July 17, 2009

Greetings -  and thanks to all of you for your kind wishes with regards to our move to a new apartment.   (We even had an offer from the Pebley’s for a nice little bungalow on East Linden!)   However, the end of the story is that we did not move.    We showed our landlady the ads for similar apartments, and told her we were going to move because there were apartments out there that were in our price range, and we could not pay what she was asking.   Then we offered to pay her the market rate, and she gave up her little get rich quick scheme in favor of people she doesn’t understand but who actually might be dependable and who pay their rent on time, and so we are staying.   A little depressing, but better the devil you know and all that, and we do, at least for now, seem to have the hot water figured out.   Plus even though the apartment should probably be bulldozed, we do like the location and the neighborhood and the neighbors.

We are finishing the classes at our language school for the year, and will miss the kids that will be going on to Holland to university.   They began the year by probably thinking “the Americans” were a little strange, but we think ended up deciding that maybe we taught them some things that they were not learning from their soviet-type teachers.   Their last project of the year for us was a business presentation;    we put them into three groups and each group became a “consulting company” hired to find solutions and strategies for a business.   One of the businesses was an aging Japanese department store somewhat along the lines of SAKS Fifth Avenue that was losing market share to the discount stores;   one of the businesses was a Spanish sports energy drink with a Spanish name that wanted to expand its market and go global;   and one was a little British car company along the lines of Aston Martin making 500 cars a year by hand that needed to expand and become more profitable.    So it was interesting to see what they came up with.   Then when it was all done they requested an extra lesson so we could teach them how to play poker….    And we accommodated, and they are now all going off to Holland to university ready to play Texas Hold-Em.    But please don’t tell Peace Corps.   We are not sure this is on their list of suggested activities……

On the subject of poker….   The levels and depth of corruption around here never cease to amaze.   The government recently passed a bill that made all gambling illegal   (there are slot machine “clubs” in every town, including ours).   It sounds like a good idea, and the slot machine “clubs” are now all closed.  But then everyone noticed that there is a large strip of land on the Dnieper River south of Kiev that is to be sold, and (very good) rumor has it that it will be sold to various members of the government.   (They have had other such land sales in the past, with no public auction and no announcement of the sale until it is over.)   Then the gambling can re-invent itself, and they will pass a law that it will be allowed on only one little strip of land, and you guessed it, the same little strip of land that members of the government and their friends will have purchased.   In the meantime, people wanted to be able to continue to play poker and other card games.  So they did accommodate those people, and now in Ukraine poker is officially classified as a “sport”, and is not gambling.     When Ukraine became independent in 1991/1992 the government inherited everything from the Soviets, and had many many things to sell and privatize.   It is now common that if you want to buy something (an old industry or building or business or whatever) the first step of the process requires that you present your detailed plans of what you would do with it and how you would make it profitable, etc.   Then the powers that be can look at your plan and discuss it amongst themselves.   Then the next step of the process is that anyone can present a “revised” plan of what they might do with it, which means that the government types that saw your original plan and thought it might be a good one can make a copy of it for their friends (or for  themselves under a different name) can then present this plan in this second step and can be awarded the sale.    With no regard or rights to the person who submitted the original good idea in the first place.   What a way to run a country….

We probably told you that there is no air conditioning here, but there are also no screens.   Everyone just opens windows and lets the bugs and flies go in and out at will.   We like opening windows, and most of the time it cools down at night, but we have not been real excited about the bugs.   We have looked for screens, but have not found them anywhere.  But we are happy to report that we have found a solution.  One of our kids – thank you Rachel!  -  sent us some screen material, the intention is that you could make a screen whatever size you would need, with enough for one window.   So Don took the screen material to the bazaar to all the little hardware type booths to try and buy more, but it really doesn’t seem to exist here.  They did send him to a little booth though that sells fabric and material, and they had something they called “mosquitka” that looks like mosquito netting that Ukrainians use to make veils and trim for bridal and wedding attendant gowns.   So he spent about $.95 and bought enough for two more windows and a couple of weeks ago he put it all up.   The windows all open to the inside of the apartment, so he installed our three “screens” on the outside of the building.   Our old Russian neighbors were intrigued by what “the American” was doing, and ended up helping him.   We are not quite sure what they really think, but it became rather a social event!    His “ladder” was an old Ukrainian table, plus four bricks on top of the table, then an old Ukrainian chair on top of the bricks with Don standing on the chair.   He put the “mosquitka” up with tacks, except they really don’t have tacks here, you have to go to the bazaar and buy little pieces and “build” the tacks.   But it worked, and even though dirt and dust still come in, at least the flies and other such do not.

We do our shopping for fruits and vegetables at the bazaar, and are enjoying the summer season.   Some of what we buy we can get all year round, like oranges and bananas from Turkey or Egypt, but some is more local and really seasonal.   So strawberry season was wonderful, but it only lasted for about three weeks in June, and now you cannot find strawberries anywhere.   There are two kinds of “shop-keepers” at our fruit and vegetable market, the first are the ones who seriously do it for a living, and we have found one guy who speaks no English but who thinks we are cute and who takes very good care of us.   He also has the price on his stuff clearly marked, whereas some of the other ones don’t, and you have to trust that they are charging everyone the same (we don’t think they are).   The other type are the “village people” who come in for a day with whatever they have grown in their garden or backyard (berries, cherries, apples, apricots, etc.) and you buy a kilogram or half kilogram or a plastic glass full of whatever they happen to have to sell that day and that is really good.   Assuming you eat it the same day, however, because they do not last, even in the refrigerator. There have been several times that the we bought something like black raspberries and they were really good for supper, but then by morning when we wanted them for breakfast they had fuzzy white stuff all over them.   But nevertheless we will be sorry when it is winter again and all we have are oranges and bananas.

 So that is about all of our adventures for now.  We just got back from 3 days in Kiev at Peace Corps headquarters, most of the time in meetings, but some time for sightseeing.   We also found an antique flea market type area, and are now the proud owners of a samovar, with the date 1906 on the front of it.   We have a little work to do on it, it probably hasn’t been cleaned since at least 1917, but we will work on it.   We were also pleased that we paid the “Ukrainian” price for the samovar, not the “American” price.   Most of the sellers at open air markets do not put prices on anything, you need to ask.  If you are obviously American (that would be us), then the price quoted is about double what it is for those who are Ukrainian.   But Don was right behind a Ukrainian man also looking at samovars, so when the Ukrainian asked the price of the samovar that we eventually purchased, Don heard what the seller said and held him to it, and even negotiated in Russian to get the price a little lower.  So that was fun.   When we got it home, Anya, our 80 year old Russian neighbor, got all excited when she saw it and wanted to help clean it for us, so she found a piece of old brick in the back yard and started scratching on it with the brick to show us how to clean it.   So now we have an old samovar that not only needs cleaned and polished but also has scratches from the brick.    But she means well, and it will give us something to remember her by.   Assuming we can get the thing home…   it is rather heavy and won’t quite fit in the suitcase…     

Anyway, please write when you have a chance – we like hearing from everyone.  

Thanks.      Don and Karen



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