Blog Archive

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ukraine Revisited in Jan 2009

As most of you know, I was working in Ukraine doing some teacher training of English language teachers for the U.S. State Dept. I had a grant to train teachers in language assessment techniques. What you probably don't know is that I was revisiting Kharkiv, the city where we lived last year for 9 months, and seeing many, many good friends there. This was an awesome trip!

Originally, I was scheduled for 6 days in Kharkiv, but due to the 25 hour flight delay in Boston (which wasn't a total waste of time), I arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine one day late reducing down the total days in Kharkiv to 5. I was met at the Kyiv Bosoripil airport by a driver, and after obtaining 50 hryvnias in Kyivstar phone card service, was conducted seemlessly to a waiting car and onto the Ukrainian highway on a 5 hour drive from Kyiv to Kharkiv. It was butt cold that evening, so when we stopped at an utterly Ukrainian roadside market, I got some chai, and my Russian started floading back to me, greatly surprising me. I arrived at the Chichikov Hotel (a 4 star rarity in Ukraine) at midnight to anti-jetlag to sleep for an early morning wake up call for work. I had 4 hour workshop sessions 6 days a week for my workshop in Kharkiv and the one in Yalta.

After an excellent breakfast by the hotel's French chef, I was met by Olia, my grant co-author and teacher at the Lyceum Professional in Kharkiv. We walked briskly the mile or so to the school, past all of the so familiar haunts of ours from last year. It was so comforting to be at home there. The room where I presented my workshops was even the same classroom in which I gave a workshop last May. Other familiar faces, like Oksana, Irina and Alex who are teachers from the Lyceum, were there and greeted me with tremendous warmth. I also made new friends, like Vadimir and Vera.

Each day in Kharkiv was like a whirlwind. I worked intensely for 4 hours, mostly trying to get the more reticent, and weaker English speaking teachers, to interact with the material. The stronger teachers excelled easily and were a pleasure to collaborate with. Immediately after each workshop, I tried to nap, if possible, or meet with friends, and former students and colleagues from the Kharkiv Polytechnic, where I taught last year.

The first evening free, after meeting Antonina and Vasilisa Badan for an afternoon tea, I rendezvoused with Ian the Brit, Mary and Frank of Kenya. We met at Stargorod, a Czech-style beer hall complete with half-naked go-go dancers in quasi-Ukrainian peasant wear, a crappy folk and pop singing MC, and the occasional male stripper. We were given Goodfella-type service with an impromtu table provided by our friend Merkan, who greeted me warmly with "Where's Patrick?" This was the most common question I received during my time in Kharkiv and was typically followed by "Where's Maddy?" :-)

During our long evening of feasting, catching up and telling stories, and merriment, we drank excellent site-brewed Pilsners punctuated with regular toasts and shots of vodka. The vodka there is SO MUCH BETTER than here!!! They serve it in carafes, too. hehehe. At the end of the night around 3 am, we had danced on the tables, Ian did an impression of the Full Monty, and we generally acted like drunken fools. Frank didn't have a reprieve from the older Ukrainian women requesting that he dance with them. Mary was also popular as a dance partner, but was most floored by the "spare stall" in the ladies room. I found it by accident on a trip to the toilet; it was the last stall in the row and the others were inhabited. In this stall was a plush red velvet ottoman that stretched the width of the stall. There were pictures of naked people getting busy on the wall, and a door on the other side of the ottoman (which clearly led to the men’s bathroom located next door). Mary was floored by this revelation! Clearly, this establishment aimed at serving its clientel! Ukrainians don’t seem to be the prudish and hypocritical people we see elsewhere….

Next day, work (tired, jet-lagging and a bit hung over) went well. Photos were being taken regularly throughout these sessions, only later I discovered why. During the walk home, I was hit on by a very handsome Azerbajian man in an Armani suit who followed me to my hotel to ask me out through the hotel clerk translator! LOL! That night I met with former students at Puzata Hata, which humorously means pot-bellied house (or peasant), but in reality translates to Ukrainian–themed, fast-food restaurant. It was packed when we arrived, so we ended up in a children’s play room, which seemed oddly fitting to my way of thinking. ;-) 20 former students showed up and we ate, drank, smoked, and caught up. It was so good to hear how they were faring in their studies of English and German Translation and Interpretation, but mostly to hear the gossip! We were kicked out as the restaurant closed at 11pm, so some close friends (Ian the Brit, Ian’s girlfriend Helen, Igor and Danil) all walked back along the icy streets to my hotel with me. We lingered over drinks and smokes in the hotel bar with Ian regaling us with Kharkivan mafia stories and the movement of Barabashova market until 4am. Had some absinthe for the first time; didn’t care for it, don’t like licorice or the migraine in the morning.

Next day, slept until 1pm only to jump up migraine-ridden from my down- and linen-lined nest to rush to shower off the 2nd hand smoke stench and make-up my pale face for a house party/ barbeque at Olia’s place in the southern suburbs of town. This Sunday afternoon and evening turned into the quinnessential Russian/Ukrainain meal and drinking fest that one hears told of in tour-book warnings of endless toasts of vodka that paralyze and decapacitate. It was a blast! Starting at 2pm, Vladimir and Alex alternated playing the guitar and singing Russian and Ukrainian folk tunes. We had shashlyk of curried pork (an “exotic” treat of Vladimir’s making), several Ukrainian composted salads (not green salads) like salad Olivier, pickles (of course!), etc, etc. There was so much food on the table for the 5.5 hours I was there, I thought it would be for leftovers. Oddly, folks just kind of munched for hours with the nonstop rounds of traditional toasts to love and women. I had to leave the table sadly at 7:30pm, and rush to the Badan’s for another dinner, but the others didn’t finish until 11pm that night.

At the Badan’s we had a traditional fish dish and looked at photos while they did my smoke-drench laundry for me. I was paper-thin with exhaustion when I left at 10:30pm for the 2 block walk to my hotel.

Next day, Monday, work (even more tired), went smoothly. I made some intellectual connections for myself during the work and drew some visuals that will help me in the future. Teachers were getting it and doing well, I thought. Vladimir escorted me along the bumpy, ice and snow encrusted sidewalks back to my hotel. That night, connected with Lesya, a former student, at the McDonald’s on Pushkinskaya where Patrick and Madeline and I had spent so much time last year. We walked in the biting cold to Independence Square, the largest in Europe, to a Japanese restaurant that Lesya liked. The Square was full of illuminated ice sculptures in celebration of the New Year and Eastern Orthodox Christmas on Jan 7th as well as a snow-trimmed Lenin statue. Lesya and I had a calm meal of sushi and chatted about the possibility of her coming to UWEC to study. I think she will come.

