·                     Friday, 30 June 2006

Dustinovsky visits….

The courtyard cat I favor most has taken to morning visits on my kitchen windowsill.  Perhaps the caged birds I perched there one day are what finally drew him closer!  Discovering the terrorized parakeets cowering in the bottom of their quarters and my grey-tiger-striped friend pressed up against the window glass, I quickly learned to let the birds sun elsewhere!


Dusty, whose name knows many variants from my lips, greets me each day as I open the kitchen blinds.  Last week some workmen piled large building blocks just to the right of our kitchen window (..a project must be ahead!).  The pile effectively blocks the circuit the tomcats usually followed each morning as they toured the neighborhood, marking their turf and establishing themselves as the reigning cat-kings and barons.  Now the pile of rocks affords my Dustinovsky an opportunity to perch on my windowsill.  This pleases me since I have no cats in my flat to make it feel like home. 


My windowsill companion rubs against the glass as I tap, tap, tap on it.  He stretches and arches his back responding as if I am actually making contact with his furry spine.  We are a bit like prisoner and visitor with our windowpane separating us. 


The tall window does not open enough for a creature to come in.  .   It is hinged on the side and when open, leans in a few inches, allowing some air (and some flying insects) to enter from the upper reaches high above my head.   I tease D-Cat by poking my fingertips through the tiny space.  He stands on his hind legs and stretches as far as he can to bat at my wiggling fingertips. 


I refrain from offering the Dust-Devil a snack since it would encourage bad habits.  This takes some discipline on my part because I love to have him visit and a small snack would do much to reinforce his sense of welcome. 


My Small striped friend watches me eat my cereal and sip my coffee.  After a time, Dusty-Dude dives into the berry patch under the window and races off to find other amusement, having accomplished his mission, which seems to be to brighten my day.


Life is ephemeral…

Over my after breakfast coffee (the one I often linger over after Mark is out the door for the day) I read about tea kaiseki, a Japanese tea ceremony.  The attention to detail is beyond any of my personal experiences, but it appeals to me.


There is a paradox, of course, because life is so brief, does one want to spend it focused on details and minutiae?  But of course we know that life is “in the details” so of course there is some argument for being attentive to them, finding joy, peace, nourishment for the soul and heart.. 


I suspect it is the being mindful of the details. 


In the tea ceremony, each choice is thoughtfully considered and the effort  made to enhance the experience of the guest(s).  For the one making preparations, this may be a labor of love, but I suppose it could involve pride or disdain or even fear…but ideally it seems it would demand an unselfed love.  Maybe even a sense of gratitude for the beauty and abundance and for the opportunity to create and to serve. 


It the book, the author mentions that the carefully chosen flower arrangement that is among the props for this simple, yet elegant tea, will be tossed aside.  This gesture, this tossing aside of the flowers, represents the ephemeral nature of life.


(The book, an unexpected gift from my IL sister-in-law) that triggers these thoughts is “Untangling my Chopsticks” by V.A. Riccardi)


·                     Thursday, 29 June 2006

Cat-Woman has a name!

With hot weather drawing people outdoors to catch a breeze, my opportunities to interact (or be observed,) have increased.  Today Cat-Woman and I chatted for quite some time.  Despite huge language limitations, we manage to communicate.  Today I asked her name: She is Dina. 


Dina it is.  But, for my purposes here she will always remain Cat-Woman.


Summer in the gritty city by the sea…

Local people rise early these days and head for the sea.  The passers-by carry straw tote bags and floaty toys.  They return home from their morning bath in the sea before 8AM.


There is no beach adjacent to the city center where we live, so people merely step down of the concrete walkway that parallels the sea.   Yes, there is an official bathing platform, but most people seem happy simply to  access the water from the walkway.  At the end of the park, in a rather industrial setting near the ship depot, the pavement and grass areas are littered with sun worshippers and idlers from 6AM till sunset.


If you prefer some sand, board a bus and in about 20 minutes you can get to the sandy (albeit littered) city beaches in the ‘burbs!


Many arrive in ordinary clothes and then simply strip down to their underwear to take a cooling dip.  Matronly women, emerge from the bushes clothed in industrial strength bras and panties and unselfconsciously enjoy a quick swim.


These hot summer mornings Cat-Woman and her granddaughter rendezvous at the sea for a daily dip before returning to the courtyard to hang out with the cats and Poo-Doo Dog.


The cover is closed on Lolita…

I finished reading V. Nabokov’s “Lolita” today.  The writer paints with words.  Whether the topic is appealing or appalling, his style and tine keep the reader rapt. 


I also find myself looking up words.  Nabokov uses words splendidly and there is a nuance to each that many writers overlook in their efforts to tell a story.  Nabokov’s writing seems to be about the process, the joy of the flow as words tumble past the reader’s (or the writer’s) eyes. 


Of course when this book was published in the early 1950s it was quite controversial, for a number of reason, but one of them simply being the topic the writer chose to write about.  Nabokov indicates that the topic is not intended to be moralistic or a lesson; there are no symbols; nor is it autobiographical. He merely writes a tale that must be written. 


Critics and others, he says, simply read into his work.


Nabokov wrote this book after a full lifetime of writing in his native Russian.  He made an observation in the notes following “Lolita” that those of us who cannot or do not red his work written in Russian will never really know what kind of writer he is.  His writing in English is so delightful and filled with wit and nuance…


My cousin D. has recommended “Reading Lolita in Tehran” (and I believe the CS Monitor also recommended this book…I do not have the author’s name.).  I believe this book explores the repercussions of censorship.  I have added it to my list.


I am also eager to read more of V. Nabokov’s work.


I am so grateful for books.  I cannot imagine what life would be like without the printed word and my love of them. 


·                     Wednesday, 28 June 2006 – Ukrainian Constitution Day

Birds of a feather…

The parakeets are amusing themselves with an old CD Mark wedged into the corner of their cage. They totally ignore the special toy I lovingly purchased to delight and entertain them. 


It is amusing to watch them as they skitter back and forth across their perches, keeping their eyes locked on the distorted images in the shiny plastic disk. They prance and dance and scold and posture.  They appear to think the images are actually other birds.


A few local people have expressed surprise that we are keeping two birds in one cage.  The thought seems to be that birds do not sing (mush less learn to speak) if they are housed together.  (And really, do parakeets ever learn to sing?)


Hmmm these birds are like two native English speakers living together, I think.  They are less likely to engage with outsiders than say, one native English speaker, who must interact with the locals in order to survive.


Of course, “birds of a feather flock together… “


Our two parakeets seem happy together.  They are companionable; grooming one another, chirping and cheeping and occasionally scolding.  The certainly are engaged with the CD Mark gave them.   


Plumbing problems…

Well, we had water today – ah, how good it feels to have clean hair!


About mid-afternoon I heard a strange sound. I jumped up from the couch and made my way to the kitchen.  .  The sink spewed water and this unexpected event was accompanied by a loud, high-pitched grinding sound.  I stopped in the doorway, puzzled by the sound.  I was not sure exactly where it was coming from.  Mark was quick to determine that the incoming water pipe had sprung a leak and under the sink water was fountaining against the stored pots and pans, making them rattle like popcorn popping in a metal pan. 



