"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Monday, December 27, 2010

Settling In and Celebrating Christmas

Yesterday was a cold day in Kolky, one of the ones I was warned about. The wind was especially bitter and bit way below the skin. It must be because it was bazaar day, and I needed to buy meat. I talked to my meat supplier (yes, that's right, my very own meat supplier) and she had it all ready when I walked in. She is actually a teacher at school, and we now have arrangements for me to buy meat from her at the bazaar. I should be more specific really, arrangements to buy pork. All I eat is pork. And chicken if I go over to someone's house for a meal. I asked about beef, and someone told me all they have is veal...we'll see how desperate I get. Maybe I will pull out the meat grinder and make pork tacos sometime this week. I brought a few packets of taco seasoning, and have only used one since being here.

Christmas was quiet and I spent the day with my friend Val who came to visit me from her town about 30 minutes away. It was really nice, but we both agreed it was missing a few things. We made borshch (borscht) on Christmas Eve, and it was delicious. When we tried it, we couldn’t even believe we had made it. It will be a new Christmas Eve tradition for me. Not to overshadow the Butterballs and Noodles that I missed so dearly, but to accompany them. Get excited. We exchanged a few small gifts, and I opened some from my students and teachers. I walked away on Friday with 12 boxes of chocolate. Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated according to the orthodox calendar on the 7th of January, so at school the whole “Christmas in December” jive was all about me.

Life is Kolky is going well, and I am settling in nicely. It’s nice to just be able to sit once in a while and breathe. It is so interesting living in a world where you really don’t understand everything that’s going on all of the time. I have come to accept it, and even appreciate it, but diving into a book where I do understand everything keeps me sane. I am on holiday now until the 10th, but I will continue tutoring some students for the Regional Olympiad for an hour a day (minus holidays). Kolky swept the District Olympiad the weekend before last, sending 3 students to Regionals. I’m responsible for speaking comprehension and proper pronunciation of words, something that my training (and fluency f English) will come in handy for.

On the 11th I will travel back to Kiev for a VAC Meeting. VAC stands for Volunteer Advisory Council, and I was nominated and elected while at Swearing-In. It’s a position I am humbled to be trusted with, and am looking forward to working with the office and the other VAC members (including my good friend and fellow Group 40er Rocky Espositio).

In the mean time, I will be hanging out in Kolky, and I’m sure spending a lot of time at different dinner parties and gatherings for the New Year, Christmas (Jan 7) and Old New Years (Jan 13). Thanks again to everybody for the support and love, especially around this holiday season. The e-mails and messages meant so much to me, and I am so blessed to have such amazing people thinking of me!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Simply put, a dream come true.

I remember pretty vividly when I first told my Mom that I wanted to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was in elementary school, and was pen pals with a Volunteer as a part of a class project. I just thought it would be so cool get to live with another culture, speak another language, and experience a life totally separate from what I knew. I remember her saying something about one of the Masters Swimmers she knew on the Dolphins was a Volunteer once, and that I should probably finish college first, but concluded with, “I could see you doing that”. And like that, a dream was born.

Fast forward to Thursday, December 16, 2010 when that dream was coming true as I stood up and took the Peace Corps Oath and officially became a United States Peace Corps Volunteer.  After three of the shortest months of my life, I had made it. I was "ready to fly" as Lecia put it.

And then I arrived. Since I started my application I always had pictures in my head of what my permanent site would look like, but little did I imagine it would be this perfect. I truly hope every Volunteer is able to say the following statement, but I don’t what I did or what I said to deserve such a fantastic new home. The train pulled in at 6 a.m. on Friday to Kivertsi (larger “town” about 30 minutes away) where one of my link-mates Val is placed. She was one of my best friends in training and I am so blessed to be so close! From there, Val and I gave some final hugs, she left with her welcoming committee, and a teacher’s husband picked up Volodymyr and me. We drove to my new apartment where I had my own welcoming committee! (This was at 6:30 in the morning!) Cookies, sandwiches, fruit, chocolate, and my favorite, varanaky were all there to greet me as well. My welcoming committee consisted of 3 of the English teachers who were eagerly getting my apartment ready, and preparing the food. We sat, ate, talked about life in Kolky, life in the US, all sorts of things. Like I wasn’t already convinced, but Ukraine has the warmest and most welcoming people. The rest of my Friday consisted with meeting the Mayor, getting acquainted with the village, and having a Welcome dinner with the Director (Principal), Vice Principals, and English teachers. Food, food, food! (You'll never guess who got to take the left overs!)

Saturday consisted on the Regional Olympiad, which was rather exciting. I got to make all of the 'keys' (for some reason the tests don't come with them) as well as read the 'Listening Comprehension' texts twice for all forms, and grade the speaking component. And what would an Olympiad be without a celebration dinner afterward! It was a great way for me to meet more students and staff, as well as meet some teachers from other villages in the region. So many names! 

The past couple of days have consisted of observing and teaching lessons at school as well as settling into my new place. I loved living with Lecia, but it's also nice to have my own space as well. I won't elaborate on my apartment too much, but I LOVE IT. The shower is delightful when there is hot water, and the toilet works well! Still simple living, but so grateful for what I do have.

And just this evening, the "PTA" surprised me with a Christmas Tree and all of the decorations! I think I might be able to post pictures soon, but it really is one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever received.

Can't wait to tell you more about my life in Kolky, but I think it's probably time I cook some dinner! (Kolky is in the Volyn Oblast, the most Northwestern Oblast in Ukraine, but Kolky is pretty East in the oblast). Happy Holidays to everybody back home, and Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it! May your blessings be counted by the number of laughs you share with your friends and family. As for me, I am reminded of my blessings knowing that dreams really do come true.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quite the Update

I wrote this post on Tuesday, December 14.

Well, I must admit, this is by far the most exciting and longest over due post to date. I haven’t had any sort of Internet for about 3 weeks, and when I would get the chance to check e-mail, it was essentially looking at the e-mail without the opportunity to respond. Please don’t think I forgot about you, but patience has most definitely been key over the past three months for me. But enough about that…I’m done with training and right now I’m in Kyiv!

Training ended on Monday, when my cluster packed up and left Kivshovata. Our final week was spent teaching our last lessons at the school, presenting our Community/School Project, saying goodbye, packing, and sharing meals and laughs with new friends and family for the last time in a while. It was hard to say goodbye to the school and the students, mainly because they were so good to us from day one. They also showed interest in our learning, appreciated the work we did, and made us feel welcome and comfortable. After a process of “Needs Assessment” and “Community Mapping”, our group collaborated with the Kivshovata School to provide an audio resource packet to supplement their textbooks. Different people had expressed the need, multiple times, that native speakers were helpful and beneficial to learn from, so we recorded texts that the teachers requested from different books. We even applied for, and received a small grant from Peace Corps to use towards the purchase of a new boom box! It was an exciting accomplishment, mainly because we implemented the project while teaching classes, learning language, and living through the Ukrainian winter!

Saying goodbye was very hard, but I know I’ll be back to visit. It was a fantastic three months, filled with unforgettable memories. And even though I wasn’t able to be a consistent blogger, I was able to journal a lot and capture the great times, and some of the challenges as well. Part of my struggle toward the end was my frustration with relationships and language. It sounds like an interesting combination, but I will elaborate. I was able to build some amazing relationships with people in Kivshovata; Mama Lecia, the teachers, other host families, babucias, just to name a few. But towards the end, I was frustrated that I couldn’t express to them my gratitude and appreciation for everything they taught me, not only about Ukraine, but also about myself. As far as language goes, I am happy where I am, and very proud at the LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) score I accomplished. But three months of language is not going to give me the tools to express my feelings as eloquently and intentional as I would have liked. Kivshovata deserves huge thanks from me, but I was unable to communicate it. Leaving was hard knowing that things were left unsaid, but that’s become my motivation; learning the language, pursuing practice, and communicating often. So that in a year, or a half a year, I can go back to visit and get to know my family in Kivshovata on a totally different level, one that I barely surfaced in my first three months. But moving forward is always an exciting time, which brings me to my current status, the Swearing-In Retreat in Kyiv!

