27 MONTHS IN UKRAINE:
Notes Home & Other Observations




Here is a little collage of Seattle and the PNW...things I wont see for the next two years

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Disclaimer: This site represents the views and opinions of the author only. It does not reflect those of the U.S. Peace Corps or any other agency of the United States Government

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." - John F. Kennedy, 1961

The Three Goals of Peace Corps:
1) To provide volunteers who contribute to the social and economic development of interested countries;
2) To promote a better understanding of Americans among the people whom volunteers serve; and
3) To strengthen Americans' understanding about the world and its peoples.


PEACE CORPS TIMELINE
February 19, 2004: Submitted application online
March 2, 2004: Interview at Seattle Office
March 22, 2004: Recieved Nomination to Eastern Europe/Central Asia
March 25, 2004: Recieved Medical Kit
April 6, 2004: Doctors Apointment
May 3, 2004: Dentist Appointment
May 11, 2004: Eye Appointment
May 12, 2004: Sumbit Medical Packet
May 26, 2004: Got my Dental and Legal Clearance
June 4, 2004: Recieved my Medical Clearance...almost there!
June 19, 2004: Invitation in the mail!
June 22, 2004: Recieved Invite! Uzbekistan here I come!,
July 9, 2004: Uzbekistan program cancelled, recieved Ukraine invitation...Ukraine here I come
September 26, 2004:Arrive in D.C. for staging
September 29, 2004:Arrive in Kyiv, Ukraine!


LINKS:
Photo Album
Summer Trip 2005 Album
Official Peace Corps Site
Peace Corps Ukraine Information on PC Site
Peace Corps Ukraine
Ukraine what crane? Info on Ukraine
Weather in L'viv, Ukraine
Time in Ukraine
Address in Ukraine
Books I have read in Ukraine
Where is Ukraine

OTHER PCV WEBSITES
Dee Warren UZ 17
Rich Thacker

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Thursday, June 01, 2006
Culture Clash Part 1
I have taken a few months I suppose from writing, not so much out of laziness but more because as things become normal or accepted they tend to shock me less thus I have nothing to write about.


Coming home this past month and then returning to Ukraine a few weeks later has changed that. When I was home everyone seemed to ask what shocked me the most about being back in the land of plenty. What no one asked, nor did I foreshadow, was what is going to shock me about returning to Ukraine.


My laborious arrival home wrenched all energy from me so that my first margarita, burrito and trip to a real grocery store were dulled by exhaustion. Why was I so exhausted? Well a story is no doubt much needed to explain what a sentence would simply fail to capture.


A normal transatlantic trip from the continent to the states should take 8-12 hours and leave one slightly pooped. While I do reside on the continent I live in Europe only by the most generous of definitions. Additionally while living off $150 a month has turned me into such a penny pincher that even Granny B would think me stingy. So in saving a few pennies (a few hundred dollars worth of pennies) I booked a ticket leaving from neighboring Poland and taking me on a scenic route through Germany and Denmark before arriving in Seattle. Staying in Krakow for the night would have made the trip a little simpler but also would have added to the expense, and seeing how I had to be at the airport at 5am made the excuse of a good nights rest completely irrelevant. I therefore decided to take a night train from the border to Krakow and then hop a bus as the sun came up and arrive at the airport in time to check in and grab a bite to eat. Well seeing how my travel experiences as of late seem more like an audition for “Amazing Race” and less like a vacation my schedule was sure to disintegrate as soon as I began my first leg of this journey.


Crossing the border was completely painless as I pushed all the Ukrainians aside and waved my Peace Corps credentials an claimed I worked with the embassy. However once I reached the train station on the other side of the border would I soon realize that all calls for a celebration were off. I had misread the Polish train schedule and that there would be no midnight train as there are no midnight trains on Sunday, and when the clock strikes twelve Saturday would end and Sunday would begin.


Curse my stupidity and the religious convictions of Poland that make travel all that less predictable. I took the only train that night that dropped me off in some rusting steel town where I quickly hopped another train to a larger rusting nothing a few hours further west. Knowing that the rail system wasn’t going to get me to Krakow in time for my flight I made a b-line of the bus station. Not understanding Polish made reading the bus schedule impossible, luckily spoken Polish and Ukrainian are close enough alike that I could converse with some young Poles who assured me that there was a bus at 2:52 am to Krakow and all I had to do was wait and then my prayers would be answered. So I camped out with all the other weirdoes that flock to deserted bus stations around midnight.


