Monday, February 11, 2008

I have added a travelogue my mother wrote when she and my father visited this past fall. I posted it in my additional information page. Enjoy the read! Plan to have a new post up shortly.

Parents' visit

I can’t begin to describe how excited I was to visit Ukraine. Although no stranger to international travel, it had been years and years and I had never been to Europe. I guess it was good to have our kitchen remodel to distract me. Once we were on our way, I thought that travelers of bygone years had the right idea when they traveled by ship. At least they arrived rested. But then, we could never have afforded the time or cost to travel that way. Aside from the layover in Cincinnati and a slight misstep in Frankfurt, the flight was uneventful. John and I were exhausted, but delighted to see our son, Ezra, in Kyiv.

I thought a bottle of water was a little odd as a welcoming gift. But I realized later how useful it was. We have such a reliable and good quality water supply here in Tillamook that I think I might resent having to buy every drop I wanted to drink or cook with. More, I would forget to buy it! However, I suppose someone visiting here from elsewhere might want to use bottled water until getting used to our “bugs”. As it was, neither John nor I experienced “traveler’s tummy”.

The first day in Kyiv was something of a blur. I remember the bus we rode from the airport was nice. Other than that, the impression was of any large city—traffic, large buildings, foot traffic. One oddity was mistletoe. It was visible because most of the leaves had fallen. It was in a variety of trees whereas we only have it in oaks, or, for dwarf mistletoe, in evergreens. The train station was impressive with its red granite d├ęcor. I had heard of pay toilets, but not often used them—squatty potties, no less! I had little to compare the trains to. My last train trip was early Amtrak well before Ezra was born. So, without comparison, I found the train ride uncomfortable although I appreciated the bunk and bedding and privacy of our sleeping compartment. It was rather noisy and bumpy and the lavatory was disgusting. That said I was glad there was a lavatory and that I am generally pretty flexible.

Heading through Lviv was again blurry—just a strange city. We met Ira, Ezra’s friend, who spent quite a bit of time with us. The marshuka we rode to the city of Dobrotvir reminded me of the PMVs (public motor vehicles) in Papua New Guinea or the buses in Kenya—crowded and far from uniform in condition, with lots of stops at unmarked locations. The only thing I didn’t see on the bus was livestock. It wasn’t the most comfortable form of transportation, but very adequate and economical.

Dobrotvir had an odd temporary feeling to me. The large apartment blocks seemed hastily erected and unattractive. The muddy common areas and exteriors in need of paint were rather depressing. Of course, it was the scruffy late-fall time of year. Maybe in summer there would have had a different atmosphere. All of this was in contrast to more private areas. Ezra’s host’s apartment and a restaurant we visited and the director’s office were all very nicely appointed and maintained. The people Ezra worked with were unfailingly friendly and welcoming, whether or not they spoke English. They all seemed anxious leave us with a positive impression of their country.

Dobrotvir was small enough to walk around. We looked at the power plant and super market. We visited the school and saw the Teacher’s Day performance (much like school performances everywhere except for the “modern dance”—something like NFL cheer leaders!) Ezra’s English teachers joined us for dinner at a restaurant. I got fooled. There was an assortment of salads and meat platters on the table. I assumed that was the meal so I ate quite a bit. Then they served the main dish of meat and potatoes! I did enjoy the time with the teachers.

By the time we left Dobrotvir, we were un-jet-lagged and ready for adventure. Ezra had rented an apartment in Lviv for a few days. It was very nice. It might have been luxurious if we had had water to fill that Jacuzzi…It seemed really strange that in such a major city that there was water only part of the day. I suppose if we had stayed in tourist hotels we would not have experienced that.

I rather liked the opportunity to live as a local though—public transport, bottled water and shortages included. One of the advantages of the apartment was that we could cook some of our meals and save money. But we also had several meals and snacks out. The meals we ate that were hosted by Ukranians often had platters of rich meats and salads as a first course. We got to sample real borsch (very different from my mother’s) and Chicken Kyiv, but we also had pizza, Armenian food and a meal at an Irish pub, of all things. We stopped at several coffee shops, too. The pasties were wonderful and the fact that they had real restrooms wasn’t lost on us either.