Mark calmly turned off the water and began clearing out the cabinet under the sink.  I got out the mop and bucket.  In a matter of moments, Mark headed off to the local hardware store to purchase necessary parts while I continued on mop detail.  It is good to have someone handy around.  I try to imagine how this incident would have become quite a fiasco if it had been I who had to resolve the situation. 


Well, on the positive side, the area behind the sink and under the cabinet would get a good cleaning.  The new part is installed, everything is back under the sink and the kitchen floor is drying. 


Despite the inconveniences, I am glad to have running water in my flat!


·                     Tuesday, 27 June 2006

The past few days have been waterless.  I record this, not so much as a complaint, but simply as an unpleasant fact of life.  It is something we are learning to deal with, just as others in our community do. 


There is a randomness about the outages, but perhaps there is a plan and we simply do not get the word.  Our language skills, though improving steadily, sometimes affect the quality of our lives in unexpected ways.


Summer work schedules and plans…

Mark’s days seem longer now.  He arrives at work at about 10AM and leaves at 6PM.  Two evenings, he goes directly to language tutoring and does not arrive at the flat until almost 8PM.  Another evening each week, we have English Club.  The days can seem very long for him (and for me).


Many of the PCVs here in Ukraine teach or work in institutes,  schools, or universities.  In academic settings there are usually many school holidays and extended summer breaks, so those PCVs seem to have more free time than those in business settings.  The PCVs in academic settings often spend several weeks working at summer camps at various locations around Ukraine. 


I could have made arrangements to volunteer at a summer camp.  It would be fun to interact with young people, but frankly, I worked at Cadet Summer Leadership Camp with the JROTC program for several years, and the appeal of chaperoning young people has worn off a bit.


The poet K. Gibran says “…there should be spaces in your togetherness…” and so there shall be.  Mark will travel to Kiev on business later this summer and I will remain here in our cozy nest.  We bought he tickets yesterday.


I do not envy him the hot, sticky train trip going and coming, but I would enjoy being in the city during the summer.  I will be on my own for about a week. 


I am stockpiling a few projects and activities to keep my agenda stimulating during Mark’s absence. 


I have writing, journaling, correspondence, and offline web site projects, an enticing new novel to read, two knitting projects and several Russian decorator magazines to explore. I have Christian Science Sentinels to read under a tree.  I have my paints and my parakeets.  I will visit the bazaar and the second-hand stores.  I will walk to the post office each morning and stroll by the sea in the evening.  I will take pictures.  I will host English Club.   I will probably eat cereal and yogurt, black bread and butter and sip lots of coffee all week.  I doubt I will access the Internet during that week.  I will daydream and sleep.  I will make plans and write affirmations and aspirations.  I will paint my toenails.  I will use alllll the hot water.  I may watch a sloppy sad old DVD; I may turn up the radio really loud and sing along with it.  I may pick up the guitar and sing old John Denver songs!  I might make a chocolate mayonnaise cake with creamy chocolate frosting and eat it alllll by myself!  We shall see.  I could even study Russian grammar! 


I guess it will be a small retreat, my summer vacation at home. 


I will be happy to have Mark return and he will have stories to share and books and small treasures. 


The (occasional) spaces in our togetherness make us stronger.


·                     Monday, 26 June 2006

African nights…

It has been hot and with the heat, the community seems quieter by day and more lively at night.  Even the tables at the terrace outside our window are empty on these hot summer mornings.  In the past, they have been full at 8AM as early morning anglers and swimmers return from the sea.  Even the dogs that are usually out and about, nosing around for treats, have been strangely absent the past few mornings.  The streets are quiet.  By 9AM it is already to hot for a comfortable walk.


Along the sea, there are breezes, but here in our flat it is warm.  In the USA, air conditioners would be rumbling, but here, AC is still a novelty.  (So are ice cubes and really cold drinks!) We purchased an oscillating floor fan to circulate the air.


Saturday night, I found myself awake at 3AM.  In those groggy moments before becoming fully cognizant, I thought I was in Africa. 


The seeds for this illusion were planted, no doubt, by the beat of the drums from the popular nightspot in the nearby park.   The rhythmic sounds of drums, the thick night air, the humidity and perspiration that keeps my bedclothes damp and clammy, and the gauzy, white mosquito netting fluttering in the breezes simulated by our fan, created an ambience that to my slumbering mind spelled Africa.   


This morning Mark put on his work costume, complete with necktie.  I am sure the tie is a bit of an anachronism here in this seaside, summer city.  The crazy Americans often provide a topic of conversation for the local community. 


The summer months do bring a few tourists to our fair city.  Kerch is remote, isolated, so tourism is not developed.  Most of the tourists seem to be related to someone locally.  Shiny vans arrive from Russia.  Pasty, white children and beach toys spill out first and then the parents in their sophisticated sunglasses and casual summer attire.   They unload all the paraphernalia that people who vacation with a car tend to tote along.  Baby strollers, barbeques, blankets, etc.


Going to the local beach…

Sunday we hit the hit the local beach for a picnic by the sea.  I enjoyed, as always, observing the nuances of Kerchian life and learning about beach etiquette.  A local friend accompanied us on our adventure and provided additional interesting insights as we sat talking and getting sunburned.


As at any beach, people spread out their blankets and towels on the sand.  Children in underwear and naked babies splashed in the water and dug splendid holes in the sand while bikini-clad women basked in the sun.  The men generally stood, rather than reclined.  Groups of men, clad in tiny swimsuits (or underwear), stood smoking and talking quietly. 


There were men and women of all ages and shapes, and there seemed to be no self-consciousness about physique.  Rotund grandmothers and lithe, young bathing beauties recline side-by-side, soaking up the golden sun.


People arrived fully dressed and well groomed and coiffed.  As is typical here, many of the women looked as though they had come from a cocktail party or some other festive event, but after more than a year in this country, I am aware that this is probably not the case.  It is more a “wear it if you’ve got it” kind of attitude.  We are only young and beautiful once so indulge!  So the women arrive in high heeled, glittering sandals and amazing summer sun dresses that clearly announce their arrival! 


Once at the beach, the men and women have developed ways of discreetly (or not so discreetly) changing into their skimpy swimwear. There are a few metal cabanas along the beach (I saw two or three) where a more modest person can change.  When it is time to leave after several hours of sweating in the sun and sand, the women managed to put on their street clothes, comb their locks, touch up their lipstick and look as elegant, cool and collected as they did when they arrived.


In my American beach experiences there are often coolers filled with beer and sodas and people bring along radios and beach chairs.  These things were not obvious, though we observed a game of volleyball.


I did not observe anyone applying sunscreen or tanning products.


Sunbathers did not seem to read or nap.  They merely reclined or stood and watched the world go by.


Three things that were missing from my local beach experience: life guards, toilets and trashcans. 


Our local friend was apologetic about a few things.  We did not remark about any of these things, but our friend was sensitive to the amounts of trash left behind by others.  It is true, under the lovely olive trees and in the beach grass were the remnants of many previous picnics…the broken bottles, paper refuse and other trash littered the area.   In the absence of official toilets, this was another issue that detracts from the experience.


At well touristed beaches such as those in mainstream Crimea, the rubbish and toilet situation are addressed.  The beaches in places like Yalta, are well maintained because there are economic repercussions.  Those beach communities have a better-developed tourism economy. Outsiders have influenced them.


Here, in our isolated community, it is generally the locals who populate the beaches and not tourists.  One might think this would lead to a cleaner beach, but somehow this is not how it works. 


