·                     Sunday, 30 July 2006

Heading off to Summer Camp…

Here I am in Sudak.  I sit on the balcony of my room at the sanatorium looking out at the Black sea and a thin sliver of moon.  The sun has gone down, but the light has not yet left the sky. I hear the clashing sounds of battling stereo systems blasting out odd mixes of hip-hop, rock-and-roll, and contemporary music from a variety of nations in many languages.  Karaoke singers on the boardwalk are also competing in this musical war.  Tomorrow will be our first day as teachers at Intellect Camp for Students of English. 


Today has been nonstop and we started out at a disadvantage since we only got a couple hours sleep Saturday night.  We were printing lesson plans and activities; packing for our week at camp; and also trying to get the house organized.  We had no water for several days so those challenges added to our list of challenges.  It was about 3 AM when our heads hit the pillows and, like good soldiers, we were up at 5 AM to walk across town to the bus station for the trip to 3-hour bus ride to Sudak.


The Crimean seacoast scenery is beautiful – much like a drive across northern California’s wine country on winding mountain roads that parallel the sea. We observed people hang gliding from mountaintops and at Koktebel, we saw the early morning crowds heading to the beaches that were part of the old Greek myths –the gateway to Hades, etc.  


The Camp Director’s delightful spouse escorted us to camp and kept me happily engaged in conversation while Mark caught a few winks of sleep.  She runs a travel agency providing specialized excursions for visitors to Kerch. She clearly loves her work.  L. was (is) a good friend of a previous Peace Corps Volunteer and in the course of conversation, I learned much about the impact a person has on other people.  So many small things, things that sometimes go un-noticed, are like seeds that, when falling on the rich soil of an entrepreneurial mind, become lush, vibrant, plants. 


I must add two classic films to my list of Ukrainian/Russian movies: “The Circus” and an adaptation of a Green classic, “The Scarlet Sails”.  L. shared personal stories about these films while I quietly listened; absorbing details about life in the former USSR.




We Arrive in Sudak…

A little past ten we stepped off the bus, in the shadow of a magnificent 13th Century Genoese (Italian?) fortress that dominates the hillside by the sea. We piled all our gear, including Mark’s banjo, into a small taxi and sped off through winding narrow streets filled with bikini-clad men and women heading down to bathe in the sea.  As is typical of many Ukrainian and Russian women, the slim, long-legged, confident beauties carried themselves like models on a runway and dress like movie stars on parade.  No t-shirts and cut off jeans here!  Everyone we saw was as brown a piece of vintage mahogany.  Tans are a sign of health here. 


There is a whole attitude toward vacationing by the sea that amuses me (an occasionally irritates me).  Guidebooks and advertising always promote the health effects of spending time at the sea.  The simple joy and beauty of the locale are not part of the script, nor part of discussions.  It is all about health.   In the USA, we do not encourage people to tan nor do we encourage them to swim immediately following meals.  Here, swimmers take a brief break to dine in the sanitarium’s community dining room and then immediately head back to the beach for more healthful swimming and sunbathing.  (What happened to waiting 30-60 minutes after dining to avoid cramps?)


Did I mention we are guests at a sanatorium?


Yep, this is a real Soviet style sanatorium.  The complex includes seven large (5 –floors) dormitories filled with guests enjoying - oops, not enjoying…let’s say “participating” in a health cure.   This particular sanatorium (there are many more in town and all over the seacoast and in the mountains too) is a former Soviet-era Air Force health sanatorium.  The shower is down the hall.  It is a two-headed shower with a large dressing room adjacent.   The toilets are also down the hall.  (The toilets are the kind you squat above and hover over as you accomplish your “mission”…I guess people in this part of the world do not read in the bathroom!  This has got to be great for the thighs though!)  We share our meals in a communal dining room where our special diet is served at three meals and two snacks each day. 


No air-conditioning here or in places around town either…but there are sea breezes.


When we checked in at the sanatorium, we were weighed and our height was taken.  Our blood-pressure was noted, a few questions asked and then the doctor determined an appropriate diet for each of us.  Special bottled water from Feodosia is prescribed.  We may collect it during special hours throughout the day.     


Meeting the Campers…

Next we had the opportunity to meet the campers. This camp has been around for ten years.  It seems to cater to the children of middle to upper-middleclass parents from around Kiev.  At about $400 for 2-weeksof amp tuition, the cost is about the same as the average Ukrainian makes each month.  Add to this the cost of additional excursions, spending money and transportation and it is a pricey place!  The camp has about 50 campers and has two upper floors of one of the buildings in the compound.  Campers are housed three to a room (two narrow beds and a mattress on the floor).  The facilities, ours included, are similar to the facilities we encountered at the tart of our Peace Corps training here in Ukraine.  Facilities are slowly being renovated and more western amenities and features are incorporated. 


Most of the campers (ages 11-18) seem eager to interact with Americans. We are kind of a novelty still.  Some of the campers shared some anti-American opinions making me wonder about political conversations at home.     All campers speak some English since they began learning the language when  they were about 6.  Of course there are degrees of proficiency, interest, and confidence to deal with.  


The campers, do not dress like campers in the USA. The girls wear tiny skirts and skimpy, low-necked tees. I see many in heels.  In the evening, they dress up for a walk on the boardwalk and a visit to the nearby discos.  


After 1330 lunch (salad, borsch, potatoes and typical camp mystery-meat) we headed off with the campers to spend several hours hiking around the aforementioned fortress that overlooks the beautiful bay.  To our delight, there was a medieval fair in progress.   


Dinner at 1930 (Kefir, pureed potatoes, tiny portions of mystery-meat and a slice of tomato and hot tea) and then camp meeting and at team meeting and now finally bedtime.  Outside, the boardwalk is still alive with karaoke and strolling vacationers outside the compound.   The campers are in the building for the night, but they are still dancing and prowling the halls.  It is lights out for us.  Mark is already snoring in his hard, narrow sanatorium bed with the funny sheets we do not understand how to use.


The real camp adventures begin tomorrow.


·                     Wednesday, 26 July 2006 – Saturday, 29 July 2006

No time or patience.

The past few days the water has been off more than it has been on.


I have been preoccupied with several things.  Getting ready for camp and providing some information for someone to brief attendees at the “Friends of Ukraine” annual business meeting in Chicago this weekend.  (My name is on the ballot for a position with this group!)


I am also spending way too much energy trying NOT to write reactive responses to some former PCVs who had challenging times (primarily with the PC bureaucracy) here in Ukraine.  There is a lot of anger and bitterness in the e-mail traffic from several individuals who are spewing toxic comments.  I am getting caught in the crossfire.  I have determined I will wait until after camp to make my final comments. 


It is difficult to write anything at all, because I am allowing their issues to contaminate my life.  So, a moratorium on writing…


·                     Tuesday, 25 July 2006

This experience has unfolded in unexpected ways.

I could use the word surprising, instead of unexpected, but that would be inaccurate.  This opportunity, this blessing, of living by the calm seas here at the eastern tip of Crimea is so totally unexpected and yet it is such a joyful experience.


Had I tried to outline a plan to get me to this place (assuming I had the good fortune to even know of this place!) it could not have unfolded in such a perfect way.


Throughout my life I have been schooled to believe, and learned to know, that we are always exactly where we need to be, with the skills and ability to do exactly what needs to be done.   This reflects my confidence that God, our Father-Mother, is divine Principle, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Life, Truth and Love and that our role is merely to reflect those qualities.


