Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Countryside

Country Road
I love the Ukrainian countryside.  I have been running around the town while I am here at the summer camp and have seen some fantastic sites.  I jogged by a cow, saw chickens scratching, got chased by geese, and even paid my respects at an amazing cemetery.  The cemetery, like most parks, has a WWII memorial prominently displayed.  Just noting the number of memorials you see around the country demonstrates the impact the war had on its people.  I am grateful our country has never been devastated to that point before.

WWII Memorial

Unkempt cemetery

Succulents growing on the grave

My summer camp

The geese that chased me

"I'm a cow"... "Get in the truck" - Dennis Leary

How to diffuse an altercation

The kids played a game with the organization’s psychologist today.  We discussed people in our lives can potentially be a source of conflict, as well as people who can help us get out of conflicts.  It’s fascinating to me how overwhelmingly negative the viewpoint here is on the police.  It’s not just “cool” to hate on the police.  It’s the reality of the country of Ukraine – the police are generally just bad people here.  In all my time here, I have never been told to call the police in case of an emergency.  In fact, most advice I have gotten was to stay completely away from them or they will try to rip you off because you’re a foreigner.

This exercise was good for the children because it got them thinking of how to safely diffuse conflicts and use resources to get out of tricky situations.  It was also entertaining to watch!


Ukrainian Cuisine

I helped out in the kitchen today, and I would like to say it went well.  It’s pretty hilarious when people see me peeling potatoes and as me questions in Russian like, “Do you know how to cook?” or “Do you ever cook?”  I guess my inability to peel a potato with a 7-inch blade is a dead give away.  Today, one girl took the time to teach me how to peel potatoes the Ukrainian way.  I mean, I guess the rest of the world might peel potatoes like Ukrainians do, but I haven’t had the experience of cooking in other countries.  I was always taught to cut away from you, so that if the knife slips, you don’t cut off a finger.  This, however, is not the Ukrainian way.  I was terrified, not that I could cut my finger, but that I would embarrass myself in front of a bunch of 15 year old girls who already know more about preparing meals that I ever will.  How can I explain to them, that I usually cook for one or two?  If I buy potatoes, I buy two single potatoes, not two huge bags of them.  I peeled more potatoes today in one sitting than I ever have in my entire life – mind trip, right?  Well, it was a learning experience nonetheless. 

We do most of our cooking outside, since that is where the running water is, and the little kitchen inside is always so hot.  We do so much with so little, but we don’t seem to mind at all.   

Hot water station

We also sat around a tube of apricots that the boys gathered from a local tree.  I gutted them of their seed, and threw them into another bucket.  We later made Kompot with them.  This is a Ukrainian drink that is very similar to sangria, except its hot, and it doesn’t have wine…. It’s also not juice.  Do we have anything like that in the states?  I am pretty sure you just through fruit and sugar into boiling water and call it a day.  It’s delicious, but when it’s over 100 degrees out it’s not the most refreshing beverages.

Preparing fruit for Kompot

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Dog Says…

Well, in the states dogs say, “Bow wow wow.”  In Mexico, dogs say, “Guau guau guau!”  Here they say, “Gaff gaff gaff!”

It’s funny how each language has a different way of making animal sounds.

Misha the puppy

I later found out that Misha has fleas, like most animals I have met in Ukraine.  Sad times.  I miss  holding my kitty, Toothless!  Nat has been diligently sending my photos of her to keep me happy.

What a good study buddy!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Heat Wave!

It’s so hot here, y’all.  And I am saying this as someone who has survived a Texas summer.  I thought it was in the 90s, but I was told today it was 103 F.  That is hot!  We don’t have AC, ice or even an electric fan.  We eat hot soup for lunch and dinner, and drink hot coffee and tea.  This country is so strange.  We do have the ocean, but after today, I got heat rashes on my neck and arm so I think I am going to stay away from the beach for a few days if possible.  I can’t even open the balcony door because I have the light on in my room.  Last night, the kids helped me fight off the infestation of mosquitoes.  There are black spots all over the ceiling and walls.  There is this little patch of something that you burn that kills mosquitoes that we used last night, so I had downed, half dead mosquitoes all over my bed.  I bought some super powerful chemical mosquito spray so at least I have been able to make it out without too many more mosquito bites.  Never have I been so happy to take a cold shower!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

All around town

I was so exhausted when I finally got back to my apartment after dark last night.  I had gotten up early to run and exercise again, then after showering and getting ready I hit the streets.  I first had lunch for under $3 at Puzata Xata, a Ukrainian buffet style restaurant.  I got some dumpling like pelmeni with meat inside, and a cucumber and cabbage salad.  

