September 13, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Adventures in the life of one Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine.

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Adventures in the life of one Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine.

Adventures in the life of one Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine.

So I'm here in Ukraine. The training in Chicago went pretty quickly. There was a lot of basic logistics that we all went over. Needless to say my butt has fallen asleep a lot in the past several days - between the meetings and the plane ride it seems like all I've been doing is sitting, listening, and taking a few notes.

Our flight out of Chicago left just as they started cancelling all the flights out of Ohare for the impending snow storm. Ironically, I have no idea if it actually happened. ALready I feel slightly cut off from the US. All I've seen on TV here is some bizarre Russian aerobics. They don't tell the viewers what to do, they just do it and make cute little laughs and gestures in their thong bathing suits. Very interesting.

The dorm that we're staying at here in Kyiv is amazing. None of the dorms I have ever been in in Poland were nearly this nice. I couldn't believe that we have hot water, clean sheets, and a maid service. Remember it's a dorm!!!

So far the Pre-Service Training has been an overview of what we'll be doing during training, and one things for sure... I'll be learning a lot of language. 200 hours worth in the next several weeks.

This group of Peace Volunteers has made Ukraine the biggest of all Peace Corps served countries. With the 81 in my group there is now over 275 volunteers in Ukraine. It's really amazing. What was more exciting to me is that there are only 12 Environment Volunteers in this group. They're all really interesting people and come from all sorts of different backgrounds. Some of them are right out of college, some used to be park rangers, some just like to garden. It's a really fun and intelligent group... and it's nice because there's only a few of us so we've had the chance to get to know one another pretty well.

Next Wednesday I'll be moving in with my host family and will know where my permanent site will be. I'm literally counting the days until then.

international women's day and strippers
Kyiv, Ukraine
Mar 10, 2003 19:39

Entry 3 of 13
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Independence Square in Kyiv

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The last couple days have been quite interesting. Saturday was International Women's Day. Traditionally all women are treated fantastically on this day. We all got candy and chocolates from the language teachers here in Kyiv. After I left this internet cafe (which is overflowing with 13-14 year-old boys playing War Craft) a bunch of volunteers and I went to a bar just down the street. We're in a kind of suburb of Kyiv, so there isn't too much choice in the bars.

It's a nice little place, and it had advertised that there were going to be drink specials for the occasion of International Women's Day. There was a lot of volunteers there that night, because it was the first night we'd all had a break. We've been working 12-14 hour days since I left 9 days ago. Anyway, to make a long story short, we were sitting there enjoying our beers when the band stopped playing and put on a cd. As they did this, a door in the back of the room opened and a very scantily-clad woman emerged. Ironically at my table the men had their backs turned to this surprising turn of events. The woman was wearing a white corset to which was attached a sheer white skirt, and underneath that was a white thong. Initially we thought that she was just going to dance... that is until my friend Tracy had breasts smeared all over his glasses. The American men obviously got quite excited about the prospect of strippers and quickly got single hryvnas out. However the girls did not accept any tips. In fact, the one guy in our group that managed to slip her a 1 got it returned to him as the strippers were leaving. I have to say I didn't expect to go to two jiggly shows in one month...

Lesson learned - in Ukraina, as a gift to women on Internation Women's Day, men buy them strippers. Gentlemen.... doesn't that sound interesting?

Yesterday we went to the Ekspocentr Ukrainy - a kind of World's Fair complex just down the street from our dorm. It's absolutely beautiful. The buildings were built in 1958 as a monument to the greatness of the USSR and Ukraine. Pumping through the loud speakers throughout the complex was playing really horrible American 80's music. The irony never ends.

Last night I walked in on an impromptu party in my room. It's amazing how diverse the personalities are in this group of volunteers, and yet we all hang out together. We had a great time until 2:30 in the morning and then realized we all had to be up at 7 for another day of classes - it never ends. (We won't have a day off until Thursday when we all move in with our host families, and then they won't let us relax :))
I had my first taste of Ukrainian vodka last night - I took a sip of this stuff; it had a chili flavor to it.... and so far Polish vodka is better.

