May 01,2008

 

Greetings to all !       We are very tired of working on prepositions so will try to catch up a little with our travelogue.  We never imagined that prepositions could be so much fun (not).   You probably aren’t aware that in Russian there are at least six different endings for nouns depending on which preposition they follow, and that there is no rhyme or reason to any of it.   We are also finding that we need to review our English grammar….   If we ever knew what indirect objects and genitive case and dative case were to begin with we certainly had long forgotten!    
We have learned that the Russian Orthodox Church has a different calendar that we have, and now is their Easter season.   A couple of Sundays ago was Palm Sunday, except that they do it with willows instead of palms.   Our family did not go to church, but did explain to us that on Palm Sunday you are not supposed to do any work.   So the laundry we were going to do on Sunday we all of a sudden did on Saturday night, and on Sunday Galina was not allowed to work in her garden or do any housework, other than cooking.    So instead they took us to a “park” -  turned out to be a very large area with trees, picnic tables, etc, but also the remains of what had probably been a very elegant Soviet amusement park in its day.   Some of the rides were still running, and there were workers there to collect your money, but little in the way of help with the actual rides.   The very very large ferris wheel was made entirely of metal and looked to be held together rather loosely (think baling wire), and it had about 2 dozen metal cages that each held three or four people that you could ride in (they had tops but little in the way of sides, and no seat belts and no supervision for the riders).   The ferris wheel did not ever stop, but generally moved rather slowly and if you wanted to ride it you just sort of jumped on as it was going by.   Then when it got you back to the bottom you jumped off.  And it really was tall – bigger than most American ferris wheels.    Don and Nastia and Galina rode it, and said the view from the top was wonderful.     Karen decided that someone needed to stay at the bottom to be available to go for help when the thing collapsed.
Last Sunday was the Russian Orthodox Easter.   We learned that it is a rather big day in our family, even though they again did not go to church.    The country as a whole does not seem to be very religious, but for Easter they all celebrate the traditions.  During the 80 years of Soviet rule the churches were closed or turned into museums, so they do not actually have a great tradition of going to church.   Except on Easter (and also we have been told Christmas), then many thousands of people go, and the overflow stands outside regardless of the weather because the churches are not big enough to accommodate everyone.   In our house we learned that Easter means food.   Galina spent a lot of last week and all of yesterday preparing.  Vladimir and Valentina (Galina’s parents) came and spent the day, and Sergei’s mother (his father had a heart attack and died in the garden at Galina and Sergei’s wedding 11 years ago, but that is another story) came for the evening meal.   Then there was Eunice and Megan (more on them later).   There is a special “cake”  (more like the consistency of bread) that is traditional for Easter, and Galina had made several.   The one we ate Easter morning though for a late breakfast (a very elaborate meal) was actually made by her mother and then taken by her parents to the church and blessed by the priest.  He also blessed the hard boiled eggs, which were purple (religious symbolism) from having been cooked in onion skins.   We learned from others in our group who had gone to church that the blessing by the priest is actually the priest walking among the people (who are outside the church because there is no room inside) and using a sort of broom to throw water on them and whatever they brought to be blessed. Galina got out the good china, and I (Karen)  learned from Vladimir how to set the table.  We ate the eggs and the cake first, as they were what had been blessed by the priest. There were also sardine and cucumber sandwiches, a vegetable salad, baked turkey, an aspic salad made from meat juices and meat fat, pickles, and sallo.   Sallo is basically raw bacon, and it is considered to be a delicacy.  We have seen it served several times already, and it is quite popular.   There are two ways to prepare it, one is completely raw with a little salt, and the other is slightly cooked.   Emphasis on the slightly.    There was also a red horseradish to have with the hard boiled eggs.   Plus compote -a fruit juice, made from leaving fresh fruit – in this case cherries – in water for several hours.   And wine, it is traditional to have three toasts during the meal. 