Our day by the sea was pleasant.  We came away with sunburned skin, which will remind us for several days of our weekend excursion.


·                     Saturday, 24 June 2006

Flat (Fat) Babushkas….

I packed up all the Flat Stanleys and Mark sent them off to various locations around Ukraine.  I could not bear to send them off alone so I sent along a Flat (Fat) Babushka (Grandma) with each envelope. 


A Flat (Fat) Baba will be helpful to the hosts caring for these Flat guys.  Since our courtyard has so many cats and kittens this time of year, I also sent a Flat Cat with each Flat Stanley.


Mark just shakes his head as he watches me sitting on our Soviet-era sofa, coloring away.  I really enjoyed making the Babas and the cats. 


I hope none of the recipients takes offense at the Babas.  I am just poking gentle fun at these delightful older women who still wear bright headscarves knotted under their chins and colorful shawls around their shoulders.  They look stout in their shapeless garments and when I glimpse one walking away, I always am reminded of a colorful Easter Egg.


What can be more Ukrainian (or charming) than a Babushka and her cat(s)?


Both are everywhere.  I love to see them.


At the local bazaar, there are always dozens of them there, each selling some special item and socializing the entire time. 


Near the gates, there are large groups of colorfully garbed Babas perched on stools, selling sunflower seeds by the cup.  People stop and sample seeds, talk to the women and for a few kopeks, walk away crunching on a handful of seeds.  Cats wind around the Babas legs and the ground around them is littered with the husks of all the seeds the women consume as they laugh and gossip the day away. 


I wonder if the seeds and the selling are just incidental?


There are many other Babushkas in the bazaar; there are those selling spice or those selling the delicious pickled salads.  Then there are a special group who sell milk products.  I would happily accompany any of these women home to their country dacha and watch them lovingly tend their cows. 


The traditional Babushka will probably not be around much longer.  This is sad.  The younger generations of Grandmothers wear jeans, color their hair and never don a headscarf except perhaps for a visit to church.


I would like to take photographs of the Babushkas.  They are beautiful and their faces show integrity; their character and good humor shine through.  Their colorful clothes are a statement about what is important in life. 


I am too shy to point my camera at them.  So, I must be content to simply steal long glances at them and try to burn the images into my memory…


So, the Flat Stanleys are gone, but I look forward to their return in a few weeks.  I will read through their journals and then pack them off to the USA where the students in a Chicago area school will be glad to see them arrive home. 


(FYI: I am making paper t-shirts for each Stanley as a souvenir of their trip to Ukraine…Yes, Mark is shaking his head…but he is also laughing!) 


NOTE:  I will post some photos of my Flat (Fat) Baba’s and some of the Flat Cats along with the other Flat Stanley stuff…look on our photo pages in a couple weeks.


·                     Friday, 23 June 2006

There are days that are simply nice.

Nice, of course, is high praise, as anyone from the Midwest of the USA knows. Paraphrasing the old saying, you can take the woman out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the woman.  So, yes, my Midwestern heart and spirit speaks volumes when I say today has been nice.


There is no way to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes some days just so, …well,…nice.  I am inclined to use the word pleasant (I have not been a resident Midwesterner for many years, so I tend to be a bit extravagant with my praise!). 


The day stated out with a vague notion of what was ahead.  We had made some kind of agreement with our landlady to be at home.  We thought our landlady would be visiting on some kind of business.  This is all a bit vague because we were dealing with the Russian language when the arrangements were made.  You really do learn a lot about being flexible and not sweating the small stuff when you have limited language skills – it is also good for teaching what faith really means…but I digress!  Anyway, we had to stay home.


Those rather shapeless days when you must hang around the house, waiting for whatever it is you must wait for, can be quite challenging, especially if you have a type-A side that wakens and roars from time to time. 


Today, however, just seemed to flow along.  Things unfolded in the most pleasing way.  (This is the day the singer referred to in the song “Time in a Bottle” or when another singer (John Denver) sang “…I’d give to you a day just like today…”.


Nothing special happened.  The day was just nice.


We had our usual breakfast and lingered over coffee.  We drifted into a few small household tasks and later found ourselves unexpectedly transplanting tomatoes into the garden and repotting some plants.  We played with the neighborhood cats and spent some minutes discussing our parakeets, did some more small domestics tasks.  Other projects unfolded pleasantly as the day passed.


We forgot that we were waiting.  We simply enjoyed a quiet day at home.


The landlady never did come today, but we really had a nice day.


·                     Wednesday 20 June 2006

OK, I am here to vent. 


That is not the purpose of this forum, but here I am venting anyway. 


I spent a couple hours working on a PowerPoint Show about the Flat Stanley Project I am coordinating.  I am having a pretty good time with this, but some of the stuff I want to do is time consuming. 


In any case, today I spent a couple hours of his fine sunny day basically editing…not doing the fun creative stuff, but the boring parts that involve attention to detail, etc….OK, I am sure you can almost hear the whining in my voice even though I am typing this. 


Yep, you guessed it – the computer locked up.  Grrrrr. 


By the time I opened the restored document, I was, back where I started a few hours ago…not sure what happened to the interim data…my system is supposed to save intermittently and I am a fanatic about hitting the save key often.  Oh well, I am back to where I started. 


Big sigh.


I decided that this is a sign – I should stop looking at the screen and move onto something else. 


Well, obviously here I am, venting…


OK, I am out of here…I guess I will take the Flat Stanley crew out for some fresh air, fun and maybe some photographs!


·                     Monday, 19 June 2006

More Houseguests…

Sweet-Cheeps and the Blue-Bird-of-Happiness, our latest houseguests, chatter companionably on my windowsill as I sit down to put thoughts on paper.  These two parakeets, their wooden cage, and an assortment of bird necessities came home with us from the Bazaar yesterday, all for less than $20.  Ever since their arrival, I can hardly take a break from watching these amusing and colorful creatures.


They need names that are more suitable but until something seems quite right, I refer to the green and yellow talkative girl as Sweet-Cheeps.  She whistles and peeps, cheeps and chatters steadily while the other bird, Blue-Bird–of-Happiness, listens patiently, occasionally stretching out his leg and wing resembling a kick boxer about to attack. 


My spouse professes that he does not much care for birds as pets or otherwise, but already I have overheard him speaking to my little feathered friends.  They are quite appealing – lots of personality in a small, feathered package.


Summer Solstice…

In a Crimean guidebook, I read that this area is exactly half-way between the North Pole and the Equator.  Soon the Summer Solstice will be here, bringing with it the longest day of the year – here in Kerch there will be 18 hours of daylight on the 22nd. 


For those of us from the USA, the Solstice marks the official start of summer.  Here in Ukraine, summer begins officially 1 June and ends the last day of August.  


In September, during the Equinox, the length of our days and nights will be equal and the days will continue to become shorter.  I have always been fond of the quality of light in the autumn, but now that I live by the sea, I find the morning light that wakens us to each new day to be splendid.  I suspect I will be sorry to see them dwindle down as Fall rolls by.


My animated houseguests will be fine companions in the short dark days of Fall and Winter!


·                     Saturday, 17 June 2006

Cat Update…

The mom cat in our yard has moved her kittens (Socks and Oscar) back to the roof top.  She wisely decided to evacuate her family, when another mother cat arrived at the Cat Condo (a wooden crate Catwoman placed in my yard) with a very sick, tiny kitten.  


