It’s so hard to believe that I have been gone for almost 3 weeks already!
I have much to talk about since my last post!
Thursday, the 28th, I went with my friend, Tolik, to see Avatar. AWESOME! The movie was in Ukrainian, so I didn’t understand as much as I would have had it been in Russian, but I think I got the gist of it….seeing as the IMAX/3D made everything pretty clear. We also went to this really cool multiplex that literally looked like a warehouse from the outside. The inside was much nicer, and so much to do! This place has everything from stores to an ice skating rink to very nice restaurants. Good times!
Friday, 29th, was pretty busy here at the Ark. In the morning while we working on more frames for the gift exchange, Barbara received a telephone call in the craft room.
“Mhm hmm. Mhm hmm. Ok. Great, “we heard her say, and she then hung up. “We have a very important guest coming tomorrow.”
“Who?” everyone asked.
“Guess,” Barbara said. The kids, Tetya Inna, and I started to list names.
Eventually someone said, “The president?”
About an hour after that, the president’s police/security was on the property inspecting where the party was going to be! Thus the preparations ensued. Decorations, cleaning, so much to do. Barbara, Inna, and I stayed up until 2 a.m. making the frames—to be fair, they did most of the work.
Saturday morning, we all worked to make the dining hall as comfortable and festive as possible, especially since this was a Christmas gathering. The kids were all dressed very nicely, and our director Lyudmila Sergeyevna, gave them a stern talking-to before the guests arrived. “You are Ukrainians! Behave yourselves today, and make us all proud to be Ukrainians,” she said. The guests started arriving around 11, and the morning began a bilingual series of thank you’s and welcoming remarks. The kids at the Ark sang “My House is the Ark (Мой Дом—Ковчег)” and “My Prayer (Моя Молитва)” for the guests, and the children from the international school also sang a song for us…very cute! Tetya Inna (our “scheduler”) then started a game to get the kids acquainted.
Viktor and Katya Yushchenko’s children attend the international school with which we had the gift exchange, and Katya simply came as a parent…which I thought was pretty cool. She was walking around with her camera just like the other parents; only she would occasionally stop to talk with one of the very tall men dressed in all-black who accompanied the first family to the event.
During one of the games, she heard me speaking to one of the kids in Russian, and she asked me where I was from. I told her I was from the U.S., and she immediately switched to her perfect English. (Of course in anticipation of a possible conversation with the first lady, on Friday night I did a ton of research on her. Barbara had told me that Katya Yushchenko is American, and I also found that she was educated at Georgetown and the University of Chicago). She asked me what I was doing in Kyiv, and I told her about how I had worked here during the summer and that I was on my way to study abroad in the Balkans. She asked a ton of other questions and we sort of parted ways.
About 30 minutes later, we started talking again. She is extremely bright and very in touch with the needs of Ukraine, and she and I discussed some of the issues she and her husband tried hardest to address during his presidential term. We talked about the bureaucratic issues that organizations like the Ark face here in Ukraine. The general post-Soviet attitude is that it’s the government’s job to take care of all social problems, including orphans and social orphans (children whose parents’ rights have been taken away). She, however, feels that NGOs do a much better job providing attention and healthy environments for children than do internats (government institutions that house up to hundreds of orphans/social orphans). Internats are unfortunately known for misallocation of funds and often mistreatment of the children who live there.
We then made it to what I really wanted to talk about, women’s issues in Ukraine. We discussed everything from the astounding number of single mothers to the high amount of prostitution and sex trafficking. As any first lady, Mrs. Yushchenko has a massive amount of charitable work she oversees in Ukraine, and in particular she works with women. She told me about when she was going to visit a rehabilitation center for women rescued from sex trafficking. She asked the mayor of Kyiv to come along with her to see exactly what is going on not only in Kyiv, but all over Ukraine and abroad. He responded that he did not want to waste his time visiting a bunch of prostitutes who would be back on the street as soon as they got the chance.
“This is the mindset we are facing here in Ukraine,” she explained to me. She gave me some information about her work in Ukraine, and even told me she would love to possibly work with me in the future!!
Moving on…..On Saturday night I went to see Nastya and her family. Her mom was nice enough to make us a delicious dinner of Ukrainian borscht and lasagna, and then Nastya and I went to a restaurant to hang out with some of her friends. It was so good to see her again! It’s always so hard for me to believe that she is only 17. She is already studying in a Kyiv university, and her maturity and perspective in life is so beyond 17. She and I always have so much fun together, and I hope to see her once more before I leave Kyiv on Monday.
After church on Sunday (the 31st), Barbara and I had a late lunch at home, and she baked a cake for Anton’s birthday. One of the boys who lives here at the Ark, Anton turned 12 on Sunday and we celebrated with a party and a movie night.
