Where I fit in the box of crayons....

Do you ever get that feeling like there's more out there? That's the feeling that brought me to beyond borders. The global community is growing, and I have not yet become a part of it. I want to be a contributing citizen to the global community through participation and action. Over the years, I have developed an appreciation for diversity and difference, and look for other ways that people are doing things. There’s a whole world out there beyond our North American perspective that has the potential to change the way I see things, and to change my life. Gahndi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." I think we should not only find the change within ourselves, but also take part in the change we want to see in the world. I hope that Beyond Borders will offer a medium in which I can be the change I want to see in the world, and also take part in that change.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Joanne... you promised!

Joanne promised that I didn't have to worry about squat toilettes here in Ukraine... she wasn’t totally honest in this promise, and I was also lead to believe that squat toilettes are the worst a toilette can get…

(please excuse the graphic details of this post, it’s NOT for the feint at heart… you have been formally warned)

Larissa (my language professor) claimed the toilettes we the shame of Ukrainian culture. This is more true than you can ever know. Finding a reliable toilettes is a challenge at the best of times here.

So first I’ll deal with squats – there ARE squat toilettes here – and specifically there are squat toilettes (and only squat toilettes) at the university. Squat toilettes here are vile places and one gets the impression that Ukrainians don’t have very good aim, and no one is paid to clean. There are also squats in public places, like publically funded toilettes. This seems to be an older thing and more modern places have toilettes. I am going to chalk this up to former Soviet frugality, and call it one of the deep festering wounds that the Soviets left on Ukrainian culture.

On to other toilettes. The toilettes in bars and restaurants vary from decent to disgusting. There is one bar we frequent that has wonderful toilette facilities during the day, but then after 7pm they seem to deteriorate into oblivion. The only light source is a red bulb which only adds to the griminess of the place. I walked in to this particular toilettes one night dancing with urgency, took a look around, and walked out cool as a cucumber – my bodily functions were silenced by revolt!

And there are places with no toilettes at all… we ran into a man on the weekend who was building a tourist bar in the Carpathian region and for cost cutting purposes had decided not to install a bathroom. Our driver told him that he was the “shame of Ukraine” and that he would never bring tourists to his establishment for making such a terrible decision. This is not an isolated incident. Many establishment owners will cut out the cost of installing a bathroom because it is not their issue if patrons don’t go before they leave the house.

And speaking of houses – the toilette at home (my home stay home) is better, but not by much! I remember getting here the first night – not having peed in over 24 hours (yes this is a long time, and I’ll explain in a minute) and was asked if I wanted to sleep or washroom first – I chose washroom – I went in and closed the door; I was really confused that there was a sink, a tub, a laundry machine, a clothes drying rack, some shelves…. But no toilettes! To tell you the truth, I panicked a little bit. So I opened the door, and in English asked for a toilettes – it was the next room over beside the dining table. It really is what the French refer to as a “water closet” it is tiny little closet space and JUST a toilette! That first time I used it I banged my head on the door knob getting up, I fell backwards back onto the toilette seat and made so much noise navigating pulling my pants back up that they knocked to make sure I was ok!! I have since gotten used to the little toilette closet, the proximity to the dining area, and the inconsistent supply of toilettes paper, but I am really having trouble adjusting to the lack of sink in the toilettes room.

A couple years ago I went in for a uterine ultrasound and of course they made me drink a whole bunch of water before bed and prohibited me from peeing in the morning. I did what I was told and raced to the clinic in the morning to get everything over with. I will never forget the tech who did my ultrasound she was very shocked she said “oh my goodness! Look at how big it is, oh my goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bladder that large, and MY you’re full!! Wow! You are really really full!” after her fawning over my bladder for 3 full minutes I politely asked if we could move on with the ultrasound and reminded her about how “full” I was. In Canada I take full advantage of my large bladed because I have a phobia of public washrooms (no it’s not the germs, it’s the pedophiles, but that’s a long story I’m NOT going into) so I am able to hold my pee for long enough (usually, unless I sneeze, and that too is another story for another day) that I can get through even my longest of days and only have to use the toilette at home. I am generally good for 14-16 hours before I HAVE to use a toilette. Here in Ukraine my abnormally large bladder comes in handy while navigating the different toilette situations one might find themselves in here and generally if I plan it right I only have to use the toilettes at home and can skip the Ukrainian public washroom experience!!

