Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Have I mentioned walking? We walk everywhere. And we walk a lot. I've been getting up every morning to run the steps of the local soccer stadium and that is good exercise but I get worn out some days with the walking. I guess if I screwed up my courage and actually took a bus by myself it would be better but it is good exercise and I think I need as much as I can get.

Today I went to look for shoes. I bought a pair of black dress shoes in the US (after I accidently gave mine away) and they turned out to be the most uncomfortable I've ever worn. So I want to try to get some dress boots. No luck. They still have the fur lined ones out. I'll have to wait a little.

Monday, March 22, 2004


Today was difficult. We began adjectives. In the US, I can have a red car, red apple, red ink-pen or any number of various red items up to infinity. In Russian, you have a...well let's see, is apple a female, masculine, neuter, plural noun? Well that's important because that changes how I say "red". And don't even think about the possibility that the adjective is an exception. Then if follows its own rules! I don't know if I am suffering from information overload, a momentary lapse or realizing the limits of my noggin but this stuff is getting hard. As soon as I think I might have a handle on something, we get hit with something else.

Just keep my head down and drive forward. That's all I know to do.

Today, after class, we visited an after-school program that is evidently geared towards more motivated students. We checked out a dance class, a musical rehearsal, art class and english class. My favorite was the English class. The students all seemed bright and excited. I was surprised at how well they spoke. I think our tech support person gets annoyed at me in such meetings. I have a tendency to crack wise and I think she is a little appalled. If I acted any different it would be uncomfortable for me.

Tomorrow I meet my class. The one I am going to teach. Yowser! I've never taught and now I am being thrown in front of a university class to teach...what? English? I don't know for sure. I think I am going to try to move it into a cultural exchange session. I think the kids will be interested in that and it will be good experience for them. I have to wait to see if the teacher has lesson plans for me to follow and then try to change them.

This is just my internship. It is not what I will be doing for 2 years. in 2 months I will leave B for my final site and assignment.

I think I've figured out my internet issue so I hope to get this sent off tomorrow.

Sunday, March 21, 2004


Friday I found out where my internship. It is a local university. I'll be teaching english. It sounds like a cool position. I'll get to meet a lot of locals and they all speak some english so I'll get to communicate with them while I learn.

Yesterday was cooking day. We all created a list of food to cook and went to the market together so that each of us could practice ordering different items. I was responsible for the sunflower oil and sour cream. I was great. Two host moms helped us prepare our dishes. A friend and I made the salad. I'm even a moron when cutting sausage evidently. At least I needed to be shown more than once how to actually cut it.

It was a fun day. Busy but the food was great. Afterwards we took some to a fellow volunteer who was home sick. Her family invited us in to sit, then to tea, then they got in a long, involved conversation and I lost my patience. I interrupted our teacher and asked to leave. I don't know how that went over but these people love to talk and I was worn out.

After a quick nap, we went out for drinks and who shows up but some interpreters we had met the day before. The night turned into yet another crazy round of drinks. one of the volunteers host brother has been out with us twice and he likes to order bottles of vodka. Last night he ordered 6. 6 bottles for about 10 people. It was fun but I told him today that we just can't do that when we go out. It is hard saying no when you've got a Ukrainian shoving shots down your throat. Well, at least for me. So I may need to stop going out with this guy and probably certain Ukrainians. They are great people but I want to have some nights of drinks without it being a big blowout. It would probably be a good idea to have nights with just the Americans as well. Not so much pressure.

Today we went to Kiev for the first time. We went to the PC center and I met a woman who just happens to be the woman who lived at my house before. I took a picture of us and my host mom was floored when I showed her.

Anyway, we walked all over the city. Saw a lot. I was exhausted and cranky by the end of the day but it was fun. I think I am probably going to end up in Kiev so if I am correct, it is going to be much more like a european city than where i am now.

Saturday, March 20, 2004


Our Coordinator’s conference was outside of Kyiv last week. It consisted of several incredibly long and boring presentations that were occasionally interrupted by one that held your attention. I met my coordinator A, and soon began to become concerned.

She started hanging out with my friend G's coordinator, who single-handedly reminded me that annoying punks are a worldwide phenomenon and he will be referred to in the rest of this letter as "Dumbass".

He works at (well, his mother runs) an AIDS alcohol and drug treatment facility and the first night got wasted and tried to pick up one of our volunteers. He played video games on his cell phone during conference meetings and would leave for 15 minutes at a time (with my coordinator) for a little R and R. Anyway, I had a bad feeling about him from the start and it bothered me that A would spend her time with such a knucklehead.

