Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ukraine and the US, Part 1

The streets of Kharkiv, this spring.

Part 1 of a post months in the making... Do you remember when I was still getting used to things in Ukraine? This is our fourth month back in the U.S. and while we're all a bit more adjusted- D gets to speak his beloved English again, Кит likes to hang out on his new balcony and spend hours sniffing the leaves that fall onto the concrete floor- there are a few things that have taken some getting used to.

The streets of Portland, today.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Snapshots of American Life

It's Thanksgiving! I remember trying to get the day off last year in Ukraine, to an answer of "Oh, a holiday of your people?... How nice!... Now get back to work." ; ) One year later and no one's going into work today (except hopefully the people at the grocery store so I can grab some sunflower oil to make a last-minute морковый салат).

In honor of this very American holiday, here's a peek at recent American life:
Science fair!
Hamburger and beer: food for patriots.
Boats moored along the Colombia River.
Reading an old sci-fi book while waiting for the train.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Interview with an Elections Interpreter

The statue of Lenin on the main square of Kupiansk. I have seen a lot of Lenin statues in my life and I think this one is special. Usually they picture Lenin staring forward or pointing with his right hand in that direction, which means showing the way to the better life in the future. But this one doesn't point forward. I don't know if you can tell it from the picture, but his outstretched hand doesn't point anywhere. It is frozen in the middle of some motion. Dancing...? Or he was about to drop the hand down and say "Ok, it didn't work out! Go wherever you want!"

Six months ago, Petro Poroshenko was elected President of Ukraine. The same friend who worked with the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) elections observers before is back, this time with stories from last month's Parliamentary election. This was a slightly smaller-scale campaign as the OSCE had 600 short-term October observers compared to May's figure of 900. Two of those short-term observers were lucky enough to work with my friend Timur, a very nice guy who taught himself English over the years while working the night shift at a factory. Below are his words and photographs.

1) Timur, this was your second time working with the OSCE observers. What were the logistics like this time?

I told you the story of my first mission. I thought there was danger from separatist groups who wanted to assault people on elections day in May. But most of the troubles I had were from situations inside my team. On the second day the team broke apart and I had to balance between two observers: one kind and polite and the other rude, unpredictable and selfish.

So my biggest worry was – who were my clients going to be this time? It turned out they were nice people. The rest was easy! Our team covered the same region as the last time – Kupiansk. I had the same driver, Alexander, who knows every road and each village. The same hotel “Oskol” with the best restaurant in town. And I knew many chairpersons in the PECs (Precinct Election Commission). Some of them became members of the DEC (District Election Commission), which was also helpful.
With observers Lori and Robert near the hotel "Oskol".

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Sorry for the radio silence of late, readers. Last week's snowpocalypse-that-wasn't (for this area at least) closed a lot of the city down and resulted in a day off. I used that day + the weekend to finish unpacking boxes, clean house, and just catch up on a billion little things. It felt great!

Then back to work this week. Today I completed my first monthly report on the job:
A couple of years ago I was the instructor and my boss was the education coordinator. Now I'm the coordinator and someone else is the instructor. It's really weird to see things from the other side. I understand my old boss so much better now, why she had so many piles of paperwork everywhere and never enough time. Many days I wish I could call her up and ask her for advice but then I remember that she eventually moved on, dropping the position for school, the same decision that my predecessor at this job made. Is that some kind of sign?

Between classes, phone calls, emails, intakes, and paperwork, I set up this little tea shrine:
That mug was a going-away present from Karina, a student-turned-good-friend. I love it! The sides show many of the city's famous landmarks and a cup of tea always brings back good memories. This last summer, as the temperatures crept higher and higher, Maxine and I would head over to Karina's apartment for an English/Russian language exchange. Karina would always have a table full of good stuff to snack on: chocolates, strawberries with sugar, champagne. And served a smile. Always the same huge smile.
The one and only Karina : )
Anyways, this is just a short post to check in. Got a couple more posts in the works, coming soon! In the meantime, here are some fun photo galleries from a Ukrainian photographer in Lviv. Benches is my favorite- what's yours?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Down came the rain

