22 December 2007
After a week in San Diego visiting my family, we're in northern CA with Larry's family. We took a drive up the coast on Sunday all the way to Brookings, Oregon. It's cooler up here, but just beautiful.
It's been so nice to be surrounded by family since returning home. I've especially enjoyed taking part in the holiday traditions we've missed these past 2 years like decorating the Christmas tree and sending out cards.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you.
Hugs and Kisses from Fortuna, CA.
26 November 2007
16 November 2007
We've been showered with gifts and kind words. It's been hard to know what to feel, happy and sad, relieved and surprised, hesitant and ready. Mostly, I feel ready.
Thanks to those of you who kept in touch. Your words of support and your interest in our lives here were always bright spots in my sometimes challenging days. I hope we were able to paint some pictures of life in Ukraine for you, and somewhat increase your understanding of this part of the world.
I am proud of finishing. I couldn't have done it alone. I have been touched by many incredible people along this journey, and supported by many more at home. I have gained valuable experience that I will carry with me. I'm looking forward to readjusting to life at home and finding out what aspects of this adventure I'm going to miss.
Love from Ukraine!
we'll make this a joint post as our last post from the good ole ukraine. we'll continue the blog at home for a little while--highlighting the differences in culture, our readjustment, and detailing some of the things about Peace Corps Ukraine / Ukraine that we couldn't talk about while serving--and then shut it down.
so, we're rpcvs now. what a hell of a long initiation process (stole that from another rpcv) to get into the club. two years of slogging through another culture, language, and worldview. it opened my mind though and, in a way, opened my heart. and, at the same time, service in Ukraine hardened my heart (my friends at home will have to help me be friendly and optimistic again as pessimism and rudeness have been some of my most surefire tools of survival).
things i miss that i'm looking forward to:
laughing out loud in public. (karen and i did this yesterday and it felt SO GOOD.)
things that i'll miss here:
verenyky with cherries and sour cream and sugar!!!
living in a beautiful, historic city
it's been an amazingly short--and, at the same time, amazingly long--two years of service. i dreamed of being a PCV for a good chunk of my life. and, for these two plus years, i dreamed of being an RPCV. now that i am, i have few adequate words to describe it. basically, i feel ready.
ready for my next challenge and ready to go home and understand this previous challenge.
thank you to ukraine for all of the memories. thank you to all of my students, host families and friends for all of the good memories. you made these two years worthwhile. everytime you smiled or said "thank you" or asked a good qustion, you made me feel happy.
good luck to oleh, levko, and dima on FLEX round 2! and good luck to Marta in everything! you're my stars and were the light of my two years in ukraine!
peace out for the final final from ukraine,
RPCV Ukraine 05-07
13 November 2007
11 November 2007
we're down to eight days. today is casey's last day in l'viv. gonna miss that guy, but we'll see him again in the states.
hope you are all well as karen and i do our final packing and end this chapter of our lives!
09 November 2007
FINDING HER HERE
grey at the temples,
soft body, delighted,
cracked up by life
with a laugh that’s known bitter,
but, past it, got better,
knows she’s a survivor—
that whatever comes,
she can outlast it.
I am becoming a deep
the motherly lover
with arms strong and tender,
the growing-up daughter
who blushes surprises.
I am becoming full moons
this woman I’ve wanted,
who knows she’ll encompass,
who knows she’s sufficient,
knows where she’s going
and travels with passion.
Who remembers she’s precious,
yet not at all scarce—
who knows she is plenty,
plenty to share.
30 October 2007
First off: Kyiv. Not much to say here. Just ran around the office and got paperwork signed. I was unimpressed with the diligence in the office, but I’ll expand upon that thought in 21 days. We stayed in an apartment on the cobblestone street which serves as the scene for the city’s largest craft bazaar (Andrew’s Descent.) We stayed for three nights in Kyiv for a total of $44.80 which is ridiculously cheap for Kyiv. We were just lucky to have friends and other volunteers to share the space, and price, with. The agency had double booked the residence (b/c nothing can really go as planned in Ukraine) so a second group of volunteers, who had rented the place, had to hoof it to another apartment. We met Olya, a girl from my English Club who now goes to Kyiv-Mohila University (pretty much the best Uni in Ukraine), for dinner at Puzata Khata. It’s always nice to see her. She’s so bright and cheery and happy.
