Ukraine…What a country! And Peace Corps…What a load! I have not had a moment of rest except for the 19 hours spent in travel to Ukraine and the 7 hour bus ride to my site. Right after landing in D.C. we were put in a 6 hour conference intended to scare off the ‘weak’ links. They loaded us with information about safety, cultural differences, Peace Corps rules, passports and visas, and of course paperwork! Well, it didn’t work; no one left.
We then traveled to Ukraine, which actually wasn’t that bad as they gave us a surprisingly large sum to cover travel costs, (food, baggage costs, etc). Upon arrival the Peace Corps Ukraine staff were waiting for us and thankfully helped us with our luggage. After bananas, water, and a lovely candy-bar called “King” we loaded the buses and headed on our way to a two day retreat. The retreat site was supposedly an ex-soviet resort (though it hasn’t quite been explained who would have been able to visit). It was evident that the buildings were from the Soviet era but in no way did it take away from the natural beauty of being out in the middle of the country. Surrounding the resort was mostly woodland, but just a hike away in one direction was a lovely river with a bridge crossing it. Or maybe once it was a bridge, but when I got to it, the ‘bridge’ had collapsed and sunk into the marsh, making it quite an adventure to cross. In the other direction there was a huge field of sunflowers. I think it would have been absolutely breathtaking to see if the flowers were not dieing from the cold. The two days were spent packing as many details as possible into our already tired minds. Sunday night we found which languages we would learn and then we were packed onto buses and sent to our host families. (Most people in Ukraine are generally bilingual, but Russian is more common in the East and Ukrainian is more common in the West. My language is Russian.)
My town is named Boguslav, meaning ‘Thank God I am here‘. (Note: ‘Bog’ means ‘God’ but it is also a crude word for toilet in England. How horrible is that!) There are four other volunteers and I believe that we are the only Americans out of approximately 15,000 people. There is a river that winds through the center of the town and split’s the town in two halves. I am the only lucky volunteer who gets to walk the river to our Russian classes everyday. Small hills running alongside the river make for a great picture, which I hope to post soon!
My house is at the edge of town. I have a host mom and two “host-sisters” who are actually two other girls renting out rooms. They are only 16 though. It seems they have a system in Ukraine where at the equivalent of 9th grade, students have the option of going to a bigger town to attend “college”. I figured this out one day when I went on a walk with my host sisters and ended up in a group of about 30 girls dressed up like models hanging out near an ATM. I couldn’t understand why they were all just sitting around but with broken English from a few girls they explained that it was the first of the month and they were all waiting to withdraw their scholarships. Apparently the money was not available until 9pm so they waited around for a good two more hours after I left. My conclusion is that the money bit was also an excuse for all the girls to dress up and hang out in front of the biggest store. Ukraine is all about being seen looking good.
My host mom, Vera, is lovely. She is what I would picture a typical babushka as. Short, slightly overweight, skirt, baggy shirt, and a scarf/bandana around the head. If you can’t picture her, Google babushka and any picture you find is what she looks like. She is the most wonderful cook. I think she could make anything taste good. Proof: I hate zucchini. It runs in the family. She makes amazing zucchini. However, every once in a blue moon, she serves me a strange dish with absolutely no flavor. Several days in a row she served me sauerkraut and pasta for breakfast. Then the next few days she served me cottage cheese mixed in pasta with a side of sugared cherries. As you can see, the food can be strange. Luckily I grew up in a family of nine and being picky about food was unheard of.
I have to use an outhouse. This aspect of my experience cannot be described. You have either used one or you haven’t. If you have, please post empathetic comments. If you have ever used an outhouse in the winter, please do not tell me of your horrors. I do not want to know. (I plan to install a toilet by then.) There are several chickens in my yard, (about 15?), but strangely enough I have not eaten eggs since I have been here. In fact, the only time I have ever actually seen any eggs is when I asked her for three to make a cake for a get-together. I do not know where they came from or where she stores them, only that I asked for them and the next day she had them on the table. My yard has several apple trees, one pear tree, a raspberry bush, a grape vine that is used as a roof in the yard (held up by sticks and the side of the house), and a huge garden with all sorts of vegetables. At first I did not even realize it was a garden because my host mom throws all the dead apples and peels of vegetables in this area as a fertilizer so it looked more like a compost bin/junkyard than a garden. I can’t complain though because I have never eaten vegetables with so much flavor! On the weekends the town holds a bazaar near the center of town. One can get anything their heart desires there.
My Russian teacher, Yelena, and I spent all morning navigating our way through the goods to get produce and a winter hat for me. Everything was outside so I assumed that the bazaar was seasonal but apparently the bazaar carries on, and the vendors just wrap up really warm. I cannot imagine sitting outside from morning until afternoon in the snow. In fact, I can’t even imagine walking through the bazaar to buy things in the snow!
Our teacher is very good but she is tough, which I guess is a good thing. I have only been here a week and I can already read in Cyrillic and have a simple conversation. I can also type in Cyrillic so here is my town and my name in Cyrillic: Богуслав and Даниел. We all have to complete a project in three weeks and I chose to learn how to type Cyrillic. It seemed to be the most useful project. Besides learning Russian and projects, we also have technical training, which is learning how to teach in the Ukrainian system, and cultural training, which is learning about the culture. Next week we start teaching. (Eeek!)
Well that is all for now. I am continually typing up my experiences on my laptop even though I don’t have internet so you guys won’t miss anything. Unfortunately I only have internet on my laptop when I go in a big city so pictures will take a while to get up. (Now I am using a library computer.)
Miss you guys and love you guys!!!! Comments are always appreciated!!!!