May 30, 2008
Greetings to all !    We have our assignment.   In two weeks we leave for Vinnytsa.   This is a city of about 350,000 in the middle of Ukraine.   We are quite happy with Peace Corps’s decision for us.   We had been told that the budget for Peace Corps has been cut (along with the budgets of many other United States government departments), and that there wouldn’t be very many of us going to large cities because the cost of living in cities is so much higher than villages.   So among the 60 volunteers in our group, only 10 of us have been assigned to cities with populations over 100,000.   The rest are in smaller towns and villages, stretching across the entire country.   There are several who are on the Russian border on the east, and some who are on the Polish border on the west.   No one is going anywhere near Odessa (their cost of living really is too high), and no one is staying in Chernihiv or going to Kiev.    So despite all the Peace Corps brochures showing barefoot volunteers carrying water and living in huts in their little villages it appears our life will be a little more upscale (which is certainly fine with us).    Don is assigned to work with a business center, their request is for someone to help them with local business development, including green tourism (seems to be the buzzword these days) and foreign investment.   Karen is assigned to an NGO involved in youth projects, their request is for help with grant writing and structure and organization for their district offices in smaller towns outside the city.   What this really means we will be doing we have no idea, and the only thing we know for sure is that the first order of the day will be to find a tutor and keep working on the Russian!   Vinnytsa appears to be a very nice city, if any of you are interested in a few pictures you might check out a website we found:   www.vinnytsatourism.com.ua     We are looking forward to going there in person, but this won’t happen until the middle of June.   For the first month when we are there we will stay with a host family (this one, we are told, has a mother/father/two sons and a dog), and then we will move to our own apartment.    But in the meantime there is still much learning and studying to do, and there is a general feeling of panic that is settling over our group as we realize that we really will be sent out on our own to live and work among people we can’t talk to….   There is also some sadness, we have gotten to be good friends with many of our group and now they will be living many miles away.  

The Peace Corps announcement of where our “sites” would be was sort of a major production.   They took us all to a former Soviet resort about 40 minutes away.   There were many large buildings, including a conference center and a sort of dormitory/hotel.  It had been a “sanitarium” back in the 50’s or 60’s, and there were pictures on the walls of some of the patients that had been there and the work that had been done.  Most of it looked like it had been neglected for many years (we have gotten used to what old Soviet buildings are like), but there were other parts, including some of the dormitory/hotel, that they were trying to renovate.   We had been advised to bring our mosquito repellent, which turned out to be very good advice, so if they are trying to bring this back as a resort our first advice would be to deal with the bugs!   There were also still signs up on the grounds in Russian from 40 years ago, stating the ground rules for living and staying at the resort.

Last weekend we took a day and went to Kiev to see their Museum of Folk Architecture and Life.  This was started under the Soviets, but has also been kept up and maintained in recent years so that it is a very nice area.   It covers many many acres (we walked a lot) and consists of houses that were 100-250 years old from every part of Ukraine that they had moved in.  This is in a large area south of Kiev, very scenic with many rolling hills.   The houses and other buildings are grouped according to the section of the country they came from, so you walk from the Carpathian section to a section showing homes from the eastern part of the country to the section showing homes from Crimea etc.    Very impressively put together.   They brought in whole churches (most of these were wooden), big barns, thatched cottages and larger thatched dwellings, and also many windmills.  They also have many craft displays, and many of the cottages were furnished, showing how the people lived 100-200 years ago.  Very interesting.  It was a most enjoyable day.  

Other than that we have been studying, except for this afternoon which was a little strange.   We had language class all morning, as usual, but then the translator for our project (Yuri) invited us to a grade school musical production.   He had been a student teacher there this winter, and had come back to help them with this project.     We were quite surprised to find that the play was actually done in English (this was a grade school that teaches English to their students), and the musical was The Little Mermaid.   Most of their English was really good, except the lobster kept forgetting what language he was supposed to be speaking and he kept going back and forth between English and Ukrainian.  As with most grade school productions, you cast the show dependent on the talent you have, and in this case they had dancers and gymnasts so we had dancers and gymnasts in mermaid costumes leaping all over the stage.   At one point the king also played the piano.  We weren’t quite sure how we got the piano under the sea, but it didn't seem to matter.   Then the finale was the music to Ghostbusters with the entire cast dancing.     Our kingdom for a video camera !   Then as we were all applauding the production when it was over the teacher came out on stage and invited "the Americans" up on stage so they could thank us for coming.  (Yuri had neglected to tell us about this part…)   Even though Chernihiv should be used to Americans by now we still seem to be a novelty and they all like to hear "native speakers" talk.   There were 4 of us so we all went up on stage and they handed us the microphone and we ad-libbed our way through telling them what a great production it was and how much we enjoyed it and they applauded some more and then we got off the stage only to find several groups of students who wanted to practice their English on us.   So we finally got out of there, and then went to the local language school.   They wanted help compiling a library of audio tapes for their students studying English to listen to, so we took turns reading articles from journals describing life in America and they had someone who didn’t really speak any English at all sitting there with recording equipment.     So we have been preserved for posterity, and if you ever come to Chernigiv and study English you can listen to us in their library!


Not much else going on -  we just need more hours in the day to study!    Take care, and please write.  We like hearing from you.
 


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