· Thursday, 30 November 2006
· Wednesday, 29 November 2006
Cause me to hear thy loving-kindness in the morning;
for in thee do I trust:
cause me to know the way wherein I should walk;
for I lift up my soul unto thee.
- Psalms 143:8
The term persona non-grata may not really apply, but my lack of “official status” occasionally infects my usually confident attitude. I often feel like a well-meaning yet troublesome worrisome sheepdog, nipping at the heels of someone else’s flock. I have energy and skills, but no proper outlet for them.
Some days I feel like I am treading water in a great endless sea.
There is a sense of simply biding my time as our evenings pass – lately I knit and watch DVDs, staying up till after 1AM. The films are like bad TV – mindless, numbing. Films I watch chiefly because they are ones I have not seen. They are, in fact, films I would probably not view in the USA where I could snap on the TV and choose among other offerings. (For example: “Bad Santa”- that is a dreary, disturbing film which should never have been released, yet, I watched it…I kept thinking it would get better…Wrong!)
Doldrums – stagnate, inactive
Of course as I tap out these words and give shape to this feeling, I realize that it is not wise to do this. I know that reality is shaped by what we accept as true.
The phrase,”Stand porter at the door of thought…” echoes in my mind…admit only those ideas that are honest, good and true. Challenge thoughts that try to dominate or coerce me into submitting.
On page 258 of Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy writes, “God expresses in man the infinite idea forever developing itself, broadening and rising higher and higher from a boundless basis.”
A promise in the Bible reads: “… whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”(Philippians 4: 8-9)
Write the truth and not the lie
The Truth is I am intelligent, dynamic, capable and kind. I am warm, proactive, motivated, creative and productive. I am an expression of good. I am loving, strong, honest, and pure. I reflect all the multifarious qualities of Life, the integrity of Truth, the warmth of Love, the essence of Soul, the courage of Spirit, the devotion to Principle, and the soundness of Divine Mind.
I read the Psalm (above) again. I lift up my soul in thanksgiving and praise.
· Tuesday, 28 November 2006
A thankful person is thankful under all circumstances.
A complaining soul complains even in paradise.
A Cross-cultural lesson on toilets in Ukraine! 8-)
I got side tracked looking at photos today and decided to shed some light
on one of the more basic logistics of
life here in Ukraine: the humble commode!
#1. A typical toilet. These “squatters” are often elevated on a platform – like a throne.. Sometimes there are stalls to provide privacy, but frequently there is no door on the stall. You squat (facing away from the wall) and aim carefully to avoid splatter. Women roll up their trousers so they do not touch the floor. Often the flush function does not work. Toilet paper (if provided) is put into a trash can. Positive aspect of this commode - no body parts come in direct contact with any surfaces. The one in this photo is very clean!
#2. The outhouse. Inside, you squat over a hole. No "bench." Bring your own TP. Many offices and stores have outhouses - mostly because the city infrastructure is so old and unreliable. The library and the 12-15 families living above it share an outhouse in their courtyard. Really cold in the winter! Olga, the girl holding her nose in the picture, is pointing at the mens' room (M). It stinks. The other symbol is a Cyrillic letter pronounced sorta-like the "ju" as in justice. It indicates the womens' room.
#3. Our commode. The commode in our flat is fairly new. It was a key feature when choosing a flat to rent. Like most home toilets in Ukraine, it is isolated in a very small room located near the front door. The sink is located in a separate small space, usually along with the shower or tub. Why? I have no real insight, but even in new flats and luxury places (I read decorator/design magazines!) this remains standard.
Note, we have a toilet seat and lid. Here in Ukraine, there is a strong aversion to bodily contact, so people generally do NOT sit on the seat. The seat is dispensed with entirely. Obviously the logistics of squatting over such a commode rather than sitting on it make it more uncomfortable for people who prefer the squatting process.
People do not like changes to fundamental processes so often more traditional guests try to squat ON the rim of this kind of commode... It sounds rather unthinkable to those of us used to western plumbing, but if you are accustomed to the "porcelain feet" (see #1) you would be appalled and put off by the one in our flat.
Infrastructure issues make flushing a challenge at times so many people maintain a wastebasket adjacent to the commode for TP. We keep jugs of water available so we can flush when the water is off (as it often is).
This concludes today’s cross-cultural lesson! 8-)
· Monday, 27 November 2006
Do all you can with what you have,
in the time you have, in the place you are.
