Sunday, July 29, 2007

Overview of summer goings on

Well, after three months of neglect, here's a brief rundown of what's been keeping me busy this summer.

In general, my life in the summer consists of long periods of boredom punctuated by periods of intense action. Right now I'm in the doldrums of a boring period. It's gotten to the point where I am even anxious for classes to start just to give some structure to my day. Thankfully I will be leaving for a camp on the Black Sea coast in a little over a week, and shortly after that our group will have our close of service conference out west.

Two of my brothers, Sam and Zack, came to visit. I met then in Kyiv and we spent a couple days there before coming to my village. We also saw Yalta and Lviv. Zack sustained some minor head trauma. It was great.

My friend Mike married his longtime girlfriend, Alina, and I was asked to be best man. Sam and Zack's visit coincided with the ceremony, so they got to witness firsthand the chaos of a Ukrainian wedding.

My host sister Masha graduated from high school as a "gold medalist," the Ukrainian equivalent to our valedictorian. She wants to study at Shevchenko University in Kyiv, like her brother Vova, and will most likely enroll in the fall.

I went to a three-day folk music festival with some other volunteers a few weeks ago, which was awesome. We camped out and everything, just like real hippies. Unfortunately I don't have any pics, but there are some posted on the festival's website:

I've been taking some pictures around my village. It gives me an excuse to leave the apartment. I like it; I might take up landscape photography as a hobby when I get back.

I still can't get rid of the kittens. They're great, but at least one of them refuses to use the litter boxes, which is a nuisance to say the least. Paying my students to feed them when I'm gone is adding up, too. Most of all I'm just worried about finding them a home before winter comes and I have to abandon them.

So that's my summer in a nutshell. To those of you who were looking for a more detailed update, I'm sorry, but I'm lazy. I should get a few more updates posted before my term is up, which is not too long from now. I don't find out for sure until August, but it looks like mid-November I will be saying goodbye to Ukraine.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Spring Break!

Happy May Day! In honor of the holiday we have been given Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off. This seems a bit much to me, but I can always use a break from school, especially now in the hectic run up to final testing, so I have been dutifully not working for the last four days. Travel-weary and short on money I decided not to go anywhere, opting instead to lounge around the apartment, do some GRE prep and leisure reading (nearly finished Orlando Figes' massive history of the Russian revolution), and finally post these pics taken at the end of March over spring break.

I spent the first few days in Lviv visiting volunteer friends. I also et up with Grinnell friends Cassie and Paul, who were residing in Amsterdam at the time and were also traveling over the break. I had been to Lviv before, but acting as tour guide I got to see some of the sights that I hadn't seen on previous trips. Other highlights include throwing the frisbee around one day, which I hadn't done in over a year, and introducing our guests to Ukrainian drinking culture.

Following that I crossed the border to Poland to meet Katie in Krakow. Rather than take the expensive but straightforward Lviv-Krakow train I decided to take a bus to the border, walk across the border, then take another train from the Polish border town of Pzsemysl (a name you can't pronounce properly without a mouth full of stewed cabbage) to Krakow. Somehow I made it to the hostel and found Katie there, an especially incredible feat considering I neglected to print out the hostel's address and relied on 'dead reckoning' to find it. Maps are for suckers.

Krakow was awesome, one of the best trips I've made since coming to Ukraine. I got to see Katie and most of my other Wisconsin friends over Christmas, but it's always good to see old friends, especially in foreign settings. We stayed in a great hostel - Mama's - better than any Mike and I stayed in last summer when we toured western Europe. Within minutes of arriving they were serving cake and coffee in the common room and I took that as a good omen.

We had three days in Krakow. Days we walked around seeing the touristy stuff, and we could afford to go to some clubs at night since the cost of living (i.e. cost of beer) in Poland is low. We sampled some good Polish beers, although after a few Katie got pretty bitey. It's obvious from this picture she's trying to take a chunk out of my torso. I had marks for days.

We also took a side trip to some salt mines. I think they're the largest salt mines in the world. We learned a lot of interesting salt trivia. Did you know it used to be used as currency in some regions? Yep, salt.

So all in all it was an excellent break, even if exhausting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I had planned to make my next update about spring break, but these kitten pictures are just begging to be posted first. The mother - I hesitate to call her my cat; she's more of a cat that comes to my apartment for food and shelter when she feels like it - has been living with me on and off since last fall. A mouse was giving me some trouble so I picked this cat up off the street. More concretely, I picked her up out of the dumpster, hence her name, "Garbage Cat" (although I have also been calling her "Anyang" lately). She took care of the mouse and kept coming back after that, which was fine with me; I liked the company, and once I started feeding her she gave up dumpster diving and no longer smelled like garbage. She had this litter of three last Tuesday. Two are splotchy black and white, like her, the third is black and tan. It's hard to tell, but I think the split is two female and one male.

