"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

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!