Off to Pryluky to see the host family. It was a short trip because Larysa is now a LCF (Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator) for Peace Corps. She works in the Oblast capital (Chernihiv for all those at home keeping score). So, we arrived Saturday morning, helped her make lunch, spoke a lot of Ukrainian, and waited for our host dad and daughter to return home from buying a new computer. We had a wonderful lunch of chicken borshch accompanied by some warming horilka. That night, we had tea with the neighbors, Kris and Jen’s host family, and some family friends. The conversation quickly descended into Surzhik (a mix of Ukr and Russ) that we had a hard time following. The next day, we hung out with the family until the afternoon, when Larysa had to go back to work. Before she left, we decided to do something special….
For those of you who’ve been with this blog since the beginning, you may remember our first few weeks in Ukraine. During that time, our host family took us out to a park outside of Pryluky for a hike. After the hike, our guide took me off into the woods and told me to dig into the ground with a rusty pick. What I dug up was a bottle of homemade horilka. He had buried it because, “It is Ukrainian tradition to bury something special in a place that you want to come back to.” In Pryluky this last time, we told our host family that we wanted to bury our engagement rings in their yard. It was a sign that our time with them meant a lot to us and we looked forward to coming back one day. Our host dad found an old Tic-Tac box and we dropped our rings into it. He then wrapped the box in a plastic back and took us our to the front yard. He dug a hole and we dropped the rings in. Then we all took turns turning dirt onto the rings, burying a piece of ourselves in Pryluky—in the one place in Ukraine we truly hope to come back to.
Our host family means a lot to us and, the next day when we left at 4am with Valera (who is a marshrutka driver between Pryluky and Kyiv), it was a hard leaving. When Valera walked us to the metro, I was unable to say all the things I wanted to say to him—how much he meant to us, how he made us feel safe, how we’ll miss him—because I was spending all of energy trying not to cry. They were a part of our best experiences in Ukraine and we’ll always remember them and miss them.
After Pryluky, Karen went home to L’viv to teach and I, taking the last of my vacation days, went east to my friend Travis’s house. He lives in a small village in Donetskaya Oblast and is known to have one of the toughest sites in Ukraine. When he wants water to bathe or wash with, he has to pull it ten feet out of a well with a bucket and a hoe. When he’s gotta use the bathroom (winter or summer) he’s got to truck out to his outhouse. When he wants to heat up his house, he’s got to cut wood and stuff his stove (petchka) with wood and coal (he buys coal by the ton). When the fire’s burned down, he takes the remnant coal and wood and sifts it outside to get rid of the pig-iron (creating quite the ash storm). It’s tough living for two years, but for the three days I was out there, it felt like I was at my family’s cabin—except we have running water and an indoor toilet there. We had a good time hanging out—only getting freaked out by the locals one time when we met the man on the train who, unknowingly following Kurt Cobain’s words, was so high he scratched himself until he bled…the entire 30 minute train ride.
Onto Kharkiv for the annual Halloween party. [PC Ukraine hemorrhaged about this party…. More about that in 21 days.] It was a good time and people had a lot of fun. Group 29, especially those who organized the party + their friends, made sure everyone was safe. There’s not a lot about this party, I find, that I can write about without setting PC off in a fuss, so I’ll write about this in 21 days too. Highlight of the day, before the party, was a horse-driven cart carrying a two men dressed as skeletons, a stereo system, and a sign advertising a Halloween party that night in Kharkiv. When they saw us, they turned up the music (heavy metal) and headbanged down the boulevard. Seeing that all happen while being pulled down the street by a horse was just too funny/anachronistic to forget.
I took a 21 hour platskart (where the conductor didn’t want to let me on the train and a family was dead set on getting my bed) back to L’viv and now I’m back with my wife. I missed her and I’m happy to see her. Saying goodbye to our friends and family out east was hard, but as we get older we find that it comes with the territory. If you make friends, one day you’re going to have to say goodbye to them. Without their footprints all over your life, even the sets you never see again, make your time here on earth rich and happy.
I am blessed with good friends. I hope you are too.