Just a shopping center, not a museum

I just can't believe this isn't a museum

Typical off-main street road

My all time favorite statue in Odessa

 Next, I wandered all about, and eventually even found my favorite clothing store, MANGO.  Last time I was here, I was excited to buy a beautiful brown leather jacket there, since I had lost my black one in Germany.  After spending most of the day walking, I headed back to the apartment to shower and get ready to meet my old friend, Dasha, who I used to live with in the hostel three years ago.  You probably remember her from some of my old posts in My Trans-Siberian Journey.  She is seen in one of the photos in the blog post "Banned in the USA."  She also fell victim to the bed bug infestation, and moved with me to our new hostel across town.

I found a salad!! A REAL SALAD!
Dasha met me and it was like no time had passed between us.  We picked up where we left off and spent the rest of the day walking around town.  She took me to her amazing apartment in a fantastic part of town that is near one of the more popular beaches.  We walked through a local park, then eventually made our way to the beach.  It was already getting to be pretty late in the evening, but there was still blaring music playing and people swimming and hanging out.  I can't wait to hit it up when I get back into town.  For now, I am going back to our summer camp to spend time with the kids.  I will be sure to update you on new stories when I get back, possibly this weekend!  
Sights in the park

Famous Ukrainian Writer
Beach Volleyball
Busy beach in the evening

Sunday, June 23, 2013

“I’m foreign and I know it”

This morning I felt like I was running and walking to the beat of LMFAO’s “I’m sexy and I know it,” except I had a different set of lyrics running through my mind.  I woke up in my pitch-black room at 8AM and decided it was time to go for a run.  My room is great, and its also terrible all at the same time.  It’s great because when to sun goes up at 4:30AM in Odessa I can sleep in.  But when there is a power outage or I need some motivation to get out of bed, it’s terrible.  I forced myself out of bed and changed into my running gear.  Mace and iPhone in had, I hit the streets.  People don’t really run here.  I have seen gyms around town that are mostly for muscle heads, so I am not sure where the average person works out.  People looked at me strangely as I bolted past them on the streets, but “I’m foreign and I know it.”

I did the Potemkin Stairs a couple times, which is rough since there are 192 steps all together.  Then I ran to the end of the large dock that overlooks the Black Sea, and back to the stairs.  I did some triceps, pushups and jumping jacks on the larger stairs then ran the rest of the way home.  I ran for 30 minutes and did the rest over the course of about 20 minutes – not too shabby.

Ready for some jumping jacks?

After I got back home and showered, I put on a dress and my cowboy boot and walked to my favorite café, Kompot, where I went with Claudia on our first trip to Odessa.  Again, “I’m foreign and I know it.”  People were definitely not rude to me, but I could tell maybe they weren’t used to seeing average people in cowboy boots.  On my way out, the lady that works here asked me if it wasn’t too hot to be wearing boots.  It’s funny, because I never really thought about how strange it is that Texans wear cowboy boots so often, even when its so hot out.  Anyways, it was nice to sit at my café, work on my personal statement for grad school and just people watch.  My application is definitely coming along thanks to friends like Lori and my sister, Diana, who are helping me read through some notes.  I am glad to have friends and family who support me in my desire to go to PA school.  I won’t let y'all down!

After changing into sandals, because, yes, it was too hot for cowboy boots, I went in search of the market place I remember frequenting last time I was in Odessa.  With some random walking, I managed to find it.  I had some basic items on my list, which I found with relative ease.  After doing a little shopping spree, I grabbed some lunch (which would also serve as my dinner) and headed back to the apartment.  I spent most of the afternoon working on my application, and reading The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker.  It is so good that I am nearly done reading it after just a week.  I have a low tolerance for boring books and rarely finish them.  I plan on giving it to my dad to read when he gets here, then maybe a friend who I think will benefit from reading it as well.    