I find out my site tomorrow where I'll be for the next two years. I don't think I'll sleep tonight. I'm terrified as to where I'll be and what I'll be doing. Everything contiues to be very vague. Hopefully tomorrow most of my questions will be answered.

So, here's to strippers, vodka, and War Craft - and my first conversation in Russian. (I bought this computer time without using a word of English!!!!!)

Life in the Host Family
Fastiv, Ukraine
Mar 24, 2003 12:35

Entry 4 of 13
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A snowy day in Fastiv

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Well it's been really hard to get to email lately. I'm now living with a host family in a small town named Fastiv, it's about an hour southwest of Kyiv. There's about 50.000 people in this town and one internet cafe that has two computers that work sometimes. The town itself is really nice. I live in the outskirts in a house with my family. It takes me about 45 minutes to walk into the Center where I have my Ukrainian language class Monday through Saturday. It's actually really great to walk that far because all I've been eating here is unbelievable fatty. I swear they fry everything. My host mama says I don't eat very much, but if they were feeding you straight pig fat everyday, would you?

This week I'll be starting my training internship here in Fastiv. During the three months of Peace Corps training we're all obliged to take part in an internship at our respective host family sites. I'll be working at a park here in Fastiv. They have a tiny ecology center there for children to take part in after-school activities. I'm not quite sure what I'll be doing there yet, but most likely it'll involve teaching them how to find some extra grant money, as their entire budget for the year is a total $500. They need new cages for their petting zoo, and some serious clean up. Ukrainians don't really believe in trash cans, as far as I can tell the world is their trash can. It's really sad to see such a cute town be uglified by tons of trash all over the ground.

Here's another cultural observation that I know I will not get used to in the next two years - stray dogs. Spaying and Neutering does not exist here, nor does a Humane Society. There is an incredible overpopulation of dogs. On my daily walks I must pass 50 dogs. All shapes and sizes, Cocker Spaniels, German Sherperds, Mutts, and even a St. Bernard. They are all hungry, thin, and sick. Not to mention people here mistreat them. I cant tell you how many times I've seen dogs kicked, hit, or being stoned here. I've actually started crying because of the dogs a couple of times. It's really horrible. If I had money and a tub, I would feed and bathe them all.

A few other interesting things:
Yesterday we went (the 8 volunteers in Fastiv) to a cultural show here in town. We were told that it is unique, and that most cities this size do not put on shows such as this one. It was free, and basically a 2 and 1/2 hour talent show of the people in Fastiv. There was singing and dancing, both contemporary and folk, it was great. One of the main actts, this band, was boozin and smoking like chimneys, then they got on stage and blew everyone away... it was great.

Speaking of boozin' - last night I went over to Ludmila Mikolaevna's house because her daughter came home from a trip to Poland and so they had a party. David, another volunteer lives there, so it was cool because I could speak a little English... anyway, one of the Ukrainian traditions that's pretty difficult to escape from is toasting (specifially with vodka) I usually toast with beer, that way I can at least take part... last night we drank "samohonka" - moonshine. It was a kind of light brown color and smelled like molasses, but going down burned like nothing i've ever drank before. most people here brew their own special samohonkas... i'm sure i'll have the opportunity to try others, but only in small portions.

Well, now I'm off for another language lesson... at the end of the day I'm exhausted. Learning a new language, shopping in that language, and living with people who do not speak a word of English is very tiring. I go to bed here no later than 10pm, and golly am I tired by then.