(I’m gonna get more graphic here…)

Why am I telling you all about toilettes… I am debating NOT going into the Internat tomorrow for fear of lack of reliable toilette facilities. This weekend marked the end of a menstrual cycle, and I’m not sure why but it is a particularly abnormal cycle in which I am bleeding like the jugular of a stuck cow in an African Maasai Blood Ritual (yes I am taking multi vitamins with iron…) and have no choice but to be close to a toilette at all times or risk… well, you know, it’s risky I don’t have to go into stained chair stories or other graphic details. I realized this weekend while touring around the Carpathian Mountains that the need to use a bathroom more frequently than every 12 hours becomes a real problem here.

As I said some of the lack of reliable facilities stems from the frugality of the former Soviet lifestyle both in terms of paying for facilities and the expenses that are associated with maintenance: water, cleaning, repair. This frugality has survived both in the infrastructure (public toilettes) as well as in the minds and practices of people who lived in that culture for so long (like the Carpathian bar owner). If you ask Ukrainians about their toilettes, you can tell that it is a point of shame for them especially when talking to a foreigner. I think both for hygienic reasons, and as an issue of national pride something should be done about the toilettes here!!

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more….

Now I must leave you to go to the toilette… I’ve bl… erm business to attend to *cough*


Monday, June 14, 2010

Деніс ні Канадйка, Деніс Українка!

Today is officially one month plus two days since I arrived in Ukraine. What a month it has been! I though it appropriate to give a general overview of things here and where I’m at – a more macro perspective than some of the other posts.

Let me start with how I’m feeling – I love it here. Like really without even a touch of exaggeration I am really in love with being here. I knew the hour after my suitcase arrived (12 hours after I had arrived) that I was going to have an easy time adjusting. In my first e-mail home to Joanne I told her how much of a blast I had been having. She cautioned that my euphoric feelings were just a honey moon phase. I was definitely given pause and reflected heavily on why I was having such a great time… Here’s what I came up with:

First and foremost, this has been the best “vacation” of my life! As stressful as getting here was, as soon as I arrived here I was absolved of all of my Canadian responsibilities, and in so doing all of my Canadian stress melted away – no more cookies, or house cleaning, or driving, or school, or papers, or family or sick cat, or money worries it was all gone. Ok so Living in a different continent/country/city and learning a new language and adjusting are all challenges, but when you’re used to living life with a red lining stress level at all times, a 20% stress level is more than manageable no matter what the task. No more anxious hours and heart palpitations – I can take on anything Ukraine has to offer!

There are two other (related) things that have made a huge difference in how quickly I’ve adjusted. One is that I didn’t leave much behind, save Felix and the dogs (and amazing friends), and although I miss Fee and the boys and my wonderful friends I know that I’ll see them (you) again (actually exactly 100 days from today – and no I’m not counting down the days I’m keeping track of the days left as a reminder to make the most of every single day). The other contributing factor is my Ukrainian Family – I’ve talked about this before – this is probably the thing that will stay with me for the rest of my life and the “foreign” experience that will most shape me coming out of this trip. Mike (one of the Sask kids) and I talked about how each one of us Canadian students was perfectly matched with a Ukrainian family, and each family seems to be exactly what each of us needed. How the universe aligned to make that happen I’ll never know… But I know that Tanya, Luba, Sasha and Slaveek have earned a very very special place in my heart.

So the other thing that is protecting me from the falling out of the honeymoon phase is that I think life here is so wonderfully simple. The first week I was here I started making a list of all of the things that my family needed from Canada to make their lives easier – things like a can opener, oven mitts, an oven with a temperature gage, a non-rotary phone, a DVD player (I was gonna have felix ship it all, well, not the oven)… and then in the second week I deleted that list and started a list of all the things that Canadians need to learn from the Ukrainians to a) make their lives easier, b) take better care of the planet, c) be better people (I’ll probably post this list at the end of the summer, or not… no promises). And the truth of the matter is that even without the conveniences of home (home being Canada), life goes on here and seems to go on much more smoothly! This re framing of life and redefining what comfort is happened without much struggle on my part – I can attributes this partially to the fact that I have never really found comfort and self definition in material objects and the richness of the people here more than make up for the fact that we don’t have a can opener or a clothes drying machine.

