Tuesday, August 26, 2003

This past weekend was dedicated to celebrating Ukrainian independence. It was quite the celebration as we witnessed it form atop the victory memorial one afternoon of three. Daria has a very keen since of national history, and she was a great tour guide. We did the city for a while, and then returned home to host several people who had returned from rest on the sea. People take a minimum of one week in the upwards of two months during the summer to leave daily life behind and take off to other parts of the country or further. This really makes me want to be a school teacher. The vacation time would be incredible. Think about what you'd have time to accomplish for your own sake; if nothing else, peace of

Back home, we drink a little, we eat a little, and then the guitar comes out. Ukrainians know songs, and people take turns playing the guitar, which also comes with the distinction of choosing the song. It is quite a beautiful pastime. Yes, there is a lot of vodka, but as Martin tried to tell us at the Russian Vodka Room, it does help keep the evening in perspective. In a mere one week my entire perspective on drinking has changed. I enjoy myself much more, and there are many tasty treats all night long. Yet another place that food has hit home for me. The next day no longer holds the same meaning it used to. Although, Alex and I were talking yesterday about how a long night of this will still leave you fairly poisened from high concentrations of alcohol.

In all of this, there's a different attitude towards alcohol. We've had a couple discussions of Ukrainian versus American practices. The question keeps coming up about what Americans eat with beer? I have had to explain numerous times that beer is an entity for its own sake. I think Americans consider beer a vehicle; Ukrainians take that a step further by laying out fish, chips, nuts, crab sticks, bread and cheese, or any other number of possibilities. Of course this doesn't hold true for everyone, and we have seen our fair number of alcoholics, but it is sheer ignorance to say that alcohol has solely a negative impact here. It is part of the culture that means something different to everbody I've spoken with.

Having a beer at lunch with some fish is not a frequent practice, but it is not out of the question. It is also not three+ beers, it's one. And, then life continues as usual, at a reasonable pace. Another thing I have come to love about Kiev is the presence of natural springs. As part of urban development the city
has constructed little areas where there are several pumps with fresh water from hundreds of meters below the surface. The water comes out pure and cold. I have had no problems with this health wise, and I am very pleased to not be purchasing the plastic bottles daily for water. Tap water is okay after boiling (perhaps before, although I have not tried), but there is a pretty high concentration of chlorine in the water.

I have slowly been separating from my hosts and exploring Kiev little by little. I think this week I continue this habit and venture a bit more into the center. I asked about how far home is from the office (Ukrainian Holocaust Center), and I think it might be able 90 minutes to 2 hours. Perhaps, after studying the map some I'll give this a shot.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I have many things to say about my time in Kiev so far. I'm quite happy
with how the past couple days have gone. I live with a wonderful and
cheery young couple, Daria (23) and Alex (26). They married this past
March, and both are recent graduates of institute. Daria has completed her
Master's in cultural studies, and Alex is currently working on a higher
degree in Mathematics. They both would be considered fluent English
speakers as with many of their friends. I have to this point only met
Dema, who was a bandmate of Alex's during their teenage years. Dema has a
company in Kiev where he does identical work to my last job with AJWS as
well as a couple other functions. We were laughing last night as I
explained being the technical person in my line of work also included
screwing in lightbulbs. He can relate to the variety of tasks required of

My spirit is rejuvinated as I was able to cook last night. I prepared a
lovely Italian sauce from local ingredients. Despite lacking my usual
addition of tomatoe paste the dish was fabulous. I love soothing my soul
with food. Daria had a friend who had prepared such a dish for her before,
but Dema and Alex had not to that point experienced Italian "Sauce". I was
happy to prepare it, and at the end Alex asked me for the recipe I told
him there was no recipe and there is time yet to prepare it again; only
next time he must watch to get it. They have offered such exchanges on
their end by a similar request from me. I'm picking up some smatterings of flavor each place I have been so far.

A personal favorite from Nikolaev was Compote. I'm sure everyone will
agree that it is a simple matter to prepare and they know of it or have
made it before, but I don't believe I have seen it before in America. Simply fill a
pot with water, add an assortment of fresh fruits, sugar to taste, and
boil for some period of time. Let sit until it cools and refrigerate. It
is so simple and delightful. It often sat on the dinner table as a lovely
alternative to water, or g-d forbid soda. I'm happy to see most people
here don't consume drinks like that. It is something I have waivered on in
the past, but when I return I'm not sure I'll have much of any interest
left for it. I can find caffeine other places like in tea for example.

