February 14, 2009

Greetings to all!    We hope you are having spring.   We thought for a while it would get nice here, but now it is back to cold and rainy and the forecast says it will get below freezing again for at least a week.   Oh well.   We would appreciate a little warmth however, since our organizations are responsible for paying our heat bill.   The price of gas is much higher than it used to be -  part of the problem is inflation;   the government says the inflation rate is 22%, although we all think it is much higher than that.   So anyway, we turned down the heat in our apartment.  The kitchen (the warmest room we have) used to be actually warm, but now if you have on two layers of warm clothes it is still not too bad.     However we are sort of getting our hot water figured out, so that is good;   most of the time during the day it does not work, but most of the time later in the evening it does.   And when it does work it is at least hot.

The office of Karen’s organization has an interesting new addition…   Natalka, the part-time bookkeeper, has a small animal that looks like a black and white rat with a long rat tail, and she decided that our small two room office would be the best home for it.   So some of the time he stays in his cage, but most of the time he runs around loose and gets into files and eats paper and anything else he can find.   He doesn’t bother too much except when he climbs up your jeans….          He also collects food for whatever famine he is envisioning in the future, and there are at least two places behind furniture that are hard to get to where we know he is keeping his supply.   I can hardly wait until summer when it gets hot and all this starts to rot and smell.   So all in all interesting, and he is sort of a cute little thing (if you like rats), but I’m not sure I would recommend it for Fremont National Bank.   If we told the auditors that the rat ate the documents they would believe us???

We received our W-2’s from the Peace Corps for our earnings from them in 2008.   A total of $1,865.32 each for 9 months work.   Your tax dollars at work!   Thank you very much.    Unfortunately however we do not have a boss right now so we don’t think we will get a raise anytime soon;   the Director of the Peace Corps is a political appointee, so the man who was heading Peace Corps quit after the election and while we are sure that appointing a new Director to look after us is somewhere on Obama’s To-Do list, it doesn’t seem to have worked its way to the top yet.   But we do keep track of our spending and are so far mostly managing to live on what Peace Corps pays us in wages and living allowance.   Don made a relatively cheap borscht from scratch last week, didn’t really pay attention to the quantity the recipe said it made so we had enough for 5 meals, including one with company!

We are having some success with our “grant writing”.   Karen did the English version of a lengthy application to one of the Soros Foundations for study visits by local journalists, experts, NGO representatives, etc. to two other European countries (one to be a former Soviet bloc country), and it got approved!   Unfortunately however she does not get to go along….     But now has two other grants to work on, one with the American Embassy and one with the Canadian Embassy.   We’ll see how this goes and let you know.     And Don wrote one to a U.S.  State Department fund on behalf of his organization, and it also got approved.   This is really good, because this particular grant was to build a web-site that his organization wanted and was the reason they “hired” Don in the first place.  Except now he has to go to work and actually build the web-site and spend the money….   But at least he has a job for another year.   We do however feel very fortunate to have been able to get $$ for our organizations.  We have been told that in the years immediately following the breakup of the Soviet Union everyone and everybody gave money to Ukraine, but in recent years donor organizations have figured out that Ukraine doesn’t exactly make the best use of the funds it gets, so the money is starting to dry up.   And the financial crisis doesn’t help either, no one has any money to spare.  

We have started a little work with the local Human Rights Organization.   Don is working with them for a possible collaboration with Witness.Org, and Karen is beginning to help with the Somalian refugees that somehow end up in Vinnytsia   (most of them had no intention of coming here, the smugglers get them to Russia or Ukraine, tell them they are in Germany or somewhere in Western Europe, and then take off).    We are working with one young man named Ahmed now who has actually been in Vinnytsia for three years and would like to stay except that Ukraine will not grant him refugee status.   He doesn’t think he can go home, he is a member of a minority clan, and they have no status and no protection under the clan system (“thug” system) that is running the country.   A member of one of the majority clans already killed his father;   his father was a blacksmith and made a knife for the man, the man did not want to pay for it and so killed him with it instead.   Given the situation we don’t think we would want to go home either.    It does make you think however, we think of Ukraine as a place that needs help; but if you are from a place like Somalia then Ukraine is a place that looks wonderful.

We also (with the help of a Connecticut native – thanks Vince!) found some help for a young man from Turkmenistan.   He left Turkmenistan, (nasty former Soviet Union country with an I- wanna-be-a-Stalin leader) and ended up in Vinnytsia a few years ago.  He’s been productive here including working with AIDS/HIV patients,  (Ukraine has a pretty high rate of infection for Europe and is just starting to grapple with the problem).  He applied for asylum/refugee status in the United States, it was granted, and Connecticut agreed to take him.   He left this week for America and will get together with who we found when he gets there.  He speaks Russian and a little English so we hope he gets along okay..   And who knows maybe this one will have a happy ending.   As for us, we plan to hunker down through the last month of winter and then enjoy ourselves once spring arrives.  We hope you are well, and surviving the winter and financial mess.   Take care and write soon -        Don and Karen


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