Tuesday, my last full day in Kharkiv, was packed. Over breakfast, I met a nice man named Roland from Switzerland. Then, worked to conclude the workshop series starting at 9am. At the end of the session (1:30pm), the school owner gave a little champagne celebatory party for all the workshop participants. I was given many wonderful gifts, including a poster of pictures of myself from Vladimir, who had developed a crush on me. It was great working with the Lyceum staff and making new friends there! I do hope to return to work with them in the future. Vladimir escorted me to the Paris Café on Pushkinskaya at 2:30pm where I was supposed to meet my former students Sergey the Clown, Danil, Igor, and Olia, and later to meet Vicki and Natalia, who are instructors from the Polytechnic at 3:30pm, but this is Ukraine and it was exam time. The students didn’t show and all for different reasons ranging from I had an unexpected exam (which does happen there) to we broke up and I cannot be around him/her right now. The teachers also didn’t show up, because of a previously unscheduled exam that suddenly cropped up. Vladimir and I, in the meantime, had some cappuccinos and French pastries, tried to communicate between our languages since either of us spoke the other language, and waited. Finally, around 4pm, Vladimir escorted me back to my hotel, where I collapsed in sleep to prep for dinner that night. Ian the Brit and Helen had Mary, Frank 2 other Kenyans as well as 3 Ugandan friends over to their place for dinner. Met Helen and grabbed some Kharkivan champagne at Pushkinskaya metro and walked the 2 blocks to they apartment. Their love shack was literally built as a love shack for hourly rendezvous of a sexual nature. Hysterically, there are mirrors everywhere, an enormous bar and a tub that could fit about 6 adults! Our African friends arrived and we proceeded to eat, drink and get silly (again!). My new Suisse friend, Roland, joined us at 11pm. We had an excellent meal, needed to run out for more champagne and discussed politics until late. My Suisse friend hit on my over tea in the hotel bar that night; Man, it is a boost to my deflated 40-year old ego! Barely got any sleep that night as I had to meet the Badans at 4am to drive me to the Kharkiv airport for flights to Kyiv and onto Simferople.

I arrived exhausted in Kyiv where I met up with Alyona, my State Dept colleague, and went onto Simferople. We cabbed it 1.5 hours for 400 hryvnia to Yalta. We checked into the Hotel Bristol near the embankment. I had a 3 hour workshop that afternoon, and was pretty damn wiped out by the time Alyona and I had a quiet and delicious dinner at Hoterock restaurant. Alyona and I developed a friendship and had a good time over the next couple of days until she needed to return to Kyiv on Friday.

The teachers in Yalta had a totally different professional situation than the ones I’d seen in Kharkiv. These teachers generally (with the exception of the Lyceum teachers) tended to have stronger English skills. They also had smart board technology in every classroom. The school I presented at was called the School of the Future, and it was clear to me why—modern, well-run, and high tech! I was jazzed to work on a smart board and learned how to use it to my presentation’s advantage. The teachers were excellent: they did their homework, came prepared, participated, and learned the material. At the end of the 6 days of workshops, they presented their performance assessments, instructional objectives and rubrics. I was so proud! The teachers gave me many gifts, one of which was a handmade clay and mosaic-tiled bowl of Crimean Tartar style. I adore it!

During my free time in Yalta, I typically took long walks along the embankment, listened to the crashing waves or admired the snow streaked mountains that embraced this small town, had chai, browses the souvenir stalls and the artist’s wares and took photographs. I finished my book, Prague, and started a new one, Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu. I met some guys, Vasily and Sasha, on my last morning there who were nursing hangovers from a staff party the night before (this was 10am) with a bit of the hair of the dog. Vasily hit on me! He thought I was 30, what a joke! Guys will say anything, won’t they?

Next day, due to typically obtuse and confusing directions at the airport, I missed my flight, so I had to sit around the Simferople airport and miss Obama’s Inaguration. :-)

I arrived in Kyiv late in the evening only to slip and fall none-too-gracefully during deplaning, which resulted in myriad bruises and an annoying broken toe. All this was forgotten though when I connected with Oleg at the voksal! It was excellent to see him! We took the mashrutka to Oleg’s apartment and had several drunken texts and calls from Sergey Tiki! Upon arrival at the apartment, I was greeted by the none-too-sober Sergey yelling from the 4th floor window! It was great to be with such good friends. We had a nice dinner, vodka, wine, cognac, and hung out. I gave the guys their gifts of heavy books on the history of the Nazis (Sergey, a military nut), and business valuation/ mergers and acquisitions (Oleg, a finance guru). Also, gave Oleg a Mickey Mouse calendar. They loved them. We told stories, laughed, discussed our mutual friends, etc. I encouraged Oleg AGAIN to come to the US for study or an internship in finance. We stayed up until the wee hours talking and laughing. Sergey was so pissed drunk that he kept hugging me and telling me how great it was to see me! I love my friends!!

The guys both took of work the following day, and after a late start, we went to the Pinchuk Modern Art Museum, which is just off Khreschatyk in the center of the city. I’d hear great things of it, but was more than impressed by this museum. I’d been to MoMA in NYC, but I liked this modern art museum far better. It wasn’t as bleak as MoMA. It was approachable, human, and almost lyrically playful. Some of our favs were: the conductor and orchestra without instruments, the breathing photos and particularly the Klitchko brothers, the Russian train schedule, the people-chickens in the boxes, and the factory worker reality room with the cigarette-butt star. We had a relaxing espresso at the museum’s 4 floor café with a slice of the Kyiv skyline to admire. At that moment in time, with my two very close friends, having time to think, analyze and reflect on the nature of humanity in the art exhibits, I was blissfully happy. I didn’t have the Prague syndrome at all (the endless and unsatisfying desire to be elsewhere due to the misguided belief that things are better elsewhere). Later, we walked up Khreshchatyk and we purchased some gifts for friends back home, like vintage Soviet-era military pins and Ukrainian music. We headed up the hill around 4:30pm only to arrive at Saint Sophia, the acclaimed 11th century church, late. For the 4th time, I couldn’t see the churches interior. It only means that I’ll need to come and try again! Next we walked to St. Michael’s and took the funicular down the hill to Podil, where we visited the Puzata Hata for cerniki.

