My Peace Corps, Ukraine Journal Unedited... some of the information and ramblings below repeat themselves due to the fact they were taken from emails home to various people.  I am still digging up letters so this is incomplete 

 

June 20, 1999

Dobryi den! (letter to all)

Well, I bet you are all wondering what I'm up to? I'm spending the second week of ten more to come in Cherkassy City, Ukraine. The language classes are intensive, to say the least! The temperature here is around 32C (90F). The classroom temp is a bit higher! My group is great, and I've learned how to use: e-mail, the whacked out phone system, order a meal, (and a beer!), mail a letter, and even read Cyrillic (now I just have to figure out the meaning to the words I now know how to pronounce!?). When was the last time you took a trolley to work, washed your clothes by hand, or took a cold shower? Here it's a daily event. Showers here are a bit on the cold side.  However, they say the towns hot water should come back in about a month (I can't wait). I received my country assignment.  Starting the beginning of September I will miraculously become a University professor… Wow, that was not expected.  My assignment is final! COLLEGE LIFE HERE I COME! The university is called, Ternopil State Pedagogical University.  I will work under the department of Geography and Biological Sciences

Working as a Visiting Professor of Natural Resources, my responsibilities will include: 

1) Teaching load of ten course/hrs and eight hrs project consulting weekly.

2) Teach courses on Natural Resource Management and International Environmental Cooperation for approximately. 100 students.

3) Assist in implementing of the University environmental education programs; including: preparing course work, testing, and evaluation of students.

4) To work with National Nature Reservations, student ecological practicum's, and expeditions.

5) To teach/train modem and environmental software.

6) Work in conjunction with the local Nature Reserves to identify recreational and interpretive opportunities.

7) To search for financial support of University ecological projects utilizing grant writing skills.

8) Conduct outreach summer student ecology, interpretive and educational programs within Park Reserves.

Them say I will be provided with a personal office, classroom textbooks, computer, printer, telephone/fax (0352)33-10-24 w/message recording, E-mail, living accommodations (apartment in University teacher's dorm).

Back ground of University: The State Pedagogical University after V. Hnatyuk is one of the leading centers of higher pedagogical education of Western Ukraine, founded in 1940 in the town of Kremenets as a Teaching Institute. In 1969 it was moved to Ternopil and since 1997 has a status of Pedagogical University. There are 12 departments with enrollment of 8,456 students (about the size of Humboldt State) who are trained in 29 different specialties. Its reputation has been based on the rational combination of numerous traditions with gradual and stable development comprising new tendencies in modern technological higher education.

This is all I know about Ternopil right now.  Ternopil is a regional and administrative center with a population of 235,000 people. It was founded in 1540. In 1548 the town was granted the Magdeburg right. Since then there have survived but a few architectural memorials which are the witnesses of its history: the palace building of the former castle, the Church of Holy Cross-over-the Lake, the Easter Church and the Catholic Temple of the Dominican order. Ternopil is an important center of science and education in Ukraine. Pedagogical University, Academy of Natural Economy, Technological University, Medical Academy, a number of colleges and lyceums as well as secondary schools provide education for about 500,000 students.

By the way… e-mail for now is not only a test my fractured Ukrainian language skills, but a virtual test of the entire global communication network. In other words… don't expect many of these, or to e-mail me back.

Please respond by mail to: Mark Rayner, PCT U.S. Peace Corps 252001 Kyiv-1 P.O. Box 204 Ukraine

The mail takes about 2 week to reach me. I would love to hear from all or you, actually I'll be waiting for any letter from the states! In case you don't know… any mail can be opened on its way to me, so any cultural slander or sensitive topics could result in my termination! Oh yea, you can only send letters (NO PACKAGES) until I move to Ternopil in late August.

That's about it… Thanks for your friendship Mark Dopobachennya (or goodbye)

 

June 30, 1999

Dobryi den! (letter to mom)

Things are going fine here. We've already had one person "ET" (that's Early Termination) in other words he's going home. I'm still hangin in there. Our days consist of: 8am - 9am travel (walk) to teachers house 9am - 10am language class 10:10 - 12:30 more Language class 12:30 - 1:30 travel to Peace Corps Office 1:30-2pm lunch 2pm - 3:30: Ukraine Today, subjects vary from environmental issues, health, history, educational system, laws (by the way you can't sue anyone in Ukraine; file sexual harassment; and you can't call black people blacks, here they are Negroes). College is free here! If they had to pay for it, teachers would feel obligated to give them good grades… what a concept. (Actually, I here that's how many of them get good grades). 4pm-5:30: lessons on teaching in Ukraine. If you think Twain Harte Elem. is bad… you haven't seen anything!

I'm getting sick of this Host Family concept. They're not bad. I just get tired if telling people: where I'm going, when I'm leaving, when I'll be home, eating dinner at 5pm, getting told to turn out off my light, not being able to touch the stove or sink, being asked questions about everything I do and everywhere I go, having to take my shoes off, being asked daily why I don't want to swim in their radioactive, lead, daily toxic spill, nasty smelling, cholera, hepatitis infested river, and my favorite... having cockroaches in my mashed potatoes So on and so on... Ok, half of our crew agrees with me and the other half thinks were "culturally insensitive." Whatever.

 

July 6, 1999

Dobryi den (letter to mom)

Mom,  Can you find or do you know how to make pizza totally from scratch! Ukrainian pizza is the WORST! In addition, there is nowhere to buy pizza sauce that closely resembles American. Tomato paste, sauce, and spices are somewhat easy to locate but I have no idea how to make the dough or assemble sauce. Thanks.

And another thing…could you ask Alisha if she could look for a book I want. "Natural Resources Conservation, an ecological approach"; By Oliver S. Owen & Daniel D Chiras; Mcmillan Publishing Company. I have the Fifth Edition from 1990. I want a newer edition if available.

By the way I've discovered that they can't enforce a dress code… so I'm back in jeans. I not sure at this point that I like this place whatsoever; I think I would rather be an Africa. They tell me that a lot of people can't stand the training and host family thing, and they say that I will much happier at my site in Ternopil.

By the way two of us went A.W.O.L. Sunday and jumped a 5 hour bus ride to Kyiv to see a professional soccer game. Now that is a beautiful city, compared to this, well I am supposed to keep e-mail positive… so, I'll just say once you get to know this town, you could say that it compares to Hunters Point, SF. One day they say the river is safe to swim in and the next it's not… as if whatever is in the river went somewhere! So, I'm done swimming in it! Well, enough complaining, I cannot wait to get to site and do some work… I'm going stir-crazy sitting around here.

…more later, less now Love Mark

By the way don't forget to remind Andi that she's still I pip-squeak and more importantly a FREAK! And lastly I got her letter.

 

July 16, 1999

Dobryi den! (letter to a friend)

Wow, a Pizza Pizza to you to!

Well, I sure have gotten myself in over my head again. When my orders came in from Peace Corps I had no idea what they had in store for me. Ukraine! I had to pull out a map and find it. Then I get here and find out that they want me to work as a professor in the Ecology and Biology Department at Ternopil State Pedagogical University. What are they crazy!

Right now I'm in cultural and language training in Cherkassy, Uk. On August 24th I will be moving to my new home for two years in Ternopil, Uk. This place is nothing like I imagined. The water for town is heated at a plant that is shut down for the summer so the last time I touched hot (or warm) water was Chicago. Actually if you don't hit the shower before 11pm you'll discover that the town turns it off for the night.

They don't have any edible pizza here! For some reason the don't use tomato sauce and they think all pizza should have corn on it. I going crazy! They do have a McDonald's, but nobody can afford to go. The average hospital surgeon here makes $50 a month. There is so many differences here it's unbelievable.

Most people here dream of America; however, they are still scarred of us. The Peace Corps phones here are all tapped, we are starred at, and all restaurants try to double bill us.

I ant wait till I get to my site in Ternopil, this training sucks. There were 12 of us in my training group, although one of us was found dead last week! You may have heard, he was from Fremont, CA. That almost drove us all home, we're still getting over his death.

I wanted to send everyone postcards, although that appears impossible. Not because I can't mail them, but because the post office won't take them.

How do you like the stationary? It's the closest thing we have to a post card. It takes about two weeks to get mail to Ukraine and sometimes another week to get it to us here, so when it comes it really makes our day. Thanks for the letter!!!

 

August 8, 1999

Dobryi den! (letter to a friend)

Foreign correspondence doesn't seem so foreign when I to someone in my country, but it definitely puts things in perspective, not to mention its cool anyway. So, you want to know what Ukraine is like… it's a world slightly to the right of planet earth. It sounds like you like those SF busses. You should try Ukraine transportation. I've been on four bus trips and one train. Three of which were in busses that broke down every two kilometers, and one of which ended when the bus ran out of gas and the driver had no money for gas and told us we would have to hitch hike the rest of the way. The people here are not quit sure what to think or do with Americans, but most of them hate us anyway. That doesn't stop them from eating at McDonalds and worshipping our bands though. We get yelled at for speaking American at restaurants and "café's." Here's a tip: if you enjoy coffee don't visit a Ukrainian Café. Someone forgot to tell them that café's actually serve coffee. My accent sucks! I will be teaching in English. I'm teaching in the Masters program, and at that stage here they have to compile their thesis in English. I won't be far from Poland. I'm teaching at Ternopil Pedagogical University. If you want to check out Ukraine look me up. The town of Ternopil is the Central Europe party spot. Last Valentines Day over 40 PC volunteers gathered in Ternopil for a party. If it sounds like I'm talking about the future, it's because right I'm in "Cultural and Language Training," A.K.A. "A bunch of crap PC initiation." They say if we can make it through this we can make it through anything! I strongly believe that! So far, our group of 15 had 3 people bail out in Chicago, 1 get sent back to the states, and one of us mysteriously found dead, and one more is going home next week. This country will make you crazy, those of us who came here crazy are fine. If you want to visit Ukraine (for some crazy reason) you have to get an invitation from a citizen before they will give you a visa. It's kinda weird for a country that is BROKE! To restrict tourism. The Peace Corps Volunteers here (including myself) are all green card carrying citizens of Ukraine. They had to do that so we could stay here, and be able to have our families visit us.

Cyrillic alphabet Someday we will have to meet each other.

 

August 2, 1999

Dobriy den! (letter to all)

I heard a Ukrainian proverb when I first arrived, I really thought it was funny until I lived here for a month now I understand it, …… loosely translated it states; "My house is far away, I know nothing here." Although I understand it, I also realize that the nothing that I know is a lot more than the people here know.

Anyway… here are some pictures of Cherkassy and my near future site, Ternopil. The group picture I sent is much smaller that our Group in Chicago. Three people never left Chicago, one person never made it past the Kyiv airport when we got here, Brian is no longer alive, and Bill just pulled an ET (early termination). Were not sure why but he was never happy here.

As our group shrinks we grow closer and closer. We are known as Group 15 (that means were the 15th group in this country), although were now the smallest group in Ukraine were also know as the tightest. Our crazy antics, protests of cultural sessions, and constant pushing of the envelope have lifted us to legendary PCV status throughout the country. We are also the first Group to write congress and tell them that the PC recruitment is doing a poor job. Our director can't figure out what the hell he's going to do with us… and were not even out of training yet!

The other night we all spent the night on the beach and gave all our host families heart attacks worrying about our whereabouts. We have all gone AWOL out of town, a "strictly forbidden activity" during training. This weekend were doing it again and hopping a bus to Kyiv for the weekend. The language teachers can't figure out how were getting out of town and back with our "poor" language skills.

So, yes were having fun here, and we can't wait to get to our sites and accomplish something.

 

August 16, 1999

Hello Mom (letter to mom)

This "training" thing is almost over! I will be leaving for Ternopil on August 22nd… 4 days from now!!! Since I will not be able to have a phone in my apartment, I will have to figure out how to call you. I have an address in Ternopil (to send packages, I'm not sure if it works).

282027 Ternopil 27 P.O. 574 UKRAINE

Could you do me yet one more favor, as soon as possible!?!? Try to send me a package… including: In my dresser should be two pair of dark green Levi's (check to make sure their not the pairs with the red stains on them). That shouldn't weigh too much. There is a way that I can have some of my monthly savings money diverted to my account I just have to get to the Kyiv office to fill out the paperwork.

I swear in on the 25th!!!! I can't believe I made it. If I knew the hell involved in this training I'm not sure if I would have come. I'm still not sure if a Ukrainian Professor is the best use of my skills, but whatever. I've always seen myself as more of a doer than a someone to sit back and tell others what to do. However, I asked the University if some kind of a student service conservation club existed… that may have been a mistake! Guess who they placed in charge of formulating the Ternopil Conservation Corps… Actually, right now it may be the only thing that I look forward to at the University.

It appears that summer is over! The weather went from 95f days to 60f days overnight, they tell us that we shouldn't see good weather again until around May! I can't wait to have my own place, where I can eat the stuff I want, come and go as I please, and not have to speak Ukrainian when I come home. (especially since mine sucks!) I can't see why Alisha likes foreign languages! This one sucks… it's so ancient that they can't even hold an intelligent conversation in the sciences without stealing our words and putting a new ending on it.

Some examples of stolen English words that they have to use because they don't have their own: energy, process, adaptation, economic, organization, radiation, chemical, hydroelectric, conservation, ecotourism… as far as the sciences go, they are in the stone ages! They don't really have a word for environment… they just use ecology, as if they're the same thing in any country but Ukraine.

I can't believe that I'm on the eighth floor right now and my room is filling with toxic smoke from the school across the street, apparently taking care of their garbage problem. Do you know how they recycle garbage here? They set the dump (and every garbage can in town) on fire once a month! They claim that it's the fastest way to put the elements back into the soil, whatever! If I didn't love tackling impossible challenges I would hate this assignment. I think that's why they make training so mentally challenging… were in for two years of mental anguish.

Have the pictures made it home yet?

Well I'm not sure what else to say. Please send the pants as soon as possible or I will have to buy some here.

Thanks (Dah/koo/you) Mark or Mapk

 

August 27, 1999

(journal entry) 

I arrived in Ternopil today on the Kyiv-Ternopil express. With an arrival time of 7am, my trip from Kyiv was a mere 9hrs. I was mad at the many in our group who didn't take the time to say goodbye, especially Gwen.

 

August 29, 1999

(journal entry) 

I met Bohdan today and he gave me the keys for Brian's apt. The place is a dump! .

 

September 4, 1999

(journal entry)

I'm still not in my apartment. However, I have met with the university and I now know what I will be doing. I got internet service the other day.

September 9, 1999

(journal entry)

I introduced myself to the Biology class today, and planted the concept of community service and globe in their heads.

