Sunday, 18 February 2007 – Chinese New Year!
Mark Makes Mexican Food for Our Houseguests
Our site is geographically far removed from the social circle of PCVs in Ukraine. Several of the PCVs we know have guests quite frequently; often simply because they are in a great city or on the way to some wonderful place so a stop is a matter of convenience or economy. Since we are isolated on the easternmost tip of Crimea, anyone who arrives here is not likely to just be passing through. We are likely to be the destination. So we stop what we are doing, relax and enjoy.
Tonight, we have 2 PCV houseguests so we sit in our small living room dining on the Tex-Mex feast Mark conjured up (modified by the non-availability of many of the key ingredients, but certainly tasty nonetheless). We sip wine and share stories and frustrations and dreams far into the night. It is very pleasant.
It is like having family.
· Saturday, 17 February 2007
Stocking the Shelves – Bazaar Day.
We are home and the cupboard is bear. Today is shopping day. We hike across town with our backpack and pick and choose from the meager winter offerings.
The annual Maslenitsa (sp?) festival took place. This involves a day of feasting on bliny and butter prior to giving up things for Orthodox Lent.
It strikes me as strange that people who up until very recently had very little fresh food available in the winter months would actually eliminate a significant amount of their already meager choices from their diets for 40 days and nights.
· Wednesday, 14 February 2007 - Happy Valentine’s Day!
See the CALEB Library Project Valentine Postcard on our Home Page! (Contributing to Africa’s Literacy & Education with Books)
Love is an action verb – for about $1 a pound you can M-mail some gently used books to Africa to support CALEB Library Project and share the love of reading.
Breakfast in Simferopol, Lunch in Kerch
Today we arrived home. It is a pleasure to be home again.
We had planned to loiter in Simferopol for the day. Our night train from Odessa pulled in at breakfast time and there is a night train to Kerch in the evening, so we had an opportunity to explore. I would like to visit the Tatar museum in Simferopol, but, like tired horses coming home from a trail ride, we can almost smell home. We buy bus tickets and make our way home.
The weather in Kerch is uncharacteristically balmy and spring-like. Last year, the Black Sea was frozen and the winds howled. We walk home from the bus station, dragging our bags, but our footsteps are light. The streets are filled with people enjoying the bright day and temperate weather.
· Tuesday, 13 February 2007
We have our bags packed and ready to go in the hallway before breakfast. We linger over coffee this morning. Our hostess, Tamara, is so amusing. She engages us in conversation and discovers that Mark likes popcorn. We cannot find raw popcorn in Kerch. When she heard this she leaped up and pulled a large skillet from the oven. Soon the perfume of popped corn filled the small kitchen, making my mouth water. She filled a bag with fresh popcorn and handed it to Mark.
At the door, we pause and pose for photographs with Tamara before we finally leave. This “B&B” arrangement has been a delightful one (economical too at only $20 a night!).
We took a marshrutka across town, stored our bags at the train station and spent the day visiting upscale stores. In a country that once never saw consumer goods from outside the former USSR, Odessa is the Queen city for shopping. There are a couple malls similar to those in the western world.
For Ukrainians, it often seems very exciting to have access to items from other countries. These are still considered luxury items. Things become status symbols. When you grow up in middle-class America, you kind of have a hard time understanding the whole status symbol thing here. I generally value craftsmanship and intrinsics rather than appearances and extrinsics.
These stores are full of glittering, goods that represent the good life: toasters, vacuum cleaners, etc. There are lots of expensive boots and cosmetics and flashy clothing available too. Handbags are popular.
Finding souvenirs from Ukraine can be a major challenge (outside the Carpathians which has a rich arts and crafts culture). I bought some handmade aprons at the local bazaar. I like the local soaps, but the new stores are full of commercial names (Dove, etc).
We Board the Night Train and Say Goodbye to Odessa.
I am not sure what our compartment mates were doing but I think three people had only two tickets. They seemed to be rotating through the upper berth, with one standing in the hallway or hiding in the toilet.
There was a middle of the night interruption by a frightening uniform-clad man who spit out some rapid-fire admonitions. The guy in the upper berth grabbed his things and stormed out.