On Monday, all 90+ Trainees from PC Ukraine Group 40 arrived in Kyiv for our Swearing-In Retreat. We have the opportunity to get together as a big group one last time before the big event of moving to site. When we first arrived, we were handed our room key, a huge packet of information, our week schedule, and an envelope. This of course wasn’t the envelope of our site placement, but rather one that contained our LPI score. I was very excited and relieved that my hard work over the past three months paid off and it showed in my interview. After moving our bags (almost done for a while lugging those damn things around!) and eating lunch, all of the Trainees gathered in a big conference room to find out site announcements. Ukraine is split up into 10 regions (don’t ask me how) and each region has a RM (Regional Manager). He or she is in charge of all of the Volunteers in the region, and is the go to person for most things. Each RM announced whom they are going to be working with and in what Region, and then after gave us envelopes with more details about our placement.

Drum roll please…I will be in Kolky! Kolky is a small village not from somewhere I can't remember in a region I can't remember. (This week I've been flooded with information...) It is pretty much EXACTLY what I wanted, without getting my hopes up too much. Less than 5,000 people, fantastic school, and I’ll be living on my own. They are “renovating” a small place for me on the school property, but for the first few months I will have an apartment. When I was talking to my RM about my placement, the first question I asked was, “What is the coolest thing about Kolky?” He gave me this huge smile and said, “Ben, the coolest thing about Kolky is Kolky. The people, the school, the Director, the housing, the village; I knew Kolky was where you needed to be.” This made me feel amazing and I am having such great feelings about my new home.

Today was another exciting day, and probably the first time it’s felt “real” since arriving to the center of Kivshovata. Today, we met our Ukrainian counterparts. A counterpart is another teacher from the same school that essentially mentors you through your two years of service. My counterpart is Volodymyr and right away I could tell we are going to be great colleagues. He speaks fantastic English, is enthusiastic about having a Volunteer, cracks jokes, and is really interested in getting to know you. We chatted about ourselves a little bit, and he told me a little bit about Kolky, but really didn’t have much time because we were in sessions, sometimes together and sometimes apart. Even our meal times were separated, but I think the 9 hours to site will be enough time to really get to know Volodymyr more.

Another update to come soon, but my time with the internet is running out by the seconds! Swearing-In on Thursday, and a Peter Yarrow concert tomorrow! (Puff the Magic Dragon!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What's the food like? Answer: cмачно!

The post many have been waiting for...

With Thanksgiving on Thursday, I thought it would be appropriate to give you a taste (!) of some of the foods I've been eating over the past two months.

Simply put, the food is delicious (cмачно)! I most definitely have lucked out being placed with a cook, but every Ukrainian woman (and some men) are excellent cooks, with sacred recipes of traditional dishes that have been handed down many generations. I have been eating well, and am really trying to live up all of the delicious meals, because in a few short weeks, I'll be doing it all on my own. But in preparation for those cold, lonely winter nights, I have been cooking a lot with Lecia and she's been kind enough to share some recipes. She even has a huge pile of food set aside for me in the cellar to take to site. I'm not sure how I will carry my luggage plus 3 sacks of potatoes, pumpkins, beats, jars of pickles, juice and Lord knows what else on a train. A discussion that will take place in a few weeks. 

Breakfast usually includes what you had the night before for dinner, and then some. And you are expected to eat much more than you had for dinner as well. Breakfast has been one of the hot topics in Ukraine for Volunteers, mainly because we aren't used to eating SO MUCH FOOD first thing when we wake up. Piles and piles of food. Usually my clustermate Evan gets 3-6 fried eggs, 2 chicken legs, soup, 3 culets, an open-faced sandwich and mashed potatoes. He eats what he wants, but has had some really great conversations with his host Mom about it. Cross-cultural learning for both! I, however, have really lucked out and I am responsible for my own breakfasts because Lecia is usually leaves at 7, right as I am getting up. I have made french toast, eggs, meat, potatoes, borsch, but sometimes choose just to have a piece of fruit. A traditional American breakfast of cereal, yogurt and toast won't really fly here.

We usually do lunch at Language Lessons, and make rice with some meat and veggies, or have sausage, cheese, and veggie sandwiches. Our host families also give us food (a lot) so we share that.

Dinner is abundant, and I have yet to eat a meal with less than 6 different "dishes". There are always pickles on our table. Always. They are so good. Lecia told me she thought she was going to have way to many pickles this year, but then I came. (Shout of to Kirst, from whom I acquired a love for pickles). And always after dinner we have Tea or in Ukrainian "chai". That was the easiest word for me to remember at first, but it's loose leaf tea, not the kind with different spices and milk.

The meat is usually pork or chicken. I've had beef a few times, but we eat what we have, and we have pigs and chickens...go figure! Occasionally fish, but PC has nixed a hefty amount of fish consumption due to the pollution of the rivers. I really don't know what kind, but from what I've tried, it's very fishy, and always on the bone. And often time jumping out of the bowl, onto the floor the afternoon before they're cooked. Sometimes there is salo: raw (often salted) un-rendered pig fat lard. I stay away from salo. Far, far away. I had parts of animals I would never imagined eating, but when you ask "what's this" and someone responds with a word you don't understand, you don't ask questions, you eat it. And although the texture is often awkward, it is always good. (My parents are floored at this realization I am sure. This was the kid they wished I was when I was 10 eating dinner. Sorry about that.)

Potatoes: mashed, fried, boiled, (never baked), I have a potato with every meal. (Shout out to Robbie and Charlie who often eat a potato with dinner!) I think it's because Lecia grows a ton of them out back, but it also could be that they are delicious. Probably both. Kasha, which is buckwheat cereal I think. It often substitutes the rice or pasta dish we usually have. (Rice and pasta rarely have sauce, usually butter). We have holubtsi often as well: cabbage leaves (sour) rolled with meat and rice filling. 

My two favorite dishes:

борщ (Borsch/Borscht), a Ukrainian staple. A beat based soup with potatoes, carrots, onions, one of Lecia's canned bean concoctions, and pork. Served hot, with a dalloup of sour cream. It became an instant favorite, so she usually makes a big pot on Friday, and we eat it throughout the weekend.

вареники -(Varenyky), small pastries filled with potatoes, fried onions, meat, sometimes liver, cabbage, sometimes cherries. A Ukrainian take on the Argentinian empanada, except varenyky are boiled, not baked. They are my favorite thing Lecia has made, but they are so time consuming, we have only had them twice. I pray on a daily basis I will walk home to see varenyky being rolled on the table. But, if I ate them everyday I would be really fat. Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.

I love to talk about food, probably more than you want to read about, so please e-mail me if you have any burning (!) questions. I have really enjoyed the e-mails of well wishes and love, so thank you so much for thinking of me. Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. May it be a time to reflect on the abundance and blessings you have in your life.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

We Shall Be Free

Just a short post today; tomorrow I will post about the weeks happenings. Tonight, however, I have some lesson planning to do, as well as some movie watching with Lecia.

On my walk home from my Cross Cultural Session, I heard one of my all time favorite songs coming from a random house. Maybe it was playing on the radio, or maybe there are some Garth fans in Kivshovata. Nonetheless, I thought I'd post the lyrics because they've never meant more to me than they do now.

