San Francisco to Kyiv

Trip Start Mar 02, 2003
Trip End Jul 04, 2005

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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

America! What a wonderful place that country is. I landed in San Francisco on what must have been the most beautiful day ever. The sun was shining (it had been shining through the entire 17 hour journey from Warsaw), no fog – I could see the entire Bay Area from the airplane. Alec picked me up from the airport bearing gorgeous flowers and we took the BART back to Berkeley. The first thing I noticed when we got off the train was how lovely it smelled. All the flowers were blooming, and there was a heavy scent of lavender in the air. I couldn’t stop commenting about it as we walked home – I probably sounded really annoying and repetitive, in fact, I think Alec may have even mentioned that. J

I pretty much crashed that night from the exhausting journey. I left Kyiv on Monday at noon, and this was Thursday morning Kyiv-time when I arrived in Berkeley. Of course, the one thing I did do before going to sleep was a load of laundry. Amazingly enough it seems that mostly everyone in America has a washer and dryer! I think it was the first time in my life that I truly enjoyed doing laundry.

The following day our friends Loren and Jen flew in from Chicago. They studied with Alec at IIT and were coming out to visit during their Spring Break. We had an awesome time with them around Berkeley and San Francisco. We went on a great hike around Point Reyes National Seashore. The wind made it pretty chilly, but we still really enjoyed the wildflowers and looking down at the sea lions and their cubs basking in the sun on the beaches below. We tried our best to see some whales, and we did see some plumes of air/water come out of blow holes somewhere in the Pacific, but we didn’t have a chance to see any tails or the whales breaching like we really wanted to.

On Saturday we took part in the one year anniversary protest of the war in Iraq. It gave us an opportunity to walk down the main streets of downtown San Francisco with thousands of other people who were out for the same cause. It was my first protest and I was quite impressed at the diverse demographic represented in the people marching. There were old people, young people, and people of all races, sexual orientations, and ethnicities. It reminded me that the world is not as homogenous as it often seems here in Ukraine. The protest also brought about a lot of questions regarding citizen participation and responsibility that I think are worth some attention. For example, a lot of Americans that are involved in international development work left the States because they were unsatisfied with the way things are done at home. Often I have been told that they felt a calling to do international work and have found that they are most effective outside the borders of the US. It makes me wonder and feel slightly concerned that the people I’ve met here could be doing great things at home. Sure it’s nice to live an expatriate lifestyle in foreign capitals around the world, but what about the work that needs to be done in America? I honestly enjoy not being in the States right now, the political situation at home is one that I don’t miss. It was difficult for me to be bombarded with the images of Richard Clarke and Condoleezza Rice 24/7. (I really loved watching the Daily Show with my mom though!) I didn’t have a television in Rivne and news here doesn’t cover American stuff nearly as often as European. However, it has made me think strongly about where I want to end up eventually. Perhaps not right now, but in the end of things.

I do want to say that if I were home right now that I would be actively doing something about my views. If you’re not voicing your opinion and if you’re not opening your mouth and shouting your protests nothing will change. It’s like PCVs complaining about all things Ukrainian (yes, sometimes I do it to), if we don’t do something about those things that bother us, if we just sit back and concede to the status quo we are the ones to be blamed. So, what I’m saying is be responsible for yourself and the country in which you live. It drives me crazy to see people lie down and take it – here and at home. Be smart, be vocal. That’s what I tell my Ukrainian friends here, and I should probably be saying the same thing to my friends at home.

Anyway, bit of a tangent there, huh? Well, I had a chance to go to Omaha while I was home also. It was great to see my mom and my puppy dog. I still can’t stop talking about my dog – it’s actually pretty embarrassing that he is my favorite topic of conversation. I also had a chance to go up to Millard South (my high school) and chat with teachers. I always enjoy visiting, and I swear there are new things in that building every time I visit – whether it is security or a swimming pool. And I’ll tell you what, American teenagers dress in significantly more comfortable clothes than Ukrainians. Girls, be happy you’re wearin’ sneakers, because over here you’d be in three inch heels and mini skirts. Oh, and don’t forget the fishnet tights!! Well, hopefully I’ll be able to come up with some Chornobyl material to send to you guys over there. I’m currently working on it and hopefully won’t procrastinate indefinitely on sending it off to you. (Just being honest).