I switched over to 50 hours of internet.

September 12, 1999

(letter to mom)

It seems weird not having a phone, until I remember… I'm in Ukraine! Well, I'm on my fourth month and still alive, only 23 more to go! They're still not sure what to do with me at the University. I think they were under the impression that I could speak Ukrainian… NOT, whatever! I don't know where Alisha got the language thing, but I hate it. This isn't even an intelligent language (as I'm finding most European languages to be). Think of how many new words have emerged since 1930, because that is when their language seems to have ended; since then all their words are stolen from us and just phonetically spelled into their language. It does help though, since once you learn the Cyrillic alphabet (which is easy) you discover that they use a lot of our words… they're just disguised by the weird alphabet. Enough of that.

How's Erik, Stacy and the kids? Tell them hello! I'm going to have to visit them while I'm here. Traveling in Europe is no problem until you hit Ukraine. First off, it's impossible to get a visa. When you finally get a visa you discover that no one here takes Visa or American Express. If you get a hotel here they only accept American Dollars, so if you changed in all your green backs you have to get them back. While you're here nobody will speak English to you (even if they know it); when you go to leave Ukraine, you discover that the people selling train and plane tickets can't speak a word of English. It really wouldn't help if they did, because they couldn't tell you which track your train is on anyway, since they're never sure until it arrives.

Tell Erik that I plan to travel to Krakow sometime within a year. Actually, I'd like to get there before Christmas. It seems as though I'm going to be alone here in Ternopil. Right now there are 6 of us here from the Peace Corps, but they're all going home for Christmas. That's all right though, I don't really hang out with them much.

So, what am I doing? Starting in October I will be teaching ecology through "experiential education" (known to us in the states as "learning by doing"). Everything here is theory! Somehow my university received a grant for a computer lab two years ago, and still they don't have any software. They teach programming with the expectation that the students will be able to "hack" into systems and get the software for free. It really makes no sense when you discover that the software is dirt cheap here (although it's all what we in America would call ILLEGAL). Let's just say that Bill Gates and Adobe make no money from Ukraine!!! There isn't one legal copy of the software anywhere in this country! Windows 2000 is for sale at newspaper stands for about $3 US dollars. You can buy a bundle of all Adobe's software (a $2000 value) for about $20 US dollars. I met this guy who has a program that cracks passwords. I challenged him… it took about 2 minutes for him to "hack" my Internet password!! Then he wanted to see my credit card so he could "hack" it to. WHATEVER! Let's just say, he doesn't think I trust him… there's no way he's getting my card!

I will be teaching an international science program established by NASA and Al Gore. Actually, it's probably the greatest undertaking by a United States Vice President. The program is called "GLOBE," I was trained in Cherkassy to teach it. It's so cool. Kids from all over the world are entering their scientific data into a data base that is becoming the greatest standardized compilation of global ecological information ever dreamed before. All the instruments are provided to schools around the world and the information is e-mailed or entered directly to the web page; www.globe.gov. The program comes with a 4in thick manual that in printed in around 40 languages. It's pretty cool. I could teach science through this anywhere.

My apartment is supposed to be ready tomorrow. I can't wait… it's costing me a fortune eating breakfast, lunch and dinner out. However, it's made me quite good at reading their menus (in case anyone visits). Anyway, I couldn't move in to my apartment because a brick had "worked its way loose" from the ceiling and cracked my toilet and the gas wouldn't shut off on the stove. Not to mention that I could have pushed the front door down. They claim that it will all be fixed. By the way if Alisha or any her friends want somewhere free to stay in Ternopil I've got the pad. Although, it would cost around $200 "big ones" to live comfortably for about one month!

Is this long enough yet?!? OK

I still don't have a winter coat yet; actually, I don't even have a rain jacket. I thought they would sell that stuff here! I'm glad a brought some thermals, the stuff they sell here wouldn't keep you warm in July. I want you to sent my Green and Black "Sierra Designs" Gore Tex jacket with the pants. I'm going to check on the PO box today.

If you wanted to sent clothes for Christmas, "L.L. Bean" ships internationally (even here), I found out that's where all the Peace Corps people get their clothes, or they take a trip to Poland. Send an L.L. Bean here if you can find one, people here don't want to part with theirs for a second.

It's hard finding stuff like, "Ukrainian souvenirs." This is a country that imports just about everything. Well, they don't import it… they drive to Hungry, India or Bulgaria and bring it here to sell. You should see the clothing scam! Good Will doesn't give clothes away… they sell them cheep by the ton! The Ukrainian Mafia buys the clothes and sells them in shops for a fortune. It's funny to see T-shirts for sale with Pittsburgh Little League and from bars in Dallas, TX. The stuff with American logos is worth a fortune. I was hoping to find some T-shirts with Cyrillic writing, but nobody has them. If companies or organizations advertise on shirts it's in English.

One of the Peace Corps guys here has finished his service and is going home, to San Diego. He left me his Canon printer and computer speakers (to pass on when I leave). Actually, it kind of sucks that he's leaving. He's been the most helpful (of course, he's from Calif.).

That's about it.

Oh, back in Cherkassy, Two of us did a community service project. We created a summer camp for a "humanitarian center" or what we would call an "orphanage". The kids were all so great and they all loved us… even though we could only speak through an interpreter. Actually, the kids didn't want to talk much, they just wanted to befriend an adult. I can't believe people just abandoned these kids. I will attach a picture of us all at "Summer Camp."

Bye and Love ya all Mark

THIS PART IS FOR ANDI

Hello Pip Squeak!!

I bet you think you're big now in high school. WELL YOU'RE NOT!! HAHA How's it going at good old Summerville High? Did you know that I has in the construction class that built the teachers lounge? Man, was that I long time ago. I'm going to sent you some dance music from here. Actually, it's pretty cool. Have you heard of a band called "HiFi". Their HUGE over here at all the dance clubs. I will send some of their stuff.

Tell all of your freaky friends hello. How's the Grizz doing? Still chasing squirrels? Don't forget to torture my cat? Is Brita getting into all of your things yet? It's pretty cool over here with all of these freaks!

Do you want to here something funny? OK, this country is knows as the "Bread Basket." Every corner there are people selling bread! Anyway, it's pretty usual to see kids with loafs of bread strapped onto the back racks of their bikes (by the way the loafs here are round). The other day this kid, about 12 years old, was riding up the hill and the bread broke loose from his bike!!! There had to be 15 loafs of bread rolling all over the road and down the hill. He was chasing them everywhere. Then these two old ladies tried to help. Boy, were they a help. They ran right into each other and fell on their butts. In the mean while the kid was still chasing his bread down the street when, what I think were his friends, took off on his bike. When the whole mess was over, about 5 loafs were run over by a trolley bus, one loaf was squished by a fallen old lady, one loaf was being eaten by a man (bum), the kid had 3 loafs and the rest were gone. Not to mention the kid had no more bike, which probably still had a couple of loafs still on it. Ok, it sounds tragic now… but, all I could do at the time was stand there and laugh my butt off.

Well, have a good time, and for god sake don't even think about driving a car!!! HAHA

Later Freak Mark

 

September 25-28, 1999

(journal entry)

Traveled to Veleki Beresnee to camp. Traveled to Lviv. From Lviv Voxal take marshuka 18 to buss station to get to Krakaw, Poland. And take tramvi 1 to get to center. In Lviv, go to Center art Bizzare and House Museum.

October 1, 1999

(journal entry) 

Today Volodia said we would get internet at the university.

 

October 23, 1999

(letter to all)

------------------OCTOBER NEWSLETTER--------------------

Well, its been awhile since I wrote everyone. Actually, really been slacking on the e-mail stuff. Besides the fact that it costs me over a quarter of my "pay" for Internet service, it also costs me half a day to actually "connect" to the service. Things just aren't what they seem here. We call it "the illusion of convenience and technology". This illusion makes up my next TOP 10 list…

Ukraine's Top 10 illusions of convenience and technology. 1) We have hot water… but only for 4 hours a day . 2) We can get Internet… just not a connection to use it. 3) We can take a bus to town… but it's faster to walk. 4) We can take a train anywhere… but you cannot purchase a round trip. 5) We can use the toilet… although, an actual flush is rare. 6) We live in a town with a huge beautiful lake… but it's too polluted to swim in. 7) We can take a midnight stroll without the worry of being mugged… however, all the missing manhole covers will kill you. 8) We can eat at McDonalds… but it's a day away and costs a weeks wages. 9) We can get mail… but we cannot get mail that hasn't been opened up. 10) We get cold water from the faucet… we just cannot drink it.

Anyway… as you may have guessed, things are strange or "different" around here. I'll never forget the day when, in the midst of a long training session crammed in a steaming hot room with the other PCT's (PC Trainees), a 6'8" 280 pound member of the Ukrainian training staff busted in and exclaimed in his thick raspy Ukrainian voice; "In Ukraine we do things the hard way, and are proud of it."

Fall's in full swing, were in Ternopil. The daily temperature has dropped to about 20-30 degrees in the sun.. Winds kick-up in the evening and seem to blow through the night. It looks similar to Eastern USA, with all the hardwoods and berry bushes displaying their reds, yellows, and violets. The air is thick with the smoldering of millions of leaves and plastic wrappers. Shopping is starting to become a challenge. You see, here in Ukraine they have no Grocery Stores… well, they do, but they don't sell produce or anything that's worth buying. Everyone shops at the towns "bazaar," (an adventure in shopping and cultural interaction that just cannot be given any justice through a verbal explanation) actually I love the bazaar! It's basically a 5-6 block outdoor adventure, consisting of a combined clothing "flea market", agricultural "farmers market" and a hardware/automotive "swap meet" all under hundreds of small booth style tents. So, when apricots are in season we eat a kiloton of them, and when cucumbers are in season we eat a kiloton of them also, and so on… But, right now not much is in season! By next month we will be eating all of our vegetables pickled. I can't wait for pickled corn-on-the-cob, yummy!

Here is an example of shopping Ukrainian style. First off imagine that the name for every thing at the grocery store has changed, and they also decided to sell it in bags you couldn't see through. Let it be known that my favorite cookies are peanut butter. So, I head of to the bazaar to get the ingredients… after hours or frantic searching for the main ingredient I pull out my horrible Ukrainian and ask someone… I was hoping that I just misunderstood her, but no!… could it be true! WHAT DO YOU MEAN THEY DON'T SELL PEANUT BUTTER IN THIS REGION!! I almost yelled; "what, are you communist or something!" (That wouldn't have been to funny here). Anyway… Next, I decided I would just bake a cookie called "Spicy Hermits" (it's my second favorite)… Here we go again! WHAT DO YOU MEAN THEY DON'T SELL BROWN SUGAR IN UKRAINE! Ok, I know I could make brown sugar with molasses; WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CANNOT BUY MOLASSES IN UKRAINE! Ok, I would suffer with sugar and dark honey. Next, the spices… Ok, I can't find cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves… What was this a conspiracy! Again I resort to my Ukrainian, and this time SUCCESS! The cinnamon was disguised as a chunk of bark from a cinnamon tree; the nutmeg was actually "a nut," and the cloves, well I found them also. Lastly, the shortening… nowhere to be found, I give-up… butter would have to do. All said and done, the cookies surely weren't the same, but the Ukrainian version were good anyway.

Three weeks ago I took off on a venture to meet up with 30 other PCV's in Velikiy Bereshneii (a village in the Carpathian Mountains on the border of Poland) for a backpacking trip. That was a great time!!! After the trip I decided to travel around a bit. I took a train to Usgarod then to L'viv. L'viv is a beautiful city with heavy Polish influence. I want to go back, because one day is just not enough time to see anything.

The week before last I traveled to Kamahnets Podilski close to the border of Bulgaria to visit a PCV and check out the town. It's a usual small Ukrainian town. We went to visit a "castle," actually, it was more of a fortress used during the 15th and 16th century. It was used again during WWII to store ammunition and fuel. Sadly enough the hundreds of gallons of fuel were left buried underground, and during the spring of 1997 some of them burst and have created a waterfall of gasoline into the river below. Some call it the 8th wonder of the world. Someday they say they may even try to find and remove the fuel from the ground, now that they know about where it might be located. For now it remains an interesting spring of gasoline, "Filler-up anyone!". As for the nightlife in KP, lets just say… never try to out "vod" a Ukrainian at a disco-tec!

Last weekend I'm going to Kyiv on a mission to get funding for textbooks for my class. But their were so many volunteers in Kyiv it actually turned into a cool weekend. This weekend I have to travel back to L'viv. I was actually hoping to stay home for one weekend, but no! You see the Y2K thing is a big deal here. The country is known as the "most likely to fail". The government still has done nothing to prepare and it appears that they are not going to. So, in preparation… Peace Corps was advised us to "Go. Home for the holidays," Too many of us said we were not going, so now they have to perform an emergency country evacuation drill. What that means to me is that I will have to try to get my butt to L'viv on last-minute notice, where I will spend a couple of days in country evacuation seminars. I can't tell you how exciting and dynamic a Peace Corps seminar is! Next weekend I will be off for Krakow, Poland on a less important mission (actually it's the closest place to shop for "American style" grocery goods and Taco Bell!!). So what about my job? Why am I here? Is it to travel, party with other PCV's, and shop in Poland? Well, no! I have already worked out a deal between the University Rector (President), the University's Student Body President, and the Heads of four departments to fund Internet service on campus. The students cannot believe I did it. We are constructing a University web-sit soon! (watch for it). I an currently writing a grant to fund construction of a Remote Climate Station between a local National Park and the University. Next month will also be the first meeting of my newest creation… the "Student Conservation Club." I hope to link the efforts of three local University institutions to get the students involved in some community service.

Last Friday the President Of Ukraine came to speak at our university as part of his campaign. I didn't want to get to close… a slip from one of the rooftop snipers and it would have been chaos. I've recently moved into my apartment and made it quite livable. My neighbor's from France, and teaching for a semester at the university; however, I'm no longer on speaking terms with the French! As far as a civilization goes, the French here in Ukraine are the rudest people the world may ever know. My other neighbor gave me a TV… although, it only has one color, green; and it only has one channel, but it broadcasts "Melrose Place" and "Walker, Texas Ranger" in Russian even… OH BOY!!!