We rushed through rush-hour traffic back to Sergey and Oleg’s place and finally rendezvoused with Alyona for dinner at Natsunalnoy Koohni (I may have transliterated it wrong) Restaurant. We were greeted at this famous, traditional Ukrainian restaurant by a embroidered and skirted Ukrainian mama with a tray of shots of homemade vodka, moonshine and some berry/cinnamon liquor and the pervasive pickle chasers. We did some shots and were escorted through this Ukrainian fairy-tale styled world to our table. We had a great meal with white Georgian wine (I had vareniki), and listened to folk musicians and singers. We laughed and told stories. At the end of the evening, we finished our excursion with more shots “for the ride” (in this case walk) home. We said our goodbyes to Alyona and returned to Oleg and Sergey’s place to watch Pineapple Express.

My flight was very early the next morning, so I barely got any sleep. The guys both got up about 4:30am to see me off. The trip home was quick and event-free. I got back by 4pm Jan 22nd. It was a very quick, but rewarding trip on many levels. Ukraine in an interesting place that is oddly like home for me now and has a different sort of freedom than the US. I will greatly miss my Ukrainian, Russian, Kenyan, Ugandan, and Suisse friends!!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Stardate 6/26/2008: Coming Home is So Much Harder

Well, this is my last post about the Reynolds' experiences in Ukraine. We departed Kharkiv on May 24 by the early morning, express train to Kyiv with Ian the Brit. We had an excellent send off party with all of our close friends from Kharkiv (Mary, Frank, Ian, Igor, Sergey, Danil, Lesya, Tash, Anya, Vicki, Natasha, Sasha, etc)! It was a great day, my 40th birthday, and I will never forget this moment in my life. It was so fun with so many laughs! I really liked the mojitos that I had and thanks to Maxim for the ones he bought me on my b-day!

The next morning was a bit of a scramble to the train with our bags, but we had lots of help. Then came the hard part: saying goodbye to A, Vlad and VL. They had been our family and support system there and we will miss them everyday. There were tears, of course. But we have been in touch by email since then. Thank goodness, we figured out the correct email address!

We were met in Kyiv by Oleg and Sergey and they helped us deposit our large bags there until the following Tuesday when we had to meet our plane and depart Ukraine completely. From there, we got to our awesome apartment that Oleg arranged for us, which was right by Independence Square! Great location and comfy apartment.

We hung out and started partying immediately at 1pm. This party lasted late into the wee hours. We walked down Andrevsky's Descent for some time and ended up eating at Poozata Hata for the last time. Poozata Hata is definitely the quinessential Ukrainian comfort food. Later that night, we went to a bar to watch the Eurovision contest, which was completely new to P and me and baffling due to the strange voting system that is political and not based on talent. One of our good friends got trashed and was inciting folks by cheering on Russia! It was interesting, let's say... We did stay up talking and (some of us) drinking until 3am or so. We sat on Kreschatyk at an outdoor cafe that had great Irish coffees and warm English woolen blankets. It was a good time mostly.

The next couple of days, we spent time with friends seeing sights. We went to Ukrainian outdoor museum called Pirohiv/Pirogovo which was about village life with these really cool, authentic village houses. There were different regions of Ukraine represented in this very large museum. We spent the day with Ian and Oleg. Ian even tried some of the Ukrainian moonshine and fresh salo and pickles sold there by a local babushka. His face after drinking the moonshine was priceless! There were musicians and artisans all throughout the museum/park. And there were really cool traditional crafts: cross-stitched shirts, painted eggs, etc. But this museum was not over-commercialized like those in the west, which was a tremendous relief. There were so many various building spread out at the museum that it is a great walk. Near the windmills, Maddy rode a pony for a short ride. It was a beautiful day and the museum is a must see for anyone visiting Kyiv. We spent 6 hours there and walked a couple of miles, but had a great time, saw some cool buildings and had a lot of laughs.

Our last day in Ukraine, Sergey Tiki took us to two really cool places.

First, we went to St. Cyril's church which is a 14th century church that many tourists miss because it is off the beaten path ( you have to take a mashrutka and subways to get there). But it was super cool, maybe the coolest Eastern Orthodox church that we visited. Outside it was heavy, squat, white-washed and domed structure, but inside it was reminiscent of the Aya Sophia in Turkey only it was painted with the most exquisite frescoes in a luscious shade of blue. The subject matter of the frescoes was particularly interesting. There was one of an angel rolling out the heavens, and others of various biblical figures, church patrons and princes/princesses. The most similar aspect to the Aya Sophia was the almond shape of the icons' eyes. They were almost haunting. I'm so thankful Sergey took us there on his one day off a week!

Second, we visited a very sad place called "Babi Yar" the site where many, many of Kyiv's Jewish population were gunned down by the Nazi's. It is today a green, relatively well-maintained park in a suburb of Kyiv. In the 1930's/40's, it was a wooded area outside of the city. The area had steep gorges, so the German soldiers lined up the unfortunates and shot them at the edge of the gorge. Then, their bodies would fall into the gorge and the Germans would spread a thin layer of dirt over them to bury them. This gruesome spectacle continued on a daily basis for months. Today, the gorges are half full. There is this strange looking level surface in the middle of the gorge we visited. Underneath are thousand of human's remains. It was an odd place, but one that we definitely needed to visit for the history and to remember.

Our final evening in Kyiv was spent with Oleg. We hung out mellowly at the apartment and later went to dinner. Pat was wiped out from the weekend so stayed home with Maddy. Oleg and I walked the length of Kreschatyk and visited a church near our apartment. I tried to prolong that evening as long as I could, knowing saying goodbye to him would be the last and most difficult of Ukrainian goodbyes. It was painful, because saying goodbye to him meant saying goodbye to Ukraine and not knowing if we would ever return or see our friends again.

The next morning we were up and moving at 3am. The next 24 hours were a blur. We were suddenly home in the US and in Wisconsin. It was odd, like kissing an old boyfriend you haven't kissed in months: nice, comforting and strangely familiar.

We arrived in Eau Claire about 3pm the same day we left (May 28th). The house was is in fine shape. The cats were interested to differing degrees. Jack came up immediately, Seamus was fine within a couple of hours and thus all over us, and Howard took 24 hours to warm up. Then, everything was like we left it although there was a pile of mail to be sorted and the yard was in desperate need of spring maintenance.

Our reverse culture shock consisted of 1) how loud people are here 2) how helpful and friendly they are. I mean, they go out of their way to help you! 3) how wide the roads and how big the cars are. 3) how big, wait I mean fat, the people are (and I'm one of them). 4) how overwhelming the choices are in the grocery store and others as well. 5) how huge the platters of food at restaurants.

The Ukraine experience has changed us. We need less of everything from food to space to stimulation. We are lonely and long for people walking on the streets. We value our washing machine and dryer. We want to downsize our lives by getting rid of everything extra we don't use or need. We want to move overseas on a more permanent basis, because of the quality of life issues here. People are so busy stressing out over work and getting their kid to yet another soccer game that they don't ever spent any time with each other. They never seem content.