As three o’clock approached and there was no more action at the bus station than three hours previous I quizzed another Pole about the likelihood of my getting to Krakow intime for my flight via bus. He quickly told me know that the early bus doesn’t run on Sundays, damn those other Poles who gave me the slightest bit of hope.


I then decided that I would take a taxi the 90 or so miles to Krakow. I figured it would take two hours at the most and in Ukraine that would be about a $45 cab fare. Well if there is one thing the EU has done for Poland is that it has increased the rate taxis charge for desparate travelers at the Rzeszow train station. Instead of being charged $45 the cab driver wanted $300! I begged for $100 and was laughed at. The next cabbie wanted $400 so I quickly gave up and bought a train ticket. The train would give me 20 minutes to get from the train station in Krakow to the airport, needless to say I slept very little on the train and spent my time praying.


I arrived at the airport just as my flight was taking off, and just as the lovely LOT agents popped a hefty dose of bitch pills. After a few abrasive conversations with the wenches that man the LOT desk I was charged a $150 change fee and hopped the next flight to Munich. The scheduling created a near guaranteed opportunity of my missing my connecting flight to Copenhagen. I relished this opportunity as I figured I could schmooze the much kinder Lufthansa ladies into putting me onto a more direct route to the US, one where I would avoid an overnight in Copenhagen. I was quickly disappointed and sucked up my destiny of spending a night on the road.


Upon arrival in Copenhagen I took in all the comforts of Western Civilization also known as the Duty Free Store! Figuring that I shouldn’t blow my money I wisely purchased a bag of tax free Haribo Gummy Bears, my first in twenty months. Finally four days later and a bath in a shallow sink in a bathroom in Copenhagen I arrived in Seattle nearly exhausted and starving. Mom’s Mexican Kitchen provided the manna and the proverbial milk and honey in the form of Carne Asada and a few Margaritas.

While they tasted amazing, especially now as I digest mystery meat and buckwheat kasha from the cafeteria at school an wax poetic about America’s culinary choices, at the time I was too exhausted and overwhelmed to fully appreciate them.

To answer those popular questions of what; did I like about being home, what did I miss or what is the biggest shock I offer this: Family and friends were by far the best treat about being home. I miss them when I am away but seeing them in person really was a huge treat. I noticed repeatedly that America seems to have gone up market. I don’t know if I noticed this simply because I dwell considerably below market but America really is the land of plenty and all that plenty is offered in various forms of luxury and comfort, with of course the corresponding price tag. Lastly the best treats or most appreciated experiences were in no particular order; Rositas’ Margaritas, meeting Kendra, Phipps’ Mojitos, seeing all the Berry’s, a treasured double tall non at Monorail Espresso, BBQ, Mom and Dick’s company and washer & dryer, a double bed, Erin, Sean, driving, the smell of the sound, Mt. Ranier, nights out with friends, Special Olympics crew and lastly satellite TV.


Posted at 05:14 am by ahallock
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Saturday, January 21, 2006
The Great Famine of 2006!

The holodmor of 2006!

Living in a country that has survived countless wars, invasions, famines, and untold horrors usually provides me with an amazing sense of awe that these people keep going no matter what life throws at them.  Now, in the midst of a “Russian Winter”, I wonder if any of that ability to survive anything has rubbed off now that the worse winter I have ever experienced has arrived.  Yeah I know what my family is thinking, no freaking way.

Siberian gulag, who needs it when it is f*#%!ing freezing right here in my own apartment.  The last few days we have been battling the cold that has seeped through from Russia.  I suppose I should be glad that Putin hasn’t turned off our gas for a second time.  Temperatures in Moscow have fallen to -35C (-31F) and in Kyiv on the 20th all busses, street cars, marshrutkas and taxis stopped running because it was too cold.  All that was operating to get hearty Kieveans to work was the worlds most crowded subways system ever.  Here in Sosnivka it was a little warmer, -25C, and school was open and marshrutkas were running, although the windowsboth at school and on the marshrutkas were all caked with ice.  Rumor on the street is that if it stays this cold school will be canceled.  That sounds tempting but school while cold, is much warmer than my apartment so I really don’t know what to wish for a snow day or a few extra degrees of warmth.  Right now to stay warm I am bundled in layer upon layer.  The heat is on but after the steam travels from the steam plant to my apartment it has turned to simply hot water and so the radiators aren’t very warm.  With a high of -20C today you can see why it is so cold.  I have the oven open and the gas turned on and lit, not Sylvia Plath style, at least not yet.  At night it gets worse because I can’t keep the oven on and I am not moving around.  I sleep in a few layers of clothes then climb in to my sleeping bag and then put a comforter and a few wool blankets on top of me and then curl up in to a ball to try to conserve any body heat.  The closing of school and the absence of transportion isn’t the only effect of the cold.  Bread lines are back!

