29 April 2005

please, beat me with branches

It's hot, and I'm sweaty.

I'm naked, and I'm hanging out with a bunch of dudes.

First it's the sauna, then the branch beat down, then the ice water dunk.


At pcukraine.org, they've got this newsletter going. I guess it's monthly. There are a lot of PCV submitted articles. The one that caught my eye, prompting this post, follows.

Check out page nine of http://pcukraine.org/content/ukraine/issues/03-05.pdf

In other news, our apsiration statements and resumes are going out this week, we hope. Basically, in these forms, we talk about what we have done, what we can do, and what we expect out of service. Also, we lay out our personal and professional goals.

My #1 professional goal is to leave for Ukraine.

My #1 personal goal is to come back alive.
Lastly, happy three-month anniversary Karen!

Three months and no divorce. We're doing better than 40% of America!

24 April 2005

information junkie

Every since I was little, I've been slightly obsessed with possessing some sort of intelligence. Being smart in, you know, something. I guess it was some way for me to maintain control of my life. Some way to better myself. Now that my life is a bit more normal, I still find myself seeking avenues that lead to Smartville. Recently, its been through learning Spanish. Now that I know where I am going in Peace Corps, I naturally want to begin learning that language. Increase the mass of my grey matter.

Of course, in Ukraine, we'd either be learning Ukrainian or Russian. The only way to find out which is to do what Cris said, hammer PC so they tell us where we're going.

Karen and I have talked about that a lot, and we still haven't decided as a couple whether or not we are going to do it. We talked about it and said that we kind of look forward to the surprise and experience of finding out where we'll be when we are in country. The advantages to us in finding out now would be materials development and a language learning headstart. While this would serve us greatly for our posts, we don't know if the benifit is worth the hassle. Plus, if it were a true, post related benifit, PC would tell us because we know that they already know where we are going.

We don't want to go into this whole PC thing as special people. We want to be like everyone else. We know, as we've been told, once we are in training and they find out we are PCMI MA TESOL students, our anonymity will be history.

We want to enjoy it while we can.

After all this waiting to find out where we are going, after how much we hated the waiting, I can't believe we might choose more waiting.


20 April 2005

why bother skirts

One of my questions for people who've been to Peace Corps-Ukraine, especially those currently there, is about clothing. I've been told many things about what to bring, from warm wool socks to washable dark colored business attire. Everyone seems to mention the current trend for the under-30 Ukrainian women (a category I do fall into regarding age/gender, but definitely not the "ukrainian" part), fondly referred to as "why bother?" skirts.

The women are said to wear tall, stiletto boots with skirts that are barely there.

As one current volunteer put it:
"Women here do wear spike heels and tight clothes. Most of the clothes they wear at work would seem inappropriate in most American business places. "

Another female volunteer commented:
"The current look for the under 30 set includes stiletto boots and tight jeans or very short skirts (It is not unusual to see a loooooong bare leg extending out from under a coat. Skirts are short and seeing all that leg peeking out from under a long coat is pretty provocative.) Despite mud, snow, or rough terrain, these young women indulge themselves. They are stunning. Of course such beauty is short-lived."

Those of you who know me should laugh at the prospect of me trying to fit in with the above descriptions. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. It's funny for me too.

I've received so much excellent advice about bringing comfortable clothes, and well-made clothes that will stand the tough washes. I plan to attempt to fit in, within reason and within comfort. This may mean not fitting in at all. I'm sure they will not know quite what to make of me. But then again, I'm sure that happens here on a fairly regular basis as well.

18 April 2005

this would be the orange tiger, not the blue one

"As European investors take a closer look at post-revolutionary neighbor, Ukrainian businesses and government are taking the first steps towards Europe by organizing an investment conference in the continent's financial capital – Frankfurt/Main. The event organized by PricewaterhouseCoopers and CFC Consulting with the ambitious title "Ukraine's Business Potential: Europe's Emerging Tiger" will be held on April 28th, 2005."

Looks like an exciting time for Ukrainian business.

Or would that be European business?

More reason for a younger generation with a mastery of the English tongue. Of course, this might mean Karen will be teaching in a business university. Not that that's bad.

Not that that's good.

i was right

Apparently, I was correct. When the guess said Bass Pro shoes, he meant shoes from the Bass Pro Shop (www.bassproshop.com). Those are definitely some fishing shoes.