It's about time! Post Office 27 -VS- PCV negotiations have ended…I have a PO Box!!! 282027 Ternopil 27 PO BOX 565 UKRAINE

As for a telephone… it seems that I would have to install about 10 telephone poles and pay for the wire to. So, don't plan on phoning me for about 23 months. Unless you can speak Russian or Ukrainian, then you can get me at (0352) 33-40-23, and ask for Americanetes Mark Rayner oo Kimknotta 3. For the near future I think I'm going to travel around Europe in December and January, since most students don't attend classes then anyway. Most PCV's are leaving Ukraine and Russia for Y2K, since country is on the worlds "most likely to be devastated" list. So, it appears that I will be spending Christmas alone. My boss invited my to his house for Christmas Eve (January 7th in Ukraine)oh boy, a drunk Christmas!!! I think I will be traveling instead.

It's cold as… Ok, so it gets cold in places around America… BUT YOUR HOUSES HAVE INSULATION AND HEATING!!! And. some of you have traveled around Germany and Europe, but for instance…right not its cloudy and 62f in Frankfurt, and here in Ternopil it's sunny and 21f… This will be a long winter. What have I done to prepare? I have purchased a 50gal drum that currently resides in my closet full of water, and let me tell you the many creatures in my closet sure appreciate the "habitat" created by a barrel of water. I have weatherized my windows, so the wind no longer blows across my bed; and I have enough food in stock to weather a two month Ukrainian storm without power or water (highly possible). If all else fails during Y2K… I have saved enough cash to get out of here! It's time for me to shut-up. I'll talk to you all again soon. And thank you to those of you who write me, and send e-mail. I'm sorry I don't respond soon (or sometimes at all) but I do enjoy and await your letters from home. Remember, although I pay a fortune for Internet I have no phone line! So, for me to e-mail I have to sneak into someone's office and perform a covert telephone operation. And it cost the price of dinner to sent a letter that takes two weeks to get there. And as for e-mail I'm back to using markrayner@netscape.net

In case any emergency you can telephone my building to contact me. However, if your Ukrainian or Russian language skills are rough, GOOD LUCK! All I can tell you is to call: 0352-33-40-23 and say in you best Ukrainian accent; "poproseet, bood laska, de Americonetts Mark Rayner oo keemnata three, do telephone"(Please ask the American Mark Rayner in room 3 to the telephone). Remember the person your talking to may be drunk or just plain uncooperative. It will take about 2 minutes to get me (if they want to, and if I am home). You're on your own with the language they may throw at you. If they say; "vin ne doma" or "bin ne moya" which mean I'm not home. If they say "no rose ameyou" it means they don't understand you and you'll have to practice your Ukrainian and try again later.

Remember, the PVC Ukraine slogan… "Laugh at it or leave it, anger is not an option" Just write me if you want to come visit, I can arrange free lodging and the best meal in town will cost you about $4. As my fellow PCV stated; "If you ever though only non-whites lived in third-world conditions… let Ukraine dispel thy myth."

More stories from abroad to come… Happy Holloween!!!<|:~} Chat at you all later Mark

IMPORTANT!!!!!!!!!!!! Please use my old e-mail address again!!!!! @netscape.net

PCV Mark A. Rayner Ternopil Pedagogical State University Ternopil, Ukraine

October 25, 1999

(letter to friend)

Wow, It's been a long time since I've gotten around to writing people back home. I'm pretty busy around here. I was glad to receive your last e-mail some time ago and have just been slacking on the e-mail thing.

Things are going ok here. However, of all the worlds cultures this one may be filled with the most depressing people of all. They have nothing, and they wont fight for anything. It's amazing the apathy that runs rampant here. President Kuchma is about as useful to the people of Ukraine as… well, I'll let you come up with the analogy, in case someone else is reading this. What Ukraine needs is a President who actually knows people live in their country. The "high-tech" industry here is charged between 70-90 percent in operating fees. As far as the environment goes this country is a complete disaster and I think they like it that way. Right down the street from me the main sewer line in broken and running steaming hot sewage into the river (that all the villages downstream use for drinking water) but that's a good thing!?!? You see that means that the water treatment plant doesn't have to treat thousands of gallons a day. They have no means of recycling all the plastic bottles and food wrappers, but they tell me that the best way to recycle them is to return them to the soil in the form of carbon. How do they do that you ask… Well, they pile them up and burn them in fields, of course. I asked my Dean at the university if I could visit the local dump or landfill and he said maybe later this year when the fire burns down. What?!?! "Well you see our landfills often catch on fire, and if we put them out they would fill up too fast." WHATEVER! It sure is a good thing we bought all their nuclear weapons, there is no telling how they would have got rid of them.

This place sure is hard on a person. For some unknown reason I have a failing eye to prove it. Yes, I'm wearing glasses! Peace Corps is not sure why but my vision fell from 20-20 to 20-50 in four months. PC is testing and monitoring me monthly and it appears to have stopped now, I'm just glad the PC is picking up the tab.

I can't wait for High Sierra 2002! Maybe I'll see you there.

Thanks for e-ing me back. I have better e mail access now so I can write more often. By the way use my markrayner@netscape.net address again. The Ukrainian one was not worth it!

If you want to snail-mail me my permanent address is:

282027 Ternopil 27 P.O. BOX 565 UKRAINE PCV Mark A. Rayner

Remember, it takes about three weeks for me to get mail from the US.

I'm working on a bulk mailing of what my life is like in the Peace Corps, but I wanted to take the time to write good friends on a more personal level… your name topped the list. I have moved around a lot, and most of my friends either move away or I move away. Technically I can't think of anyone that I have known as long as you, that I am still in contact with. So, being my longest friend your name is at the top of my list. Can you believe it's been 8 years since we met!?

Thanks for being a friend, and staying in contact. It's great to see your name in my e-mail In-box. There's nothing like a message from "good people" like you to brighten up a dreary day in Ukraine. Even if you simply need someone to vent all your problems on, write me. I never mined hearing your problems, since you were always there when I just needed someone to listen to my problems.

Your friend, always Mark

 

November 1, 1999

(letter to friend)

It appears that I can e-mail everyday now…(since I did get the entire campus internet!). No more CIA missions in strangers offices just to find a phone line. Actually, I think I will miss the thrill of the "phone line hunt".

I guess I'm glad and sad for you… with the re------ship thing. At least you got out before things got ugly though. Say, hi to Tom for me. I'm not sure if I knew Chris, I met a couple of Chris's.

Well, you sure are being hard on yourself! Shit girl I don't care what you say about yourself I'm still glad we met and I cherish our re…oops almost said it… ok, our association, connection, friendship. Etc. I'll always be here if you need to bitch about life. By the way thanks for all those comments and complements, but I'm not sure I deserve them.

I do miss those Columbia days!! I looked forward to our discussions on life and spending the days helping students have more, despite the administration. If I could make half the difference in any town as I did at Columbia, I would finally be a happy man. I have contemplated opening a youth camp for underprivileged kids somewhere in the Sierras, where I could make a difference in the lives of many and earn a living to, but that's just a dream. My two favorite jobs (of the MANY in my past) were at the Arcata Children's Center and the Redwood Youth Museum. I loved working with the kids, even when they were being little thorns. It was actually hard for me to say goodbye to them and do this. After I get out of here I want to trip around Australia for a while. I don't know why, but I have always wanted to go there. After all it appears that, besides my family, I don't have much to return to the states for right now. But, that may change, and I may need to get back to the states after this for my sanity.

Hell, I'm just trying to make this crazy world a better place to live for anyone. I'm starting to think it's borderline insane if not simply ridiculous to constantly sacrifice my life and time to help others. I needed this "experience" to close a chapter of my life and to figure out how I'm going to direct this crazy energy I seem to have for helping others. I'm not sure what I'm doing tumbling through the universe at 1000 mph on this crazy world for, I do know that I must end this crazy quest for a better world eventually and worry about myself. Most people just go to school, get married, have kids, retire, and die without ever stopping to think about it.

For some reason my irrational little mind is not only trying to make sense of this life, it's trying to do it alone. Despite the many acquaintances I have all over the states, I spend most of my time alone. I go to festivals, backpack, fish, hike, ski, mountain bike, travel the country in my truck… and I do it alone. A lot of the time I get lonely, but when I think about it there really are only a couple of people that I would want with me… and well, I've never really invited them into my life. That's another reason I came here. I need to get over this being alone shit. I used to always be in relationships, when I broke off my last "serious" one (let's just say a while ago) I swore to stop dating for the shear sake of "being in a relationship".

Man this place is lonely! Everyday I come home alone to my flat with no phone or TV (it blew-up two days ago) and a radio that gets nothing English speaking. I don't think my neighbors like having an American in the building. During the day I only teach for two hours a week at the university and 3 hours a week at an elementary school. So. Let's see that's… a shit load of alone time a week!!! What do I teach? I am trying to teach an international science program called GLOBE to students at the university who want to be teachers, and I help teach "American Culture" at an elementary school. They love our holidays!!! They think Halloween is cool and we had Halloween in Ukraine. Of course it was adapted so the students could go from class to class and get candy. I told them that Thanksgiving was just to celebrate the Native Americans saving the British from starving to death as the Spanish loaded them on ships to bring them to Spain for slaves…, their teacher told the story a little differently. Oh well, they liked my version better.

It's not easy to do anything here. My boss is not sure what to do with me, and the man assigned to be my "counterpart" lied and can't speak a word of English. He's the one who is supposed to help me accomplish things. Whatever… I don't know why I'm telling you all this crap. I always felt comfortable talking (dumping) anything on you. It used to make me feel better to have someone to whine and bitch to, and you always responded with equal bitching to let me know someone else was going through shit to. Are you still reading this crap? Sorry, but writing is a way to pass the dozens of "personal hours" that pass daily. I've only been here 5 months and I'm going stir crazy… 21 months to go. Next semester they promised to give me another class, we even shot "vods" to seal the deal.

I don't know if this place has a name for the time zone… I think their just happy someone gave them I time zone, at all! I know that it's +2 and California is -8 so you are ten hours behind me. I wouldn't call though!! The drunkard at the counter wouldn't be too helpful (even though they are supposed to get me!) and the phone call costs about $3.50 a minute!! If I get the chance I'll call you, is your number still the same?

By the way I don't know WHAT THE HELL I'm  doing here! As the Peace Corps says: "your helping a isolated and deprived culture better understand democracy and social responsibility …blah…blah…blah…". The Ukrainian Presidential primary election was today… 35% want a democratic president and 23% want to go back to a communist president. The rest of the people "wasted their vote" on some meaningless person. It's not that they want communism… it's just that 80 years of "the government will do it all for us" is hard for the people to get over. This country is troubled! Their money is worthless, they are in debt to everyone, they work with no pay, they can't even afford to harvest this years crops, businesses are paying 70-80 percent operating expenses, their cities and towns have failing infrastructure, 70-80 percent of their electricity is from "the worst maintained nuclear power plants in the world"… I had no idea of this stuff when I came here.

Ahh… alone and drunk for the holidays!!! I still can't believe I'm here! If I had to do over again I would have waited until August and went to Africa like I planned in the first place! I tried to get out of here but its incredibly long and complicated to get a "change of service country".

Although the people I know here will be sad when I leave, I don't think this countries governing system is ready for an agency like Peace Corps to make a difference here. Peace Corps is even giving up in certain areas… MINE FOR INSTANCE!!! I'm am with the last Parks & Wildlife group that Peace Corps will send here. These "parks", in the first place are not parks, and in the second place are such corrupt pits of resource extraction and mismanagement it's inconceivable to any American businessperson. Speaking of corruption… if you want any CD's or Computer Programs they all cost three dollars here! That's right $3!!! You see, Ukraine does not care about international copyright laws!

Still reading this rubbish!?

Geez… you are a good friend! Or, you're as board as I am. Actually, my spirits are not as bad as they sound. I still laugh and joke around at school; "it's just the crazy American", they say. They are still having a hard time with my clothes… haha. They all wear suits and ties, as where in true American fashion, this guy teaches in Levi's and T-shirts. It's that rebellious side of me that's allowing me to keep my sanity. You may say that if I wasn't crazy, I would realize that I've gone crazy.

By the way I don't see you as a "FUBAR chick". Actually your one of the most down to earth "chicks" I know. You don't put on that phony social act like so many women do. Although you may not know what you want to do with your life (who does), you don't pretend to be someone you're not, and you're not afraid to tell people what you think! Those are two qualities I highly respect in a person. Not to mention your great taste in music.

Enough is enough… Chat at ya later

Mark

November 2, 1999

(letter to my brother)

I may make you eat the words you spoke when you said, "come visit us in Germany for a week or so."  Would it be aright if came and stayed for a week or so? Peace Corps really wants us out of this country for Y2K but they can't do much to help us (typical PC, they really like making us feel like we're here alone). I really don't want to be here either! I'm trying to get out of country from around December 22nd through the 5th of January. I don't want to be on your back for the entire two weeks, though.

I would like to travel around for at least a week of it. So, if it would be all right to come, which days would be best for you-all?

I have to know soon, because I need at least a month advance to get my travel approved for this stupid Y2K protocol we're under now. I found out that I can take a 9 hour bus to Krakow, Poland. I can try to get my butt closer to you when I get to Krakow (if I can speak to anyone there). I don't even know your Address!? I know your mailing address, but it wont help much. Do you know how far you are from Krakow, in hours? I think I can jump I train to Warsaw also, but I think that's farther from you, and I hear that train sucks.

By the way about what does it cost one these days to "survive" a day in Germany. Here it's about $3-7 US for breakfast lunch and dinner eating out. However, this county is dirt cheap living! It's probably triple that there. I am trying to find a book on traveling around Western Europe, but everything here is in Russian.

Anyway if you can put up me up for a week or so let me know. If not, no problem. I don't want to stress you all out around the holidays. Their are plenty of hostels and hotels.

Chat at you later. Mark

 

November 6, 1999

(letter to friend

Sorry, I didn't know about the restrictions. Every damn thing in this country is restricted! I am so sick of being told what not do and what can't be done that I could .....! You should see the hell I'm dealing with trying to get stuff for Christmas! In the first place Ukraine really has very little of its own culture. Where I am living was Poland in 1941. And the people selling "Ukrainian souvenir's" on the street are selling junk that was mass produced somewhere in Hungary. And in the second places packaging is a bitch! Nobody sells packaging. If you find a box they say: "it's to big!" or "we can't ship that kind of box to the US!". And here is something funny… I cant wrap anything for Christmas because a have to put every thin in the shipping box (if I can ever find one) in front of a customs official and they get to tape it shut. My god, you would think that their was something of value to ship out of this country or something! What the hell are they scared of! As if we want their crap. Sorry, I was going off their for a second.

