Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hello from Ukraine!

My first week in Ukraine has been such a whirlwind of new experiences and a lot of moving around. Traveling with a group of 37 poeple who all have 4 (or more) pieces of luggage is crazy! We spent a long time at the airport in line, but it was ok because we all just got to know each other better.

So excited to be traveling to Ukraine!
I've been assigned to learn Russian! During our Pre-Service Training retreat, we were all assigned to clusters to be sent out to small towns in the Kyiv Oblast. There are about 6 people in each cluster. One of my cluster-mates, Heather, brought a gorgeous Stradavarius copy! If you aren't familiar with violins, Heather's violin is from 1894 and a copy of some of the original violins produced in the late 1700s but still in great condition.

We flew from Washington DC to Frankfurt, Germany and then to Kyiv, Ukraine! Here is a group of us at the airport in Kyiv. We were all so tired, I didn't really sleep on either of the flights so I ended up staying awake for about 30 hours.

We were all glad to see that they drive on the right side of the road in Ukraine, and that all of the cars look very familiar. In my town, people drive cars that are also seen in the United States such as Toyota, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, Mitsubishi and I even saw a Chevy! This is the Kyiv airport from my seat on the bus (sorry for the foggy window).

Just another cloudy day in Kyiv!
Once we arrived in Kyiv, we drove for 2 hours by bus to our retreat. This is the dorm-style building that we stayed in. This building did not have an elevator and my room was on the 3rd floor... luckily we all left our luggage in a storage room on the 1st floor and just wore some business clothes that we packed in our carry-on bags.

Here are my two roommates for the retreat, Courtney from North Dakota and Ashley from Chicago. Sorry about the mess, we kind of just got into our rooms and dumped everything onto the floor. Our room was super cute, I had a sweet leopard print bedspread hiding underneath that top blanket :)

We had our first taste of Ukrainian food at the retreat! I forgot to bring my camera to dinner so here is a picture of our breakfast. Dinner was soup, bread, and some fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Breakfast had a fluffy (and delicious) egg casserole, along with tea and oatmeal.

Yay for my first Ukrainian food :)
I made a ton of friends during the first few days as a Peace Corps Trainee, it was so sad to see everyone split up and head off to different towns for Training. My group is mostly in the Kyiv reigon, I am in a small town about an hour south of Kyiv. Here are a few of the girls from my group 40 1/2.

And of course I  had to take a picture with the other Asians in our group, this is Warren from Oklahoma and Johnathan from Alpharetta (he actually went to Emory, small world!).

Say... Peace for Peace Corps!
We have 3 redheads in our group! Here is Nitai from California (he actually went to S.F. State, another example of small world), Adam and Ryan!

And OMG there are turkeys and chickens running around everywhere in Ukraine! Except I dont think that they are wild here, I'm pretty sure they are some family's future dinner... Here are the turkeys that I saw at the PST retreat. These two weren't even scared when I walked up close to take this photo.

Good thing that Thanksgiving is only an American holiday...
The drive to my town was a lot of countryside that reminded me of the Midwestern United States. We did pass this river, and I tried to ask if people swim in it or if they have like open-water style races in it and the local Ukrainian Peace Corps people just laughed at me. Apparently it is too cold and the water isn't clean enough to really swim in, though there is some holiday in January when everyone jumps into the freezing water (to signify something that I didn't quite catch).

We passed a few monuments like this one, with a giant tank and kids playing on it or around it.

I was so excited to meet my host family! I live with Sveta, my host mom, on the third floor of this apartment building, we are fortunate enough to have indoor plumbing (with hot water) and central heating. Its already about 40 degrees in Ukraine, thats freezing by my standards! Our building is a small community in itself, complete with a playground and dogs running around outside.

They have swings and some pullup bars, maybe I can work on my pullups!
I have my own room in the apartment, with about a full-sized bed (two twins pushed together). My host mom really likes to grow indoor plants, I've got a bunch of them on my windowsill behind the curtain. She even has a few small cacti and a spider plant! By the way, I don't have internet access at home, so I'm updating from a public internet cafe. Here is my room.