I have also spent the month learning a new language (which also wasn’t particularly difficult overall) making new friends, and exploring an interesting and magnificent country that’s beauty I steeped in a deep and rich history. I have made an effort to assimilate into the culture by learning how to cook traditional dishes and do Ukrainian cross stitch( which is a lot of bloody work!!). Mama (Luba) had taken a liking to telling me and all of her friends that “Деніс ні Канадйка, Деніс Українка!!” (Denise is not Candian, Denise is Ukrainian) which I think is great proof of my adjustment. I think out of the 33 days I’ve been here I can admit to having a single bad day that stemmed from being super sick with bronchitis, stir crazy from being in the house for 3 days, and sweltering from the 30+ degree weather, but a good sleep cleared that bad mood right up. I expect a small slump when the Saskatoon kids leave and I have to adjust to being here alone, but I think I’m up for the challenge, and I don’t expect to loose my honeymoon euphoria!!

If all else fails.... beer is less than one Canadian dollar for half a litre and is double the alcohol content; this means if I take a turn for the worst I can afford to drink my sorrows away!! (hahahahah)


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Out of my "comfort" zone...

I think that one of the key differences I have noticed between Ukrainian Culture Canadian society is that Canadian life is marked with the distinct colour of convenience. Ukrainian society has not yet discovered this concept.

I think in North America we are so committed to comfort that we often miss the realities of life. My friend Jeff recently posted this on his facebook page “We need to stop hiding in comfort and actually make some changes” : and it got me to thinking…

I have been so utterly aware of my size every moment I’ve been here. This culture is not made for large people!

It started on the planes, and then the train, and now here in Ternopol it’s the busses, upon which I am acutely aware that I am often taking up more than my share of space at any given time. This is an odd feeling for me because I am able to forget all about these things in Canada as our level of convenience has made it possible for me to “hide in the comfort” and not face a reality.

Here’s how I operate: When giving my friends advise about a problem (lets say drugs or alcohol) I always ask them to evaluate how their problem/issue/addiction affects their ability to live their life to the fullest – does the problem get in the way of life/experiences. If the answer is yes then my next question would be whether that is ok with them if they say yes I don’t believe them, and if they say no then they are ready to make the changes necessary!

And here’s my current reality… This is a physically mobile place. People walk everywhere there’s stairs (CRAZY uneven, falling apart, slanted scary stairs) everywhere, people don’t drive cars, or take taxis the walk. For instance, we went to the Village a couple weeks ago. The bus dropped us off and it was 37 degrees out with 80% humidity. We had to walk 5 kilometers to get to our relatives house! 5 km is a long walk for most Canadians, let alone someone who takes advantage of convenience at every opportunity. I definitely thought to myself - as I was dragging my feet and exhausted after the first kilometer – that I wouldn’t be coming back to the village because the walk was killer. Then I got to the family farm and fell in love and also had a stark realization: my problem (weight and out of shape-ness) is affecting my ability to life my life to its full potential!!! I asked myself if I was ok with that and the answer was a resounding no.

This weekend we visited Кам’янець-Подільський (Kamianets-Podilskyi) and Хотин (Hotin). In Хотин there is a fortress on the river bank. It’s a steep, rocky, uneven climb down to the bottom of the forty foot fortress. As we were descending our guides kept asking me if I was ok and I finally got frustrated and said (said is putting it nicely) “just cause I’m fat doesn’t make me incapable”. We went down and looked around (amazing!) and then we started the ascent. I think I nearly died – like really nearly died. I could tell you that I am just getting over a bout of bronchitis and that was why I was panting and sputtering. I could also tell you that it’s because I’m an asthmatic smoker, and that’s why the climb was so challenging. I could cite the fact that we did this climb in 40 degree weather in the blazing sun of high noon with humidity so thick you could cut through it, but I’ll tell you what I told myself – holy FUCK Denise are you out of shape! In fairness it was a challenging climb and the other students were pretty beat by the time they got up but their lives didn’t flash before their eyes.