We did a lot of walking in Lviv. The city seemed very old and stony. It made me feel very transient. I was struck by the ornate-ness–in varying styles—of the buildings and the age. My family arrived in Oregon in 1852, 100years before I was born and at the beginning of Oregon. Structures much older than that are rare here. Things like the Armory and the churches just seemed ancient to me.

I appreciated the lovely churches in Lviv and Kyiv although, when I looked back at the photos, which was which sort of blurred. Again there was the great age, but also the elaborate ornamentation. Someone commented that in Europe, church is a place. We Baptists tend to interpret the Bible to regard church as a body of believers and an act—hence comparatively plain buildings. In truth, I rather think it ought to be somewhere in the middle—we believers should build and decorate our church buildings beautifully to give glory and honor to God (not as and end in itself.) Maybe that was the goal; when the cathedrals were being built (although my history books say it was mainly rich folk trying to impress their rich neighbors).

Another thing I noticed as all of the monuments. There were statues everywhere! Of course I haven’t been to Washington DC where I understand there are also a lot of monuments; but, where I live, statuary is not real common. I was a little taken by all of it, even (or especially) in the cemetery. It was not just old sculpture either, but modern as well.

One thing I requested was a visit to a castle so Ezra made sure we saw one. Again I was fascinated by the age of the art work. (The castle was also a museum.). Much of the county side on the way to the castle reminded me of home although there was plenty to show me we were elsewhere such as horse drawn wagons and real haystacks (not bales). The farm house architecture was also different. There seemed to be little built of wood—maybe that is why buildings last so long!

John has a particular interest in history so Ezra took us to the Great Patriotic Museum. It was interesting to see the various planes and tanks and such. The interior of the museum was organized somewhat chronologically by battle or event in WW2. It was very effective and would have been more so had we been able to read Ukrainian. The displays were very personal—one had a parachute hanging over a crumpled propeller displaying the effects of the pilot who had died in the crash. Another display was an airplane wing covered with pilots’ photos. In the room documenting the death camps was a pair of ladies’ gloves. I didn’t understand why until Ira read the card explaining they were made of human skin. It was horrifying; not something I am likely to forget and probably should not forget. I would not have chosen this museum for a morning’s entertainment, but as an educational experience, it was unbeatable.

We spent much of our last afternoon wandering around Kiyv. Somewhere along the way we took a subway. It was very crowded and they have the longest escalators I have ever seen. We enjoyed seeing where Ezra was sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer, a university with a very red wall and a sunny afternoon in a park feeding pigeons and people-watching, including someone selling very energetic pony rides. One of my favorite memories occurred at a little square that afternoon. We were eating little pastries and chatting. After a few minutes, a young woman near us got up as if to leave. Before she did, though, she turned around and greeted us in very good English. She asked us where we were from and wished us a very pleasant visit to her country.

People-watching is always fun and educational. People are the same around the world and unique to each location. Many of the people we saw working were older women. Ezra said the grandmothers run the country. We saw a crew of laborers working on an ancient bridge site--two working, six observing and critiquing the effort. In the cities, the younger women’s dress was often very fashionable and impractical. During the weekend in Liviv we saw several wedding parties—they seemed much more public than they are here. We encountered one young man who was quite convinced that Ezra was an old school-mate (from grade school) and he was familiar (arm around the shoulder familiar) with John as well. The poor guy was drunk, a common problem in Ukraine according to Ezra. We met a few other Peace Corps Volunteers as well. They were fine young folk and we appreciated their insights.

Our last evening was a little soured as we discovered John’s credit card and ID were missing. Apparently his pocket had been picked. Unfortunately this type of corruption is very common according the folks we talked to. Fortunately for us were able to call VISA and they cancelled our cards immediately and initiated new ones. Thus far, anyway, were haven’t suffered any ramifications of the incident.

