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.

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