In my current role, I have ample opportunity to read and to contemplate and to pray.  This experience blesses me and all those on whom my thoughts rest. 


I like to think I have lived a life of service.  One of the values in my own mission statements reflects something I learned to strive for during my Air Force career (it is one of the Air Force core values) and that is to put service before self. 


I do not mean this as living a life of public service exactly - I see it more as a way of being prayerful in my approach to daily activities and making choices that serve a larger purpose than simply my own desires.  This is often a humbling experience and has taught me much about character, commitment and caring. 


It has also taught me a lot about joy and gratitude, laughter and love, living in the now. 


This sense of service is NOT a sacrifice nor an opportunity to be pious – no, I am certain that we are supposed to dance or sing or smile or laugh and joke.  Life is very good.


I think maybe we are here to remind one another to be joyful, to serve happily, to take pleasure in the gifts, the abundance we have. 


And those sad, world weary, cynics lashing out at the circumstances they believe they are suffering through…well, I am grateful for them too, because they remind me how important it is to not just believe in laughter, joy, love, etc, but to express it too.


So, putting joy and trust, (and all the qualities of Life, Truth, Love, Soul, Spirit, Mind and Principal) ahead of my petty, limited, mortal observations and predictions will be a huge step toward serving the world more effectively, right where I am now – working for peace in my own way…


(I am  grateful for powerful spiritual lessons I have learned from Christian Science…these truths have enrished my life in so many ways.) 


·                     Monday 24 July 2006

Sunday was a social day. 

At 8 AM, we boarded the bus to Feodosia.  Mark plugged my ear into his Mp3 player so I could listen to an old “This American Life” episode as we rolled across the 90 kilometers of flat, dry land between Kerch and Feodosia. 


I think of Nebraska as we make our way. There are cows and sunflowers, lots of blue sky and horizon and few trees to block the view. 


We arrived around ten and sat in an outdoor café, sipping coffee, while we waited for our friends to join us.  A couple PCVs we trained with were staying in a nearby town and had arranged for us to meet them to spend the day catching up.


Feodosia is a tourist town with miles of crowded beaches and the venders and cafes that popup where there are people with money to spend and time to linger.  We had no real agenda for the day, so we took the bus to the central city and walked along the beach talking. 


I had not seen C. since April 2005  - she looked well and attractive in her white summer skirt and black halter top. T. is always fun.  We have managed to see him fairly often over the past year.   It was a pleasure to have a relaxed visit with no schedule to follow except the shadow of doubt concerning seats on the last bus home.


A day in Feodosia at the height of tourist season reminded me of the joys and pleasure our community of Kerch offers.


Unlike some PCVs experiences in Ukraine, we seldom see other PCVs.  There are about 300 volunteers here in this country, about the size of Texas (I think).  We are isolated because we are the tip of a long peninsula – one way in, one way out.  People who come to Kerch, come because this is their destination.  There are no people “just passing through”.   It also means leaving is a decision too; a decision that involves hours on a bus or train.



I rather like the fact that we are generally the only Americans in town. 


While I lead a rich, full social life via e-mail, I prefer to live my real life within this community we currently call home. 


Coming to Kerch for the first time, last September was love at first sight. 


Mark had been living here for over three months when I arrived, and perhaps that made my transition different than it might have been otherwise.  I choose to believe my feelings are simply heartfelt. 


There is an ambience here that I cannot explain.  It is something I feel.   


There is a sense of community here added to a joy in daily living.  There is a quiet dignity (no overt smiles but a calmness and strength)…I cannot really articulate this feeling I have for this community.    


Even during the summer months when friends and family arrive from far away, the crowded city seems like a private party at an elegant bed and breakfast rather than a blowout at the beach.  Guests stroll the streets and along the sea.  Even the nightlife seems less frantic and more like an extension of their usual life. 


In many seaside communities, outsiders crowd the beaches and cafes and sometimes seem rude or oblivious to the local people.  Perhaps this is part if the reason I like this city.  The people of Kerch treat people as if they are houseguests rather than simply visitors. 


Coming home from our daytrip to Feodosia, it was a pleasure to breast the hill and see the city of Kerch stretched out below, with the blue summer sea beyond it.   I let that feeling wash over me as I gazed out the bus windows, peering at the gardens in the dachas on the edge of town. 


I was glad to come home.


·                     Saturday, 22 July 2006

Russian Sign Language…

Here’s a question – is learning Russian sign language easier than learning to speak Russian?

Do older learners have a harder time learning sign language than do younger learners?  (They say older learners have greater difficulty learning the spoken and written language.)


I am curious about Russian signing - I imagine there are fewer grammatical challenges than in spoken language, so maybe it would be easier to learn - imagine NO CASES!   Hmmm - and what about verbs of motion? 



·                     Friday, 21 July 2006

We are Going to Summer Camp!

We have a week to prepare to teach at a summer camp in Sudak.  This is an unexpected and mixed blessing.  


·                     Thursday, 20 July 2006

How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all of its beauty?

It felt the encouragement of Light against its being;

otherwise we all remain too frightened.

- Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky
Love Poems from God


Kicking Dogs…a Metaphor about Disillusioned People (Associates)…

It always comes as a surprise to me that seemingly kind, good people will sometimes respond to the overtures of an excited dog by kicking them. 


I suppose they are responding in fear, but it becomes a challenge once I have seen this side of a person, to trust them in other areas of life.


In this country, there are many stray dogs.  There are also many kindly people who pause to share a small bit of meat or a few kind words with these creatures.  I am grateful to see this.


There is a metaphor here. 


One of the struggles of life is dealing with people who do not share the same worldview.  Recently I have observed many seemingly good-hearted people who lash out in cruel ways. I see their cynical views posted in periodicals and e-mail with no consideration for alternate views.  There seems to be anger and hostility and a disillusionment that is frightening. 


One might expect people who work in organizations such as the Peace Corps or in the teaching professions or in the military, or even in religion (or other fields that demand some idealism and dedication to values) to work well with others and to strive to be proactive.


But of course this is one of those expectations that really may be doomed from the start.  But do we have to accept of culture of cynicism among the people we associate with?

Can we be a catalyst for change?


It is alarming when people allow themselves to become lost in the miasma of jaded thinking.  I see them become mired down.  I see reactive, negative behavior.  And in this state, these very people reject the efforts of others.  In fact they often belittle the efforts of those who work hard to keep their vision clear and their motivation pure.  In their anger and fear, they become reactive and vocal, spewing negative opinions and attitudes throughout the organization.  They drag everyone down, casting aspersions as they go.


This is what galls me: the belief that those of us who resist this deadly cycle are somehow less intelligent or inexperienced or just plain foolish.


It is sad when people are suspicious of goodness. 


(And yes, I understand that life is not always sunshine and rainbows.  I have had my share of days when the icy north winds have blown and the wolf is howling at my door – I will not credential my life’s challenges here, but I have faced some, both publicly and privately.  My point is stuff happens; you get up and politely try again, You find some humor…you do not lay down and whine yourself to death or machinegun everyone in the room. )


There is a sad myth that seems to permeate or culture in the USA.  Many of our people seem to think skeptics and cynics are somehow wise and experienced.  In reality they are weak and beaten down.  They cannot find a way to stand up, look beyond the problem, smile and begin again.  Now that takes strength. 


The word Weltschmerz comes to mind.  These people sigh and in their pain, strike a sophisticated pose and make cutting remarks.  Sadly they influence those around them and drag the world down. 