There are, of course, many things we value here like repairmen who come to your house and can fix your dryer or internet cable on the spot. Also, very valued- internet bill pay.

In conclusion, I believe that once you live in a place for a period of time and put down roots that part of you will always belong there. It's like being in love with two men at the same time. In my case, I fall in love with all the places I've lived and leaving them is difficult. We will always miss Ukraine, cherish our friends there, reminisce about our experiences, appreciate the Fulbright opportunity and want to return someday. Here's to hoping we can.

Thank you for reading. Good bye.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Stardate: 5/14/2008 Winding Down

I should be asleep right now, but my mind is racing. I have a teacher workshop at a local Lyceum at 13:30 tomorrow. But my mind is consumed with all the things I have to work out in the little less than a fortnight remaining in Ukraine. I have to organize and disseminate a year's worth of collected items to folks willing to take them and pack up our belongings into 6 suitcases to return to the US, or as Maddy has recently been calling it, "Mooseconsin." The printer will go to the University, the books for donation were taken there on Monday, but the kitchen wares and out grown children's clothes, I don't know where to take them...hmm.

I have been also collecting images, both the digital and mental kinds. The spring has been luscious here with the trees fully in bloom with broad, green leaves and little white flowers on the chestnuts. There is some grass, weak and thin, sprouting in some boulevard and park corners. The lilacs are as pervasive here as they are in Eau Claire and you can pick up the scent on the breeze if you pay attention. Unfortunately though people here rip branches of lilacs off public park bushes and take them home in large bouquets. I understand why they would want them; they are so fresh and sweet. But the bushes appear raped with raw, twisted stumps from ground until people can't reach the buds. At least the ones on the tops survive to treat the public.

It has been about 10 days of rain. I like the rain. I like taking long walks in the mist at night. I like being alone under my red umbrella and hearing the thwap, thwap of rain pellets hitting the thin plastic. I like walking with Maddy in her little pink raincoat and matching hat in the drizzle. I don't even mind the plethora of puddles that pock the sidewalks and streets. The rain is like a blessing to the plants and I like that. Maybe, too, it suits my present mood.

I have been taking these walks to gather the aforementioned images. Always on the look out for the one image I've been meaning to photograph for months, like the dancing fountain in Shevchenko Park. Or trying to grasp the image, or the sensation?, of the typical walk to work or the park or the French bakery. Trying, albeit in vain, to hold onto the daily memories of a place.

Also, I have been further indulging my recent addiction for photographing graffiti. Venturing into rough, seedy, and unsavory places alone or with the fam. to find that one really provocative, funny, or artistic piece of graffiti art. (This was one of the motivations for getting my nose pierced). We've been ranging far and wide to gather the graffiti photos. I even what to visit a trench that you can see from the Kharkiv-Kyiv train line when getting into Kyiv. I don't have any clue how to find it, but I'd really like to go there, the art is pretty stunning from the train. I've been thinking of asking my Kyivan friends to take me there, but I'm pretty sure that will solidify my current "oh-my-God-she-is-crazy" status (just joking). It's really that I have accumulated a very interesting collection of current Ukrainian graffiti and want to do a photography show of the images. They speak volumes about Ukraine today.

Pat has been gathering images of doorways, like I have been seeking graffiti. So, you can imagine us wandering around Kharkiv (or whatever city we're in at the moment) and looking for the typical or unusual to add to our digital collections. At least, it's good exercise.

Patrick turned 44 on May 7th. He went out with the boys for a night of carousing and carefree frivolity. Friends gave him wine, lilacs, cakes, and songs for his birthday. It was nice. Mine comes up my final day here in Kharkiv; I'm 40. I wonder if it will be the party I hope it will be? Typically, here, folks lay out a spread of foods (sausages, cheeses, chocolates, etc) and alcohol (cognac, vodka, non-alcoholic drinks) for their co-workers and friends. I think it is great to do your own party; that way, you don't have to stress as to whether folks will remember (and then be disappointed when your closest friends happen to forget-yipes!). ;-) I think this is a tradition I will bring back with me to the US.

Along with the spring has been the most interesting of holiday periods. May holidays here started with Eastern Orthodox Easter on April 27th and lasted until May 12th. Easter is a BIG deal here. This is the origin of painted Easter eggs, and they do some stellar art work on them. The colors apparently represent aspects of rural life here: yellow is the wheat or sun?, blue is the sky or water, green is the new growth, etc. I don't remember all of them and I'm sure I got them wrong. Sorry for the potential inaccuracies. The folks here go to church any time from 6pm on the Saturday night prior to 6am on that Sunday morning or anytime Sunday. They bring with them baskets of foods (e.g., sausages, eggs, cheese, paskah (cylindrically-shaped sweet bread with raisens, icing and sprinkles), bread, cognac, vodka, water, etc) for blessing and then they have a picnic at or around the church afterward. All my students returned to their homes whether they were in Kharkiv or distant cities or rural communities. They then spent Easter weekend and the following week with their families. People make rounds visiting friends and relatives and giving receiving paskah. We were given it by A and her family as well as the nice "bread" lady. We gave some to the sour doorman at our apartment building; he actually smiled at us for 1-2 days afterward. Even though classes are scheduled and the University is supposed to be open for business, no one comes. At least 4 people told me, "It's an unofficial holiday that should be official." So, this unofficial holiday lasted through to the next holiday-V-Day, which was Friday, May 9th.

V-day is a BIG deal here, too. Unlike in the US, most folks here seem to really revere the day. Some people told me that 1 in 6 Ukrainians died in WWII; I don't know if that is true, but another comment seemed pretty similar and poignant, "Everyone here has lost someone in their families during the war. And we're told about it. We're reminded by our families about it so we know." There were parades with veterans in their decorated and medaled uniforms as well as other military-type items. We made a pass on the parade.

All in all, it's been a weird 2 weeks, because of the unofficial holiday. I did have class last week, because I had nothing else to do and a couple of my in-town students where bored and wanted a class. Odd, huh?

