"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, April 24, 2011

Христос Воскрес! Воистину Воскрес!

 Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! 

From what I can tell, Easter is probably the major Ukrainian religious holiday. Christmas was great, but Easter seems to be the Big Show. It all started so long ago with (Пiст) (Peest) or Lent as you and I know it to be. For some in Ukraine, it’s 40 days of food deprivation preceding Eater. Traditionally, one “fasted” of all of lent giving up meat, eggs, and butter, and abstaining from dancing, spending money frivolously, etc. I only ran into a few Ukrainians that were going ‘all out’ this Lent, but most everyone focuses on something and most of the local “discos” have been closed. All in all, it’s meant to be a time for soul cleansing and penitence. The kids seem to really like Lent, because they can tell teachers that they are going to confession instead of class, and get a pass for a few lessons. Personally, I think they actually go, because who says their going to confession to get out of school, and then doesn’t? That just means they’ll have to go right back to confess for lying…

Last week was Palm Sunday, or in Ukraine, Willow Sunday. Palms were hard to get around here a while ago, so willow branches were an appropriate substitute and the tradition stuck. Kids beat each other with them, chanting some rhyme about how they aren’t hitting you, the branch is hitting you, and soon Easter will come and you’ll be blessed with a red egg.

And as I talked about in my last post, the week before lent is all about cleaning. All ‘non-lenten’ foods are prepared (using butter, meat, eggs, etc), but not eaten. Sausages are stuffed, Паска (Paska) is baked (special sweet Easter bread), Хрін (Hreen) beet and horseradish is made, and eggs are boiled and colored. The best way to put it would be a lot of sweeping, (dirt roads, window seats, etc.), painting (bottoms of trees, houses, etc.) and scurrying.

‘Clean Thursday’ service is when all churchgoers go to church with a candle, and toward the end, get their candle lit and blessed by the Priest. Then they carefully walk home with the lit candle, making sure the wind doesn’t blow it out. Many people have special candleholders for protection; some have plastic bottles turned up side down and the bottom cut off as a homemade and eco-friendly candle protector. Once at home, they bless their doorway and make a cross with the flame at the top of the doorframe, leaving a black . I was having dinner with some PCV’s, and Mr. Kidd (Jon’s Dad) in Lutsk at the time, but luckily someone stopped by my house to have it blessed. Score!

Friday is all about the Плащениця (Plashchenytsia) or the Holy Shroud which worshippers pray to. It’s also the last chance for confessions, so most of the people are waiting in line to speak with the Priest. This Lutheran was a little intimidated confessing my sins to someone other than the Big Guy, let alone in Ukrainian, so I made my quick appearance and headed home.  (Side note: Church is definitely a come and go as you please sort of situation. I never really know when to show up, or where to go, but no one has told me I’m doing it wrong, so I’ll just keep with the naive American boy smile, and I think I’ll be fine.)

I had absolutely nothing to do on Saturday, so I took the opportunity to deep clean my own dwelling! When in Ukraine, right? I thought about eating dinner off the floor, because that’s how hard I scrubbed. I put away my winter clothes (fingers crossed), pulled out the shorts (fingers and toes crossed) and swapped my boots for sandals. The nap I was going to take before church at 12 a.m. turned into an awesome, and much needed Skype session with my friend from school (Thanks again for your patience, LA!) then I headed off to church with my Easter basket filled to the brim a little before midnight.

Right at midnight, the entire congregation stands around the church, and marches in procession around it three times, holding candles, carrying church banners, and singing “Христос Воскрес!” (Hrystos Voskres) “Christ is Risen!” The response is “Воистину воскрес!” (Voees-ten-u Voskres) “Indeed, He is Risen!” This was a very special moment for me, because I felt so at peace. I was in a mass of people, chanting something so foreign but so familiar and it came so natural. I wasn’t being looked at as the American, but as a rejoicer and sinner saved by this Easter miracle, standing on common ground; standing at the foot of the cross. We talked a lot about that in college at worship, but never has it felt so real than it did in the wee hours of this Ukrainian morning.

For the next 6 or so hours, I spent in and out of the church, standing, listening, reflecting, translating, worshiping. Many people would go into the church for about an hour or so, then take a break outside where there were about twice as many people around the church, listening to the speakers and the bells from the tower that had been ringing since midnight. (Some of the local boys take shifts ringing the bells for the next 3 days straight, but anyone who feels inclined may climb to the top of the bell town and ring away to show their joyfulness and jubilation).