In our culture we seem to think these negative people have the answers.


In my opinion, they do not.  They are bullies, hiding behind a patina of aggression. They are abusive.  They are toxic.


They bite the hand that tries to feed them.


It takes a lot more courage and hard work to seek out the good in people and situations and to channel energy into positive solutions….To try again when rebuffed and again and again and again.  And that is the challenge -  to find ways to eliminate this behavior and find ways to improve the corporate culture, find ways to mentor true strength of character.


The individuals I respect and wish to associate with are those who realize the strength of character and courage it takes to continually, over and over, extend a hand in friendship and confidence; even if they are occasionally bitten by a dog. 


This is the behavior to cultivate and reward.


These jaded and often vocal people are afraid.  They are simply kicking dogs.


(Am I venting…a little…some of the above is prompted by a recent newspaper article and the responses of several associates…)


·                     Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Day to Day Life…

The day dawned bright but at 10AM it is grey and a steady rain is pouring down.  Inside the flat, there is still no water.  Laundry is piling up and dirty dishes too.  Flushing the commode is a luxury.  The fingerprints and sawdust and mess from the welders is still evident.   It is unlikely the water problems will be resolved anytime soon since the workers cannot do their job in the downpour.


Earlier I observed people walking off with empty water bottles, in search of H2O.  We have three large jugs of tap water and half a large jug of bottled water. 


We are fine, but I write these facts down simply to share what it is like to live here.  I am not complaining, merely writing about my experience. 


I know how I cope with challenges (I take a prayerful approach, acknowledging all the blessings and the abundance that is already mine; I sing hymns as my Mother used to do – my Christian Science background shines through and for that I am grateful!) and consider how the local people cope.  This is how life is here.  For them it is not even worth mentioning.  It reminds me of how people living in cold, snowy climates simply forge ahead and do not really acknowledge the hardships of winter – these are facts of life and talking about them only makes them more real.  (L. was without water for about two weeks once and did not mention it till after the fact – the water was back on for her birthday!) 


Mark and I manage to keep a sense of humor about hardships and challenges.  When the going gets really tough, it is sometimes a conscious choice to find humor, rather than a natural inclination! 


I have a healthy respect for the people here. 


Navigating life’s challenges with grace is an amazing feat.


How I Wash the Dishes…

After a few days without water, the dishes are piling up. In the humble lifestyle we live here, there are few dishes to dirty really so washing them becomes more critical.  This morning I tackled the dirty dishes piled up on my sink. 


My first step was to wipe each dish and utensil to remove any food remnants and/or surface grease.  I use old newspapers.  Next, I boil a few cups of water and use a soapy sponge to lather up each item.  I stack them neatly on the counter and cover them with a dishtowel. In order to conserve water, I wait until I actually need items before I rinse them.  When we need an item, I will boil a few cups of water and rinse the necessary dish or utensil item.  (I pour the rinse water over the item and catch the residue in a pan underneath – the soapy water can be recycled a bit to pre-wash dirty dishes – I add a teaspoon or so of bleach to this water.)


For brushing teeth, washing faces, sticky hands and so forth I have a small tin bowl and Mark uses a tin shaving mug.  We use the electric hot-pot to make warm water and have learned the art of sponge bathing.  (I am reminded of an old Peace Corps joke that plays on the optimist/pessimist question about a glass half-empty or a glass half-full – “I don’t care,” says the RPCV, ”But that’s enough water for me to bathe in!”)



This all makes one very grateful for the luxury of on-demand water. It also makes me appreciate the luxury of a reliable infra-structure, because once you become accustomed to having indoor plumbing, it is much harder to revert back to a more primitive system. 


I think of what it is like to have to haul your daily water.  I think of my brother’s home in Malawi.  One thing that makes this more challenging is that we have an expectation.  We expect to have water because we have plumbing.  At least in Malawi, on my brother’s farm, he knows the demands of the day will always include hauling water.


It is the ambiguity of this situation (and of many other situations) that is the real challenge here.


·                     Tuesday, 18 July 2006 

The Reality Versus the Plan…

The welder walked into my kitchen and said, “How about some coffee?”


I paused, a bit surprised by how direct this man was.


I began making mental adjustments to my plans.  


“Yes,” I said replied, “Coffee sounds good.”  I looked at the slim young man who was here to install the pipes and the meter for our new gas system.  He had a nice smile, despite the extensive amount of gold colored metalwork that covered his teeth. 


“I am Tatar,” he said in Russian.  That was the beginning of a strange conversation that continued in several languages as the afternoon and the work progressed. 


I learned more about the deportation of Tartars and some of the politics involved in their return.  Aziz (the welder) often resorted to scribbling words or pictures on a piece of paper to help me understand his train of thought.  He cut and measured and talked incessantly.  I stood in the doorway, sipping coffee and listening. 


This is not how I planned to spend my day.  I had cleaned the flat, preparing for Marks’ homecoming and had planned to go to the bazaar for some special groceries and a bouquet. A bottle of champagne was chilling in the refrigerator.  At 8AM, the landlady called and said she would be right over. 


I should have known then that my day would be highjacked.  The overriding theme of my life in Ukraine seems to be flexibility and change. Things seldom go according to any kind of plan or outline.  It is hard to explain or describe, but life here, takes on its own shape.  Type-A people spin their wheels and sputter.


In mid-afternoon when Mark finally dragged home after his 23 hour train-ride and a week away from home, he was greeted by the two welders.  He stepped over welding equipment and pipes, waded through the sawdust and debris and clutter in our formerly tidy kitchen and finally slumped onto the couch.


“Welcome home!” I said, smiling at him. 


So much for our leisurely lunch plans.  I managed to squeeze past the workers to forage in the refrigerator for some Russian kohlbasa, an apple, and some Crimean wine.  We picnicked on the couch, just a few feet away from the noisy, messy work going on in our tiny kitchen. 


Soon, as Mark unpacked and talked about his adventures in the city, the tidy living room was cluttered with books, DVDs and dirty laundry. 


At 6PM, the workers coiled up their cables and packed up their tools.  They were pleased with their project and smiled as they said their farewells.


A quick assessment of the work left us wondering what the landlady will say.  Our American ideas of where the kolanka and the gas meter and all the associated pipes were not consistent with the Ukrainian implementation of the plan! 


There are now meters and meters of ugly bare black pipes spanning the kitchen walls. (Why not put the pipes inside the walls?) When the kolanka is actually installed there will be more pipes to transport the water.  The kolanka will be mounted far from the kitchen sink and the bathroom plumbing. It is a puzzle to us why the decision was made to place things in this way.


There white walls are covered with black fingerprints and there are a couple scorched spots where the welding devise melted the cornice board near the ceiling.


My day’s plans had gone awry.  Now in the wake of the workers departure, I was left exhausted, with a flat in chaos.  Mark helped me tidy up and then began making dinner preparations, improvising creatively with ingredients we already had on hand.  No flowers, no candlelight or soft music…sadly, we dined by the light of the television, exhausted and numb.


No Water…Except for the Rain and the Sea…

Today, Mark is back at work and here in the flat I have no water.  This is unexpected, but not unusual. Today, I had plans to clean, however, with no water, scrubbing walls, mopping floors, doing laundry, and washing dishes are not possible.  (Not to mention the challenges of personal hygiene issues!) 


I guess I may just read a book and go for a walk by the sea.


Or perhaps I will wander over to the library and meet Mark for lunch –disrupt his plans a bit too! 