Speaking of my classes, I have the second-year translation/interpretation students of A and B groups right now. I have really developed a soft spot for them as I did with the freshman group I had in the Fall. I told them in class today that I would only have one more class with them, the one on Tuesday, May 20th. I think I'm really going to be sad to leave them. Many of them have really good hearts and they are so open, energetic and willing. I think I have influenced them in some ways as well as teaching them some English. They were the "really neat" kids I hoped to encounter here; They are like the Ukrainian students I had at Eau Claire who were so accessible, respectful and smart. Many people in the West want to criticize the quality of the Ukrainian education system, and there are major flaws, but the one thing going for Ukraine is some of these kids. If they are given the quality educations they deserve, man, this country would really be a moving up. Some of the names I hope never to forget: Sergey the Clown, Igor, Danil, Olia Pixie, Olia the Beauty Queen, Oleg the Pianist, Ruslan, Natasha with Curls, Anya the Serious, Illya, Tanya, strong and fiery Tasha, gorgeous and tentative Lesya, Katya the babysitter, Timid Anne, the two opposite Oksanas, beautiful and angry Svetlana, friendly Dasha, Gregory, Nastja, skippin'-class Jack, shy Karina... They are all interesting and have some much potential. Many of them are going to a leadership conference in Kyiv at the end of May that a Fulbright colleague is hosting. I wish I had American scholarships for them all.

I have a lot on my mind. What will I do at the end? Will friends be there to see us off? Will I cry? Will I have enough images to refer to when I miss it here? Will I have the "right" images that I will seek later? Will I be able to pack up this apartment into 6 suitcases? How do I fairly go about giving valuables, like a barely-used vacuum cleaner, away? How can I be sure to give gifts to all of those who have been so kind to me? What gifts do I need to bring home? What do I have to go home to?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Stardate: 4/12/2008 Busy on the Road

Well, loyal readers, I hope you are all doing well. We have been very busy and traveling the last two weeks or so. Just before TESOL, I had two presentations. One for a job training office affiliated with the Fulbright. I spoke to about 100 students on how to conduct a job search. The next day, March 28th, I did a writing workshop about writing Fulbright essays for the applications here in Kharkiv at Karazin University for about 30 students.

NYC for Int'l TESOL
First, I went to NYC for the International TESOL conference, which was great as usual. It was a whirlwind though. Antonia and I had a 10 hour flight from Kyiv to NYC, then I had to present the next day from 9am to 4pm an intensive CBI workshop at the conference. The workshop was full (about 30 people), but it was situated next to the registration desk, so people just kept walking in the whole day. That was annoying since it was a closed session.

I did get to see Deirdre Quinn! It was great to hang out with her. She made NYC feel like home to me. We went to the WITESOL Gathering together where we chatted with some WI colleagues like Sheila, Sheryl and Tolu. I also went with Deirdre to breakfast with my cousin, Jesse. It was nice to see him and we had some laughs.

I didn't get to do much else than the conference: no Broadway musical, no Ellis Island or Statue of Liberty, etc. Mainly, I worked and ate at delis- sounds just like a New Yorker's life, doesn't it?

The Crimea for the Fulbright
Once I returned, I went from Kyiv by train to Simferople in the Crimea (14 hours) while Pat and Maddy traveled by train from Kharkiv to Simferople to meet me. They met up and took a cab (yeah, crazy) an hour onto Yalta. Yes, you are right if you think for some strange reason that you remember that name; it was a summit site post WWII and during the Cold War. It was the most beautiful and luxurious place the Soviets could offer. It is now run down a bit although the weather is still a welcoming attraction. It looks so much like the rest of Ukraine though. Some modern buildings, some old classics with interesting architectural features (wrought iron balconies, art deco flourishes, or classical sculptures, bas reliefs or Medusa heads in concrete), some partially built structures that sit as a testament to embezzlement and bureaucracy, and some old deteriorating-before-your-eyes structures that seem unfit for its inhabitants to live in... Yalta did have a great promenade near the port. We spent our free time, between presentations on essay writing for the Fulbright, down at the port walking, collecting sea glass, throwing rocks into the sea and putting Maddy in carny rides. She particularly loved this one that was a trampoline with a 3-point harness on bungee ropes which propelled her into the air about 8-10 feet. It sounds unsafe, but it was quite safe. She did it like 4 times. We stayed at the Hotel Yalta with a gorgeous, sweeping view of the Black Sea (in Russian 'Choria Moria'). The Black Sea, although heavily polluted, was beautiful in deep blues and light aquas. The waves rocked and thrashed against the rounded stone beaches. We had a nice break in the soothing warm temps and enfolding breezes, but we had to return to move onto Simferople on the 3rd day. I had another presentation for the Fulbright that afternoon. That evening, after a lovely dinner in town with Inna and Natalia of the Kyiv Fulbright office (which included an excellent Georgian white wine), we jumped our Kharkiv bound train together for our 14 hour return journey. Thankfully, Maddy loves trains and sleeps on them!!!

Poltava for Ukraine-TESOL and the State Dept
It may seem that we settled down for a bit after that, but this story doesn't end so soon.
I had 2 days/1 night to prep for the Ukraine-TESOL conference. Thanks to a colleague who is the current RELO (Regional English Language Officer for the State Department) for this part of Eastern Europe and who I know from International TESOL, I was invited to be a plenary speaker at the conference. I was very honored to do this, of course! Prior to the conference, the organizers also asked me to do a workshop for them as well. Next, I was asked to do the same workshop a second time. Therefore, just before the conference, I was prepping the plenary and putting the finishing touches on a 2-hour workshop. The topic of the plenary was, "Easy Development of Interactive Activities OR 'They didn't give me a textbook!'" The workshop was more "academic" about instructional conversation in the ESL/EFL classroom. I was quickly on a train bound for a neighboring city, Poltava; Site of a famous battle between Peter 1 of Russia and the Swedes. Poltava turned out to be a really pretty mid-sized city with excellent walks. There were pedestrian streets, and mid-street parks for pleasant inner city strolls which I loved extremely. The conference was really pleasant as well. I had been wanting to see other ESL/EFL teachers here in Ukraine and this was the perfect opportunity to meet the best, most forward thinking of the bunch. They were knowledgeable, receptive, interested and full of praise. Basically, they were the best audience ever. I was so satisfied that my plenary that was about their real work experiences here was well received. They understood that I recognized the challenges they have to grapple with and I was glad to offer them some quick and useful solutions that I had experimented with in my practice here. They were wonderful individuals as well. Jeff took me to a Salsa/Cha-cha-cha lesson one night. Kristina gave me some useful materials. Oksana and I are meeting up tomorrow here in Kharkiv. Julia gave me postcards from Kerch. Another shy, but sweet teacher, gave me a poem she wrote. At the end of the 3 day conference, the conference organizers had a city tour scheduled that took us to the Poltava battle museum and a Ukrainian village museum. It was great!