We Shall Be Free - Garth Brooks

This ain't comin' from no prophet
Just an ordinary man
When I close my eyes I see
The way this world shall be
When we all walk hand in hand

When the last child cries for a crust of bread
When the last man dies for just words that he said
When there's shelter over the poorest head
We shall be free

When the last thing we notice is the color of skin
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within
When the skies and the oceans are clean again
Then we shall be free

We shall be free
We shall be free
Stand straight, walk proud
'Cause we shall be free

When we're free to love anyone we choose
When this world's big enough for all different views
When we're all free to worship from our own kind of pew
Then we shall be free
We shall be free

We shall be free
Have a little faith
Hold out
'Cause we shall be free

And when money talks for the very last time
And nobody walks a step behind
When there's only one race and that's mankind
Then we shall be free

We shall be free
We shall be free
Stand straight, walk proud, have a little faith, hold out
We shall be free

We shall be free
We shall be free
Stand straight, have a little faith

We shall be free

Monday, November 15, 2010

Regional English Olympiad and Church

On Saturday, our Link had the opportunity to participate and help judge the Regional English Olympiad. I was expecting it to be some sort of Ukrainian 'Spelling Bee', but much to my surprise, it was set up more like the SAT. Students from different schools from all around the Region were split into their respected grades (8th-11th forms) and given topics to write on. After about a half hour, one of the American's was to read a rather lengthy magazine article and they had to answer questions. I was partnered with my friend Val, and we helped to facilitate the 9th Form Olympiad. We read a passage about the "Penny Black" stamp and it's impact on the world. The students then answered 10 True/False questions, as well as 10 multiple answers. What I thought was most interesting was there was no key, so it was up to Val and I to decide what the correct answers were. After the listening portion, they read their compositions that they had been writing on before the listening portion. Val and I were told that because they were in the room, many of them were too nervous to speak. The ones that did, however, we very impressive. Their English is far more advanced than my Ukrainian, but I am not being graded in front of my peers. Overall, the English Olympiad was an interesting experience, one that I will most likely take part in a couple of times over the next few years. PCVs write the questions and help judge the National Olympiad in Kiev, so I'm sure it won't be the last time I participate.  

Walking through Kivshovata Saturday bus from Tarasha dropped me off, I walked past the local church and decided that the next morning I would go. It was something I had wanted to do for a while, but also something my schedule and confidence hadn't permitted. So first thing when I got home, I asked Lecia in perfect Ukranian, "Tomorrow, I want to go to church, but I don't know when?" She told me that she wasn't sure, but she'd call around. And call around she did. We finally figured out that it was starting at 9 and if I wanted, a Babucia would take me. I told Lecia that I was grateful for the offer, and could most definitely get there myself, but would be happy to sit with said Babucia. Come to find out, there are no pews, or seats for that matter, and about 30+ Babucia's to choose from. Not knowing which one, I smiled politely at the ones who were starring at me. I like to think they were starring at me because I was wearing a suit and looked really nice, not because I was obviously foreign.

Let me take a second to describe the church. From the outside, it really doesn't look like anything special at all. It is a little run down, but beautiful in it's own right, with 2 light blue domes adorned with a cross on top of each one. Inside is breathtaking, and every wall is painted with a different Biblical scenes. The alter is practically a gold wall that simply radiates beauty.  Words really can't describe the place, and I am going to see if I can take pictures some time during the week if it is open, or after a service one Saturday or Sunday. I also want to know more about the history of the church. Motivation to work on my speaking and listening skills.

Worship was a once in a life time experience, and one that I am so happy that I took a chance and participated in. I still haven't figured out everything about the Russian Orthodox church, but judging by the crosses outside and in, as well as the 100+ pictures and paintings of Jesus, I'm guessing we have a few things in common with our belief systems.

The service was really unlike any I'd been to before. Mostly a choir of 7 ladies sang, as did the priest. A sort of call and response to each other, without any congregation participation. Worship started at 9 and ended around 11:30. Parishioners stand the entire time, too. Some of the Babucias sat when they were tired on a few benches, but they stuck it out most of the time. Even some kneeling and touching the floor with your head or lips. I just sort of went with the flow, made the sign of the cross when everybody else did (about 150+ times), knelt (sans floor kissing) when others knelt, etc.  I think it's safe to say they were speaking Russian or Ukrainian, probably a mixture of both. What I secretly wanted out of the whole thing was to commune, so when I saw bread and wine, I knew I might have an opportunity. And luckily for me, they were as eager to serve me as I was to take it. But as soon as it was time for communion, everybody took out a small plastic bag. When it was your turn, you took some bread and ate it, but also took some bread in the plastic bag; to-go bag for communion - ingenious! I was not prepared, but about 3 Babucias were looking out for me and gave me one of their extras. Score! I'm going to share the bread I took with my cluster when I tell them about my experience. The wine was mixed with boiling hot water, and cold water, and poured into a tea cup that everybody drank from. And if any bread crumbs or wine went on the floor, you were to kneel down, pick it up with your fingers, and eat it. This happened on more than one occasion, but I was sure not to spill.

For me, taking the chance and flying solo to church has been one of the many highlights of my time here in Kivshovata. I figured it was a safe place to take a chance, and I'm so happy I did. The looks of many went from, "What is he doing here?" to "Isn't it great he's here". Hopefully I can put up the pictures so everybody can see the the beauty of this place, but a lot of the beauty can't be seen, only felt. On Thursday, the PC Office comes to conduct our Site Placement Interviews, and after my time at church and the feeling I had walking away, it is clear to me that I want to stay in a small village, where the community is great and the people are close. Yes, life may be simple, and I may not have everything at my fingertips, but what an extraordinary life it truly is.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bringing Home the Bacon; A Tale of Slaughter.

I think that is was just a matter of time before this post was written. I'm sure you can guess by the title what my Saturday morning entailed, but first, a little background information.

I do live on a farm, and we do indeed have pigs. We also have 15 +/- (depending on what is for dinner) chickens, as well as 2 cats (yes, we got another kitten) and a dog. Also, I have been discussing for sometime now that I did want to kill a chicken. Mainly for the experience and satisfaction of actually doing it, but it's probably a good life skill in case that situation were to ever present itself again. But little did I know that my wish of helping slaughter dinner would come true, but in pig form, rather than chicken.

So I'll set the scene. Saturday morning: 6:30 a.m. I am politely woken up my Lecia, who explains to me that if I wanted to help kill a pig, I should get dressed and come downstairs. I was beyond clueless as to what was going on, mainly because I had not been told about the pig slaughtering, but also because it was 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday. But, I was up and I was "ready" to help out and/or observe. I walk outside, and Lecia, her brother, and I go do the deed. Without going into too much detail, it was quite the experience, and probably something that I won't volunteer to do again. Not that I walked away a vegetarian, but I feel like once you've seen one pig slaughtering, you've seen them all. I did well throughout the whole thing and helped out enough without getting in the way. Feel free to e-mail me if you want more detail, but I feel really lucky to have had such an experience, one that did make me think. 

I have, for some time now, been reevaluating what I've thought of food, much to the thanks of a fantastic class I took at Cal Lutheran called "Food Gardening". In the class, we started a small scale community garden at CLU (which has taken off and found a permanent home on campus) and also discussed "food"; where it comes from, how it's produced, what we can do in our lives to support ethical and humane practices, organic farmers, etc. I decided, from that class and many discussions with peers, that it is important for me to know where my food comes from, especially my meat. Well this weekend, I have never been more clear as to where my meat came from. Simply put, it came from my backyard. And not only my meat, but the potatoes, the carrots, the beets. Almost everything I ate this week was cultivated by my host mother.