Life is good – but not exactly what you expect sometimes!


(Footnote: The lunch adventure ended up being  frustrating or laughable -  typical of dining out in this evolving culture…nothing on the menu is available, but the waitress reports this one item at a time…I walked home in a sudden shower…)


·                     Monday, 17 July 2006 – Mark comes home today!

Cookin’ with gas – soon!

This morning my tiny, overheated  kitchen was crowded with four barefoot adults hammering away in Russian, debating the pros and cons of where to place the kolanka.  The new hot water heater is the result of the city gas lines.  Our neighborhood will soon be cookin’ with gas! That also means our water will be heated by gas too, hence the kolanka. 


I stood in the corner of the kitchen curling my toes inside my slippers and trying to follow the conversation. I kind of let the conversation wash over me and understand much of it, despite new terms relative toi the project at hand. Mentally I am wondering if I should interrupt to offer them slippers – I have two “guest” pair, but what about the other two people?  My thoughts drift back to the robust exchange as the two workmen, the landlady and another woman whose role I am uncertain of, finally come to consensus on the matter of where to place the water heater and where the pipes should go. 


They move on to the topic of measurements. I offer a measuring devise, but they decline and simply eyeball the distances.  More discussion and then finally they drift toward the door, pausing to verify that I will indeed be home throughout the day.  I stand quietly in the doorway.  I think about how soft-spoken Mark and I might seem to these spirited local people.


When people consult in this Russian language, they sound as if they are angry – they speak urgently and in shrill voices.  They are enthusiastic speakers; they fill the room with their conversation. 


I close the door behind them and listen to the lovely quiet. I can hear the water drip, drip, dripping from the leaky electric water heater in the bathroom and I can hear my parakeets happily cheeping at one another in the next room.


·                     Sunday, 16 July 2006

The Band Bond…

Svetlana, an amateur singer from Moscow and Slava, a local linguist and English Club member, invited me to stroll on Saturday night.  We took the marshrutka to the southern part of town and walked in the lovely seaside park there.  The municipal band performed there, so we enjoyed their concert and watched the crowd dance. 


Of course, my friend Igor, the drummer, saw us and invited us closer, played songs for us and encouraged Svetlana to sing a bit.  She needs little encouragement.  She does a remarkable rendition of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess and everyone is suitably impressed.


Svetlana is a curvy, blond, independent woman in here 40s.  She is enamored of Marilyn Monroe and sometimes it shows.  


We ended up riding back to city center in the band bus, making friends with the rest of the band as we bounced down the road.  I practiced my Russian and others practiced their English.  Of course, I told about my “trombonista” sister and my belly-dancing sister.  The director of the municipal band is retired from the military where he served as a conductor.  He studied in Moscow.  Another fellow, a French Horn player (I played the horn in HS) shared his stories of being deported during the Stalin years.  He is a Muslim (Tatar).   The bus ride ended with lots of hand kissing for the two of us women.  Friend Slava just smiled quietly and laughed as he watched all the fuss. 


Free Advice…

Today I hung some laundry on the lines I our small garden.  Catwoman, ever eager to advise me, insisted I hang my clothes on the lines across the courtyard.  Honestly, I have been hesitant to use those lines, not really knowing the protocol.  Perhaps some lines belong to particular flats…or perhaps if I assume used of a line someone else will be annoyed.  I also feel a bit uncomfortable with my clothes and linens so far from my flat – they could disappear, though I know this is very unlikely.


After she needled me into hanging my laundry on the public lines, Catwoman began shaming me about not picking the berries that are ripening in our garden. She says we should pick them and put them up for winter.   Mark and I do not care for the berries so I suggested that Catwoman might like to pick them for herself.  No, she has them at her dacha. 


People here like to interact and help.  Often the helping is very overt.  Catwoman cleaned our garden one day, taking away the mulch Mark put around our plants (they do not mulch here). 


More Grousing about Helpful People…

We generally just let people “help” us…it is hard to do otherwise, especially since we are not fluent with the language.   In the small store adjacent to our flat, when we want to make a purchase, the saleswoman will often decline to sell us the kind of sausage or cheese we request.  Instead she will insist that another kind is much better and cheaper.  She will go to great lengths, coming out from behind the counter and making a choice from the cooler  herself, carefully eyeing the expiration dates.


This happens often.  Of course we know that this is their way of being helpful and kind, but often our own preferences are ignored.   


So I am now avoiding Catwoman, since I really do not want to go out into the hot sun to harvest berries which I have no intention of eating. 


I will also have to retrieve my laundry from the other side of the courtyard.  I suspect someone will have an unsolicited opinion and advice about my towels and sheets. 


Tomorrow, the gas company will send workers to install the lines for the central gas line in our flat.  So the stage moves from public areas to inside my home!  Sigh.


It is hard for people here to realize we are not truly living here, we are here for only 27 months.  When we leave, we will not take much with us so we do not wish to accumulate things.  We live a modest life here and make accommodations we would probably not make in our own country.   I am not impervious to people’s opinions and though I am a straightforward, open individual, I am a private person.  


These kinds of challenges are the small pebbles that slip into the comfortable shoe on an evening walk.  If you walk long, a blister forms. It is best to find a way to deal with the issue before the problem arises.


Part of my survival plan has been to keep my home private.  I seldom invite people in.  I want my flat to be a place where I am not on display, where I am not a representative of anything.


I also do not shop with other people because I do not want to be pressured into purchases.  I prefer to limit the number of people involved in decisions.


·                     Saturday, 15 July 2006

Salespeople at my door…

There is that sinking feeling when you open the door and realize there is a salesperson smiling back at you. 


Usually when there is a knock at the door,  I callout, “Who is it?”  before I consider opening the door.  This time, I failed to follow my own rules.


Dealing with door-to-door salespeople is really a challenge when you have a language disadvantage. I am just too polite to simply close the door.   So I opened the door and there were two young Ukrainians, a man and a woman in their twenties, eager to make a sale.  They began their spiel in Russian and I slapped my forehead and let them know right away that I only speak a little Russian.  Of course they forged valiantly ahead, thrusting a boxed set of cooking knives into my hands.  The young man rattled on with his speech as I tried to give back the box. 


No salesperson takes “no” for answer, but many of them are unprepared to deal with humor.   Soooo, the crazy American woman elected to be melodramatic.  My improve skills came to the rescue as I began chattering away in Russian about how I am just a poor old Babushka (grandma) here with my Peace Corps Volunteer spouse.  I told them I appreciated the wonderful gift of knives they were sharing with us. I set the box on the floor and the woman salesperson laughed a little nervously as I reached out and pinched the young man’s cheeks and closed the door.


They did not make a sale, but they have a foolish story to share with friends  about the crazy American they ran into.


An opinion of learning language for the short term….

Actually, the whole incident made me feel better.  I had been feeling a little foolish after an earlier interaction at the grocery store adjacent to the flat.  The woman who collects our rent and manages the store engaged me in a rather simple conversation, but the words seemed to all fly out of my head.  I stuttered and stammered and could not put together a coherent sentence for the life of me. 


The language aspect of living in a foreign country adds a roller-coaster effect to emotional life here.  You stay humble, because just when things go well, you find yourself at a total loss for what is going on around you.  Every transaction becomes work, hard work. 


You learn to live from moment to moment, cherishing each small success and minimizing the blatant errors you make.