I also have a duck stuffed animal, compliments of my host mom :)
Half of my cluster-mates arrived a week before us in group 40. I've somehow been stuck into an advanced Russian group, for most of my group has studied Russian previously in college (and two of them were linguistics majors!). Here is a photo of the other 5 people in my cluster. Nathan is from Atlanta (he went to UGA, to HELL with Georgia!), Laura from Pennsylvania (she studied abroad in Slovakia), Jakob from Indianopolis, Monica from south Florida, and Heather from Indianopolis (she was a French major and also studied Arabic abroad in Morocco).

I love my cluster-mates!
We went exploring around our little town to try to get accustomed to our surroundings and began integrating into our community. I've been practicing introducing myself in Russian and explaining that I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. Here is Heather and I at the local community church.

I am not sure what denomination this church is, perhaps Eastern Orthodox?
Laura found a Cadillac that looks straight out of downtown Atlanta. I love it.

If only it was for sale.
My cluster-mates and I gathered with our host families to have lunch after class on Saturday. During class, I learned that it is very impolite to throw away bread at any time, for bread (and grains) are like the staple of the Ukrainian culture. The gold in the Ukrainian flag apparently symbolizes grains. We ate outside in a covered tent in Jakob's host family's back yard.

Jakob's family actually lives on a farm, and they grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables. This is the side of their storage shed in their backyard, not the parts of the house that the live in. I think they also have an outhouse instead of indoor plumbing... bring your own toilet paper! I did not get the chance to go inside their house, but Jakob is about 6'2" and says he has to duck inside the house sometimes.

Here is a photo of their grapevines that line the awnings in the backyard. It was really cool to be able to reach up and pick our own grapes to take home. These grapes were delicious!

We went to a local flower shop to buy some flowers for our language teacher, since it was National Teacher Day in Ukraine on Sunday! There are many flower shops in our town, and many people grow beautiful flower gardens.

I love Babushkas and their scarves.
There is a big lake in my town, and we went exploring around the old abandoned building near the lake. It looks almost like a guard tower, but its really run down and unfortunately it is covered with graffiti (and littered with a lot of trash).

Yes, that water is actually green... I am not sure if that is considered normal here?
The run-down buildings by the lake almost look like a castle, its such a shame that they have become run-down. I wonder what they used to be used for... maybe I can ask some locals once my Russian gets better. We walked by this very colorful house on the way to the Bazaar... definitely Ukrainian!

Oo-rah, oo-rah, oo-rah!
And yes, I totally bought some black leather boots at the local Bazaar! I went shopping with my host mom and she helped me find a decent pair of boots. The Bazaar is crazy, its like Chinatown or like the street markets in China except everyone speaks Russian and they don't try to hawk or grab foreigners (like me!). My boots kind of look like riding boots and they are fur-lined all the way down to the toes... I'm not sure if they are waterproof but hopefully they will keep my feet cozy during the winter! This picture is from the run-down buildings by the lake, I got too excited and distracted about sharing my experiences from the Bazaar and posted it out of order.

My time in the internet cafe is almost up, so thats it for now! Thanks for reading such a long post, I love blogging :)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the posts.

Jakob's батько

Ricci Ricci said...

I can help you with Russian)
I am from Russia)

mostlypake said...

As Warren's mom, I have to thank you for giving me a peek at my son "en route." From what I hear from him, it was probably the last time he looked as alert as that! I've said this to you before, and I say it again, thank you so very much for being such a conscientious blogger! We parents (and probably MANY others) truly appreciate it.

If you're still in touch with Warren, he's also learning Russian with others who've been there since before you guys arrived. Playing "catch -up" must be tough!

Anyway, thanks again, Jing!

Shyari said...

Your trip sounds awesome so far. P.S. 40F is NOT cold. Can't wait to hear more soon!

Sally K said...

- that's an old ass violin!
- did you get good seats on your flight?
- your breakfast is so small!
- you WOULD take an asian picture
- "peace for peace corps" made me laugh :)
- gingers!!! <3
- speaking of jumping in the freezing water... just found out there is a group called the Polar Bears who swim at the beach in Coney Island every sunday from nov to april! crazy!
- two twins pushed together... ghetto!
- what's a spider plant?
- i loved buying flowers in mexico!
- does your host mom speak English? how do y'all communicate?
- all the buildings are so run down...
- i'm glad you love blogging... i hated it.
- onto the next update!

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