In the States, it is so expensive to eat "only organic" or even to buy ethically raised meat. You have to really commit time and money to supporting such a diet. But then I move to Ukraine, a country that is often seen with so little, and so much to gain and I eat such quality food. What I (and many like minded Americans) strive to put on my plate is regularity and a way of life here, as it should be. The simplicity of life is what I envy and value most here, and what I have been learning so much from. I appreciate the opportunities presented in Ukraine that have only begun to teach me. I cannot wait for more of them throughout the coming months and will take each one as a way to learn and to grow, even if they are a little bloody.

Monday, November 1, 2010


So glad to be getting a post up. After many failed attempts this week, I am glad Blogspot decided to cooperate. Some websites load really fast, others do not at all. This one seems to be hit or miss.

Happy November to everyone! I'm not sure about you, but it sure did sneak up on me. Last week flew by, and even though we didn't have classes to teach, we had our days full. Kivshovata also saw it's first snowfall of the season! The funny part was that the night before at dinner, I had been talking with Lecia about weather (it's what we had been learning that day in class). I asked what it was going to be like tomorrow. "Сніг?" I asked. She laughed, and we kept eating. BUT sure enough, the next morning, there it was...beautifully falling from the sky. I literally danced around with Spook in the flakes after I let him out of the barn that morning, but Lecia told me I couldn't be outside dancing in the snow in my basketball shorts and outhouse sandals. Plus it was an early bus morning, so 6 a.m. in the snow, especially with shorts is never a good thing. Spook seemed to like the snow though, and although he does get spooked out by a lot of things (hence the name), he seemed to enjoy it. I'll be sure it include a post about Spook soon, explaining more of the story behind him. But, leave it to Ben to adopt a kitten in a foreign country living with a host family.

I enjoyed a nice Halloween celebration yesterday afternoon with friends from my cluster and link. We're a pretty tight group, so it's always good to hang out when we don't have "business" to attend to. Halloween isn't celebrated in the vast majority of Ukraine, and probably only the younger generation of teens/college-aged students would know what it is. Those that do know a little about the holiday don't quite understand why kids eat candy from strangers. There is some also confusion as to why we would carve faces into perfectly good pumpkins instead of eating them. Some things are just too much to explain. I would have to say Halloween is one of them. (And don't get them started on the Super Bowl. One word: Gluttony.) But I digress... We didn't dress up, but rather decided to cook a Mexican feast. Stuffed peppers, homemade flour tortillas, pico de gallo, Spanish Rice, Chai tea, lot's of chocolate, pastries, and a Corona for each of us. Someone found the Coronas in a Supermarket in Bila Tserkva, so they bought a bunch and we all pitched in for one. Good times had by all, and homemade food we recognized. Success.

This week is going to be another "routine" week, but Wednesday marks the halfway point for training which is so hard to believe. We really are starting to make some great relationships with members in the community, and people are beginning to remember us by name, not nationality. Kivshovata been an amazing training community so far, and I am excited to have a few more weeks here! Tomorrow I teach the 4th graders again. The topic for the lesson: Fruits, Vegetables, and Much/Many with a little bit of Passive Continuous thrown in. It's their first day back tomorrow, so hopefully they remember a few things from the last lesson a week and a half ago!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Finding Саксаганського 111A

I can't really believe it, but I had a few minutes to myself at home this afternoon, without anything to do! So I listened to music, blogged and ate борщ (which I am obsessed with). But then my internet when kaput, so I am posting this now. Cross-cultural and technical sessions this morning, followed by my 6th attempt to get my hair cut - still closed, maybe Monday. At 6 we had dinner at Evan's host home, with his host Mom Hala and host sister Oluna. We go to a different host family every Saturday for dinner. All of our families want to have us over every single week, but we can only take so much food, plus want to visit with each one. Tomorrow is totally free, so I am going to sleep-in, eat more борщ, play with Spook, and answer e-mails. We'll see what my internet has to say about the latter. Probably walk to town to see if the barber is felling better, but it's doubtful.

Returned from Kiev late last night after an absolutely fantastic visit. The weather was so beautiful, and the gold on top of the cathedrals was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Our day started at a cafe, where we had some long anticipated and much deserved lattes. The 6 a.m. bus was a little early, so a wake up coffee was most definitely in order. Lena did great empowering us to find our way around the city and communicating with people, but also showed us how to use the Metro, the buses, and train station. Big city transportation made me miss Buenos Aires a lot, but it was great to be experiencing and explore a totally new city and extremely different culture.

After a few buses and Metro rides later, we made our way to the Peace Corps office, quaintly located on Саксаганського (Sound it out...Sak-sa-han-sko-ho) Street. It is very hidden, and has sort of a secret ally way entrance. Luckily, I spotted more buildings down the ally, so I ventured off the beaten path and there it was! Lena was shocked when I returned to the group and told them where it was. "You're not supposed to find it this easily," she said with a big girn. (Apparently it took her close to an hour, and she speaks the language!) We checked it out, talked to some Volunteers in group 35 that were doing COS (Close/Continuation of Service) medical clearance, and met more of the staff. There's a lounge for Volunteers, as well as computers; a nice spot to stop in and visit when I'm in Kiev again.

After the business was taken care of, we were free to explore! First things first, food. We were told about a falafel place down the street, but we found a Crimean restaurant that looked good, and fit into our training budget. Plus we wanted to eat close to Independence Square. There we took pictures, and saw some of the monuments, as well as just relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful sun and sites. We continued walking around "Old Kiev" to St. Sophia's cathedral, ascended the bell town, and took in the amazing view. We also had time to visit two more cathedrals, St. Micheal's and St. Andrew's. I could have spent all day walking the grounds, looking at the architecture and paintings. I am now so interested in more of the history behind the cathedral's, and want to read more in depth about each one -actually more about Ukraine in general. I know I'll have plenty of time to read this winter, and hopefully return next summer full of knowledge and have more time to check things out. Today in our Cross Cultural session, we learned more about the history of Ukraine, and it also sparked my interest about so many things. So many books to read, so much frozen time to soon do it!

Our day concluded next to one of the symbols of Ukrainian statehood, the Днiпро (Dnieper) River. Walking the streets, seeing in the sites, and taking in the city life was just what we all needed, because as loud and crazy as it was, it reminded us of the lives we left back at home. Unlike Kivshovata, Kiev is a bustling place, and it was nice to have that for a few day. Isn't it funny how sometimes the craziest of situations, such as a jam packed Metro car in the middle of Kiev or asking for directions to strangers in a train station, can not only humble you, but relax you. Reflecting on the day as I walked home in silent Kivshovata, I could only smile, laugh, and be thankful for everything Ukraine has given me in my 4 weeks of being here.

Next week we have a break from teaching, which couldn't come at a better time. We can focus on our Kivshovata TEFL project, as well as our individual cluster projects, and lesson planning for the weeks to come. Thank you to everybody for the e-mails and updates. Expect a reply soon, internet depending. I'm off to check on Spook before heading to bed. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Off to Київ!

What a week! I am really having a hard time believing that tomorrow is Friday, let alone the 22nd day in October. Life is Kivshovata is going well, and although simple, definitely not slow. My alarm has been set between 6-6:30 every morning, so I am able to be to school by 7:30/8 to prepare for lesson observations and/or teaching. Tomorrow's alarm is set for 5 a.m., but I'll get to that later.