Catwoman discovered the sick kitten and did her best to nurse it back to health.  She fed him with an eye-dropper and swaddled the tiny creature in a soft rag.  Sadly though, the little cat died.


The bereaved mother cat is quite forlorn.  She has lost both her kittens in a short time.  She responds to the cries of Socks and Oscar as she might to her own kittens.  I see her wailing piteously and staring up at the two healthy kittens as they peer down at her. 


American Television Shows on Crimean TV


The TV that came with our flat is old and barely functional (like Ivan, our refrigerator, it has odd habits.) still I sometimes flip it on.  While the picture leaves much to be desired, the soundtrack works pretty well once you hook it up to external speakers.  (My “geek” husband discovered this a few months ago when another PCV abandoned some decent speakers when he left to resume life in America…can’t take it all with you when you leave!)


So, some days I turn on the tube.


As in America, there are many re-runs on Ukrainian TV.  They are typically vacuous sit-coms.  It is amusing to try to follow along as they fire of funny line in Russian or Ukrainian.  Plot lines are not so different ere as they are in the USA.


Some of the programs are just reworked versions of shows I have watched – blatant copies.  For example, you can watch a version of the Nanny and there is a version of Grace Under Fire and Who’s the Boss.  The characters and settings resemble their North American counterparts so there is a quirky feeling when I view these shows.


I am more surprised at how many American programs are simply dubbed over and aired.  Desperate Housewives is quite popular, Charmed, Sabrina, Friends, and I saw 90210 once!  The Russian or Ukrainian voice-overs obscure the English speakers, but it is not hard to follow the story line and as my Russian improves, it becomes even easier. 


If you are hungry for junk TV, this satisfies!  


·                     Friday, 16 June 2006

Colorful, beribboned wreaths lean against the neighbor’s front door and on the sidewalk a red casket is resting on the ground. 


The 93-year old woman next door is dead and seems to stare up at the blue Crimean sky from the open casket where she reclines.  A small gathering of family and friends sit on kitchen chairs assembled around the casket.  Clean laundry hanging on a line under the trees snaps in the breeze nearby as people gather to pay their respects to the dead woman.


Ten feet from my kitchen window, this is the scene that played out yesterday morning. 


I try not to be obvious as I sneak peeks from my window.


How strange it seems to me.  How absurd.


I sit on the couch and from the other window, I hear the sounds of raunchy rock and roll playing on a car radio in front of the local mom/pop store.  A few patrons are joking and laughing over vodka shots.  They are oblivious to the sad ceremony playing out in the courtyard, just a dozen meters away.


I close the window, hoping to block out the rock and roll.


I glance out the kitchen window at the small group gathered around the casket, sweating in the summer sun.  Men stand under the trees smoking and looking uncomfortable.  A few younger men have spread handkerchiefs on the steps to the flat and sit there quietly, watching, waiting.


In my garden, adjacent to the funeral site, sits a dirty wooden box, where a mother cat nests with her kittens. 


I feel trapped.  I cannot go into my small kitchen without being visible by the mourners.  I finally summon the courage (or prove my cowardice) and move to pull the kitchen blinds as surreptitiously as I can. 


I cannot do it. 


Just moving the few feet to the window is too difficult.  They would see me no matter how discreet I try to be.


How long will they remain gathered around body of their dead friend?  I slink back to the couch and sit, restlessly tapping my foot.   


I wonder what is my obligation to this deceased woman (whom I have never met) and her family and friends (whom I have also never met)? 


I toy with donning a suitable dress and venturing out to share a few words of condolence, but I am a coward.  I try to imagine iterating the difficult, convoluted Russian words and know that under pressure, I would fail miserably.


In my heart, I know it is not the words that matter; it is simply the presence, the caring.


I rationalize.  If I joined them in the courtyard, I may be seen as even more of a voyeur and certainly as an interloper.  It is better to leave them alone with their grief. 


So many things are complicated by language and culture; even such a profound thing as dealing with death and dying.


I hear Spot, the courtyard dog, barking.  No one moves to silence him.   I can still hear the backbeat of rock and roll.  I hear no other sounds. 


It all seems incongruous.


A crow caws from high in the cottonwood tree.


I think about how we deal, or do not deal with death in the USA.  The procedures are so sanitized, devoid of life, apart from life.  It has always somehow seemed wrong.  We seem to distance ourselves from death rather than acknowledging it and then moving on.  In our fear and denial, we lose the opportunity to feel, to be tender, to weave the experience into the day to day events that comprise life. 


What I see here today, in the courtyard of my cozy Crimean flat, is that death is part of life.  Mourning people we love and lose, is a fact of life.


A large van and a bus arrive.  The casket is carried to the van and all the bouquets and wreaths are placed alongside it. 


Even as the mourners board the bus, a neighbor woman emerges in a housedress and slippers takes her laundry from the line.  Spot barks at her. 


One woman has died, but life goes on.


·                     Thursday, 15 June 2006

Life and Death and the View from our Window

Just moments ago, the floral wreaths arrived.  I can see them from the window where our cell phone lives (the only place in our flat with good reception).  The floral deliveries confirm my suspicion; the elderly woman next door has died.


One of the tiny kittens we have enjoyed watching through that same window also died this morning


Our morning started out with life though.  The phone on the windowsill rang around 7 AM and we answered to hear the happy news that a new niece has joined our family circle.  Far, far away, dark-haired Tabitha Elizabeth is delighting her new parents with that sweet baby smell and the gentle cooing sounds of a newborn bonding with parents.  What a joy.


I stand in the window listening to the details about the birth while just a few feet away on the other side of the glass I see people making preparations for a wake. I also see a forlorn mother cat standing watch near a dead kitten. 


After I hang up the phone, I pour some coffee and think about death and dying and birth.  I look out our other window which opens on the opposite side of the building.  There I see our canine friends; whit-Dog and Black-Dog are making their rounds, foraging for food and affection.  White-Dog has recently had a litter and is happy to be out and about.  The regular passers-by share snacks with he two dogs and there is head scratching and there are smiles.  I am eager to see the puppies.


Life and death…so little space separates them.


No Water Today...


·                     Tuesday, 13 June 2006 – Moriah & Chip’s Anniversary!

We woke to a power outage today.

By 9 the power was back on.  Outside it is bright and beautiful, but in our flat we are cool and the kitchen and main room are a bit dim.  As summer heats up, we will appreciate this more.  The morning sun, rising over the Black Sea, bathes the sleeping area with light so it is hard to stay abed past 0530 anymore. 


I am storing up this solar energy for the winter days that will return in just a few months.



Sigh, I think Mom cat and her kits (Oscar and Socks) and their various aunts, uncles and cousins may be the bearers of fleas.  I noticed last night that I feel a bit itchy and scratchy.  I cannot see any tiny bugs dancing on my skin, but I am pretty sure a few fleas have managed to make it into the flat.


With the arrival of the kittens in my very own garden, I am prompted to become more involved in their upbringing than I might otherwise be.  Since they are just outside my window, I can easily intervene when intruder dogs and thug cats arrive and create anxiety for the feline family.  I can also slip handfuls of auxiliary cat chow into the feeding dish Cat-Woman has kindly placed next to the wooden crate she contributed to house the family.  (During the afternoon rainstorm, a large plastic bag was added to the box to ward off some of the rain from their nursery.)


