June 20 to 24, 2008 

Greetings from Ukraine!     We have arrived at our new home.   Sort of.   Actually we are in Vinnytsia, but staying with another host family, this time for a month and then we are allowed to live in our own apartment.     Peace Corps works a deal with the two organizations we are working with (Don has one and Karen has one), and they each will pay a portion of our apartment rent as their commitment to Peace Corps for the “privelige” of having us around for two years.  The “salary” we receive for our portion of the rent and for food, electricity, transportation, tutors, and anything else that comes along is paid to us by Peace Corps and any and all American taxpayers – and we thank you!   They supposedly will deposit funds in our new accounts at ProCredit Bank beginning the first of July.   We now know how new customers at Fremont National feel;   we each signed off on about 7 pages of fine print bank documents a couple of days ago and we have no idea whatsoever about what it is we agreed to by our signatures.   It was all in very fine print Ukrainian with many many big words.   But after we signed everything they gave us an ATM card, so we think that our signing might have been a good thing…

Our new family has a rather large home for Ukrainian standards.   It is actually sort of a duplex, with an attached apartment on the ground floor.   On the part of the building our family has, there is a kitchen and sort of living room, plus entryway and small bathroom on the first floor;  three bedrooms, an office, a room with a bathtub, and a separate room with a toilet on the second floor; and a finished attic type bedroom on the third floor.   We get the third floor!   Our room also has a small what we would call half/bath.   The family includes a father and mother (Sergei and Jana), two children (Georgy age 5 and Vladislav age 13), and Aunt Zenna (sister of Sergei), a wonderful dog (big shei-pei) named Charik who gets to live in the house, another dog (we don’t remember his name) who gets to live on a chain in the backyard, and supposedly a cat, but so far we have not seen it.   There are also 5 or 6 chickens living in the back yard, who contribute eggs to the household, and a couple of large gardens.   We think Georgy has decided we are okay -  he chatters to us a lot and tells us very long stories as only a five year old can, and we understand nothing but nod and smile and try to make appropriate comments, and then he shares his candy with us, so we seem to be okay with him.  Lots of people come and go -  right now a cousin of Jana’s named Ira and her daughter Nastia are here visiting from northern Russia.  They showed us on a map where they live, and it certainly looks like the Arctic Circle to us.   They said that her father (Jana’s uncle) had gone there many years ago to work construction, so that is where that part of the family now lives.   Jana also has a brother who lives and works in eastern Russia, on the map it was very near Mongolia and China.    There is another very old woman who is around a lot, we aren’t quite sure who she is, she has a strange sort of smile for us but doesn’t really say anything, and an older daughter named Tanya, and another brother of Jana’s and his son came yesterday.   Plus many friends are in and out – we are finding we like the activity.   The only problem is that NONE of them speak any English except Sergei, and he is not around a lot, so we are putting our language instructor’s work to the test.   But they are very patient with us, and we think they are also enjoying getting to know “the Americans”.    Sergei has had what would seem to be a very interesting life.   He is about 48 years old, and was an aviation engineer in the Russian army, and then after 1991/1992 did the same work in the Ukrainian army.   Somewhere along the way he also got a degree in engineering, and now works for a private company out of Kiev.   They repair the engines on Antonov jets.   Antonov is the Russian equivalent of Boeing, and there are many in use today and still being manufactured.   (There is even a manufacturing plant for Antonov’s in Kiev.)  As part of his job, Sergei travels around the world.   When a jet airplane breaks down, sometimes they bring it to Kiev, but sometimes they need to go to where the plane is.  Next week after they come back from a short family vacation in the Carpathians (mountains in western Ukraine) he is going either to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, they are not quite sure where the plane will be when he is available to come make the repair.

We have spent quite a bit of time already walking around Vinnytsia, and we can’t tell for sure but think it is a more prosperous city than Chernihiv.   It is cleaner, for one thing, and we don’t see as many beer tents as we saw in Chernihiv, nor as many sidewalk vendors selling everything from flowers to fish.  The town also seems to have a little more money for maintenance.  In Chernihiv when we saw people trimming what grass there is (most of the ground is in a garden of some kind) it tended to be with a scythe, here we have seen city type workers using gasoline powered weed eaters to trim around the buildings.

Some of you may remember that Karen let her hair go “natural”  (that is, very gray) before we left since we had been told in the Peace Corps materials that Ukrainian people were not fancy and tended to wear the same dark clothes many days in a row.   Well, one of our goals before we leave is to get the Peace Corps to re-write the memo….    It turns out that there are very very few gray haired women in Ukraine (except for the old babushkas, and we hopefully are not quite ready for that stage yet), and all the women dye their hair.   The younger ones tend to color their hair some version of blond or blond streaks, or very black.   This seems to be true of both Vinnytsia and Chernihiv.   The “older” women (age 40 – 60), are a different story and are another way we think that we can tell we are in a more prosperous area.   In Chernihiv it seemed like about half of the 40-60 year olds dyed their hair “normal” colors (some variety of blond or black) but the others were all some variety of red (all shades) or orange or purple.    This includes the language instructors and other Peace Corps employees.   In Vinnytsia we do not see near as much orange or purple hair, and it all seems to be dyed more normal colors.   So, to get back to where we started with this, Karen did decide to pass on the purple and red and orange hair, but is now back to her “normal” dark blonde.   And even Don agrees that this is an improvement!

Yesterday we found an internet café for the first time in a week, and it was good to catch up on the e-mail and news from home.   It was interesting -  we spent 66 minutes “on-line”, and the total cost was 1.65 hvn, or about 40 cents American.   This week we get to go to “work” -  this should be interesting!   And we will let you know how it goes.   Assuming they do not figure out quickly that we are totally incompetent, our adventures will continue.   But in the meantime, please keep in touch!     Thanks.  

Don and Karen

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