- Nkosi Johnson
12-year-old Zulu boy, living with AIDS
Reflecting our Freedom to Choose…
Our reading habits here are a function of what turns up.
In the USA, we would have choices, (or the illusion of choices anyway…the leading book stores and media influence us and narrow down our immediate choices.) I look forward to the simple joy of perusing a bookshelf and selecting a tome that speaks to me. I read the literary pages of Newsweek and the Christian Science Monitor (our connection with the world outside Ukraine) and make mental notes of authors and titles I would like to read. I am like a dieter perusing cookbooks; only dreaming about savory dishes, but never indulging.
Occasionally books come our way from friends or family and on trips to Kiev we raid the trading library at the Peace Corps offices. We splurge on books at the few, small English book suppliers and frequent secondhand dives seeking out reading matter in our native language.
We can keep our habit alive.
Some of the books introduced to us in this random way, open new worlds for us. There is some magic in the process, but today I miss the freedom of choice.
Here, we read books that would never find a place on our bedside table in a less austere reading environment show up in our hands. (Did I say bedside table – purely a figure of speech during this 27-month commitment. In the absence of an actual bed and bedside table, our to-be-read books simply get stacked on the floor.)
On occasion it is a choice between A book or NO book. The term “strange bedfellows” comes to mind as I review my list of titles read in the past year or so!
I remember living in isolated places in the USA and of course during our decade in Spain, when we reveled in trips to large American cities with super-mega-book-stores. But, I remind myself that in those periods we actually had local libraries (on and off base) and belonged to book-of-the-month clubs that mailed us fresh material on a regular basis. Here, the local library mocks us with its collection of Russian classics. I can decipher the titles and authors and laboriously sound-out phrases in Russian, but I can assure you, I will not be reading Tolstoy’s works in the original language in this life time.
Having choices is such a part of our culture; a part I am more and more often grateful for.
(A. Lincoln said – people are about as happy as they choose to be…so, I must point out, I choose to be happy, with occasional brief lapses of grousing!)
· Thursday, 23 November 2006 – THANKSGIVING (USA)
Yesterday I spent a lovely day alone in our sunny kitchen wielding a large knife and hacking, hacking, hacking. I rarely get the pleasure of using a knife. Over the years of marital bliss, tasks involving knives have somehow become the domain of my spouse. He has always had an interest in knives; even managed a knife store once.
As I happily slashed away at the large pumpkin, I listened to a CD one of our English Club members loaned me: about 6hours of Russian rock and roll by a group called Nautilus. Soon the lovely orange pulp was boiling away in a large pot on our tiny gas stove.
I began the pleasant task of making piecrust. This is something that engages me from start to finish. The whole process is pleasing to me. I do not hurry. The kitchen is bright, the music loud, and the prospect of pumpkin pie and whipped cream is delightful.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
Even with friends and family far away, I am filled with warm memories of other Thanksgivings in many different homes and places (I even had a Thanksgiving in Air Force Basic Training!). The two of us spend the day making stuffing, arranging flowers, setting our small kitchen table (our only table in this Peace Corps Volunteer home!). There is an odd holiday feel since for the rest of Ukraine this is a regular work day.
No family or friends, no football, no parades, no turkey, no….well…despite the absence of many typical Thanksgiving accoutrements, there is an abundance of gratitude. And with that flood of genuine gratitude, there is the simple joy of living, the pleasure of celebrating all that is good and true…the abundance that is ours…Life is good….
· Wednesday, 22 November 2006
On our kitchen wall is a large (18X20 inch) glossy 2005 calendar which some anonymous Peace Corps Volunteer left behind at the office in Kiev. I look at it daily and almost daily, say a mental thank you to that unknown PCV who has no idea they have affected my life.
This abandoned German calendar, which I cherish, showcases dramatic photographs of shepherds and their flocks.
Yes, I have always been fond of sheep. Perhaps more accurately, I am fond of images of sheep and the idea of the nurturing shepherd, guarding and guiding the flock through the challenges of each day. I attribute this affinity to a poem my mother often recited to me. The poem, by Mary Baker Eddy, is set to music in the Christian Science Hymnal (pg 304) and begins,”Shepherd, show me how to go, ore the hillside steep, how to gather, how to sow, how to feed thy sheep. I will listen for thy voice, lest my footsteps stray. I will follow and rejoice, all the rugged way…” Those lyrics have kept me grounded so often in my life.