Odessa for the Fulbright
I was home 5 days, then we went to Odessa for the Fulbright. Again, I was helping them recruit grad students and faculty for the Fulbright grants by doing a workshop on essay writing. Many people here are unsure of themselves and untrained in essay writing, so when or if they apply the applications are weak. Many just don't apply. The Kyiv Fulbright office wants a healthy competition, so during the academic year they send their recruiters all over the country to stir up interest and garner applications. The recruiters, Inna and Natalia, asked me to do this after my Kharkiv workshop was so successful.

So, off we went to Odessa, a city known as a Greek-fishing village originally that was developed by Potemkin/Katherine the Great and then by Richelieu (nephew of the French Cardinal). It is a Black Sea side city with a French flair. When we arrived at 8am after our 18 hour train journey, the bells in the Eastern Orthodox Church were being drummed by a monk. It was the coolest sound. You could see him up there with the ringing bells hammering out a complementary, but more intricate, percussive sequence. It was Palm Sunday and folks were lined up outside of the bright yellow, onion domed church to have willow branches blessed (not palms-don't know why). We walked 2 blocks to our hotel-Choria Moria- and checked into a Soviet-era hotel in terms of service and room quality. The room was awful! The shower leaked onto the floor, but the floor drain didn't work. The twin beds were cots. The blankets were itchy wool (not atypical here). It was about 10 x 8 feet in size not including the bathroom. Water ran down between the walls and you could hear it in the room all the time. It felt as though the ceiling was going to collapse.

The city was cool though. We walked in the centre down a pedestrian street with French-style cafes and bars. There were people out everywhere on this Sunday. There was even entertainment of local musicians, dance troupes, and singers on a stage at one end. There were street vendors with animals, like a crocodile and bunnies that you could have your pic taken with. At the parks, there were ice cream vendors, art and craft vendors, children's rides and games, etc. Maddy went on a pony ride and trampoline. I bought a cool nesting doll that is in the shape of a Christmas tree, but it has carved wooden ornaments inside. Corny, but I liked it. Then, we took a cab to a beach that turned out to be a lot farther away than we had anticipated, so we basically ended up taking a walk through Odessa's Shevchenko Park, which is not nearly as beautiful as Kharkiv's. There was a large loading platform full-sized semi containers from ships-not so attractive. Next, we high-tailed it back to the centre to meet with Bob and Carol, Fulbrighters "stationed" in Odessa. They hosted a nice wine and cheese party for us as well as Dan and Ruth, Fulbrighters also visiting Odessa that weekend. It was great to see them and somehow very comfortable and familiar because of the cultural similarities. I felt very at home with them and enjoyed the afternoon immensely.

The next afternoon, I presented the essay writing workshop to a large, unruly group of 50 international relations students. It was stuffy in the old fashioned auditorium. They talked non-stop while I did, even when I asked them to stop several times. It was typical for here.

The next afternoon, I presented at another university, but everything went super smoothly. They had the computer and projector set up. There were 20 people who were respectful and very interested in the Fulbright. It went well, but I had to boogie to the train station as soon as I could wrap up; our 4:23pm return train was coming and we had to be on it. We slept like the dead for most of the trip.

Kharkiv for Earth Day
We came back on Wednesday morning (April 23rd) at 9am. I had a class meeting to watch "An Inconvenient Truth" with freshmen, sophomores, and juniors of English Translation/Interpretation (this was the second viewing for the sophomores who had seen it in class). We watched the film and discussed it a bit. Yesterday, we all met at the U and trudged chilled to the bone to the University's sports complex park where we picked up trash and planted grass seed. It was a fun time for those of us interested in giving back/doing something productive to honor the Earth and those of us "not allergic to work" in the immortal words of my mentor, Dick Gunn. Those who were less motivated or who wore high heels and light weight coats, well, let's say it was a difficult day for them. I was surprised that the complainers kept saying, "What are we supposed to do?" I kept saying, "See the trash. Bend down. Pick it up. Put it in your garbage bag. What don't you understand about that?" What they were really saying was, "I want to be a pain so you tell me I can leave." After a couple of muddy hours digging bottle caps out of the mud while 20 19-year-old females stood with bright blue garbage bags in their hands while they huddled on the pavement, I got frustrated and started following them around barking orders every time they stopped! The complainers, I cut loose at about noon.

Of course, there was the "Hard Core Crew" who made it all worth it. This core of 12 kids were truly inspired by the movie and really wanted to make a difference. They worked their a---- off. They cleaned up and then turned the soil in a large area, so that the grass seeds could take root. Then, they spread the seeds and fertilizer. It took them about 4 hours of pretty hard labor. I was proud of them. I treated them to some drinks at the end; I wanted to treat to lunch, but they wouldn't let me.

It's interesting. I nominated 4 students for a leadership conference in Lviv, Ukraine at the end of May. One of those nominated, it turns out, was a complainer. She was one of the lead complainers, too! I hadn't told her yet about the conference. Now, I know that she doesn't deserve it and she is all talk anyway. If people only knew how their actions speak volumes about them...

That leads us to today. I'm exhausted, but the Dragon Landlady had to come to inspect the apartment in anticipation of our departure next month. It was all about our security deposit. She just wants to find any excuse to hold onto it. So, we cleaned all last night and today...

On Monday, I'm off to Morocco for some work projects. I'll visit Casablanca, Rabat and Tangiers!! I'm so looking forward to this trip; I've always wanted to go there. I'll write about it soon.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Stardate: 3/28/2008 Please don't make me go and other ideas...

Neither Pat or I want to leave Ukraine and return to the U.S. When we say this to people here, they are incredulous. They question us as to why. I suppose the reasons are more complex than they care to hear, but I will try to share some with you, Anonymous Readers.

1) We like the pace of life here that is not break-neck speed, like in the U.S. People work hard and many hold 2-3 jobs, but each job doesn't expect 110%. They have tea to rest often at work. They talk to each other. They look at magazines at work. At UWEC, I'm lucky if I can choke down a crappy sandwich before rushing off to class. I have just WAY TOO MUCH WORK and PRESSURE TO CONSTANTLY DO MORE there. I have crazy panicked dreams about returning to work in the US. I have become accustomed to the pace of life here. I love sabbatical.

2) We have made some great friends here, some of whom have become like family to us. We don't want to leave them, because who knows when we will have the chance to see them again. Email with residents here is not as easy as with others who are plugged in...

3) Walking! I love taking long walks and living in a "walking" city. I love the exercise.

4) I see something new or learn something every day here. It is always interesting. Today, I learned the Russian word for carrot (marakova- the spelling could be wrong).

