May 01,2008 (2)


Greetings !     We are obviously spending too much time studying – time to catch up with the correspondence.   We do spend several hours a day trying to learn Russian.   Most of the time we think it is probably a lost cause.   We are learning to have a great deal of respect for people who learn two languages – and many people we have met know more than two.   They certainly must have better brains than we do…
We think we mentioned in a previous letter that inflation is a problem  (14% the last three months).   They are trying to do what they can to get it under control, and banks are now offering certificates of deposit for 16%.   Loan rates have also increased significantly in their effort to get people to not put money into circulation.   As for us, we have been watching the exchange rates go down, and already our Peace Corps “salary”, currently about $4 per day American, appears to buy less than when we first came.
We have been doing a little more exploring of the history of Chernihiv, and among other things we found a building in their downtown now used by the history department of the local university.   During Soviet times however it was the KGB building, and in 1991/1992 when the Soviets moved out and the history department inherited the building, in the process of cleaning out the basement they found the remains of many bodies, and evidence of torture equipment .   
We also found the local train station, a beautiful large structure built by the Soviets about 40 years ago. Zillions of tracks!!   We walked out on an overhead pedestrian walkway that goes over all of them.  Inside the station we found the schedule board.  For about $40 U.S. we could hop on a train at 4:45 p.m. and be in Moscow the next morning at 5:00 a.m.    Unfortunately, we are forbidden by the Peace Corps to leave the country for the first six months.   They seem to worry that we won’t come back.   But we do intend to get to Moscow and St. Petersburg sometime before we go home, either by train or plane from Kiev.   Aeroflot flies there from Kiev, round-trip is currently about $250 American.   As time goes on we are sure that we will become quite familiar with the trains though as overnight trains are about the only affordable way for us to get anywhere;    Megan’s train to Kiev for Easter weekend was 12 hours (plus a 2 hour marshrytka ride to Chernihiv) one way, and Eunice’s was 14 hours (plus 2 hour marshrytka) one way.   First class on the trains is a two person sleeping compartment, second class is a four person sleeping compartment, and third class sounds like an open free for all with benches.   We do hear though that on first and second class they give you sheets, so we may not need the sleeping bags we brought  (the Peace Corps had sent us a list of what to bring – we brought sleeping bags but drew the line at the tent).
We met John LaPlante.   Famous local personage from the last Peace Corps group, the one that came last fall.   He is 78 years old, has traveled the world and written books and left his lady friend Annabel in California to join the Peace Corps.   He has not learned Russian, and expects everyone to speak to him in either English or French.   (They do.)   He got to stay in Chernihiv, and is assigned to a local “college” that also has a big language school.   His job is to wander into English and French classes now and then and help.  He just got back from China -  for some reason his publisher talked him into publishing his latest book there, so he was there for the grand whatever it is they do when you come out with a new book.   Annabel met him in China, and they also went to a wedding. He talks and talks and talks and talks, but is fun to listen to and get his perspective on what is going on  (again, he doesn’t really intend to learn Russian, he just wants to live here for a couple years).
Coca cola is everywhere here.   No Pepsi, Mountain Dew or anything else, but lots of Coke and coke products.   They do not have diet coke, but sometimes you can find something called Coca Cola Light.  It tastes like diet, but except for the few American tourists it doesn’t seem to have really caught on.
There is one McDonalds in Chernihiv, a really big one that they built downtown.  It seems to be popular, but it is also beside a big bazaar (open air market) and is on a busy bus stop.    We haven’t eaten there so don’t know much about the food.  So far we have not found any other American franchise restaurants or anything else for that matter.
We have yet to see or hear of a rain gauge, but we are not surprised because since about April 15th it rains ALL THE TIME.  Especially noticeable because:   1) we walk almost everywhere, and  2) a lot of the streets and walkways (going through people’s yards is an accepted method of getting where you are going) are not paved and are dirt.   The street where we live (Partizanska) is not paved.   There are two ways to walk to Oila’s in the morning;   after it rains only one of them is really usable.    Reminds us of home and our road at Timberwoods before it was paved.
Most afternoons we stop at the bazaar on the way home and buy fruit for the next day’s lunch.   The babushka (think grandmother type) we tend to buy from uses an abacus to add up our bill.   If we buy both oranges and bananas, she will weigh the bananas to get the cost, then weigh the oranges to get the cost, and then use a small hand held calculator to add it all up.   We don’t think she trusts the calculator however, because she will then use an abacus to re-add it.   Then she charges us whatever the abacus says.   We have looked around the bazaars, and most of the babushkas do use an abacus.   Rather interesting to watch.

There is beer and alcohol everywhere. Every bus or trolleybus stop has a kiosk, with lots of beer and other alcohol products, lots of cigarettes, and some pop. (These are the kiosks that it took us about a week to figure out.) There appears to be no age restriction to buying anything.

Okay - back to the homework. Please keep sending us e-mails - it is always good to hear from you all !

 Don and Karen

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