Elsa wrote again, saying, "I recommend 'The Orange Revolution' by Timothy Garton Ash and Timothy Snyder, New York Review of Books, vol 52, No 7, 28 April ’05." I'm interested in Ukrainian recent history, so I'm sure I'll scout out this book. For now, I'm reading Harvest of Sorrow. It's a slow go, but I'm trying to power through it. I forgot how dry people can make history. Maybe I'm not far enough in the book yet for the juice.

Everyone we talk to about our assignment says, "Pray for the West." Apparently Ukraine is split into the East and the West. The East leans towards Russia, history, Russian and all that jazz. The West--well, towards the West, America, Ukrainian and all that jazz. My feeling is, either way. Six in one hand, half a dozen in the other, etc....

Karen and I sent off our visa applications and our DS-82s (for a passport renewal to get the nifty no-fee designation). It was nice to send that off because it's another step forward instead of all those backward steps we were taken about a month ago. We've also set to updating our resume and writing our aspiration statements for Ukraine. We have to write what we expect, what our goals are, how we will serve our post, etc.... It's quite fun. When these documents are sent, this will be the first time people within our country get a good look at our skills.

Crazy. No?

13 April 2005

kris & jr: we're going to ukraine

We've dammed the river up a bit; now we're just trying to absorb. I think that was Karen's plan all along. I just like to jump into things.

A fellow named Jeffrey--an RPCV working on an MA TESOL in Mississippi--told us that people never tell you how hot Ukraine can be. He recommended Tevas. I suppose it's a Peace Corps staple. He also says:

"The best perk of PC is the traveling you are able to do. We did almost everything by train - Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Italy, Hungary. I don't count Croatia. Though I crossed it twice, I never got off the train. We ran out of time because of a Hungarian train strike. A round-trip flight from Kiev to Istanbul cost me $175.00 in 2000."

Of course, we'll work hard in the Peace Corps--toughest job you'll ever love and all of that--but Ukraine is so centrally located, we'd be expected to travel.


Elsewhere: My cousin never passed on word to my aunt and uncle that we are going Ukraine. I just found that out tonight when I called. She asked me if we knew where we were going yet. I told her I told Justin to pass the news on until I could get back to them. I guess the passing didn't get on. So, I apologize to Kris and Jr. I should have followed up.

Lastly, a MIIS alumna was in Ukraine 11. Must contact her. I'll put that somewhere on the list.

11 April 2005

fish procreate in the stuff

"No Volunteers are placed at any site with higher than normal levels of radiation."


In other news, my grandmother would like this:

"Because of the heavy metal content and possible microbial contamination of most of the water supply in Ukraine, Volunteers are discouraged from drinking tap water. Inexpensive bottled water is readily available in kiosks and stores, and the Peace Corps will provide funds for purchasing it."

My grandmother doesn't drink water from the tap from Fortuna, California. She says, as Karen fondly remembers, that it has "pollywogs" in it. My Uncle has more profane ideas about it--if you've met him, you can guess the bevy of words he'd use. Anyway, if my grandmother heard, or even thought, that I was drinking water out of the tap in Ukraine, she'd straight up die.

So, as I love my grandmother, here's to bottled water!


P.S. We got a new CD from PC regarding Ukraine. So much useful information, I had to put some of it up.

10 April 2005

jack and elsa

Imagine a dry summer creek bed, paved with cracked dirt and infested with nomadic insects, a path meandering in and out of brush and leaves and shadows to such a degree you cannot tell where the edges of the bed really lay. Now, come back to that same bed towards the end of winter--a winter that really matters--and what do you see? Not the bed, that's for sure. The edges of the bed you could barely discern are now briming with cold, urgent water cascading from the mountains, from the quickly melting snow.

Got that image? From parched earth to waterly deluge?


Now apply that image, metaphor, what have you to a couple of Peace Corps bums waiting around for an invitataion. PI (pre-invitation, an eon of our life forever subjugated to abbreviation) we were the insects, though thoroughly unnomadic, planted in that riverbed. Nothing came by except passerbys and the dry wind. Now, post-invitaion (another PI would be sorta of confusing), we're rolling along the bottom of that creek, pushed along by the force, the flood (god damned extended metaphors), of information.

Once we got our invite and put our electronic information to some Yahoo groups like:




the water came rollin' off the mountain.

Most significantly, we've recieved buku emails from a RPCV couple named Jack and Else. I mean BUKU emails. They've sent along a lot of practical advice. Advice about drinking, clothing, shopping, pickpocketing, and 24 or so newsletters they wrote while in Ukraine. A lot of useful information--a good portion of the water ripping down our creek-cum-river bed.