Later this same day, Sunday evening:   there are actually three big meals on Easter.  We are now really full!!!   The second meal featured a whole pumpkin with the top cut off and the seeds taken out and vegetables and who knows what else put into it and the whole thing baked in the oven for about 5 hours.  Really good !   There was grilled pork with the third meal, turns out it had been on the grill outside all day long.  The hard boiled eggs we had for the second and third meals were decorated, sort of like the Easter eggs at home.    Vladimir told us about the old days when all the decorations on eggs were painted by hand, and from his description they must have been very beautiful.  There were three toasts with every meal;   wine with the first meal, then your choice of wine or vodka (or both) with the second and third meals.   Vladimir and Sergei did quite well by both the vodka and wine, the rest of us seemed to think that wine and three toasts with each of three meals in one day was probably enough alcohol…. 
We enjoy Galina’s parents, especially  Vladimir.   He pretends he doesn’t know any English and talks to us in Russian, which is good, since we do need to learn this, but he is of the school that thinks that if we don’t understand him the first time then all he needs to do is talk louder and faster and add more words and we will get it the second time….. 
We are the third Peace Corps people to stay with Galina and Sergei.  This weekend we met the other two -  with all the good food around we can see why they came back for a couple of days!   We are encouraged by Megan – she was here a year ago for training, and already has learned enough to speak Russian with Galina.  So maybe there is hope !      Eunice was here six months ago.   She came yesterday, but is a bit of a social butterfly so is not around much.   We went to Two Geese with her yesterday -  Two Geese is the local watering hole that the Peace Corps types have adopted -  they have wi-fi – and it didn’t take long to figure out that the very large Soviet looking security guard at Two Geese had also been her boyfriend.   Eunice is African American -  one of the first to have come to Ukraine with the Peace Corps.   We have yet to see any other African Americans here in Ukraine other than Ruth who is in our group.  Our Ruth has been harassed and called names when in the bazaar and other public places by some of the young men, which is really quite distressing and not reflective of the majority of Ukrainians, at least the ones we have met.   We got the two of them together yesterday, Ruth had lots of questions on how Eunice handled all this.   We all like Ruth, but do understand that her Peace Corps experience is going to be completely different than anyone else’s.  Hopefully Eunice can give her some advice and perspective.   (Ruth also needed advice on where to find whatever it is she needs for her hair….   But Eunice did seem to have an answer for that, so that part is good.)   It is interesting to hear from Eunice and Megan of what our life will be like once we get out of training.  As a whole Peace Corps traditionally loses about 30% of each group of volunteers (we had also heard that from the recruiter in Denver), and they said Ukraine has one of the highest rates of volunteers going home.   Partly because there are a lot of “older” volunteers in Ukraine (we are the ones with the business backgrounds), so there are several who develop health issues and need to go home, and some choose to go home because they can’t handle the infrastructure or lack thereof.   A lot of the apartment buildings are 9-10 stories high, and in many cases there are no elevators.   The streets and sidewalks are generally in bad shape also (one of our group already fell and broke a bone in her foot and is in a cast), plus the trolleybuses and marshrytkas (little buses) are not that easy to get in and out of.   At busy city intersections the city does not let pedestrians cross the streets, but instead sends them underground to cross the street underneath in walking tunnels.   This is a good safety mechanism – with the way that people drive around here we can’t imagine what it would be like if pedestrians crossing the busy streets were added to the mix.   But the old cement steps leading down to the underground “crosswalks” are in very bad shape and steps in many cases are broken or even missing.   So far we have not had a problem, but we can see how in some circumstances it could be an issue and why some folks our age might decide they couldn’t handle it once they got here.  Our group of 64 has had three go home so far -  all of them of the 20-something age group.   Us older ones (there are 12 of us over 50) are still hanging in there.   The Peace Corps has three rules with no wiggle room – if you violate one of these you get the next plane home:   drug use, excessive alcohol use, and not letting Peace Corps know where you are if you go somewhere overnight.    These rules probably apply more to the 20-somethings;   it is health and safety issues that are more of a concern for the over 50 crowd.
Nastia has spent much of the weekend with a book -  we looked at it, and it is the second Harry Potter book.   In Russian.
Retirement age for women in Ukraine is 55, and for men is 60.  I (Karen) could get to like this place.
There is no word “is” in the Russian language.  They have a word for “was” and a word for “will be”, but no word for “is”.   (Bill Clinton might have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had lived here.)

Enough for now -  time to get back to the prepositions….    Take care, and thanks for writing.   We like hearing from you 

Don and Karen


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