The imagery, honesty, innocence and joy remain fresh for me whenever I hear those lyrics sound within my mind or even when I sing them to myself as I go about my life. Once, when my brother and I were walking up a mountain to his farm in northern Malawi, my brother pointed out that the poem says nothing about making the path easier, but it does say follow and rejoice. Yes, it is a commitment to give thanks, to be joyful, trusting and confident, right now, despite the seeming ruggedness of the path.
That is how it works. We must give thanks for the bounty we have received. If we are to be fit to receive more, we must certainly be grateful for what we already have. (I am paraphrasing Mary Baker Eddy here, this time from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures)
It is in seeing the good that already is and consciously acknowledging that good that we fuel our expectancy of future good.…and, we can joyfully, gratefully, expectantly listen for the shepherd’s voice. As Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice…” (John 10)
When I see the sheep on my calendar each day, I am mindful that they follow their shepherd with joy, trust, and faith. They have no doubts.
Sometimes I wonder about the PCV who left this calendar behind. I wonder why it remained unopened, unappreciated. I wonder if my prayers of gratitude in some way bless that anonymous PCV.
· Tuesday, 21 November 2006
It’s Organic – So is Mildew and Mold!
Armed with a stiff brush and a bleach solution, I spent the day making war on killer mildew which has terrorized our flat lately.
Mark’s suit coat got me started. He wears it regularly, so I was surprised to see a large patch of mildew creeping across the lower left side. I poked around in the closet and found more evidence of this plague hidden in the lining of my rabbit coat and covering my leather shoes. And there was much, much more…
My priority for the day became to search and kill, followed by rescue and recovery. Mildew and mold were evident not only in the closet, but around the widows, the shower stall and on the OUTSIDE of Ivan (our terrible refrigerator which really should be disposed of, but we have only 180 days or so left here!). My luggage also had a colony growing on it.
Practical Advise to any Ukraine-Bound Peace Corps Volunteers…
Mildew and mold are less likely to attack synthetics. Despite my general disdain for synthetics, they usually dry faster than natural fibers too – something to consider when you wash your clothes by hand in a bucket and wring them out by hand. Jeans, towels, sheets and blankets are tough to wring out and take a long time to dry all year round, but especially during the winter. Consider this when you pack clothes, shoes and personal effects.
Did I Mention the Slugs in our Water Supply?
While we do not see slugs in the garden this time of year, they seem to get into the local water supply. This is a big problem locally. They come out of the faucets! I find this disturbing, but so far we have only seen a couple in our shower stall. Thank goodness for bottled drinking water and bleach!
The slugs in the city water supply made the national news, but the leading story was about the local mayor – kind of a slug in his own right I guess!
Our Bandit Mayor…
It seems there are some significant integrity issues over the sale of the local airport (to the Russians!). This is when I really wish I had a better grip on the Russian language (or Ukrainian for that matter) because the mayor was on the news. Reporters peppered him with probing questions regarding other shady activities. Our local connections here do not like to be too forthright about opinions. Years of living in a very closed environment (the influence of Soviet era, not to mention this was a closed military community till only a few years ago!) is not conducive to sharing the gossip about the local politicos. (The word ”bandit” did come up in two conversations!)
· Friday, 17 November 2006
(E-Mail EXCERPT FOLLOWS)
…I love the Bennet cartoon (see below)...Very clever depiction of the gas/Russia situation - gas/heating issues are on the news most nights. Of course it is not yet winter really, but snow and cold have arrived and will hang on through April. On the shortwave radio we heard that Siberia is feeling the effects of global warming - bears are not hibernating yet...
PC decided to allow PCVs to coordinate a day off for Thanksgiving - in other words, as long as we do not leave the country, it will not count as leave time.
Our "turkey hunt" begins today. Mark
is asking around today and tomorrow and Sunday we will visit the bazaar and
hope to find a dead, plucked, gutted bird. People usually buy live birds - it
is lots cheaper. Our “prepped” turkey last year cost about 4-5 days
There is the challenge of where to store the meat too - our freezer is small, about 6-8" X 12-14" and has no door. (Probably designed for making ice cubes, but no one makes ice cubes or uses ice cubs here...iced drinks are considered bad for your health...)
Then there is the tiny oven (with no thermometer). People here just never really cook big chunks of meat. Meat is a luxury kind of and people use it more as flavoring or prepare modest amounts. OK, I just measured it- the oven opening is just 40 cm X 33 cm (CENTIMETERS!) We cooked a turkey in it last year, though I cannot remember how!