The last day, we went to Kyiv to catch a train to our sites. We were walking through the square during our wait time and I look over to see Dumbass (DA) wearing his chewing gum in the fold behind his ear. I've been trying to rack my brain to remember if I have ever seen anybody, maybe from the 3rd grade or something, do such a thing, but no luck so far. G said he tried to give DA new gum but he refused. I guess old habits are hard to break.

We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare. G and DA decided to pick up some things at a store and A led me with them. Store to store they go with DA leading and me taking up the rear.

Finally, he led us to a train platform, which is down 2 long flights of stairs. I drag my 50 pound bag after them only to watch him give A a big, really sloppy kiss, get on HIS train and send us on our way. So here we are, thinking we are going to our train and now finding that we have to get back up the 2 flights of stairs and then find our track. And A, who thought we were at our track was oblivious to where our train actually was. And I was feeling like the real dumbass.

We ran back up the stairs (well, as much as I can run with a 50 pound bag and a back-pack), crossed to the other side of the Kiev train station and down to another track. Realized that we were nowhere near the correct platform, ran to another track to learn that our greatest accomplishment so far was that we were one-by-one eliminating every possible track in this massive station. Backtracked up another flight of stairs and finally found a woman who led us to the train.

The whistle was blowing as we stepped onto the platform. We were running down the platform, I was steaming, (saying over and over to A "Ne Horasho" which means "not good".) and finally we had to jump on the first available car before we were left behind. This meant we had to drag our luggage through about 12 cars. My roll-on bag and the tissue thin carpets on the trains were not engineered to coexist. As I rolled my bag into a car, the carpet inevitably bunched up under my wheels. The women in charge of the cars were screaming at me for wrinkling these 90 year old rugs and I didn't really give a what-do-you-know.

When I got to our cabin, the train was already moving. I was so angry, I threw my bag in an area beneath the seats and sat down to fume. Later I would find that my brilliant act of throwing my bag, broke my bag and reminded me that it's not a good idea to act stupidly even if you are upset.

Poor A caught hell from me for about 10 minutes. I had already been concerned about her apparent lack of professionalism during the conference and here I was killing myself and risking the wrath of train-car-ladies because she had to get sugar from this dumbass thug. But I got it off of my chest and afterwards told her that we should just move on, that I expected she had learned a lesson and it would not happen again. I think that was new to her and it took awhile for her to realize that I wasn’t going to be angry with her the entire trip.

Sleeping on a train is tricky. Sleeping on a Ukrainian train is impossible. When you aren't shaking and baking, you are freezing. I know I did manage to slip into a short sleep because I remember a dream.

I was on a train and people around me were talking in English. I asked them if I was dreaming. They asked why I would ask such a silly question and my answer was, because they were speaking English and that was odd for me. Then I woke up. Bizarre. I wonder if this is a common type of dream for people that are in similar situations.

I had another dream that perhaps can be psychobabblyzed. In my dream, I finally receive my long anticipated care package from Stacy, Leslie and Cynthia (which by the way is evidently stuck in Ukraine ether-land). Of course I am extremely excited to get this package of surprises but when I open it, I find a collection of new women's bras and panties. I'm digging through this admittedly nice collection, looking for the girl scout cookies and wondering if they expect me to use these in trade or what. Then I woke up.


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Salad for Breakfast

What a weekend.

We have language class on Saturday so our week is pretty full. We decided to meet for drinks that night and R's host brother, T, was our guide. he took us to a local disco and ordered for us. We had a flavored vodka that I've never had before. I guess something like strawberry but not too strong a flavor so that it was actually good. Anyway, after 2 weeks of intense training, I guess we just needed to let down our hair because we all pretty much had a very good time drinking, dancing and laughing. One of our guys was invited to hang out with some locals but he was too inebriated to do much. Probably for the best. He eventually came back to our booth, passed out and I remember laughing at his condition. Everybody seemed to have a great time.

Then we left.

Then T bought us all more beers (no open alcohol laws here) and after one sip, I tripped over a low railing. Fell on my ass so nothing more important than my ego was seriously injured. Well, everybody came over to help me and insisted on helping me back to my door. Kind of a long walk and I never regained my balance. Needless to say the vodka kicked my ass.

