"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, July 31, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful (Cheapest) Time of the Year

Although the rain hasn't stopped for more than an hour at a time in the past week, it's still summer vacation here in Ukraine and that means life is good! I trudged swiftly walked through the mud and rain this morning and made the 15 minute trek to the bazaar. I was on a mission, and have been looking forward to the bazaar all week long. For me, the bazaar more than a place to be seen (although my students once compared seeing me at the bazaar to a celebrity sighting). Rather, it's a place to catch up briefly with my colleagues, run into my students, and of course meet their parents. I usually talk to their parents in Ukrainian, and then speak to the students in English so they can show off to their parents. Moms and Dads always get a kick out of their child speaking to an American in English. Their faces are priceless.

In Kolky, we only have our bazaar on Sunday mornings and it's where you can find the best deals of produce, meat, dairy products, cleaning supplies, toiletries, clothes...practically anything. We also have базарчик (bazaarchick) or little bazaar everyday on the street but that only consists of babucias selling milk and random seasonal produce, usually overpriced. I usually only go to the bazaar for produce and meat and the occasional box of laundry soap, but there are quite a few options of clothes, shoes, coats, underwear, etc. in case I ever feel like trying any or all of that behind a mesh curtain in the middle of the busy marketplace. I really wanted to take and post photos of my bazaar, but the rain stopped me. When it's beautiful and sunny you'll be the first to see.

Someone asked me recently how food prices compare in the States. Well, seeing how I haven't been in the States in almost a year, I don't quite know what you pay for milk and eggs these days so you'll have to do the comparing with my list below. Mind you these are summer prices for fruits and veggies, and they go a lot higher in the winter time, but for peak season, here's what I'm paying.

8 hryvnia (UAH) = 1 US Dollar (USD)
4 hryvnia (UAH) = 50 cents
Tomatoes: 1 kilo = 3 UAH ($0.38)
Onions: 1 kilo = 4 UAH  ($0.50)
Carrots: 1 kilo = 5 UAH ($0.63)
Peppers: 1 kilo = 4 UAH ($0.50)
Eggplant: 1 kilo = 4 UAH ($0.50)
Cucumbers: 3 kilo!!! = 5 UAH ($0.63)
Watermelon: 1 kilo = 10 UAH ($1.25)
Milk: 1.5 Liters = 6 UAH ($0.75)
Eggs: 10 eggs = 6 UAH ($0.75)
Bread: 1 loaf = 1-3 UAH ($0.13-38)
Cheese: 250 grams = 20 UAH ($2.50) - I splurge on cheese so this is actually a little expensive.
Coke: 1 Can = 4 UAH ($0.50)
Laundry Soap: 1 box/450 grams =12 UAH ($1.50)
Shaving Cream: 1 can = 40 UAH ($5)
Deodorant: 1 stick = 20 UAH ($2.50)

I think a big thing that I've learned this summer is to appreciate my fruits and vegetables, because in the winter they are either too expensive to buy or nonexistent. For about 3 weeks there were strawberries, and then they were gone because strawberry season was over. Then came random assortments of other berries, and then poof they were gone. I don't have the luxury or budget to eat these things year around and soon enough it will be back to root vegetables all over again. But for now, I will bask in the glory of fresh produce, and take cover from the rain by becoming a vegetarian for a while. Not because I'm now leading a meatless lifestyle, but rather I'm too full from my veggie omelet to even think about frying up some pork. 

Happy Summer to me! (This is before the BBQ Sauce!)

Can you say less than $5?!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer in the Fast Lane

I really is hard to believe that July is almost over. A wise man (my Peace Corps Peer Advisor) once said, "Winter in Ukraine is the down payment for the best Summer you'll ever have." This words have been ringing true ever since Final Bell.

I last left off setting sail for my Cruise of the Baltic Sea which was incredible. The Lindholms warmly welcomed me into their family for the week and together with their family friends (and friends from camp), The Balks, we enjoyed some time cruising together. I've been on a cruise before so I know what ship life is like, but I really wasn't expecting such reverse culture shock. The amount of food that I had been dreaming about in Kolky was all of the sudden at my fingertips and in abundance. The desire to be around supportive friends from home had become a reality and the wanderlust to travel and see new sites was actually happening...all at once. It was a little overwhelming, but in the best way possible. I'd have to say that Helsinki was my favorite city, even though our time there was brief and that I most want to return to Copenhagen because it seemed that we explored not even half of it. Photos can be found by clicking Cruisin' the Baltics - 2011. It will take you to an open Facebook album of all the photos from the cruise! Check it out and if you have any questions or the link doesn't work, e-mail me! (benjamin.hogue@gmail.com)

After I returned from the Cruise, I went to Ukrainian Language Refresher camp not far from Kolky in a old, but very nice Soviet style sanatorium, now retreat center. It was 4 days of Language and elective classes, playing frisbee and volleyball with friends, swimming in the lake, and just hanging out. The free food was nice, as was the refresher and brush up on this crazy language, but it really reminded me of being back in college, sitting with friends at every meal, hanging out in each others rooms, and attending the occasional class. I have some pretty awesome friends in Peace Corps, and I was glad to be in the same place with most of them, even if it was a quick four days.

The day after Language Refresher, Douglas Teschner, the Director of Peace Corps Ukraine, came to Kolky for a quick site visit. I gave him a tour of my school, my apartment, and a trip around my village, all of which he was very impressed with. I think he liked my kitchen/bathroom combo the best! It made me so proud to show off my life here, as well as show off the people I work with including my Counterpart and School Director. Hopefully Doug can come back when school is in session so I can show off my excellent students, too!

The next day I was headed to Greece to meet up with Stephanie and Wes Sullivan, dear friends from Cal Lu! It meant a lot that they wanted to meet me somewhere and travel together, and we really couldn't have chosen a better place. Simply put, Greece was amazing. The people, the food, the sites, the experiences, the beaches and on and on and on. We explored Athens, Rhodes, and Santorini together before I reluctantly headed home. I posted photos of that trip too, so check them out in My Greece Photo Album! Each of our destinations was so unique and I can wait to go hopping around the other islands sometime in the future. Wes and Steph are expert travelers and even better friends and I would have to say, thanks to them, Greece is going to be my favorite week of Summer 2011. Thanks again for an amazing trip!

Now a little bit of down time in Kolky, focusing on project planning and implementation. I've been setting aside time for goal setting and hopefully can meet with my Counterparts soon to discuss them. I leave for Buffalo Farm Camp on August 7 for two weeks and I'll be even more off the gird than before. I'll be sure to blog about happenings around Kolky and the adventures I find myself in before then though. Now I'm going to meditate to the rhythm of a nice summer afternoon shower and read President Obama words about how audacious hope can be.

I would love Summer Updates from all of you, if you find the time. It always means a lot to hear from friends and family, and I cannot thank all of you enough for the support I constantly receive.