Vodka is a different story for this culture. They like it, and were happy
to find out it was my favorite drink before leaving America. We have
enjoyed the spirit thus far in the honey and pepper variety in Kiev, but
before long I will try others. There is a wall of Vodka to choose from
everywhere it is sold. Many stores display their selection upon entry,
with food around some other bend. I don't think this is necessarily the
best, but it does speak to what people want.

We have had many enlightening conversations about what life during and
after the Soviet Union has meant to different people, and invariably the
topic of Vodka comes into the discussion. I'm fairly convinced it has
hindered development to varying degrees. Alternatively, I can attest to the fact that there is vitality here. My present company is shining proof to that end.
So, I've said goodbye to the people of Nikolaev, and at 6am sharp
Monday morning Anatoly Podolsky, of the Ukrainian Holocaust Center, was
waiting for me on the train platform in Kiev. I think it was really nice
of him to be there considering my early arrival. He is quite excited
about the possibilties we have to work together, and I shall return to

The folks in good ole' Nikolaevskya (this is used to describe anything
related to Nikolaev, it's an adjectivication of the word, if you will),
had nice things to say about my time spent with the community, which is
more than they will say about more work on the website. I spent three
weeks total with the community, the first was at the beach near Ochokov
for the community�s summer camp and the other two weeks followed in
Nikolaev proper. In the end Mikhail Goldenberg, the Nikolaev Jewish
Culture Community director, said to me, "The work you did with us was not
so important, I think. I think it was very important for the time you
spent with our community, at the beach and in our center."

Well, there is much to be said for expectations. I thought that I would
have a lot of difficulty communicating, and that would be alleviated in
part by time spent with Gregory, Mikhail's son. I was under the impression
from communication prior to departure we would have much time to work
together, and that he would be able to help me overcome language barriers.
Well, he found a new job prior to my arrival, and he was available to help
me after 8pm during the week and on the weekends. This made for infrequent
communication; we spoke two times during the work week each of the two
weeks I was there, and each Saturday we were at the Jewish club from 3pm
to 6pm. Perhaps I needed to be more assertive in the communication
process, but I felt the entire time as a guest. In addition to feeling as
a guest I was treated as somewhat of the younger guest because of my
inability to communicate. My nickname, kindole (Hebrew for young child, I
think), was both affectionate and paternal. My ability to assert myself
felt somewhat limited. I think this is in large part due to not being able
to speak the language. I am not trying to place blame for this fact
anywhere other than with myself. However, I had an impression that
everything was going to work out.

With regard to the web project, which I initially perceived as my main
function of the volunteership, there were other difficulties in the
communication. I was given a set of pictures and told they would be the
pictures, and after asking a couple times, I never received captions to
accompany them. I did not ask to make more pictures as they were
constantly taking more. This may have been a place I could have asserted
myself, to create my own images of the construction for use on the
website. After a couple conversations with Mikhail at the camp with the
help of Polly Zavdivker, I thought I would author the text presented about
the construction. I went to some length compiling notes from translated
conversations at the camp as well as impressions I had developed in my
time with the community. I told Mikhail and Gregory that my text was ready
a couple times; although, I did not put it on a disk and hand it to
Gregory with the explicit instructions to translate it. Several days
later, I received Mikhail�s text in Russian, and the last day I was there
I received the version translated in English for me to edit on put on the
site as the main text. They have not read what I wrote. There was a lot of
difficulty in conveying ideas to one another because of the language
difference, but also the timeframe in which conversations took place made
it difficult to work efficiently.

The time I spent with Polly, and the Summer Camp on the Black Sea was a
different experience than Nikolaev. Here I participated in group
activities, like the �Little Olympics.� Polly and I danced with the girls
ensemble in a choreographed number, pom-poms included. At the beach we
played and swam with the kids, daily. I bonded with one parent in
particular over an intense match of chess lasting several nights. I
enjoyed watching the kids sing while Mikhail played guitar to numerous
songs each evening. I took part in several discussions on topics ranging
from Judaism in the Ukraine and America to the importance of an
association with Israel. It was fascinating as a foreigner to try and
explain different concepts. There was also the challenge of making the
translation easy work for Polly. It was good to think about different
aspects of my life in those terms. Occasionally, Polly would go through
the ringer on a conversation, and unfortunately sometimes, the people I
would be speaking with did not regard her as more than a translator. This
was a challenge she overcame pretty quickly, interjecting her thoughts in
Russian. Everyone was in good spirits considering it was their summer
rest, and the organized activities offered something more than similar
programs. This one was subsidized which had a huge impact on the
attendance, but also, the parents knew there would be quality educational
programs; lastly, there would be a chance to emphasize their Jewishness.