Did you get my monthly "3page" newsletter? I tried to full it with stuff that everyone asked about. If you want to know about Ukrainian men… well, they drink a lot… well the kids don't drink "a lot", but their on their way to. Ukrainian women (before the Ukrainian peak at 30) are all very attractive, except (there is always an exception in Ukraine) they deteriorate fast. By the time they are 50 here man are they old, not to mention hunched, toothless, hard of hearing, and miserable. For some reason the "old Ukrainian woman" look is called a "Babushka". And they all look the same. It's a European thing that can't be seen in the US. People here would never believe your age! They sure as hell don't believe mine!

It really annoys me when I see the Babushka's on the corners selling cigarettes to 8 and 10 year olds (that's about the average age people start smoking here). As for drinking, I have heard vodka referred to as Ukraine's national sport. Ok, leave me alone! I know I wasn't going to drink… but, here sometimes it's the only way… no, IT IS THE ONLY WAY to get any respect in the working world. That's one reason Yeltsen was the President of Russia, nobody can out drink him. If I didn't have such a good sense of humor I would hate this place. The Ukrainian Peace Corps motto is; "Laugh, or leave."

You want to know about shopping! GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES AND PRAY TO THE PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR SAFEWAY! Right now there is nothing in season! The only fruit and vegetables we can get are bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, POTATOES, pomegranate, lemons, and apples….THAT'S IT! Oh, I almost forgot dried beans and peas. I have been making so much split pea soup that it's coming out of….. I am very busy perfecting chili though, since there are so many varieties of dried beans, and cheap to.

You know when I came here I imagined writing home about all the wonderful things I see and people I meet. It sure isn't turning out that way! I really try… the fact that none of the architecture dates prior to WWII, all the forests were cut down and replaces with vast row planted trees farms, and most farm land is littered with trash… it starting to piss me off. Not to mention the driving intolerance and constant depression that still lingers form Soviet times in the people. I am wondering if, at this point, I want to help change things for their benefit or mine.

I wonder if the 80 year Soviet mentality will ever go away. I used to think that Americans forgot their history and just "moved on". I now am re-evaluating that belief. I think that America forgets is the corruption and bad crap that happened in our country. As where in Ukraine they just forget all the good and positive things. When I was growing up (last year) I remember discussing the history of our country at school and the history of my family at home. It was always filled with colorful stories of glory, battles won, positive outcomes, and worse times behind us. When a Ukrainian child of today learns of country and family they learn of battles lost, family lost, the prosperous cities provided by the Soviet life all gone now… And if an American child asked what's in their future, they're told; family, a better life, and a chance to anything they want to be. If a Ukrainian child asked the same question… the answer is; "we have no idea, but things will get worse before they get better." (that quote taken from a dinner at my neighbors house when his son asked the question, my face dropped!). What kind of message was that instilling in the children? Were all kids her being told this? I asked a school teacher friend of mine and she said that was a pretty common response to a question about a child's future. Of course she says they are far more positive in school.

The things that allow me to keep my sanity are the small things. Like when another PCV passes through town and we BS; the "little old women" at the bazaar who's face lights up when I speak Ukrainian to her and buy her pasta and the "milk woman" at the corner selling "moloko" (milk) in Coke bottles, who knows I'll be around every other day, and working with the elementary kids (I could live without all my immature "college students"); and days when I can just sit around and write to people back home.

I hear that their are postcards somewhere in this town that the post office actually accepts, I'm trying to find and sent them as Christmas cards.

I will write more later at home, right now I am late to teach a class. After 10 minutes the students will all leave!

so, until later Paca Mark

 

November 8, 1999

(letter to my Regional PC Director)

Hello.

I am writing in response to your conversation with my counterpart last week. He seemed a bit distressed at your last conversation with him. Apparently you were a bit upset at him for not knowing why I wasn't in L'viv. In the future if you have a problem with me or my performance I would appreciate you contacting me first regarding the situation, and not holding my counterpart responsible for my actions.

As for an answer to the question of why I wasn't in L'viv… I don't mean to "get of on a bad foot" but, it appears that Peace Corps Kyiv failed to contact me with the information on the conference. The only correspondence I received was a letter stating that it was TO BE ANNOUNCED. If you check your records you will discover that it was never announced to me.

I now know that through the grapevine the other PVC in the area somehow found out about the event. Upon wondering where Regional Office responsibilities stop and a Volunteer's begin I consulted the "Peace Corps Manual". I never found the reference to "keeping in contact with other PCV to find out information that your regional office failed to convey is mandatory." If it is my responsibility to also perform aspects of PC administration and logistic I would like to be informed of this to. I regret the possible harshness that me be implied here, but let me assure you that I am as competent and responsible as my counterpart, and expect to be treated as so.

As to the actual motivation behind this letter… (I have been trying to contact Peace Corps Kyiv, which currently appears to have a phone line deficit at the moment considering I cannot seem to contact them, within my limited access of telephone service.) In light of these recent events I would like to request "country leave" from December 20, 1999 - January 5, 2000 (or after PC states it if safe to return). I will plan on spending the holidays with my brother in Germany. I was also wondering about the possibility of LWOA since my accrued "leave allowance" is minimal.

Lastly I am in need of scheduling an appointment for the last of my Hepatitis vaccinations due in November.

Would it be possible to complete the medical issue and leave forms sometime soon in Kyiv. I am not sure of the procedures for either, would I need your assistance or could I schedule appointments with other personnel there upon my arrival.

Thank You

PCV Mark Rayner Ternopil, UA

 

November 9, 1999

(letter to all)

 Y2K Ukrainian Style By Peace Corps Volunteer, Mark A. Rayner Ternopil, Ukraine

Dobrey Den friends and family from here in Ukraine. What! Goose and borsch for Christmas?! Ok, so it's not Turkey and Sonkas apple pie but life here is all about adapting. Welcoming in the New Year is full of unknowns, anticipation, and hopefulness for all Peace Corps Volunteers. Whether we're from Tuolumne County, CA or Bronx, NY we are all living very differently than any American could ever imagine As America prepares for their electric day-planners, microwaves, and climate controlled homes to fail, Ukraine is wondering is there will be any power, water, or heat of any kind. New Years in Ukraine signals ringing in of a century where democracy will be allowed to grow; where people will hope for better lives for their children; where the most basic human needs will be achieved. Nobody here knows what to expect of the beginning of a new century let alone the Y2K thing. One think is for sure, communities all over Ukraine will gather in their town centers and partake in culturally rich ceremonies of a new found freedom within a country the is at peace with the world. You can bet that their will be traditional music, borsch, paroshki and plenty of vodka to go around.

My hopes for Ukraine and the entire world are so simple every kindergartener already practices them… You see, a child comes into this world with fresh eyes, they don't judge the 6 billion of us living on 6 continents, speaking 6,500 languages, displaying around 16 shades of skin color, as barriers and competition; they simply view each other as possible friends, comrades, and avenues to broaden their horizons. It's about time to discover that wisdom doesn't always stem from old stereotypes and stigmas, but wisdom should come from opening your beliefs up to many views. It's time to view the people of the world through fresh eyes.

differently and all celebrating the new millennium all simply want the best for the next generation.

will want the . When I raise a toast to Ukraine and Americas partnership my old friends from Tuolumne County and my new friends here in Ternopil Olblast will all be in my heart equally.

We must realize that it's not the place we come from that makes us superior; it's not the color of our skin that makes us different, it's not the morals or faith we choose that make us righteous, and it's not our skin or language we speak that makes us intelligent; the only thing that makes anyone different than someone else special is their ability to accept a stranger as a possible friend,

The entire town will gather an partake in the first new century under a Democracy. and we all know, Thanksgiving and Christmas here can't be compared to the parades of California and US in general.

 

December 6, 1999

(letter to family)

Christmas in February? I have things for you all, but are unable to send them until February for several reasons (not to mention to customs restrictions on everything!). If you want to send me stuff wait til I'm back in the middle of January.

Ok here's a Christmas list that won't set you bask. I need a good cookbook with simple ingredients. My friend here has: "The Complete Step-by-Step Cooking Class" 1994 Publishers International, LTD ISBN: 0-7853-0790-7 It's a great book if you can find it. How about some music… You don't have to buy anything! Go to my CD's in the black cases in the shelves by my window and send me "Phish" 2cd set; "Greatful Dead" 2cd set; "Fleetwood Mac - Dance"; "Michelle Shocked" and both "Trish Yearwoods", possibly have Andi or Alisha choose a couple of others to send anything would be good. They sell CD's cheep here, just not that type of music. "What else can we put in the box?" you asked… Somewhere in my Guitar case is my Capo (it looks somewhat like a small clamp). You could throw my Birkenstocks in there also. I also a computer CD called "Gutar Method" or something about learning to play guitar, I think it's over by my stereo somewhere. This may seem unusual… how about a good real Frisbee. If the last thing didn't sound weird, here's one… many Peace Corps Volunteers went to their state capital and ask for handfuls of lapel-like pins depicting their state to hand out to children over here, they got them free because they're in the Peace Corps, maybe you could call Sacramento and see if they would give you some (it's not a big deal though).

How about some more books? "Lonely Planet on a Shoestring"- Eastern Europe, Central Europe, Mediterranean Europe, and Bushwalking in Australia (since I plan to go Australian when I get out of here, maybe you could sent it for my birthday instead). I could use food stuff, but I want to see what I can bring back from my trip to Germany.

I'm not sure what I want or need!

Tell Andi Happy Birthday and that I sent her a Birthday present but the woman at the Post Office was being a… let's say "female dog", I'm not even sure if it will actually get mailed.

Well that's about it for now, Happy Holidays Mark

 

January 17, 2000

(letter to all)

Another Month In Drewshba: November 1999

I wonder what that Mark guy stuck somewhere in Ukraine did in November, December, and now January? Mark who? Oh, wait that's me… Hello all! This month I spent many hours reflecting on why the hell I am here… Ok, so I haven't come up with a clear answer yet… but, I am getting closer and working very hard on it.

A quick note: -It came to me last month that some of you probably don't want to read all the rubbish that I write, some may even say; "Why in the hell is he sending me this crap, as if my life isn't full of struggles also?". I'm not writing this newsletter to bring my life into the realm of the "you should care about me!" YUPPIE world; nor do I sit here and imagine the day when I will be a great travel writer. I am doing it simply for those who want to hear from me over here. If you don't want to read it, simply reply with the word "REMOVE" and you wont have to go through the trouble of simply deleting it ever again. Enough said…

Drewshba… What's this Drewshba thing he's in? Could it be a Ukrainian Folk Music Festival? The name of the guy responsible for the Chernobyl nuclear tragedy? A US governmental form one must complete before proceeding to the bathroom? A term used by the CIA and SBU (new Ukrainian KGB) to define Peace Corps personnel? A state of mind one slips into after cooking with the homegrown mushrooms from the local bazaar?

Sorry, it's not that interesting; Drewshba is just the neighborhood I live within. The word means "The Place of Friendship". Personally I think it should be called "Footballshba" the place where Ukrainian soccer is played. Everyday and all day there is a soccer game outside my window (even in the snow!). Sometimes organized and sometimes just the neighborhood kids having fun… but, it seems perpetual. If anyone is writing a thesis on perpetual motion, you have to see this field! Currently there is about 10 inches of snow on the ground and as the thermometer reads -10 the kids are still practicing kicking goals.

By the way the first snow here was on 11-15-99

Over the last several months I have made many friends with Group 10 Peace Corps Volunteers who were finishing up their two year service. I learned, traveled, drank & ate pizza, joked, befriended, trusted, drank & ate pizza, sang songs, played guitar, camped, shopped, drank & ate pizza, flopped at their homes, shared clothes during rainstorms, learned how to get over Ukrainian hangovers, I could go on… Anyway they left for the states this month and I feel like most of my friends up and left me behind. Ok, I'll deal; but, to James (possibly the most helpful person in Peace Corps), Texas Ranger (great drinkin' partner, who can't decide if Ukraine should be left to care for his National Park without him), Sam Axelrod (the man who shares his connections of the unusual "kind". By the way Sam I've got something for you, let me get it, HERE IT IS!), Michelle (or is it Wednesday?), Juniper and Jennifer (now traveling somewhere in Thailand), Ephraim (probably still working on the Smachno song), Allison, Borys, Amy, Tim (who went home two weeks before his "close of service"?), Ben, Dana (who I think finally accepted me in to the PC family, despite the fact that I'm one of that rebellious group 15'ers), Kathleen, Eric, Jereme (who I still own for a train ticket), and others, I bid a farewell and maybe we'll meet again somewhere in the world. This months newsletter is dedicated to you all.

By-and-by the days pass; this time of the year sunlight is shorter and somehow days are longer. It's increasingly difficult to fill the hours of a day when most of them are dark. The radiators are filled with wonderful hot water, which could only mean one thing… winter is in full swing. I can't even conceive of the energy loss involved in heating my room from a factory sized water heater 2 miles away though. As I look out my window at the snowcapped ground and the kids beating the rugs from their homes, I am reminded once again of the things American's take for granted. Take for instance… wall to wall shag carpeting and linoleum that's glued down.

As some of you may notice there are parts of this letter that appeared in personal letters I wrote to you. I included it here because either other people asked about the same stuff, and/or because, well, it's my newsletter and I wanted to! HA

Often when I sit to write this I feel as though I'm reporting on conditions of a lost world. I mean how much does the rest of the world really know about Ukraine. At times I also wonder how much Ukraine knows about the world (I am starting to believe we should either give more foreign aid to educate the world on our actual society or stop making violent drug related movies about the US and our children). I also wonder who in my mailing list cares! Sometimes it's hard to believe this country has a good space program, yet no potable water at their faucets. They have Internet capability, yet they still use pulse dial telephones. Many of the elderly and young go hungry and are often left to beg on the streets, while many other people drive around in their Mercedes. The Militia carry sub-machine guns, yet they often have no bullets. The country has taken mass-transit to the furthest extent, yet the only way to provide it is with broken-down mismanages nuclear power plants.

Since I have been here the common question posed to me is: "why did you choose Ukraine". Just once I would like to hear someone say: "we're glad you came", or "you picked a good country".

For some time I was finding it increasingly difficult to find anyone here that believes their country ever has a chance to become anything. I think it's that which distresses me most. My university students don't care about Ukraine! They don't care about their studies! They don't care about their front yards! They don't seem to see any connection between college and employment opportunities! (Although their president guaranteed a small percentage have a good chance of employment). Think about it… how much would you listen in college if you knew that none of your classes were transferable outside the country and less then 30% of your class would get a job to support a family. I know what your thinking… "well, I would study harder and get the best grades!" Of course you're thinking that! You see in America hard work is often rewarded, but here it's the clean suit and senseless act of nepotism that gets you the reward and job.