I'll get those spring break pics up hopefully within the next week.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Birthday and St. Patrick's in Kyiv

I took a long weekend to spend my birthday and St. Patrick's in Kyiv. I might have decided to stay in the village - that seemed like the wiser decision, as I am saving money for the Poland trip next week, and I was recovering from a cold - but I rarely get a chance to see other volunteers and I knew that St. Patrick's always draws a good sized crowd. The prospect of spending my birthday in Lepetykha was also slightly depressing. In the end, I spent too much money and subjected my body to more abuse than I should have, but I had a blast and I'm glad I went.

I didn't get a chance to talk to mom on Friday (the 16th), but I imagine she would have been amused had she know I was spending my birthday exclusively in the company of females. "This is what it would have been like if I'd had sisters," I kept telling myself. We met up at Jocelyn's apartment in Kyiv for margaritas early in the evening, then took the party to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner. The ladies treated me well; I only had to wield my birthday privilege a handful of times when the conversation veered into territory that I deemed "too feminine for my birthday." Karmically, I think I had this coming. I was still coming off my head cold and the overnight train, so after dinner and a few drinks we called it a (relatively) early night and I went to bed satisfied after one of the best birthdays in recent memory.

Any progress I made on my cold by going to bed early on Friday was utterly destroyed by Saturday's events. We moved from Jocelyn's to a rented apartment in order to accommodate the additional volunteers coming in for the 17th. We stayed in and cooked dinner this time (pasta with vegetables) before heading to O'Brien's Pub for the main event. The bar was packed with an interesting mix of Ukrainians and Anglophone peoples, most sipping green Slavutych (a Ukrainian beer, though usually amber) or Guinness. Two bands played, the first a six-piece acoustic outfit playing Irish folk music (Pop, you would probably have gotten a kick out of them) followed by a rock band that played a set of U2 covers, a set of 90s alt-rock hits, and as an encore... they repeated their first set of U2 songs. To drive the point home, they played a U2 concert DVD between sets. The music was fine, but after a while I started feeling like it was St. Bono's Day. They had a raffle around midnight, and from our group of ten partygoers, two won bottles of whiskey. We would have won a third, but I gave that ticket away to a little girl seconds before they called the number. I have no idea what she did with the whiskey, or what she was doing at a bar on midnight for that matter, but she seemed thrilled to win. We stayed out, as the Irish say, 'till the wee hours, met some interesting people, drank bit too much, danced like idiots and screamed until we lost our voices; I think I did my Irish ancestors proud.

My camera's batteries died before we made it to the bar, so that's why I don't have any pictures. I'm trying to get some sent to me; I'll post them if and when they come through.

Mushrooms are back in season. Life is good.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Gem From Class

Some boys in my eleventh grade class produced something last week that I just had to share. we were writing dialogues to fit pictures that I had passed out. This dialogue was meant to be between a young boy and girl:

- Hi! My name is Kuzma. I am 13, and you?
- Hello! My name is Galka, I am 12.
- You a very beautiful girl.
- Oh, no! I am a simple, simple girl. But whatever, thank you!
- Give me please you number of telephone.
- Okey, but first you must do one my pleasure.
- All you want.
- You will be kill three-heads dragon, he lives in Karpaty (the Carpathian Mountains)
- Why, you afraide him?
- Every year he flied in our village and eat one beautiful girl. I am a next.
- Oh no! I kill him my jedi sword. Good buy, my love, wait me with victory.
2 month later
- Galka! Galka! Where are you my darling?
- I here, Kuzma, come to me!
- I kill that dragon (one left hand) and now, give me you telephone number.
- Kuzma, sorry but for this 2 month telephone is broken.
- Marring me Galka I love you!
- Okey, Kuzma I am stay with you.
They live long and happy and die in one day.

You can't make this stuff up.

