A few observations and the last few days of training

Well, we swear in next Thursday in Kyiv. This will be the swearing in celebrating Peace Corps 50th Anniversary of public service and the organization is planning some pretty serious stuff for us. Invitations have been delivered to public officials in Ukraine, some big names included and there was a lottery for current volunteers to attend. So who is all attending and what is going to happen? I mean, that is the most appropriate question at this point, right? Answer: I have absolutely no idea. Sorry, but that’s the deal right now. Nothing like anticipation and build-up, huh? I’ll take pictures but I can’t promise any sort of update until after I get to sight. See some of us will be leaving immediately from swearing in to head to our sites in various locations throughout Ukraine. We will find out where we are going and our primary organization next Monday.

To determine where we are heading, our Lead Specialist, Marat spends hours interviewing possible sites (think sponsoring organization) and meets with trainees as well. Our site placement interview is conducted to assist in the final decision-making process as there are specific follow-up questions from both Marat and a prospective regional manager. Oleh was the regional manager I met with and we hit it off great. He thoroughly appreciated the fact that I responded to his initial question “So, tell us again your motivation for joining the Peace Corps” with “Would you like the long or the short version?” For the record, I gave the short version. Concise, yet effective. I’ll spare the idiosyncrasies of the entire conversation and just say that I was happy with how it went and continue to be validated in my decision to apply to the Peace Corps in the first place. I trust that everything is going to work out just fine, regardless, I’ll live.

Tomorrow, Wednesday June 8th, we will have our Language Placement Interview (LPI) to determine our language ability. As Community Development Volunteers, we will be expected to achieve the Intermediate-Mid level. What does that mean? It means I will be expected to “Create with language, ask and answer simple questions on familiar topics, and handle a simple situation or transaction.” Also, with the “mid” ranking my “performance at the level is strong, showing good quantity and quality. Speakers perform the functions of the level with ease, fluency, and confidence. When challenged to the functions of the level above, speakers demonstrate some ability in those functions, but clearly do not have enough control of those functions to confuse the interviewer into thinking they belong to the level above.” I feel pretty confident that I can handle basic necessities right now – it just a matter of not choking when it comes time to sit down and speak.

Finally, I’ve included some fairly recent pictures and a list of some things I’ve noticed during my time here. The only regret I have so far is that I did not apply to do this sooner. However, the experiences I have had leading up to this point certainly help with my daily outlook. Enjoy! Next time I post, it will be from the new home for the next two years. Congrats to the UWF Argos (Master’s Degree) on the D2 National Championship for baseball and props to JMU and Texas State for making the D1 Regionals and winning their prospective conferences! As always, Go Sox!

What about Ukraine?

There are some interesting cultural differences between the United States and Ukraine. This is a lighthearted list of some of the few things I have noticed and felt worth sharing. Both of our cultures (American and Ukrainian) interpret these appropriately for how each society operates. Seeing/experiencing one of these for the first time is always entertaining.

  1. All food is eaten. None is wasted. If you do not eat it for dinner that’s fine – it will be on your plate for breakfast the next morning and so on (there is historical significance for why this happens).
    1. However, you had better make sure that you express that you are full, otherwise it will be construed that you did not like the meal…
  2. If one’s house is in a village, your animals – for the most part – spend their time outside and you wonder why people in the city let their pets inside; clearly animals are dirty.
  3. It is quite possible that you have eaten some other animal(s) that: i) you originally thought were chicken; ii) complimented the cook on how good it tasted; iii) unknowingly responded “Yes, I enjoyed it/like it/etc.;” iv) had an interesting response when finally looking up the English equivalent in the dictionary.
  4. Raw eggs right out of the shell are actually quite tasty. Just crack the top, sprinkle some salt in there and shoot it straight down the hatch. The eggs need to be “cvezhy” or fresh…did I not mention that you have a chicken coup in your backyard.
  5. Also delicious: raw garlic. Just grab a clove and start biting off small pieces or pop the whole thing in your mouth. Maybe even dip it in some salt if you’re into that.
  6. Salo, or raw pig fat, is delicious when served room temperature. Seriously, this stuff is awesome and legitimately nutritious. Most Americans are terrified because it is raw, not cooked, and well, it’s fat (usually purchased in a bazaar, straight from the “butcher” and with the skin attached).
  7. Green borshch is better than red borshch – in my humble opinion – but both are very tasty. It is called Zelonie (green transliteration), is served with spinach instead of beets and has plenty of garlic, onion, and fresh meat.
  8. What, American children are incapable of riding public transportation by themselves? Do they not speak? Why can your child not just sit in the front where everyone can see him or her and right next to a babushka (Russian word for grandmother…stress on the first syllable BA-boo-shka) that looks like she could take Mike Tyson in his prime? Stop being so soft…Somewhere, there is an American mother shuddering at the sheer thought of that.
  9. Holodets is not as bad as some people have made it out to be. The first taste is strange, but after a few spoonfuls one gets over the fact of eating minced meat jello…and I’m not talking the Bill Cosby kind either.
  10. There is no stopping a Ukrainian Babushka. Try all you want, but your efforts are futile. Just a few examples:
    1. “Are you full?” – “Yes, thank you very much. That was delicious.” – “Here’s more. Eat!” – “No, thank you. I’m full, seriously.” – “So? Eat!
    2. There will be “chai” – tea, not the type but the actual word is Russian for tea – three or four times a day. Don’t bother saying no, as your cup is already being poured and also has the number of sugars you typically take. Bab: “Oh, here is a plate of cookies, some fresh vegetables, some bread, and some sliced up pork. Would you also like some cheese? Here you go.” Seriously, I thought we were just having tea…we literally JUST finished dinner.
    3. “I have already washed all of your clothes and ironed them for you. Are you hungry yet?”
    4. Lines do not exist as far as babushka is concerned – and if one does, she is at the front. Don’t even bother, just wait your turn.
    5. Do NOT mess with my garden! Are you hungry yet?