The worst week ever!
Fastiv, Ukraine
Apr 01, 2003 12:27

Entry 5 of 13
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The last week here in Fastiv has been the most difficult I think I have ever had. Last Tuesday was the first really beautiful day of spring. Finally after spending three weeks in country and seeing the same gray sky, the sun broke through and started shining. I went home after language class and had a bowl of Rosolnik - pickle soup. Afterwards I went on a walk through my hood to take some pictures of the local houses and cats I started feeling really weak through my legs. I thought nothing of it as I have walked a lot that day. I came home and went to bed because I didn't feel all that well. Around 10 oclock that night I woke up and ran to the bathroom and started what would be 7 hours of throwing up and the worst runs I have ever had. (sorry about the graphic account, but it's all part of the peace corps experience)

I called the PC Medical Officer in Kiev and drank a lot of rehydration salts. There wasn't much they could do for me because they thought it was simple food poisoning. The following day I felt a lot better but after being up all night long in the bathroom, where the toilet seat has no padding, but instead is comprised of broken spikes of plastic biting you in the ass, I was in no shape to do anything. To make a long story shorter, I have Girardia. It's a bacterial infection that is spread in places with poor santitaion. I may wash my hands everytime I use the bathroom, but my host family does not. Not only that, but we don't have a sink in the kitchen, so although they say that all the food I eat is fresh, it's not washed like it should be. I felt really horrible, my host parents absolutely freaked-out when I got sick. They thought it was the end of the world, not so much because I was sick, as they thought they were going to be in trouble for poisoning me. Thankfully, yesterday I finally got the ok from Peace Corps to go to the local apteka (pharmacy) and purchase some sort of drugs. My LCF (language facilittor) Olena came with me and later translated that the drugs I was told me purchase were for sexually transmitted diseases... I made sure not to let my host mom see the packaging, she's scary enough without her thinking that I have some sort of STD.

A little about my host mom... since this incident she has become scarier than usual. SHe's a really large woman and has no volume control over her voice. It's actually pretty funny. It gets a lot worse when she drinks... which is not uncommon. In the last week she has become overly paranoid about me getting sick and is blaming it all on me. ALthough it is at times amusing, mostly it's just really annoying. This is the moment that I wish my language skills weren't as good as they are, because I wish I didn't understand what she was saying to me. I'm tired of being told that American's are weak and that we don't know how to eat. I think all the fried pig fat and vodka may have begun to rot her brain.

On the 10th my group from Fastiv is going to Kiev and our permanent sites for 10 days... I can't wait to get away for a little bit... I didn't think that living in a host family would be this difficult. At least they don't know how to operate my cd player or my computer, I think that would make it much more difficult to deal with.

I'm just going to keep declining the moonshine that she insists will cure my illness. How do I explain to her that I was dehydrated and that alcohol is not the answer! I mean didn't they have the D.A.R.E. program here???

First Month as Site
Rivne, Ukraine
Jul 02, 2003 11:18

Entry 9 of 13
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Independence Square -Shevchenko

Me with Ecoclub peeps and Regine at Astoria
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So here I am. I've been at site for a whole month already. Some days it's really hard for me to think about being here for an entire two years, and other days I feel like two years is not enough time for me to accomplish even half the things that I really want to do while here. I think this is a pretty typical Peace Corps feeling. A lot of my PCV friends seem to share my sentiment, so I think that I'm not totally insane... yet.

I've been meaning to post for several weeks now, but I haven't been able to actually sit down and type something. Instead of typing directly into travelpod, this time I'm typing at home and will upload this tomorrow. Today was a monumental day for me. Today my hot water boiler was installed. I bought the sucka the first week I was in Rivne. Taras, the current director of Ecoclub, and the owner of my apartment, picked it out because it is, after all, his place. Then the saga began of getting it actually installed. Now, I sprung for the boiler because after a few days of boiling water on the stove and carrying it to the bathroom for my bath (this process usually takes minimum two hours) my back started hating me. I could barely get out of bed in the morning, let alone bend over to do my laundry in the tub. Hence, the boiler. Money well spent, I believe.