Next we did a 30 min drive to Кам’янець-Подільський to visit the castle. Over the course of the drive my heart beat returned to normal, I stopped panting, drank some water and thought I was fine. The castle was incredible, I could have spent hours taking photos and taking in all that it had to offer but what actually happened is that I felt dizzy got goose bumps, started to shiver and felt like it was forty below zero outside – my first experience of heat shock! I had to sit most of the castle out. As I looked at the pictures afterwards I realized how sad I was that I missed out on exploring something so wonderful and interesting (I was going to say breathtaking, but that would be a terrible play on words hahaha) because of an issue I have chosen to ignore for way way WAY to long. The other thing I noticed is that I have gone through and deleted as many pictures of myself as possible because I “ruin” the shot (almost without realizing my systematic personal cleansing)

What really got me, and the reason why I’m telling all this to you, was the feeling of utter embarrassment. I don’t think I have ever experienced this feeling before. At home I am able to live my life and get what I need done without a second thought towards my weight or size. I realized how embarrassing it is to have five people waiting at the top of a hill for you, or having to back out of something because your problem restricts you from being capable of being included. Never before have I been embarrassed about who I am – and this was a very challenging experience (infact: I’d rather climb that hill repeatedly for eternity than ever have to experience this state again).

What I’m not going to do is queue the fad diet. In fact I’m not really sure how I will deal with this but I know that it is in my mind and I know that it is important to me now – where it never has been before. I also know that it has made me committed to not being a comfortable/lazy North American and now instead of dragging my feet I take my daily four flights of stairs with gusto.

I think that I have been forced to come out of hiding in my comfort, and this means that I will make some changes! (and stop deleting myself out of photographs)


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ghandi said...

Today I climbed a mountain, and saw a fortress and then I was going to write a post about being large and the challenges of traveling large, and then I went to a monastery, and decided there were more pertinent things to write about…

The closest I’ve been to a monastery before today was watching the sisters of the abbey and their tribulations with Maria in the Sound of Music (which by the way has NOT been translated into Ukrainian or Russian, so Ukrainians have no idea what the Sound of Music is… shame). To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I was in a church at all… no matter, I thought going to the monastery would be an interesting experience, so we took a bus from Кремнец (Kremnetz) to Почаїв (Poch-eye-ive) and went to the monastery.

I was warned before I left this morning that one must cover their head in Orthodox churches, so when we got there I bought a scarf (Tina it’s gorgeous, and it now belongs to you, I’ll send pics). When we got in to the compound, a guard rushed us and barked at us to do something, and pointed in the general direction of a crowd. We went over and as it turned out, not only did we have to cover out heads, we also could not wear pants… we had to RENT SKIRTS (even though the skirts were shorter than the pants that both of us girls happened to have on). Ok, we rented skirts, and put them on.

The monastery is gorgeous! The buildings were beautiful, and the interiors were lavish. We commented in every building that one could stand in each building for a week just to take in all of the paintings, and architecture. It was certainly a beautiful place to be.

The whole place had a punch of commercialism added in – there was no money exchanged (officially), but the place was crawling with tourists (like ourselves) most of whom were not there to visit a religious site, but just a site (yes, guilty again). The only thing is that most Ukrainians (yes even the Ukrainian tourists) are much more religious/respectful of religion than a group of your average Canadians. The commercialism was unsettling, but it didn’t really bother me…

What really bothered me was having to wear a skirt. First of all because of course it didn’t fit right, but also because the men did not have to change a THING about their appearance in order to walk around. There were men in various attires – suits, casual wear, jeans and sports jackets, sweatpants SHORTS… and none of them were required to cover up, or change their appearance. That was the first thing that got the hairs on my neck raised a bit…

So then I walked into the main church, and there were some prayers happening, and people lighting candles, and bowing to the priests and what not. There was a relic alter with a long line. The alter had a 2.5 foot intricate metal (I’m gonna guess brass) fence/gate around it, which, to my horror, some poor woman (Nun) was on her knees polishing with a tiny rag, and buff cloth while a man (monk/priest) stood over top of her and “supervised”. In another corner of the same church another nun was on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor while a different monk watched over. And then I realized that all over the monastery the women were hard at work while the men watched over them.

Ok, so the icing on the cake – as I was walking out of the building, having had quite enough monastery experience a nun and a priest/monk were walking towards one another in a corridor. The nun was an older lady probably about 75, the monk was a young chap no older than 25 it was obvious from the way she was walking she intended to talk to the younger guy. When they got within talking distance the nun bowed her head, and held a curtsey until the priest said something, and then she stood up. I think my blood actually boiled. Seriously.

The three of us (Christina, Sean and I) got into a short discussion about why I didn’t like the monastery, but decided to end it because religion is not something you talk about with people you have only known for 3 weeks.