11. Americans drink too much water. What is wrong with having four cups of tea during the day? You can get plenty hydrated from eating fresh vegetables.

12. Who needs a bathroom for just women and another for just men? Use common sense, put the seat up or down based on your needs. This expedites the whole process for everyone actually.

13. Addendum to 10.d: Lines do not exist, period. This is actually something that is understood in Ukraine and there is a system associated with it. The earlier one figures out the system, the more successful one becomes at getting to the front. Language development helps as well. Put it this way, when you know what you want, say it. Think American system in a bar in terms of how to order drinks and you’ve pretty much grasped the system here. Truthfully, this is pretty effective and after the initial shock is appreciated.

14. Did I mention this yet: Do not cross Babushka. Her word is final and there is no point whatsoever in arguing. I appreciate being asked my opinion on a regular basis, however I know that this will not change anything…this is often also very entertaining at times as well.

15. Cell phones are not to be ignored. If the phone rings, you answer it. However, if you do not, you simply must have not got to your phone fast enough therefore it will ring again immediately after. This can happen at any time: meeting with local administration, meetings with organization representatives, even in language class. The phone rings, you answer it – unless you are currently meeting with someone more important than the individual calling. Also, the conversation will most likely begin before the recipient has left the room.

16. You’re 28? What does your wife think of you being here? Wait, what do you mean you don’t have a wife…ok, so how many kids do you have? None?!? We must find you a good Ukrainian wife who can cook, clean, and take care of you. Don’t worry; we’ve got a list of at least 10 for you. Who has a phone? Time to make some calls.

17. Speaking of that, why are you in our country anyways? Oh, ok you will be volunteering. Community development; yeah, got it. Still, why are you here? Why would you leave a job, car and everything else just to come here? That makes no sense, silly American.

18. To get the waitress’ or shop attendant’s attention it is expected to simply say “dayvooshkah,” or “girl” and proceed with your question/statement. Strange for American culture, yes. However, using the polite translation “Excuse me, would you mind…” may be met with a puzzled look.

19. A look of complete shock followed by a smile when you spit out a question, statement, or response in Russian is a compliment. It is a bigger compliment when the conversation is continued in slow Russian, they really do appreciate it.

20. Ukrainian men have it made. This is more than a superficial statement, seriously. Let me put it this way…the next batch of scientists looking to create the worlds most impressive machine capable of EVERYTHING, clone a Ukrainian woman. No offense to anyone, but man am I impressed. There really doesn’t seem to be anything they can’t do…including run after a bus in heels. Not jog; full out sprint.

21. Commercials last 15 minutes. I’ve learned that this is to allow for chai or to quickly inhale your food during a show. This makes for long uninterrupted viewing periods. It’s almost like watching a movie, which would be why shows are referred to as “keno” or “movie.”

22. Speaking of commercials, like in America Ukraine has alcoholic beverage commercials. The main difference is that, instead of having Lance Armstrong display athletic prominence and celebrate with a frosty Michelob Ultra in his hand Ukraine will show people enjoying the beverage and…wait for it…actually drinking it! On TV! Wow! You know what else? The word “beer” or “peevah” is actually used in the commercials too! Shocking development…they might be on to something here.

23. That centerline in the middle of the road is nonexistent. If you are driving too slow, you will be passed. This can be in the city or in a rural area…however, just to be safe, blinkers will be used at all times and are not considered to be optional.


3 thoughts on “A few observations and the last few days of training

  1. Great post Pete!

    Raw eggs, raw garlic, pig fat… Welp, that settles it, I’m never going to Ukraine. Still have no idea what borshch is; green or red. From the sounds of the other commonly eaten foods, not sure I could handle it.

    Also the pictures with the children crawling all over your head: hilarious.

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