"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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Celebrating St. Varenyky Day

My favourite Ukrainian comfort food has got to be Varenyky. I still remember the first time I tried Mama Lecia's freshly cooked, perfectly soft, sweet cheese filled varenyky with kalina berry sauce and sour cream on top! That day I fell in love with the Ukrainian filled dumplings and have been hooked ever sense. 

Monday was St. Andrew's Day in Ukraine, but probably better known as the Varenyky Holiday. Pretty much every Ukrainian name has a Saint and a "day", but only Andrew's day is filled with such delicious and "all knowing" treats. I was invited to celebrate my final night in Kolky for 2011 in style with a Varenyky-Making-Party with my Counterparts and some friends.

In the process of making the "Surprise" Varenyky
Most commonly, varenyky is filled with mashed potatoes. Other fillings include liver, onions, mushrooms, berries, and cheese. Our first round were my favourite, mashed potatoes, but then the second round, after the meal is finished, the surprise ones come out!

Had at work filling some with sweet sunflower seed mash!

Preparing Dinner

Our surprises included cotton, salo (pig fat), a black bean, a hunk of onion, apple, or pear, and even notes! 

Some of the surprise filling!

Chopping up the salo (pig fat), onions, apples, and pears!

Yes, it quickly turned into a 9-shot feast, but there is no complaining when chasing with varenyky.

Quite the table...without the main dish yet!

Usually, the holiday is for children, but why can't the adults have some fun? Girls usually put notes with boys names in their dumplings, and the first name they get will be their husband. We put fortunes and well wishes in ours.

Surprise! I got a note!

"Be Wealthy"

Another note found!

"Good Luck!"

"Merry Christmas!"

Finally, Sveta got a note!

The perfect last night in Kolky for 2011...celebrating with some of my favourite people, eating some of my favourite food! 

But why was Monday my last night in Kolky for 2011 you might be asking yourself!? Well, Tuesday night I took the train to Kyiv and greeted Group 42 at their Transition to Service Conference and Swearing-In Ceremony on Wednesday and today. It was a fun opportunity to meet the new Volunteers, share a little of my experience, and reflect on my past year at site. I still can't believe that a year ago, I swore in and moved to Kolky. Tomorrow is my mid-service medial check-up and dentist appointment and Saturday I will be back in Colorado (!!!) spending some time at home for the holidays. Look forward to some Stateside posts in the near future for sure!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Powerful Message of Hope

One of my favorite Staff members, Iryna Krupska, recently published this note to Volunteers in the quarterly magazine put out by PCVs in Ukraine. I wanted to share her message -- one that gave me chills and reinforced both my love for Ukraine and also for the Peace Corps.

‎"Although 20 years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the changes in the mentality of our nation, which hopefully will be followed by the changes in the spirit – from “Ukraine has not died yet…” as our national anthem states to something more optimistic and engaging like “Ukraine will live and prosper and each of us is part of it… ” – are not happening overnight and might require several generations. So, what I want to say, is that when you are interacting with my countrymen in your communities (be it in a work setting or while drinking tea or playing football) and sharing the genuine believes you brought here with you that “Life is not what’s happening to you, but rather it’s something that depends on you” and yes, “You can do it and I trust in you!”, you are influencing their mentality and it IS, in my opinion, the MOST IMPORTANT thing you could do. No global indicators (which are being developed now) would be able to measure this growing self-confidence, belief in ourselves and overcoming this passiveness and pessimism which were fostered and enforced by the system which expected everyone to feel and act like a dumb nuisance and never to stick out. It is the sparkling eyes of your students, the pleasant feeling people around you are experiencing after having done something for their communities, the excitement of speaking up your personal opinion, the joy of understanding that we are no longer an enclave of the Earth but rather a part of this global world, which makes Peace Corps very relevant in Ukraine in this very dramatic time when our country is still torn between its authoritarian past and democratic future."

-Iryna Krupska, PC Ukraine Training Manager

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Goodbye Post to Fall, Grime, and JK

A little drizzly and wet today in Kolky. Winter, according to Ukrainian standards, began on the 1st of December, but so far we haven't had any drastic weather changes (not that I'm complaining). I remember quite a lot more snow this time last year, slugging around in my huge winter boots. I hear it's supposed to be a muddy Winter this year, which doesn't make me too excited. When I asked each of my classes on Thursday what they were most excited for in December, a handful of them in each class enthusiastically said "Snow!". No extra points from me on that one.

This weekend, I'm enjoying time to myself in Kolky. Tomorrow, I'll head to Manevychy to be on the jury for the Regional English Olympiad. While critiquing nervous students certainly has become a hobby of mine, I am more excited to see my ten students participate. When I started at Kolky Lyceum, I was astonished at some of the students English levels. They could communicate with me effortlessly and, although some explanation or sentence restructuring occasionally happens, most of my work was already cut out for me. For a few months now, I have been holding "English Olympiad Prep Club" for these students and I am excited to see their hard work pay off.

The Olympiad and school commitments kept me from going to Kyiv with my friends to see my Jon off (more on him later), so with no where to go and nobody for me to see, it was time to tackle my Winter cleaning. No that is not an fancy way to say I laid around all day watching West Wing and reading Kurt Vonnegut novels, I actually did clean everything!

My apartment is beautiful, top to bottom -- or rather ceiling to floors. I even scrubbed out the fridge and oven, tackled the shower, dusted those spider webs in each corner, and sorted my clothes. Fueled by coffee, reheated curry, and podcasts of This American Life, I was a machine this morning and afternoon. The accomplishment is satisfying and the reward...indulging on the aforementioned media. Now my house is going to be a little damp because I'm drying my sheets all around the house, but I think it'll be worth it. 

The clothesline that goes along my kitchen-bathroom!

Using every available "hanging" space!

As I mentioned before, my best friend Jon Kidd is leaving Ukraine tomorrow to go back home to Colorado. He arrived to Ukraine a year before I did apart of Group 37 and has completed his 27 months of service. He lived about an hour away so we hung out pretty often and drank the occasional frosty brew. If a new Volunteer gets placed at his site in Lutsk, they have big shoes to fill. We will all miss him around these parts, but he's going on to do some pretty awesome things in the States. Watch this guy move up the political ranks pretty fast. 

See you in Colorado, JK! We're all praying for safe travels home, a smooth transition back, and plenty of doors to fling wide open!

Working Kolky Community Clean-Up in April

So long, JK!