Kyiv and Health Day

As a part of Peace Corps training we have health days. These health days consist of a Peace Corps doctor coming to talk to us about health issues in Ukraine and about things that we need to be aware of while in Ukraine such as crazy angry dogs that will chase you down the street and what you should do if you just happen to get bit by one. They are benefical and informative sessions, somewhat slow moving but not without their interesting points. One such point would be the talk about safe sex! And the condom talk, which goes without saying. Likewise, as if having the talk was not enough, demonstrations and practice were in order. Yes, that is right we had real live condom dildo practice. Needless to say it was a very interesting session! We were all very very surprised when our doctor pulled out a tote labeled “sex box”. Which contained an enormous amount of condoms and two dildos. The best part about it was that there were a few people who actually put it on wrong and needed a little extra instruction for proper condom dildo application. Made for a very interesting day of PST.

Another training adventure was our field trip to Kyiv. Which was made even more interesting by the fact that we had a safety day with our head security guy Serhiy Pashynsky the day before we went. On safety day we learned all about how talented the pick pockets are here and how if they target you in the subway you may as well just hand them your money because either way they are going to get it without you even knowing that it is gone. They work in groups and they all have their own roles that they play in stealing your money. Some simply pick the targets other distract while one or two go in for the kill etc… They all use a variety of skills when strealing your money and prized posessions. Pashynsky made it very clear to us that if you have been targeted there is nothing you can do, you could be holding your money in your hand in your pocket and they will still get it. After the safety session we were throughly paranoid about the Kyiv metro, especially since they can get insanely crowded (which they did a couple of times). Luckily for us no one was pick pocketed and we had a lovely day seeing all of the wonders of Kyiv which is an incredibly beautiful city.

Cluster Group at Independence Square in Kyiv

St. Andrews Church

My Cluster Mates

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Ukrainian TV

If I were to ask you what you would guess was the sexiest commercial on Ukrainian TV you might say a condom commercial, or perhaps one advertising for a night club or clothing. However, all of these guesses are wrong! Indeed they are the logical choices but alas no they are not the sexiest! My favorite one is of a man and a woman dressed like Romans running around kissing, until they come to a bedroom and jump on the bed where they are not able to proceed any further with their love making until a piece of chocolate is retrieved from a lion shaped dispenser (that roars as it doles out a piece of chocolate) over the bed. And there you have it the sexiest commercials…. Chocolate! And every other subsequent chocolate commercial is equally as sexy. I am not sure that I will ever be able to look at chocolate the same way ever again. Likewise, Ukrainian TV revolves around two main shows that are the most popular and the ones that everyone watches. One is X factor basically the Ukrainian equivalent to our American Idol (some pf you may have heard of it since Simon left American Idol to start American X Factor) and the other is a dance show that is like American Idol only for dancing. Both shows are really funny and the Ukrainians love them. It unacceptable to miss either of these shows because they are somehow very important and always disucssed topics of conversation. However if you happen to miss one, do not worry there will surely be a re-run the next day.

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Anyone who lived through the 80’s will tell you that Jazzercise, David Bowie, and The Breakfast Club were some of the most popular attributes that the decade can claim. However, they would also tell you that the most popular hairstyle in the 80’s was the mullet. That’s right business in the front party in the back. Well guess what the 80’s are still perpetuating their culture through the mullet and the Ukrainians love it. I honestly can say that I was not old enough in the 80’s to truly witness the awesomeness that is the mullet but happily that was rectified when I came to Ukraine. It truly is the most popular hairstyle here. Even our students at school sport this classic style and some of them are pretty dang impressive. Some of them are even worth a double take! They also made it very easy for us to identify some of our students before we were able to learn their names. Likewise, this style is not just popular with school age kids but also with adults in their 20’s and 30’s. The style is even sported by some women though it is more of the bang variant. Needless to say it has definitely added something special to life in Ukraine. Thank you Ukraine for giving such a fantastic shout out to the 80’s!

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My Host Family's house (My room is the top right)

I have been in Ukraine for a month now and it feels like I have been here forever. The time is going by so fast it is amazing. So I will back up a little here and tell you all how the last month has been going and what I have been doing. I got to Ukraine with the rest of my 40B group on a very cold, wet rainy day and we drove to a place called Desna that is just outside of Cherniv, a couple of hours north east of Kyiv. We were there for less than 24 hours and then we were all on different buses that were taking us to our various training sites, where our 40A peers had already been for a week. I was the last one to get off our bus in my training site, a town called Hrebinky. It is located on the Kyiv, Odessa highway and it home to a beet sugar factory. It is only about 40 minutes to an hour away from Kyiv by bus or “Marshutka”, which is excellent. It is a really great little town it has about 8-10 thousand people, a river, one bank, a post office and three very small grocery type stores.

My host family is wonderful I love them! My host dad and sister were there to pick me up when I got to Hrebinky and my host family has an awesome yellow Lada that looks like it came right out of the USSR. It reminds me of the Trabbis from East Germany. I live quite a ways from the city center, all of the other volunteers, our school where we teach and the house where we have language class at. It is about a 40 minute walk for me anywhere I want to go which has its ups and downs and I am just trying to get used to managing my travel time better and the sad part is that time management has never been a strong point.