It is important that some time in this description of my volunteership
focus on the camp�s Shabbot service. I am happy to say it had a very high
impact on the community. On Friday night, I witnessed everybody
participating in a truly communal celebration. Kids helped bring in the
day of rest with recitation of prayer. They have constructed a candle
board giving most women in the community the opportunity to light a candle
and recite the invocation of Shabbot. It is a beautiful practice. Other
members of the community helped with the rituals including myself
symbolically washing my hands for everyone and assisting the distribution
of Challah. The event was not very long in duration, but the importance is
paramount for the week�s experiences. The practice was inspirational, and
perhaps the members of the community feel the same way. It was out of my
league to try and understand that.

During my second week in Nikolaev (my third week with the community) I sat
through the Shabbot services for the Club of Elderly People. There
celebration was shorter in ritual and time, but the beauty did not
diminish in the slightest. They have other activities for the club
including Tuesday cook-ins for the ladies. Several people contribute to
the groups� celebration, and during my second week I attended the cook-in
for the first time. It was a very special celebration because we
celebrated Mikhail�s birthday as well as one of the ladies that turned 85.
The food was prepared by Maria, who has been a professional cook all her
life, now 90. She prepared the best gafilta fish I have ever had (sorry
mom). I tried to explain this to her as she was leaving, and she was
grateful. The next day I was discussing a Ukrainian dish with Galina, my
home stay�s mother, and she said it is only available hand-made. She
informed me this is a laborious process that she would not partake in;
however, she jokingly told me to ask Maria. I pressed the issue a little,
and she made the call. Maria�s response, �They�ll be ready tomorrow!� I
gleefully accepted the bowl full of cherry vareneeky (think chinese
dumplings cooked in boiling water). And, they were fabulous. Maria told me
to come back to the Ukraine. I think she really liked feeding me.

That�s a good entry point to discuss my home-stay. It worked out very
well. The family consisted of Galya (the mom), Victor (the dad), Larissa
(the daughter), Maxim (the son), and Vassa (the cat). I got along with
everyone except Vassa�s friends; he had fleas. It took very little on my
part to explain that fleas actually bite people. I showed them the bright
red inflamed spot on my leg. This was not a point I was going to stand by
and watch unfold. They were very accommodating in getting Vassa a flea
collar and spraying the carpets in several rooms a couple times. To my
last day they were still in the house, but not nearly on the magnitude
initially. So, back to the good food I mentioned. The family happily
provided three meals per day, and I enjoyed all of it. I have now had
several authentic versions of Ukrainian borscht. I explained when they
asked if I had ever heard of borscht that my dad had made it for me, but
that I thought it may have been a Russian version. Other dishes consisted
of chicken, various meats, and amazing produce. The sun that was doing a
good job of drenching my clothes with sweat was also responsible for
harvests of amazing fruits and vegetables. I had a great fruit called
deyenna. It closely resembled a watermelon in size, the smell was of a
melon like honeydew, and the flesh had a milky white color. The taste was
delicious. I also found a good chess opponent in Victor. We played so
much, Galya kept referring to us as Karpov and Kasporov. That was about
the only time I was honored with any type of Russian status, that made me
chuckle. It was very easy staying with them, and they reported the same
about me to Mikhail. It was comfortable speaking Russian with Larissa and
Galya by the end. It took a little while to be able to communicate exactly
what I needed. Refer to entries in my blog for those references.

Under the circumstances I would say a 10 class Berlitz course was almost
laughable preparation for what I encountered in Nikolaev. I had my
difficulties, and there was much that remains unsaid. I think a command of
the language could have lead to better work in the technical realm of my
assignment. I would have appreciated more assistance from Gregory and
Mikhail. To his credit, Mikhail is facing many challenges with the
construction of his new building, and he did not have much time to spend
with me. My work there did not include the instruction of any classes in
fact they were operating during my time there. Perhaps this was a little
difficult to pin down with uncertainties revolving around my pre-departure
plans, but while I was there they kept telling me little by little that
the club was not operating as normal. This behavior reigns during the
summer, unbeknownst to me prior to arrival. I feel this could have been
better communicated on their part. I had to live through it to know what
was happening. There was very little direction during my time there other
than day to day, and that usually changed on the pre-determined day.

I believe the community is asking many good questions. Personally, I took
very much from the experience. Living with Nikolaevians gave me an
intimate awareness for some challenges they face as people of a developing
nation and trying to promote their own interest as a minority within that
system. The problems I experienced were acute in comparison with my
personal development during the time spent there.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

So many wonderful things have happened in the last couple days. My illness not being one of them. This cold or whatever it is is being a bit dastardly.