Kharkiv Cathedral modelled off of Istanbul's Hagia Sofia
Figures at base of T Shevchenko statue in Kharkiv
Weird mural in Kharkiv Zoo
Travis pulling water out of his well
Fountain in Kharkiv
Only statue I know of that has T Shevchenko as a painter, in Pryluky
Our host family--Me, Valera, Larysa and Karen
Me burying rings in yard
Karen on Andrew's Descent
22 October 2007
We hope the damage is minimal and that your loved ones are safe.
Best wishes from Ukraine.
11 October 2007
Brand-New Statue of Stepan Bandera near our house.
St. George's Cathedral (near our house)
Karen in Plosha Rynok with Teacher's Day Flower
Larry in Plosha Rynok with kvass
Our Attempt at Making Donuts
The countdown of days left in Ukraine, starting from 100. We're now at 39.
I taught from Safran Foer for a day.
A beautiful chuche we discovered one day in L'viv. They are just kinda hidden everywhere.
Fall has come in all its colors.
Some participants of my English club.
City Hall's Tower during a Yulia Tymoshenko Rally.
It says "(The West) ahead toward Europe, (the East) back to Russia, and (the middle) spins in circles and goes nowhere." A political party's add.
Karen at Olesky Zamok (Castle)
Posing at the Zamok.
Sign at Entrance to Olesky Zamok
10 October 2007
07 October 2007
06 October 2007
spent a relatively sunny saturday walking to the park to find donuts (which weren't being sold at 1030am). ukrainians, judging by the empty streets and our two years of experience, do not get up early on weekends. you can get up at 7 am on a saturday, troll around the downtown, and literally have the streets to yourself (except for all the tourists who are looking for an open shop (which doesn't really exist that early on a saturday)). that nothing was open early on a saturday or sunday once frustrated us. now, we just laugh. they'll either figure out that the swaths of tourists wandering the streets probably would be inclined to spend money in their shops (if they were only open) or they won't.
had a yelling match in ukrainian the other day at the train ticket office. the woman working there was convinced that i should go to the english speaking window (which doesn't exist) because she couldn't understand that I wanted to go to slavyansk--a city in the east of ukraine--and not slovakia (a country to the west of ukraine). we finally worked through our differences and she tried to sell me a ticket, only she was having a hard time remembering that it was october, not september, and tried, continually, to sell me a ticket for the 23d of last month. ah, ukraine....
slowly packing up here. discovered that there is a ups office near our house. the guy who works there is really nice. unfortunately, he said it costs $200 to ship 10 kilos of stuff to america. that seems pretty pricey. but, at least we have it as an option. i'd never walked in that direction, away from our house, so it was nice to see that part of lviv. the man began by speaking russian to me, but switched over easily to ukrainian when i asked him too. he even used a few phrases of english, which i had a hard time understanding cuz my mind was in ukrainian mode.
03 October 2007
it's still happening.
too bad i can't comment on the weird stuff i heard about.
guess we'll have to wait 47 days for the tell all.
in other news, i'm teaching from Foer's Everything is Illuminated in my American literature class. I was explaining to my students that one of the narrators, Alex, uses words that he obviously found in a thesaurus. Therefore, he says things, and uses words, that a native speaker wouldn't normally use in certain situations.
one of my students raised his hand and said, "you mean, he tries to use non-famous words?"
"Exactly," I said. "Non-famous words or, as I like to call them, uncommon words."
my students, today like every day, told me how much better the ukrainian school system is than the american school system. this discussion came as we were talking about the FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) testing that's coming up in L'viv. Winners of the competition study in Americ for an academic year.
During the conversation, one particularly clever student asked if homework was assigned in America.
"Yes," I said. "And if you don't do it, your grade lowers. But you have homework here too, so it shouldn't be a big deal."
"Yes, we have it," the student said. "But we don't do it."
And now i'm wavering...which system is harder?
30 September 2007
because expats found that its cheap to live here. and that sucks for Ukrainian middle class because (a) it doesn't exist and (b) it doesn't have a chance to exist because they can't find real jobs to give them enough real money to make a living (like paying skyrocketing rents, skyrocketing food prices, skyrocketing gas prices, etc...).
26 September 2007
he ripped the shirt off his back like it were on fire. then he shook my hand.