I am working as am assistant teacher at local School 3 (all the schools were are just given numbers rather then names). I teach American Heritage to 10th and 11th formers (11th and 12th graders in the US). The kids are great. When I work with them it actually gives me some hope for this country. They want me to help them start a community service club and a Pen Pal program here. There is currently nothing like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. There used to be an organization named "Pioneers" but it was so thick with communist influence that it is all but gone now.

When I am discussing American culture with them I sometimes wish I had a damn US politician with me. How would you answer the question: "Why do Americans need to protect themselves with guns…Is it that bad of a country?" or "Do all your cops shoot people daily?" Try this "Do you think it's a good thing to disgrace your country over the affairs of a presidents personal life?". Then there is the agricultural questions like; "why do you export your toxic chemicals to our country when you ban them in yours?" And "Why do your corporations give our government money so we will grow more crops when we can't afford to harvest them?" Bye the way, thanks to every communist in America that thinks it's Ok to drag our president through the dirt in front of the world and disgrace our entire country over a question of someone's personal life that never should have been asked in the first place! Nobody here cares that he had affairs and nobody cares that he lied to congress (that's status quote in most countries anyway), they just can't believe that we would disgrace our own country on international television and somehow feel good about it!

I'm highly under the opinion that Peace Corps or some kind of global humanitarian service should be mandatory for all US graduates. If the US is setting the standards for global societal norms (if you don't think so that you obviously never lived within the daily rules, standards and working environment of this culture) then we also have a global responsibility toward aculturalatiion. Once instance of evidence toward this belief is the Ukrainian shift to large-scale hectare farming. It's one thing for the US and Russia to sell Ukraine combines for harvesting large crops, it's another thing to not give them diesel to harvest their fields come season. This year many crops went bad here because our agricultural practices are being forced upon a nation which is simply not ready for it. Our students must know that the better mouse trap we build must not be used to drive other cultures to extinction.

When I first contemplated Peace Corps I imagined myself living in a grass hut somewhere in a village where people had very little connection with the outside world, and mainly wanted to share their pride and efforts with an American… HAHA (sorry, but that run-on sentence broke me into laughter, HAHA). This thing called Peace Corps is strange. It's like a vacation in a place where nobody vacations; where I am expected to make friends with untrusting people for whom I can't communicate well with. Not to mention not have money to travel much or be allowed to drive. In the military if you have a problem you talk to your American commanding officer who knows what to do. In the Peace Corps your "commanding officer" is Ukrainian miles away and they know little about how Americans work.

Regardless of the fact that Ukraine has 137 holidays, people here haven't much purely Ukrainian culture. You see Ukraine has been ravaged and infiltrated by just about every bordering country, and the culture they do have is only seems to be displayed while drunk. In training the Ukrainian staff said; "you should attend a Ukrainian wedding or birthday if you get the chance!" Ok, I did that… twice! (By the way they sing "Happy Birthday" in English) Sure it was full of tradition, and driving around town and the sidewalks with a drunken driver was a blast, the food (often referred to as a "chaser") was great also, but the experiences did create hangovers that will not be soon forgotten.

To friends and family… Back home there are those people who remind me that I'm missed and there are those who remind me that what I'm doing is admirable. To them I am grateful. From my grandmother who has become quite comfortable (I'm sure) with e-mail; to possibly my best friend Karen down in Oakland who I will always keep in touch with, to my Mom and sisters who can never tell when, but anxiously await my monthly phone call; to Nichole a pen-pal I recognize only by handwriting. I can't forgot the support system like my friend Katy in Sonora who sent me stuff and my family again for sending my stuff regularly.

You should see the hell I dealt with trying to get stuff for Christmas! Like I said Ukraine really has very little of its own culture. Where I am living was Poland in 1941. And the people selling "Ukrainian souvenir's" on the street are selling junk that was mass produced somewhere in Hungary. In the second place, packaging is a not an easy task. Why, you ask? Nobody sells packaging! If you find a box they say: "it's to big!" or "we can't ship that kind of box to the US!". And here is something funny… I cant wrap anything for Christmas because a have to put every thing in the shipping box (if I can ever find one) in front of a customs official and they get to tape it shut. My god, you would think that there was something of value to ship out of this country or something! What are they scared of? As if we want their crap. Sorry, I was going postal for a second.

I have always been a great fan of the motion picture industries ability to push the norms of society. I have watched shows depicting US kids engaged in all kinds of other wise adult acts and mannerisms. However, when these movies go abroad they're only taken out of context. Here in Ukraine they think that we all own guns because we have no sense of personal power without a weapon. They also believe all our children are smoking and drinking in school (which somehow justifies why most of the schoolboys here are).

You want to know about shopping? GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES AND PRAY TO THE PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR SAFEWAY! Right now there is nothing in season! The only fruit and vegetables we can get are bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, POTATOES, pomegranate, lemons, and apples….THAT'S IT! Oh, I almost forgot dried beans and peas. I have been making so much split pea soup that it's coming out of….. Currently I am very busy perfecting chili and pizza dough.

You know when I came here I imagined writing home about all the wonderful things I see and people I meet. It sure isn't turning out that way! I really try… the fact that all of the architecture dates subsequent to WWII, all the forests were cut down and replaced with vast row planted tree farms, and most farm land is littered with trash… it's starting to piss me off. Not to mention the driving intolerance and constant depression that still lingers from Soviet times in the people. I am wondering if, at this point, I want to help change things for their benefit or mine. Would some countries be better of left as peasant societies? I wonder if the 80 year Soviet mentality will ever go away. I used to think that Americans forgot their history and just "moved on". I now am re-evaluating that belief. I think that America forgets is the corruption and bad crap that happened in our country. As where in Ukraine they just forget all the good and positive things. When I was growing up (last year) I remember discussing the history of our country at school and the history of my family at home. It was always filled with colorful stories of glory, battles won, positive outcomes, and worse times behind us. When a Ukrainian child of today learns of country and family they learn of battles lost, family lost, the prosperous cities provided by the Soviet life all gone now… And if an American child asked what's in their future, they're told; family, a better life, and a chance to anything they want to be. If a Ukrainian child asked the same question… the answer is; "we have no idea, but things will get worse before they get better." (That quote taken from a dinner at my neighbors house when his son asked the question, my face dropped!). What kind of message was that instilling in the children? Were all kids here being told this? I asked a school teacher friend of mine and she said that was a pretty common response to a question about a child's future; of course she says they are far more positive in school.

The things that allow me to keep my sanity are the small things. Like when another PCV passes through town and we BS; the "little old women" at the bazaar who's face lights up when I speak Ukrainian to her and buy her pasta and the "milk woman" at the corner selling "moloko" (milk) in Coke bottles who knows I'll be around every other day, and working with the elementary kids (I could live without all my immature "college students"); and days when I can just sit around and write to people back home.

If you're ever in Ternopil with nothing to do, you have to checkout the theater. Although my small amount of Ukrainian and Russian language does help, the weekly performances are great.

MY TRAVELS: Last month I took three weeks and traveled around Europe. My mission was to see my brother Erik and his family for Christmas. I had a great time! I left here with many horror stories about corrupt border officials and various other traveling stories. I found most of them to be nothing but bad advice. I left here and arrived first in Krakow, Poland. Wow, what a beautiful place. I don't know where the Polish got the bad rap, but it is beautiful and the people are very nice and friendly. Ok, so I fell in love with Poland! After two days there I boarded a train for Frankfurt, Germany; I couldn't believe how expensive the ticket was, but oh well. As I boarded the near empty train I discovered I would be sharing my compartment with someone who, like me, was sporting an American backpack and North Face jacket. So, I asked if he spoke English. To my surprise he answered; "YES". Cool, was he from America? I wondered… Then he said; "my name is Joseph, I'm from Mexico, where are you from?" That started us talking for hours. He was heading back to Mexico after a month tripping throughout Europe. My travels had just begun. To keep this short, my brothers family was great and I really got a chance to spent time with his kids and wife. We traveled all over the place. We traveled around western Germany, to places like: Trier (where we spent New Years Eve), Wittlich, Cochem, Bitburg, Splangdahlem, and others. We breezed through Belgium and went to the small yet prosperous country of Luxembourg a couple of times. We visited a castle and the WWII Memorial, where General Patton is buried while there. We went in to Strasbourg, France for the day. The Cathedral their is beautiful; however, the roads are a bit confusing. I will tell more of my travels when I have some of the pictures scanned in and can show you the sights.

On the way back to Ukraine I meet up with several other Peace Corps people in Krakow and decided to spend a week there. That was a great time. As far as I am see it there is always a great time to be had in Poland.

Back in Ukraine: the next Peace Corps group has arrived, and I have a new neighbor! It appears that she will be living next door for the duration. So far I don't know much about her, other than she is 23 and from Nebraska.

All the information above is as Mark Twain so eloquently put it (and I amended): "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot" and all persons attempting to reprint, publish, Xerox, e-mail forward, fax, ICQ, place upon a electronic bulletin board, post in a news server, attach to a webpage or pass on to any form of mass media or governmental watchdog organization, grassroots, corporate, or otherwise; either electronically or otherwise; either within the free United States or abroad, for the purpose of personal vindictiveness toward the author or simply in the name of "freedom of information" will be taken out back behind the dacha forced to drink a liter of wodka and precede to get run down by a Lada! By the way if anyone asks, the author of the above information, in part or whole, controls all rights, expressed or otherwise, to the release and reprint in any from, expressed above and otherwise, of this work. And… in no way is the above information, in part or whole, to be used against the people and culture of Ukraine or otherwise, nor is the information, in part or whole the expressed or otherwise the opinion of the United States Peace Corps or any other humanitarian service foreign or domestic.

I know I left something out…

Till next month… that's it

PCV Mark A. Rayner Group 15 Ukraine

January 31, 2000

(letter to all)

 MY TRAVELS: Last month I took three and a half weeks and traveled around Europe. My mission was to see my brother Erik and his family for Christmas in Germany. I had a great time! I left here with many horror stories about corrupt border officials and various other traveling stories. I found most of them to be nothing but bad advice and probably factious stories. I left here and arrived first in Krakow, Poland. Wow, what a beautiful place. I don't know where the Polish got the bad rap, but it is beautiful and the people are very nice and friendly. Ok, so I fell in love with Poland! After two days there I boarded a train for Frankfurt, Germany; I couldn't believe how expensive the ticket was, but oh well. As I boarded the near empty train I discovered I would be sharing my compartment with someone who, like me, was sporting an American backpack and North Face jacket. So, I asked if he spoke English. To my surprise he answered; "YES". Cool, was he from America? I wondered… Then he said; "my name is Joseph, I'm from Mexico, where are you from?" That started us talking for hours. He was heading back to Mexico after a month tripping throughout Europe. My travels had just begun. To keep this short, my brothers family was great and I really got a chance to spent time with his kids and wife. We traveled all over the place. We traveled around western Germany, to places like: Trier (where we spent New Years Eve), Wittlich, Cochem, Bitburg, Splangdahlem, and many others. We breezed through Belgium and went to the small yet prosperous country of Luxembourg a couple of times. We visited a castle and the WWII Memorial, where General Patton is buried while there. We went in to Strasbourg, France for the day. The Cathedral there is beautiful; however, the roads are a bit confusing. I will tell more of my travels when I have some of the pictures scanned in and can show you the sights.

On the way back to Ukraine I meet up with several other Peace Corps people in Krakow and decided to spend a week there. That was a great time. As far as I can see it there is always a great time to be had in Poland.

Back in Ukraine: the next Peace Corps group has arrived, and I have a new neighbor! It appears that she will be living next door for the rest of my service. So far I don't know much about her, other than she is 23, from Nebraska, she doesn't like any music or own any of it, she doesn't like milk, cookies, cheese, pizza, chicken or chicken soup, beef, avocados, pancakes or syrup, homemade corndogs, eggs, real (non-Nutrasweet)sugar, or coffee. At first I just though she didn't want this stuff from me… then we went "shooping"! I soon realized it wasn't me… she really doesn't like anything! Oh well, she's not exactly my idea of a fun person and I can imagine her as a good friend anyway.

I start teaching this semester on Monday. I'm teaching 2nd year (sophomores)Experiential Ecology (Carkeet Style), and Wildlands Management to Grad level students. The wildlands class is a pain! My students don't speak very good English, so I have to type my lectures two weeks in advance so they can be translated.

 

February 24, 2000

(letter to all)

 Another Month In Drewshba: February 2000

Wow, is it February already! Time sure flies by when you shop for chicken that was killed an hour ago, buy warm milk, and spend countless hours wondering what strange thing could possibly happen next. I'm not sure if I sent out a "letter" in January. Actually I hope I didn't, since it was sort of a "low" for me. Peace Corps does that to you. One or two months will fly be and everything is going great then all of a sudden you get hit with one of those months and nobody to yell at about it. Of course I could yell at someone but they wouldn't understand me so it wouldn't be the same. How are things in America? I am starting to forget what things like answering machines, faxes, and power tools sound like and look like for that matter. What the hell have I been up to, you ask. I'm so damn busy! I case you haven't heard I'm now officially a "professor" at Ternopil State Pedagogical University. I teach Ecology. Not upper-division Ecology, but one of those dreaded science requirements you have to take the first two years of college anywhere. I surely never imagined myself teaching anything. Sometimes I just want to tell everyone that this is a guy who barely squeaked through high school, then I realize that it wouldn't matter. If I had advice for anyone about high school it would be, "it really doesn't matter." Unless of course you want to get on with your life before the age of 30! Peace Corps is definitely for the academic overachievers. Most people in Peace Corps think it's so great because, well let's face it… ninety percent of Peace Corps has never worked with their hands ever! Of course it's a good feeling, one of those feeling they should have received back in college when these snotty nose little brats were doing nothing but studding books. Ok, enough ranting. Anyway college here is simply incredible! First they get no books! Books most stay in the library (which closes at 7pm). It really doesn't matter because the ridiculously undereducated professors here just say, "Write a report on…" and when the students turn it in they say "Sorry you referenced the wrong books, you fail." What do the student do now you ask… well the pay for the grade (well actually their parents do). It may sound corrupt but it really gets them ready for life in the real "Ukrainian" workforce. All of the "professors" have to pay the Rector every month to keep their jobs. It's like our ten

yor Some of you may know that two months ago I designed a traveling science program to bring a science curriculum to hundreds of "village children" who have no idea what a beaker is, let alone what a GPS unit looks like. I want these kids to know that the world has a lot to offer. Anyway I was awarded the grant a couple of day ago. Which means I have to travel to Kiev (again) to fill out paperwork. If I had 100 hyrivna (Ukrainian "money") for every time I had to travel to Kiev (10 hours away) just to sign paperwork, well actually I would still be broke, but you get the idea.