After service, while it is still dark, all of the Easter baskets are blessed. The Easter basket is the pride and joy of the family, and just like any Ukrainian that leaves the house, the baskets are too, well put together and tidy. The baskets are filled with a sampling of Easter foods, but most contain:

Paska (Sweet Easter bread), Pysanky (Beautifully painted eggs), Krashank (Colored Eggs: variety of colors but there must be a red one), Salo (Pork Fat), Kovbasa (Garlic Sausage), maybe Salt, Pepper, Lard, Butter, Cheese, Horseradish, Ham, and seeds if the planting hasn’t already been done. A candle is placed in the paska, and lit before it’s blessed.

Everybody makes a huge circle around the church with their baskets at their feet and paska candles lit and the Priest walks around flinging water on everybody and their baskets. The procession goes around three times again, and then everybody hurries home to share the blessed food and break Lent. I went home and slept for a few hours, and cooked myself Plov, an easy but suuuper Ukrainian dish. After finishing, I was insistently whisked away to one of  my English teachers houses to eat more breakfast with them. (Oh Bosha!) They graciously hosted me, filling me to my brim with a delicious Ukrainian feast…complete with horilka (Ukrainian for Vodka!) Sadly, I forgot my camera but the celebration isn’t quite over yet!

We have school off tomorrow, because Easter continues Monday and Tuesday. More feasts, more celebrating, and hopefully more paska! I am continually reminded how blessed I am here, and how wonderful and hospitable the people of Ukraine are. I hope you have a won
derful Easter as well, and are rejoicing in this gift of renewal and new life! 
He is RISEN! 

The contents of my basket: Paska
(Sweet Bread: Joy of New Life, Eggs: Rebirth, Garlic Sausage: Generosity)
Easter Basket

My 1st Easter Meal - Plov, Egg, Salo, and Paska

Surprise Easter Dinner in Mr. Benjamin's Kitchen/Bathroom!
Me, Anastasia Serhivna (Center), and Natalia Vasilivna (Right)
Two English teachers and some of the best Ukrainian women I know!
Quite the Feast!
(Lots of Paska, Plov, Sausage, Salo, Cabbage Rolls,
Meat Jello, Cheese and Apple Filled Mini-Pancakes,
Eggs, Tea, and Cognac)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kolky Community Clean-Up!

Easter prep continues to roll on, and Spring cleaning is in the air here in Kolky. For the past couple of weeks, everybody in town has been cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. I was told that about twice a year, people clean EVERYTHING in town to get ready for summer, but the cleaning is also connected with Easter. Houses, roads, curbs, even trees are being cleaned and re-painted. The cemetery is being weeded, all the dead leaves and grass being taken out, and new beautiful neon fake flowers are being 'planted'. The students cleaned the school year a week ago, planting 20+ new trees and hanging a few bird houses. Even the dusty dirt road that leads up to school has been hand swept a few times this week all by different groups of people.

Saturday was an especially busy day around Kolky because it was the first annual Kolky Community Clean-Up! It was organized nationally by a Scouts Organization, but this was the first year Kolky participated. Students, parents, community members, even a few Americans (me and a friend from Lutsk) came to participate. We split up into a bunch of groups and spent a good 6 hours picking up trash in the forest and the main road that leads into Kolky. Other groups cleaned around town, picked up trash around the river, and beautified the park areas. All of us pitching in to make Kolky even more beautiful that it already is.

It was a beautiful day, wonderful weather, and even better camaraderie as the students were taking pride in helping out their community.  It was also great for them to learn how not to dispose of trash in the future. My PCV friend, Jonathan, came to pitch in too and most of my 9A form students were able to talk with him and meet another real live American. An awesome time had by all! Enjoy some of the photos from the weekend events.

Getting right into it!

Half-way through and we ran out of bags!

The WWII Memorial all clean

It wouldn't be snack-time without cookies and fresh birch juice, tapped straight from the trees!

Mr. Benjamin with Dima and Jonathan

Ukrainian Trash Pick-Up

Our Coordinators - Dima and Kola

We Did It!

The Styr River that runs just outside of Kolky

Where I will spend most of my summer

A beautiful, Spring day indeed!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Beginning: In Photos

Who are these people that he keeps talking about?
What do these places look like that he is describing?
How does a PCV in Kolky, Ukraine live?
What is borshch?  

If you've asked yourself any of these questions recently, look no further than right here!

Chick PC Ukraine: The Beginning which is the public link to the Facebook photo album, no log-in required.

If you'd like to share the link with friends, here it is:


Let me know if you have any problems or questions!