5) I have enjoyed talking pictures of things I see and writing about the experiences. I enjoy observing life and people here. Today, we were going in the cab to pick up our laundry (yes, our washing machine still doesn't work), in passing I observed a middle aged man genuflecting to the church as he approached it. He did it like they do typically here. He bent halfway over and rose back up, then made the sign of the cross; it wasn't in the Catholic way in which you make this little cross from your forehead to sternum, then shoulder to shoulder. It was forehead to navel, then shoulder to shoulder. They do this repeatedly while praying.

6) I like that people here are so appreciative of any help that I give. Unlike folks I work with back home that sort of expect it.

7) Students are more respectful and less "entitled."

8) Most of all, I'm glad to be away from the insane religious right and away from the anger and frustration I feel about the political situation in the U.S. (although, Obama has given me some hope). G. W. Bush is visiting Kyiv on Monday, unfortunately. I can't seem to get far enough away from this whack job. There are protests in Kyiv and I'm going to try to join them since I will be there on Monday in transit to NYC for the TESOL Conference. One of the Peace Corps kids here was super excited about his visit; I have been trying to influence her away from the dark side, but she is young, privileged, selfish and inexperienced. Another Peace Corps member, an older retired lady, was requested to meet with the president. She dislikes him completely, but felt that she couldn't decline. I just hope she uses her access to give him a dose of reality, not that that will help.

9) I'm also sick of food at every function. Why do Americans have to have food present in order to entice people to come? Why do we have to eat so much? Why don't we dance at more functions?

10) I'm tired of the way Americans handle public parks. Why aren't we allowed in public parks in the midwest after dark? Why can't there be beer vendors in public parks?

11) It's great that Pat has a job and is happy in his work. I've detested his unemployment for the last several years. One can only understand it if one goes through it. He is proud and more confident since he has been working.

Of course, there are things that I love and am proud of about the U.S. For example, I love that we have a Green movement. I love that we recycle. I love that washing machines can be fixed, that we have rights as tenets that can be exercised. I love that we can write to our representatives and they actually care about what we say. I love receiving an annual telephone book for free. My love list about the U.S. could go on and on, but we have a lot we need to still do there.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stardate: 3/25/2008 HospitaliZed.

A's daughter V came home from school two Mondays ago complaining of a pain in her heart. With skyrocketing and plummeting heart rates, she was taken by ambulance to the local children's hospital called something like, "Children's Hospital 23." Various tests were run and doctors were seen with a range of interesting diagnoses that in sum came to "she's growing and this is natural," but we have to keep her here for ten days and run a bunch of tests. I don't understand any of it actually, but it all makes me very nervous about the care she is receiving...

Last Friday night, A and her husband had to run V's dinner to her (you may remember in my last post that food and bed linens are not provided by the hospitals). I was with them, because we were going to the grocery store afterward. A asked me to come in and I thought it would be nice to see V and wish her well. It was a drizzly, chilly night and we jogged to the door. Upon entry, A warned me not to speak English. I was mildly surprised, hm... We entered an old building like so many other buildings built in Kharkiv; most of which date to the 1940's and 50's, because they were built just after Kharkiv was repeatedly bombed out by the Germans and Soviets in their to and forth land battles that raged in this area (almost the entire city was leveled). It had tall, 18 feet tall narrow doors with only one side open; the other side was permanently locked. The dingy walls were plaster with chipped areas painted over in the passage of time. These shabby, discolored walls were once all painted white-medicinal white that was not so crisp now- or unappealing brown. Naked light bulbs hung from electric cords of differing lengths from the ceiling; some dusty bulbs were burnt out. This initial description holds true throughout.

We turned a corner after entering to see a nurse's table located at the perpendicular intersection of the 2 hallways. This nurse's station consisted of a table and a chair. There were some papers on the table, but it appeared less a "desk" than a kitchen table where mom was doing the bills. The nurse inquired briefly of A and V about their purpose and I was silent, so the nurse didn't think to interfere or disbelieve A's explanation about me. Apparently, I had suddenly become a family member.

We had to take off our jackets and put on little shoe covers before proceeding into the ward. A was all a twitter enjoying our breaking of unnecessary rules. I was just beginning to grasp that I would not be permitted to enter if I were not directly related (I didn't get all the Russian spoken to the nurse, so it was just dawning on me). A quickly ushered me down the narrow, dimly lit hallway with a row of out-moded and uncomfortable, chipped wooden theater seats attached to one wall toward the ward where we encountered her daughter who had come down to see us. Her daughter greeted me in English. Fearful that the nurse would overhear, A shooed us up the stairs to the ward where V was interred. The stairs were dark, uneven, dirty and a bit scary.

We got upstairs and the ward looked to me as though I had just time traveled into the 1960's. When you walked down the narrow, dingy hall, you could see all these little rooms to the side stuffed with rumpled beds. It looked like it was right out of a movie like "One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest." It was so unreal with the various rooms crammed with little twin beds and piles of personal belongings jam-packed into nooks and crannies. The bed frames had graffiti carved on them from myriad generations of those under 18. There were no entertainment devices, desks, chairs, closets, play areas, common areas, etc. Another nurse's station, like the one on the first floor was there. The only exception was that this nurse was a little more serious or astute. She quickly realized that something was up with me. A said something to her and told me in English to follow her. The nurse said something to me in Russian, which made me pause and look questioningly at them all. A said "Kate, come with me." Momentarily, I tried to protest, but I realized that A always has my back, so even if the nurse didn't want me to go, I had to go. I went. A told me to look closely at the rooms. It was important to her that I see the living conditions for this state-run hospital. Like a witness, she wanted me to see the nasty side tables that were to be shared by inmates with their belongings packed like teenagers' closets. She wanted me to see that the food items of each inmate were left there without cleaning if the inmate or family didn't clean them. She wanted me to see the close quarters and the lack of medical equipment. But I also saw through the glass three little children in the next room, standing on a bed, three little heads huddled together over a book, whispering intently. I wonder what they were reading?

There was something in all this that was so communal and human. It wasn't isolated and private in any way. It was like these kids were at summer camp in a dark, old dormitory.

The nurse chased us down in a jiffy, and I felt badly that we were getting the inmates all stirred up when they were sick-some perhaps seriously sick. I went to leave the room with A citing all the meanness of the hospital conditions and all I could think to do was to wave at the 3 kids gazing curiously at us in the glass. I don't know if they waved back.