I spent the last week in Berkeley with Alec, Madelaine, and Richard. Alec and I made pierogi (they were very good), we went to the movies, took walks, played darts, and basically had a great time. It was really difficult to leave especially since I didn’t really know what my job would be like when I got back here. Now that I’m back I’m happy to be here, but I really miss everyone at home terribly right now, and the simple idea of “home” is on my mind a lot.

I came back to Kyiv and found out that UNDP had found me an apartment. I got into town on Friday night and on Saturday morning I went to look at the apartment with my new regional manager, Iryna, two realty women, my potential landlady, and the bookkeeper from the Chornobyl Program. The apartment is far away, on the left bank of the Dnipro River. I resisted through the entire morning, and felt totally pushed into saying okay to this apartment. The place itself is okay, it’s small and clean and has the furniture required by Peace Corps. In fact, it fits all of PC’s minimal requirements so in reality I have a good place. (Although the phone is currently not working.) What really sucks about it is the commute. I have to take the metro to work every day – and as those of you who have visited know, the Kyiv metro is quite possibly the most crowded place on Earth! So, now, twice a day I have to battle the pushing, elbowing crowds on the train to get a tiny area which I can squeeze into. It’s a good day if I come out with no bruises. And again, Alec is witness to a woman physically pushing me off the train because I bumped her with my backpack. Hopefully I’ll adjust to this commuting thing – I’m thinking that perhaps I’ll change my hours at work a bit so that I can come in an hour later and leave an hour later to try and avoid some of the traffic. This would relieve a lot of the stress I’m currently experiencing as a result of the mode of transportation I’m currently enlisting.

Besides the apartment, adjusting to Kyiv is a bit more difficult than I anticipated. I feel very lonely and insignificant in this huge city. There are around 18 volunteers in Kyiv, and I definitely have friends among them, and yet I still feel really alone. I’m also tired again. When I first got to Rivne I found I got tired really easily, but after a couple months I got used to my schedule, the community, and I figured out what I was supposed to be doing there. I don’t have that here in Kyiv yet, so I’m hoping that it will come shortly, because man am I tired!

As for my job… So far, so good. It’s a lot of responsibility really fast. The people I work with are nice and the atmosphere at the office is pleasant, and extremely professional. People haven’t really gotten used to me joking around yet, and tend to take me very seriously but I’m sure we’ll figure each other out eventually. I’m currently working on a couple projects – writing a report for one of our donors, and the bigger one is formulating a strategic ecological development plan for the Chornobyl-affected regions in Ukraine. I’ve been putting together a checklist of things that need to be evaluated and then I’ll be going out into the field to meet with the actual recipients of the project support. It’s a lot of stuff that’s all floating around in my little brain; hopefully I’ll be able to sort it all out and put in on paper. And who knows, maybe it won’t even sound totally stupid.

I’ve had my doubts about the decision I made to work at UNDP. I don’t feel like a Peace Corps Volunteer anymore. I work 40 hours a week here, dress nicely, go to meetings, and well, have a real job. This is not to say that the job itself isn’t interesting, it’s just that I didn’t think this is what my Peace Corps experience would be like. I’ve been lectured by a couple of good friends about how this is a great opportunity for me and that I’m going to learn a lot while I’m here, but even so I have little regrets that creep into my thoughts (especially while I’m on the crowded metro). I hope that my work here ends up being rewarding for the people that I’ll be helping as well as for me.

Last Friday I went to a reception at the UN House for the head of the UN mission here in Ukraine. He’s leaving for Cambodia this week. It was a lovely reception with good food and wine, and a lot of people that seemed to be very enthusiastic about what they’re doing for the UN. There were Ukrainians, Americans, Brits, Indians, and other nationalities represented within the group of people present. It was amazing to be part of such a diverse crowd of people all working for the betterment of Ukraine. It made me excited to be part of this organization and what it stands for. (Although I would still like to be in a village somewhere. J) It also reinforced what I was saying earlier about citizen responsibility – I saw it there among Ukrainians working for Ukraine, just like I saw it at the protest in San Francisco. I hope that I’ll be able to learn a lot from my new assignment, things that I can bring home with me and put to use in America. It’s all very exciting and quite scary for me. I feel like I’m having two totally separate Peace Corps experiences. Crazy!
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