Yes, speaking the language with some fluency would make our experience so different.  But, given the short term we are actually here, is it a realistic expectation?  Probably not.  (We are short term volunteers – our skills should include some creativity about communicating and using our resources effectively – this is not about being efficient, it is about being effective….this is about really communicating, not just talking…  ) 


I also think the whole language thing is a wonderful leveling tool.   Many people arrive at their Peace Corps site with strong opinions and ideas about how to resolve all the problems of their community…it is part of the Yankee-ingenuity, positive attitude, I-can-do-anything, optimism, enthusiasm and cockiness that is part of being a born and bread US citizen.  Coming here with a language handicap, allows the local people an advantage – it slows the American down.  


If you cannot really speak the language, you learn to be collaborative and less independent, that is, if you hope to interact or have any success at all.


Greenie-Girl is Looking Great!

Zelyoney, my green parakeet, is interacting and playful again…it is a joy to see her spirited way of approaching things. 


·                     Friday, 14 July 2006

Tomatoes and Cats…

The neighborhood cats have decimated my tomatoes and my iris plants - the mother cat nurses Socks and Oscar under the shade of the Iris plants.  As the greedy, gangly kittens nurse, she edges back and now my iris plants are horizontal. 


The young cat-kins like to nibble on the fragrant and tasty fresh green shoots on the tomato plants.  The plastic rings we placed around each plant to discourage slugs and snails, appeal to the playful kittens.  They have unearthed them and rolled them around the small garden.


None of our neighbors bother with tomato plants. They grow them at their dachas, perhaps.  At the market, tomatoes cost about 60 cents for 2.2 pounds and they are absolutely wonderful - sweet, plump, juicy and beautiful too. It is wise to can some of the summer bounty.  Midwinter, a taste of summer vine-ripened produce is a fine accent to unrelenting meals of potatoes and cabbage.  During the summer, Ukrainian fruits and vegetables are unbelievable. 


I think most Americans have forgotten what real tomatoes taste like.


“Digging to America” by Anne Tyler… 

I finished Anne Tyler's latest novel, "Digging to America". I always enjoy the interesting characters she develops, and this book did not disappoint me.  She has a way of poking fun at her characters but still making them appealing.  In fact, some of the characters make me think of people I know.  Many of the experiences dealt within the book are things I have dealt with too.


The plot centers on two couples who adopt young Korean babies.  The two families begin an unlikely relationship, given the differences in ages and backgrounds.  (One mother is older and kind of a frumpy, middle class, granola-and-Birchenstocks woman who weaves and always worries about being politically correct while the other woman is much younger and is immersed in the heart of an Iranian family who immigrated to the USA. 


The author works with the theme of being an outsider.  (Being a "stranger in a strange land" myself, I am inclined to find this part of the book interesting and insightful.)  One of the vehicles she uses to carry the plot is the annual "Arrival Party" the parents host.  .  


Summer life in Kerch…

It is common for local people to rise early and head for the sea to bathe at the start of each day. I watch from my window each morning as they come and go.   


Each morning our upstairs neighbors load up their stroller with snacks, towels and lots of inflated beach toys.  There is almost no room for the toddler!  They push the stroller through the door as the older child skips along ahead of them and head out each morning about 8AM.  They come home between 9-10AM, before the day really heats up. 


…And the Band Played On

Since most people do not have air conditioning, people kind of hole-up during the mid-day and then come out again around 6PM to stroll by the sea and stop at the outdoor cafes for tea.  Last night I did just that with one of my English Club members.  There was a municipal band concert in Lenin Square; a brass band playing lively Joplin and Goodman and some old Soviet-era marches too. 


The drummer saw me smiling (people here do not smile much in public - it seems to be an American trait) and between songs scurried over to speak to me about music in his limited English.  After the concert, he tailed along with us like a puppy.  After a while, he took his leave, and in a very Russian style, kissed my hand. 


My evening ended at a teahouse where we sipped tea at a street side table and enjoyed the summer evening.


Being a foreigner, particularly an American, in this isolated community, sometimes makes for unusual encounters.  Even though I kind of blend in, there is an otherness or outsider quality to our lives here.  Usually I embrace this opportunity, but sometimes I feel like an observer.  I feel the joy and am grateful to be part of the experience…but I know it is fleeting and fragile and perfect…


·                     Thursday, 13 July 2006

The Usual Questions…

On the walk home from English Club, I often feel as if I have an entourage.   There are the usuals, who walk along with us, allegedly on their way to the marshrutka stop, and there is almost always a new face each week in the crowd. 


It is generally a companionable time, as we head down upscale Lenin Street and turn onto Theater Street making our way to the seaside urban park.  I am the queen at the center of the hub. 


Then the newcomer begins to pepper me with questions, often very personal questions.  It is inevitable.  It is predictable.  It is Ukrainian.


“How many rooms are in your flat?” I am asked.


I answer, “One room and a kitchen.”


Before I can draw a breath, I hear another probe, “Not much space.  How much do you pay for this flat?”


I feign ignorance, ”Well, Peace Corps provides an allowance for it so we do not pay.”  I am cagey.  I am American and am not accustomed to such direct and personal questions, even though I know they are coming.  People here are curious and ask my age, my salary, what kind of car I drive, how much my clothes cost, how much my home costs, and on and on.  And when they hear the reply they are always astounded and counsel me that I am being cheated, overcharged, taken advantage of.


I am uncomfortable in these situations, but I have learned to guide the conversation somewhat, since I know it can go awry.  It is easy to become the ”stupid American who wastes her money…all Americans are stupid and wasteful…”


“Yes, I am certain our landlady does well.” I say, choosing my words carefully,  “She is quite a business woman!  Foreigners always seem to be charged more don’t they?” 


The conversation veers off in another direction since I skillfully avoided a straightforward answer that would have ultimately lead us down a deadend road.


Of course, these questions may be just genuine curiosity or perhaps just a way to create conversation or even maybe a legitimate interest n how Americans handle their financial arrangements. 


The trick is not to feel defensive.  I try to put aside my reticence and speak candidly about whatever I am asked.  I have also become adept at steering the conversation into other areas.  I sometimes respond with a volley of questions of my own.


It seems to me that Americans think of themselves as open and forthright, but we have some unwritten rules.  The taboos we accept as “normal” are not universal.   


Living day in and day out in another culture makes you more conscious of your own culture. 


“Digging to America” by Anne Tyler – Read it!

I am half-way through this delightful novel.  My dilemma now is whether to simply sit down and read it to the end or to ration out the pleasure by limiting my reading to a few pages each day.  Should I metaphorically wolf down the box of chocolates in an orgy of delight or anticipate the pleasure of one perfect chocolate consumed each evening in an elegant, candleit ceremony with a cup of fine espresso …? 


It is a good read.  The story follows two couples as they welcome adopted (Korean) daughters into the respective families.  One family is a “typical” American couple in their 40s – the granola, birchenstock,  I-am-a-weaver, we-do-not-eat-white-sugar, kind of couple.  The other couple are young Iranian-Americans.  The two families celebrate an annual ”Arrival Day” which provides an excellent window for the reader to watch and listen as the cultures face off.  There is humor and confusion.  The characters are well developed and when other authors might slip into stereotypes, Anne Tyler is adept at painting word pictures with only a few strokes to suggest the whole picture.  


Living in another culture as I currently am, I take particular delight in the gentle (maybe not so gentle) humor the Iranian father pokes at Americans foibles.  We are a puzzling people to those from other parts of the world.   


We are like bulls in a china shop – out of place.


