Saturday, May 31, 2014

5 days after the elections

If you missed the news, elections were held last weekend, concluding in the election of Petro Poroshenko as Ukraine's new president. In a kind of weird way it was similar to the Euro2012 soccer championship as once again this region anticipated a sudden influx of foreigners and jobs for translators and assistants were in demand. If only the events behind all this were as positive as Euro2012...

A group called OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) was invited to observe the elections. According to their website, they coordinated over 1,000 people to work together and ensure the elections are fair. You've probably heard some of the sad stories coming from elsewhere in eastern Ukraine about teams going missing or being held against their will. Despite these stories, several students and friends still accepted positions with OSCE.

One friend landed a 4-day position working with a team of short-term observers, traveling to several small villages in the Kharkiv region. We met up the day before he started the job. "I'm a bit nervous", he told me, showing several pages of words in English, Ukrainian, and Russian. "I need to know all of these! Can you help me go through them?"
As you've probably guessed, I'm not the best person to consult on political vocabulary. There were plenty of words on that list I'd never heard of: Clerk of the Writ, gerrymandering, and a bunch of others that have already flown out of my brain. But we got through the list and he left the following day to meet with the rest of the multi-national team of observers.

He returned from the job in a rush of excitement. I think that although he'd been the most excited about working with foreigners and using English, getting the chance to step out of the city and into rural Ukraine had turned out equally as interesting.

I emailed him a few questions about his 4 days with OSCE:

Can you describe an average day on the job?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Who's in your kitchen?

Hmmm... if omens are to be believed, then we'll be saying goodbye to Ukraine soon. Just before coming here, a broken toe meant donning this awkward contraption for a while. Then yesterday morning I broke a glass jar and got a deep cut in almost exactly the same place as the break. Could it be a sign from the universe??

In the meantime (read: when not dropping heavy things in there), I'm usually in the kitchen with a camera. You know how we sometimes miss the everyday details and suddenly blink and notice them for the first time? That's happened with the food products in our kitchen. One day they were regular bags and jars and the next day I looked again and saw all the faces staring back.

Check it out for yourself...


The ladies

A young girl on a bag of sour cream.

Found on a box of milk, so I call this one "The Milkmaid".

This particular scene of domestic bliss possibly takes place after the milkmaid moves to the city, gets highlights, and becomes the mom on a package of pelmeni.

Friday, May 23, 2014

How to make pelmeni (not really)

Step 1: Pick up your friends. Then go out and gather your ingredients.
This includes making a quick stop for beef/pork at a little red shop covered in sausage advertisements and popping into the neighborhood grocery store for extra flour.

Step 2: Gather the men in the kitchen. (This includes that particular man who's been telling you for days that making pelmeni is women's work and that you're going to be slaving in the kitchen for hours while he drinks beer with the other guys.) Ensure the men have access to liquor.

Step 3: Leave the men to their tasks.

Step 4: Go for a walk with the other women. Watch a rainstorm in the distance, swat mosquitoes, wander into giant cylinders, and come back as dusk falls.

Step 5: Return to find the men still drinking...
... and showing off trays and trays of perfect looking pelmeni!

Step 6: Enjoy a glass of wine while the men oversee the final stages of preparation, aka adding the perfect hexagons to a pot of boiling water and then bringing them to the dinner table.


I totally was not expecting the "pelmeni lesson" to go like this. It almost felt like March 8th (International Women's Day) to get the night off from cooking. Maybe D was pulling my leg the whole time or maybe he was just as surprised as I was to find himself in the kitchen for 3 hours! Hopefully the labor wasn't too backbreaking for them, as they did have a dough machine, a meat grinder, and a special honeycomb-shaped pelmeni maker at their disposal. And that pelmeni- WOW. The best ever!!

One other cool part of the evening was the huge field we walked through. "I've got the biggest backyard in all of Kharkiv!" our host proudly exclaimed when we first arrived.
It was indeed gigantic. I guess that's how Sasha grew to such enormous proportions. Or, of course, maybe he got his hooves on the leftover pelmeni and that's what did it ; )

Have you tried pelmeni? Homemade or store-bought?
If you haven't had the chance yet, would you like to try it someday?

Monday, May 19, 2014

5 days until the elections

A confession: some days I don't even check the news anymore.

With less than a week to go until the presidential elections, it seems like every available surface is covered with political statements.

Defaced campaign ad for Mikhail Dobkin
Found this while walking near a basketball court the other week. It reads: There's only one choice- either Timoshenko or war, economic breakdown, corruption, and oligarchs. Vote with your mind, not your emotions!
Blue-and-yellow billboard @ the train station: Kharkov is Ukraine. Don't sell your motherland!
Left: A billboard asking Mayor Kernes to return (he's still in Israel, recovering from being shot in the back)
On a telephone post: bribes, corruption, bureaucrats-for-sale. How much can you put up with?

Friday, May 16, 2014

The dacha

There is a post in the works about several books on Ukraine, I promise, but it didn't get finished this week. This week has been pretty up-and-down; both D and I took the week off in an attempt to complete several projects. His projects involve programming, so I'm no longer the sole custodian of this computer during the day, less blogging time :p Also, last week I found a ghost site of this blog- it's got the same name and has copied all my posts for the past 5 months. No commenting options, no info about who created it, merely hosted by I'm pretty sure it's just a machine-made copy of this blog but it was a bit disheartening to discover and steered me away from writing a new post. Fellow bloggers, has this ever happened to you? Any ideas?

On the plus side, last weekend we were invited to a friend's dacha. At long last, the elusive dacha!

Dacha (дача) is one of the first words I picked up when starting to study Russian, but I wasn't exactly sure what it was at that point. It's usually translated as "summer house", which brings to mind images of the wealthy vacationing in Cape Cod or The Hamptons.

After coming to Ukraine, though, I started to get a different idea.

Perhaps a better translation of дача is "land boat", by which I mean "a hole in the ground into which you pour money and weekends". Most families seem to have one, usually as a holdover from the Soviet days, and respond to summertime inquires about last weekend with a long list of maintenance and gardening tasks. Everyone loves their dachas... while gently cursing at them in the same breath.

And everyone's dacha tale is different, of course. The dacha of D's family was simply a small plot of land that they grew vegetables on. The dacha of a VIP businessman I used to teach was a veritable countryside palace. To my "You're going to the dacha this weekend? Are you going to do some spring cleaning?", his immediate reply was "No, of course not. Our maid cleans every week all winter."

Timur's dacha was just right, I thought. In the countryside, swamped in regal greenery, it was the first dacha I've ever visited and it was the perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

There was picnicking:

There was mandatory shashlik-making:

Neighbors dropped by:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

May flowers

I'm at a loss for words regarding what's happened in Ukraine the last 10 days. What is usually a time of vacations and celebrations has turned into mourning.

This week I've spotted several elderly men with timeworn ribbons and medals pinned to their tweed jackets, as old men usually do around the holiday. What do they think about all this? Are they shocked? Resigned? Unfazed?

Kharkiv's Freedom Square on May 8th, 11 AM. A ring of cops around the statue.