 

This morning I decided that the best way to beat the cold would be to go get some food and just eat till it got warm enough to venture outside for a considerable period of time.  Well after a few cups of coffee I put on two layers of long-johns, two pairs of socks, jeans, two t-shirts, a long sleeve t-shirt, a long-john top, a vest and a wool sweater, then a scarf, a wool coat, gloves, a hat and boots.  I grabbed my Hugo Boss plastic bags and began the trek to the bazaar.  The cold got me craving beets, borsch, beans and Ukrainian cabbage salad.  Apparently the cold does more to screw up your mind than any drug or shot of vodka could ever dream of doing.  What did I find at the bazaar?  I found line after line, massive lines stringing from one of the few open stands to the next open stand.  What were they selling?  Nothing!  I couldn’t find a potato, an onion or even a beet!  What I settled for was some cabbage.  The frozen fish and liver looked tempting but the thought of standing in a line for an hour to buy it, or rather the chance to buy didn’t sound remotely tempting so I passed and decided to see what the stores had to sell.  Again more lines and very little food.  I mean for God sakes I thought when the wall fell and Gorby packed his bags that the trucks of food started pouring in.  Apparently all it takes is a lot of snow, ice and freezing temperatures to stop the flow of food.

It wasn’t that the trucks stopped arriving it is rather that the old grannies, locals and neighboring villagers that normally sell what they grow have stopped coming because it is too cold to stand in the cold and sell produce for a few hours.  For Ukrainians that is okay, they can dip into what they themselves have grown and make do till the bazaar becomes more plentiful.  However, for the lone Yank without a garden or a root cellar I am pretty much screwed.  Granted I could go on a crowded bus for thirty minutes and hope that there is more food at the bazaar in the larger neighboring town.  There is always, however, the likely chance that there is again no food there so that option is about as tempting as standing in a line in the snow for liver.  So I am going to buckle down, get creative and attempt to whip up something for the next week out of the cabbage I bought and what I have on hand. I am also going to hope and pray that by next Saturday the mercury will have climbed a little closer to zero and thus tempting the farmers to brave the cold and offer up some potatoes and onions for me to feast on.  If not then I am going to resort to waiting in lines for liver, sardines and what ever else is left by the time I get to the front of the line.

Therefore my family’s suspicions were correct and none of the innate Ukrainian ability to survive anything life throws at you has rubbed off.  Not that I really expected it to.  My only experience with bread lines is communion at church and the one winter when I was growing up when the grocery stores stopped getting food due to the few feet of snow that closed the ferries to and from the island and shut down the bridge.  My Mom instigated the threat of ripping off peoples hats and exposing the entire Island to their greasy messy hair thus frightening them enough to hand over the last bag of baggles or the lone carton of eggs.  I was tempted to employ that strategy here but seeing how even in good weather bathing is a weekly habit at best that threat was pretty weak as there was no shame involved.  If the situation continues I am going to have to start getting a little more creative perhaps I’ll start hording the blonde, red and purple hair dye and trade that for provisions to get me through the winter.

Only 328 days till Costco, Safeway and mild winters!


Posted at 11:43 am by ahallock
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Tuesday, November 01, 2005
International Drug Smuggling and other adventures

 

At the end of October a few friends and I decided that it was time to vacate Ukraine as we had all been here for more than a year and that was cause enough for a celebration if not a vacation.  We rendezvoused in L’viv and then attempted to purchase tickets for the night train to Bucharest.  Attempt is always the verb of choice when describing any activity in Ukraine.  A simple trip to the bazaar or if god willing a supermarket is always a sort of hope, wait and see event.  Sure you want to make curry for dinner but are the bazaar gods smiling?  If not you’ll be eating borsch and mashed potatoes until you are once again in their favor.  Well buying tickets is no different.  We met up at the train ticket office and as my family can attest this is nothing compared to anything you’d find in a more western civilization.

 

The somewhat friendly lady behind the window told us that the only train to Bucharest didn’t leave till the following night, which seeing how we didn’t really have any plans wasn’t a big deal but there was a train to the border where we could pick up a mini-bus to take us into Romania.  We decided that waiting a day was unnecessary and attempted (again nothing is certain) to aquire tickets on the last night train to the border, witch oddly reached the border before the train that left an hour and half before it.  I guess that old math question that we all struggled with (you know if a train 1 leaves station “A” headed for station “B” at 9 O’clock and train 2 leaves at 10:30 what time will they meet eachother…) is just as confusing as it always was.  However the later train origninated in Poland and we could not buy a ticket on the train until the train crossed the border, because that makes all the sense in the world. 

