Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Last Week and a Half, in Pictures...

Hi all,

So, I started a great post about my very busy but wonderful last week and a half, but I am lacking the motivation to polish it off and get it up...but here's the compromise!

Most pictures I took at Lila's house where I spent Orthodox Christmas, but I also got together with the other volunteers in the region at my place to celebrate Zim and Hugo's birthdays, and also the wine festival!


 Farkel with the family!

 The cutest 4 year old ever...and she knows it...
 Making a cheese cake!
 This then got topped with Jello...and we got to eat it for breakfast!
 Wrapped around her little finger..what? 
 Because obviously I also needed bunny ears...
 Christmas cooking commenced! 

 Word of my Pizza has spread...and so it was decided to be had for lunch!
 The girls get their smiles from their mother!
 Because we needed 2 cakes...to go with the cookies!
 I've been told next time I visit I may make spaghetti...and I've been adopted :  )
 Time to make the walnut cookies look like walnuts again!
 Sisters in the kitchen!

 "Snowballs" and Nut cookies...
 And then we started making pelmeni after 10pm! Long day in the kitchen!
 Curly came to visit! And of course we cooked!
 Always happiest feeding others!
 It looks like Curly has two cups of wine...but the other is not mine...

 Training group picture! Zim, Me, Hugo and Curly!
Other volunteers and a Ukrainian friend.

Also: here is my shipping address:

Стеф Мансон Бул. Пушкіна 14а/1 М. Мукачево Закарпатсья Обл. 89600 Україна 14 Pushkin St. Apt. 1 Mukachevo Zakarpattia oblast 89600 Ukraine

Since this is now password protected, I figure it's pretty safe, the English version is missing my name, just as a search precaution - so you would add that too. I'd love to get mail!

Hope all is well, and better post soon!


Thursday, January 2, 2014

A New Years to Remember

Hi all,

I hope you all had a nice New Years and didn't suffer too many ill effects. I can pretty much say the same, but know that probably quite a few volunteers are still recovering from their first New Years in Ukraine. However, let me back up a minute...

A few days ago, I decided I would ask if I could go visit Zim, since I was technically on vacation. My counterpart had kept stating she had no plans, and so I decided to have my first village experience without her. However, I was leaving on the 31st, and had some errands to do first. So the morning of the 30th I got up late, and set off on a mission to go buy light bulbs and a broom. Armed with translation and an unscrewed bulb, I braved two hardware stores and achieved success. I am not sure what all was said during these exchanges, but there was a lacking yelling, which is always a plus.

Next I met up with Lila, who was meeting a teacher friend from college. We walked around town with her and her daughter, and she asked to take a photo with me. This was a first, other than a few children at the training school. I obliged, but it was kind of weird. After a while we met up with one of Lila's sisters, and we proceeded to embark on an epic Christmas tree finding adventure. It was great community mapping, as we spent he next 4 hours trekking about town. We finally found a good one, and Lila's brother came with his car. Then there was a hilarious 30 seconds of mad money swapping between the three of them while he drove...

I ended up at Lila's house, where she made us a late lunch. We had dropped her sister downtown, and so it was just the 2 of us, and so it was lucky the "tree" wasn't so big. I have a clear mental image that somewhere, within an hospur drive of the town there is a big mountain with an entire face semi-deforested by tree guys lopping off the top 5 feet of all the evergreens. Because that's what they all looked likes....just the tops!

We got the tree into her apt, and she immediately wanted to set it up - here it is traditional to have it up  by New Years, and leave until their Christmas on the 6th. However, her stand was about an inch less wide than the tree. No problem! She ran off and reappeared with a saw and hatchet...and promptly went to work slashing at the base. I helped by holding and rotating the poor tree, as she hacked away with great enthusiasm and moderate skill. I did warn her I was attached to my fingers, and reminded her she was currently bare-footed... Needless to say, it was a rather long 10 minutes, but in the end the tree was firmly pressed into the stand with no loss of blood. The living room floor had seen better days, and we both had a mild reaction to the pine pitch, but we emerged victorious!

We then decked out the tree I gold and red, with one small box of ornaments going a long way. It was very pretty, and I wish I would have had my ipad along to take a photo! Lila tells me I can't be american because I never have my camera. I tell her I don't want to feel like a tourist in my own town, and often have my ipad.

Anyhow, I was up at character-building-o'clock (totally stole that phrase from another volunteer..), and was on my way to see Zim via the 7am bus the next morning. I negotiated the bus station no problem, and go to the bus just fine. However, after the first half hour of the nearly 2 hour trip, I realized I may be in trouble...I had used the bathroom before leaving my house, but apparently I a keeping well hydrated. And though the bus stopped rather often, there seemed to be no set time to the length of the stop, and no one I could ask to ask the driver for me. This increasingly strong discomfort caused me to exit the bus at the center stop for the town - only to realize I should have waited for the bus station - where Zim had reassured me there were facilities. After a brief reorientation, I found a sign pointing out the direction of the bus station and kept trekking with increased urgency. I am not proud to admit, that as the blocks stretched on interminably, that I started eyeing up likely alleyways...because in the spirit of packing light, I was wearing my sole pair of pants. Also, after hearing the recent horror stories of a fellow volunteer who had an emergency appendix-removal (and was held down by a nurse as his surgeon started to remove his stitches 5 days early, against the Peace Corps doctor's instructions....he had to be taped back together....arg!), visions of dealing with an exploded bladder did little to cheer my outlook...