I look forward to hearing about YOUR Thanksgiving..
More later - life is good.
TGIF in Cool, Gray Crimea.
· Wednesday, 15 November 2006
Drawing on my fine command of the language, I said nothing.
- Robert Benchley
I never know where my words will take me when I sit down to journal each day.
I try not to direct them. I like to let them spill out as they wish.
Some days though, I look at them and have the decency to just hit the delete key and walk away.
· Tuesday, 14 November 2006
Your success and happiness lie in you....
Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.
- Helen Keller
My New, Secondhand Coat…Abandonment Issues…
Monday, Mark and I visited a couple secondhand shops and found a suitable replacement for my black winter coat. (170 Ukrainian Hryvnia or $34 USD – that’s about 3-4 days wages for a used ankle-length, belted black wool used Benetton brand coat) The old faithful coat has moth holes in it and has served me well for many, many years. It is time for it to retire.
I had hoped it would make it through this final winter here in Ukraine so I could simply leave it behind with no regrets. Purchasing a newer coat means becoming attached to it; yes, I am already rather fond of it, so leaving it behind will be harder.
Obviously, we will be leaving many things behind when we leave (in 7 months)…not as easy as one likes to think. With airline restrictions guiding our choices, we will have to be strict with what we choose to keep from our adventures here in Ukraine.
There is some pleasure in leaving things behind…especially if the things can go to homes where they will bring some one else pleasure and/or comfort.
But there is also a sense of home and happiness associated with various items. My favorite coffee mug, a pair of plates I treasure, small baskets or other foolish items that are part of this cozy nest we have built – this nest we must abandon when we migrate to another place.
Transience really is the nature of the mortal world. The seasons change (remember the song made from the Bible passage:”…There is a season, turn, turn, turn and a time for every purpose, under Heaven…”?). People, animals, flowers…the earth is a dynamic place.
We must find ways to embrace the bounty, the abundance, yet not feel the need to claim it forever. We must find the beauty and be grateful without becoming melancholy. We must take joy and then share that joy –be joyful, give thanks for this abundance…hmmm…the word abundance has the word dance in it…a clue perhaps?
OK, I am obviously no longer thinking just about my “new” secondhand coat or my coffee cup, but about people (and animals) who have graced my life and are still alive in spirit (Spirit). And places I have lived and left behind…I expect these same lessons are learned in a slightly different way if you are one of those who remains in one place, among all the accumulated history of your life…That existence can seem quite attractive to those of us who do not know it intimately, but I see, today, that the same lessons must be learned regardless of how you live your life.
Enough pondering, for now. The autumn sunshine is pouring through the window, the sea is a sparkling blue…time to enjoy the abundance of life (Life)…maybe even dance a bit! I will put on my “new” coat and take a walk!
· Monday,13 November 2006
My Cousin Died…
Sad news - I got word via e-mail that one of my cousins died unexpectedly.
I have good memories of him and his delightful family.
More Hard Facts of Death and Life…
White Dog is out and about. She is lean and svelte again. It is a pleasure to see her with Black Dog as they go about the doggie-details of their life together. (See my Sunday post…)
Are the puppies buried as we suspect? We will probably never know for sure.
This was her third litter in 12 months. We vicariously enjoyed the drama of doggie-parenthood through our window last year when the first litter was allowed to live. White Dog and Black Dog are good parents and their small families of pups were a joy.
No pups this year though, only a pregnancy.
And Yet Another Sad Event…
Our courtyard cat population has dropped over the past few days. It is not clear what is happening, but three cats are dead. Perhaps poison.
Among the dead is Oscar, the very clever, affectionate young grey kitten who was born (along with his shy sister Socks) on the roof of the building outside our kitchen window.
· Sunday, 12 November 2006
Across the street, in the shadow of the Mitridate, two men dig a series of small holes. Mitridate Mount, which dominates the view from my living room window, is home to hundreds, maybe thousands of ancient Greek burial tombs .Here on this bitterly cold morning, these two men take turns wrestling with a shovel, breaking through the hard-packed earth.
I stand by the window, knitting in hand, watching them as they work. The men pause; pass a cigarette back and forth between them.
Black Dog watches too. His usual pose involves a wagging tail, but he sits and watches, uncharacteristically quiet.
It is rare to see Black Dog without White Dog – he is the dark shadow to her whiteness. She is a happy dog – her tail wags, her pink tongue lolls, she moves with a spring in her step and Black Dog follows suit.