Autonomy…My Plans for the Day…

After a happily-lazy, extended-weekend with no organized agenda, Mark is hard at work at the Library (the conference people arrive tomorrow!) and I am at home trying to find a direction for my energy. 


I love the autonomy I have in my life these days.


I spent many years in environments that required considerable drive and ambition as well as some creativity so I am schooled to move forward on things with little or no supervision or interaction.  I am grateful for the opportunity to hone those skills.  I am able to generate stimulating and engaging activities that generally have enough purpose to make me feel as if I am contributing to larger matters.  I also have a rich inner life to amuse myself with!  I am pretty well suited to the situation I find myself in. 


It is nice to be in a happy place in life.   


Of course there are days when it seems harder to move forward on any of the projects I rather randomly commit to.  The constraints of language and budget temper some of my inclinations and keep me a bit closer to home,   (I say that, but really in my SC sabbatical year following our son’s death, I did not find myself driven outside my own turf much, except for the daily dog-walking with Miss Zoe – I wish Miss Zoe were here actually.  A canine companion would be an excellent bridge to the community and a fine companion and fitness partner too!)


It is a skill to simply relax and enjoy the moment – I can hear an old Shaker song playing in my head…something about it is a gift to lead a simple life… 


I sometimes think people fill their lives with activity that makes them feel needed, important, and useful, but these very activities keep them from actually experiencing life…Sometimes ambiguity scares them too.


On that note, I will brave the fleas and head outdoors to enjoy the glorious sunshine on my skin as I relax and observe the feline family that blesses my life these summer days.


·                     Monday, 12 June 2006

Some Flat Stanley Logistics…

Today is a holiday here in Ukraine so the library is closed.  Mark and I are taking advantage of the time off from work to organize things for our 21 house guests (Flat Stanley X 21).


First and foremost is arranging for host families for the Stanleys.  An e-mail will go out (when we can get online to send) soliciting volunteers to house and sponsor the little guys.


We are using technology to help us with some of the fun parts of having so many Flat Stanleys visit.  We will be sending individual Flat Stanley’s to various friends (mostly PCVs) here in Ukraine, but before we mail them off for the next leg of their adventure, we are taking individual photographs of each Stanley plus an individual photograph of each journal.  (Yes, we splurged a bit and bought a journal for each Stanley (about 10-20 cents each for 18 page notebooks) to chronicle some of their stories in.) Mark is busy at his computer eliminating the background on each photo.  Once that is accomplished, we can insert all 21 Flat Stanleys into existing photos of various sites around our fair city. 


Ahhh, the magic of computers and digital editing! 


I have been “helping” each Stanley to write a little in their individual journals each day.  This is a large chore, since, like all kids, this crowd of Flat Stanley’s is eager to swim in the sea and play in the park and enjoy vacation rather than to write in a journal each day!  I hope that when the Flat Stanleys are separated and at home with their individual hosts they will write more about their impressions of life here in Ukraine.  (Hosts, if you are reading this, I hope you will take the initiative!)


When the Flat Stanley’s return to Kerch later this summer, I hope their journals will be full of photos, drawings, stories and memorabilia that they can share with their friends back in Chicago. 


I may prepare a PowerPoint Show for my cousin to share in her classroom and we will post it on our website…down the road a bit!       


This project has caught my imagination and I plan to enjoy myself as much as possible.  I hope others also find it fun an rewarding too.


Courtyard Animal Update

White-Dog and her constant companion, Black-Dog, are out and about today.  She seems to have a bounce in her step and it is clear she has had her pups.  The puppies are probably nested somewhere safe, maybe even in someone’s flat.  In a few weeks they will no doubt make their appearance. 


White Dog looks fit and trim.  She is trotting about happily, tail high and ears perked.  She is a proud mother.  Black Dog sticks close to her and is ever the attentive male.  I enjoy watching them as they press customers of the local store for snacks and affection.


In other animal news, the mother cat and her two kittens are still in my yard.  A cat-condo of sorts has appeared.  Cat-Woman placed a large wooden box lined with a blanket under the narrow bench by our fence.  Mom and kits are at home and getting accustomed to our comings and goings. 


Mom eyes us a bit nervously, but she associates me with intermittent handfuls of delicious kitten chow, which I dole out on occasion.  Cat_Woman, as usual, provides the constant nutritionally sound, daily rations of fish and rice for all the courtyard cats and she brings milk and medication to the Mom and babies.   


·                     Sunday, 11 June 2006 – Full Moon Tonight!

The bazaar is crowded with happy shoppers today.  After several days of rainy weather the sun is bold and bright and the venders were out in full force.  It feels good to be out in the warm sunshine.  The shoppers, as they often do, look like they are on a fashion runway rather than just making routine purchases.  Sunday at the bazaar is a social occasion so people dress up a bit. 


Second Hand Clothes…

I arrived here in Kerch at the tail end of summer so my wardrobe needs some additions to keep me comfortable.  On our Peace Corps budget (about $10 a day, which is pretty consistent with what our peers in this community  earn) I find it wise to check out the second hand venders, rater than splurge on full price garments.  The average income here is about $190-200 a month so money management is a good skill to cultivate. 


I poke through a pile of rather damp clothes and immediately find a rayon, black print skirt with a Laura Ashley label (verrrrrrry expensive when new).  The skirt appears to never have been worn and there are no signs of damage, though it is really wrinkled and in need of a bath.  It is marked at a bargain proce of 4 Hryvnia (about 80 cents)!  New it would probably be about $50-$80 back in the USA! 


I pull out two white shirts – one is a tank shirt that fits like a glove and will span occasions from casual to work and the other shirt will make a great camisole or a shirt for wearing on overnight train rides during the hot, humid, summer months.  I am sure these items will look great once they are washed and pressed. 


I am very happy with my wardrobe purchases which totaled about $2. 


I keep my eyes open and have found many second hand shops and venders in my travels around Ukraine.  My wardrobe looks quite nice and I have very little cash tied up in it. 


Grocery Shopping…

We wandered through the vendors selecting cheese and pickled salads, fresh bread and veggies.  I picked up some fabric to make bright dish towels and napkins for our cozy kitchen.  I visit the people selling baby chicks, ducks, geese and rabbits.  We consider buying plants and decide not to. 


We make some purchases from the paper venders.  We stroll along under the willow trees along the canal and look at the wares the old people have spread out on blankets to sell.  Many of them ae playing chess or backgammon.  We stop for coffee at an outdoor café ad watch frogs playing leap-frog in the canal.


Soon the morning is gone and we head wearily back to our flat across town, the mid-day sun beating down on our backs as we move slowly along.


Cats in the Yard…

A delightful surprise awaits me as we walk up to the front door – just inside our fenced garden, the mother cat and her two baby kittens are nestled together.  Three pair of eyes stare up at us as we stand gaping back at them.  The kittens are adorable and Mama seems comfortable with us.  I am delighted to have a kitten family right outside my kitchen window.  


How did they get here?  This is the little cat family that was previously living on the roof-top next door.  I will never know for sure how they made their move, but I am happy to have them as tenants.


Guess I may have to invest is a few boxes of cat chow! 


·                     Saturday, 10 June 2006

We have 21 unexpected house guests! 