In addition, I had gotten increasingly stressed texts from Zim...the town mayor had picked her up at the train station, insisting he wanted to help pick me up. However, he first dragged her on a series of home visits that she first thought were drug-related. Turns out the guy is a locally-renown vintner, and she got some very tasty wine - more on that later. However, both of our adventures met up when they arrived at the bus station, about 20 minutes after I had found it. I had rushed inside and asked for a bathroom, to be informed it was outside. Seeing the Ж symbol, I rushed into the concrete building - whose pit set up made me appreciate that it was relatively cold outside - and my world out-look brightened considerably.

When Zim and the mayor showed up, we were whisked downtown and dropped off. We got some coffee/tea and Zim showed me the bazaar. I also got a dress that will be good for work and we wandered until Will, Zim's closest volunteer met up with us.

 Will is currently living with a Hungarian host family, who are building a house for him. They celebrated the 24th for Christmas, and had him on a mission for a New Years tradition - which involved purchasing a live carp. Fortunately, this seems to be rather widespread (as my region only became part of Ukraine again when it became independent just over 20 years ago) and after only a moderate amount of exploration and several consultations with locals were we able to find a fish for him....

This was Fred. Apparently you are required to purchase them alive. Fred survived the 30 minute hitchhike back to Will's village, where Will was then requires to bludgeon him to death...did I mention that prior to PC Will had been a vegetarian??

Anyhow, Zim and I also got a ride back from the mayor, who had picked up his friend. He insisted we all try the wine at Zim's house...so that was a bit awkward. Also, he kept repeating he would call Zim at 6...so we got the sinking sensation that our low-keyed planned evening was maybe not to be... So, we very sensibly drank the rest of the wine. Zim insisted I borrow a dress, which due to some New Years miracle, or rather, the advent of elasticity and artificial fabric, managed to fit quite well. At some point I whisked up a batch of French toast, which also proved to be life saving. Because at 5:45, 15 minutes before he even said he would call, the mayor showed up to take us to his house...

We'd missed some calls, so we had to explain that of course we'd be delighted to come to his house...we deemed the invitation appropriate because he mentioned his wife, daughter and son would all be there as well. It only got prett uncomfortable, when on the way to his house he said he would drive me home on the second - but that we would have to keep it secret from his wife.

Uh, no way in hell.

So, with this problematic idea on loop in my head, I viewed the upcoming evening with a small amount of trepidation. He also stopped to get a car wash on the way home, and pick up his son from the bus stop. His son and daughter are in college in the next oblast, and unfortunately didn't stick around for most of the evening. He did have a lovely house and a wonderful wife. She was very game about trying to keep our halting coversations in Ukrainian going. It was exhausting. Major props to Zim who does this almost every day...I hadn't spoken that much Ukrainian since I came to my site...as everyone usually wants to work on their English. We also, of course, were served an enormous amount of food. This helped to absorb the vast quantities of wine we were being served, although we managed to avoid the vodka.
So that was a LONG next 6 hours...First we had potato salad, cutlets, homemade sausages, pickles and bread. Later, the fried potatoes arrived (which prompted a toast to them), also around this time schneehordohka (the companion/granddaughter of grandfather frost) and a local police guy showed up for a bit. We also google mapped our hometowns at some point. Then we had candy and fruit. Next, in a surprise move, they brought out the eat dumplings...the pelmeni. I skipped the coffee, but was glad when 11 rolled around (we have our own time zone, kind of,  and are an hour behind Kyiv), except it prompted the champagne. We were pretty much out of conversation topics by this time, having covered family, various coworkers, working abroad, food, traditions,etc. We all ran outside to watch as various houses put on simultaneous firework displays - more impressive than Mexico, but less in volume, thankfully. I was bundled up in a spare coat, as I'd brought my lighter weight one - the days have been in the 50s. 

After a few more toasts and photos, we were ushered out to the car to return home.

Just kidding.

Because of course everyone needs to drag their poor children into the center of town for a speech by Grandfather Frost, who de-beards in the middle show who she was- and to have yet more fireworks and champagne. That took about an hour, and my toes lost feeling during this time. We finally got home around 1:40, and after getting a slew of texts, managed to fall asleep around 2:30. Apparently it is tradition to stay a wake all night, but there was just no way. Also, apparently how you spend New Years sets a trend for the rest of the year. So lots of awkward conversations in broken Ukrainian it looks like, but while enjoying a buzz off of tasty wine! 

Zim and I laughed ourselves to sleep recalling an odd conversation moment. We were told that the old New Years would not be good this year. We figured it out that Fridays landing on the 13th are also considered to be unlucky in Ukraine. This prompted me to share that we'd also had a Friday the 13th in December, and that I'd accidentally broken my mirror. My host perked right up and very gravely asked how many pieces it had broken into. When I explained that it had broken while I was leaning against it putting in my contacts, so it was only 2 pieces, he nodded. Then they asked me about my contacts...so we still have no idea what the number of pieces a mirror breaks into signifies in Ukraine!

It will remain a life mystery.

Anyhow, I managed to Skype with my parents last night, after Zim and I spent a low key day. I was relatively unaffected, as I'd drunk a lot of juice and water, and have a bit of mass on Zim. And today we made it to the bus station and I made it home by myself with no hiccups or mayoral interference.

Then I took an epic nap and built a blanket fort in my kitchen, where I am now writing my blog...you may be jealous.

Hope all is well and you had great New Years!