Today White Dog is not around. Only Black Dog watches the men digging.
The men exhale and in the cold it is hard to know which man emits smoke from the cigarette rather than merely breath made visible by the cold air.
Where is White Dog?
Why are the men digging?
White Dog, when last I saw her (yesterday), is plump with puppies – her belly expanded, making walking a waddle. Despite her condition, she greets passers-by on her feet, tail wagging, making each visitor to the neighborhood store feel welcome.
Last night, the dark street was loud with dog-talk. There were howls, barks, and whimpers outside our window. So many dogs, so much noise – something is up. This time of year, nights in Crimea become frigid – dogs, cats, people, all find warm respites for the night ahead so clearly the dogs had significant news to share.
Now today, digging.
My head tells me things my heart does not want to hear.
I eye the clock. I cannot linger long, but I dread leaving with this sad mystery lingering as I go about my activities elsewhere. I try not to speculate about these several small holes.
· Saturday, 11 November 2006 –VETERANS DAY
A friend (Thanks Joe!) shared the Veterans Day video below with me…I hope it works…
· Friday, 10 November 2006
It is not a question of whether you "have what it takes,"
but of whether you take the gifts you have -- they are plenteous –
and share them with all the world.
- Neale Donald Walsch
No Journal Entry - Just a Whiny E-Mail Extract from a Homesick Me…
Subject: Ramblings from Pulvers
Happy Thursday AM!
… This convoluted (innovative) way of doing e-mail is a continuing technology lesson for me. This is good for those aging brain cells which need new challenges to keep them limber and lean.
Living here, we are always exercising our ability to be flexible and tolerant. Something always goes awry. The power goes off for no reason, offices are closed, there is no water, plans change, etc.... Here people are pessimistic about things, or they set their expectations low, or simply have no expectations so when stuff happens, they roll with it. We always have to regroup a bit.... So yesterday the power in our neighborhood went off unexpectedly at about1630- this time of year it is pitch black already so I had to find my way to English Club in the dark - the roads are uneven, potholed and muddy plus there are many uncovered manholes to avoid too. (Someone steals the covers - who knows why, but it is not uncommon in this country at all!. There are PCVs who have fallen into them - occupational hazard!)... I made it alright - we cooked by candlelight when we got home. Power came on again around 2100. I rinsed out the laundry, wrung it out (wrang - maybe wringed? What a funny word) and stuffed it under the windowsill onto the two small radiators to hopefully dry. The heat is on sporadically now-they don't leave it on 24/7 or even every day until the weather is consistently below freezing for several days in a row. It is very damp here indoors and out in the fall so drying clothes is impossible - after several days they mold or mildew and stink. Soooo, I hope for cold weather so the radiators will do their magic! (People often toast their socks in the oven...it helps warm the flat too!
The last ten days have been packed with other people's agendas (and lots of changes to plans) so I am very grateful to have a relatively unscheduled day. I plan to work on some website content for the Friends of Ukraine organization and then I will work on a lesson plan for our Monday English Class. I may also teach some young teens on Thursday...(My keyboard is still sticking so these projects and writing e-Mail take longer because I have to insert the spaces manually!)
Well, I hope you enjoy the photos...Mark at our English Club Halloween party, Mark with fall flowers for me and finally my papier-mâché ghosts and an improvised jack-o-lantern made of a pepper.
Despite the whiny tone and detailing of our mundane activities, life is good. We are well and happy. Just tired and homesick! It is hard to imagine we will be returning to life in the USA in about 7 months. Please drop us some mail or give us a call - we miss friends and family very much! It is good to hear from home!
Don't forget Veteran's Day! More later...
Ginn (& Mark)
· Thursday, 9 November 2006
The Bride is Going to America Soon…
Our red-headed Russian friend L. just returned from the capital where she had a physical and an interview at the American Embassy. She applied for a visa and is now working on getting tickets to the USA – she can’t stop in Europe because the visa prohibits that so she will have to fly direct to NYC – more expensive and a bit scary.
When she reaches her final destination, way-out-west in the USA, she will marry the man she met via the Internet. Yes she will be a bride in just a matter of weeks!
L. plans to take only one suitcase. She is leaving this life behind.
“I buy new things in America,” she says with a laugh.