The other day we received a large unexpected manila envelope from my cousin in Chicago.  I unceremoniously ripped it open and out came 21 Flat Stanleys eager to stretch their legs after their long trip inside the cramped envelope! 


Sometime back in the cold grey winter months I mentioned the Flat Stanley Project on our family e-mail newsgroup, but nothing came of it.  That is until now.  I guess the seeds planted are coming to fruition and what fun it will be!


Mark and I will be playing host to these various Flat Stanleys for a few days.  We will show them around our community and take some photos, help them get some notes down in their journals, etc.


In a few days we will send each of them off to another Peace Corps Volunteer somewhere in Ukraine where they will have a chance to learn more about life here in this lovely country.  Eventually the 21 will reassemble back here at our place.  We will bundle hem all up and send them happily back to Chicago in time for the start of the school year.  They will have lots of adventures to share with their ten year old friends who sent them off on this trip in the first place.


(Visit the official Flat Stanley Project site if you want to know more -  there are some great photos and stories there.  www.flatstanley.com )


More later…I have 21 guests to attend to!  Thank goodness they are made of paper!


E-Mail Excerpt:

Anyone who lives in Ukraine for a while knows how important flowers are...not just the type, number but the color too!  Check out the story below!  8-)

On a Sunny Day in Crimea


Associated Press (AP), Berlin, Germany, Sat, June 10, 2006

BERLIN - Andriy Shevchenko and his teammates were greeted with yellow
roses - a bad omen - when they arrived at the World Cup on Friday.

In Ukraine, where flowers and their color send very specific messages,
yellow roses mean goodbye and are considered an ill omen. "Oh no!" a
Ukrainian journalist said upon seeing the yellow roses at the airport. "They
only just arrived and the flowers are saying goodbye."

Ukraine, which is making its first appearance at the World Cup, touched down
at Tegel airport on the day host Germany opened the tournament by playing
Costa Rica.

"Ukraine are the last team to arrive at the World Cup. I hope they will be
the last team to leave," said Igor Dolgov, Ukraine's ambassador to Germany.
"Everything is possible. At World Cup, all participants are strong and
chances of all are rather high.

"We have very high motivation and the composition of Ukraine's group is
rather favorable for us so I believe for sure we will play in the next

Disembarking from the plane, Shevchenko and coach Oleg Blokhin were
immediately handed plump bouquets of yellow roses interspersed with small
blue flowers, representing the colors of the nation's flag.

Offering flowers in Ukraine can be a culture trap, as their number, color
and type all bear a special meaning and little margin of error is allowed.

White flowers represent innocence and red symbolizes victory and patriotism.
An even number of flowers is for funerals only - though this does not apply
in a mixed bouquet - and more than nine flowers signifies a serious romantic
feelings. Roses, lilies and carnations are traditionally used to express
sympathy or condolence.

But Dolgov dismissed the apparent blunder. "It's a very nice symbolic
gesture because it's the colors of Ukrainian national flag and so it's
absolutely in full compliance with old protocol traditions," he said with a
smile, adding that a private ceremony at the team's hotel in Potsdam would
stick more closely to tradition, with bread and salt offered to players and
team officials.

"Bread and salt is symbolic of hospitality, welcome, that you are a desired
guest and everybody was waiting for you and will be helpful and friendly,"
Dolgov said. "It's a very, very old tradition."…



·                     Friday, 9 June 2006

Let there be music…

On the walk back from my afternoon at the library, I heard the sounds of a brass band.  We quickened our pace and when we turned the corner in front of the Pushkin Theater, I broke out into a smile.  There, seated on folding chairs was a rather motley looking group of musicians happily blasting out a traditional march tune. 


The Friday afternoon crowds were thin since rainy weather and winds were rushing people to hurry on home.  Mark and I chose to stop and listen.  A few stalwart music fans sat on park benches sheltered by conifers.  A few sipped bottles of beer as they sat listening, toes tapping. 


I could not help but think of my delightful oldest sister back in the USA – she’s a trombone player in the circus band.  Could anyone have a better role model than that? 


My folks met and courted at the weekly band concerts back in small town Iowa…


As rain threatened and some cold drops splashed on the faces of the musicians, they continued to follow the direction of their leader.  After the march came a bit of swing music.  I wish I could actually dance and dazzle the locals with some fancy footwork.  Instead, I just smiled even more and clapped appreciatively when the number ended.  Not many folks joined in the clapping.  I guess applause may be a cultural thing.


What a delight…unexpected music on a cold and rainy day.  It does not get any better than this!


·                     Thursday, 8 June 2006

The day started out grey and became greyer. 


Rain pummels the streets and rooftops; thunder rumbles sonorously; the light above my head flickers intermittently.  Sheets of rain obscure the view from my two opposing windows. 


My cowboy husband headed off to the library only moments ago, before the promise of rain became a threat and finally a reality.  I wonder if he arrived at his destination before this impressive storm drenched him.


The rolling thunder that has been purring like a big cat is now punctuated with cracks that sound like gunfire.  My body responds to it – my breathing becomes shallow and I jump even though I know it is only thunder and lightening. 


The echoes are loud.  The clashing and crescendo are intermittent, unpredictable.  Each crash is unexpected.  My body responds as if it is a physical assault.


As I write, the thunder and lightening becomes more violent.  I have never heard such sounds.   I cover my ears.


I expect to see flashes accompanying this crashing lightening, but they are not evident. 


I pause to look out the window. 


The street out front is a river flowing down to the sea, a block away.   Stretched out in the middle of the flooded cross street, I see one of the neighborhood cats.  The animal is dead, or dying. 


I wonder about the young kittens nested on the neighbor’s flat rooftop.  Perhaps their mother toted them off to safety before the storm struck.


I wonder if the dead cat in the street is the mother. 


Usually, I find storms invigorating or exciting.  In South Carolina where summer storms are also violent, I often stood in the shelter of our porch breathing in the sweetness of the rain and getting my feet wet as the wind blew drops across the tiles. 


Miss Zoë, our dog back in South Carolina, was not fond of thunderstorms.  She would stay close to me and would throw back her head, wailing mournfully as only a Siberian Husky can. 


In this, my first Kerchian thunder storm, I feel like howling myself!   


·                     Wednesday, 7 June 2006

Summertime and the Living is Easy…

Early in the day, fishermen stroll home with their gear and people in bathing suits walk to and from the sea.  I can see the water glistening at the end of our street.  The trees are lush and green. 


Just weeks ago it was still cold and I could see the top of Mitridate Mount through the window by Mark’s desk.  Now sunlight dapples through the green and dances on the pavement.  The street is shady.  Foliage obscures the view.  My field of vision narrows to things closer at hand.


By 8 AM, umbrellas are up at the outside tables on the terrace that is adjacent to our window.  The three tables are filled with people lounging, sipping beer or drinking vodka shots.  People in casual clothes stroll out of the store with ice cream bars and sodas. 


My laundry has been on the line since before 7 AM.  Six white t-shirts span the clothesline, warming in the sun, soaking up the smell of summer.


The morning hours here are like a beautiful dream.  If I were a painter, I would try to capture the look, the feel, the ethereal quality of these fine summer days.  I store up their feel to all back on the memory when the cold winter winds are blowing.



White Dog, as Mark pointed out to me, is going to have another litter.  A few weeks ago, she was still lean and limber.  Now her belly bulges and she rests stretched out on her side, tongue hanging out.  She looks uncomfortable. 