Classes are coming along swimmingly, and I gain more confidence each time I teach. I taught the 6th form again on Tuesday, and it was fantastic. I had a sense of comfort this time, and so did the students. I recognized them, knew a few names, and was much less of a novelty/circus act. We went over the "My Parents" lesson, and introduced adjectives to describe them. Again, I showed my pictures, and they were fascinated, but I think mainly by my Mom's good looks and Dad's dapper appearance. More critical thinking, more speaking, and more family...always a good time!

Today, Evan and I team taught the 4th form, which I will continue with in the following weeks. We had a blast teaching together. The topic: Food and the Present Continuous. "I eat the apple - I am eating the apple, "She/eat/peach - She is eating a peach" "They/cook/vegetables - They ____ cooking vegetables." (That one is for you to try!) I was so glad the lesson came together and was executed well. Oksana, as well as Marina, our Technical Coordinator, really liked the lesson which made us feel even more accomplished. We weren't give our material until yesterday at noon, and had 5 hours of Ukrainian, so at 6 p.m. last night, we were able to talk through our lesson and plan, finalizing everything at 7:45 this morning. Not ideal, but it is what it is and we managed. Flexibility and patience, that's what it's all about! Next week classes are on a break so students can help winter preparation at home, so we have a bit of a 'break', but I will start with 3 classes the following week, adding the 9th form.

All the work and stress of the week, however, is put aside tomorrow as our cluster of 5 embarks on a journey to Kiev! We want to catch the 6 a.m. bus, so that is why I have to get up so early. Only having an hour to get ready, eat breakfast, and walk to town may be a bit of a rush, but I knew I couldn't handle seeing a 4 on my alarm clock in the morning. We are supposed to sit with and converse with Ukrainians tomorrow on the 3 hour bus ride, but who really wants to be chatty with an American at 6 a.m. trying to comprehend very broken and butchered language...not any Ukrainian I've met. I'm pushing for conversation on the ride home, and sleep on the way there, unless my seat buddy is a sweet Babucia, in which case I will a) be fed copious amounts of food from her bag, b) get pet every time I say something correct in Ukrainian, and c) be introduced to her granddaughter(s) via phone.

Once in Kiev, Lena (our language teacher) is not allowed to speak to us in English, nor really help us out getting to the Peace Corps Office. We are supposed to use the phrases we've learned, and our heads, to take the bus to the Metro to the train to the office. We want to also explore the city a little, and maybe sit down and order something from a menu, so we allotted time for that. (And if I'm really lucky, sit down to do other things!) I will most definitely take pictures, and get them up when I can. My internet laughs hysterically when I try to upload any photo, whether it be to an email, Facebook, or my blog. Sooner or later, I will get some up and will take a flash drive tomorrow in case we go somewhere with internet/computers. I even made a video, so get ready!

Hope you're all enjoying your week, and have fun weekends planned. I'm not really a TGIF kind of guy, because I appreciate all the days independently for what they bring...but I am, however, thankful that tomorrow is Friday. For tomorrow means: another busy yet productive week in the books, more Ukrainian learned, and Kiev.

 (P.S. Lecia and I adopted a kitty/It followed me home and we kept it/I fed it so it would follow me home knowing that she would want to keep it. More details to come, but to wet your palate, he is tiny, black, and in the barn with the pigs.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Word of the Day: Гарбуз

Late night blogging, and an early Saturday morning tomorrow...you'd think I'd learn from college. Definitely excited for the weekend, not that it's a break, just a change of pace. Tomorrow, we're catching the 9 a.m. bus to Тараша (Tarasha) so we can have some time in the city before our Technical and Cross Cultural sessions at 10:30. Really hoping I get my hair cut...but many of you may know the disastrous situation that happened last time I got my hair cut in a foreign country. But what was the lesson I learned from that cross-cultural misunderstanding? Hair grows back! Sunday my cluster is going to Бiла Церква (Bila Tserkva), also known as "Little Kiev". Excited to see an even BIGGER city, and explore. And after our adventures tomorrow, Lecia is hosting Evan, Asia, and Laura over for a dinner. Dima will be in town for the weekend, so he is really looking forward to hosting as well. I helped bake a cake this evening. It was a flat cake, and we spread fresh plum jam on top, then rolled it and cut it into slices...and of course ate some. I'll probably get it for breakfast, too!

This week was great, and teaching on Wednesday went really well. The class was impressed with my photos of friends and family. They are great learners, and really want to know as much vocabulary as possible. So after they got over the live museum exhibit (me) teaching in front of the classroom, they quickly picked up on the lesson. But like I mentioned before, there was no grammar to teach, it was mostly critical thinking. As strange as it may sound, it was really interesting to watch a group of children think; not only to figure out what this American was trying to explain, but also the questions presented by him. "How many people are in your family", "Would you like to have a bigger or smaller family", "What traditions do you have in your family". Something these students had never been presented with before.

Next week, Evan and I will be team teaching the 10th Form (15/16 year olds) and we're pretty excited. He will continue with the class independently, but we have to have team teaching experience and thought it would be fun with older students. I will be continuing with the 6th Form, as well as the 4th and add 1 or 2 more classes as the weeks progress. I wanted the challenge and experience of working with new English learners, so I'm diving right in with the 8-11 year old's. Fun vocab, more activities and games, and a chance for me to really work on classroom management in Ukrainian.

Language is going well, but still difficult. 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. After 4-5 hours a day of language lesson, my mind is mush. The 30 minute walk home is a good time for me to relax and enjoy some silence, as well as repeat all of the new words and phrases swirling around in my head. Lecia is impressed with how well I'm doing, but it is quite the struggle. I also have some new friends my walk home, 3 Бабуся (Babucia's - Ukrainian Grandmother's) that love to tell me I need to be wearing my hat or sometimes give me food. (It's not quite cold enough for a hat, but of course I take it and have it in my pocket in case I walk at night) They kids from school told one my name, so now they all know to wave at me as I walk by. It's actually really great to have a Бабуся on your side; many Ukrainians say she's the only one that can scare off mad dogs and drunk men. Haven't had any encounters yet, but when I do, you know where I'll go.

Hope you're all enjoying Fall in the states. Eat some Candy Corn for me please, and I'll have the rice and meat stuffed pumpkin with mini-pancakes on the side!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time to teach!

Tomorrow, I will teach my first English lesson and couldn't be more excited. I feel very prepared, and my Technical Coordinator has been working with my cluster closely to prepare the perfect first lessons! In Ukraine, you are required to have a written lesson plan for each class you teach, with a very detailed outline to be followed. At any time, the principal of the school could walk into class and ask to see it. If you don't have it, you won't be teaching that day. Not sure what the kids do...we really didn't go that far. It was just emphasized to us that a written lesson plan is a must.
I didn't get to choose my lesson topic, but rather it was the next one in the book of the form (class) I've been paired with. But had I been allowed to choose, this most definitely would have been it. The topic: "Different Families, Different Lives". My 40 minute lesson focuses on critical thinking rather than the traditional grammar or vocabulary, and I explore what other families and lives from around the world look look like. For me, this is a great first topic, because I essentially get to teach the lesson while introducing myself! One of the many things that I am thankful I brought was a photo album of my family and friends. Not only is it a fantastic ice breaker for the first meal with a host mother you can't communicate with, it fits in perfectly with my lesson of explaining lives from different cultures. Funny how things work out sometimes.
To say that I'm not nervous AT ALL would be a lie, but I've put a lot of time and effort into these 40 minutes. One thing I do know, I won't be going in with the "You know what they say about the first pancake..." mentality. I am confident in my ability, and have a well planned out, structured lesson. I'm excited to let you know how it goes, and what they say about my wonderful family and friends! If you happen to wake up in the middle of the night tonight, think of me showing off your picture in a small Ukrainian village and have a laugh.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Settling In

Well, as you can see I have internet. I'm posting four blogs in one day, two from the end of September and one from the first of the month. I've been writing them in Word, and then saving them to a flash drive in case I got near a computer to post. Well, a week went by and that never happened. But that's ok, more for you to read. Hopefully no one thought I gave up on blogging! One thing is for certain though, Kivshovata yields a lot more potatoes than it does e-mails.