I met L. on my first day in Kerch. She took me on a tour of the local bazaar and showed me where to purchase important things like chocolate and cosmetics. She also showed me where to get my shopping weighed Justin case I suspect a vender may be short-changing me. She demonstrated the way people sample food and ask prices and shop around before making a final purchase. (You can fill up on bits of sausage, cheese, apples, etc and skip lunch using this technique!)
L. is a regular at our English Club. She teaches English at a local secondary school, though she really is not an English teacher by profession or inclination. It was the only job available when she moved here. She speaks fondly of her years in Siberia which was her home long ago. Her manner and her speech patterns conjure up endearing Russian stereotypes, so I often find myself smiling when I hear her speak, even when the topic is something as mundane as how to choose towels or hangers..
One Suitcase…Leaving Stuff Behind…
This morning, my hands covered in soap as I scrubbed a blackened pan, I found myself thinking of L’s comment regarding her upcoming adventure in the USA. She will take only one suitcase with her. She seems to have no problem with leaving behind whatever things are in her flat.
I have been in many flats in Ukraine and most of them are Spartan by American standards. Each flat has the requisite soviet-era couches and chairs lined up around the room’s perimeter. Above the couches, which also serve as beds, there are typically rugs mounted on the walls. Dominating one wall, is usually a large unit of shelves which houses books and some fancy drinking glasses. The wall-unit also has a small closet for clothing. There are only a few personal things visible.
I have often walked away from various flats feeling as if I had been in a movie set.
I remind myself that until just a few years ago, people under communist-rule had few choices in the market and in their personal lives. They also had little cash.
Leaving it all behind would take on a different meaning.
If you have fewer material items, do you value them more?
I asked L. what small comforts she might pack to get her through the days when she is homesick for her life here. Photos perhaps?
She shook her head, smiled and said in English, “I take what is important to me here in my heart and in my head.”
I think of the Peace Corps Volunteers who worry and fret and find it hard to pack for their 27-month trip to Ukraine. L. could teach them a thing or two about adventure and about traveling light!
I sweep the breakfast crumbs and hair off the kitchen floor and my mind continues to think of L. and her upcoming adventures in the USA. Often at English Club as we put on our coats to leave, L. will reach over and finger the edge of my coat or my trousers. She will shake her head. “This is inferior fabric. You must buy good Russian fabric!” she states emphatically, in her best school-teacher voice of authority.
I mimic her gesture and finger the edge of her jacket. The wool is tightly woven; dense and thick. It is not like fabric I have ever seen in the USA where we have central heat that makes northern winters into over-heated, hot-houses.
L.’s Culture Shock…
I try to imagine L. behind a shopping cart at a Sam’s Club or in a big Target store. What will please her? What will disappoint her? How will she cope?
Images go through my mind –L. driving a car; L. buying fresh produce year round (available, but tasteless!),asking to sample foods or trying to buy a couple eggs; discovering that buying in volume saves money(here this is not generally true); open windows (here drafts are said to cause innumerable problems) drafts…what will she think of American meat –lean and tender while Ukrainian meat is generally very tough and fatty (I think they prefer it this way.); ;my mind races on as I go about my work.
I imagine how bright the lights must seem and how odd to see streetlights remain on all night. I wonder if she will continue to remove her shoes when she enters a home and will she use the standard American dinnerware (large plates)…on and on… What will she miss? What will she embrace? What will she abhor? Will she be happy?
I haven’t even begun to consider the marriage….ahhhhh, another whole realm of adventures to consider….
I will miss L…and I wish her well. I respect her sense of adventure and I am a bit in awe of this undertaking.
L .is pragmatic, unflappable…it will be hard to tell her goodbye, but as she says: the important things (and people) will remain here “in my heart and in my head”.
· Wednesday, 8 November 2006 – THE HEAT IS ON!
Sharing the “Game-Face” in the PCV World…
A hazard of being a couple in the PCV life-style is that you can both get in challenging moods at the same time. Much of the time, a spouse is a helpmeet, but when both are feeling down, blue, useless, homesick or just cranky and whiny, it really is difficult. There is no where to escape.
It can be a deadlock; both stuck in a “poor me” mode; both in need of a gentle hug and kind words. In a couple, someone needs to recognize the signs and let go of their mood first to save the other one or they both may drown in their tears and fears! Of course it cannot always be the same individual who takes the initiative. If someone does not take on the nurturing role early on, things can spiral downward very quickly.
We have avoided this kind of downward spiral pretty well. We have years of experience together. We have lived abroad together in modest and challenging circumstances early in our marriage and then again during the middle years and now again, during our third decade of marital bliss.