Rain, rain

Go away
Come again
Another day

It's that time of the year- I hope you've got a nice umbrella : )

DC rain...
...and Seattle rain too.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sand and sweets

This little seaside park in Edmonds, Washington is a favorite of D's family. We spent several afternoons here in August, beachcombing the chilly waters and eating pizza at Marina Beach, his sister's namesake park.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New job

Life in the U.S. feels more familiar. The foods we eat, our daily routines, the smell of pot in public places, it's all an expectation rather than a surprise. Days will go by when I hardly think of Ukraine until suddenly, some piece of news will present itself and the country will again materialize in front of us. Last week this stunning piece of art on an old building made me smile. Sunday's news of an explosion in a pub in downtown Kharkiv did not.

At the sight of anything blue and yellow- even an IKEA store...

It's hard to find any news on Ukraine at all now locally, which can falsely lull a person into thinking the situation there is calmer. Fortunately a neighbor started leaving his copy of the Wall Street Journal out for us and it's often possible to find an update or two in there. Friends in Ukraine keep in touch but they rarely add anything to their emails about politics, negotiations, or troop movements. Who would?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The colors of fall in Portland

Fall is a time of year that I've never really taken time for before.

In Alaska's interior, it was a hurried explosion of color, soon dampened by snow. In Ukraine I was too busy looking at people and signs to pay much attention to something as commonplace as a season. But now the changing face of nature has captured me completely.

I think part of this fascination is the hyper-awareness we have of the holiday season in America... as in Halloween- load up on candy! costume thyself! Thanksgiving- buy! consume! Black Friday! Christmas- decorate! shop! eat! Here, it's impossible to forget that this is fall time. Holiday-scent candles, autumn-inspired teas, gift sets, anything and everything with a seasonal theme is for sale. I got the aforementioned tea collection about two weeks ago: pumpkin spice, caramel apple, chocolate truffle, cranberry bliss. And then what should appear at the store yesterday but the winter edition already ; )

The over-commercialism of the holidays is always a popular rallying cry but I'm not going to join in this time. This year it's a consolation prize for exchanging Ukraine for the U.S. So, that limited-time-only deal? Yes, please. Plus all the advertising for pumpkin spice lattes and "spooky cookie dough for only $2 extra" has actually directed my attention back where it should be- outside.

On a non-money-related note, I'd like to bring more conscious tradition into my life and create a few rituals as in Every year we do [insert something funny or cool] on Holiday X. Recently I've noticed that this is one of my weak points, getting stupidly surprised at things that happen on a regular basis. This could be a big thing, as in looking at the calender and realizing Halloween is in two days, but to be really honest, it happens with the most predictable things too. For example, knowing that I need to leave for work at 8 AM but still finding myself in a panicked scramble for housekeys and brain at 7:53 AM. Every single morning.

Thus it's no big shock we missed out on celebrating Halloween. I'll blame it on moving in and the new job. My parents [did I tell you how WEIRD it is to live in the same state?!] fulfilled their civic duty of handing out sugar to small children. 160 of them, phew! Even the dog, in her Halloween costume, eventually stopped running over to investigate at the sound of the doorbell!

How they do Halloween.
Now all the sweets and horror makeup are marked down and Thanksgiving is taking up the end caps and displays. For the past 3 years this day meant sorting through my stack of holiday lesson plans and choosing something fun. One year there was a special dinner, a hodgepodge of Peace Corps and Ukrainian friends and whatever dishes people could scramble up. 365 days later- and it's super bittersweet to write this- the news was filled with talk of "the revolution!" and we had a small, sober gathering around our glass coffee table.

Our last Thanksgiving stateside was in 2010. It was snowing that day and we stomped through tiny snowdrifts on a nearly-empty campus to attend the sorry you had nowhere else to go free cafeteria meal offered by University of Alaska. Later we drove the 60 miles out to where D's parents lived. As grumbling as I was at times, I miss those days now. Days we sat down to an odd mix of Ukrainian, Tatar, and American foods washed down by cognac and vodka. Days his father spent much of using Russian to curse the chaos that is the English language. Now that we're in Portland, perhaps we'll share the day with my family, an event that hasn't happened in probably a decade.