All in all we had a wonderful trip. We brought home a uniform for Nathan, gifts for friends and coworkers, photos, a few things for ourselves (it was such fun shopping at the bazaar and buying from the folks who had made some of the items) and priceless memories. We gained new appreciation for the people Ezra works with, increased esteem for Ezra and his efforts and also more appreciation for our own home. Someday I would like to return to Europe and tour the more typical sites such as London and Paris and Rome. But this was an unforgettable experience, one that I will always treasure.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ukraine by SMS

"Oh my. It's hideous"
"I just saw a guy open a bottle on his teeth. This is that kind of place"
"I was doing a drugs lesson yesterday, and ... Dima walks by and shows me the drugs he has in his pocket. Outstanding. Happy Thanksgiving by the way."
"I'm on the bus, someone has some kind of food that smells like a sausage mcmuffin with egg. It is driving me to the point of murder and theft. Is that wrong?"
"Know what I love about cable tv? Elvis live in concert. The ... King."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Book List

Books I’ve read in no real order. Heard it is a good idea to keep a list. So here is at least a partial list of what I’ve read. By author:

George Orwell
Animal Farm

Ray Bradbury
Farenheit 451

Robert Ludlum
The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Matarese Circle
The Icarius Agenda
The Aquitaine Progression
The Gemini Contenders
The Osterman Weekend

Eric Schlosser
Fast Food Nation

Pierre Boulle
The Bridge over the River Kwai

David Sedaris
Me Talk Pretty One Day

Jack Higgins
Hell is Always Today

Stephen Hunter
Hot Springs

Jared Diamond
Guns, Germs and Steel

David Zucchino
Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Bagdad

Joseph Conrad

John Eldridge
The Journey of Desire

David Michaels
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell

Al Franken
Lies, and the Lying Liars who tell them

Jonathan Safran Foer
Everything is Illuminated

Slavenka Drakulic
How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed

James Fenimore Cooper
The Last of the Mohicans

Marina Lewycka
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

Thomas Cahill
How the Irish Saved Civilization

Milton Friedman
Capitalism and Freedom

William McDonough and Michael Braungart
Cradle to Cradle

J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises

Pascal Khoo Thwe
From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Oddessy

Cornell West
Democracy Matters

Joseph Wilson
The Politics of Truth

Larry Bond

Orhan Pamuk

Frederick Forsyth

Steven D Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Freakonomics: A Rouge Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Cormac McCarthy
The Road

Dan Simmons

Matthew Pearl
The Dante Club

Bruce Sterling

Khaled Hosseini
Kite Runner

Asne Seierstad
The Bookseller of Kabul

Philip Roth
The Plot Against America

Paulo Coelho
Eleven Minutes

Tracy Kidder
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man who would Cure the World

Larry McMurty
Lonesome Dove

Updated 01 March, 2008

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cabbage blog

I just saw this on myspace (yes I'm reposting, oh well) and thought it was funny because there was a reference to cabbage, which is extremely popular in Ukraine. So read and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Partial Packing List

I know there are plenty of lists for those of you who are getting ready to come to Ukraine and this is a list I should have put up for group 31, but will be better for the Youth Development volunteers anyway. You will hear a lot about how Ukraine is more professional than what you may be used to in the States, that may or may not be true, I see younger teachers with nice jeans at my school, but know that would never happen at other schools. My typical outfit consists of cargo pants of either tan, blue or grey and a button up shirt. Although I know other volunteers who go to school in full suits. The other thing you need to remember is it is perfectly acceptable to wear they same items of clothing for several days at a time. In fact, wearing too much variety can make you stand out more than you do already.
Also remember you are dealing with a four season country and while you can buy clothes here sizes and styles can be a challenge for American tastes. Bring a small amount of clothing suited for all different weather conditions and functions. Know you will probably wear these clothes out and they will not see America again. But it might well be better than the alternative of buying a lot of clothing here. I have bought some but it is hard to find what you want and can be expensive depending on where you go and what you like. Women’s clothing my seem revealing while I have a hard time finding much of any men’s clothing I like. For YD people remember you will be involved in camps during the summer so possibly bring some things for that as well. I will make a category for that. But overall, remember that part of being in Peace Corps is learning to live with less and you find you can live with very little. Consider what is most essential to your survival, bring that and you will find out if you really need it or not.