Our previous experiences living abroad for extended periods include 5 years in Franco-era Spain with two small children and a decade later in post-Franco-era Spain with two teens. Here we are in post-Communist Crimea with no children to divert our attention with the demands of nurturing and parenting. With children present, the “game face” stays in place better.
As parents you must be brave (or calm, or kind, or pleasant,…insert quality here…) for your children – you model coping behaviors and mentor the child as you comfort and nurture them.
Now with no children in our home, we become more vulnerable to our own fears and feelings. We could get caught up in them. And, we find we need nurturing and comfort.
The “game face” is passed back and forth now. We can care for one another and find ways to ease the challenges. Surprisingly, in nurturing and caring for another, one often feels braver and stronger, calmer and more caring.
After being in the daily spotlight in our roles as “The Americans” we come home to our flat and take refuge. The strain of this sense of being in the spotlight can be pretty subtle at times, but some days it hits harder. A grey cloud hangs over one, or both of us.
Many times I walk away from English Conversation Club feeling deflated and culturally insensitive. The feeling broadsides me. It is hard to shake. Self-doubts creep in. I second guess what people have said to me ink. (Ukrainians, as a rule follow the “save face” policy, so very often Americans, who are generally, as a culture, more candid, do not understand that the input in question is not really well accepted. In other words, the director is just being polite.
There are days when Mark runs into this wall too.
It can be hard to keep perspective, to not personalize things. We feel vulnerable. In this environment, everything seems to be under a magnifying glass.
We are here together, but I wonder about the PCVs who are the only Americans in their communities. I wonder about those PCVs who have limited experience with the world (all those 20-something people seem young and vulnerable to me at times.) These months far from home and family, living in another culture, isolated by language and economics, gender and geography, ethnicity and religion, politics and religion, age and experience…these months may seem pretty challenging, particularly to those who are alone at the end of each day.
This experience is character-building, but in some cases it may break spirits too. People can and do terminate early (ET) – they may return to the USA and post-Peace Corps life, without stigma, at any point they wish. In my experience, the people who leave often have a more compelling reason for leaving, but I cannot help but wonder if they often simply grow tired of this sense of otherness and elect to move on with their lives…
I am grateful to my spouse whom I can nurture and who nurtures me.
· Tuesday, 7 November 2006 – ELECTION DAY!
Do all you can with what you have,
in the time you have, in the place you are.
- Nkosi Johnson
12-year-old Zulu boy, living with AIDS
Dusty is Back – Sans Tail!
My alley cat friend Dusty is back in the courtyard after a long absence. I was pleased to be greeted by my favorite cat as I passed out a few handfuls of cat chow to the usual courtyard crew of feline scavengers.
I hoisted him up to scratch his belly and saw a raw and bloody stump where a tail used to be. It is healing up and Dusty looks well otherwise. I suspect Catwoman, the local courtyard patron (matron?) saint of cats has not seen this injury yet. Usually when any of the cats have a cut or watery eyes she doses them with medicine which leaves their fur a peculiar toxic, luminous green.
Catwoman has been busy with her annual attempts to make a weather proof shelter for the cats. Since they loiter in our garden where the weak winter sun is strongest, the primitive, unsightly cat hotel is in our yard.
The cats often refuse to cooperate with Catwoman’s plans. They prefer to sleep on top of the structure rather than inside or the delegation simply deploys to a different operating location all together.
· Monday, 6 November 2006
What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the Sunset.
- Crowfoot, a leader of the Blackfoot nation
Cold, unexpected rain fell last night. Unfortunately, my laundry was still outside on the line. If I had harvested it last night I could have salvaged it – maybe put damp things on the electric heater to take out the residual moisture. But now, it will probably have to be laundered again and hung up to dry again.
Managing the laundry can be a logistical challenge this time of year particularly.
The cold rain continues today.
We just walked back from the bus station where we saw off our overnight houseguest from the other end of Crimea. It was fun to have him here. He is a PCV from our training group – the only other Group 28 PCV in Crimea. The approximately 30 other volunteers we arrived here with are clustered either in western Ukraine in the Carpathians, near the Polish and Hungarian borders or in the grey, steelyard, industrial cities in eastern Ukraine. The closest other Group 28 PCV is about ten hours from here.
Sunday night we stayed up till after 2AM talking last night and got up at 8 AM to drink gallons of coffee and eat bliny that Mark prepared for us.