Next day I begged everybody's forgiveness but they were all in a similar condition. I think after all the work and stress we needed to do something like that to just blow off steam and just get past it.

I had gotten up early and gone for an hour walk. Surfed the internet, basically tried to burn off the hangover. I got rid of it by noon.

Turns out the host families for some of the volunteers became worried because of the late hour and called our Teachers. It became something of a mini-drama. I personally think people are creating more of an issue that it really is but drama has a way of feeding itself.

Anyway, some people were told about some rules that includes new curfews that I toss my head back and laugh at. Hahahahahahahaaaaaa!

I tell you. USSR apologists can kiss my ass. 50 years of Soviet rule decimated this country. Not just the economy or the infrastructure or the environment (oh sure, they are all shot to hell). But the very core of the national character. The people came up under such oppressive conditions that it is going to take generations to maybe get back to normal. And to think when I was younger there were people who actually touted the Socialism as the future. How can anybody call themselves a humanist and in any way have condoned that regime? It is utterly indefensible. How could anybody have witnessed the conditions of this area or Moscow or anywhere like it and not see the hell it was for the people?

Tuesday, March 16, 2004


So I found out today that I am being assigned to Southern Ukraine. I was hoping that I would end up in Kiev. Peace Corps was trying to get me into an animation studio, which I would have loved. But it turned out there were political concerns about my involvement with a state run propaganda mill.

BUT, the place that I am going sounds a great city in a great part of the country. And I will I'll be working with a school that has some specialties that I am interested in. That could be very exciting.

This Saturday I take an 11 hour train ride to meet my new host family. I'll stay with them for 4 days to see the city and meet the people.

A couple of friends will be close so I will be able to easily visit them on day trips. And because this city is between Crimea and Odessa, I will be able to hit both places pretty easily.

Crimea is a resort area and, I am told, a great place to be assigned. But it is expensive to live so being close enough to run in for a day or weekend is probably best.

This morning we had an American give a seminar about the realities of Ukraine business practices. It was a blunt assessment of the corruption and other business oddities of this country. Evidently the 100 years or so of Soviet rule created an incredibly distorted view of how to do business and it is going to take a while to finally purge those ingrained assumptions from the system.

People manage by fear. And intimidation. And criticism. They don't know any other way. And of course it leads to employees who not only don't care about their job but don't trust their bosses, companies or co-workers.

Anyway, another milestone passed. I have 6 weeks left in B and then I move on. I'm starting to enjoy this town and going to miss the people I've met so far.

Don't know when I'll get to send this. We are at a soviet-era workers resort, which is a cinderblock building with the charm and luxury of a upper-class gulag. We do have a lake in the back with a beach that we can walk. It's about 50 feet long. And we are in the woods so in spite of the limited accommodations it is a nice area.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Meeting the Mayor

Today we met the mayor. Well, we were supposed to. i assume he had some important wheat to shuck or something. Anyway he sent his vice mayor. They explained all of the great things that are going on in B. Evidently this is one of the richest cities in the Ukraine.

This country is in real trouble.

Seriously. The poverty here is worse than Mexico. It is a country with no industry but with all the remnants of the previous industry. All of the crap and none of the rewards.

I had an interesting conversation with one woman here who described some of the resentments that exist because the lack of opportunity for the workers. They've been living with 15 years of massive unemployment. On a much smaller scale, I see that some back home in the south. There is an underlying resentment and despair that I think is directly related to the employment situation. Of course that seems obvious but I think it goes beyond the day to day attitudes but has permeated parts of the southern states. Generations have come to expect to not expect much. And when people find themselves is such a mindset, it has to have a debilitating effect on them. The US should be thinking about such things and doing something to resolve it. This goes back to reconstruction and an entire region has been lost because the federal government has simply allowed it to fall into disrepair.

Anyway, back to the mayor. We had a meeting and were allowed to ask questions. a couple of people dominated the conversation with questions about the minute details of city budgeting. I didn't understand what purpose that served and the City officials weren't inclined to open their books . I wanted to find out how to get a free tour of the town. But before you knew it they were hustling us out and bringing in another meeting. I have to wonder what the attitudes are concerning our presence. Are we taken seriously? Are we really appreciated? Are we seen as buffoons? ARe we tolerated to keep relations with the US better? Are we going to make a difference? ARe we wasting everybody's time?

Probably yes to all.