Some recent tidbits from Jack and Elsa:

"I bought a new 1 year old model laptop on e-bay, before I went. Get one that you can afford to lose."

"Sometimes the best answer is to say that you never drink. One of our compatriots got drunk regularly. He was rolled, his money and passport stolen. Getting drunk means that you have no resistance to danger. Don't do it."

"When we were there, the housing was supposed to be the responsibility of your primary site. I know that this was relaxed quite a bit after we leftand Peace Corps was paying for apartments in many cases. Strive for the best that you can get, don't settle for a small terrible place. Rents were about $50 per month. You should get a 2-3 room apartment. We had a 3 room apartment in the suburbs at first and then moved to a 2 room apartment for most of our stay. In an apartment, you get a bathroom and kitchen and then start counting rooms. There are no closets to speak of. The two room apartment has a living room and a bedroom. The 3 room apartment has aliving room and two bedrooms. Balconies are good for drying your clothes, otherwise they will have to dry in the bathroom. The hot water is controlled by the government and is pumped into your radiators. There is a circuitous pipe in the bathroom for the heat and you can dry clothes on it. In the summer it is nice to use the lines on the balcony. If you have 2 balconies (a little unusual, but we had that setup in our first apartment) you have a choice of where to hand clothes, so you can pick the sunny side. This is not such an important point, but one balcony is nice. If it is large enough, you might even sit on it sometimes. Watch out for tiles falling off the sides of the buildings, you could get injured."

"As a couple, you will rely on each other. Nevertheless, resist turning in on yourselves. Be individuals and be independent; learn what there is to learn, and do the best you can for your host country nationals."

And my two favorites, "Never let the bastards get you down" and "If you knew nothing, you would figure it out."

Thanks for fillin' up our creek bed folks!

09 April 2005

article free

The first thing I learned is that there is no "the" before our country.

I thank Cristyn Elder for this helpful piece of advice, that I have since read in many locations. It is poignant coming from a fellow English teacher. =)

It's interesting to me that my mouth keeps wanting to call it "the Ukraine," even though I'm trying not to do so. It's not like I've ever talked much about this country in my daily life, yet something in me thinks it needs a "the." I found a good explanation here: http://www.infoukes.com/faq/the_ukraine/.

We've checked out some library books now. I'm a little panicked that one of the main dishes involves a beet-vegetable soup. And lots of cabbage. But at least there will be a lot of bread, cheese and meat. So I think I'll be ok.

thanks to cris

It's always the small things that get you. You never learn them, or you learn them too late do do you any good.

We had a meeting with Cris today at MIIS. She was in Ukraine 99 - 01. PCMI, TESOL, the like. We wanted to bend her ear about her experience, glean some advice we hadn't yet heard, answer some of our newly forming questions. She was in Kherson during her PCV experience, and she was a teacher trainer. She spent a lot of her time travelling around Ukraine to train.

In reverence to the rebel spirit I first saw in her two years ago when I first talked to her about Peace Corps Ukraine (my original PC country choice), her first piece of advice was to "hammer" at PC in order to find out where and what we'll be teaching. Unlike everyone else, Cris believes that because the information regarding our posts is so specific, PC actually already knows where we are going. She said, in order to do the best job we can as PCMI students, PC should tell us what we'll be teaching. So we can gather resources and such.

Or just to sate our curiosity. She told me I should be the one to call. Since I'm a male, and we'll be talking directly to PC staff in Ukraine, I might be able to sweet talk some information out of the staff. Too bad that sweet talking requires patience, something I've historically had little of--especially since applying for Peace Corps.

Maybe I'll try something new. Who knows?

Other advice condensed into a list, comments follow. You're about ready to be done reading, right?

+ "You'll meet teachers that don't give a shit."
--I already have.

+ "Try to observe the Ukrainian teachers."
--They are strict. We must learn how to be mean, how to crack the whip, how to make kiddies cry.

+ "Decoy wallet. A guy kept a fake wallet in his back pocket for pickpockets."

+ "Get in touch with publishers in Ukraine: Oxford, Longman, etc...." Try to get materials.

+ "A volunteer was murdered in Kiev."
--We heard the story. He did some unintelligent things.

+ "Your English class might be observed by someone who doesn't speak English."
--I'm not really expecting too much logic in our two years of service.

+"In terms of attitude: Start strict, then relax."

+ "Enjoy it. You're really lucky to be going."

We feel lucky to have such wonderful people, and such wonderful resources, surrounding us. We'll keep in contact with Cris from now through infinity; she's very nice and a very important person for us to know.

