July 11, 2008

Greetings from Vinnytsia -

We were very saddened this week to hear of the death of Matt Hartmann.   He was a wonderful young man, and a joy to his parents and family.  He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

In other news, we have found an apartment!   As you know, we have been living with one host family or another since we got here the end of March, and we are sort of starting to feel like teenagers whose time has come to move on.   We really like our current host family, and they take good care of us and feed us very well, so we are sure that after a couple of months of being on our own we will wonder why we were so anxious to move, but in the meantime this is where we are.  Peace Corps has an arrangement with our host business organizations whereby Peace Corps pays $160 per month of our housing expense (rent, gas, electricity), and the host organizations split the rest.   This makes finding housing a group operation, and we need to be mindful of everyone’s budget.   Don is working with a business center (more on that later), and they have a couple of “profit centers”, including relationships with a couple of local business universities, so one of his Peace Corps “projects” will be to help teach business classes (in English) and this will in turn provide some income to his organization which they in turn can use to help pay their portion of our rent.   Karen’s organization is an NGO with no profit centers, however, and basically no money.   More on that later too.    But this means that they also have no funds to contribute to our rent….   So Karen has been “hired out” (sold??)  part time to Don’s business organization and will also work with the business school in teaching a couple of classes.  Then somehow the money will funnel to Don’s organization, and our rent will be paid.  The classes we will teach don’t start until the fall, so we will have some time to get ourselves organized, but this should be interesting!

We looked at several apartments.  The cost of living in cities in Vinnytsia is definitely higher than in the villages, and for that reason Peace Corps is reluctant to put people into cities.  Again, we feel fortunate that this is where we are.   (Several of our group are in villages, hauling water and living with outdoor toilets.)  Most apartments we looked at were in the $300 to $350 per month range which is higher than a year ago due to the inflation currently hitting Ukraine.  For some reason they quote apartment rents in dollars (USD).  We don’t know why rent is quoted in USD, but they get around the falling dollar by saying, “at the 5 to 1 exchange rate,” which is what the exchange rate was for years (it isn’t now, but we hope they will eventually get that figured out too…) .   Anyway, we found one for $250 per month plus gas and electricity, which made everyone, including Peace Corps, happy.   It has some very marginal furniture with it, and as we have NO furniture at all that is good also.   But it does need some (actually a lot of) work and serious cleaning, and would no doubt fall into the lowest end of the “fixer-upper” category if it were in Fremont, assuming that it hadn’t been torn down 10 years ago.  (Gary and Ray – any chance we could hire you for some home improvements???)     We do not move in for ten days, which is good and will give us some time to work on this.   Don’s first priority is going to be the bathroom.  There is enough mold on the walls that it could be mistaken for some kind of new trendy black paint.   Karen gets to attack the kitchen.   She is not quite sure where to begin, but this is the plan.  

The previous tenants left us an old phonebook – from Soviet times, dated somewhere in the 1980’s – and also a vodka “tea set”.  The “teapot” is in the shape of an upright brightly colored fish with its mouth open, and it holds the vodka, and then there are little upright fishes also with their mouths open for the individual “teacups”.   By the time we get done with this project the “tea set” will no doubt be much needed…

We also want to tell you about our new “jobs”, but are afraid that we are running out of room so we will continue this in another e-mail.    Thanks.           Don and Karen

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