Today my cluster (Evan, Laura, Asia, Lena - our language teacher, and I) went to Trarasha, a neighboring town about 20 minutes bus ride. Another cluster, our link group, is living and studying there. We do Saturday training days with them, as well as random information sessions. Today was health day, and we talked about safety precautions and health risks, watched some videos etc. After, however, my cluster had some time in the CITY before we caught the bus back! It's much more of a town, but we felt like we were kids in a candy store! Our village of 2,000 has 3 stores and a cafe, the school and the church...aaand that's about it. So going to a town with paved roads with street names was a little overwhelming, but definitely a thrill a minute. Trarasha does have multiple cell phone and electronic stores, so we were able to purchases the phones we'd been strongly recommended to buy, but reluctantly resisting. There was something nice about not having a phone in my pocket for 10 days. I bought a little internet card too, an investment for my two years here. It wasn't expensive at all, but it requires phone service to work...which means in Kivshovata it's spotty. But that's ok, if I sit in my living room, with my legs not crossed, I can get it for about 15 minutes at a time. I'm praying for patience, but also asking you stay patient with me as e-mails might not get returned the quickest.

Even though we're in a small town, life for a PCV moves very quickly. I have 4-5 hours of language class a day, mixed in with technical training for teaching English, lesson observations at the school, and next week...teaching! The school is fantastic, so I'm nothing but excited to get into the classroom. My walk to Lena's is the farthest, maybe 25-30 minutes (Side note: Lena is my language teacher. native Ukrainian, early 20's, linguistics major, just graduated University like me, but with her Masters, an awesome hip-hop dancer, and so funny and patient with us silly American's trying to learn Ukrainian) but I love my walk. It is cold, yes, but it gives me time to be by myself. I bounce from school to class to craziness of communicating with Mama Lessa, that my walks are cherished times to be alone. Soon the snow will come, and the temperatures will dip below 0, and I'm sure I'll wish my commute were shorter, but I still think having the time to myself is ideal in the wonderful whirlwind of training.

Excited to see what tomorrow will bring. Tomorrow evening, I think Mama Lessa will be showing me the washing machine and how it works (i.e. me, two buckets, and the clothes line). I need to figure out how to ask if they're going to freeze when I leave them out overnight! Hope all is well with you too.

Happy Teachers Day in Ukraine! (10/1)

Friday, October 1, 2010

I can even begin to describe how EPIC today was. In Ukraine, it’s National Teachers Day, so we were invited to the school to celebrate. The children put on an hour-long program (planned and prepared by the teachers in their classes) for the whole school. They danced, they sang, they told poems and stories, they acted out scenes from plays, they sang and danced some more. All of the grades participated, from the 1st graders to the 10th graders. It was really a special time for all of the teachers.

And OF COURSE we were presented to the entire student body and got to tell a little bit about ourselves…IN UKRANIAN! Talk about pressure, but it was really good for the kids to see us stumbling over our Ukrainian, making it ok for them to stumble over their English in front of us. Our speeches included “Good morning! Hi, my name is Ben. I’m from America, state Colorado, city Grand Junction and I went to University in California. I am a teacher and Peace Corps Volunteer. I specialized in English. (We tell them that because to them, we’re experts in the English language.) Pleased to meet you!”

So the program ended about 1 pm, and then the children left because the teachers get a break on their day! It’s a win-win for both the teachers and the kids…half-day! And then, it was time to celebrate being a teacher, and what better what to do that than eat TONS of food and drink in the gym! We had quite the celebration, and Evan and I limited ourselves to 1 shot of vodka. We were, of course, with our colleagues, even though they most definitely wanted us to help ourselves. It was so special being at the table, breaking bread, drinking wine, and just laughing, even if there was no comprehension of what was being said. We were apart of their family; teachers welcomed us, introduced themselves, and made an effort to include us. The meal could have lasted much, much longer, but after many traditional Ukrainian songs were sung, and speeches were given, we cleared the table and danced for a good half hour. Now you may be thinking of sloppy teachers over celebrating the day dedicated to them, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was just a community of friends, celebrating each other; their hard work, and the rich history teachers have in Ukraine. As Eisenhower once said, “It was teachers that defeated the Soviets, by demonstrating and reinforcing brotherhood and acceptance of neighbors”.

Today, I felt so welcomed, and loved. I am proud to be working with the teacher’s at the Kivshovata School, and know that over these next 3 months, I will gain a deeper understanding of the acceptance and brotherhood that only Ukrainian teachers can teach.

This weekend looks like it will be just as exciting and fun filled as the past week has been. We go to our neighboring community in the morning for a cross-cultural lesson with another cluster. Together we make a link, and visit each other every Saturday, either we go there, or they come to us. Their town is about 10,000 people, so more opportunities to hopefully get these blog posts posted! Thanks everybody for being patient with me! 

Arrival Retreat and First Few Days (9/27 & 9/28)

This post was originally typed on September 27 – 10 am

Well, I made it and could not be more excited to be here, with my bags! Right now, I’m on the porch of my room that is at the retreat center where we are spending the first couple of days. It’s an old Soviet retreat and heath center, but nothing like a Club Med or Spa. We’re in the forest, about an hour and a half outside of Kiev. After spending time in smoky airports and crowded planes, the fresh air of the forest is something to be valued.

The plane rides over here weren’t anything to complain about at all. DC to Frankfurt was 8 hours, nothing I couldn’t handle. I wish I had slept more, but I was sandwiched in between some fairly large German men who most definitely needed the extra space. After a short layover in Germany, (Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa Jerry for the Euros! They bought me a MUCH needed bottle of water and I didn’t have to use US Dollars!) we headed to Kiev which was a shorter 2 hour flight. I sat next to some other PCV’s and had the aisle, so I could stretch out a little more.

From the moment we walked through customs, Peace Corps has been so amazing with taking care of us. Making sure we’re comfortable, not too overwhelmed, and giving us much time to read…and blog. The day is packed full, but we still have free time to adjust. I’m staying with two other guys for this quick, day and a half retreat. We are all having the same sort of feelings, overwhelmed with excitement, mixed in with intimidation from the unknown, but confidence in the process. It has just been so great to be around people who are here for the same reason, and who are in the same boat as I am. We all have common ground that is both comforting and reassuring. I have my first language lesson at 4 p.m. today with 2 other people in my cluster. We are waiting for another girl who will be joining us on Friday, then our cluster will be complete. Group 40 has a ‘B’ group who were held back because of problems with Visas. They were supposed to stage with us in DC, but were held back until Tuesday. They won’t have the luxury of free time or adjustment, their orientation at the retreat center will be all of 6 hours then they will go to their respected training villages.

My training village is Kivshovata and I will be speaking Ukrainian! Well, I will be learning Ukrainian during my 3 months of training, but could be sent to a Russian speaking community, where I will learn to understand Russian and respond with Ukrainian. A current volunteer who is here at the training site reassured us that the language training over the next 3 months is fantastic, and we really have nothing to worry about. Plus, if we give everything we have and aren’t afraid to fail, we will get even more out of the training experience. For this, I cannot wait; to fail, to be vulnerable, but to learn and become confident, and to adapt.