(for any pc admin type reading this, i want you to know i OF COURSE won't be wearing the shirt in public...in Ukraine.)
23 September 2007
It only took two years for one of my students to find the blog. So, now I’ve gotta be more careful about what I write. Not that I wasn’t careful already, but I was probably slipping as service was coming to an end. Still, DC and Kyiv read our blog pretty much religiously (not a testament to the writing but more indicative of big brother tapping the phone lines) so we don’t say all that we could…or should. Gotta wait for the post-PC book for that. Gotta use my seven journals full of scribbling for something, don’t I?
Less than two months! Actually, 57 days. Of course I’m counting….
I just wanted to pop up here and briefly share a poem one of my students—we’ll call him T—wrote in one of my classes. I asked for a volunteer who wouldn’t mind if I shared his or her poetry—in the lesson, we were discussing symbolism in poetry. A boy raised his hand and I present you his poem.
Man go to fishing in village. In village
he breading a fresh air. Man
go to village in horse.
There are good dishes.
My friend skiing
on snowboard on snow.
My friend can skiing to 12 o’clock.
More refreshing than his grammatically flawed, yet original (praise God) prose was the fact that though the rest of his group mates ditched their class (their teacher just didn’t come to school that day), T came into my class and asked if he could join our lesson. He wanted to learn English, he said. He didn’t want to sit around and do nothing. I was happily shocked.
So here’s to you T! Good work!
02 September 2007
31 August 2007
Group 29 / Ukraine / 2005-2007
The moment I have been waiting for for two years has come and gone. I'm really, at the same time, in disbelief and at peace with it. The four days we spent at Perlyna Karpaty, a resort settled in a forested nook in the northeastern edge of the Carpathian mountains, were some of the most enjoyable of my service. As opposed to the first time our entire group (74 remain of the original 116), the decidedly American energy that bubbles to the surface when 74 United Statesians gather together was infused with a healthy dose of Ukrainianess. An example of this is that during our final dinner, we sat at long tables dressed in an abundance of food and drink much like our Ukrainian forebears. During the dinner, a three piece string band played Ukrainian folk songs. We were excited and sung and danced along for all of them; however, when they played English language songs, our enthusiasm was less palpable. It was a time for us to celebrate our hard work and two years in Ukraine. It was also a time for me to really, truly realize how much of Ukrainian culture I have stitched into myself. I also have come to realize that when I leave Ukraine this November, jettisoning myself across the world as an RPCV, I'll be sad.
I haven't admitted to myself that I'd actually be sad, but it's obvious to me now that I've been lying to myself. It's hard to live here, and I do look forward to a resumption of my life in the United States, but it's also great to live here in ways it's hard to adequately explain.
At our conference, we celebrated our accomplishments. We said hello to colleagues and peers we haven't seen for a while. Karen and I (and Ben) also lamented the absence of Kris and Jen Wiley, our friends from the first days in Ukraine. They were our spine during service, providing us with the support that allowed us to stand when all we wanted to do was slink to the floor. The conference was not the same without them, and they were truly missed.
We also took a few trips during our conference. Some elected to go horseback riding (I had enough of that as a kid and Karen has a strange fear of horses) while others took the ski lift up to the top of a high mountain. We did trip number two and ended up going to the same place Case and I went skiing back in February. It was beautiful, but we had to leave early because I had to get back to a Language Proficiency Test. I ended up scoring Advanced High (the highest score short of fluent, native-like ability that's possible) but our meeting was interrupted because we had to take a group picture so that score can't be counted officially (which sucks). I'll have to take the test again in October and hope I can score the same.
Now we're about to start school--our last two months of teaching. I'm sure it'll go faster than i anticipate and I'll be seeing all of you before I know it. until then, enjoy your lives--that's what they're for.
P.S. My (our) thoughts are with Greg and his family during this difficult time. RIP Rodney Milholland (1978-2007).
30 August 2007
24 August 2007
today, though, is ukrainian independence day. we're spending it hosting friends tonight...and tomorrow night. i anticipate a lot of happy feelings. we're all excited at coming this far....
18 August 2007
15 August 2007
14 August 2007
Larry with his group in a final team-building activity: the human web.
My students from L'viv created a project to teach seminars at the local Orphanage.