Monday, Larissa and I went to the Nikolaev Zoo, and it was truly something. They have more varieties of animals than perhaps anyother zoo I've been too. That is not to say that they were kept in optimal circumstances. We saw some monkeys that we're supposedly rare, I'm not sure if that equates to endangered or hard to catch. Regardless, they were amongst the most gorgeous primates I've ever seen. They had very furry heads, and their bodies were quite small maybe 6-8 inches including tails. They were very casually eating from their tray of goodies and tossing the husks or skins to the bottom. There was also a 50 year old alligator, which from the look of it, it hadn't seem to have moved much of those 50 years. Although, it did blinks or roll it's eyelids. I was very enamored with the slon, or elephant that was playing to the kids that were feeding it. After it would fetch the fresh fruit, it would stand there waiting for more by waiving its trunk in the air. It was quite something. This was as Larissa was explaining to me the depth of an elephant's memory. This elephant was no spring chicken; although, they had those also. The chickens, cows, and horses were not exactly exotic to us discerning viewers. The ostrich that chased its keeper along the side of the cage was however quite interesting giving a little bit of a hop as it approached the edge of the space it had to run. There were goats, camels, and big cats. I was particularly impressed with the jaguars, black panthers, lions, and cougars. The cages were sometimes adequate and very different in their layout that I would have expected. For example, there was a round cage half with wolves, and the other half had coyotes. They had large arcs to run along, and run they did. They were running the first time we saw them, and some hours later when we passed by the cage they were running again. They were really beautiful animals. The whole zoo experience was great and tiring, I came home and slept for several hours afterwords. It was probably the most temperant day we've had so far here, not being much above 70. Larissa was even cold when the wind blew on occasion.

Things are really good all in all, and I'm enjoying my time here in Nikolaev. My volunteership is moving along, when I finish the webpage I'm working on, I'll post the address for others to see, and then I'm to Kiev. I have been reading a lot about what will be of note to do while I'm there, and I have a lot of time to figure it out, six weeks to be precise. My Russian is improving marginally. I actually had my first dream in the language before coming to the internet cafe this afternoon, and it mostly revolved around asking politely for staples from the various stores I'll frequent for supplies while on my own. It seems as though I will have another home stay while in Kiev with an employee from the Holocaust center there. I was told the home will be english speaking and have high ceiling. What else could a 2 meter tall gringo ask for?

Sunday, August 10, 2003

This past week I received two wonderful quotes in support of my development. I would like to share those with everyone for the opportunity to take something from them, yourselves.


paraphrase: the world may seem dark outside our inner temple, but we are
called to go outside and stand in faith. this plunge into the darkness
and discomfort of the unkown is how we actively invite spirituality into
our life. It is not only the most direct way to awaken our spirit but
is the surest way to quench our deepest thirst. Acknowledge your thirst
and then step into the places of uncertainty where conventional sense
dictates you are unprepared to go. enter with trust and find the sacred
water that is waiting.

bradford keeny


Douglas Steere remarks very perceptively that there is a pervasive form
of contempory violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by
nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush
and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of
its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude
of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to
help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that,
it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes
his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It
destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of
inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander"


Life goes on in Nikolaev for around $50-60/Month. I find this to be quite shocking last night in a conversation with friends. An expensive apartment on the main street here in town is $100/month, a one bedroom and bath with kitcheonette (<- Not their word). This style of life is also accompanied by little in the way of work options. I'm finding in many conversations that people work multiple jobs here. It is the only way they can maintain. My family for example between the two parents probably have about four or five jobs, including some home business work. Everybody does what they need to do to survive. Polly and I spoke a bit about this while she was here how different the style of life is because people spend so much time surviving. I for one am thankful that I have the opportunity to explore outside myself and see what the world we occupy offers others.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Galya and I have gotten down to business in the last two days with my Russian. I've passed from my stage of apathy that I don't know enough to communicate, and I'm back on track. I came to the internet cafe today all by my lonesome.

Preeviet mojna dva chas n'internet, pajalsta. (Hello, may I use internet for two hours, please)
Response: Yes, computer number 10, pay when you're done.

I can do this. I was trying to explain to Larissa yesterday that if she weren't there I still would have been able to buy shampoo. No, I would not have been able to answer the question about what type of hair I have, but we all know that all shampoo comes from the same magical batch anyway. It's just the packaging, some corn starch, and food coloring that makes the difference. I pointed to the comb that I wanted, and when I handed over the ticket for film processing all they wanted was the 27 Gryvnah. I'll do just fine in Kiev. Anatoly has agreed to pick me up from the train station, and put me into a hotel. I will spend some time volunteering at his office. Life is going to be just dandy. Galya is very happy to speak Russian with me and offer grammar at a pace that I can't keep up with, but that too is okay.