There is an opportunity to make a difference I'm sure. the key in my mind is to find a compelling project to take on. Nothing against them but I'm not here to hug orphans. That is a truly compelling need for that but I am not the person to do it. Maybe I could hang out and read and practice english etc. but we have people in our group who thrive off of that kind of interaction. I think I'll be better doing something else.

There has been some talk about how my qualifications will be great here. I hope that is true. They said that to everybody so I have to wonder if that was just platitudes.

But then I think back on what I've done and can do and some of the projects could be challenging and rewarding. I've heard about some projects here that resulted in exciting developments.

Saturday, March 13, 2004


Last night there was a bombing in Madrid. I don't know the details but was told there is a coming election. The 2 obvious sources are of course basque separatists and islamic radicals. I hope this isn't the beginning of a new wave of terrorism.

Yesterday was devoted to medical. We received our kits with all the needed medicines and accouterments as well as medical training in various areas. First we sat around and told the med lady a little about ourselves. I like her. She is kind of a no nonsense type of person that seems to give you things straight. I've run into a few humanitarian/fascist types that just creep me out with their bipolar attitudes towards mankind versus individuals. They are the type that will lead the revolution and kill the educated.

So after the session, we took a break and she took us to the bazaar to explain some local foods. The we had lunch.

Well, we had Ukraine pizza. It is a crust at the bottom of a metal plate, covered with sauce and cheese. It is cooked in the plate and you eat it like a casserole. It was OK but odd. The sauce had a distinct sweet flavor that was completely unexpected. With a drink the cost was 7 grebna. That is about $1.50. Our allowance is 7 per day for lunch so I'm finally getting in the ballpark. Then we walked the market. Med lady took us through and explained some of the various foods and customs when buying. Evidently 100 grams is commonly one portion of anything and important to know when ordering. You could think you're getting that whole chicken quarter for 12 grivna when it is actually 3 times that price.

Then we went back and viewed an AIDS video created by former PCVs that contracted the disease while on assignment. I have been bothered for years by the politicization of AIDS and the resulting dishonesty in the education that is offered. And this was no different. Of 8 people in the video, only 2 were men and only one man was possibly gay. When I asked about it, I was told that PC doesn't ask people their sexuality. But come on, there's no way you can randomly pull together such a group and so grotesquely distort the real picture. Afterwards we had a discussion in which Med lady was refreshingly frank (at my prodding I might add) about transmission realities and the mechanics of contracting the disease. I actually learned a couple of things.

She pulled out dildos and showed how to put a condom on. that is always fun. She had three types of three sizes and colors. I'm not sure if she had such a variety for whatever continent she might be in at any particular moment. Or if people request she demonstrate on different sizes.

Afterwards we jaunted over to the internet cafe. Computer games are big here and everybody rents stations so it was filled with young guys. We decided to come back in the morning.

For dinner we had a meat-filled dumpling in broth. They were great. I'm eating more new things than I ever imagined. Hunger combined with a desire to not insult my hosts has caused me to eat much more foreign foods than I ever expected.

I brought home a bottle of vodka and sipped a shot during dinner. I got tired of waiting for them to offer me alcohol so now I can comfortably reach for the bottle if I feel like a drink. A bottle equivalent to a fifth was around $2.45. And it is good stuff. But then that is the cost of lunch.

We are meeting the mayor this am. I've got my suit out and ironed my shirt. I'll be wearing long johns underneath. We are supposed to have created a list of questions but I will wing it. Maybe I should create a list? Hmmm.

From there we'll study russian yet again. I wonder if people get burned out after a while?

Friday, March 12, 2004


I never appreciated the brilliance of american toilet engineering until I arrived at this place. no I'm not talking about the squat toilets you've probably seen or heard about. They have a certain organic place in the scheme of things so I have no problem with that old school model. I'm talking about the traditional sit-downs. Over here, at least in the few toilets I've had the pleasure of knowing, they have this creative design that involves an inner platform in what I would call the receiving position. It looks like a regular toilet except this shelf sits where we expect a bowl of water. It has a slight depression that allows probably a couple of tablespoons of water to stand. Imagine, anything that is placed on this platform must then be flushed forward and down a hole. So the package has to not only be moved, but must actually be lifted up slightly to get over the lip of the depression that it sits in. I don't have to tell you how a simple one-way toilet from our world can sometimes have trouble. Low flow toilets anyone? And I know people that have made great effort to increase water flow and tank capacity to overcome this problem. Well here, every time you flush, it is a drama. You stand there equally hopeful and terrified about the outcome. And every time it is successful, you just cannot believe it. Probably Stalin's final joke on the world. I am developing a "feathering" technique with the lever that seems to be quite effective so maybe I will have the last laugh.