But here’s my issues: A) why do the women have to change their clothes, but the men don’t? What is so wrong with women that how they come to God isn’t good enough? I really wish that I spoke better Ukrainian because if I was totally fluent (or the monastery was totally English speaking) I would have probably staged a bit of a scene.

B) Why is it that the women are working, and the men get to supervise? Yeah ok nuns are the caretakers of the house of got and the priests are supposed to be doing different jobs, but really? The men are there just to look over the women doing work? I think I would have been less bothered by the women working so hard if there was an absence of men, but seeing the men there doing nothing but looking on really highlighted the power differential.

C) the kicker… so I asked my travel mates “ why would she bow down to him even though she is just as holy as he is?” and I was given answers like “respect” “he’s a priest” etc. ARGH. Respect for what? The fact that he is a priest? Ok, so here’s how I see it: she has probably spent most of her life in the monastery serving God. Given their age difference (lets be prudent and say 50 years) I would say that she is a WHOLE LOT more holy, and probably more committed to her faith. I would even go so far as to say that she is probably closer to God than he is!! Oh, wait, but he has a title “priest”, which is not open to her, and he earned in much less time than it has taken her to prove and live her faith. So wheeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrr does respect come in?

What did Ghandi say? Ghandi said “I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ”

I am not trying to malign anyone, or their faith. I happen to be a firm believer, and practitioner of the basic values of the Christian faith (even though I might not do it in the name of God). I also respect everyone’s right to practice their own faith in whichever way they see fit. I believe that as long as your religion encourages you to do good things to your fellow global inhabitants (humans, animals, plants), then take whatever you need to stay motivated. BUT this “way of faith” is not because God or Jesus said that women should be subordinate to men, it comes from somewhere very different. Some time later, Sean realized and then pointed out that had the priest that I saw in the monastery been Jesus, he probably would have bowed to the woman, rather than the other way around!

Listen, I’m no religious scholar. I am a near totally confident atheist, so perhaps I should not comment on things like this that don’t concern me. But my observation of this is that these power differentials not only do not come from the teachings of Christ (and therefore are not the order of God), but are in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ, and the will of God. (I’m gonna come on strong here…) This is a patriarchical system that has perverted the essence of their own religion so that it suits them better. They have, for centuries, encouraged this perversion in order to maintain their comfy, powerful perch. Put God behind whatever it is you want and suddenly no one is allowed to question you. I do not think Christ would agree.

Please don’t take offence. But please do look closely at your faith; are you living the way (INSER DIETY HERE) intended you to, or are you living according to the way your RELIGION has interpreted your deity – I defend that these two ways of life are very different…..

I wont be visiting any more monasteries, promise!


Friday, June 4, 2010

Back to Cookies

Today i baked cookies...

now 2 months ago this would be a normal statement, but I have not baked in over a month - after 9000 cookies I was pretty tired of everything about cookies: the smell, the heat, the work, the flour, the sugar etc. I left toronto SOOOOO happy to not have to look at another cookie for 4 months...

(fast forward a month) I miss baking cookies.... I miss the smell, the flour, the sugar, the icing, the results... I also REALLY miss my own kitchen. Every now and again it's nice to be fed, but I always feel catered to here and thats not a feeling I'm used to.

So tonight, I baked. not only is ther no peanut butter in Ukraine, they also do not have chocolate chips, and no chocolate chips means no chocolate chip cookies!!!!! they had no idea what to make of my goopy mess of dough, and then what came out of the oven... BUT I think they have fallen in love, so that MIGHT mean I am making a whole lot more cookies than I had originally planned on.... oops!

but for now there's a whole lot of fresh baked, chewy chocolate chip cookies for them to enjoy. Tastes like home...


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Кіт і Пиріг - The cat and the Pie

My cat has just come out of surgery - he had 5 massive kidney stones (poot thing), so in honour of my recovering furry friend here is a little Ukrainian Poem...

Кіт і Пиріг ("keet ee pehreeh")- The cat and the Pie

Падав сніг на поріг
Кіт зліпив собі пиріг
Поки смажив
Поки пік
А пиріг водою стік
Кіт не знав що на пиріг
Треба тісто а не сніг

"Pa-dav sneegh na poreeh
keet zleepev sobee pehreeh
pokee cmadgeiv
pokee pik
a pehreeh voodooyou stick
keet ne znav shcho na pehreeh
treba teesto a ne sneegh"

The snow was falling in the foyer
The cat made a pie for himself
While he was frying
While he was baking
The pie turned into water.
The cat didn't know that to make a pie,
One needs dough, not snow.

