September 18, 2008


Greetings to all!    We hope you are having better weather than we are.   It has been cold and raining every day for a week, and it is supposed to continue for another week.    They tell us that usually in the fall it is warm, and that this is unusual, but somehow that does not help.   No heat yet in our apartment, we have not yet had the landlady over to show us how it works because we keep thinking it will warm up again.   We are also not quite sure what kind of heating system we have.    Don says either hot water or steam heat, and he has been reading everything he can find on the internet about how such systems work and what it will take to make one work that was probably average at best when it was installed 50 years ago.    Also the landlady needs to get to the electrician and order a new light fixture for the kitchen -  the old one broke and so we have no light in the kitchen except when we carry in the reading lamp from the bedroom.    And we are tired of it being dark in the kitchen, so right now we want her to be thinking about our kitchen light instead of the heat.    One thing at a time, and we try to keep our priorities straight!     Also there is some problem with leaking water in the basement, and most days it really smells.   That is not our landlady’s problem and we think the city has been here once or twice, but the water keeps coming back.     So such is life when one has a landlord not really interested in doing anything except collecting rent….  

One of you asked us if we have been sick, and we are happy to report that so far we are doing fine.  Don did get sick a couple of months ago, probably from food or bad water, but it didn’t last very long.  When we got here Peace Corps gave us this huge medical bag of drugs and stuff that would take you three doctors to sign off on to get in the United States...   and the routine is that when you don’t feel well you call the Peace Corps medical office in Kiev and they diagnose you over the phone and then they tell you what in the bag you should take.   In this case it worked, and knock on wood, we haven't been sick since.   Pharmacies are interesting here -  and they are everywhere, on at least every other street corner.   Anyone can go in and purchase anything – antibiotics, etc. -  they do not have or need doctor’s prescriptions.    It also probably helps our health that we eat pretty well -  lots of vegetables and fruit, except the fruit is starting to get pretty expensive.   And we have decided that the 76% dark chocolate made in Ukraine is a health food – so we are sure that helps too.   It has definitely stopped anyone from losing any more weight though...     Don is holding steady with his new 32 inch waist pants that are still a little loose, Karen isn’t talking.

We are learning how to enjoy and follow Nebraska football from a distance.   There are live radio broadcasts of each game on  The only problem is the 8 hour time differential….    So when the game is at 6:00 p.m. (as were two of the last three) we set the alarm for 4:00 in the morning and got up and turned on the computer and then went back to bed and listened to the second half.   And then went back to sleep…    We thought the game that started at 11:30 in the morning was definitely more civilized, since that made it 7:30 here in the evening.

We think we might have mentioned once that the dress code of Karen’s office is slacks (including jeans) and shirts.  Don’s office has always been a little more “up-scale” – which meant that until last week he would only wear jeans 2-3 days a week.    However, his office moved last week to newly remodeled space in one of the City Buildings   (the Soviets definitely knew how to build government -  there are government office buildings of one sort or another everywhere).   Anyway, they all had assumed that the relaxed dress code moved with them, until there was a decree from the Mayor that everyone working at that particular City Building must from then on wear dress clothing every day.   No jeans, no tennis shoes, etc.   Back to dress pants and long sleeve dress shirts and ties and sport coats.   Don’s comments on the matter:   “Four of the five of us were wearing jeans as he gave us the message.  And even with the language barriers, my colleagues did understand me when I said ‘that sucks’ after he left.”    So among other things, we are contributing to their understanding of the English language….


We have taken some time over the past few weekends to explore our part of the world.   A couple of weeks ago we went about 5 hours one way to a city of about 100,000 called Kamylnets Podilysky.   There is a fort/castle there, built about 1000 years ago.   As with just about everything else we have visited, for a very small price of admission (in this case $2.00 American) you can climb and explore anywhere you want, from basements to the towers.   Sometimes there are railings on the very steep steps, and sometimes there are not.   Most of the 7 towers of the castle/fort do not match, as the towers were built and finished by whoever owned the castle/fort at the time.   So they have Turkish towers, Russian towers, and also Polish.   There is also a very large and interesting and beautiful old Catholic Church in the town -  except that the town was conquered by the Turks a few hundred years ago, and while the Turks (Muslims) had control of the town and the church, they built a very large minaret in front of the otherwise very Catholic church.    So when the Polish/Russians/Ukrainians regained control of the town and the church again, they were stuck with this very large minaret in front of their otherwise very proper church.   So now there is a very large, very very bright gold Virgin Mary on top of the Muslim minaret…

Then last weekend we went to a town called Uman – about three hours one way.   All these travels have been by autobus – some of the autobuses have been old and rickety, some of them not too bad.   All however stop by the side of the road anytime there is someone standing there who wants a ride to the next town.   Which means that our three hour trip would probably only take half that time if we didn’t stop for everyone (and their chickens – it is interesting sharing a bus with small livestock).   Anyway, it rained the entire time we were in Uman, but we still had a good time.   There is a fantastic beautiful large park/garden there that a nobleman built in the early 1800's for his wife (who rewarded him by having an affair with his son by a previous marriage, but that is another story).    We had to buy two new umbrellas (silly us, we believed the weather forecast that said it would not rain that day) but we still stayed and walked all over - many paths, fountains, lakes, little statutes, lots of places to explore.    Then the next night we went to a jazz concert in Vinnytsia -  some international jazz festival that was passing through.     

This weekend is the “birthday” celebration for Vinnytsia.    653 years old..   We wonder what happened 653 years ago that established that this was a town -  but in any event, we are looking forward to the celebration, which will include what looks like a great outdoor classical music concert.  We are really hoping the rain stops.

 So such is our life.   And we actually do go to work sometimes, and are trying to keep our respective “employers” happy with us.   In the meantime, we wish you all well, and also do sincerely wish that it would quit raining here.    Keep in touch – we enjoy hearing from you.    Don and Karen


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