· Monday,12 February 2007
Odessa – More Boot per Buck than in Kerch!
Boots are a passion here in Ukraine. You cannot walk far in any bazaar without seeing a display of beautiful or bizarre boots. The upscale stores have some truly amazing displays. It is hard for a shoe-lover to exercise any discipline in this culture. But, looking is free, so I look.
Odessa seems to be THE place if you want to find inexpensive, fun boots. At Old Privoz bazaar, huge trucks back into spaces and open up shop each day, lining the whole street, selling nothing but inexpensive boots! I saw prices as low as $8 for some very cuuuuute boots.
Yes, my inexpensive fun boots have served me well (see my 2 Feb post),but it is hard to ignore these deals!
Of course, I must be strong! I must travel light! In just a few months, I have to check two bags and fly out of Ukraine. I know it won’t be easy!
Shevshenko Park, the Fortress, TSUM, the Book Market, the Artist Market…
So much to see…
· Sunday, 11 February 2007
We Visit the Odessa Zoo
When I e-mailed the Friends of Ukraine Yahoo Group to inquire about places to visit in Odessa, I received a response from a former PCV who mentioned that many years ago her secondary project involved the elephant house at the Odessa Zoo.
I love animals and, though zoos can be depressing and controversial, I usually visit them when given the opportunity. (I ”collect” zoos, parades, and circuses.) So far I have not had the opportunity to see an eastern-European zoo, but I had a mental image of what I might find.
Just getting to the zoo proved to be an experience. We boarded the trolley-bus and asked the conductor at which stop we should disembark. She laughed and shook her head. “The zoo? You want to go to the zoo?”
The driver turned his head to peer at us. Other passengers stared.
There was tittering. People continued to eye us.
We stepped off the trolley-bus at the designated stop and found ourselves on a rundown street along the edge of the sprawling Privoz Marketplace. The smell of sweat, fish and cat-piss reached my nose.
It was a grey, wet, winter day which made the decaying area seem even more seedy. Secondhand venders lined the sordid street and a few drunks were sleeping it off. Scruffy stray dogs sniffed at us and nosed through the litter of empty bottles and trash as we made our way into the almost deserted park where the zoo is housed.
Mark slid 10 UAH (about $2 – a rather hefty fee for an average Ukrainian worker actually) across the counter to the cashier and we entered the grounds. I suddenly had déjà vu; I felt like a character in a John Irving novel as I took in my surroundings.
Thin animals, small cell-like cages, signs of neglect and disease, exacerbated by mud and dirt.…rather brutal. I will not detail the experience, but I must say I was grateful to see several loving families sharing time together and finding joy in feeding bread to the caged menagerie. But somehow, it reflects the hardship of life in a developing culture…the struggle for normalcy. Even in these circumstances, children laugh, their parents smile indulgently…the King of the Jungle roars mightily and somehow you forget that his tail is missing and his ribs poke through his tawny hide. He is still the King. If you are wise, you find the magic. If not, you might cry and miss it all.
Many emotions stir me and I do not intend to explore them just now, but somehow it is OK.
Throughout my life experiences, I make a conscious effort to ”see with new eyes” as Proust advises. Sometimes our “American” eyes fail to see what is really important, what really matters. And often, we may see flashes of the Truth, but we do not have words to capture it.
So, I will stop for now, leave you hanging, and myself too.
(The elephant house? Sadly, it was empty - an enormous empty space where pachyderms should be. We found no attendants to speak to.)
· Saturday, 10 February 2007
We are on Vacation in Odessa!
We had hoped to visit Odessa in September as part of our anniversary holiday. Odessa is a wonderful city, renowned as a health resort and famed for its beaches. September would be an ideal time to relax there-students would be back in school and the weather would be kind. But, it was not to be.
Due to a series of events beyond our control (involving train wrecks and airline crashes), we could NOT get tickets out of Crimea during the two week period we had available.
So now, here we are: Odessa in February.
We are blessed with a bright sunny day. We stroll along the seaside promenade and take it all in: the powerful architecture and faded glory. There is an ambience that reminds me of the Right Bank of Paris. This is later confirmed when I read that the city planner (a novelty in Ukraine) was Frenchman who wanted to rival Paris.