*love* to Mr Cat (Mangia)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Power of an Hour

JUNE 1 2010

I don’t think you can prepare for the power of an experience. I’ve tried for more than a year to prepare for the experience of today, and apparently I underestimated the power of one particular hour.

I got my Beyond borders acceptance letter on May 14 2009, and I found out that I would be travelling to Ukraine to work in the Internat (orphanage) on November 11 2009. I have gone through many emotions as I prepared to leave home, come to Ukraine and spend the summer with the girls of the Internat.

I have been in Ukraine for just over 3 week enjoying every moment of getting used to the culture, my new family, the weather (see previous post), classes, a new instrument, a new hobby, a new language, new friends and everything else. Yesterday was a good day. I got my marks back for my second test (85%) had class, and tutorial, and then sopilka lessons (kind of like a recorder) and the music teacher spent the whole class checking me out (hahaha) and then I met Orest who took me to the Internat for the first time (I have been waiting with baited breath to go)

In Joanne’s initial e-mail about the orphanage she said “This is an extremely challenging placement – but, having watched you over the term, I believe it is one you could handle and even thrive in.” thanks for the vote of confidence Joanne! (no sarcasm) I believe that I CAN thrive in the Internat environment, but I do have to admit that the first hour I spent there yesterday really hit me hard – and I wasn’t expecting this.

I went with Orest (Ukrainian Student), and Mike, and Sean (Sasktoon students). As we walked onto the “compound” we were like the “Pied Piper” kids came out from everywhere to great us. They were really happy to see Orest, and they were even more excited that the “noveeno Kanadski” (new Canadians) had arrived. We walked into the building and a heard of smiling happy children rushed us, and all wanted hugs, and hands to hold, and to be picked up. At first I was a little rigid, but I soon realized that these were human beings starved for affection and human contact.

I asked if I could take pictures, Orest smirked and gave me the go ahead… I quickly understood why Ores smirked when I asked… The girls LOVE taking pictures. We were there for a short hour – I took a couple pictures, but left with over 120 pictures on my camera!!! (I’ll post some below) they fought over who got to use the camera, and exercised their authority of they wanted to be in a picture alone with us (the Canadians).

I said to Mike that it was incredible to be in their space, and to finally be spending time with them… I didn’t think that it was a HUGE mistake to go visit them the night before my final exam…

So I’m a fixer, a problem solver. If there is a problem I MUST fix it, and I must fix it NOW…. As I left the orphanage I was already really ticked that last year’s beyond borders students didn’t tell me the girls LOVED cameras… I would have brought 6 (or 10, or…). On the ride home my mind began to work itself into a huff: who to call, what it would cost to ship cameras from Canada, how much they would be here, what would we do with the photos, could I find a photographer to come and teach them in Ukrainian, how could we use their love of cameras and photos to better their lives at the internat…

I got home exhausted. So tired I barely made it up the 3 flights of stairs to our flat (yes I hate stairs, and yes I’m fat and out of shape, but 3 flights of stairs aren’t usually THAT much of a problem). I got into bed and couldn’t calm my brain enough to actually fall asleep. It took me an hour of “square breathing” to fall asleep (usually this does the trick in under 5 mins no matter my state of mind) and all I dreamed about was the orphanage.

I was a mess this morning, couldn’t focus, couldn’t study, and totally blanked on my exam. I underestimated the power that the Internat has. I think I need to process…
here's some photos:

Stay tuned

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


MAY 31 2010

I’ve been here for 21 days (3weeks) now, and it has rained EVERY SINGLE DAY. It hasn’t rained all day everyday – infact most days are pretty sunny and beautiful – but then all of a sudden, out of the blue it’s pouring. As they say here “eedeh dowshch”. the rain doesn’t bother me – it’s only water, but it seems like everyone here walks around with a concealed umbrella at all times; like Americans and their guns, you’ll never quite know when one is necessary!! I remember the 2nd day I was were it was pouring ran and Tanya ran from her building to mine (like a 20 min walk through the MUD or “bullotto”)to ensure that I had an umbrella for the journey home… she so sweet, and she was so wet. But to be completely and utterly honest, I have this strange phobia of umbrellas: they freak me out – big time. So, as long as I’m here I’ll stick out like the foreigner that I am, and stand in the rain without a “parasoliya”

I went to the celo (village) a few weeks ago (post coming soon) and there was this CRAZY hail storm.... here is a picture, and a video (turn up your volume because it sounds as impressive as it looks...)