We were unceremoniously booted out of the ward and relegated back to the hard, wooden theatrical seating in the first floor hallway. Apparently, those seats were the visiting room. We sat all lined up in a rigid row with V and asked her the usual questions about her health and spirits. She kept repulsing her parents overly concerned comments or reprimands and asked me about Maddy and Patrick. Maddy made her some cards to raise her spirits and thankfully I remembered to bring them. You'd really need something like that in a place like Children's Hospital #23.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stardate: 3/20/2008 Not so Newsworthy News

Here are some random notes on daily life here:

  • They believe that if you sit on something cold, like a cement wall or park bench, that your ovaries or balls will freeze. You never see people sitting on cold surfaces. You also never see people sit on the floor. They look at you weird if you do.
  • In most public areas, where we'd have grass, it's just dirt. I don't have any idea why.
  • Men always carry heavy bags and let females go first through doors. I love this! Men come to Ukraine to marry the Ukrainian beauties, and they certainly are gorgeous. FYI: Young women, I think that the Ukrainian men are the real prize...
  • Sometimes the teachers in my department just skip classes without notice.
  • They have Avon products here, but only 1 or 2 items are the same.
  • We have to leave the country or register with the police as "resident aliens" (or some such thing) before 90 days are up. If not, we have to pay a $150.00 fine. We had to pay it at Christmas, because we got the dates wrong. We reentered Ukraine on Jan 25th, so we have to register or leave/reenter before April 25th. We found out that if you do register with the police, it's a LONG process involving getting insurance here (that does nothing), getting forms from different departments in different parts of the city, getting health exams, and getting things notarized in addition to paying $170.00. What? OR you can leave the country for an hour and then come back in. If you want to go across the border to Russia, you must get a Russian visa in advance. To get a Russian visa, you must apply at the Consulate, have an invitation letter from some one (or a hotel, but then you need a reservation), and you have to pay $200.00. OR you can leave by crossing the country to Poland, Slovakia, Moldova, or Romania, which cost nothing to enter if you are an American. The trains cost some, but more importantly you are spending 5 days traveling! If you ask me, it's bureaucratic insanity...or as an esteemed colleague called it Rada graft.
  • In Kharkiv, Ukraine, not only can you not get English newspapers, you cannot get Ukrainian language news. It's all Russian language in these parts.
  • When they vote here, they only get to vote for a party (except for the presidency, I think). The party does not provide a slate of candidates prior to the election. Once the party wins some seats, then the party leader chooses who will fill them. People don't elect any midlevel politicians or judges, they only elect the mayor. Therefore, there is no public accountability for actions in terms of political or judicial jobs. For example, if you wanted to complain about some issue, the person responsible could care less if you have a problem. They are not the slightest bit interested in public opinion. My students had never even heard of an opinion poll.
  • At McDonalds, you can tell them which toy you want for the Happy Meal. If you don't tell them, they will ask. Also, condiments are obligatory for chicken nuggets and they charge for them. They don't have nuts on their sundaes.
  • If you are admitted to a hospital, it's like 1800's here in terms of hospital care. You must bring your own linens and provide your own food. Family members play a key role in doing these things as there is no way to pay for this service. Imagine the stress in addition to having a loved family member hospitalized.
  • The tax system is obscure and incomprehensible to everyone, including property owners. We know that there is no sales tax. There may be a property tax. There is an income tax, but it is a flat rate for everyone rich and poor. Most people don't know how the rate is calculated. The taxes are just taken out of their pay checks.
  • Property is an issue due to the transition from the USSR. For example, some people own land, a flat, or a dacha, but in some places the land, apartments or houses are still gov't owned. There is a lot of inconsistency in property ownership.
  • Businesses go out of business here faster than they do in EC, and I'd say it was fast in EC. There have been so many turn overs in businesses that we frequent that we cannot even keep up with the names.
  • You don't need a prescription for most drugs at the pharmacy. You can get just about anything you want, even heavily monitored drugs in the US, like steroids, etc are easily obtained. The only stuff you cannot get without a prescription are class 1 barbiturates and amphetamines (like heroine and cocaine).
  • On military officers uniforms, rank is distinguished by the size and number of the stars on their epaulettes. Therefore, the difference between a lieutenant and a general is determined by 3 different size stars. Everyone looks like a general around here.
  • Police actually come quickly if they are called, like within 20-30 minutes. We've waited for up to 3 hours for police in Cinti!
  • They don't use celery stalks like we do. They use the leaves, but they are not used nearly as often as we use celery in the US. We have only found celery stalks here once. A & V had never seen them before.
  • Maddy is completely toilet trained!
  • Many, many stray dogs. It's so sad. Again, where's Bob Barker when you need him? I heard he retired. :-( Hey, Bob, visit Ukraine, okay?
  • Our mini-tv is dead to the world. It has put tons of pressure on our use of the computer since now that is our family television, too.
  • Cable here only has 2 English channels. On those channels, programming in English only occurs 30% of the time.
  • It is extremely difficult for Ukrainians to get visas to go to other countries. They have to go through a lot of rigmarole to get them including visiting Kyiv at least once. The visas also cost a lot. Up to $200 in some cases.
  • Ukrainians vacation in Turkey and Egypt. The Crimea, the southern part of Ukraine, was the traditional location for vacations. But the costs are just as high if not higher to go there and the service is abysmal!
  • In terms of movies, Ukrainians only get the huge blockbusters from the US. They don't get the art house or off-the-beaten-track movies. So, for example, my students have never heard of (just paging through our DVDs we brought from the US): Bewitched, O Brother, Where Art Thou, This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, A Christmas Story, Hitch, Road Trip, Young Frankenstein, The Outlaw Josey Wales, An Inconvenient Truth, Bowling for Columbine, Excalibur, Wedding Crashers, Raising Arizona, Forest Gump, Animal House, Groundhog Day, There's Something About Mary, Bedazzled, Tommy Boy, Shallow Hal, Shakespeare in Love, Pleasantville, etc. Let alone classics, like Casablanca or the Philadelphia Story. They all have heard of South Park.
  • The door locks on the interior doors at the Polytechnic are nicknamed "chastity belts." :-) This one's for you, Sasha!
  • Students who are on gov't scholarships sometimes don't receive them or they receive them very late.
  • Those who smell of body odor, don't smell because they don't bathe. Actually, I've realized they smell of b.o., because they don't wash their clothes as often. They wear them many, many times even though they smell. They bathe and then put on dirty clothes. It's due to the fact that many don't have access to laundry facilities or that it is too time consuming to wash them by hand. Most Ukrainians wash their clothes by hand regularly.
  • There is a dearth of processed foods, which is good I know. But they don't have easy mac and cheese! You cannot find mac 'n cheese here! What are you supposed to do with a 3 year old without mac 'n cheese? ;-) Forget p, b & j= they don't have peanut butter, of course. We have, however, recently found processed cheese slices. Maddy calls them "blue cheese" because of the blue packaging. We've been making a lot of grilled cheese.