Well, that’s about all I have today.  It looks like it might start pouring again tonight!  I am glad it seems to clear up in the morning, because I definitely did not pack for rain.

Dirty street kitty on a moped

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ukrainian X-Factor and Drift

Today I returned to the city of Odessa after having spent 5 days at our summer camp.  It was an amazing experience, and I am excited to go back on Tuesday.  The kids saw my suitcase and were so sad when they thought I was leaving.  I told them I was coming back and they just lit up.  Our car took us all back to the office that I spent most of my time at last time I was in town volunteering.  We had something special in store for us.

Dmytro Sysoev from the Ukrainian X-Factor, a show much like America’s Got Talent, came to our center to perform and do a Q & A with the children.  He was very sweet and first introduced himself and how happy he was to be at such a wonderful establishment that does so much for the children of Odessa.  That is about all of his speech I understood!  Then he performed some of his songs, and answered questions.  After his performance, he signed autographs and took photos with the children.  I even got an autograph, because who knows?  Maybe one day he will become a huge star!  Well, after the concert I borrowed 50 hryvnia from one of the other volunteers at our site.  I was so embarrassed to ask for money, but on my way to the office I had attempted to change money and failed to do so.  The bank told me my 20 dollar bills were too old and that was that.  I left the city of Odessa with 40 unusable dollars and 11 hryvnias, which is the equivalent of $1.35.  He was such a life saver because there was no way I was going to get my roller bag all the way back to the hotel without a taxi.

Dmytro Sysoev

Signing autographs

The kids prepared a gift

He gave kids tattoos that said "COOL"

Group Shot

Saying good-bye to Dmytro

You can see a clip of him singing on YouTube here.

I made it home, did some laundry and finally connect to the internet on my own terms.  It is funny how we take the internet for granted when its everywhere at home.  I really just wanted to talk to Nat, my parents, my sisters, and maybe do a blog post, but all I could do was minimal chatting on Gmail if the internet didn’t act up.  I talked to my parents for almost a hour, which was fantastic.  I cannot wait to show my dad around the city – he is just going to love it here.  I got to talk to my sister in Hong Kong for some time on Gchat.  Most importantly, I got to talk to my love via video chat.  I even got to see my parrot, Pearl, when I talked to my parents and my kitty, Toothless, while talking to Nat.  It was not until I heard my name yelled in that familiar Ukrainian tone that I bolted off the internet and back into the reality of my world.  My laundry was done.

The Ukrainian woman who did my laundry is really friendly.  She talks to me in Russian and tells me that I speak well and that she understands me.  She seemed to actually care when I told her I was going out to find food and walk around town.  It is nice to feel like someone is looking out for me. 

These are some photos I took around town.  The city is lively in the evenings with people walking with their families, eating ice cream, and watching street performers.  I noticed an old building was almost fully restored to its former splendor – I remember it being under construction three years ago.  I later sat in on a concert in the park where I saw people dancing and carrying on.  Red bull was hosting a Ukrainian Drift event, so there was loud music in the streets.  Then I walked down and back up the Potemkin Steps.  It is a little lonely wandering about the city alone, but people watching is definitely fun.  It feels so early here since it is still light out, but its already 9:30PM.  I think I will submit this post and work on my graduate school application.  Hopefully I can get to sleep early so I can go for a run before the city wakes up.   

This is where I would go eat with James if he was in town!