Taras took it upon himself to find someone to install the heater in my apartment. When his Uncle Sasha was unavailable to do this, Sasha's friend, Victor volunteered. It took a month. First, there wasn't time. Then the drill broke. Then Taras forgot to call. And finally yesterday and really, today, I got hot water. I came home this evening to find Victor leaving and very excited to show me what he did. Not only did he install the boiler, but as an added bonus I also have a mobile shower head. Unfortunately I can't hang it from the wall as of yet, but honestly, who cares?!!! I can bathe whenever I want and it only takes the twist of the faucet to make water hot. I even started soaking clothes for laundry tomorrow. Usually this would also take and hour at least. It's beautiful, shiny and white and it's hanging on my bathroom wall. Hallelujah!


My job is interesting. It's so hard to explain what I'll actually be doing, as honestly, I'm not quite sure some days. Right now we're working on a couple projects. We're putting together a letter of inquiry for a grant. We're trying to do a little organizational restructuring as the term “efficiency” currently does not exist in Ecoclub's vocabulary. I'm working on a project with Andriy, one of the Ecoclub peeps, about biodiversity. We're planning a project that will eventually involve making an area within the Rivne Oblast into a natural preserve. I'm really excited about this project, however, there's a lot of holes in it, and we still have a ways to go. In August we're insulating two orphanages in a town south of Rivne called Ostroh. This is a huge project that will take a couple weeks in August and then again in September.

Now, I know, it sounds interesting, (I hope) but what am I doing here? Often times I think that no one is listening to what I have to say. They speak some English, and my Ukrainian gets better every day, but there are barriers that simple language cannot cross. Birthday parties at the office. Sure, no problem, but when it involves three bottles of vodka and four people drinking (me included) there may be an issue of getting things done. We're still working on letters that were supposed to be sent out months ago. Ummm. Yeah. Also, no one ever knows what the other people are doing. It's a small organization, 5 people on the payroll, and still if I ask one person about what the others are working on, most likely the answer will be, I dunno. AAHHH! Frustration. I wonder how different my experience would be if I were in Africa and had to dig ditches or was working with farmers in Ecuador like I originally thought I would be doing. Physical stress, yes. But would I be concerned about my effectiveness as a volunteer? I know I'm doing good for them. I know I'll do more good, and maybe I'll leave satisfied in two years, but some days are really tough.

Ukrainian in New York

Today I was sitting at “Astoria” a restaurant here in Rivne with three other PCVs. We had just finished our lunch when a woman approached us because she heard us speaking English. I'm not even sure what her name was, but she answered a very philosophical question for the four of us – Can an American live a regular Ukrainian life in Ukraine? And can a Ukrainian live a normal American life in the States? Well, this woman emigrated from Ukraine to the US 8 years ago and since has been living in NYC. She's in Rivne visiting her mom and said that she couldn't wait to get home. She mentioned she'd been looking for some sort of sedative since she got here, because the culture was too much for her. As she mentioned this I couldn't help but wonder about my sanity...When we told her that we'd be here for two whole years she couldn't believe it, and added that she doesn't know how we'll be able to survive in such a backward, stubborn country. On the contrary, she also told us of how easily she had adapted to living in the Big Apple, and that she wouldn't give up her life there for anything. I think she must have forgotten about initial culture shock, and if not, then I think all volunteers in Ukraine are in big trouble. We had a great chat, I told her to have a knish for me when she got home and that was that. I think there are varying degrees of normalcy within one's life here in Ukraine. I'm still looking for my own, personal normalcy. Perhaps the hot water was a step in the right direction. Who knows.

This week Taras is going to visit his parents in Russia, he'll be back next week and then him and Tolik, my coordinator and another Ecoclub peep, will go to Crimea for two weeks. Andriy is going to the Carpathians with his wife, and Natasha is in St. Petersburg. As a Peace Corps volunteer I can't leave the country until the end of August, and technically I'm supposed to stay at site, period, for the first three months. Weekends are flexible, as demonstrated by last weekend's trip to Kyiv. However, I can't use vacation yet. Official travel it is. Maybe I can find a summer camp run by another volunteer that I can work at. We have a lot of those here in the summer. Anything to keep busy. I can't marvel at hot running water for the entirety of next month!

