"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

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Top 20 Things I Love About Ukraine

To commemorate the 20th Year of Independence, I came up with my own Top 20 Things I Love About Ukraine. I'm one month shy of living here for a year, so I finally feel legitimate enough to make a list like this. It will be interesting to see my Top 21 list next year!

Ben's Top 20 Things I Love About Ukraine:

1.     Ukrainians – Yes, this is a given but truly there are about 10 (so far) that have changed my life. Some of the most hospitable and warm-hearted people in the world. The “We” culture was definitely something to get used to at first, but there isn’t anything quite like being embraced by a community of Ukrainians.
2.     Ukrainian Language – Under spoken, underrated, and kind of difficult. I am blessed to be in the west where the mother tongue is not only preferred but often time mandatory. And now, whenever I hear Russian, I cringe.
3.     L’viv – Fell in love with the city one bitter cold winter weekend with friends. Now it’s become a go to spot for a weekend hang out, meet up spot with Volunteers, and cherish the European lifestyle. Each time I go, I’m reminded why I love it: the ancient charm, the passion of Ukrainian nationalism, and some really good memories that are bound to happen. 

Celebrate L'viv

4.     Bus Drivers love for Pop Music – From European Techno Pop, to Diva’s Live, to Old School Spears and Spice, it’s always a party on the bus. Sometimes it’s so loud, I have to take out my headphones and just embrace the paradox of a situation.
5.     Borshch – It’s the national dish and will forever be a comfort food for me. I’ve had some amazing conversations over hot bowls of this delicious soup that originated from Ukraine. Pass the sour cream! 

Homemade by me!

6.     ADIDAS – The preferred brand here for all men (and some women) of all ages. Shoes, Pants, Shirts, Sweats, Jackets, Hats the list really goes on. Just be sure to buy at the bazaar, it’s 75% cheaper...but you risk buying ADIDIS.
7.     Platzcart – The 3rd Class train car that is always an adventure. Often SO SMELLY (the combo of feet and B.O) but filled with some of the best characters and genuinely nicest people. I always seem to fall asleep to the sound of bottles clinking, men snoring, and children crying…the soundtrack of Platscart.
8.     Seasonal Eating – A post about The Bazaar a few weeks ago touched on this, but Seasonal Eating has made me appreciate berries, tomatoes, and peppers that much more.
9.     Vyshyvankas and Ukrainian Traditions – Traditions are the heart of the nation’s culture. They determine they way people live; the languages they speak, the religions they follow, the values they hold, the relationships they keep, the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, etc. Exploring all of these has been my best time spent and best memories made, all while looking awesome in my Vyshyvanka.

With my Director in my favorite birthday present, my handmade Vyshyvanka.

10. School Uniforms – Black and white and dressed to the nines. I quickly learned that I will NEVER be able to compete with a Ukrainian 1st Former when it comes to school clothes.  

Suit and tie, always! And the bigger the white hair bows, the better!

11.  Odd Superstitions and Weird Health Remedies  - All countries have their own, but some of my favorite Ukrainian superstitions include: never shaking hands or passing anything in a doorway (over the threshold), never leave an empty bottle on the table, nor should you ever toast with an empty glass, sitting at the corner of a table means you will never get married, always sit a good 5/10 minutes in silence before leaving for a big trip or excursion, that way you’ll arrive safely. My all-time favorite: Window drafts contain the cold virus. NEVER open 2 windows in the house, bus, etc. It could be deadly.
12. Babucias – Ukraine couldn’t run without them. They’ve seen more than most people in the world, and know absolutely everything. Lost? Ask a Baba. Trying to figure out the train schedule? Ask a Baba. Need a history lesson and a hot meal? Yep! Ask a Baba.
13. The Churches – Orthodox, beautiful, and classic Ukraine. I think the photo says it all.

St. Micheal's in Kyiv

14. The Bazaar – Go there on Sunday to see and be seen…and buy a few products, too. If you can find it in Ukraine, it’s at the bazaar for a lot cheaper.
15. ROSHEN – The Hershey’s of Ukraine x 1,000. My favorite just happens to be Stalin’s favorite as well!
16. Children’s Love for Performing – Every week, there is a new excuse for a concert. Not that I’m complaining at all, but dang do those kids LOVE to sing!