And by the way, the toilet paper is as bad as the legend. oh sure, you can buy the good stuff, but it would cost you probably a nickel a roll and who has that?

When we arrived in Ukraine, we were all going nuts over the prices. cigarettes are less than a $1 a pack, beer is 30 cents for a liter, good shoes are $30 a pair etc. Well, we've been in country on PC money about a week and today we are griping about the 50 kopecks each it is going to cost to take a taxi to visit an orphanage. I mean come on, Kopecks don't grow on trees. The PC wants us to be putting out cash like that all the time and we are going to have a problem. What do I look like? Kopeck bags?

50 kopecks is worth about a dime.

But when you are getting $80 to live for a month, it suddenly changes your perspective. Well not suddenly I guess but fairly quickly. What seemed cheap upon arrival is now not such a great deal. Less than $3 a day means that a $3 lunch is more than my salary. I've got to start cutting back. No more crazy spending sprees like throwing my money away on food.

We did throw away money on candy for orphans today. We bought 3 bags for our trip. I think we really need to get a grip on our need to spend money. We've been told that there are these stereotypes about rich americans and then we show up with enough candy for 150 kids when there are only 30?

Anyway, the orphanage. this is one of those secondary projects they tell you about. Which is volunteering during your time off from volunteering. We have a few people in the group that seem to be all over this but I'm standing back. It seems like there is little that I can actually contribute at this point. Maybe I could teach the kids english but I am only here 3 months and then I am being reassigned. I'll take it slow.

There are 30 kids in this old style orphanage. Most are from drug addicted parents that have lost the kids to the state. they attend public schools and are involved in various programs. Something about the place seemed odd to me though. I've probably seen too many melodramas about maniacal orphanage directors that horribly abuse the kids when the local authorities turn their heads but everything there just seemed too perfect. There wasn't a speck of dust anywhere. The drawings by the kids on the walls all looked perfectly fresh and they all had newly written labels. It's almost as if things were put together the morning before we arrived. I'm sure my need for drama is making all of this up but I'm not convinced otherwise.

I have to keep this under my hat or I'll get a reputation for being a pessimist. Or suffering paranoid delusions.

Tonight we had crab cakes. I was shocked. I guess I never thought that they might have crabs in this part of the world.

My little host sister is a sweetheart but she makes it impossible for me to hang out with the family when I have studying to do. She is all over me and demanding my attention. I try to invent games that allow me to learn and have fun with her but she won't cooperate. She's an only child and pretty spoiled.

So once again I closed my bedroom door and studied. It doesn't really bother me but I hear the Ukraine's think you are a loner when you do that. I'll just have to make sure they know I am still a good guy in my off time.

No TV, movies, Radio, video, anything in 2 weeks. No politics. No internet. I don't know what to say about it all quite yet. I do miss the politics but it is something of a relief to be honest.

Thursday, March 11, 2004


My host family has decided to take an active role in my education. Tonight I began what I thought would be a fun run-through the words i learned in class and my host mother was going to help. By the end, I think she thought I couldn't think at all. I was thinking the same thing.

Learning this language makes me feel stupid. Just imagine you don't even know the alphabet. And the phrase book has all the russian words in Cyrillic (however the hell you spell that). So I'm stumbling over my "g" sounding upside-down "L"s and my "n" sounding "h"s and my "v" sounding "b"s and my blah, blah blah. Don't even get me started on those g.d. backward "N"s that sound like "i". And sometime your upside down L sounds like a g and sometimes...oh, it sounds like a b. Oh, it's all about the particular word and what it feels like doing.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004


I'm having fun guessing what we will have for various meals. Last night I had...ham. Just a plate of cold ham slices. I screwed up my courage and asked for cheese, which I got promptly. I'm starting the Atkins diet whether I like it or not.

Not really because this morning I had macaroni for breakfast. Not macaroni and cheese or macaroni and sauce or macaroni and butter. Plain macaroni. It was great with my eggs but who wudda thunk it? Tonight we had a chicken soup (my chicken wing was intact with bones and even traces of feather) and a diced beet, pickle, carrot and some other tuber kind of salad. Delicious.