Ok, folks, I could go on. I will go on later, but for now send me postcards. If you didn't get my email containing my contact information and plea for mail, let me know and I'll send it to you. I got my first card today from Lee, Alec's mom, so you all better get cracking. My wall is bare and needs decoration. Hope to hear from you all soon.

The cat that almost was...
Rivne, Ukraine
Jul 15, 2003 11:18

Entry 10 of 13
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Yesterday was another rainy day here in Rivne. It was warm for the first two weeks in June, and since then the temperature has rarely gone above 70 degrees. It rains a lot, and most of the time it's actually chilly enough to wear a jacket. I haven't had this kind of summer, well, ever!

So, yesterday I was at my friend Regine's site - The Volyn Resource Center. EcoClub is pretty slow this week because everyone went on vacation, so I'm helping Regine with a database she's putting together for Volyn. As we were walking out of the Hotel Tourist, where Volyn's office is located, there was a little greyish brown kitten trying to get in the hotel, on account of the rain... and she was probably hungry. Now this was probably the fourth or fifth kitten I had seen in the last week, sad, hungry, wet, and looking for love. As we walked towards Regine's apartment I couldn't get her out of my mind. Regine and I talked it over - if the cat was still there when we returned that way I would take her home. Now, those of you who know me well are thinking, "Wait, isn't Maggie really allergic to cats?" Well, yes I am. But you see, I had to try. There are so many strays here that my heart breaks about 20 times a day, just walking down the street. If I could I would buy kielbasa for them all the time, but it's just too expensive.

So we walked back by the hotel and sure enough I scooped "Jane" up and took her to EcoClub. She meowed all the way there and gazed around the neighborhood probably wondering what was going on. As soon as we got to EcoClub, she jumped up on the couch and fell asleep. I made the decision to take her home with the plan that if I was indeed severely allergic to her, that I would take her to the vet and put her to sleep, or I would let her go to try her hand at being an outside cat. While at EcoClub my allergies seemed to be okay...

I took Jane home, with Regine's help, and set up to have a cat live with me. The kitten really needed a bath so I attempted to give her one, really. Golly, who would have thought that a cat could hate water that much. The last animal I had bathed was Sage, but as a Lab he just loves the water. This was quite a different experience. My arms are still all red and scratched from her clawing at me. And unfortunately, or fortunately, when I saw to what degree my arms had swelled I knew I couldn't keep her - that and the fact that she was sick. When I had wetted her down I noticed a large tumor-like thing on her belly. I'm not sure exactly what it was, but probably a really horrible case of worms. I mean she'd lived on the street since she was born. So I called some Ukrainian friends for help.

I decided that the veterinary option of putting her to sleep would be the best. She wouldn't have to die suffering on the street. Instead I could do it humanely. Now in the states I would have taken her to the vet and had her all fixed up, or at least to the human society and paid for them to fix her up and have her adopted to a family who could have a cat. Well, my Ukrainian friend quickly informed me, after consulted with some family members, that vets in Ukraine don't just put animals to sleep. There has to be a very good reason. I personally think that overpopulation might trigger something in their minds, however, I was and am wrong.

What to do? I did the unthinkable. I still can't believe that I did what I did. I took her back to the Hotel Tourist and left her there. She meowed and I walked away. I swear I heard my heart break. And I definitely had some kitten-oriented dreams last night. All my Rivne PCV friends have rationalized my decision for me. It was the right (Ukrainian) thing to do... and even so, honestly, one of the most difficult I've ever done.

I still feel like I am twelve years old and my mom just told me that something is a bad idea and I did it anyway, and later paid the consequences. However, had I not taken Jane home I would wonder for the next two years if I could house a kitten. Now I know that I can't. But it still hurts - and all I can do is hope that I made the right decision, even if my options were limited.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ukraine; PCVs in the Field - Ukraine



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