November 08, 2008

Greetings from Vinnytsia –   Hope you are all well and not suffering too badly from withdrawal, now that there is no election news to watch every second of every minute of every hour of every day….

We have found Ukrainians to be very interested in our election process, and most of our friends and acquaintances were rooting for Obama.   Many of them are also envious that we had two candidates that both were worthy of support;   Ukrainians will have their version of a parliamentary election in a month or so (maybe, there is some discussion as to whether the election would be legal), and we have yet to meet anyone who is excited about any of their candidates.   Most of them, if given the option, would vote for None Of The Above.   Which is too bad, but that seems to be where they are right now.  We did presentations for all our classes on Obama and McCain;  just the facts, we tried not to show any bias for either.   Peace Corps absolutely forbids us to become involved in politics – either theirs or ours – so we have to remain outwardly neutral.   The local newspaper called on election day and wanted to interview Karen about what was going on, but since anything we say to the press has to be cleared in writing by Peace Corps Central ahead of time, and there was obviously not time to get that done, we had to pass.    For those of you who are wondering, however, we did get to vote.   We are happy to report that the absentee ballot system is alive and well in Dodge County, Nebraska, and our ballots arrived about three weeks ago.   And were then promptly filled out and mailed back.

We should tell you too about one adventure we have had that we didn’t exactly plan on…   Don developed a hernia, no doubt related to our trying to carry everything we need for two years in three suitcases, but anyway, it needed to be dealt with.    So he met with the Peace Corps doctors in Kiev, thinking that this would be routine and it could be taken care of in Kiev (in the USA it is normally done as an outpatient procedure), but they said NO, it had to be American doctors in Washington, DC.   So off he went.   Peace Corps paid for his transportation, hotel, and all medical bills, but they offered nothing to me.   Except the opportunity to go along if we paid all of my expenses.   And they also said:  Oh and by the way, when you are in Washington you can’t stay with Don, he has to stay at a “Peace Corps” hotel, and he will have a roommate.   So by the time we added up transportation, a hotel in Washington, DC for me plus food and everything else we were about to $4,000.   Which was a little more than we wanted to spend on a “vacation” where we couldn’t even be together.   So off he went, and even though they did it on an out-patient basis there and he got along fine, with government paperwork and appointment scheduling etc he was still gone 16 days.    But back to the out-patient “experience” – when they send you “home” (to the Washington DC hotel) on the same day you have the surgery it is still a little hard to manage, so our children stepped in and took care of him.  They arrived in Washington “in shifts” to stay for a few days each, some with grandchildren and some without.   So in case you are feeling sorry for Don being sent off to Washington for surgery, please don’t!    He had a rather fine time (minus the small matter of the surgery….) and was quite well taken care of.   Plus got to see the Amy’s new little one, Elias Tenzing Hader, born last May..  And he was a good patient and got cleared to return to Ukraine in record time (8 days post surgery) which made both of us very happy.

So in the meantime, Karen was left in Ukraine to keep our joint classes going and other matters like the continual struggles with our apartment..   Our daughter Amy has suggested that we could make a television show somewhat similar to “This Old House”.   Except the part of the show where we show how we fix it up would be very short and in some weeks non-existent.     Don’t know if we have mentioned it lately, but we have been battling our “shower” ever since we moved in, and the “shower” may have finally won.   It sort of worked for a while, but now that three shower heads in a row have fallen apart even as we were taking a shower, and the water flow is down to a bare trickle, we have conceded..   Despite our best efforts, when all is said and done, old Soviet plumbing is still old Soviet plumbing, and other than bulldozing the entire bathroom there is probably little that one can do.  So we now “shower” in the kitchen in front of the sink with a washcloth.   It does have the advantage that the kolonka is over the sink, so we can turn the water temperature up or down and the water off or on without needing to run back and forth between the bathroom and the kitchen.   So in many ways this is actually an improvement.   Or so we tell ourselves…  And maybe when we write our next letter we’ll have something to say about the toilet problem getting resolved, but since this has only been an issue for about six weeks obviously we have no progress yet to report.  But hey, there’s some good news here too: Don got all the wiring and switches problems resolved and we now have cool things like a lamp so we can read in bed, and we got a metal four-shelf unit (the kind we buy in the states to put in the garage) to serve for storage in lieu of a file cabinet, so the apartment is at least functional other that the lingering plumbing problems. 

Our jobs continue to be interesting if not exactly quite what we thought we would be doing.    I (Karen) am currently in the process of putting together a slide show of pictures of happy kids/sick kids/disadvantaged kids etc to show behind the band(s) while they perform at a rock concert/benefit for a home for disabled type kids that my organization is having here the end of November.   And please don't tell the Ukrainians, but if you look very closely at the pictures in the slide show you will see several of some very wonderful American grandchildren.   We have six bands coming to the rock concert.   There were 27 that applied to come, so we spent one afternoon listening to demo tapes and getting the list down to six.   Interesting – but Bart and Kelly, I need your help in figuring out how this fits on the resume!

One of my (Karen) other activities is an English Club for the youth volunteers at my organization.   We meet every Friday evening, and they are very interested in any and all things American.   One of the challenges for an English Club here however is that the participants have a widely varying ability to speak and understand English, and the programs and discussions need to include everyone.   We have some in our Club that understand very little English (but who really want to learn), but yet I have one girl who is studying English at one of the local universities.  She wants to go on and become an attorney, but for now is just trying to complete her English program.   I have been helping her on the side with what seems to be their equivalent of a thesis, her topic is Morphemes and Affixes in the English language.   Don’t know if any of you have ever heard of such (I hadn’t before she came along), but whoever invented this stuff definitely had too much time on their hands…..

Don continues to work on the web-site he is creating for his organization (even while in Washington – he did not take his good lap-top with him, but a cheap Russian version we bought here.  It at least gave him access to the internet, and he could work on his projects from a distance.)    His organization has gotten a little side-tracked lately however;   the local Vinnytsia government passed a law (without any advance notice or warning to anyone) that the sale of liquor after 9:00 in the evening is prohibited.  Needless to say there are more than a couple business people who are not amused.   And since Don’s organization exists to help local business, they are knee deep in a possible lawsuit.   And yes Vinnytsia and for that matter all of Ukraine has more than their share of alcoholics and we get tired of seeing people with their  cigarettes in one hand and their beer in the other on the streets at all times of the day and night (including 9:00 in the morning), but that doesn’t mean that Prohibition is the answer.   And certainly not to make such a drastic change overnight at the Rada session with no notice to anyone that it was even going to be on the agenda, which really upset my organization and its clients since one of the eternal issues in Ukrainian politics is the need for transparency and doing away with the old Soviet ways of doing things.   So we will let you know how that one goes.

Not much else going on -  so far it is chilly here, but not cold and all in all it has been a lovely fall.   If we don’t get a chance to write again soon we wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.   Unfortunately we do not get the day off;   Peace Corps Central (we love government) does give the day off to the Peace Corps office in Kiev (the staff there is 2 Americans and 38 Ukrainians), but the 350+ Peace Corps volunteers in Ukraine do not get the day off.   Go figure.    Anyway, write soon and take care.

Don and Karen


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