October 11, 2008 

Greetings to all! All is well here – we are enjoying beautiful fall weather, and hope you are also.   But we are also happy to report that we are now ready for winter, so it can come anytime.  Because we were limited to three suitcases each (two of them carry-on size) when we came, some things got left behind because we didn’t have room, including winter coats and boots.   We had left them with Amy in Chicago, and she sent them about 5 weeks ago with a shipping company called MEEST that does deliver to the Ukraine.   So a couple of evenings ago we were almost on our way out the door when the boxes showed up – what would have happened if we hadn’t been home we don’t want to think about, but it was like Christmas opening them and finding all the things we had forgotten that we packed, plus the fun things that our kids had added!

 We are also happy to report that we almost have a light in our kitchen now.  The fixture is actually sitting on the kitchen table.  It was purchased by our landlady, and is a very ugly bright green, but we don’t care.   The electrician was supposed to come two days ago to install it so Don stayed home but no electrician, so yesterday he was supposed to come to install it, so Karen stayed home all day to wait for him, but he still didn’t come and when we finally called him about 2:30 he told us that he was called to an emergency meeting of all the electricians in town and he wouldn’t be able to come.   So now he is scheduled to come next Tuesday, and it will be Don’s turn again to stay home all day and wait for him.   We will let you know.

We took a few days off a couple of weeks ago to go be tourists and had a wonderful time.   Peace Corps has several “working groups” – most of them do very good and useful things like work on AIDS, help with the disabled, etc. etc., but there is one “working group” that is for “older Peace Corps volunteers” (over age 50) whose sole function is to find an interesting/historical/beautiful place to go and have a “meeting”.   This time the “meeting” was in Crimea -  the “meeting” itself lasted about an hour, and then it was off to see what there was to see.   Crimea is beautiful – and we are hoping to be able to go back.   It is the very southern part of Ukraine, and on the Black Sea.  Although part of Ukraine, it is actually an “autonomous republic”, whatever that means, and is very very Russian.   It is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and it was sobering to see all the Russian battleships cruising in the harbor of Sevastopol.   We were told not to take pictures of the ships, but being unable to resist the challenge we did anyway….   To get to the Crimea was a 17 hour overnight train ride.   We had two small berths in a “coupe” – consists of four small berths (two upper and two lower) in a very small enclosed space.   You pack your own food and hope that your companions do not snore or drink or eat smelly sausage.   We had very nice companions on the way home, very friendly, and companions who were not excited at all about sharing their coupe with Americans on the way there, and they didn’t talk to us at all.

Anyway, while at the Crimea we stayed in Sevastopol, but also went on a couple of “excursions” – one to the site of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War (made famous by Tennyson), and another to Yalta.   Among other things, Yalta is the home of Lividia Palace, where Stalin and Churchill and Roosevelt met toward the end of World War II to divide up Europe.   We toured the palace – absolutely gorgeous.  The Palace was actually built in the early 1900’s to be the summer home of Tsar Nicholas and his family (who were later executed in the 1917 Revolution) so the second floor was full of mementos, furniture, pictures, etc. from Nicholas and his family.   We also took a day to go for a 6 hour hike in the Crimean mountains.   Very very beautiful – up high on cliffs and in forests along the Black Sea.   Ended up in a small harbor town called Balaclava.   It is home to the underground (under a mountain) place that the Russians used to repair and hide submarines during the Cold War.   It is now a museum.   It also has the remains of a Genoese fort, left over from when Genoa ruled Crimea several hundred years ago.

If any of you have followed the events in the former Soviet country of Georgia, you may have heard discussions that Crimea could be the next Georgia, and we would have to agree.   We talked with several (well educated) natives, all of whom think that Crimea should be a part of Russia and not Ukraine.   A couple of reasons –  it is acknowledged that Crimea is really only a part of Ukraine by accident, since Crimea was an independent little state until Kruschev “gave” the Crimea to Ukraine one day to celebrate his birthday (Kruschev was from Ukraine), back when they were all a part of the Soviet Union.  Also, Crimea is very very Russian speaking – including all signs, newspapers, language in the schools, and when visiting there you have no idea that Ukrainian is actually the official language of the country.   There is also a very strong feeling among the people that when they were a part of Russia they were a part of something big and important and powerful -  now that they are Ukraine, they say they are nothing.  So it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.   Russia has a contract with Ukraine to keep their Black Sea Fleet in Crimea until 2017, but there is as yet no sign that Russia will move out at that time.   And Crimea would like to keep them, since they are the Russians and also because the Russians pay about $92 million per year in rent to lease the base and harbor. But again, it does make you stop and think when you see the big Russian ships in the harbor and the Russian sailors all over the town.

Now a little about our work -  and believe it or not, we actually do go to “work”.   (We have trouble calling it that though, since our salaries in the Peace Corps are about $70 per month each.)     Among other things, we are both working on projects with the US Embassy in Ukraine.   They are very active and involved, and doing all they can to promote education and contact with the West.   Karen is working on a grant application with them to fund a three day seminar for about 8 regional NGO’s on how to work with mass media, how to create presentations, how to create short video clips, how to prepare promotional material, and what is the function of civic journalism..  All of this sounds pretty basic to us, but is still relatively new to them, since in Soviet times the government did everything like this for you.   She also just finished the English language version of a lengthy grant application for another organization;   this one is trying to raise funds from one of the Soros Foundations for study visits by local journalists, healthcare providers, educators, etc. to two other European countries (one of them to be a former Soviet bloc country) and then the production of 8 television talk shows in Ukraine about reforms taking place and life in general in these other countries.    Don is working with the Embassy on another project -  this one to promote student government in the universities.   The idea of an effective student government is something we take for granted – but still something completely new here.   It didn’t exist at all in Soviet times.   There is currently much fraud and corruption in higher education in Ukraine, especially in the admissions and grading processes, and since the higher education administrations are not doing anything about it (they are actually part of the problem) it is hoped that by building strong student government programs something can eventually be done.

So that is our life for now -  we are watching the political process in America with interest, and are trying not to watch the financial mess.   Please don’t tell us how badly our retirement funds are doing -  we don’t want to know!        Anyway, write soon and take care -   Don and Karen

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