So far, everything is just fine…even better than fine: things are great. I have been trusting in process and have been embracing the unknown, just like I told myself I was going to. It’s kept me worry free and more relaxed, which at this time I will take every ounce I can get. Now, I’m going to sit back and listen to the guitar playing by Brett, a fellow volunteer. Between the beautiful nature at the retreat center, delicious Ukrainian breakfast that has my stomach full, and great sounds of guitar and nature, I can say one thing for sure: life is good.

This post originally typed on Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I made it to Kivshovata and have arrived at my host mother Lessa’s house! Training was a great, and quick day 2 days, filled with session on cross cultural adaption, safety, some history of Ukraine, and logistical items. There were also some “What to expect at the host home” skits by the Language Facilitators which were really funny, and very true. We were placed into clusters, and I am with 3 other people, 2 of which were in group 40A. Because there were some problems with visas, another group of 40 were held back and left this morning, so Asia, Evan and I will be met by Laura on Friday.

My village is the smallest out of all the training villages, and by far the furthest from Kiev. We dropped everybody off today before making it to our Kivsho, which heightened the nerves watching everybody meet their families. But when you’re actually meeting them, there is no time to think, let alone be nervous! Lessa is a very sweet lady, maybe 40-45 years old. She also has a son in University, but because women get married very early, it would make sense that Lessa is in her 40’s. Today’s first few hours were mixed with miming, pointing, dancing, laughing, eating, demonstrating, and silence. All of which is to be expected and very ok.

Usually I would be stressed out not being able to communicate, but I know it will take time. I can’t wait for two weeks to pass and hopefully be able to carry on a small conversation. Or at least know some of what is being said to me!

My photos I brought, the photos friends gave me, and also the book of Colorado where GREAT to be able to sit and look at with Lessa over dinner. I was able to show her my family and friends; the people that I love, and who love me back home. They helped make dinner go very smoothly and by looking at them, and her explaining me things in Ukrainian, dinner wasn’t silent or awkward. The food was delicious, but I have no clue what it was. I am pretty sure there was chicken covered in a fried egg (kind of), white bread (ALWAYS!), mashed potatoes (from her potato field), something, maybe fish, that was very gelatinous, and some chocolate that I picked up earliest for dessert. In a future blog post I will most definitely tell you about the Ukrainian “game” that is dinner. I was warned, and of course played it!

After dinner, I unpacked a little bit more, and Lessa showed me the outhouse (with a working light, HEY-OH!).  And my shower is inside the house (HEY-OH!). The shower only has cold water, so we boil what we will bathe with, and mix it in a smaller bucket with cold water, getting warm bath water. Then you sort of ladle it on yourself with a small pot. The novelty will soon wear off, but for right now I’m excited that it was a) warm water, and b) inside. Having low expectations that are surpassed…always a good thing.

Now I’m off to bed, but might trek out to the privy before calling it a night. What an adventure I’ve begun! Language class starts tomorrow, and probably exploring Kivshovata with my cluster.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch. - Garrison Keillor

So, tomorrow is the big day. In the morning, I leave for the biggest adventure of my life. I’m feeling a lot of things right now: excited but intimidated, impatient but peaceful, vulnerable and blessed.

I have been wrapped up in trying to imagine what it’s going to be like, or prepare my self on what to expect, that it seems like I’ve almost been lacking emotion. Or maybe it’s just been hard to express the complexity of the emotions. I think the other volunteers probably know what this feels like, and they’ll be with me all throughout training, allowing the bond of friendships to grow stronger as the months pass.

But before I can move on to this new and exciting chapter of my life, I feel I must tell you, my friends and family, my support system and biggest fans, how much I have, and do, appreciate your endless love, support, guidance and prayers, and how much I will miss your smiles, jokes, and dear friendships.

I’m sorry that I’m not able to say goodbye easily to your faces, or over the phone. In many ways, my reluctance is coming from the fact that saying goodbye seems abrupt and final. It really does solidify the fact that I am leaving, the distance and time I will be away from what is safe, and what I know.

Those of you who have known me longer know how emotional my goodbyes can be sometimes. For this experience, I have been more interested in the casual goodbye to the serious and complicated process of explaining to someone their worth and how the distance will be felt keenly.

So this post is instead of all those individual, special, yet complicated goodbyes. Please know I will not be gone forever, not will I be lacking all communication. I will have access to Internet (although limited) and WILL write letters back. This is a promise I must keep for my own sanity, and for ensuring that we remain friends when I get back.

Please be on the lookout for information regarding contacting me via post, both during training and once I move to site. Any communication, whether it be an email, a post card or a package, will be sincerely appreciated.

So, please, if you feel so inclined, stay in touch. I could not be where I am today without all of you. And thank you again for joining me on my journey.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Crunch time.

4 days. Whoa.

I just wrapped up a whirlwind of a weekend in CA, spending time with friends and enjoying one last taste of TO. It was such a great trip, I got to surprise some people, and some people even surprised me. I know I didn't get to see everybody, and knowing that was always in the back of my mind, but the time I had was great and I was again reminded of how blessed I am with such amazing, supportive, and FUN friends.

Now it's time to crack down on packing. I have turned the guest bedroom into my own personal packing haven. Everything is organized (and all over the place) just not packed. Between all of the suggestions and lists I've acquired from the Peace Corps and current volunteers, I think I have pretty much everything on one list or another. (Side note: I love lists.) My Mom jokes that I'll over-pack for my funeral. This is most definitely the truth. So in the morning I'll assess the situation, and figure out if I really need that extra pair of pants...or at least try to convince my Mom why I'll need them.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trusting the Process. Embracing the Unknown.

So I've been getting a lot of the same general questions, most of which I have come to terms with not knowing. Two things that I think are imperative to this whole this experience will be trusting the process and embracing the unknown. But it is always to good to have some clue as to what I am getting myself into. The Peace Corps has yet to disappoint, and sent me some material the other day. Most of it would be pretty boring, but some of it will help you to understand just exactly what my time will be like.

Pre-Service Training (PST) 
When I first arrive, I'll have a two-day orientation, called the Arrival Retreat. It's designed to provide an overview of Peace Corps Ukraine and the Training Program. I'll be also be assigned to a language program (Ukrainian or Russian). I'll have a chance to get to know my cluster-mates (the other Trainees who will live in the same training community (cluster) and learn in the same language group with me). I will also meet my Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator who will be our teacher in the cluster as well as other people who will teach guide training during the pre-service training period.
On September 28th I'll go to my training communities (small towns and villages in the Kyiv Region) with my cluster. There I will meet my your host families in whose homes I will stay for the next 10 to 11 weeks!!!

I'll live with my host family for approximately 10 and a half weeks. Four to five other Trainees will also live in the same cluster with different families. Peace Corps Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitators and Technical and Cross-Cultural Facilitators will be living in the training communities and helping me learn the language and get adjusted to the local culture and working environment. I'll be visiting local schools or higher educational institutions, youth centers, orphanages, NGOs, local government administrations to participate in on-going internship activities similar to what I will do at my sites.

I'll have daily language classes (3-5 hours per day Monday through Friday), which will include small group classes, individual tutoring, field trips, self-directed learning activities and technical language. My technical training will include training sessions, workshops, internship activities, practical assignments and community activities.

During PST I'll have regular opportunities to meet with another cluster of my track and share experiences. However, most of my time will be spent in my training community, which gives us a possibility to benefit from the community-based training and enhance community integration skills.

The Peace Corps Country Director, Programming and Training Officer, TEFL Lead Specialists, Training Manager, Medical Officers, and Safety/ Security Coordinator will be traveling to your clusters at different times throughout the pre-service training to meet with me, assess how the program is going and address any specific needs or issues.