We arrived with no reservations for accommodations. Ukraine does not really have a hotel culture yet. So there are very high end rooms available for people who really do not want to leave the comforts of home behind and who have the money to do so. There are some inexpensive hotels which generally still reflect their soviet-era roots – Spartan rooms with toilets down the hall. At these places you only see other tourists.
In past travels we have used an agent and rented small flats for very reasonable rates. This allows us more privacy and there is a kitchen where we can breakfast or snack. There are private facilities.
This trip Mark bravely elected to negotiate a private room. He parked me in a coffee shop with my book and went off to find us a place to stay. In an hour he returned with accommodations: we had a room in an elegant older home with 15 –foot ceilings and huge windows looking out on a quiet residential street near the upscale city-center and two blocks from the promenade. More of a B&B than anything else. It was $20 a night.
Our hostess was a delight too. She regaled us with tales of previous guests (ghost busters who came armed with lots of technology to attempt to document the presence of Gogol’s spirit at the local ”Gogol Slept Here” site up the street and stories of her German family’s exploits, etc) I lingered over morning coffee as she chatted away and asked me questions.
We spend the day exploring bookstores, looking at the remarkable architecture and enjoying time alone.
· Friday, 9 February 2007
Biding our Time…Twiddling our Thumbs…
Rain all day. The ski hill is mud now. Those few who stayed to ski are disappointed. We stayed to catch the night train.
We venture out to the local bazaar for a few hours. Getting there is an adventure – the local ”taxis” in this mountain village are small green 4X4s…jeeps with chains on them!
The drivers have nerves of steel. They rocket around like bumper car drivers and navigate through huge potholes and mud puddles, sliding and slipping and sloshing. I try not to gasp as I white-knuckle the door frame and laugh nervously. They are like teenage boys going mudding.
Walking around the bazaar is no better. Sloshing through the mud and slush in our long city-coats is disheartening. The rain falls. .I have no umbrella or hat and my long, wool, greatcoat isn’t suited to the adventure. The bazaar (in a village of about 3,000) is small and we soon exhaust that diversion.
We have coffee in a small cafe and people-watch among the locals. The café is a gathering spot. I think of the old people in the USA who meet daily to mall-walk and to sip coffee at McDonalds. Here it’s a visit to the bazaar and then the oldsters congregate at the bar to gossip and sip vodka. Even the old women huddle over vodka shots. I watch some teens sip beer and do vodka shots.
We return to the lodge and loiter by the fireplace. We wait for the hours to pass. We talk, play pool and cards and drink more coffee.
Finally it is evening -we get on the train and sleep away the miles.
· Thursday,8 February 2007
“I Had My Hand in the 1st Annual Beet-Off…” (& I have the t-shirt too!)
The afternoon was consumed with preparations for the ”First Annual Beet Off” –a cooking challenge involving the humble sugar beet as the key ingredient to each course.
Our group of PCVs has a large number of wanna-be cooks and a couple who has managed to publish a cookbook (the Jacobs published ”Florida Bounty” during their tenure here – find it on Amazon) so the standards were high.
Mark and the others took over the kitchen and produced some pretty amazing creations. At cocktail hour, beet martins were served and guests were invited to cast their ballots for their favorite dishes. There was beet cake, beet humus beet risotto, beet-stuffed mushrooms, beet bagels, beet bread, beet freshata, beet stacks, beet ice cream and Mark’s contribution, beet gnocchi.
It was interesting to observe the Ukrainian kitchen staff as they watched these peculiar culinary concoction being created in their midst. They were pretty dubious, but in the end they were won over by the Yankee ingenuity exhibited there!
The Group 28 folks gathered for a photo by the fireplace and then recessed to dining room for the closing banquet. One of the PCVs organized a short wine-tasting for the group. While we ate and talked a Ukrainian band (fiddle, accordion and key board) performed a mix of techno-pop and Ukrainian folk music. There was toasting and there were some speeches and there was more toasting and then lots of dancing. Later in the evening, a PowerPoint show flashed huge photos of each of us on the wall and spelled out the ”superlative” awarded to each member of the training group. This is a tradition.