My host family has a very nice house. We have hot and cold running water, no well water fetching for me. We have an indoor toilet which is great too! No outhouse for me!…yet anyways. The toilet paper was a bit hard to get used to though. Imagine brown streamer paper. I also have a lovely tub to bathe in. Some of my other volunteer comrades have not been so lucky. Once weekly sponge baths in little plastic tubs, no running water let alone hot or cold, and there are a few with some good quality outhouse experience.

My host dad and his fish

Some of my daily walks have been fraught with peril due to a problem of angry scary dogs that will chase and bark at you down the street. Its a really good thing that there are only about 10 cases of rabies in Ukraine every year. And I must say thank god for friendly neighborhood babushkas. They will save your life by throwing logs and various other objects at them if they come to close to getting you. This was an unexpected surprise upon arrival in Ukraine. There are lots of stray dogs roaming the streets in packs on the never ending hunt for food. In addition to these hungry pests there are also the dogs that people own to basically guard their houses. Every other house that you pass either has a BEWARE ANGRY DOG sign or one sitting right out front to make sure no one happens to get to close.

Fish guts that my host mom later fried up to eat

I have never had the fortune to live on a farm however I feel like I live in one big one now. As apposed to America where large animals such as cows, horses, even down to animals like pigs and goats are not allowed to be kept within city limits, Ukraine has no such laws. On my daily walk to and from school every day I pass by a rather small house with a very small yard. It took about a week of walking past it every day to take inventory of all of the animals that actually live in this small little abode. It started with just the chickens and ducks. We then progressed to little pigs and a goat. To finally a cow and a horse. This is very typical for Ukrainian families to have this many animals. I pass by another house on my way that has two goats tied up outside everyday. And there is a family of ducks that live by the river and play in a pond that is a fair distance from their house but they manage to find it everyday and in a neat straight line they waddle to and fro.

Another occurrence that has taken some adjustment is the burning piles of trash. Ukraine does not have services such as trash collection. Instead trash (at least at my host family’s house) is sorted into four different bins. One is for Boy our dog. He eats whatever we don’t (not dog food). There is a bin for anything compostable, one for anything burnable and one for anything not burnable. There is always a trash pile burning somewhere or there is a leaf and brush pile burning. Anything that can be burned is burned in small piles outside. Coming home smelling like a camp fire is my new fragrance and I am sure that it will continue to get worse as it starts getting colder with people burning wood fires to heat their houses along with burn piles.

So far this is my new life in Hrebinky and I actually really love it! Ukraine is great… as long as I have no more run ins with angry dogs!

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Washington DC!

Ahhh the East CoastSo as most of you will be able to discern the adventure was obviously postponed by a few days due to some visa and passport issues… however, all is well now and I am sitting here in a lovely Starbucks (poser I know) in Georgetown finally writing another post for the blog. And now the adventure begins! However not without some interesting twists along the way. Packing proved to be an unfathomable challenge that I was unprepared for… I knew that it was not going to be easy to pack two bags for two years but I had a slight ray of hope that it would not be nearly as bad as I thought that it was going to be. Well I was wrong! All I can say is thank God for my Mom or it simply would have not happened as smoothly as it did. The reason for this partly being that I am not a good packer! My idea of packing is throwing… not folding things into a suitcase and going, lest to no ones surprise I always end up forgetting something or many somethings! There is no order, method or organization when it comes to how I “pack” a bag. Luckily for me I have a patient loving Mother who is so good at things like logistics, organization and packing and despite what she may say… I think that deep down she really enjoys it! It will be interesting to see how this works when I have to do it all by myself once I am in Ukraine, when moving from the training site to my permanent site. At least we were smart enough to pack a smaller bag with enough clothes to last me for a few days until I get settled because frankly there is no getting into anything in the suitcases… especially considering that everything is in a vacuum or compression bag… is it bad that I don’t want to unpack those suitcases ever! for fear that I will never be able to re-pack them as nicely as the professional packer aka Mom did… I am just not that talented or perhaps it is just that I do not have the patience for such things. I swear in one day we packed and re-packed those suitcases about four or five times each time taking things out and re-thinking packing strategies and trying different combinations to finally get everything in there. The best part about all of it did not come until this morning at the airport when we weighed them… my professional weight checker aka Dad assured us that they were close or just a little over fifty pounds but really not too bad all in all for staying in the weight limit of 50 lb. per bag… well I would not put 70 lb. in the vicinity of even being close to 50lb. although the other bag coming in at a whopping 55lb. was better, they both still qualified as overly heavy, extra charges bags. However, I was fortunate enough this morning to have a very nice helpful lady who checked me in not charge me $75.00 extra per bag (thats right PER BAG) for the over weight charge… very lucky am I! Tomorrow the real adventure begins… staging and then Wednesday evening we fly off to Frankfurt then to Kyiv!

Valerie with the National Christmas Tree


Valerie and Abe

Vietnam Memorial

The House that is White

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Hello world!

Beautiful fall aspens!

The most tranquil spot on earth

Here it is…my first attempt at a blog and I have to say it took me a bit to figure it out! And I am still not quite up to speed on all of this blog lingo, however, I have learned a lot!

So today makes only 19 days until I will be whisked away to a new adventure and I gotta say the heat is on! Only 19 days! Crap! I suppose this is good incentive for me to start thinking about things like packing, filling out forms, language learning, and saying goodbye to people. This is me vowing to take this next week by the horns and show it whose boss to at least start thinking about if not doing some of these things! I will check back to let you all know how it went!

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