Up next: birthday and St. Patrick's Day, hopefully with pictures.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

More Basketball

Two weeks ago our team competed in a second tournament, this time in Kakhovka, a medium-sized city two hours by bus down the river towards the capitol, Kherson. To our disappointment, only two other teams showed: Kakhovka (the hosts) and Rohachyk (a small, funny sounding village north of Lepetykha - I guess that's the pot calling the kettle black). Our team was joined by three recent graduates who now study at the institute in Kherson: Yura, Zhenya, and Maks. Yura is great with the ball and a lights-out shooter, probably the best player on our team. Zhenya hustles and drives to the hoop like he's Allen Iverson, which has mixed results. Maks is lanky and can shoot 3's. These three, myself, and Kostya (Rubanovka's star player, who joined us for the tournament) made up the starting five.

We beat Rohachyk like a rented mule. The second half they only scored two points. If that game had been the movie "Police Academy," their team would have been the bad guys and our team would have been Tackleberry(sp?).

Kakhovka is the best team in the Oblast, and although they beat us, we gave them a run for their money. I think we had the skill to beat them, but they had the psychological edge. This was partly due to homefield advantage and partly to do with the ogre they had playing guard. He was great with the ball and could slam dunk. He also had a bad attitude. The rest of their team was mediocre, but we just couldn't calm down. I think we lost by six.

The next Wednesday was the annual student-faculty game. We also rocked them, our four against their five. Myself and our phys. ed. teacher, Valentin Oleksandrovych - Valik, could play. The two janitors (male teachers are rare in Ukraine) could not. It was quite a spectacle. Faculty represented.

I know it probably seems like I am obsessing over basketball, but honestly speaking that's the most interesting thing I've got going on right now. School, GRE prep, and the search for grad programs aren't much fun to write about. I read a lot (John D. MacDonald, Stephen King, and a book on the Russian revolution most recently) for fun, play a little bandura, and travel every other weekend. I'd say boredom is a sure sign I've adjusted to my environment. Fortunately March and beyond are shaping up to be rather interesting. I'll do my best to update you on the progress.

coming soon: My birthday & St. Patrick's Day in Kyiv, Spring Break in the west (Poland? Katie?), and the Hanes Invasion.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

basketball tournament

To those who have been checking the site over the last couple of months expecting an update, I apologize for the delay. In an effort to atone for my lack of updates, this one will be a "double whammy." From now on I'll do my best to keep to my promise of one update every two weeks, or at the very least once a month, so keep checking.

First, I would like to say in my own defense that I do have some reasonable excuses for being a deadbeat blogger. Number one on my litany of excuses is my trip back to Wisconsin for the winter holidays. It was great to be back and see family and friends, drive a car, go to the movies, eat American cuisine (El Azteca, Sueanne's bagels - lord I missed those). Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures over break. I have a few pics that my mom took on my camera, but those are of - as anyone who knows Cindy Hanes should be able to guess - the dogs. No family, although technically Sam's leg is in a couple of those photos, so if I ever get nostalgic for the ass-kickings of my youth I guess these pics can help me out with that. My other excuse involves a trip to Kyiv in late January that I was obliged to make not long after my return to Velyka Lepetykha. So give me a break, I've been busy.

As you may have deduced from the title of this entry, I recently took part in a basketball tournament. This was a complete surprise to me; there was no mention of this earlier and I showed up Saturday morning expecting a pickup game as usual. If living in Ukraine has taught me anything, it is to keep a flexible schedule. I went with it. Tournament? Sure, let's go.

Two recent graduates from my school, three current students, the phys. ed. teacher and myself represented Velyka Lepetykha in a round-robin against three other teams from the region. One of those teams consisted of only five inexperienced high school students and had no coach, so I sat the bench for that one. The other two were from the same village, Rubanovka, the "A" and "B" teams. We made short work of the B squad and it became evident that this would be a two-team tournament. The final against Rubanovka A was a tight game and tempers were flaring. We had one ref, an older man who didn't know much about the rules of the game, and he took a good deal of abuse from players on both sides (although more so from their players, including their forty-something year old coach who has obviously never heard of "being the bigger man"). Our side played well and won the first half but lost our stride late in the third quarter and never got it back. We lost 58-42.

Our second place prize was a basketball worth sixty hryvnias (twelve dollars). Without discussion, we took the ball to the "supermarket," sold it, ad split the profits. I declined my share on the pretext that Peace Corps volunteers aren't allowed to earn money while serving (actually a rule) but they persisted. As much as Ukrainians are short of money, I find most of them scorn the idea of charity, which was what they saw my refusal as. I took the money and treated my teammates to a round of beers (NA for the minors), which was not below their pride.

This Friday we will be taking part in another tournament in Kakhovka. I'll try to remember to take my camera this time and take some pictures.