Monday, April 4, 2011

An Update; Long Overdue

Happy April friends and family alike! No my lack of internet the last few weeks was not an impressive and drawn-out April Fools Day joke, it was simply due to a PCV budget, a journey though Western Ukraine, and some interesting interactions at the Internet store.

When I last left you, I was embarking on my Spring Break adventure and I might have even promised photos of my new place. Well, next post will be one of photos, this one will be one of updates and stories. (I have to keep you coming back some how!) Spring Break was incredible. I packed a lot into 9 days but I had such an awesome time everywhere I went and with everyone I saw. Here's the trip itinerary, and a little bit about each stop.

Spent Saturday in Kyiv for my clustermate and good friend Evan Kelly's birthday! We met some other friends and Volunteers in the city and enjoyed walking around new places, going to some bazaars, almost participating in a taping of a Ukrainian Dance Television Show (go figure) in the Center of Kyiv, and eating some birthday burritos!

Spent 2 days in Kivsho with Mama Lecia, Dima, and Spook. I haven't slept that well in 3 months. Kivshovata is where I grew up into my Ukrainian self, so it was cool to go back after a few months and share a little bit of my experience already. 2 days wasn't nearly enough, but it was just enough to play a lot of cards with Dima, catch up with other host families and the school, play with Spook, and eat way too much. It's also good to know that I can hold a Ukrainian conversation(s) without any help! Lecia is already texting me when I am visiting next. Something tells me I'll go back this summer.

Evan and I headed down from Kivsho to Asia's place in Lanivtsi, where she was quite the exceptional hostess. Lanivtsi is a great fit for Asia, and she has already made some great friends and connections. Again a quick trip, but one that was full of stories and laughter.

With Evan and Asia, I headed down to Ternopil, where we stayed with our friend Natalie. Ternopil is a very big city, so she was a great guide and showed us some fun places to hang out. There was a "Meet Your Neighbors Meeting" for Ternopilska Oblast folks, so I sat in on that and met many more PCV's. Can't wait to go back to Ternopil and explore more!

Took an early train out of Ternopil so I could have a full day in L'viv. L'viv is by far my favorite Ukrainian city that I've visited. It's so beautiful and the old architecture give it a remarkable charm. It's vibe is one of youth, history and Ukrainian nationalism, all of which I am a fan of.

A PCV down south works with an NGO to organize a hike to Ukraine's highest mountain, Mt. Hoverla for those that are interested. Not sure why this hike is done in March but I thought it would be a hoot. Aaaand a hoot it was. I love to hike, and I love hiking with people who also love to hike (or crying campers). But never have I been hiking with 300+ people (including 80+ PCV's) up a mountain with terrain of mainly snow and ice. It was slow paced at times, and never a difficult "climb" but the ice wind was hitting pretty hard towards the top...which was closed due to 'weather restrictions'. I chose to keep myself warm with the whole "layering" system (My Colorado Mom taught me well), while others chose to keep themselves warm with the "liquid" system (Because their Ukrainian Mom's taught them well). It was fun to spend time with friends, and new PCV's outside exploring, but it was even better to watch the people do cartwheels down the mountain. I didn't get any videos, but soon I'll have a post with some hard core fall photos!

The train ride from Hoverla to L'viv was one of celebration, partly because we owed it to ourselves for trying to conquer Hoverla, but also to celebrate the simple fact that nobody broke any bones or died. Arrived into L'viv at 3:15 a.m. (what up, time change) took the first bus back to Lutsk at 7:15, and made it back into my warm shower and bed my noon. Needless to say I took a much deserved nap, trying to take back the sleep train cots, hardwood floors, and bus seats so rudely stole from me. An awesome trip doesn't quite sum up everything, but it'll do for now.

The last few weeks have been pretty routine, other than the lack of Internet. The sun is shining and we even peeked into the mid-50's. Take that Colorado snow flurries! I even enjoyed a Football Match (European, of course) with some PCV friends on Sunday, which was a lot of fun.

My new address is below. Don't be afraid to send Peanut Butter or Girl Scout Cookies. Looking forward to e-mailing so many of you back that keep me updated and supported. Although my connection and communication is in limited supply, my gratitude and appreciate is not.

Бeнджaмін Xoґ
Вул. Шкілна, 3
C. Кoлки
Р. Maнeвичi
Oбл. Boлинcькa

Benjamin Hogue
3 Shkilna St.,
Kolky, Ukraine (Oblast/Region if needed)
Oblast (State): Volynska, Region (County): Manevechi

Time to bust of the new jar of homemade pickles that I bought from a Babucia on the street this morning, and make some dinner. Oh, and speaking of pickles, Happy Birthday to you. :)