The host presented each of us with a plastic mug with our honor scrawled on it with a Sharpee. Each person accepted their cup and received a splash of champagne and a moment in the limelight. My cup designates me as “A PCV trapped in a non-PCV body”. I quipped that Group 28 is the only training group with their very own groupie.
Since people will be going back to site to early on Friday, we stayed up late dancing and saying farewells. Many of the PCVs will leave in April. A couple folks will extend. This is the last hurrah for Group 28.
Where has the time gone?
· Wednesday, 7 February 2007
I gave my “recruiting” PowerPoint presentation on Friends of Ukraine (and National PC Association) today. It was well received by both staff and the PCVs. I had several small American flags, tiny bags of jelly beans and red, white and blue pencils left over from a previous function and tossed these items to the group at the conclusion of the briefing. “Gimmes” always make the audience more responsive.
The snow has been falling steadily since we arrived. It falls like snowfall on a movie set. It is dry snow and we walk from building to building without coats. Between the conference center and the dining room is a corral with two large horned sheep. I share slices of bread with them as I pass. The large male sheep already recognizes my voice and runs to stand on the fence rail when he hears my voice.
During a break several PCVs, including Mark, build a snow-woman resembling Julia Timishchenko.
The sessions end at lunch time so everyone could ski or participate in some other leisure activity. Mark elects to go horseback riding (English saddle).
In the evening we gathered to watch a silly old Tom Hanks movie – “Volunteers”. Since this film lampoons Peace Corps Volunteers, it was the perfect film for this crowd. Mark and I particularly enjoyed the old footage of President Kennedy and life in the early sixties.
Later we retired to the pub where intense conversations ensued until the doors closed around 0200.
· Tuesday, 6 February 2007
Feedback Sessions Always Make Me Cranky!
It seems odd to be in a room crowded with opinionated speakers of English. At first I write it off to being over stimulated – all the activity and all of it in English. Later I realize, it is that I really do not like these kinds of sessions.
There are so many strong opinions and attitude. I am trapped in a room with it all. I feel volatile; as if I might burst.
I should have skipped these sessions, but I did not.
The sessions today run from 0930 till 1800, broken by a hearty lunch and tea time. By dinner hour I am over-stuffed mentally and physically. I am also aware of my outsider status, though no one imposes this on me. (As a respecter of authority and a rule-follower, I am conscious of my position and not eager to have anyone throw it in my face or endanger their position by accommodating me).
After dinner, I had kind of a melt down and elected to drown my sorrows in another loooooong, hot, luxurious shower and an early bedtime.
I have crumby social skills and prefer small groups to large gatherings.
Mark plays poker with a few of the older guys and wins. Other PCVs take advantage of the sauna and some play pool by the fireplace. I snuggle down on a lovely mattress with crisp sheets and sleep long and hard.
Tomorrow is another day.
· Monday, 5 February 2007
Winding Down - Close of Service Begins
We are up at 0600, eat muesli and yogurt in the dark, sip coffee, dress under the sheets, and strip the bed anticipating the 0700 ETA. The toilets are locked about 30 minutes before each stop. The logistics of train travel can be vexing.
Outside, snow-covered mountains dominate the scenery. Cozy cottages nestle among tall pines. Pink light steals across the sky. There is a fairytale quality to the picture appearing outside our window.
Was Walt Disney ever here? The landscape could inspire him.
We manage to exit the train with no faux pas. Several PC staff members are already there (they were several cars down from us). They quickly load our bags into their awaiting vehicles and take us to the lodge.
The Resort Hotel Perlyna Karpat – See Their Site: www.perlyna.com
Our room has pine paneling and a beamed ceiling. There is a small balcony with a view of the ski hill across the valley. There is a large swimming pool hidden under the blanket of snow outside our window. The shower is great - I tested the limits of the hot water supply and failed to exhaust it! The large, fluffy white towels approach spa-quality. There is a sauna down the hall and a masseuse is available!
This is NOT Prolosok or the Bratislava (the usual PCV venue’s!) Obviously there is an element of celebration and reward in this COS event.
After 2 days and 2 nights on board, we had serious “train-lag” so we napped the day away. Between naps we watched BBC news.
In the evening we arrived in the dining room when everyone (our training group-mates and PC staff) was already seated so we made an entrance of sorts.