Thanks to all of you for all the small things you give us everyday.

08 April 2005

fishing boots

7 April 2005

One of the first things we were told was to get some waterproof footgear. It was the last thing I thought I’d buy first. They’d recommended gear from the Bass shop. I swear to God they meant fish. It made sense to me: fishermen need waterproof shoes. I resolved to find a bass fisherman’s catalog and find me a pair of durable, and waterproof, bootsies.

Then I talked to Karen. She cleared the whole thing up with a trip to a part of Monterey I didn’t know existed. “Bass,” she told me, “is a shoe company.” She didn’t know anything about fishermen. Neither did the employees in the store.

While Karen found a pair of dark coal calf-highs, I coaxed a pair of black, waterproofs onto my feet. Man, were they comfy—and a brand recommended by a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). I walked around in them, imagined the snow that would eventually be caked into their tread, and debated the $70 price tag. Karen did the same sort of debating.

Then, during my short walk across the crisp, blue carpet, I ran into a sign. Neither the kind from God nor the kind a catcher might send to his pitcher. Something made of paper and decorated with raised, red letters. It said:


50% off.

Now, all of the socks in our future will be overjoyed at today’s decision: We’ve got ourselves some boots.


Thanks to Scott for this link:


This link is to the Yahoo group of one of his couples he recruited. They are in Azerbaijan now. They’ll be headed back a little after we head out. Apparently, they lived in Rohnert Park. Small world….

Anyway, the half of the couple with the name of Will said this in response to doubts about his—and his wife Tara’s—decision to join Peace Corps:

"All fear is fear of the unknown. That’s why horror films suck the second time you watch them, you already know what’s going to happen next. You are nervous about us going because you don’t know what’s going to happen to us while we are there, not because it is actually a bad idea. The reason why life is so exciting is because we don’t know what’s going to happen next. "

Now, while the last sentence doesn’t make happy out of the bang up we did with the Highway 101 median just north of Cloverdale, California, it does provide an idyllic view of strong, sometimes seemingly foolhardy, choices.

I guess people were nagging the guy because of the choice he and his wife made to join Peace Corps. We’ve been lucky. We’ve had a lot of support—and been given a lot of wait time by Peace Corps to get used to the idea of us being gone.

In my opinion, however, horror movies suck the first time through.


Another very cool link from Scott:


I just read _Angry Wind_ by Jeffrey Tayler—RPCV! He traveled through this area. I can’t wait to read her experiences. She seems like a very good writer. I gotta send her a care package. Kharma building, I suppose.

More stuff to fill up my pre-PCV life with, besides loving Karen—which I do a lot.

07 April 2005

upon waking

It seemed too simple.

I didn't even have to open the email to find out the information I had been waiting months for. And then I knew and it felt really strange. Too easy, somehow.

This application process has taught me not to trust answers that seem easy. So I didn't want to believe we were going to the Ukraine until I had the invitation in my hand. Even when I did, it was hard to believe because we had been told so many times it was coming when it never came.

Now we know, and the information gathering has begun. Larry, true to form, has a thirst for anything and everything related to Ukraine, from Yahoo groups to travel novels, to newspaper articles, to blogging (a concept on the edge of my active vocabulary). I, on the other hand, work more slowly. I am just as interested in finding out about our future destination, I just read, move, and process more slowly.

It will be an adventure, that's for certain. I'm looking forward to feeling prepared, then feeling completely unprepared, then feeling prepated again.

And I second his comment about being a "sour grape--or two." More like 10 most of the time, but who's counting. =)

06 April 2005

still here

6 April 2005 (later than earlier)

This from our recruiter, Scott Webb...eons ago, it seems.

"What were the best and worst parts of serving with your partner?

Andrea: I honestly can't think of the worst but the best has to be sharing such an amazing experience with someone you love. It is the greatest thing when we see or hear something that reminds us of Niger and we know what each other is thinking and feeling about it without saying a word.

Scott: I agree. It was really great to show people our age that marriage isn’t like settling down or binding yourself – you can have an adventure with your spouse. I felt like we were serving as a positive example."

And one to be followed, I'm sure.

tick tock tick tock

6 April 2005

I guess this is how I move forward in my life. I study and commit and submerse and envelop.

I've been attacking every word I can find about Ukraine. About Peace Corps. I've been eating up blogs, facts sheets, weather reports, Yahoo! groups, friends who've even just heard the word Ukraine, school contacts, Ukrainian doctors studying at MIIS, and even, sadly, a Ukrainian cookbook.