Even my sinus infection is on the way out. I don't think it is because of the black light I held up to my nose last night. They are convinced if you heat your nose for three minutes each night your condition will away within 2 to 3 days instead of 7 to 10. I bet google will have something a little different to say about the matter. But, who am I to question the healing powers electricity has to offer.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

A reflection on the camp:
On the campground there were several gazebos. There is a small table in the center and seating for about 7. Often, I would pass by the gazebo adjacent Misha and Polly's room, and he would be perched with guitar on knee with anywhere from three to twelve kids lingering. Misha would be playing from a variety of songs he knows and everyone would chime in on the tunes they knew. Others would watch and wait for the next song, but everytime the favorites came along everyone would sit up on edge and sing loudly tune like 'Hop Stop' which Polly's homestay mom, Irina, explained is a song about gangsters. Misha wears the hat of pied piper amongst so many others. But, everyone was enlivened with their participation and some would go and others would come along. This would sometimes go until 1am. His energy is breeding community; it truly has been something else to witness.

Last night:
So, the shower has a gas unit that you need to turn on regulating the hot water. My understanding of the matter was when the water got too hot you'd balance it out with some cold water. That is what I had done for the past two days without difficulty. Of course, lastnight when I was tired, it wouldn't happen that way. The shower head started balking, so I changed it for the water to only come out of the faucet. The same condition continued with the faucet rattling a bit. At this point I'm completely covered in Soap, but conditions seem to be worsening a little. I turned off the gas grabbed my towel and went for help. Galya came in and took at look at what I had done. She turned off the cold water and then a couple seconds later a combination of rust and water came out followed but a rush of steam that I thought was going to crack all of the porcelein in the tub. It definately would have been a problem for that to contact skin. We concluded with her saying that I received another lesson in technology. It's not that I can't do these things properly, but I suppose some of them are not quite as intuitive since all my life there have been two knobs, and no fear of blowing up the block. Think about that next time you easily draw a bath!

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I have run into what might be called an language blockade. It's tougher than a roadblock because everytime you think you're going in the direction that you want to be going in things completely change. For example, after being in Nikolaev for three days I have finally made it to an internet cafe. The russian/english difference is very great. There is no middle ground of understanding. I asked to go to an internet cafe today, for the third day in a row. They asked me if I would like to instead use their home connection, and I said that would be fine except that I would tie up their phone line. The mother, Galya, then retorted with, "who's going to be in New York to talk with now, anyway." There is no simple way around it. I'm not an idiot, but since I don't speak Russian my intelligence is equated to that of the cat. My host family has many bizarre traits about them, but I guess that's because I'm an americansky. Okay, so Maxim, the son, and I start to head out of the house anyway after what I thought was an agreement to use their connection, and we head to the post office to send off a letter. After that we go to an internet provider. Apparently Maxim understood my request as his house needing an entirely new provider. I have no clue where they come up with this. I feel as though I'm requesting simple things. But, it's not coming across that way.

Hopefully, tomorrow, I will go to the Jewish 'club' and begin my work with some regularity. Oh yea, after lunch, because that was proposed as a good time of the day to work. I have had a lot of time to learn how to slow down. The first week was spent on the Black Sea 'resting', and I was told when we returned we would spend a couple days for down time. They have an interesting concept of summer here. I guess it was a little odd to come this time of year.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

I am back in Nikolaev after a week of complete rest. I took the overnight train from Kiev to Nikolaev, meet my host family for my volunteership, took a shower and headed for the buses to go to the beach. We were at a resort on the Black Sea, and we went swimming nearly every day. It was wonderful to relax this way. There were very few scheduled events, and our little group: Anatoly, Igor, Irina, Alla, and Polly took some side trips by ourselves. Polly is another JVC volunteer who was here two weeks before me. She heads back to Kiev today, Berkley Tomorrow, and then to New York two weeks after that. She is fluent in Russian (similar to the way my friendship with Alissa began in Paris) and she's a really sweet girl very interested in learning more about her Judaism. She's moving to New York to attend a Yeshiva. Anatoly is another jcdf grantee. He runs a Holocaust project in Kiev dedicated to the Ukrainian plight during the war and it effects afterwards. His son Igor came along for the ride. Irina was Polly's host mother, and Alla her daughter. They also brought their dog Vishnye along. All in all it was an amazing time. When I am not tying up a phone line I will send more.

I'm doing really well and trying to figure out what comes after the two week volunteership here. I don't think my Russian skills are adept enough to go out on my own, so residence in Kiev is a distinct possibility for six weeks. I have spoken with Anatoly about a possible volunteership.