MAY 27 2010

Gluteus-maximus muscles are mainly used to power the usage of the legs and keeping us erect (upright posture, to be clear) – they were NOT designed to be used to hang on to POLES while riding city busses!!! Well… I didn’t think they were used for that, I didn’t even think it was POSSIBLE until today.

There are a few things that are different about busses in Ternopol/Ukraine vs busses in Toronto/Canada:
1) I’m riding busses (and even perhaps liking it) in Ternopol!
2) The bus is one fare for all riders: 1.50 hrv which isn’t an awful lot of money for the residents here, and works out to approximately 20 Canadian cents for me.
3) In a very uncanadian way people bud in line and SHOVE themselves into the bus regardless of whether there is room.
4) The busses come when they get there, and take the routh they want (especially if there is traffic)
5) The busses are not even a little bit accessible to people with disabilities (or stroller as Mike found out…)
6) No one opens the window no matter what the temperature inside the bus
7) The busses are JAMMED – so jammed, infact, that today I learned that I can manipulate my @$$ muscles to grip onto a pole!!

Now here’s what REALLY shocked me…
8) No matter how packed the bus is, or regardless of any other circumstances some one ALWAYS gives their seat up for the elderly, pregnant, or women with child(ren). Some of the men will also give up their seat for a woman – infact I’ve had fights with people, particularly men, who will jump up out of their seat for me, and I’d much rather stand. This is the way it should be, but I remember traversing the Toronto transit system and no one would budge – didn’t matter who got on the vehicle. I’m not sure why this is. Especially considering the force with which people force themselves onto the bus… shock and awe, shock and awe I tell you.
9) There’s the other major shocker: The first time I was on the bus alone ( a couple weeks ago now) someone tapped me on the shoulder and handed me money and said “bood laska” (please)– I wasn’t particularly sure what to do with it, but the person in front of me had their hand out so I out the money in their hand and before I could blink the money was whisked up to the front of the bus hand to hand until it got to the driver – then even MORE surprising – the driver gave change and it was passed back in the same fashion - hand to hand – until it reached it’s rightful owner. There are 2 things at play here – in a packed bus where anonymity is high, the person that gets on at the back of the bus pays their fare. And the second thing is that the whole bus handles other people’s money and so far I have not yet witnessed any disagreements over payment or change. I defiantly asked myself if this type of honesty would be possible in Canada (Toronto specifically is my frame of reference)and I’m not convinced that it would be possible. In fact one can not even board a Toronto TTC bus at the back doors for fear that people would try and cheat the system! This surprised me because there are many more people here that could benefit from not paying their fair, or pocketing the odd amount of bus fair (I’ve seen 50hrv bills being passed up, and then 48.50 hrv back without a cent missing) than there are at home, but there is a culture of honesty here.
10) The last thing that totally freaked me out – yes Mike, I finally saw it happen – was a multi tasking driver. You have to understand (“tea rozimeeish” = you understand) that there is no such thing as automatic transmission vehicles here (most of Europe prefers manual, but here it’s not and option) so even the bus drivers must manipulate the stick shift while driving the bus. Bus drivers also must give calculate and give change (as mentioned in point 9). The drivers of these busses must navigate the terrible roads, and the very unpredictable traffic. This driver was doing all that with ease, and managed to fit in some extra curricular activities. While driving stick, calculating, counting, navigating and driving, this particular driver was also talking on his cell phone AND smoking a cigarette (yeah, I’d be stressed too). He did this with such ease that I wasn’t even the least bit nervous - just couldn’t believe my eyes. I was pretty impressed.

So I was standing on the bus this morning – well I didn’t have to be standing, there were so many people I was kind of pressed up against the pole with very little wiggle room! - Still so impressed with the passing back and fourth of fare, and change and I began to think of the society as a whole, through the lens of their transportation system – seeing as this blog is getting really long I’ll say only this much for now (I will carry this theme throughout the rest of the summer) – this society and culture is post (Russian) communist. The former Soviet Union has definitely left it’s mark upon these people and this culture – some of these marks are deep, ugly, and still festering, but others of them are more like well done make up… the bus system seems to me to be more like make up, but then again, it’s only been a few weeks.