Thankfully, I've got a tag-team partner. Instead of working today, as we both should have been doing, my mother-in-law and I were systematically trying to grasp a divining rod and find out where our staging city is going to be. I supplied a list, from peacecorps.gov, of all the staging cities available. I suggested the city with flights to Ukraine has a high chance of being our staging city. Then Jan jumped over the top rope, tumbled to the canvas, and checked out flight schedules for 4 October 2005 from those cities to Ukraine. Guess what?

They all god damn go to Ukraine.

Strike one.

I think Jan and I are racing to find the most websites about Ukraine. She's winning right now. She's found the best sites, which Karen and I have been feasting on each night. I read faster than Karen does, so I tend to summarize what I've learned. I talk too fast, so I often have to repeat myself, which is fine. I love talking about it. I'm so excited. I'm learning, reading, writing, seaching, editing, and discovering like a madman.

I feel like I'm on speed.

Notice the post time? Karen's been asleep for an hour. It's either the info gathering or the smuggler (Anthony, you'll remember smugglers) Karen made for me before she conked out that's got my fingers and eyes racing across the net tonight, looking for anything blue and yellow--Ukraine's flag colors.

Did you know Ukraine's birth rate is going down?

Did you know the popualtion in Ukraine is 48 million?

Did you know blah blah blah?

It's kinda like that.

I'm so happy Jan is, seemingly, so excited about this invitation. Peace Corps is a very important step in our lives, and it is very important for us to share this with people in our lives. It really helps out the morale when those people push back, support, and encourage.

We (I?) met a girl named Leigh today who is going to Moldova with Peace Corps in June. Moldova is right next door to Ukraine. We're looking forward to getting to know Leigh more before she heads off. Potential contact in the region.

In reading this blog (http://books.dreambook.com/sarahperez/dae.html), I see the pre-Peace Corps invitation frustration Karen and I felt. I won't spill my now forgotten, by me at least, angst here. I'll simply quote Dae's fairly accurate words: "life has been extrememly routine--on hold really." Life for us hasn't been routine--marriage is a wondeful fixer upper for the routine blues--but we have felt our lives were on hold. Waiting and waiting and waiting.

Dae says, "it's hard to grasp that i'm finally leaving, after over a year of waiting. and it wasn't that good kind of waiting, like milhouse said about kissing. that it's not the kissing itself that's so good, but the waiting before the kiss. this was some of the most excrutiating waiting i've experienced. while time ground down to a halt, my personal time sped up. by this i mean that although it seemed like the months couldn't pass fast enough, i felt like i was aging rapidly, my prime years were being pissed away, friends were getting married, getting serious jobs, doing things that adults do."

"this was some of the most excrutiating waiting i've experienced."

Yeah, that's about right.

But the next wait, the six months paving the twisting path between today and the kissing and hugging and goodbyeing at the airport, will not excruciate me.

I will, like a sponge, soak up every last second the clock, now ringing in 11:13 pm over Karen's heavy, but sonorous, breathing, can tick away.

building trust

5 April 2005

Jeff said that students will lose respect if the teacher doesn’t seem to have everything wrapped up in a little box, ready to learn. They don't like grey.

“How do you reconcile learner-centered teaching with teacher-centered expectations?” I asked.

“Do it their way first. Then you can introduce the grey areas. They have to trust you first.”

Building trust--I anticipate--will be one of the hardest and most important first tasks. Being as young as we are--24 on me and 25 on Karen once we're in country--we'll have to work extra hard to get our colleagues and our students to trust us. To respect us.

We actually got our invitation today. Definitely going to Ukraine.

I’m a 171. Teaching 10-17 year olds. Secondary school style.

Karen’s a 172. Teaching 17-23 years olds. University style.

learning to breathe

4 April 2005

We saw (name censored to protect the innocent) at a career fair here in Monterey. He was surprised to see us.

“You’re still here?” was written all over his face. He had shaved his head, and at first we didn't recognize him. then he smiled and started to talk.

"Randall (not his real name)," I said out loud, as if savoring each syllable. Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway: He's one of the only decents I've met in my PC experience so far. Not that I'm a peach.

Sometimes I'm a sour grape--or two.

We told him that we’d be getting our invitation to the Peace Corps by the end of the week. He said if the wireless worked in the building we were in, he’d find out for us right then.

Karen said, “We’ll drive you to the campus. They’ve got wireless there.”

I thought, "I'll fucking carry you on my back. Hop on!"

But he told us to email him later, which we did.

His email: one word.

After, god, how many years, it comes down to one word.