 

We then decided that while we waited we should at least check out the bus schedule to see if there was a night bus (I know the country club kid has fallen I actually consider a night bus when planning a vacation, though Erin and I did take a 19 hour bus across Turkey followed by 10 hours of AlItalia this summer). Well the lady at the bus office decided that 5:30 was close enough to 6:00 so she closed early and none of us was feeling up to running out of town on a bus at 6pm to check if there was a bus.  So we took our chances, always a risky move when dealing with Ukrainian trains.  Luckily karma was on our side and the friendly lady at the train station kept watch on the train and as soon as it crossed the border she booked us tickets and we didn’t even have to wait in line, we got to cut! 

 

The train arrived at the border at about 4am and after a quick cup of vending machine coffee for breakfast we jumped in a cab that died at least 10 times as it struggled to start in the freezing weather.  We arrived at the deserted bus depot which can only be described as the seediest thing I have ever willingly paid money to go to.  Lucky for us there was a bus, the only bus, waiting and surprise it was heading to Romania!  Without question we hopped in and paid the $10 and were on our way to a vacation to remember.

 

Now my family can describe the Polish border for you in more detail but essentially it is a smugglers paradise.  Granny’s and teenagers and everyone in between all tape, cram and shove cigarettes all over their bodies and then trek to Poland to sell them and make about $0.50 a pack.  The Romanian border however is nirvana for smugglers, second only to the much more corrupt Moldovan border.  Our convenient bus turned out to be full of heroin smugglers taking the daily delivery across the border before the sun rose.  The all looked like nice middle aged ladies you’d be inivited over to for tea, but the amount of $100 bills and suspicious bags revealed their true identitity.

 

While keeping a steady eye on our bags and passports we crossed the border.  The Ukers pass up about $50 each to the driver and then hand off even more to the Ukrainian guards.  We stand around watching all of this wondering what we were supposed to do and where we fit-in in this mix of international trafficking and crime.  Luckily the surly guard pointed out our role, the only fools to get hassled by the border guards.  We all got hauled into customs and were subjected to about 50 questions each ranging from what we do in Ukraine to where have we been outside of Ukraine and what we ate for breakfast last Wednesday.  To make matters worse I had a new passport because my last went in the washing machine and the new one didn’t have an entry stamp as it was issued at the embassy.  I attempted to explain this but this meant nothing to them.  My more fluent friend reiterated the story and again they didn’t get it.  I then said that if they had a problem we could call the embassy.  After another 10 minutes of discussion about our favorite food….we were allowed to leave.

 

The Romanian border was much more organized.  Those smuggling drugs were required to stay outside the van while those not smuggling had their passports stamped and were allowed to get out of the cold and return to the van.  We of course put our faces up against the glass and watched the smugglers like kids at the zoo.  We watched about $3,000 pass from the Ukers to the Romanians and then a bunch of handshakes, high-fives and exchanges of cigarettes between the smugglers and the guards.  Apparently these people go back a long way.  I hope someone at the EU is reading this and realizes that the frontier of the EU is going to need a lot of help form Brussels if there is going to be any hope of stemming the tide of elicit goods streaming into the EU.

 

We then high-tailed it to Suchava and only made one stop in a dark, isolated driveway along the way so the driver could make a drop of some money and God knows what else.  Luckily we survived with our passports, money and innocence intact.  The rest of the trip was nearly uneventful that is until we tried to return to Ukraine.

 

Realizing how nice Romania was we should have come to the conclusion right away that heading to a less civilized country was going to be work as who would want to go from better to worse?  We go to the bus/train station in Brasov early and found out quickly that there was a bus leaving at noon to the city we need in Ukraine.  Great we thought, so we headed to the nearest pastry shop and stuffed our faces with éclairs, croissants and anything else we could get our hands on (thinking of you Aunt Crazy the whole time!).  Well we got back to the bus station paid our fare and then took our seats.  We then discovered that the bus was not heading to Ukraine but rather Moldova where we would have to buy a visa and then hope there was another bus to Ukraine that night.  Realizing right away this was the dumbest plan we struggled to get out money back and were told by the ticket guy that we were stupid and knew nothing.  We might not be Isaac Newton but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this was the express bus to disaster so we got off when we could.  Yet upon further investigation we got back on as it did get us to another town where we hoped we could catch a bus/train to the border where we could catch another bus/train to Ukraine where we hoped we could catch out train back home. We had 10 hours to get to Ukraine and looking at the map figured that for sure we could make two connections and cross a border in that time.