 

March 23, 2000

(letter to sister)

 Hello

Ok, so you don't have Internet and I don't have telephone… I'm going to communicate with you one way or another. Well, so what if all the information is two to three weeks old, the point is I still want to tell you about this crazy place with out going through someone else.

My class is going great. I only wish they understood everything I told them, rather than every other thing I said. It's so difficult teaching to students when you have no idea if they understand anything that comes out of your mouth. I don't know too many university "professors" who can say that the first thing they ever taught was "university science to non-native speakers." I can! I think. Well I have been preparing my students for their Mid-term exam on Monday. They have been working so hard, I'm actually impressed with most of them, anyway this guy from the rectors office walks in my classroom and says he must make a statement. Great, now what? He proceeds to tell the class that they will have to do two weeks of computer lessons and that they will not be able to attend my class for those weeks. WHAT! Wait… that's right I'm in Ukraine. This shouldn't shock me, nothing should shock me. But what about their test? Then it happened. One student actually stood up and said, "but what about our test?" I couldn't believe it. They actually were looking forward to my test. She said we have been studying and we don't want to wait three weeks to take your test.

I wondered what the "statute of limitations" was on calling someone a Pip-Squeak! So, I looked it up… it says; "if you are older, taller, wiser, and write more letters then the party in question you can officially call that party a Pip-Squeak." Now that that's cleared up, let's go on.

Andi What the heck are you up to Pip-Squeak? Well, I'm just laying here in this stinky filthy Ukrainian train car traveling at a whopping 20-40 miles per hour on my way to Kiev. When I suddenly realized how much fun you all would have here in the middle of a crazy freaked-out lethargic civilization where nobody can afford cable, phones, or to mail boxes. Where old retired women can barely stand yet they wander the streets with huge iron "ice chippers" scraping the sidewalks all over town clean. Where a simple act of crossing the street is known as a "life threatening experience". Where if you want "ground beef" (you know hamburger) you have to stand there and wait while the man literally "axes" a hunk off the side of a carcass and shoves it in a grinder and slaps it on the counter with a big smile on his face and says "proshue!" (or there you go). Try this one… do you know where to get Oreo's, Frosted Flakes, pancake syrup, peanut butter, mustard that won't set "Hell's" mouth on fire, marshmallows, Hershey's anything, ice cream (not frozen milk), chocolate chips, Butterfingers, slide film, a baseball, brown sugar, potato chips, or tortillas… NOT IN UKRAINE! So you want broccoli… well so did a couple of us in town. We heard rumor there was some at this "Mahazine" (grocery store) in Lutsk, that's a town 3 hours North by train, so off we went. Sure enough there it was green glorious broccoli. Well, the trip took an entire day to get there and back and it cost more then the broccoli, but when rare stuff like broccoli comes to the region you take the day off. So you like to shop but not spend money? Well, Ukraine is for you. Ok, I have become the pizza guy in the region. We planned a huge pizza party. A dozen PCV were jumping trains just to come here and have a pizza party. No problem I could wait till the last minute to get the stuff. Right! Ok, I head to the Bazaar, its basically the Safeway and K-mart in every town of Ukraine, except it's outdoors and everything is wet this time of year, anyway… Ok, my flour lady was still selling. After 10 minutes of listening to her Ukrainian babble and understanding 3 minutes of it, I got my "tree kilhramma myoka" (3 kilograms of flour). Next the tomato paste. Holy sh…! Ok, my Ukrainian isn't great but I'm sure she said that she couldn't get to Budapest to get anymore! Here's only one other place in town that sells it and they're on the other side of town. Ok, I'll just buy extra tomatoes and cook the things down in the little paste I do have. Next go to my cheese lady. She saw me coming yards away and of course I would have to sample thirty different kinds before she would sell me anything. Ok, now I wasn't hungry anymore, but she did have my favorite Polish cheese (I have no idea what it is called in any language). Ok now the tomatoes and mushrooms. Of course I have to make my way over to the import side of the building (don't get exited, they don't import much!) because neither grow in this country now. When all of a sudden here comes the Army they start pushing us out. I shout "NE, MENE TREBA DUZA BAHOTO POMIDORE, BOOT LASKA, BOOT LASKA." (NO, I need a lot of tomatoes, please, please) As if they cared. So, why was the Army assaulting us you ask? Well, it was closing time and a polite "we'll be closing in 15 minutes" would never work here. Quick think Mark... Ok, two things are a given in Ukraine. First, the merchandise owners take their stuff home every night so they had to leave the building sometime. Second, everyone here will sell you anything they have for the right price. So, I run over to the "delivery" entrance, sure enough a vegetable guy, after I totally confused him with my Ukrainian he turns to his fat friend laughs and says "Ah, vin Americanates trebe pomidore,!" (the American needs tomatoes) Sure buddy you had your laugh, I'm a freegin American! Now give me some damn tomatoes! Well, he charged me a fortune (about 75 cents for 3 pounds…HAHA) but I got the things. All I really needed now was some more Basil. Ok everyone has Basil. Here we go again, I have been to 20 or 30 booths that always sell basil (never say always in Ukarine). What was I to do, it's been three hours of shopping now and I have cheese, flour, and tomatoes. There is about 80 tiny markets in this town, one must have basil. Let's just make this a little shorter and say that 30 or so of them had no idea what basil was (or at least what I was saying) and about 20 others said "nemora" which means they don't have anymore, of course you get the same answer even if they don't even sell the stuff. Time to find a phone that worked. After about fifteen phone calls I managed locate a Missionary in town with some he would part with, the good news was that I wouldn't have to sell my sole to him, and the bad news was that it was a 15 minute trolley bus (boy do I "not" love those things) away.

Anyway, what was my point? Oh, Man are we spoiled in America! Picture this. Go into Twain Harte Market and imagine what it would look like without anything that has a "name brand" or is wrapped in plastic. You are probably visualizing everything from the bulk grain and nut racks, to the generic toilet paper, to the chunks of meat in the back room. Welcome to shopping in Ukraine. And don't count the fruits and vegetables, because there not in season here.

Do you want to talk about patients! The other day I waited at the "check-out" counter (where they all still use an "abacus" not a cash register) for 10 minutes to get waited on. Why you ask? Was the checker on break? Were the lines that long? HAHA… Ok, picture this… I'm the only one in line, the checker is standing right in front of me, but… you see the books of matches had to be stacked, and well, no mater what I did or said she would not stop stacking the stupid matches to take my 50 kopeks (Kopeks are like our cents). She knew I didn't want to walk 10 minutes more to the next store to make my purchase so she figured I wasn't going anywhere so why stop what she was doing to help me. Right?! And they do it all the time. You finally get to the checker and they just walk away and start stocking shelves. There is nothing you can do! The state is the manager, nobody can talk to the state. These "checkers" probably haven't seen a paycheck in months. You should just be thankful that they ever bothered to open the front doors to let you in. I almost forgot to mention the "pensioners" or retired people who just have this unwritten law that they can cut in front of anyone they want, and they do.

As for driving… well you can drink at 12 years old and drive when you are 21 years old. So, that means that you have plenty of time to become an alcoholic before you learn to drive. Which really doesn't make any difference. If you get caught drunk driving the fine is only 40 Hyrivna (about 8 dollars). Which isn't the hard part of the punishment. It also means you have to spend the night in the drunk tank, where they will probably beat you of you are a man and rape you if you are a women. Well, they won't actually rape you (since there is no such offense in this country).

I heard you love driving with Mom. Actually, I can't believe she let's you behind the wheel of her new car. I can't believe you want to be behind the wheel. Do you want a tip! Never take the damn thing without telling her! I only took her car one time in my life without telling her, I went all the way to Sugar Pine and back home and apparently 800 people saw me and told her! Why do you think I want to teach you? You should have to go through the same thing that me, Erik, and Alisha went through. Just like what everyone goes through when there parents each them to drive. Actually, it is a pretty good trade off… you see mom's yelling at you twice as much teaching you to drive, because pretty soon you will only be around half as much. And just think pretty soon you will be away at college beggin mom for money for gas to drive, and with any luck she won't say no because of all those bad things you where calling her while she was teaching you to drive.

Anyway, I am on a train right now on my way to Kiev to fill out the paperwork for a grant I got, so I can start a children's science program throughout Western Ukraine. I don't know if you heard, but I'm teaching at the university now. I have one class of 90 students, and three labs where the student are divided up into groups of 30. Let me tell you, all the speech classes and student senate meetings in the world could never prepare you for a lecture class of 90 students. The class is Ecology… HAHA, I have never even taken a class titled "Ecology". My class is called "let's have fun first, and if we can't learn that way then it must not be worth learning." I gave then their first test and 52 got A's 20 got B's and C's and the rest are currently working on an extra credit assignment. My slogan, "Nobody who comes to my classes fails my class." All the classroom and homework is in groups. These kids never get that here. It's like this entire country is every person for them selves. My students will know how to work together. Cheating on tests! "We don't cheat!" "Looking at other peoples work is part of our culture." And they think I care! In my class I just don't accept their test if I see them cheating. Man did that piss some of them off, they don't even realize I caught them until they are finished. HAHA Ok, so I probably got an answer or two from a classmates test in my life, but these kids don't fool around! They actually get up and walk over to look at someone's paper across the room then go sit back down, incredible! I couldn't believe my eyes!

Well, you're probably wondering why I'm writing you this long letter… It's so you can come up with things to write me about, when you finally get up off your big butt, turn the stupid TV off, put the phone down, and get in your room and write me back! You freak!!! Oh, yea… tell your parents that it's the year 2000 and it's sociability acceptable to have E-MAIL. 

February 24, 2000

(letter to all) 

Another Day In Drewshba March 2000

(all the stuff in here is just some things from here) ***(there is a small piece of cardboard with tape on it…DON'T THROW IT AWAY!!! Rip the tape off, on one side is something form Ukraine and the other side is something from Poland). I don't want to hear any "your mother or your grand mother got this and I didn't! Postage costs a fortune here now, not to mention the ordeal I have to go through get to get them to put the postage on it! And… I can't sent two of everything so you'll just have to share!

There is a Letter for Andi in the packet, everyone can read it though.

Ok, so you don't have Internet and I don't have telephone… I'm going to communicate with you one way or another. Well, so what if all the information is two to three weeks old, the point is I still want to tell you about this crazy place with out going through someone else.

I wonder what Mark's been up to? Mark who? Oh, wait that's me… This month I spent many hours reflecting on why the hell I am here… Ok, so I haven't come up with a clear answer yet… but, I am getting closer and working very hard on it.

Drewshba… What's this Drewshba thing I'm in? Could it be a Ukrainian Folk Music Festival? The name of the guy responsible for the Chernobyl nuclear tragedy? A US governmental form one must complete before proceeding to the bathroom? A term used by the CIA and SBU (new Ukrainian KGB) to define Peace Corps personnel? A state of mind one slips into after cooking with the homegrown mushrooms from the local bazaar?

Sorry, it's not that interesting; Drewshba is just the neighborhood I live within. The word means "The Place of Friendship". Personally I think it should be called "Footballshba" the place where Ukrainian soccer is played. Everyday and all day there is a soccer game outside my window (even in the snow!). Sometimes organized and sometimes just the neighborhood kids having fun… but, it seems perpetual. If you know someone who's writing a thesis on perpetual motion, you have to see this field! Currently there is about 8 inches of snow on the ground and as the thermometer reads -0 the kids are still practicing kicking goals.

A bit of the Peace Corps Family… Over the last several months I have made many friends with Group 10 & 11 Peace Corps Volunteers who were finishing up their two year service. I learned, traveled, drank & ate pizza, joked, befriended, trusted, drank & ate pizza, sang songs, played guitar, camped, shopped, drank & ate pizza, flopped at their homes, shared clothes during rainstorms, learned how to get over Ukrainian hangovers, I could go on… wait did I mention that I drank and ate a lot of pizza with them? Anyway, they left for the states this month and I feel like most of my friends up and left me behind. Ok, I'll deal; but, to James (possibly the most helpful person in Peace Corps), Texas Ranger (great drinkin' partner, who can't decide if Ukraine should be left to care for his National Park without him, so he stayed here), Sam Axelrod (for chasing those horrible man-eating goats away), Michelle (or is it Wednesday?), Juniper and Jennifer (now traveling somewhere in Thailand), Ephraim (probably still working on the Smachno song), Allison, Borys, Amy, Tim (who went home two weeks before his "close of service"?!), Ben, Dana (who I think finally accepted me in to the PC family, despite the fact that I'm one of that rebellious group 15'ers), Kathleen, Eric, Jereme (who I still own for a train ticket), and others, I bid a farewell and maybe we'll meet again somewhere in the world.

By-and-by the days pass; this time of the year sunlight is finally starting to get longer. The radiators are filled with glorious hot water (most of the time), which could only mean one thing… winter is not over yet. I can't even conceive of the energy loss involved in heating my room from a factory sized water heater 2 miles away though. As I look out my window at the snowcapped ground and the kids beating the rugs from their homes, I am reminded once again of the things American's take for granted. Take for instance… hot water during the day, wall to wall shag carpeting and vacuums and linoleum that's glued down.

Often when I sit to write this I feel as though I'm reporting on conditions of a lost world. I mean how much does the rest of the world really know about Ukraine. At times I also wonder how much Ukraine knows about the world (I am starting to believe we should either give more foreign aid to educate the world on our actual society or stop making violent drug related movies about the US and our children). Sometimes it's hard to believe this country has a good space program, yet no potable water at their faucets. They have Internet capability, yet they still use pulse dial telephones. Many of the elderly and young go hungry and are often left to beg on the streets, while many other people drive around in their Mercedes. The Militia ("police", or something like them) carry sub-machine guns, yet they usually have no bullets. The country has taken mass-transit to the furthest extent, yet the only way to provide it is with broken-down mismanages nuclear power plants.

Since I have been here the common question posed to me is: "why did you choose Ukraine". Just once I would like to hear someone say: "we're glad you came", or "you picked a good country".

For some time I was finding it increasingly difficult to find anyone here who believes their country ever has a chance to become anything. I think it's that which distresses me most. My university students don't care about Ukraine! They don't care about their studies! They don't care about their front yards! They don't seem to see any connection between college and employment opportunities! (Although their president guaranteed a small percentage have a good chance of employment). Think about it… how much would you listen in college if you knew that none of your classes were transferable outside the country and less then 30% of your class would get a job to support a family. I know what your thinking… "well, I would study harder and get the best grades!" Of course you're thinking that! You see in America hard work is often rewarded, but here it's the clean suit and senseless act of nepotism that gets you the reward and job.