We Americans are pretty ethnocentric.  We are also arrogant people, even the gentlest among us.  


Go to the library and borrow this book! 


·                     Wednesday, 12 July 2006

The Circus!

(From an E-mail I sent)

Good Morning!


I am sipping coffee and reading an old Newsweek Magazine.  Later I will begin outlining some background information for English Club - tonight the topic has something to do with movies and films. My job is to stimulate conversation and keep it moving while prompting and probing less confident English speakers.  I also try to introduce idioms and old sayings appropriate to the topic and, of course, I focus on vocabulary suitable to the topic. I list questions too - ones that require more than yes or no as an answer. I spend a few hours preparing. 


Some weeks I rely heavily on my materials and other weeks we deviate from the topic and pursue something that the group seems to find interesting.  The group ranges from a ten year old who is like those television children - quick-witted, sophisticated, opinionated, and confident.  She can be a delight,  Some weeks though she can be a normal ten year old.  It is a challenge to keep her engaged, but her English skills are excellent.  Other regulars include a shy artist (a painter of great skill, but not a linguist), a couple serious linguists, a couple wanna-be linguists, several University and Institute students, some fellows from the port, a couple English teachers, some secondary school students, etc. 


Well, I set out to write about something I read in Newsweek (June 19,2006) and then got off on a tangent!   I read a wonderful article about re-inventing the circus!  The circus as art-form! ("Re-inventing a Classic")


Circus is huge in Europe and not like it is in America.  Here in Kerch we will host several Russian circuses later this summer.  Gifford's Circus, mentioned in the article, is quite sophisticated. The circus chef prepares gourmet dishes (confit of duck in plum sauce) using organic food and serves it under the stars.  They skip the cotton candy! 


The article contends that the traditional circus here in Europe is becoming increasingly avant-garde. They interviewed a man from Circus Space, a London training center, mentioned Cirque du Soleil,  The article says the "new" circus is attracting an upscale crowd who would normally attend opera or theater. 


In London "The Sultan's Elephant" made street appearances, dazzling crowds.  The12-meter high mechanical elephant roamed the streets for several days before heading off on a show circuit around Europe.  I saw it on TV - amazing creature!  The circus strives, f course, to make us adults feel like children again, if only for a brief moment.  Even on television this remarkable elephant had the ability to transform me into a 6 year old with moth agape and eyes wide open. 


So, my trombone-playing sister Janeen, is on the cutting edge with her circus involvement it seems!  .Perhaps she should plan a tour of European circuses , focusing of course on the music scene, and later she can dazzle the board of the Windjammers when she reports her findings!


(FYI: The owner of the amazing Gifford's Circus is a women!  The article included some interesting info on her philosophy, etc)


Hmmmm...this maybe a topic for English Club...in any case, I hope to be doing some circus research of my own when the big show comes to town - whether it is avant-garde or traditional, I loooooooove the circus! 


(Did I mention that in Ukraine, every city over 50,000 has a permanent circus?  I read that in a guide book!)


Well, the coffee is cold, but my imagination is dancing and I can almost hear the circus band playing...seems like a good time to stop writing and start doing some housework.  Ladies and gentlemen, in the center ring, performing barefoot in her blue and white striped cotton jammies, is the amazing Virginia!  She will dazzle you with her ability to wash dishes and sweep floors while simultaneously singing Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz"....


Ukraine’s Parliament - Excerpt from the CNN News…

(Life is pretty crazy in the world of politics here…VJP)


KIEV, Ukraine (Reuters) -- Ukraine's parliament, all but shut down  during three months of fruitless coalition talks, plunged into chaos on  Tuesday with backers of the "Orange Revolution" storming the  rostrum and  sounding sirens to halt debate.
 The chamber opened its sitting by endorsing a coalition government  headed by Viktor Yanukovich, the man humiliated by pro-Western President  Viktor Yushchenko in the "Orange Revolution".
 But speaker Oleksander Moroz's attempt to continue debate collapsed when  members of "orange" groups surged forward to the rostrum,  scuffling with  rivals from the Regions Party.
 "Specific people want to take power at any price," Moroz shouted,  his  voice barely audible above the sirens. "This is an attempt to stop  parliament from work."
 Yanukovich lost the 2004 presidential race to Yushchenko after  weeks of  street protests. He quickly put together his grouping, with  Socialists  and Communists, last week after a last-minute defection wrecked a bid to  build a coalition of "orange" parties behind the revolution.
 The new grouping has support from 238 deputies in the 450-seat chamber  after an inconclusive election in March.
 It was the defection of Moroz, a Socialist, which last week toppled the  initial attempt to form a government.
 The two remaining "orange" parties -- the bloc of former prime minister  Yulia Tymoshenko and the president's Our Ukraine Party -- now call for  new elections.
 Yushchenko says he will not rubber-stamp any proposed prime minister  without guarantees that the Western values of the 2004 revolution will  be safeguarded. He has also said he may dissolve parliament if no government is formed within fixed deadlines.
 During the long weeks of talks aimed at forming an "orange" coalition,  some of Yushchenko's comrades had suggested teaming up with the Regions  Party in a "broad coalition".
 Such a grouping, it was argued, would heal longstanding divisions  between Ukraine's nationalist west and its Russian-speaking industrial  east, more sympathetic to Moscow.
 But Our Ukraine decided on Monday it wanted no part of the new grouping,  in which communists will sit alongside wealthy business magnates.
 Tymoshenko told reporters on Monday: "With such a coalition, Ukraine has no future and not even the hope for a future."

 Under new constitutional provisions, the president's powers are reduced and parliament must choose the prime minister.
 But the president is empowered to dissolve parliament if it fails to  form a government within 60 days of its first session, which took place  on May 25.



·                     Tuesday, 11 July 2006

I am watching a special announcement from the Rada, Ukraine’s center of government.  Something big is happening!


Of course an intelligent discussion on politics is beyond my limited Russian conversational skills, but I have learned that watching political activity on TV  here can be quite a diversion.  Many times I have watched dignified businessmen and politicians grabbing one another and throwing some strong punches in the hallowed halls of government.  These gentle Ukrainians can be tough and intimidating when necessary.  (At the bazaar or on the Metro you get a feel for this – the crowds can get nasty.) 


The current topic is pretty serious – time is running out and the country has no government. Decisions must be in place by the 24th or the current body will be disbanded. 


Today, the hall is crowded with people attempting to communicate over the loud wailing screams of some kind of security or fire alarm. This disturbing sound has been going on for fifteen minutes.  It is hard to know if this is simply a problem with systems and they are simply ignoring it or whether this urgent howling siren is part of a process to keep people motivated regarding the urgency of the political situation. Maybe they plan to run the siren until they reach a resolution or compromise. 


OK, it is becoming violent – people are on tabletops, papers are flying, men are grabbing one another by their neckties while the camera pans around the room.  People are yelling and shaking their fists.  Not an orderly group.


Outside are hundreds (thousands?) of protesters and many tents set up so the protesters intend to stay put.


Bird Update…

Zelyoney (my green girl bird) is still showing signs of distress.  She tucks her head under her wing and naps frequently.  She does respond to my whistling and bird talk. Gulaboy (Blue Guy, the boy) fusses over her attentively.  They sit beak to beak and make quiet bird-talk to one another. 


·                     Monday, 10 July 2006 - The Twins’ Birthday!