 

We got to connection one, Baku, and at first glance it looked like we had stumpled into the perfect impromptu travel schedule.  The posted schedule said that we had only twenty minutes to wait before the next bus.  We grabbed lunch and then waited, waited, waited and waited some more.  After the bus was 40 minutes late we decided to investigate.  Apparently the posted schedule was out of date and the last bus to the town we needed left two hours before we got to Baku.  So a good four hours up shit creek with not a paddle in sight we did what all dumb tourists do when the can’t speak the language.  We asked everyone all at once if there was anyone who spoke English.  Luckily we found one and explained our predicament.  He told us that we were as presumed, screwed and that we should head to the train station because that was our best bet.  So we hoped in a cab and made the international gesture for train station (choot choot, whistle whistle).  The cabbie understood and we were off.

 

Again it was as if we stumbled into the perfect timetable.  Just as we walked onto the platform a tain to the border was arriving.  We made a mad dash to the ticket counter and bought tickets and then jumped on the train as it was pulling out of the station.  At this point we had 4 hours and 10 minutes to get to our train in Ukraine. We figured that the train took two hours and the border would be thirty minutes and the bus ride to Ukraine another hour and ten, plenty of time to buy tickets and grab the train.  Well we arrived at the border with two hours and thirty minutes to make the border crossing and grab the train, even more time than originally thought.  Did we once again stumble into the perfect timetable…not even close!  The next bus wasn’t until 1pm the following day a full 18 hours later!  We tried to hire a car but decided that was dicey as it would only take us as far as the actual border where there we’d have to hitchhike into Ukraine, not something any of us wanted to do after dark in the middle of nowhere in a country where we didn’t speak the language.  So we went to McD’s got dinner and checked into a hotel admitting defeat but relishing all three stars of our home for the night.  The next day we got the bus, made the train and were back in L’viv at the lovely hour of 1am. But we did make four Romanian friends on the way and helped them and some lost American missionaries buy tickets.  Esentially it was just another long weekend in the God forsaken corner of the world that I have the good forturne to call home for the next 13 months.

 

While I don’t know what I am going to do when I get back to the US I think that after this adventure I am more than qualified to tryout of “Amazing Race.”  So if any of you know the producers, put a good word in for me and get read to watch me kick some ass.

 

Stay tuned…

 

Andy

 

p.s. Thanks to all of you that have answered the call to donate books, I and my school really appreciate your help!!


Posted at 08:49 am by ahallock
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Thursday, October 06, 2005
A shameless plea for books!

I am posting this blog update as a way to get some books delivered to my school. My students in my older forms and even some of my younger forms are at a point where their English is good enough for more demanding material. So am wondering if any of you or your friends, colleagues, neighbors, et. al. can send some books my way. What I am looking for is simple English paperbacks from the 6/7 year old level up to the 12/13 year old level. If you can a class set of about 16 titles each would be awesome, but anything can be used and would be gladly accepted. My librarian is eager to get her hand on anything (old magazines, books…) as I am I to keep my more advanced students busy and excited about English.

 

To get them to me and to save on postage the US Postal Service has a program called the M Bag for books. It costs $11 for 5pounds and takes about 3 months to get to me. So if you want to help some deserving, hard working and economically disadvantaged kids in Sosnivka, Ukraine then I would greatly appreciate any help you can give. Ask your colleagues, put a box in your lunchroom, bring the idea up to your neighbors, church, school…. In return I’ll have my students send you a thank you letter and you can feel good knowing that you have done something truly worthwhile.

 

I am also soliciting groups in the US that specialize in this. The goal is to leave Ukraine having contributed with all of your help an English library that otherwise is beyond the reach of people here. My school currently has decent text books but lacks any resources to help apply the English that the students are eager to learn.

 

Anything you can do to help is more than welcome.

 

Thanks!

Andy

 

Please ship books to:

Øêîëà ¹ 13 Ñ/Î

Õåëëîê Åíäðþ /Andrew Hallock

À/Ñ 19

Ì. Ñîñí³âêà

Ëüâ³âñüêà Îáë.

80193

ÓÊÐÀ¯ÍÀ/UKRAINE

 

If you have any questions please feel free to email me at andy.d.hallock@gmail.com and I’ll answer any questions that you may have. Thanks again for all your help.

 


Posted at 05:04 am by ahallock
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