I wonder where her last litter has gone.  They disappeared weeks ago.  Other neighborhood dogs are missing too.  My thoughts return to the brutal scenes we witnessed during our initial training days last year when we witnessed a purge.  Local authorities here may have eliminated some of the animal population.


English Club Tonight…

Topic: Marriage – what makes a good marriage; what makes a bad marriage; should people divorce; etc…


This should make excellent conversation.  I read an article about the declining population here in Ukraine – sine April the government has begun offering parents a $1,500 bonus for having a baby!  This is a significant amount since monthly salaries in Ukraine average about $190 these days. 


Catching up on my Christian Science Monitor reading I found an article about child marriage in India – I will share it with club members.  A boo review in the same paper provided interesting insight into women who gave up children for adoption in the days prior to Roe v. Wade.  This area is peripheral to the marriage topic, but may be of interest too.    


I pass on my Christian Science Monitors to my English Club members so they can practice their reading skills.  The Monitor is an excellent paper – I am so grateful to receive it.  I read a few articles each day; rationing out my pleasures over breakfast coffee.


Life is so good…


·                     Tuesday, 6 June 2006

The Sun is Far Above the Horizon and it is Not Yet 6 AM.

I wake to sunlight pouring through the windows.  The world outside is so bright and yet so quiet – no traffic or human sounds.  I hear the faint sounds of water flowing. 


For a moment, I am lulled into complacency and consider going back to sleep, then suddenly I leap up, push aside the mosquito netting and look out the window: the intersection a few yards from our window is a huge pool of water with a geyser in the middle! 


I tug at my slippers as I race to the kitchen to turn on the tap – water trickles out as I grab a pitcher and try to catch enough for our morning coffee. 


The city water main has burst again so there will be no more water today and maybe for several days. 


No water – toilets can’t flush, dishes and laundry pile up, sweaty bodies begin to smell and scalps itch….Welcome home!


Water supply is one of the largest infrastructure problems in Crimea.  It seems odd when we are sitting right on two seas.  This is a real long-term issue here in Kerch, but right now, I am mostly concerned with my immediate needs.


I say a quick prayer of gratitude that this did not happen while my in-laws were visiting and I say a few thanks for the fact that I had hot water to shower in last night.  I am also grateful for the two loads of laundry I washed, rinsed and wrung out before bed last night.  (Two more loads, however, are soaking in soapy water and will have to wait to be rinsed.  The soap and local water are strong so the color leaches out of clothes quickly.  I am not happy to have things soak long.)  


Baby Kittens on the Roof!

I make coffee and stand at the window for a few moments, gazing out at my cat friends who have begun to congregate for their usual breakfast under the water pump outside.  Cat Woman is due soon.  The grey and brown cat-lumps keep their eyes locked on the door.  I keep my eyes on the cats.  One of my favorite moments is when the cats simultaneously leap to their feet, and tails up, glide across the sidewalk as graceful as ballerinas on a theater stage.  The squeaky hinge and the rattling pan signify breakfast rice and fish and these sounds cue this daily performance.   


I catch some unexpected movement with the corner of my eye.  On the flat rooftop to the left of our flat, a mother cat is bathing her new kittens who are happily nursing in the morning sun.  I can just make out the kittens pudgy little shapes. 


I ignore the water situation and happily peer at the new kittens.  My morning coffee grows tepid in the cup I hold in my hands.  I am spellbound by the magic of these tiny creatures. 


What a delightful way to be welcomed home! 


·                     Monday, 5 June 2006 (Daughter Moriah’s B’Day!)

Home, Sweet Flat

We staggered in around mid-afternoon, eager to put down our over-stuffed bags and relax.  This vacation involved too much work! 


As we walked up to the courtyard door, the rosebush in our garden greeted us with sweet perfume.  A flurry of white roses welcomed us home.  I lingered a moment. 


The neighborhood cats scampered up and hopped onto the garden bench, looking at me expectantly.  I pulled out a small bag of cat chow I always carry in my handbag and shared a handful with them.  It is good to be welcomed home.


Inside we dropped our bags and paused a moment to soak up the feeling of home.  I could feel the tension leave my body.  The sunny yellow tablecloth in our bright kitchen, the cheerful teacups waiting for us, the windowsill filled with lush green plants, the sun pouring in the window…home, sweet, home.


After a quick trip to the local magazine (the Russian word for store) where we purchased some basic food supplies, we had a leisurely lunch.  Then the unpacking began. 

The small flat was tidy when we arrived home, but it quickly became cluttered as we emptied out our luggage, sorted dirty laundry and paused to look at the new stuff we brought home from our adventures.


I spread the new bold striped hammock out on the couch to admire it.  This was a splurge; an impulse purchase made with a small gift of cash our house-sitter unexpectedly and generously shared with us. 


It will be a fine souvenir of this vacation that did not allow us time to relax.  Perhaps we can finally relax here in our courtyard – what can be more restful than catching a cool breeze while relaxing in a hammock with a good book?  (Thanks you Jim!)


Mark pulled out another new acquisition – a lovely mosquito net the Peace Corps medical staff sent home with him.  It wasn’t long before he had hammer and nails in hand and had the new netting mounted over the window to effectively block flying visitors from entering our sleeping area. 


It is good to be home.  Puttering or putzing around the house is such a pleasure.


The past three weeks have been demanding.  We spent so many hours on the train (approximately 90 hours of rail-time and the last trip was on a very dirty, crowded hot train!).  We also walked and walked and walked on this marathon sightseeing trip.  Our more usual way of vacationing is far more relaxed, but with visitors here from the USA and so many wonderful things to share, we got caught up in the inertia of playing tourist! 


In September, we plan to spend a more leisurely vacation and will set a slower pace when we travel to a yet-to-be-determined location in western Ukraine to celebrate my birthday and our wedding anniversary.  We will just hole up in a cozy rental flat and explore the city a bit, sleeping in and soaking up the ambience in an outdoor cafe.  A lazy autumn picnic will be on my agenda and maybe that hammock and a few good novels will travel with us.


For now, I do not want to think of leaving.  I am glad to be home.  I am happy here.  After the cold days of winter, what could be more delightful than the crazy, hazy, lazy days of summer?  Summer by the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea…


E-Mail Excerpt…

We are back home again in our cozy flat in Kerch after three weeks on
the road. It is good to be home.

We racked up lots of train time and saw lots of beautiful stuff, did
some visiting and touring with my in-laws and Mark also did some PC
projects...not too relaxing really (is sight-seeing ever relaxing?),
but a nice break. I am showered and ready to collapse for ten or so
hours of sleep. The train trip home was OK, but I would not
recommend train travel this time of year - hot, hot, hot and lots of
kids as everyone heads to the sea for vacation...The train
compartments are sweat boxes, especially on the top "shelf" (bunk)
and kids and train toilets add up to a big mess!

Kiev, where we spent much of our vacation time, is a bustling,
progressive city of 3 million and filled with luxuries...it is like
being in NYC. We enjoyed seeing how the rich live! Here in Kerch,
where the average wage is about $190 (or 980 HRV) which is about what
a PCV in Ukraine makes, our money goes lots farther. Life in the big
city, like life in any big city, is pretty pricey, when your wages
are based on the small town! (You could blow a months wages on a
pair of shoes or even dinner pretty easily in Kiev!)