The Traffic Rules Competition/Concert

17. Poems by Taras Shevchenko – Half of the time I have no clue what they are about but you know by the passion they’re said with and the misty eyes of the crowd, they’re good.
18.  Yulia Ymoshenko (Юлія Володимирівна Тимошенко) – Co-Led the Orange Revolution, First Ukrainian Prime Minister, and currently being prosecuted by the opposition for being too outspoken, too Pro-Ukraine, and too awesome. Girl Power at it’s finest. (International organizations, representatives of the European Union and the United States called her arrest "political persecution of opposition leader".) Can’t wait until she wins in 2015 and Hillary wins in 2016. You heard it hear first.

With her signature braid.

19. Bad English Grammar T-Shirts – My personal favorite: “Say Me Yes”.
20. Ukrainian Cell Phone Etiquette – The general rule: OUTDOOR MODE or LOUD at all times and no matter what, answer it! Watching an opera? Pick that bad boy up! Meeting with teachers? Don’t let that bugger scream the latest Rhianna song too long, answer it! Whatever you do, make sure everybody sees that you are important enough to be receiving a phone call and never turn it on silent!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Twenty little-known facts about Ukraine

Ukraine celebrated their 20th Year of Independence yesterday and the following article was in the KyivPost, a Ukrainian newspaper for English speakers (or in this case, readers). The information is quite interesting, so I thought I'd share. I also made a list of my Top 20 Things I love about Ukraine, and once the list is finalized, I'll post it.

Happy Birthday, Ukraine!
 The blue represents the color of the sky, and yellow
symbolizes the lush golden wheat fields of this country.

Twenty little-known facts about Ukraine

The country manufactures the biggest airplanes and champagne glasses. Police solve 90 percent of cases. Ukrainians created one of the world most popular Christmas songs - Carol of the Bells. All these are incredible and little-known facts about Ukraine that the Kyiv Post collected to commemorate the 20th anniversary of independence.

1. The most frequently used letter of Ukrainian alphabet is “п” (p). Three letters – “ф” (f), “ї” (ji) and “ґ”(g) are the least used. The “f” is interesting – the nation started using it not long ago, and only Ukrainian words of foreign origin contain it.

2. One of the world’s favorite songs – Summertime - was composed by George Gershwin after he heard the tune of a Ukrainian lullaby, Oi Khodyt Son Kolo Vikon (A Dream Passes By The Windows), performed in New York by Ukrainian National Chorus in 1929. Some argue that Gershwin even based his tune on the lullaby.

3. Near Kyiv railway station stands the third-most visited McDonalds in the world. The fast-food restaurant frequently makes it into the top 5 most crowded establishments on the planet. Last year, the McDonalds there served more than two million orders.

4. The Arsenalna metro station on Kyiv is the deepest one in the world, buried 105 meters underground. This was one the first stations built in Kyiv in 1960, next to parliament. In the tunnel going from Arsenalna there are secret shelters, built back in the Soviet times, for the Communist Party elite.

5.Ukrainians are the fifth-heaviest drinkers in the world. Only Moldavians, Russians, Hungarians and Czechs drink more. An average citizen of Ukraine (16 or older) drinks 15.6 liters of alcohol per year. That is one liter more than an Irish and two liters more than a Norwegian.

6.The Ukrainian anthem consists of only six lines – four of them couplet, and two refrain. The rest of the song, written by poet Pavlo Chybinskiy and composer Mykhailo Verbytskiy, were not approved because they contain the politically unreasonable appeal to stand up for a bloody fight for the motherland.

7. The conviction rate for crimes in Ukraine is astonishing 90 percent, comparing to 30-40 percent in Europe. Human rights watchdogs say that this is nothing to be proud of. To get the nice numbers, many difficult-to-solve crimes are not actually registered, plus fraud and tortures to obtain confessions are widely used.

8. Ukraine owns the biggest manganese ore in the world – 2.3 billion tons or 11 per cent of the planet’s deposits. The country also has plenty of iron ore, counting for 7 percent of the world’s deposits.

9.The world’s heaviest aircraft is An-225 Mriya is created by the Kyiv-based Antonov design bureau. The plane was designed to airlift space shuttles and rocket boosters, however is now carrying oversized payloads.

10. Ukrainian Cossack hetman Pylyp Orlyk in 1710 created what is now argued to be one of the first world’s constitutions. The document he published on the date of his erection as hetman was an incredible progressive document for the time. Orlyk’s constitution was a treaty between the hetman, the Cossacks andthe whole Ukrainian populations, stating rights and responsibilities, and also establishing a democratic standard for the separation of powers in government between the legislative, executive and judiciary branches.

11. The world famous Christmas “Carol of the Bells” is the Ukrainian pagan magical chant Shchedryk, adopted by composer Mykola Leontovych into a choral work.