PC Camping suggestions to bring:
- Leatherman, they are so multifunctional I wired a building for Internet with hardly more than a pair.
- I also have a second swiss army knife. Having the cork screw and bottle opener are important so many times over.
- Camping dishwear, spoon, fork, bowl, I’m sure outdoor stores would have some really light ones. I have some lexan stuff that is really tough, I use it for everyday use as well. It is common for a camp to expect you to bring your own. Be forewarned, I didn’t know this.
- Sandals, flipflops can be bought easily enough here, but bring tough ones, like Chacos or Teva.
- sleeping bag, I have a small synthetic one, but I have seen downright tiny down bags and have not seen the need yet for a synthetic over down bag, since synthetic works better in wet conditions. Look at getting one of the really tiny ones, they pack better for visiting volunteers.
- flashlight, a little twin AA maglight works great, I like my headlamp, but you will get funny looks, be forewarned.
- pack towel, or just a small regular towel that will dry quickly

Recommended things to bring:
- Bring casual clothes, shorts
- Music, better electronic
- A laptop is a great thing to have during the long winters for everything from work to watching movies, decide if you want to invest in one, bring an older one or forego it completely. Just be know PC gives you a lot of material on CD.
- External hard drive. More and more information is digital now, you'll fill up a hard drive real quickly with music, photos and movies, make it big. Some people have 500g ones. My 40g is almost always full.
- iPod is a nice addition too, or another music playing device, an iPod is not a status device here, rather just another MP3 player and most people haven’t seen one because they cost the same here as in the states, and people make $100-$200 a month.
- Forget cotton socks and especially white ones, go for synthetic or blend socks in darker colors.
- I think the PC recommendations included slippers, you can buy them here for cheap, save your space for all the other stuff you’ll bring over and then wonder why.
- Leave the light colored khakis home, better to go with darker colors unless you want to scrub the dirt out by hand, it’s hard.
- I love my wrinkle-free stain resistant shirts
- Some really nice stuff you’re willing to part with at the end of service, you’ll appreciate it for the formal events and will never want to see it again at the end of service anyway.
- Backpack, I have two, a larger backpacking one and a smaller one I use for most of my trips, I can get almost a weeks worth of stuff in mine now when I don’t take my sleeping bag. Mostly because I don’t back a different outfit for everyday. But you will see people carrying less stuff with them, Make due with less.

Friday, December 08, 2006

"A little christmas tree and ornaments" included in a gift package
"Hope your t-day is better than mine. Put 10 hrs at school today: rayon olympiad. Oh yeah, and EARTHQUAKE in my rayon! School evacuated, but nothign stops the freaking olympiad!"
"STAGES OF DRUNKENESS: 1. buzzed 2. happy 3. tipsy 4. drunk 5 wasted (belligerent) 6. trashed (smashed) 7. passed out"
"just got told to come back to my bank after two, but it's two now..."
"I've been thinking about doing that for a while. next time I get on a mar(shrutka) i'm going to pay with a dog"
"zing. good point. maybe I can buy my way on with beer of vodka?"
"What up superstar? When are we hanging otu for the break? I've got some new stories to tell, man I need to stop drinking vodka."
"Just had a tutoring session focused on changing adjectives and nouns depending on the case. my brain is cooked."
"Just finished 1984. deep. wow. f*cked up."
"F*ck. when did it get to be december?"

Friday, December 01, 2006

More SMS madness

“I can’t believe I just taught kids the word mullet…”
(Response) “Never mind the word. Try telling them what year it’s from so they don’t wear their hair like that anymore.”
“A girl asked when she was thinking of hair styles she would want on a guy. That’s what scares me…”
“Sitting in a dark bathroom in the office. There’s no electricity in Kyiv right now, must have gotten lots of snow last night.”
“Rumsfield resigned! Woooo hoooo!”
“Sometimes I wonder what the f*ck I’m doing here. But when I think like that I realize I’m just too hung over, like today.”
“Hey you know how I love chicken boobs!”
"I can't sleep, wanna do me a favor and count some sheep for me
"Hmm... maybe something less noisy. Damn those sheep and all that baaa-ing"