At the end of PST, I will get my permanent site assignment and will be sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine. The US Ambassador to Ukraine will lead the swearing-in, and Ukrainian Government officials will welcome us as colleagues and community change agents. For that day and several days thereafter pictures of me and the other new Volunteers may appear in the national news media. My counterpart from my permanent site will be present at the ceremony and officially welcomed into the Peace Corps family as well. Following the ceremony, I will go with my Counterpart and take the road to the village or town where for the next 2 years I will live and work!!!

Communication (with the States) will be somewhat hard, but that goes with staying flexible and embracing the limited interaction I do have. But in the case of communication, the old adage “no news is good news” most definitely applies. There is no Internet access available at the PST venue, and I may not be able to make international calls. Preparing for  limited communication and preparing  family for the fact that I probably won’t be able to call or email them for the first few days in Ukraine was something I was told. But once I get settled into my training community, I'll have access to public phones. It’s possible to make collect calls to the US from local pay phones (MCI, Sprint, AT&T). Internet access is available in most communities.

Family and friends are not be able to mail packages to your attention for the duration of PST. Peace Corps/Ukraine cannot be responsible for property mailed to Trainees; delivery of boxes and packages sent will be declined! In the event of an emergency, they will accept letters mailed to my attention. After PST, once settled in my permanent work site, I will send out the mailing address where I'll will be able to receive regular mail and packages and communicate this to family and loved ones.

After the initial introductions, I'll have a briefing by our Administrative staff during which I'll receive my first installment of “walk-around” allowance. This is a small amount of cash in the local currency called “Hryvnya” (1 US$ = approximately 8.00 UAH), which will cover incidentals and personal hygiene items during the pre-service training period. After my bank account is open during the initial weeks of PST, I'll get a bank card and will be able to withdraw your “walk around” as well as “host family” allowances using ATM's.

So that may have been a little too much information, but at least you kind of get the idea of what life will be like until the middle of December. Can you tell I'm excited though?! Now, it's time to really focus on packing!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


"It is amazingly empowering to have the support of a strong, motivated, and inspirational group of people."

Over the past couple of months, and after deciding to embark on this journey, it's the support of others that has allowed me to be so excited and remain so calm. I have always felt that this was my time for an independent experience, but I'd be foolish to think I could do this alone. Embracing the support, and realizing what a incredible blessing it is to have allows me to have such confident outlook on the unknown.

This summer, as I said in a previous post, was one of discernment, growth, and most definitely support. I had the support of my amazing host parents, Robbie & Charlie, allowing me to reflect on my work and always being available to listen. I could share with them anything, and they would also provide me with such insightful advice, coming from their own life experiences. They gave me a true gift, one that I will be trying to pay forward to others. I also relied on my Mentor Group, a fantastic collection of individuals who walked along side of me on my journey at Messiah. On a bi-monthly basis, I was able to open my experience to them, sharing my struggles and fears, but also my accomplishments and revelations. They built me up, made me confident in my role as an intern, and pushed me to think, openly and honestly. That group will probably never know the impact they had on my journey, process of discernment, and summer at Messiah, but I will be forever grateful and appreciative of their support. 

This last weekend, my parents threw a Labor Day Weekend Open House. The occasion, of course, was that I was leaving, but it also was so much more. Looking around the party, I saw family and friends all there to wish me well, and send me off. Wes and Steph flew out to be there, and to come hear me preach the next day. Kirst took time away from Grad School to spend the weekend with my family, fitting in with everybody perfectly. Jake took vacation and flew himself out to spend the week here, allowing us to have sibling time that is always fun, and also to have some time as a complete family. I had family from the other side of the mountain, spending their long weekend to show their support for me. And of course my parents, making sure everything was perfect, and not letting me worry about any of the details. They have been so helpful throughout this whole process, even if it was just to vent about the Application Process. They have shown excitement and confidence in me, like never before and there is no way I could be doing this without their guidance and support. 

It was just incredible how everyone pitched in to make the party perfect, including enough potato salad for 50, Christmas cookies in September as I probably won't be having any this December, homemade lefse, cards, notes. I will remember this weekend for such a long time, empowered by the amount of love showed to me. 

I know I have so many people rooting for me, and I cannot help to feel overwhelmingly blessed. How special to know that anytime I need a helping hand, even if I am in a foreign country, people will be praying for me, thinking of me, always wanting the best for me. It will keep me going during the tough times, and always keep me motivated to do my best.

Friday, August 27, 2010

My Summer at Messiah

Many have been asking what I've been up to since I graduated in May. No, I didn't escape to the mountains for another summer at camp, I actually moved up North to Portland (Vancouver, Washington to be exact) to intern with the congregation at Messiah Lutheran Church.

My summer was as busy as ever, full of new friendships, experiences, and memories that will last a lifetime. To say that the internship was life-changing would be an understatement and now reflecting on the 12 weeks, hard to put into words.

One of the biggest blessings of the summer was getting to work with a great friend, Ms. Rachael Manzo. We both graduated from CLU in May, and were offered the internship at Messiah. Rachael has a warm, comforting personality, one that is quick with a laugh, and we surely had many. Side by side, we worked and lived together, trying to figure out where our lives were headed and if they included ministry. We seem to balance each other out really well, and were very intuitive to how each other was feeling. This being the first time Rachael had been away from home, I was there for a familiar face, and a comfort which made me feel really good. She kept me organized and patient, and was always willing to help out any way she could. Her presence was calming but loud, exciting but focused, and always joy filled. We called each other Lewis (me) & Clark (Rach) and together we explored the Pacific Northwest and had some amazing adventures, and created a friendship and support system that will most definitely get us through our time apart. 

Messiah is quite a larger congregation, having 4 services (1 on Saturday, 3 on Sunday) and 400+ members. (That number might even be a bit low...) The people were absolutely fantastic and supported me the whole way through. The staff of 10 couldn't have been better to work with, and were so patient and helpful with Rachael and I. They gave us the freedom to carry out our own tasks and projects, as well as really valued our opinions and ideas. They are hard at work, getting ready to start a second site north of their current one, and the first service is September 12. It was a unique experience getting to work on the start up of a new site, one that I doubt many would ever get the chance to do. The intention and care that is going into the North Clark Country campus will allow it to have a great start and thrive. I am so excited to return and worship there!

I have so much appreciation and gratitude for my Messiah family, and for the experience they provided me. Going into the summer, I would have never guessed what a life-directing one it would be. I will take the support and friendships, along with everything I learned with me to Ukraine, and with me the rest of my life. Missing it already!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Well, here it is! I finally have my blog set up! This is something that I wanted to do for a while now, but also wanted to spend time on, being intentional about it. It's a way for anybody to follow my journey while I served in Ukraine with the Peace Corps. I will try to post on some sort of regular basis, but who really knows if that is going to happen. There are just so many unknowns out there, and my internet availability is most definitely one of them. But, after lots of research and communication with other PCV (Peace Corps Volunteers), I think I will have access at least weekly, if not more often.

I have a month left here at home, and am so looking forward to spending that time with family and friends, eating peaches, and packing. Not necessarily in that order, but maybe some at the same time! I will also post soon about what I've been up to since graduation. It was too incredible of an experience not to at least TRY to put into words.

So, I welcome you with an open heart and sincere appreciation to my journey, and I thank you for joining me on it. What a blessed life I have had the last 22 years, and I cannot wait to get started serving, and be served, in Ukraine.

До наступної зустрічі (I think that's "Until next time" in Ukraine. I can't wait to return back to this post and see how very wrong I was.)