12. When Ukraine became independent it inherited from the Soviet Union the third largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world. The country had more than 40 strategic bombers and more than a thousand nuclear warheads. And voluntarily gave it up. The world showed its appreciation by giving financing and security guarantees.

13. Back in Soviet times, Lenin was the subject of the most national statues, with every town and city having at least one. Now independent Ukraine gets of the proletariat chief and seems to have another monumental icon – the 19th century poet and moral authority Taras Shevchenko, with around 1,200 of his statues in the country and abroad.

14. Ukrainian Myrola Syadristy shoed a flee. His hand-made and indeed very small works, drilled in a human hair or half a poppy-seed, can be seen in the Kyiv museum of micro-miniature.

15. Ukraine does not dispose of batteries. They present a risk to human life and the environment and are separately disposed of in developed nations.

16. When Ukraine got independence, it was populated by 19.4 million pigs. Today there are two times less. And although one of the Ukrainian authentic dishes is salo, the pig fat, and the nation has a reputation of pork eaters, an average Ukrainian consumes only 18 kilos of it per year. That is three times less than an average German.

17. Ukrainian power lifter Dmytro Haladzhi is one of the strongest people on the planet, according to Guinness Book of World Records. He can bear a tractor on his chest, lift 150 kilos with his little finger and keep 30 people on his neck. His master trick is “Devil’s Forge.” With his body laid on nails, he bears concrete slabs weighing 1.5 tons on top and a blacksmith beating that with a hammer

18. The world’s most ecologically-friendly carrier rocket Zenith 3SL is made in Ukraine by the Pivdenmash company. And thanks to that Ukraine is a part of the Sea Launch program, launching commercial payloads into space from a sea platform near equator.

19. The most ancient map and old homosapien settlement are from Mezhyrych, Ukraine. They are up to 15,000 years old. The map is carved on a mammoth bone.

20. Ukrainians made it into World Guinness records with the largest flute of sparkling wine – a record of 27.5 liters or 75 bottles of champagne. So, for Ukrainian’s 20th independence anniversary, cheers!

(Full article here: http://www.kyivpost.com/news/nation/detail/111538/)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Buffaloless Buffalo Farm in Photos

Welcome to the Lipovyets Buffalo Farm! This is the farmhouse where we stayed.

(I don't think you're going to have any objection that this post is a little photo heavy. Click on any of them for a bigger view!)

Yes, you read that title correctly, there were in fact no buffalo at the "Buffalo Farm Workcamp". In short, the farm is in the process of moving from the original site to the site where we worked. The original site is in the village of Steeblivka where all of the buffaloes currently reside. Soon enough, but not quite yet, they will move to the Lipovyets farm roaming and grazing the mountainside. As you can see the horses have already been moved.

Talking with the fillies.

Life in the farm is simple...even more so than in Kolky. No water or electricity, and a gas stove that is only used in the case of emergencies. We slept in the farm house in the picture above in the "living room" on the floor. 

Where we slept in the farm house. Don't mind the mud patched
floors, lack of windows, or asbestos...just make yourself at home!

We cooked all of our meals from an open fire in cooking teams. I turned out to be one with the fire, handling my cooking duties really well.

The "Kitchen"

Makeshift shelves

Dish washing with a view

Water was a whole other chore and each day there was also a designated Water Team. Their responsibility was to make the 30 minute trek to "the source" where we would fill 1.5L, 5L, 30L jugs and bring them back to camp to cook with and drink. Usually we did the trip 4 times a day.

Each day, our group of 15 broke up into teams and went to work on different assignments. Usually if you were on the Cooking or Water Team, you did infrastructure work on the farm, collecting fire wood for our personal use, cutting wood for the winter, fixing windows and doors, cleaning, etc. Often there was a team picking plums, apples, and blackberries to be canned or made into jam.

The first few days I help Danny, a fellow Volunteer from England, construct this:

The "Petchka" or furnace

Clay was used to separate the bricks and a cement/sand/clay mixture went on the outside. Nothing like Danny had ever built before, but we certainly worked hard on it. I had an awesome time being his apprentice for two days! 

Cutting through the roof was the most difficult for two reasons: sawing upside down and the old rusty sheets of metal flying in your face. And watch out for asbestos!

Only in Eastern Europe are you instructed to stack your bricks like that...

Together we laid bricks on the roof and finished what we can only hope will a warm oven this winter.  

Made it through the roof!