Today is the day my niece will give birth to her twin daughters. The doctor will induce labor.  I will be offline for a week, so I will not hear the initial reports until the 18th


Today Mark leaves for a week.  He has language refresher training and will also do some video editing for the training staff at PC.  He has a draft proposal to review with the business lead. 


So, I am on my own here – a week alone!


Puddles in the Hall…

We woke to a pool of water under Ivan, our incontinent refrigerator.  These puddles happen more and more frequently lately.  When the power is off for extended periods or when the door is not completely closed water drips onto the entryway floor.  It is often Mark who discovers these puddles when he unwittingly wades into the puddle, enroute to the bathroom. 


The gaskets designed to seal the refrigerator have rotted away. It really is not a very serviceable refrigerator.  We could splurge and either purchase a new one or find a used one to buy.  We could simply let our landlady know that this one is really unsatisfactory. 


Or, we can simply tolerate Ivan, our cantankerous refrigerator, knowing we will leave in 11 months. 


Damage to our Circuits…

The dilemma with Ivan and Mark’s departure are not the only challenges today.  


We do not have power in outlet under the desk and the one by the bed.   The ceiling light above the couch also does not work.  This is inconvenient and puzzling, but not entirely unexpected.


Sunday evening about 11, the lights in our flat dimmed suddenly and stayed at a low glow for quite a while.  This was a new experience.  We have lost power completely, but reduced power is something new. 


We assumed it was a neighborhood problem, but a quick trip out the door to investigate indicated that the problem seems to be just in our flat and the one upstairs. 


Later, the power resumed full strength, but  we had no power on the north side of our flat.    We assumed the problem may be with the freezers in the store next door (- we share circuits with them and that is not a good arrangement since we end up paying a huge electric bill, but that is another story which I may tell at another time). 


If the circuit next door burned up, the store manager will discover it and take steps to get them repaired.  By Monday afternoon, the power will probably be back on.  A fairly reasonable assumption.  So we went to bed. 


It is late Monday, and the problem is unresolved.  I am on my own this week so I guess my Russian vocabulary will expand to include some new technical terms. 


In the meantime I have a lamp perched by the couch so I can my language skills will get a real workout. 


Green Guy is Suffering…

While the refrigerator and the power situation create some challenges, I am more concerned with one of my parakeets.  Greenie (Zelyoney), the girl, has been ill for the past couple days.


The onset of her symptoms was rapid.  We returned from a shopping trip to find here looking haggard, left eye sunken and dim.  She seemed barely able to remain on the perch.  She had a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including a disturbing, erratic head jerking motion.  It was clear she was very uncomfortable. 


She has improved significantly so the worst is over, but it has been stressful for us both as we waited it out. 


I am grateful for Christian Science


·                     Sunday, 9 July 2006 – Neptune Festival

Peeing in the yard

This evening the sound of little girls giggling wafted through our courtyard window as a bevy of tiny nymphs fluttered around the garden chasing after kittens and collecting ripe, red, berries from the vines.  There were about a half dozen 4-6 year old girls dressed in their party finery.  Just outside the door, our upstairs neighbor was assembling an improvised table and spreading out a typical festive Ukrainian meal. 


I peaked out my window and watched the girls at play.  Just a few weeks ago, a funeral unfolded in this very spot.  The funeral just outside my window made me uncomfortable - I felt like a voyeur looking out the window at those activities, but this children’s party is another matter. 


The girls wear pink ruffles and there are ribbons and bows everywhere.  The  large taffeta poufs restraining their hair make me laugh whenever I see them (except when worn by anyone over the age of 10 – we have observed these ridiculous poufs on adult women wearing military uniforms…incongruous…unbelievable.)  The children wear strappy shoes and lacey socks.  They dash around the dusty courtyard totally oblivious people around them.  They are intent on chasing one another or grabbing a kitten.


One little girl, decided to answer the call of nature, pulled down here fancy panties and squatted near the water faucet in the center of the courtyard.  I waited to see if the adults would intervene. 


The little girl, became distracted from her “mission” and was soon running across the courtyard, panties flapping around her calves.  She joined a cluster of little girls who were huddled around the kittens.  The child bent over and the moon came out. 


She continued to play, totally unconcerned about her bare bottom and the panties now hobbling her ankles.


Eventually, the dusty little ragamuffins in their finery wore themselves out.


·                     Saturday, 8 July 2006


·                     Wednesday, 5 July 2006


·                     Tuesday, 4 July 2006 – Independence Day!


·                     Monday, 3 July 2006

(E-Mail Rant from me to a newsgroup of potential Peace Corps Volunteers who want to “change the world”…)

Cole, and all…


Well, I am off to share my opinions, theories and experiences on the questions you posted. 


In fact, I am using this posting as part of my daily journaling – it provides a great chance for me to explore some thoughts and maybe sharing this will prompt some good discussion among the rest of this group!


Since I am not known for being brief, I suggest you get a beverage and settle in for a read - I hope you will find my thoughts interesting or stimulating.  Yes, I could use a good editor…but I am merely presenting my impromptu thoughts on this matter…


I have numbered Cole’s questions and included them so the narrative is easier to follow…


OK, got your coffee?  Let’s go!

 1.   I'd like to hear your stories of how you were able to make sustainable  changes/differences within your communities/countries.

I know some great success stories that I could share here, but I have some thoughts about the actual question.  It begs me to address another issue: what is the role of a Peace Corps Volunteer?  Where does this idea come from: the idea that we must make a sustainable change or difference in our community or country?

I look at this question in light of the Peace Corps Mission: to promote world peace and friendship through the service of American volunteers abroad.  Here are the three goals we need to keep in mind as we serve or assess our “success or failure”:


--- To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women


--- To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and


--- To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.


Note: The focus is not on the particular project an individual works on, but on understanding people.  The whole issue of making changes (sustainable or otherwise) is secondary…more on this later…

  2.  What do you think most prepared you for making long-lasting changes in the community?
Focusing on the three goals of the Peace Corps kept (keeps) my focus on a larger view than what happens in the immediate workplace.  It is kind of a relief to know we are here only to help and promote understanding.  I gain a better perspective: anything we do above and beyond that is “cake”! 


So the focus is on people not change.


I can be quite a Type-A person (MA in Org Mgt!), so learning to focus on people (building trust, taking time to relax with people, celebrate, share and get acquainted) rather than processes (strategic planning, organizing, training, business, etc) is a skill I strive to cultivate.  The PC goals help me gain perspective when I am frustrated by how slowly things move or when people are not receptive to ideas.


Often people come to Peace Corps with the idea that they will introduce a big change – the “save the world” kind of thinking!  (Ever heard of “White Knight Syndrome” – You know what I am talking about:  when the hero comes in and slays the dragon and then leaves the big, dead, bloody, rotting carcass for the locals to deal with while he/she is off to slay yet another dragon in another location!) 


Do we need to change the world?  Or do we need to observe and share and help one another?  Maybe even bring home some of what we see and learn abroad and share it there!


Keeping my eye on the mission helps me make better choices and keeps my attitude in check.

  3.  What lessons were learned about making long-lasting change?


-- That most (all?) change takes time to incubate; a lot of time; a long, long time – we only plant seeds here, as PCVs we rarely get the joy of nurturing or harvesting.


-- That real changes are based on trust & observation – people are influenced by our actions & the way we live our personal & professional lives more than they are on the ideas we present or projects we implement.  Are our values consistent with how we live?  Are we honest, warm, kind, generous, loyal, sincere, caring, enthusiastic, consistent, creative, available…etc.


