March 30, 2008

Greetings !    We are here in Kiev, arrived safely Wednesday night.    We have no internet connections, but I will write this while I have time and send it hopefully soon.    We had two days of orientation here in Kiev before we go to our host families tomorrow for the three months of training, and while in Kiev we (there are 64 in our group) stayed in a former “resort” (they use the term loosely),  a very large 5 story hotel type facility out in the country built by the Soviets in probably the 1940’s and really interesting.    You can see how it would have been very impressive and elegant in its day.   Lots of stone, and marble staircases (although they are unlit at night, and we have taken to using a flashlight to go up to the fourth floor conference room where many of our meetings are held).  The majority of the interior (plumbing, floor coverings, furniture, bed linens)  look  quite original and very 1940 or 1950-ish, but we have a private room with a shower !!,  so no one is complaining.

Language!!  Turns out we got assigned Russian.    Don and I and 11 of the 12 of us who are older are more or less together and hopefully the blind can lead the blind and we will learn together.    We have some interesting other older people in the group:   one is a single guy about 60 who seems to have traveled the world and who among other things was a contestant on Jeopardy and won $300,000.  He is really interesting and knows more trivia than anyone I have ever met.   There is a 62 year old guy from Glenwood, Iowa  who has done everything from being a ski instructor for the army in Alaska to farming in Iowa (he brought a pig scale so we could all weigh our suitcases before we left to make sure they weren’t over 50 pounds) to recently working in the casinos on the gulf coast.   His friends told him that if he came to the Ukraine he could meet a nice girl! 

We found out tonight in the last session where we will spend the next 12 weeks of training.  Our language cluster of 6 will be in Chernihiv.  If you look on a map it is about 50 miles north and northeast of Kiev.  It is a good sized city and is the oblast (region) capital.   We (Don) about fell out of our chairs when we found out we are going to Chernihiv because when we (Don) read the Ukraine tourist book last fall that was one of the cities that we (Don) agreed we wanted to see the most.  This is because it escaped bombing in World War II and as a result it has about six Ukrainian Orthodox Churches still standing that were built in the 1000’s.  This was within 100 years of when Christianity was first introduced to Kievan Russia in 962 A.D.  We (Don) can’t wait to see them and visit them !

Written a couple of days later:

Today off to Chernihiv.   About a 2 hour bus ride to north of Kiev.  The countryside could be anywhere -  lots of flat fields, forests around them;   you can tell that the whole countryside would have been forests at one time, but the trees were cleared for the fields.   They gave us maps of Ukraine so we could sort of follow where we were, but they have no road numbers that we could tell, either on the maps or on the roads.  There were signs every now and then that said this way to Chernihiv, but that was about it.

We met our host family – Galina (used to teach English!), Sergei (worked for several years for Lucent, now works for another American corporation based in Dallas;  we didn’t recognize the name), Nastia (10 year old daughter), dog (named Don), cat, and two canaries.   Nastia likes birds, and has trained several of the pigeons in the neighborhood to perch on her hand and eat sunflower seeds.  They have a house with a medium sized barn and large garden (in the middle of town), and grow a lot of their own food.    There appears to be no zoning as we know it, and there are large gardens and commercial-type shops and storage sheds etc everywhere.    Our family does not own a car, but that doesn’t seem to matter.   This afternoon Galina and Nastia took us around the neighborhood – relatively close and within easy walking distance are two small indoor type grocery stores, plus several outside markets, with crowded booths and stalls, selling everything from food to clothing to hardware to anything else you could think of.   This is not a tourist area, and the shops were not geared for tourists -  there are many very large apartment buildings in the area, and this is just where a lot of people live.  There was also a rather large indoor meat market, all raw and readily visible for you to pick what you would like a slice of.   Fish is also a big thing, and in the grocery stores there were tanks of carp, and you could pick which one you wanted. 

We have class everyday, and so far have at least 10 books we are expected to know.  Plus we have to get good enough at Russian to pass the Intermediate Level test at the end of 3 months.    There may be little if any hope for this project.   Next week we have Russian lessons for 4 hours in the morning, then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we also get technical training in the afternoon.  On Monday afternoon we start on a “community mapping” project, and on Friday we get to meet the mayor.  

So that is where we are for now -    thank you all for your kind words and good wishes before we left, and please keep in touch as you can.  Our internet connections are spotty and not always available, but I will write as I can.

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