View from the restaurant where I ate dinner

My comfort food - I promise tomorrow I will figure out some healthy Ukrainian alternatives

Pretty awesome street performers

Concert in the Park

New and Improved Building

Forgot what this building is called

People making bubbles in the street

Full on orchestra

Potemkin Steps

What goes down, must go back up

Ukrainian Drift

Cute little boy in the back of one of the show cars

Friday, June 21, 2013

"You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy"

The Discotech - Why such harsh words?  It was actually quite fun, but I wish I had some photos to document this event.  I decided it would be safer to leave everything at home, so the camera did not come with me.  "Discotech, what the heck is that?" you might be asking.  Well, a Discotech is found in non-US countries such as Ukraine, Russia and Mexico.  They are essentially an all ages dance club with a bar.  Sound fun at first, but think about what this means.  Remember the last time you went to a bar?  Maybe you drank, danced, solicited someone of the opposite sex to drink and dance.  Well, no imagine you are drunk, and you start doing all of the above with someone who turns out to be 13 years old!  Could be quite dangerous.

The discotech we went to was pretty cool.  It was open air, although it gave the illusion of being a building.  It was under construction, so I won't be too hard on it, but it definitely was a little rugged.  The bathroom sink was a hose for example.  There was a disc jockey who worked with the DJ to rally the crowd into dancing.  He was really funny, and a good dancer - if you are on 4th Street or in the Castro, if you catch my drift.  Had he been wearing less clothing, I would have taken him for a male go-go dancer.  Most European men can't dance, according to my personal experience, and those who can just look like they belong in a club with a topless male bar tender wearing a rainbow flag jockstrap. Cultural differences I am sure.  And if you are European and find this offensive, please feel free to dance with me next time we meet and prove me wrong.  

While I sat at our table with one of our 15 year-old girls, this older 40 year-old man who had been kind of lurking about tried to approach us and tripped on the step, knocking over our table and most of our drinks.  He looked at me and I just shook my head at him, since he was obviously just about to solicit one of our teenagers, or me.  Our coordinator must have told him we were not interested, because he immediately switched his focus on to her.  She must have told him 20 times she didn’t want to dance with him, but he was Mr. Persistent, which is now a huge warning sign to me to back away quickly.  The cultural differences are huge here.  I would have slapped someone who tried to approach me in the manner in which he did, and he might have gotten some mace to the eye if he had grabbed me after I told him “no” multiple times.  I should be careful I don’t end up arrested for hurting someone who is simply acting socially and culturally appropriate.

Anyways, the girls had a great time, and by the end of the night, they were on the stage’s platform.  Again, a little strange for me given how young they are and how old the rest of the cliental was…but then again, there was also a 3 year-old in the back of the club dancing with his parents.  When in Ukraine…

I was on high alert to make sure no funny business went down, but at the end of it all, it was all in good fun.

After we made it back to our sanitarium, we all had to jump the fences since everything was already locked up.  Good thing I have been working on those triceps, Nat!  Everyone was impressed at how quickly I scaled the fence and made my way to the other side.

I was super tired this morning because we ended up going to bed around 2AM.  But, at least I am back in the city for a few more days to hang out before heading back to the beach!     

Oh, and speaking of the Star Wars reference, check out this awesome photo taken by a couple during their wedding photo shoot.  My fiance sent this to me, and I think it would be an amazing idea to steal...

Wedding Party Attacked by AT-ATs

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Можно телефон? : Can I use your phone?

This was the most popular question I was asked over the course of a week.  The kids loved my phone because it had games on it.  They all gathered around and watched each other play and asked for it so much I had to start leaving it in my room.  I hated to say no, but the coordinator wanted them to play amongst themselves and not be consumed with technology.  Giving up my phone is hard, because I make notes to myself, check the time and most importantly, look up words I don’t know.  I managed, however, by asking for help when I didn’t understand and learned new words on the fly.

The kids with my iPhone

Instead of playing with my phone, let's play Twister!

Or I can push you around on this... thing

The kids also loved taking photos of each other with my camera. This was great because they weren’t embarrassed to take photos of each other for me.  I got some really cute ones of myself with the kids when they borrowed my camera.  Here are some of the highlights.
Chilling out

Erika and Peter, from Sweden

I couldn't shake them!  They were always all over me.  But I loved it.
These are just some other random shots I took around the grounds.  During the day, the kids just play amongst themselves and run amuck.  It's really cute to watch them play.

Just one second earlier, that kid was hanging just by his hands

Busy playground

My personal caddie.  She loved carrying my purse