I am working as an assistant teacher at local School 3 (all the schools were are just given numbers rather then names). I teach American Heritage to 10th and 11th formers (11th and 12th graders in the US). The kids are great. When I work with them it actually gives me some hope for this country. I mean after my section on the 1960's and a couple of Greatful Dead songs, some of the kids demanded another section on today's "hippie culture". Next week they will hear of High Sierra Music Festival, Reggae On the River, and hear the sounds of groups like Treehouse and, well Phish if that package ever gets here. They want me to help them start a community service club. There is currently nothing like Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. There used to be an organization named "Pioneers" but it was so thick with communist influence that it is all but gone now.

When I am discussing American culture with them I sometimes wish I had a damn US politician with me. How would you answer the question: "Why do Americans need to protect themselves with guns… Is it that bad of a country?" or "Do all your cops shoot people daily, like in the movies?" I have always been a great fan of the motion picture industries ability to push the envelopes of norms. Once it was funny to watch shows depicting US kids engaged in all kinds of other wise adult acts and mannerisms. However, when these movies go abroad they're only taken out of context. Here in Ukraine they think that we all own guns because we have no sense of personal power without a weapon. They also believe all our children are smoking and drinking in school (which somehow justifies why most of the schoolboys here are). When I walk around town and see second and third grade age kids smoking like pros I don't know whether to smack the thing out of their mouths or just laugh. Try this question "Do you think it's a good thing to disgrace your country over the affairs of a presidents personal life?" Then there is the agricultural questions like; "Why do you export your toxic chemicals to our country when you ban them in yours?" And "Why do your corporations give our government money so we will grow more crops when we can't afford to harvest them?" Bye the way, thanks to every communist in America that thinks it's Ok to drag our president through the dirt in front of the world and disgrace our entire country over a question of someone's personal life that never should have been asked in the first place! Nobody here cares that he had affairs and nobody cares that he lied to congress (that's status quote in this country anyway), they just can't believe that we would disgrace our own country on international television and somehow feel good about it!

I'm highly under the opinion that Peace Corps or some kind of global humanitarian service should be mandatory for all US graduates. If the US is setting the standards for global societal norms (if you don't think so come here, they worship our culture) then we also have a global responsibility for global aculturalatiion.

When I first contemplated Peace Corps I imagined myself living in a grass hut somewhere in a village where people had very little connection with the outside world, and mainly wanted to share their pride and efforts with an American… HAHA (sorry, but that run-on sentence broke me into laughter, HAHA). This thing called "Peace Corps Ukraine" is strange. It's like a vacation in a place where nobody vacations; where I am expected to make friends with untrusting people for whom I can't communicate well with. Not to mention, not have money to travel much or be allowed to drive. In the military if you have a problem you talk to your American commanding officer who knows what to do. In the Peace Corps your "commanding officer" is Ukrainian miles away and they know little about how Americans work. As far as Peace Corps "Support Services"…HAHA! I couldn't believe the military base in Germany. Those military people have no idea how much they are babied! We don't have Military Police, we go to the same jail as a Ukrainian. Any terrorest can walk right up to my front door and nobody would ever question them. I have to shop on the streets with the locals (no BX or Commissary). We can't drive cars. We don't have a Travel agency, movie theater, Burger King, real Post Office, bowling ally, doctor within 4 hours of our house, gym, mental health clinic, swimming pool, etc, etc,… did I leave out the part about only getting 2 vacation days a month at 12 dollars a day vacation pay! What about the fact that I am "on duty 24 hours a day". MILITARY GUYS ARE WIMPS!! What about "combat" you say!! How many people in the military guys have you know that were actually under the threat of being raped, stabbed to death, or thrown off a bridge everyday. Since I've been here two of our volunteers, Mark and Alice in Eastern Ukraine, were raped in a Ukrainian Jail. Well, their back in the states now undergoing AID's prevention treatment, and the rest of us are still here. Two "black" volunteers got the crap beaten out of them for being "black", one volunteer was stabbed to death 20-30 times, one volunteer (my friend) was thrown off a bridge to his death, my volunteer friend (who's of oriental decent) was told that he couldn't dance at the disco-tech because he wasn't white, and now two volunteers were raped by the militia (police). This surely is the one hell of a country! I have only been here 10 months and we've had 2 deaths, 2 race beatings, 2 jail rapes out of the 150 of us! You think we're not under combat situations? But how can I complain; we do make a whopping 150 dollars a month.

Regardless of the fact that Ukraine has 137 holidays, people here haven't much purely Ukrainian culture. You see Ukraine has been ravaged and infiltrated by just about every bordering country, and the culture they do have is only seems to be displayed while drunk. In training the Ukrainian staff said; "you should attend a Ukrainian wedding or birthday if you get the chance!" Ok, I did that… twice! (By the way they sing "Happy Birthday" in English) Sure it was full of tradition, and driving around town (and the sidewalks) with a drunken driver was a blast, the food (often referred to as a "chaser") was great also, but the experiences did create hangovers that will not be soon forgotten.

You should see the hell I dealt with trying to get stuff for Christmas! Like I said Ukraine really has very little of its own culture. Where I am living was Poland in 1941. And the people selling "Ukrainian souvenir's" on the street are selling junk that was mass produced somewhere in Hungary. In the second place, packaging is a not an easy task. Why, you ask? Nobody sells packaging! If you find a box they say: "it's to big!" or "we can't ship that kind of box to the US!". And here is something funny… I cant wrap anything for Christmas because a have to put every thing in the shipping box (if I can ever find one) in front of a customs official and they get to tape it shut. My god, you would think that there was something of value to ship out of this country or something! What are they scared of? As if we want their crap. Sorry, I was going postal for a second.

You want to know about shopping? GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES AND PRAY TO THE PERSON RESPONCIBLE FOR SAFEWAY! Right now there is nothing in season! The only fruit and vegetables we can get are bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, POTATOES, pomegranate, lemons, and apples….THAT'S IT! Oh, I almost forgot dried beans and peas. I have been making so much split pea soup that it's coming out of….. Currently I am very busy perfecting chili and pizza dough.

So, you think organic fruits and veggies are cool? You have no idea! Here everything is "organic"; of course what that means is that everything you eat has some kind if bug or organism living in it. Ok, so I can get used to eating bugs, but when they decide to hatch in the refrigerator or my cupboards it's another thing!

You know when I came here I imagined writing home about all the wonderful things I see and people I meet. It sure isn't turning out that way! I really try… the fact that all of the architecture dates subsequent to WWII, all the forests were cut down and replaced with vast row planted tree farms, and most farm land is littered with trash… it's starting to piss me off. Not to mention the driving intolerance and constant depression that still lingers from Soviet times in the people. I am wondering if, at this point, I want to help change things for their benefit or mine. Wouldn't some countries be better of left as peasant societies, anyway?

I wonder if the 80 year Soviet mentality will ever go away. I used to think that Americans forgot their history and just "moved on". I now am re-evaluating that belief. I think that America forgets is the corruption and bad crap that happened in our country. As where in Ukraine they just forget all the good and positive things. When I was growing up (last year) I remember discussing the history of our country at school and the history of my family at home. It was always filled with colorful stories of glory, battles won, positive outcomes, and worse times behind us. When a Ukrainian child of today learns of country and family they learn of battles lost, family lost, the prosperous cities provided by the Soviet life… all gone now. And if an American child asked what's in their future, they're told; family, a better life, and a chance to anything they want to be. If a Ukrainian child asked the same question… the answer is; "we have no idea, but things will get worse before they get better." (That quote taken from a dinner at my neighbor's house when his son asked the question, my face dropped!). What kind of message was that instilling in the children? Were all kids here being told this? I asked a schoolteacher friend of mine and she said that was a pretty common response to a question about a child's future; of course she says they are far more positive in school.

The things that allow me to keep my sanity are the small things. Like when another PCV passes through town and we BS; the "little old women" at the bazaar who's face lights up when I speak Ukrainian to her and buy her pasta and the "milk woman" at the corner selling "moloko" (milk) in Coke bottles who knows I'll be around every other day, and working with the elementary kids (I could live without some of my immature "college students"); and days when I can just sit around and write to people back home.

If you're ever in Ternopil with nothing to do, you have to checkout the theater. Although my small amount of Ukrainian and Russian language does help, the weekly performances are great.

Did I tell you that I have a new neighbor! Her name is Cortney. It appears that she will be living next door for the rest of my service. So far she's about as much of an annoying condescending little 23 year old Nebraska pain as that state could turnout. She doesn't like any music or own any of it, she doesn't like milk, cookies, cheese, pizza, chicken or chicken soup, beef, pancakes or syrup (syrup was brought from Poland), homemade corndogs, eggs, real (non-Nutrasweet) sugar, or coffee. At first I just though she didn't want this stuff from me… then we went "shopping"! I soon realized it wasn't me… she really doesn't like anything! Oh well, she's not exactly my idea of someone I want to hang out with.

My class is going great. I only wish they understood everything I told them, rather than every other thing I said. It's so difficult teaching to students when you have no idea if they understand anything that comes out of your mouth. I don't know too many university "professors" who can say that the first thing they ever taught was "university science to non-native speakers." I can! I think. Well I have been preparing my students for their Mid-term exam on Monday. They have been working so hard, I'm actually impressed with most of them, anyway this guy from the rectors office walks in my classroom and says he must make a statement. Great, now what? He proceeds to tell the class that they will have to do two weeks of computer lessons and that they will not be able to attend my class for those weeks. WHAT! Wait… that's right I'm in Ukraine. This shouldn't shock me, nothing should shock me. But what about their test? Then it happened. One student actually stood up and said, "but what about our test?" I couldn't believe it. They actually were looking forward to my test. She said we have been studying and we don't want to wait three weeks to take your test. I will figure something out.

Several of my students came up to me and said, "what is Earth Day?" Well… as you c can probably guess we are now in the process of finding something to do for Earth Day. I'm going to make an appointment to speak with the Mayor this week so we can find something. I'm so glad my grant was approved. So many kids here deserve to have opportunities afforded them. We take so much for granted in the states. These schools don't have crayons, clay, any science equipment, they play baseball on paper because they can't afford equipment. Anyway the grant will allow many village teachers to borrow the equipment monthly.

Man have I talked enough or what!!! Love ya allJ Mark

 

April 7, 2000

(letter to all)

Hello all

Well I'm still alive and well in Ukraine. The bad news is that I still think this country has little hope of ever becoming a "European" nation. The good news is that I am not becoming Vodka shooting alcoholic like so many of my comrades. I tell them, "the hell with your Alcoholic Traditions I quit drinking, and so should you!" The weather here has no idea what it wants to do. The temperature actually rose to about 55deg for a week or so and it melted all the snow, then… two days ago a blizzard rolled in and it won't leave. So, great its about 0deg (again) and the winds are up to 30-50mph. Several of my friends (PCV's) took off to Moldavia (a country to the south west of Ukraine). I was going to go but when traveling around Europe on a PCV's income (ha ha) one must stop and ask themselves… WHY? Oh, that's right I can go see another stupid church and a castle! Sometimes I think that's all there is to do here. NO MORE CHURCHES AND CASTLES! Enough, of that. Actually we only get 2 vacation days a month and I'm saving mine for a trip in August. I want to travel up through Poland (again) into Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. I am pretty excited about seeing the Baltic's. I will be traveling up the west coast of these countries, which is the east side of the Baltic Sea. If I plan things right I can save up 4 days in Sept and Oct to go to the Halloween party at Dracula's Castle Transylvania, Romania, which isn't far from me. "What about work, Mark?" Oh, that's right…I have earned this vacation. I won a grant for $3000 to purchase science equipment, which will be part of a program I am beginning. The program will train dozens of "village" schoolteachers to use basic science equipment and teach their students. Here science is in theory alone. School-age Students learn biology, chemistry, physics, etc. from books and never see or use actual equipment to explore science and nature. I am still teaching at the University. The Ecology class is going good. I have even taught the student how to earn a grade with out cheating, buying it, cooking teachers meals for it, sleeping with teachers for it, trading land for it, wearing high mini-skirts for it, etc. … These student are smart when it comes to book knowledge, but if you ask them to apply it, analyze it, or compare and contrast it, they are lost. I had a discussion with a professor here (who studied in New York) on why he thinks the US always ranks toward the bottom in education. He said that the US has the best educational system in the world, but way the world views education will always put the US educational system toward the bottom. After we discussed this for awhile I agreed fully. He said that a European will out test an American on a physics memorization test every time. However, you lock that same American and European in a room full of mechanical resources the American will create a engineering masterpiece in hours, figure the cost analysis, build a production line for it, apply for a patent, put together a marketing plan, hire an accountant and layer, and place it on the global market. In the same time the European will have read every book in the room and know the theory behind why the American was so successful in the exercise. We truly are a nation of "thinkers and tinkerers". I am still teaching American Culture at a local Junior High School, which is just called a "Schoola". We have a girl from Holland in town for several months. She was so glad to meet us PCV's. She was going crazy knowing only Ukrainians. She speaks perfect English, which is nice for us. Learning one language is enough. Well, I have to be going I just wanted to say hi to everyone. I've been slacking at writing people lately. Actually, e-mail is not that accessible anymore. Now that the students know what it is they seem to be sucking up all the computer time. And postage has gone through the ceiling! I could either buy a pizza or mail a letter, same price.

Until later, paca Mark

 

May 19, 2000

(letter to all)

 This is quite culturally interesting. Well, you see somehow our school fell into a large sum of money... anyway they installed computers in every teachers office over the last week. In the past 3 days, many computers have mysteriously been piling up in a storage room. I wondered if they were all bad and the responses shocked me into laughter. It seems that many Ukrainian professors simply are not ready for the next century. The computers were yanked out of offices for reasons that make up my "Top Eleven" reasons Ukrainian teachers don't want computers in their offices:

10) The damn thing takes up my entire desk and I have nowhere to put my typewriter. 9) All those wires have to come in my office? I just wont have it! 8) I turned it on... it beeped at me... I turned it off... end of story. 7) If I break it, my mechanic says he doesn't have the tools to fix it. 7) I just got over the flu, now you want to give me a machine that can give me more viruses. 6) I will get a computer when the monitor comes with a lower wattage bulb. 5) Ok, you can put the stupid monitor on my desk, but there is no way I can work with a mouse or a rat on my desk. 4) It will make me go blind and I can't afford glasses. 3) I don't want to play video games so what do I need it for? 2) The monitor emits waves that can shoot into my head and change my brain cells. 1) It clashes with my post-soviet deco.

See you in the real world

 

October 24, 2000

(answers to PC questionaire)

 My ranting and raving during a PC questionnaire 1. Do you have any concerns regarding the efficiency, effectiveness, or integrity of the Peace Corps program in your country?