On the music scene - Black Eyed Peas performed in Kiev this past
weekend! The Stones will be "rolling" in soon and rumors of Pink
Floyd (a reunion) too!

This is a country of contrast....there is dire poverty and Ukraines'
AIDS/HIV rate is the fastest growing in the world, the population has
dropped by 6 million in recent years (about twice the size of the capital
city), birth rates and death rates are equal - the government is
giving new parents a "thank you gift" of $1,500 for having children,
unemployment is soaring...but things are moving forward as the
economy develops....

Mark just finished hanging up the mosquito net the PC medical folks
sent home with him - we draped it over the windows so we can open
them at night to catch the breeze and catch the flying bugs before
they enter the flat...our bed is surrounded with mosquito netting too
- looks romantic and is practical too! It also helps psychologically
divide the space in our tiny flat.

Lots of stuff to share really - I will update my journal in the next
few days (and photo pages too)...tonight I plan to just crash and burn...

It is good to be home again...

FYI: Today (the 5th) is our daughter's birthday - great memories of
her arrival many years ago...10 pounds of happy baby girl sent me to
the hospital during my Dad's birthday celebration (I was making
watermelon and cantaloupe balls for a salad when labor hit. Moriah
and I were born in the same hospital! I wish we could be together to
celebrate, but surely Chip, Cam and Randa and Moriah's Phoenix
friends will make the occasion memorable!

More stuff later...Life is so good.

Ginn (& Mark)
In Sunny Kerch on a Monday Evening by the Sea


·                     Sunday, 4 June 2006

Packing It In – All Aboard the Summer Night Train to Kerch! 

I would not recommend the train to Crimea in the summer months unless you are a certified masochist! 


Why you ask?  Well imagine about 36 vacationing people including lots of children with plenty of luggage crammed into a tiny train car with only two toilets – add hot weather and train windows that do not open.  Consider that your compartment-mates are likely to be sweaty strangers and there are often several people who are swilling vodka and/or excessive amounts of beer as they celebrate the start of their holiday.  (It could be worse I guess – in platzcar there are 52 seats and two toilets!)


The toilets get disgusting very quickly.  


Our train car this past trip was filthy inside and out when we started.  We logged about 90 hours on trains the past few weeks and so I speak from experience when I say this.  I am not a novice at train travel here, nor am I particularly whiny or demanding.  (I am retired military so I have experience roughing it!)  My observations here are simply that: observations – facts, not whining.


The toilets on this train make pit toilets and outhouses look good and that was at the start of the trip!  I cannot imagine how the pregnant woman in the next compartment managed on this trip…


I spent most of the 20-plus hours sweating in the jump seat in the hallway trying to catch a breeze and watching the dozen kids in our car race up and down the narrow aisle, while I read a novel.  I finally crawled into my upper bunk (always a challenge for me since my surgery last spring) and read until sleep overtook me. 


This trip the mattresses provided were only a scant inch thick.  I was grateful for the fresh linens that were available.  


I dreamed I drowned in my own sweat.



·                     Saturday, 3 June 2006

Checking Out & Going Cross Town

We checked out of the humble flat we called home for the past week.  It was a good location and quite comfortable for our needs.  For $70 a night, we had a kitchen, cable TV, a bedroom and a living room and wonderful hot water with great water pressure.  The flat is just minutes from the beautiful main street of Kiev – like being just off Time Square or Central Park in NYC!  It made a great place to hole up with our family during our visit here, but we have to leave.


Mark is still working on a video project with Peace Corps equipment so we move to the contract quarters at the Hotel Bratislava for this final night in Kiev.  They made reservations for us, so even though my share is not paid for, we could get the reduced rate for me.  Even with reduced rates, it is still pretty pricy for us.  The flat was a great solution, but was not vacant so we had to move.


We elect to splurge on a cab since we have so much luggage now (books from the Peace Corps office and extra equipment and medical supplies plus the clothes we scavengered from departing PCVs!). 


The cab driver is expert at dodging traffic.  An older woman makes the sign of the cross repeatedly as she crosses the street in front of our cab and we laugh at her precautions.  So does the driver. 


The Bratislava Lobby is Remodeled

The Bratislava has been under renovation for a long time.  It is nice to see the improvements each time we visit.  Of course, the contracted quarters used by the Peace Corps are among the last to be renovated, it is still pleasing to see the progress. 


The new lobby was open and it is quite elegant and bright.  There is now a bar in the lobby and there are modern couches for people to linger in when they wait for their friends or cab. 


Upstairs, our room is still seedy and old, but clean. There are nasty greasy spots on the wall.  The balcony is crumbling and I am afraid to set foot on it.  The view from the tenth floor is lovely, but the flats next door are old and dirty.  The bathroom has excellent hot water, but it is old and cramped and pipes are exposed. 


It was a pleasant surprise to have a double bed with a firm mattress.  Our past Bratislava experiences have involved sleeping on tortuous Soviet-era single beds that are very narrow and with tin mattresses and rails that leave you thinking that the floor would be more comfortable.


Mark set up his equipment to continue copying the video onto his computer.  He will begin editing when we are back in Kerch.  So while the video copies, we wandered around the nearby bazaar and shopping areas. 


Splashed with Holy Water!

The weather is hot and bright so we spend time finding shade and avoiding long exposure to the sun.  Kiev is humid and the heat makes it uncomfortable.  Mark hopes to find a summer hat to protect his shaved head.


We make a few purchases.  Mark buys me a beautiful large animal print scarf (28 HVA or about $6) which I am delighted to have.  We wander through the children’s bazaar looking for a gift for the twin girls my niece will have in a few weeks. 


We find adorable girlie dresses for the twins and as we are making the purchase an orthodox priest in full regalia stops to splash the booth and us with holy water. 


We continue to wander about just people watching and enjoying a slow pace.  We stop for coffee and brandy and linger a bit.  Life is good.       


·                     Friday, 2 June 2006

Mark Meets with Video Team at PC Office…

Today Mark is hard at work on a video project that involves teacher trainers and the PR folks at Peace Corps Ukraine.  Video editing is Mark’s happy hobby.  He loves the challenges of it so he is glad to tackle the project pro bono.


I am happy to spend some time in the Peace Corps lounge wading through 400 e-mails and doing a little Internet surfing.  I look at sites about Santa Fe, NM…I feel an affinity for that area and conjure up some pleasant daydreams about carving out a life there when we return to the USA next year.    


It is a pleasant day for us both.  We visit with other PCVs and hear about their projects and plans and listen to their tales of life in Ukraine.  We collect a few books and a few items left behind by another PCV (I am really grateful for the raincoat and umbrella and a great pink sweater!)


·                     Thursday, 1 June 2006

Mid-Service Medical for Mark

Our guests departed yesterday and today was dedicated to Mark’s mid-service medical examination.  It was a full day!  He managed to go out to get his eyes examined and complete a chest ex-ray plus the Peace Corps medical staff completed the routine exam in the office.  They squeezed in a dental appointment at an elegant dental office near the US Embassy (about $60) at 5 PM so we walked to it and then headed back to our rented flat for a quiet evening.


I spent the day reading e-mail and visiting with other PCVs in the lounge.  I found several stories in English about the controversial military site near Feodosia and Stay Krim, towns not far from our site in Kerch. Operation Sea Breeze is also in the news and adds to the controversy.