Wednesday, April 21, 2004

New Home

I am sitting on the bed of my new room in my soon-to-be new Host Family’s home. The home is 2 rooms plus a kitchen and bath. We have no hot water and the water only runs between 6:30 am and 10:30 pm. So I have had my first of many sponge baths. Sponge baths, at least as given by me to me are not as exotic or romantic as those seen on TV.

I am tempted to design and install a new technology I will call "The Ukrainian gravity shower". It will consist of a bucket with one end of a hose exiting the bottom and a shower head on the other end. I don’t know if I will incorporate pulleys etc. to lift the filled bucket or just a hook but I know I would enjoy the heck out of water actually falling on me for a change. I know this is a new technology so I will introduce it slowly.

I am now assigned to N. It is a port city just above the North Sea. It was the shipbuilding city for the USSR and also secretly built military airplanes. Because of this airplane factory hidden from the west, N was a closed city during Soviet rule. It has a population of about 500,000 and is, by my last city's standards, beautiful. There is a street closed to traffic and filled with outdoor cafes. Two rivers converge here so there are plenty of opportunities to see and walk along the heavy-metal infused water. And we are 30 minutes from the sea.

The story they tell is that when they started building this city and the ships about 200 or so years ago, there were no women, so Katherine sent Russian women and as a result N has the most beautiful women in all of Ukraine.

We also have the greatest Zoo in all of Ukraine.

And we have the Greatest Swimming pool in all of Ukraine, if not the world!

Odessa is 2 hours west and Crimea is about 5 hours to the east. Both are destination spots. Turkey is available by various means and Greece can’t be far away. I am very happy so far.

As I said before, I wasn't able to work with the animation studio for political reasons but now I find myself working with a college. And I think the political implications could be much greater. The goal of the college, as explained to me, is to transform journalism throughout Ukraine from the state-run model to a western style free press.

That means transforming or replacing the media that currently exists. That would be media that is 80% controlled by the state. I have a suspicion that the current government wouldn’t appreciate that. But this is where I am assigned and I will do what I can. My first step will be to contact a businessman I met at a conference last week who specializes in Business management consultation in Ukraine. He is a no-nonsense kind of guy and I want to run this school and their objectives by him to get his feedback. If it is valid, he may be interested in giving some advice. If it is a bunch of hooey, I think he’ll tell me.

The family here is very nice. It consists of a mother S, father A, and daughter L. I started getting a cold my first day and they smothered me with attention. Last night they insisted I drink heated wine. I’ve been taking my trusty ZICAM Zinc nasal gel and it is again cutting back the cold but for the family I attributed my quick recovery to the wine.

But what you really want to hear about are my living conditions don't you?

Well, I have a much nicer room than before. I have a bed, desk and wardrobe. There is a TV and boom box. And it is filled with plants. And the door locks. And the rest of the family sleeps in the living room.

I feel guilty taking their only bedroom but I have to assume that they need the money. What do I mean “assume”? Of course they need the money.

We live on the 7th floor with an elevator that has been broken for 5 years. The family was informed that the elevator is supposed to be repaired next week. They are convinced it is because of my arrival. As much as I would like to accept responsibility, it certainly wasn't because I made a telephone call. Maybe it was because the American moved in. Who knows.

was a rocket scientist in the soviet army. He had 3 stars and I still haven’t figured out if that is the rank of General or Colonel or since it seems stars are generously distributed, a captain but it definitely is an officer . Now he repairs lottery machines around the city. I can’t imagine the pride he has to swallow every day. But he seems to get through each day with good humor and is always smiling and laughing.

I’m constantly reminded of the loss the Ukrainians have suffered since the fall of the Soviets. I can’t say how many formerly successful businessmen I have met who lost everything during that period. Sure, maybe that success could have been retained with a responsible government except the former system was so corrupt already that when the opportunity came, a very few in the inner circles began the raping and pillaging.

This country is on the cusp of either a great advance or a possible slide. I hope the US is keeping in mind the value of this place in our strategic and economic interests. I know, I know, the humanitarian reasons alone are compelling enough but the others don't hurt.

But then the Peace Corps is a non-political, non-religious organization and I of course have no opinion in those matters.

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