We've been out for lunch twice. I paid $3 for a full meal yesterday and $4 today. That included a salad, Chicken, mashed potatoes, beets, bread and a coke. Evidently that is high so we will be searching out cheaper places in the next few days. Great food so far.

They tell us only rich people eat out everyday so a lot of PCVs are paranoid and convinced that we have to eat at a different place each time to disguise our vast wealth. I think that is probably b.s.. As long as we are cool, I think we'll be OK. We were told that Americans are louder than Ukrainians so we will need to watch our volume when we are out. Our massive, well-fed lungs evidently frighten them.

Did I mention the highways? They have the most amazing, solid and flat highways you ever drove. LIke airport runways. When you look around at all the disrepair, it is difficult to understand why they got the roads right when they got so much more wrong, and then you realize there are hardly any cars or trucks to tear them up. I think they must use rail more for their cargo transportation.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Home site

We left Kiev this morning in groups of 16. That is two clusters with 2 groups of 4 in each cluster. I am located in a town called B (name withheld). That is a transliteration. I don't have the exact spelling. It is a small town about 45 minutes from Kyiv. I live in a house with a mother N, father, V, Babushka (grandmother) K and 4 year old girl A.

Oh, and a dog that smells I suspect like Michael Moore's unbathed crotch. It is just the most god-awful, gross smell I can ever remember from a dog. I mean my dog in the states Bobbie had a fresh bouquet after a skunk encounter compared to this one. So while I was excited to learn they had a dog, I now do my best to keep it's funk off me. But here is something cool, it is the son of a genuine guard dog on the berlin wall. I'm not sure about the background, but evidently they let soldiers take some home after the fall.

Back to the family. We live in a small place off of the main drag by about half a mile. I'm lucky to have connected with somebody with a house as most people end up in apartments. Of course our idea of a house is quite different than theirs. This would be considered a shack by any American standards. It is of a kind of stone-like, masonry resembling material. Probably some kind of nuclear impregnated soviet brick I would guess. Krushchev's ashes are probably littered throughout these walls. The house is 5 rooms including the bathroom. I am in what would be a study. Grandmother and Ana sleep in the living room.

And nothing is square. None of the doors close. They wedge shut. In the bathroom we use what I call the Ukrainian dishrag latch. That is a rag that is draped over the door to provide a tight wedge so that when you are in the bathroom with the door that won't fully close, it won't swing open at some inopportune moment.

But it is solid and warm. And I have warm water for a bath. Both things I was concerned about.

The family is very kind and supportive. They are not the stereotypical hard drinkers that we've been warned about. Last night the mom and dad took me to a disco. They each had one drink and I had 4. Understand we were at this disco until 3 am. It was my first Ukraine disco so it was equally thrilling and frightening for me to be out at a strange bar in a strange city with nobody to actually communicate with. But we did manage to rock our heads to the beat in unison.

The Ukrainian girls are very beautiful. Except for the ugly ones.

They dress like the 80s and dance like the 60s. All the music they played was a variation of euro-russo-disco. It would all be great if I was dropping X. But I wasn't so I stayed off the dance floor until "Lose Yourself" started, only to be horrified when they dropped a fat disco beat over it and completely destroyed my mojo. I did not represent.

I did get to watch those girls though and on my honor, I hope we can come together in harmony and, as some really smart poet once kind of said, beat that sword into a ploughshare with them. Isn't that the dream?

Speaking of women, Monday was national Women's Day. It is quite the holiday. everybody is celebrating and we were encouraged to join in. So I bought N and babushka roses and a doll. One of the properly liberated womyn in our group asked the Ukraine instructor if this day was to celebrate the working woman or women empowerment, yada yada, yada. They looked at her like she was insane. It is simply to celebrate women, they explained. Evidently, they think women are pretty great in all kinds of ways, no need to empower. I can buy that.

Monday, March 08, 2004


There is a girl here who is just amazing. She is from the south and we somehow started hanging out at the DC airport. A little blond with a lot of sass. And a boyfriend back home. Anyway, my liquifying innards put a stop to any flirting until the last day in Kyiv but she is a real heartbreaker. I asked her how her boyfriend could handle her leaving for two years and suggested he might be gay (otherwise why would he allow it? I'm just trying to help.). She gave that some thought. She's not in my cluster so I don't know when or if I'll ever see her again.

I am brilliant. At the airport, I got the amazing girl to go with me and buy cigarettes so I could double my limit. I got 4 cartons for $76. Smart huh? Well, cigarettes are dirt cheap here. I could have gotten them for less than half that price. They are American so the tobacco should be better. At the rate that everybody is smoking and bumming from me, these won't last long.

