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,
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
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
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