-- That changes come from the local people & their choices & not ours – in the end, we are merely messengers.


-- That you cannot ever know how profoundly you may have influenced someone’s choices – someone you meet will break the mold, somehow, somewhere, someday and they may (or may not) remember you & may or may not say a silent thank you for opening a window in their consciousness or being a light at the end of a tunnel or even a pesky mosquito who made them get up and move!.


-- That the biggest changes may be in me – how I choose to live and what I value.  I will never be the same as I was before I had this experience.


4.   For those RPCVs who don't feel they made a sustainable difference/change: why not? What went wrong?


Hmmm, maybe nothing went wrong!  Maybe you are looking at the wrong symptoms!


A PCVs main responsibility is to work on the three goals.  The projects that you work on each day are simply vehicles -  they are incidental to the three goals.  So making a sustainable difference or change is not part of the contract.


We do not always measure the right things when we look at our impact.  Our economic development project may turn out to be a flop and that is too bad, but really what about those more significant changes…the way people think and make choices and move forward? 


Changes relate to internalized attitudes and are expressed in behaviors.  A PCV’s tangible project (in business, agriculture, TEFL, whatever) is really only a vehicle which allows them to be here and to participate in a community.  It provides an opportunity to drive a more fundamental change…a change that involves motivating and coaching, inspiring and nurturing fellow humans to try new things, to strive for a better life, to take risks. To look at their situations.   So the fish pond or the coffee scheme fails to bring economic success to the village, you may still have taught people that hope springs eternal and that you can move forward and try again, that you can laugh about problems and that you can find alternate ways to do do things, or any of dozens of other examples…. 


These changes are in the individual and are far more long term than any  co-op, business scheme or classroom lesson.  (NOTE: I sound dismissive about the project, but I certainly would not advocate making poor choices or being shortsighted when you do introduce projects which may impact the local economy.  I am a professional, but in the context of this discussion, I want to emphasize what we should look at when we consider our success and/or failure as a PCV)


(A true story: a PCV I met finished his service feeling as if he had had little “real” impact on his community, other than a great love for them.  His actual project just did not take off.  He did foster great friendships and relationships, enabled several students to go off to university, etc…  When he returned to visit his old site many years later, he saw that local people had adopted the technique he had used when he moved there to build himself a personal outhouse…he had been appalled at the sanitation issues back then, but this was not his “project”.  Nonetheless, when he returned, he found the village had hundreds of outhouses, and there were even signs on the local beach encouraging people to use the outhouses rather than defecating or urinating on the beach!  So, the RPCV walked away from his return visit smiling – an unexpected behavior change and certainly a significant one!)

 5.   This is my greatest worry for entering the Peace Corps. I don't want to devote two years to projects that can't have a positive long-lasting effect on those left to operate them once I've left.
Two years is such a short time.  Children barely learn to walk or speak in two years.  We give a small gift when we volunteer to serve for only two years.  We will never see the children born during our tenure run or give speeches, but they will learn the rudiments during our time of service.  That is how it is with our impact on the community.  Who knows what people are learning from us, about us in our short two years.  Who knows what people will do with the knowledge’s and skills, opinions and attitudes they adopt from you.   Come back in 10-20 years!   


As I said before, you can only plant seeds and hope (have faith) they will be nurtured by someone you leave behind.  Of course you will spend your days on various projects that may make you feel angry and frustrated at times, but remember, these projects in many ways are only a means for you to get elbow-to-elbow with people; a way to earn their trust; a way for them to come near you and learn some of the greater gifts you can share with them: your joy in living, our sense of can-do, your unflappable enthusiasm, your Yankee-ingenuity, your integrity and your character and oh, so many other wonderful gifts we humans share with one another. 


The beauty of the Peace Corps experience is that you have a tremendous opportunity to motivate change, but of course, there is a sad part to this too.  You will leave after only 27 short months and you will probably not see the culmination of your dream. 


Think of Johnny Appleseed (my hero!)…what a gift he gave, and the best part of the gift (the shade, the apples, the honey, the treehouses, the heart carved with “VJ loves MP”…) did not come until decades after he planted those seeds…  And, I imagine some people who met him when he was trekking along planting those seeds, may have adapted some of his life style and attitude traits…I am sure he made quite an impression on the locals!  He probably never thought of those changes when he advocated and implemented his apple tree planting plans!


Cole, your two years will likely find you more in tune with who you are, and what is important to you.  Your two years will not be a waste.  And as for your ‘”…biggest worry…” I would say, put it to rest!

Thank you for an opportunity to ramble on about some things that I feel very strongly about.  See Cole, you have already made an impact…


Life is good…  8-)



From the Sunny Shores of the Black Sea



 --- In peacecorps2@yahoogroups.com, "Cole" <  wrote:
  I'd like to hear your stories of how you were able to make  sustainable changes/differences
  within your communities/countries.
  What do you think most prepared you for making long-lasting changes in the community?
  What lessons were learned about making long-lasting change?
  For those RPCVs who don't feel they made a sustainable difference/change: why not? What
  went wrong?
  This is my greatest worry for entering the Peace Corps. I don't want to devote two years to
  projects that can't have a positive long-lasting effect on those left to operate them once I've
  Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

·                     Saturday, 1 July 2006

An observation about language-learning styles…

Language students here in Ukraine, like language students in many parts of the world, are afraid of making mistakes.  This fear causes them to freeze up.  These are often students who excel at reading and writing English.  Yet their tongues seize-up if they must speak.


I see this each week at English Club where I encourage people to simply get across ideas, follow the flow of the conversation and become familiar wth the way native speakers talk.  It is not about grammar, it is about communication.  This can be challenging since several members of Englsih Club, are, in fact English teachers.  Their students sit quietly and often, so do the teachers. 


Everyone lives in fear of making a mistake.   Why?  The language teachers I have observed or worked with here this past 18 months, immediately correct the student who makes an error, and I do mean immediately.  The correction is swift and humbling; it comes at once, mid-sentence, before the soundwaves have stopped resonating. 


And then of course the student clams up. Who would risk such humiliation?


The errors people made are often of no consequence. 


It is hard to imagine they will ever feel comfortable speaking English.  Even in the absence of their teacher, an imaginary axe man seems to lurk behind them, ready to cut off the offending tongue that uses improper grammar. 


The first word out of a Ukrainian’s mouth when he or she attempts to speak English is invariably a variation of, “I apologize for my English; I do not speak it well.” 


Cat-Woman’s granddaughter knows some English…

 Cat-Woman’s granddaughter spends her summer days here in our courtyard.  She is about nine, and absolutely perfect.  This sweet young girl is graceful, attractive, and mischievous.  I have observed her from my window as she plays and find her quite charming. 


Of course, when the spotlight falls on her, she looses much of her poise and confidence and becomes a younger child in an instant.  A fairly typical nine-year-old girl in many ways.


Granddaughter was off at the local store getting an ice cream bar, when Cat-Woman told me that granddaughter has studied English for two years.  She speaks to the cats in English it seems!  “Goo-da moor-ning!” she says in that Russian accented English that makes me smile.  (I am thinking of Boris and Natasha on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Hour!)


When granddaughter returns, I smile at her and say, “Good morning!”


Granddaughter ducks her head, and concentrates on the ice cream bar.  It is as if she does not hear me.  Cat-Woman pushes the issue, but granddaughter does not intend to practice her English skills on this native speaker.


We shall see what happens as the summer unfolds…