I have not seen most of the PCVs since I was medivaced in April 2005 so it was fun to see their smiling faces beaming up at a happy, healthy me. It was gratifying too, to hear many compliments on my appearance. My hair, which has grown long, delighted everyone. When I arrived I was going through an ugly duckling phase (growing my unfortunate pixie haircut out and, unknown to myself, wrestling with a medical situation.).
Later we sipped wine by the fireplace and talked with our training-mates until past 0200.
· Sunday, 4 February 2007
We arrived in Kiev sticky and sweaty and a bit sleep deprived after almost 24 hours on the overheated train. Kiev is uncharacteristically warm; almost balmy.
We walk through melting slush, up the hill to the PC office. I shuck my heavy coat, scarf, hat as I walk. People stare. Old women tut-tut and shake their heads.
People in Ukraine dress for the season; not for the weather.
After a stop at McDonalds, we lunch in the PC lounge and then Mark heads off to his IT meeting. I randomly investigate job sites online: Craig’s List, Idealist, Americorps/Vista, USA Jobs, dog-walking opportunities in Washington DC (mid-day employment at $15 an hour)
At 1730 we hike back down the hill to the train station and board our train for the Carpathians. We will awake tomorrow in a winter wonderland.
Our compartment-mates on this leg of the journey, Alex and Ira, are a young Ukrainian couple on their first skiing trip. We talk, share picnics of sausage, bread, fruit and chocolate.
Mark and Alex engage in an extended game of chess.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Mark win. Chess is taken seriously here.
We crawled into our bunks early so we could be up at 0600 and ready to leap off the train during the 4 minute stop allowed at our destination.
Yep, 4 minutes is all you get. Move it or lose it applies here!
Somehow all our train trips have begun and ended at either the beginning or the end of the line. These brief stops are typical and veterans of them still get sweaty palms about getting themselves and their possessions off the train and onto the platform without a hitch. It is a competitive sport if there are other passengers participating in this disembarkment ritual.
In Ukraine, it is always better to travel light!
· Saturday, 3 February 2007
We boarded the 1240 train to Kiev arriving at noon tomorrow. Outside is grey and there are snow flurries.
Inside the train the light is dim. Last year I read “Anna Karenina” on the Kerch-Kiev-Kerch run. Today, the compartment light is too dim for reading. My copy of Solzhenitsyn (“First Circle”) lays unread by my feet. I take out my knitting.
Our compartment-mates are two lean, tall young men who could be basketball players. They have the upper berths and are holed up there. They have not interacted with us.
The train ride to Kiev involves a 3 hour wait in Joncoi (sp?). It is dark and cold and there is nothing of interest to explore so we remain in our compartment.
We make a game of guessing how many hours we have actually spent on train travel during this PCV adventure in Ukraine. Quick math says Mark racked up over 500 rail-hours between March 2005 and February 2007!
We should get “Rail-Rat” miles.
Not to mention some long bus rides traversing Crimea.
· Friday, 2 February 2007 – Groundhog’s Day!
These Boots are Made for Walking
Last year in Kiev I splurged (and paid waaaay too much) on some very cute, warm, leather boots. I thought I would wear them every day from fall till spring for two years (I almost always average price per wear when I make a serious clothing investment!). Unfortunately I quickly regretted my indulgent purchase – too small. Waaaay too small!
My toes actually bled.
And I busted my budget to own them.
Those size 39 boots (size 9) sit idle on the hallway shelf, a reproach to me every time I see them.
I need to find them a home. Footwear should not be idle.
Today I found a pair of attractive, warm vinyl boots at the local bazaar r- only 100 UAH (about $20 – Wow! Consider price-per-wear distributed over about 120 days!). I bought size 40 (a spacious size 10) and can wiggle my happy, warm, multiple-sock-clad-toes all around with no problem. (I say ONLY, but on PCV pay, that represents a sizable investment – about two day’s pay!)
We leave for the Close of Service conference in the Carpathian Mountains (ski lodge!) tomorrow and so my feet really are happy feet.
· Thursday, 1 February 2007
Just an early Valentine postcard from the Pulvers!
(CALEB = Contributing to Africa’s Literacy & Education with Books)
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