After those days, I was on the road crew and pretty much stayed on the road crew for the rest of the time. Jon and I seemed to be the lucky pair that got sent out to the road each day, along with a few new people who only lasted a day or two. They eventually called us "The Road Dream Team" but I think that was to only keep us going out there.

When the rain comes, it washes out the road so we needed to devise a way for that not to happen. Luckily for us it happened to rain a few days, making our jobs of digging and working in on the dirty road even more challenging exhilarating!

The road less traveled

We dug the trenches and pools so the water sources that came through the cracks from up above would have somewhere to go. We maneuvered trees to help support the walls of the trenches. We even carved our own wooden steaks of of machetes to hold up the tree trunks.

Preventing the walls from caving to keep the trench in tact

Some of our handiwork

Road Warriors

We worked about 5 hours each day, and always took a long break in the middle of the day to avoid the hottest part of the day. The work was tough, but very rewarding, educational, and a lot of fun. My boots sure have seen better days, but nothing a good day out in a rain won't wash away.

Our weekends were spent exploring nearby (1-2 hour) towns. The first Saturday we went to Mukachevo to explore the town, get cell service, and hike to the top of the castle. The view was definitely worth the trip.

The beautiful town of Mukachevo not too far from Hungary

With Jon at the Mukachevo Castle

Sunday some of us went to the river Tysa in hopes to find buffalo. After searching for about an hour we decided we should count our losses and swim.

At least we made it to the rive...

River Tysa

After a few hours enjoy this amazing mountain river, we headed back to our transfer and guess what we found...


In all their glory

With their shepherd.

 They were absolutely amazing and exuded power and strength. I was quick and took a few close up shots and pet one of a little bit. Hopefully someone has a picture of me petting them!

Oh, hey there.

Other free time was spent relaxing by the fire, playing card, and enjoy the new international friends that came to the camp to Volunteer. I even got a little horse riding in!

Riding Kashton the only Stallion at the farm

Going out for a ride

 All in all, Buffalo Farm Workcamp was an awesome two weeks. Yes a little disappointing that milking, shepherding, and buffalo wresting that was originally promised didn't happen, but sometimes that how things go. I still had an awesome time, and really couldn't think of a better way to spend my last two weeks of summer. 

Living the good life

Most of the the Volunteers. Michel, the Buffalo Farmer (from Germany) is hanging upside down in the tree and his girlfriend and native Ukrainian Olya is in the back row with the red shirt. They have big goals and I was really glad I could help them out with their passion and love. Their hospitality was some of the best!

The SCI Group minus our friends from Ireland, Liza and Collin, and Renata from Hungary.
Countries represented: USA!!! (2), Ukraine (8), France (1), Poland (3), The Basque Country (1)

Now I'm relaxing in Kolky, enjoying some down time before I start teaching. Tomorrow, Wednesday, August 24th, is Ukraine's 20th Independence Day. I'm sure their will be plenty of celebrating! Thursday I go to school to help clean and prepare classrooms and Friday I have a meeting with all the teachers from the region (county). September 1st is 1st Bell! Wasn't it just yesterday that I was putting up pictures from last bell? Where has summer gone?

Yep...I think I'll have to go back!
Into the sunset, I guess...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Off to the Buffalo Ranch

Sunday I start my Buffalo Farm Workcamp experience and I couldn't be more excited. I'm headed down with my friend and fellow Volunteer, Jonathan, to work in the beautiful Carpathian mountains on a Buffalo Ranch. Not really sure what to expect, other than lots of Buffaloes, beautiful mountains, a few hours of  farm-handing, probably some horse riding, and making eating cheese from buffalo milk.

He seems like an alright fella!

Here's a little info about the camp from the website:

"The Saldobosch Arc and Rescue Station is an internationally operating, non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization), connecting scientific expertise with traditional land-use and agriculture systems to encourage local people to develop and maintain a sustainable lifestyle. Our aim is to preserve the unique ecosystems of the Carpathian Mountain Region, connecting ecological preservation with economical possibilities in projects like ecotourism and marketing of local products.

Our main focus is the support of rare livestock breeding, as a foundation of environmental conservation. Not only the animals gene ressources, but also ecosystems with high species diversity that depend on grazing can be preserved."

Check out more info here: Carpathian Buffalo Ranch!

I'll be sure to blog about my adventures and all the happenings with lots of pictures in 2 weeks! Back to Kolky on the 22nd!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Rocky Mountain High

Happy Colorado Day to all my friends and family in the Best State in the Union! 

Crack open a Coors and enjoy an ear of Olathe Sweet Corn for me!