Now, we are tired and damp after trudging home from the bus station in the rain. Tonight we have to facilitate for a class of students whom we work with each Monday. Right now I would prefer shower and take a nap, but I must prepare some materials and then later venture out into the cold rain to go back across town for a couple hours of high energy activity
· Sunday, 5 November 2006 – FULL MOON!
We have a houseguest…
· Saturday, 4 November 2006
They Are Always Watching…
We attended a fundraising benefit today. For two hours we watched dance teams comprised of local students dazzle the audience with their grace and style. Tiny children, far more poised and graceful than most adults I know, took center stage, performing elegant ballroom maneuvers.
People here seem to have cultivated a gift for putting together a professional show. They also seem to all know how to sing and dance. These Ukrainian people are modest, yet when pressed to perform, they often demonstrate quite a talent.
Mark was asked to be the “official photographer” when the organizer realized she had forgotten her camera.
We were caught off guard later in the show when we were asked to come up on the stage to say a few words. Why did they invite us up there? Well, simply because we are Americans. Americans are still a novelty here in this former Soviet-closed community. So there we were, on display.
I managed to introduce myself and Mark in good Russian, but I was very self-conscious because I was still bundled up in my jacket and scarf. The auditorium is cold. I did not have the presence of mind or time to remove my outer garments. So the words “ne-cultury” ran through my head. This is an unflattering label people whisper among themselves when others violate social norms. (Those Americans seem nice, but so casual! Ne-cultury….)
Everything you do here is under scrutiny. People are polite, yet curious, so they observe how we live and the choices we make. Whenever we are out in the community we are being assessed and by extension, so is our country.
When Americans first arrive here they delude themselves by thinking they blend in. Perhaps for a few minutes they may fool a few people, but the locals can quickly pick out an American in any crowd.
They may say nothing, but they discreetly watch you to see what kind of toilet paper, etc, you buy and whether you sample the salads and shop around before you purchase one. They look at how you dress, how you conduct yourself, how you interact. I am aware of how much trash we dispose of and what we choose to throw away and I know that people observe this too.
You are always under quiet scrutiny here.
I imagine in smaller communities this may be even more overt.
Being an ambassador would not be much fun.
· Friday, 3 November 2006
Dr. V Makes a House Call…
Mark got his flu shot last night. Dr. V. made an excursion to Crimea to vaccinate PCVs in this part of the world. This site here on the eastern-most tip of the Crimean Peninsula, is isolated geographically, so we seldom get official visitors.
People arriving here are always surprised at how remote this place is. It is compounded by the usual challenges and limitations of using public transportation. .
Looking at a map is a bit misleading. It does not look that far, but, it is.
A car would be an asset here.
· Thursday, 2 November 2006
Where is Dustinovsky?
My favorite courtyard-cat, Dusty, has been missing for quite some time. I try not to think about him, but I miss him. There are many cats who run to greet me as I come and go (because I often give them a handful of cat chow from a stash I carry in my handbag).
Dusty is the one that steals my heart. He knows how to get my attention, climbing onto the fence and stretching his lean body over to climb onto my arm. The other cats remain in an anonymous pool by my feet. He gives me a cat version of the”high five” and makes me laugh.. He often comes to my windowsill and greets me as I start the day. He is well mannered and separates himself from the crowd of far more attractive cats by being such a charming individual. He is also the uncle cat in a crowd of mostly sisters and their children. It is fun to observe Dusty mentoring his favorite nephew, a charming gray “kitling”, who is a good learner and is quickly becoming almost as charming as Uncle D himself.
Yes, it is Dusty that tempts me to open the door to my flat as well as the door to my heart.
He has been absent for many days. I avoid thinking about where he might be. I delude myself into imagining he has found a real home but I know this is very unlikely.
· Wednesday, 1 November 2006
Halloween Party at English Club…
No Halloween is NOT traditionally celebrated in Ukraine! We did see some news stories on TV showing some folks in Kiev getting into the spirit, so maybe some of the holiday traditions will catch on and grow here!
We had a Halloween party at English Club. We did a few of the usual games: bobbing for apples, making mummies out of toilet paper, telling ghost stories, etc.
Following are a couple photos – Yes, Mark looks like the Easter Bunny, but this is Halloween. Look twice at the pumpkin…there were no pumpkins at the market so we improvised and made tiny jack-o-lanterns from peppers. The ghosts are another of my papier-mâché attempts
To read the October journals (or others), return to the archives!