March 15, 2010 

Greetings to all -   We think it has been a while since we have written and we apologize for not doing a better job of keeping in touch.   But the time has really gone fast here these last few months, and all of a sudden it is time to think about coming home.    We leave here the middle of May, but will head to Russia first for a couple of weeks.   Then Chicago/Milwaukee/Denver to see the kids and grandkids, and home the first part of June.  Our kids have all volunteered to come help us put the house back together and we intend to take them up on that and put them to work.   But there are some things here that we will miss, including:

1)      Their public transportation system.   Trams and little buses are everywhere in the cities, and are efficient and cheap.   The trains across country, especially the overnight ones with berths for sleeping, are also a great way to travel.   We have been all over Ukraine, and also intend to take the train to Budapest for a few days the first part of May.

2)      The fruit and vegetable market open year round that is three blocks from our apartment.   They do not have the preservatives we have at home, so stuff spoils in a couple of days (even in the refrigerator), but if you don’t mind going to the market fairly often it works and everything is fresh.

3)      Our Russian neighbors.   Anya and Nikolai  (not related) (they are 81 and 83 years old respectively) have been fun to get to know.   Neither speaks any English at all, and it never occurred to either of them that they would have Americans for friends.  Nikolai especially, he was a Soviet soldier in East Germany in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

4)      Our kids at school.   We got tired of just teaching them English, and this year, since we have all upperclassmen who want to go to business university in western Europe, we have been teaching them more business stuff.   The director of the school doesn’t speak English and he isn’t real sure what we are doing, but he sees that the kids always come to our classes and he likes the income (he gets paid, we don’t) so he leaves us alone.   So they are getting the beginnings of accounting and some business case studies and lots of discussions about the recession, globalization, etc.   We have enjoyed it.

5)      The wonderful optimism and good spirit of so many of the Peace Corps volunteers, especially the younger ones who come here with such enthusiasm and idealism.   We hope that some of that has rubbed off on us, as all too often after 30 or 40 years of being hardworking adults we lose sight of the energy and enthusiasm we had when we were younger and the things that made us happy back then.

6)  The way they let all dogs run loose.  It sounds awful, but it actually works.   The dogs are happy, and are not aggressive and do not attack people.   They just live here.   We see dogs worrying about other dogs, and protecting their little territories, but they do not worry about people.    However, the downside of this is that we rarely see any cats.

There are some things we will not miss, however, including:

1)      The idea that hot water and heat are not that important.   Believe us, plumbing is not overrated.

2)      Their work ethic.   If these people work about 10 hours per week they think are doing good.  They are always amazed at all we get done in reasonably short periods of time.  Not to mention that whatever we do is usually done correctly…

3)      Their idea that government does not exist to help normal people or work to make their economy and legal system better.  Government here exists for those in power to be able to reward and enrich themselves and their friends.   Here government is something to work around.    Watching the national government is an amusing national pastime, but there is no sense that they think that the government is going to do anything that might actually accomplish anything.   They do not trust anyone, especially their leaders.

4)      The Soviet educational system.    Everything here is top-down, especially education.    Teachers lecture out of books published in 1985, students take notes, and memorize so they can parrot it all back.    The supposedly best student at our private language school last year was a girl who had memorized 64 “items”, each one probably about half a page.      We decided early on that our goal would be to teach them how to “think”, not how to memorize.   It has been a challenge, but a few of the kids actually get it. 

5)      The Soviet medical system.   Doctors and teachers are the poorest paid workers in the country.   Under their constitution, everyone has “free health care”.    But if you go to a hospital and want drugs of any kind, you have to pay for them.   If you want food in the hospital you have to pay for it.   And if you want a clean syringe for injections you have to take it with you, otherwise they re-use what they have.   And if you want the doctor to come see you in the hospital you have to pay him separately too.   All this of course under the table.    None of it shows on the hospital bill, because, of course, health care is free.

So.  We aren’t trying to sound negative, just trying to tell you like it is.    Before we left one of our kids called this “Don and Karen’s Great Adventure”, and in that she was correct.   We have traveled more than we ever thought – including meeting two kids in Rome over Thanksgiving, visiting Egypt and the pyramids over Christmas (we will show you pictures of us riding camels….),  going to Istanbul twice, and having another daughter come with grandkids to visit Kiev and Crimea with us in a couple of weeks.    And we have learned we can survive in a foreign country with no beginning language skills.     And in all this we do do work for our organizations -  Don’s organization especially has figured out he can get things done for them, and if we stayed until he finished all they want him to do we would never be home.     Peace Corps thinks we are great, and would like us to extend.    But alas, we think not.    So we will write again if we have a chance, otherwise will see you all in June!  Keep in touch, we enjoy hearing from you.

Don and Karen


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