First, since you don't know me I must warn you that I can be a bit on the hypercritical or cynical side. Actually, I just find little use patting someone on the back for half of a good job. I would also love to answer three different questions, but I guess I'll chat on these. Do I have concerns regarding efficiency… My group has waited 4 months for our new Green Cards. Since our cards have expired a new group has already come in and received their cards. I have to walk to the other side of town to call PC headquarters and only half the time can I get through. They tell us to email them and won't allow us to put email on our Living Allowance Survey. Enough of that. Effectiveness… Effectively doing what? I have this theory that if all the volunteers left Ukraine, somehow our Regional Managers would still be busy. Someone needs to tell them they're "our support services" we are not here for them! According to reports from every facet of Ukraine's economic analyses, "there is no business operating within Ukraine which can operate without corruption". Should we be fostering business volunteers here until this country has some real economic reform. We have an Environmental Program Manager, but does he ever ask for input, visit our sites, or offer resources... (circle one: NO / NO). I don't see much of any evidence of sustainability incorporated into a volunteers service. Of course there are plenty of Volunteers who need to extended to make their sites sustainable which will disagree with me (I didn't come here to extend though). Integrity… integrity would include not bringing a Parks and Wildlife Volunteer (as myself) to Ukraine only to tell them there's no such program here. Integrity would include bringing in skilled teachers to teach and not using Park Managers and Ecologists to teach English. Integrity would include doing site evaluations to determine if a site needs a volunteer. What is the criteria for site placement? I just got a $3000 grant for science equipment and a program, but my school hardly cares since they just got 200 new computers, a fiber-optic networking system, and 2 million dollars worth of remodeling. Integrity would not have invited the International GLOBE Program to our PST and sold it to our counterparts without an actual agreement between GLOBE and Peace Corps Ukraine. Lastly let's cut the fat! There's what, 7 Regional Managers for an area smaller then Texas! We have a Resource Coordinator who doesn't know how to catalog books or set up a checkout system for resources. I'll trade you one Resource Coordinator and three Regional Managers for one more working computer for Volunteers! If Regional Managers were effective I don't believe this country would have so many Volunteers paying for their own housing or leaving because there sites failed. Putting all PC stats aside, I don't believe many sites fail; I believe the sites were never "developed" in the first place.

2. What behaviors among volunteers negatively impact their health or safety?

Every country and every region of every country is different. Here in Western Ukraine you could be assaulted for speaking Russian… PC teaches over half the volunteers here Russian. Nobody in Ukraine gets assaulted for speaking Ukrainian, does PC really care that Ukrainian is now the official language, let's say no. Great, so most people speak Russian in the South, are we here to help them live up to their Constitution (which states Ukrainian as the official language) or are we here to squander in Soviet linguistics. Many HCN's are disappointed that PC is teaching Russian here. What about all that talk about cultural sensitivity and perspective? And drinking… possibly one of this countries biggest problems. I wish PC spent half the time in training lecturing us on how to deal with curbing the drinking problem here and encouraging us not to drink as they do as they do laughing and joking about how much we'll drink.

3. How do you think your community perceives you? Are you comfortable with that image of yourself? Why or why not?

They perceive me as an American-that I am proud of. They perceive me as a slob because I wear a clean t-shirt and jeans instead of a smelly, stained, mismatched suit-this I am also quite comfortable with. I'm from California so they all think I won't make it through a winter, little do they know that we get 2 meters of snow in my hometown and our temperatures get just as cold-so I'm quite comfortable with there geographical ignorance. At least I'm "white"! I had a Volunteer friend here who was of Chinese descent and the local "authorities" kicked me and told me to get him out of the Night Club before he danced with any girls-I sure wasn't comfortable with that! Actually, I don't know how to answer this question at all. I am who I am and I don't care what or if anyone thinks about it. This country better get used to people being different because the Soviet party is over! I know they're disgusted with the fact that I won't drink during work-I am quite comfortable with this also. Quite possible the one thing that gives my community a negative perception of me is when PC shows up at site in a brand new over-equipped $50,000 automobile! I don't want to get in it, I don't even want to be seen talking to someone in it. Then when PC managers make sites promises of grant funding, it really does nothing for my image. If PC expects me to clean-up my image as a Volunteer they better clean-up there image as a cash-cow!

Who flexible am I! PC flat out lied to me about my assignment in Ukraine. I got over that. PC placed me in a host family which received a very bad report from their pervious volunteer. I worked around that. PC created tension between me and my host family, by hiring an unqualified counseling staff. placed me within a job for which I specifically asked not to be, I'm still working around that. PC also placed me at a site for which has no use for me. I have found work away from my site. PC agreed upon a counterpart for which had political motives and no connection with my site, I found a new counterpart. I think I have pretty darn flexible. I had to remedy the situation myself and hire a new counterpart.

November 28, 2000

(letter to PC friend)

Ok, you get the award for "Most Perverted". Those were bad... yet that made me laugh my ass off. Anyway, I'm back in Ternopil now. I really got shafted all the way home...all 31 hours of it!!! Yes, I said 31 hours!!! Want to hear the story?

First off the Avto-Lux was cool (I saw X-Men). So, I arrive in Kyiv and want to hurry to the voxal before the tickets run out. I hail a Taxi (actually they were swarming me) This one guy agrees to take me for 12hyr (so I thought). We arrive at the voxal and he says 20hyr! I argued with him for some time but, it really is difficult to argue when I probably sound like an idiot in Ukrainian. Anyway I threw the 20 at him and walked away. After just being screwed and unsatisfied I realize that now I don't have enough the buy the train ticket. You must know what that means... That's right, voxal exchange rate! A big whopping 5.05! Anyway, I get the ticket on the usual 687 Kyiv-Ternopil boarding at 21:30. I now have an hour and a half to blow. I walk over get some tea and this drunk old lady falls into me and is now wearing my tea. What do I do now... that's right I pull out my new found list of Ukrainian profanity and let it all go. By this time everyone is staring at me, as if I care about that anymore.  2I:30 rolls around and I figure that I will board early since the train had to be warmer than the voxal. If I had only known how long I would be on that train I never would have boarded so early. I get I my compartment and I walks a guy about my age. With a simple "Dobry Vetcher" he has me tagged. That's right, I'm a foreigner with a life, country of origin, family, education, favorite sport, hobby, ex-job in the states, favorite Ukrainian food and drink (not vodka), pets, a truck, and about one thousand other things I'm soon the divulge to this inquisitive stranger. Well, after about 3 hours of that, two women board about our age. THAT'S RIGHT!!!! I'm introduced as the Americanates! And the volley of questioning starts all over again. After about an hour or so the train screeches to a halt in the middle of nowhere. It's about 2:30 and there seems to be something wrong with the power grid that normally whisks us down the tracks. I just figure that they finally shut down Chernobyl or it blew up again. I soon fell asleep, figuring the every thing was in the hand of the Ukrainian transportation department now. I awake around 6:30 like I usually do, since we get to Ternopil at 7:00. As I look out the frosty window, past the ice sickles which grew throughout the frigid night, the landscape sure didn't look like Ternopil. Surely enough it wasn't Ternopil, not even close! It seems that we hadn't moved a centimeter since I fell asleep. This was crazy, I just spent the night on a train bound for nowhere. After asking what the problem was… it was apparently that it really didn't matter-we were not going anywhere soon. Then all of a sudden this big crash rippled through the cars and we were moving. Great, were moving! Soon we also discovered that we were simply being moved out of the way for a diesel cargo train, as we stopped again. Two or three hours crawled by and another big crash rippled through the cars-were moving again! A diesel pulled us to the next station so we could get some food and use the bathrooms. It was now 11:00 as we sat there for an hour or so, then… that's right, another big crash rippled through the cars-were moving again! Much to everyone's hopes, we were simply being hauled to some rust bucket garbage filled train graveyard that only a filthy post-soviet vagabond or junkyard dog could appreciate. Out one side of the train sat the Odessa train and it's miserable passengers, out the other sat a row after row of rust laden box cars and packs of half starved dogs. Here we sat, towed in, iced up, and spirits down. By this time any good natured and optimistic American traveler would have been on there cell phone to congress, if not running the isles demanding a settlement to this situation. I on the other hand simply sat. What did I have to do? I am in this country for another 8 months whether I was on a train bound for nowhere or sitting in Ternopil. After sitting there for about 3 hours the Odessa train was drug squeaking and ice cracking out of the lot. What I didn't expect was the Cimferopyl train sitting on the other side of it. It seems that the entire central train system was hauled out to this graveyard to rest out of the way of the important diesel trains and their cargo. It was clear to everyone on this day where Ukraine's priorities stood between hauling coal and hauling its citizens. T'was now just after noon, we departed Kyiv for our 10 hour travel over 17 hours ago, we were still about 5 hours from Ternopil by my estimation and we just sat rusting and anxious to have a destination. The train restaurant was down to its last couple of bags of crackers and some dried fish it picked up at the previous stop. Then the booze ran out! This was not good. Everyone was still in amazingly good spirits about the situation… that is, except for the gypsy kids which started flocking to our cars. The word was out and we were pray! They stood outside our cabins like kopeck thirsty wolves. With their hands out and sad faces, they began to move in. One after another they where thrown off the train. The few brave people who stepped of the train for fraternizing and a few drags on a smoke in the frigid air were vulnerable from all directions. . out of food by now and things really started to get ugly.  

 

December 12, 2000

(letter to family)

Hello, Well I actually pulled it off! I sent a package! Unless that is… the person reading this in fact is not my family, in which case could you please forward this stuff to them? From now, I will assume that I am talking to my family and not the KGB or SBU. Don't worry I'm not going to give you a long synopsis of my past 19 months or the mere 7 ta go (I think my emails home fulfill that niche). Nor am I going to make a request for precious food products from the west… this is simply a package full of gifts to the ones I think about the most. Included are gifts for all (actually some) of you. I'll tell you, It really isn't fair! Christmas sure was easier when I didn't have so many nieces, nephews, and cousins. Not to mention the fact that all the "souvenir" stuff in this country is actually just junk imported from Russia, Turkey, and Poland. Most Ukrainian artists have long since packed up shop and moved to Chicago (or little Ukraine as we call it). And there simply isn't a tourist trade going on here, so "souvenirs" are hard to come by. I won't even go into the fact that they celebrate "??????" (pronounced "Rezdvo") or Christmas on January 7th and the shops only sell Christmas stuff from China or America.

Anyway, for months now I've beat the streets scavenging artist bazaar after artist bazaar for actual Ukrainian culture and came up with the stuff you have before you. Other PCV's usually just settle for Russian souvenirs… but not I! My town is situated in the heart of what's left of Ukrainian culture, and in some strange way they have instilled a bit on Ukrainian nationalism into me. Unlike eastern Ukraine, which very much still embraces the "Soviet" culture and Russian language, here in good ol' Ternopil they are "Ukrainian" in both culture and language. I refuse to purchase that Russian or USSR junk most PCV sent home for Christmas. The stuff you have is from the culture of the people of Ukraine! All the crafts are handmade here.

I think I have told the tale about not being able to wrap anything so customs can "inspect it." If that wasn't enough… They wouldn't let me mail something directly to a US Military installation, so getting stuff to Erik was impossible (can you please forward to Erik?). I have some stuff for people which the post office flatly deemed "heritage items" and I was not allowed to send either. Whatever!

Everyone's stuff is in individual bags or labeled. I have to catch a train to Cairo now, so…

By the way… have you ever tried to send a package from here! HAHA I knew several steps of the process from overhearing other volunteers. I knew that the contents had to be searched and that I could only send one liter of wodka. The other 50 steps I had no idea about. Well, it seems that there are 20 postoffices in town and only one I can use, ok great. I take along my friend Tuly (to eliminate those annoying miscommunications). We get to the post office and are asked, "where is the cloth sack?" "What cloth sack? I asked. It seems that we have to go to the central department store and buy some cloth sack. Needless to say they didn't have any left that were smaller than a VW Bug! This would be great if I was shipping a car! I knew this was going to be a problem (everything is).

The posta woman looked at the sack we purchased with utter disbelief… she started yelling at us about something… then it happened! She yanks open the stuck drawer and pulls out a needle and thread. I couldn't believe she was going to re-sew the sack so it fit! It's a good thing I didn't believe it, because she had no intention of sewing it… she wanted me to sew it up! What! Great… after about a half hour or so I'm done with it. As I try to hand it back to her 

 

December 17, 2000

(journal entry)

 Today it finally snowed! Well, actually it snowed sometime during my sleep. A big whopping pathetic dusting if I do say so myself! 

 

December 18, 2000

(journal entry)

I went with the English Club to the orphanage today. Talk about a building ready to fall down! We didn't have much contact with the children (probably for the better, I really didn't want to know what happens behind their doors). I really wish there was something I could do. The way this world treats it's children is revolting to say the least. Places like this are all over! What the hell is the matter with people!

To quote the director, "I'm so glad to know that the people still remember us, because the state has all but forgotten that these children are human and not just liabilities" 

 

January 13, 2001

(journal nntry) 

Returned home from Egypt yesterday. I can't believe how well Gwen and I got along. The trip was interesting. Egypt was equally fascinating and frustrating. The culture was diverse and well defined. Gwen left for Polotava today.

 

January 16, 2001

(journal entry)

 I have no idea what today is but it's something important. A dozen or so carolers stood in the hall and sang their lungs out. The knocked at my door to come out but I really don't know didn't know what to do! I stumbled through a conversation with one of them. It seems that they were looking for contribution for a church. I gave… 

 

January 17, 2001

(journal entry)

Sick as hell… will probably be dead tomorrow! 

 

January 20, 2001

(journal entry)

Called mom today. Still sick, but getting much better! 

 

January 21, 2001

(journal entry)

I finally decided to throw that "loaf of bread" out the window. It actually made it 6months! Anyway, I intended to feed the pigeons… just as the birds showed up, I couldn't believe my eyes! This babushka comes walking up. First she chases off the birds. I thought this was odd. Then she starts grabbing the chunks of dried up bread. I first figured that she was going to crumble it up for them… then she puts it in her bag and walks off. CLASSIC!! I laughed my ass off!! They say that bread is precious and should be respected, I can only wonder why this country has, what has to be, the worst bread in the world. 

 

February 16-2001

 (journal entry) 

I found out Uncle Gerald died yesterday. It really hit me hard. I don't know if it was because it was him or because he's MJ's brother. I really did like something about the guy. He was part of my family and who I am… as my family keeps dying it becomes harder to define myself and this crazy life.