We all ran over to the grocery outside of our compound and grabbed various items. Kyiv has everything you could want so a lot of stuff I brought could have waited. And most everything is dirt cheap. Alcohol and cigs being the most unbelievable. I picked up some chocolate for my family. And a bottle of Cognac for the dad.

Sunday, March 07, 2004


Well, it was a long flight. I was on probably the most cramped plane I've ever experienced. Lhuftansa evidently has devised a super-efficient, extra-modern, fantastically money-making 747 model that allows the maximum number of bodies to be firmly stuffed inside with a minimal number of resulting lawsuits. I was screwed and stuffed into an aisle seat myself and had to sleep with my neck firmly and permanently flexed back so that I wouldn't be decapitated by the food cart. Luckily the guy next to me could put Jim Carrey to sleep with his riveting conversation so I was still able to nod off.

But the more important element of the flight is that I evidently managed to contract food poisoning while on it.

I started with some slight heartburn. It was annoying but nothing I thought couldn't be helped with some rolaids. For the rest of the trip I avoided food. No problem.

In the german airport I thought I'd hit the bathroom but they have one, singular toilet for the terminal. No, I don't mean one bathroom with multiple stalls. One toilet. Period. I don't know if this is a result of 200 years of fierce discipline but there was a long line of weak-willed foreigners standing patiently outside. I decided to hold it lest my bathroom visit coincide with my plane's departure.

When I arrived in Kyiv, it hit me bad. I was beginning to become disoriented during customs (which P.C. handled masterfully), so I asked for and received some antacid. After arriving at our staging dorm, and carrying our luggage up 5 flights to our rooms (remember, I had two checked bags, one 65 and the other 50 pounds. Plus I had the laptop and backpack carry-ons.), I finally succumbed. I just didn't have the juice to go on. The best the medical officer could offer was some electrolyte supplement that is basically various salts packaged in a salty substance, supplemented by a salt additive. And enhanced with a salt flavoring. And it made me want to vomit. So I excused myself and stayed in the room the rest of the evening. The evening being interrupted by frequent trips to the restroom of course. Behold the human fountain.

So to diminish the restroom trips, I stopped drinking completely. And of course stopped supplementing my electrolytes. And so I became something of a desiccated shell of my normal, dynamic self. The next day, I dragged myself to our first orientation but when everybody else went to lunch, I passed out in the lecture hall upper boxes. Before I knew it I was told to go to bed by a beautiful, frightened Ukrainian girl. From her expression, I believe she had never seen a raving lunatic before. I slept the rest of the day.

By the third day though I was slowing my evacuations and getting my strength back, albeit slowly. So I again dragged myself to a lecture and of course found the PC officials to be incredibly silly and condescending to both the volunteers and Ukrainians. From my observation, there are some PC volunteers who feel it is humane and polite to pat the cute, helpless Ukraines on the head and express their great glee that the natives have learned to wear shoes. I have expect one person in particular to pull out a lighter flick it and proclaim "Behold, I make fire!".

And I swear the Ukraines have mastered the art of firmly biting their lips without actually drawing blood. Or perhaps they simply swallow it along with their pride. Kind of like an old comic strip with the lion, watching the lion tamer, waiting for the moment he can rip his throat out. Well, after hours of self-congratulatory BS by yet another condescending PC rep, I blurted out some nonsense that probably could be interpreted as "get to the fucking point" and after a couple of awkward silences, I thankfully caught and stopped myself so that I think they were none the wiser. Of course somebody is responsible for my assignment so maybe I just inadvertently determined my destination for the next 2 years.

I had my first solid food on my third day. Scary at first but I think I'll get used to it.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Hello and welcome to my Blog. I'm a big fan of the medium and thought perhaps my adventure in the Peace Corps may be of interest. For various reasons I won't use my or anybody else's real names. There isn't any drama behind that decision but it makes things easier for me and all involved. Internet is a little more difficult here than in the States so my postings may be delayed but I promise to try.

Ukraine is an interesting country. It's time under Soviet rule decimated the country. I don't know what the correct term would be but it evidently had a pretty active industrial base until the collapse. Now it has all the negative remnants of industrialization but little of the advantages.

I expect my opinions will change over time and it will be interesting to see that development.

Thanks for coming and let me know what you think.

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