Monday and Tuesday were just sort of chill days at the Ark. I taught English for a while by myself Monday morning…HILARIOUS! I asked one of the little girls, “What is your favorite drink?” She responded, “I love beer.” Everyone was quiet until I couldn’t help but crack a smile and burst out laughing. I could tell she just said it for the attention, and she then said, “No, no, no! I love juice!” Out of the mouths of babes…..
Wednesday (Feb. 3rd)) I went with Tolik and Marianna Peipon to a community center for people affected by HIV/AIDS. (Marianna and her husband Jim work as medical missionaries in Kyiv, and they were nice enough to let me stay with them at the end of my trip in the summer). Marianna and Tolik teach English to a group of kids (ages 3-6) at this center every week. Though some might have HIV/AIDS, the children are not necessarily all infected, but might have a parent who is infected or who has already passed due to the disease. It is basically a support group. It was very refreshing to see such a caring and helpful staff working with the children. I’m not sure if it was a government organization or an NGO, but the atmosphere was very friendly and comfortable. During music/exercise time, I hopped like a bunny and flapped my wings like a duck to the English songs Marianna brings for the kids. We then went over some numbers and letters, and the kids were very responsive, and adorable of course.
Wednesday afternoon, I went with Tolik to his apartment where his mom STUFFED me full of Ukrainian food, AGAIN. Tolik’s mom worked as an entertainment inspector, and she has many friends at theaters and other venues around the city. She was able to get us tickets to the Kyiv Operetta Theater last night, and we saw The Violet of Montmartre (Фiалка Монмартру). Not only was the acting, singing and dancing extraordinary, but the actual sets and colorful costumes were beautifully done! Also it was in Ukrainian, which made it even more beautiful (and harder for me to understand). Fun fact: Ukrainian is 2nd only to Italian as the most melodic language 🙂
Barbara and I are going tonight to a women’s meeting at church. Before that, we are going to meet with the woman who is starting up the A21 Campaign in Kyiv. The A21 Campaign (Abolishing Injustice in the 21st Century) works to rehabilitate women who have escaped sex trafficking. Christine Caine, an Australian woman with Greek heritage, started the organization in 2008. A21 now has offices in Greece, the U.S. , and in Australia. I am hoping to talk to Tanya about the goals of A21 in Kyiv, and if there might be a way for me to get involved. If you are interested, check out their website: http://www.thea21campaign.org/
Jane and Barbara greeted me at the airport in Kyiv on Sunday, January 17th. A light snow welcomed me to this FREEZING city 🙂 It’s pretty much been about 0°F since I got here, with snow every few days. I can’t wear enough layers!!!
Sunday the 17th was election day!!!! On Sunday, Feb. 7, Yulia Tymoshenko (All-Ukrainian Unity “Fatherland”—won 25% of the original vote) and Viktor Yanukovych (Party of Regions—won 35% of the original vote) will face each other in a run-off election. I encourage people to do their own research on the candidates, although I myself am a huge proponent of the Orange Revolution and therefore support Tymoshenko. I hope she will have the opportunity to start finishing what Viktor Yushchenko, the current president, started in 2005. In my opinion, Yanukovych’s criminal record should be of more importance to the electorate, along with his desire to strengthen ties with the Kremlin.
On a less political note, it was really great to see all the kids at the Ark again, I missed them so much! Since I left in the summer, some new children have come to live at the Ark, and it has been fun getting to know them as well. (The Ark (Ковчег) is a non-profit organization started by Jane Hyatt and Barbara Klaiber in Kyiv. The organization provides housing, schooling, food and a safe environment for former street children and/or children who are victims of abuse. During this past summer, I spent 5 weeks working here).
Since the kids are in school now, I obviously don’t spend as much time with them as I did in the summer. Some of the kids actually go to school here at the Ark, so I can go down during the day to help out with different classes—anything from English class to arts and crafts (yes, we all know I’m not exactly the craftiest of people, but I try). Last week we were making picture frames as gifts for students at an international school in Kyiv. On Saturday, the international students will come to the Ark for an afternoon party, and we will then have a gift exchange. Around 4 p.m., I usually go down to the school to help Barbara monitor computer time for the kids. Once they finish their homework, the caregiver can write them a note giving them permission to play on the computer/check email. During this time I’ve also been helping a few of the older kids with English, which is always fun to explain in Russian. At 6, it’s off to dinner!
Though they have left now, when I first got here there was an American woman staying at the Ark with her two newly adopted Ukrainian children. She had been here since October! After finally going through the court processes etc., the passport agency here in Kyiv went on strike and she couldn’t get passports for her kids. After much patience and help from Jane, the family finally was able to leave Saturday morning. I was very happy to see things fall into place for them, but I miss them already!
This past Friday, I had dinner with Tolik, a friend I met the last time I was in Kyiv. He and his parents were nice enough to open up their home to me and STUFFED me full of delicious Ukrainian food. His mom was also convinced that I was not dressed warmly enough, so she gave me a fur hat…it’s super cute J It was nice to have a genuine Ukrainian experience with such a nice family, and I will hopefully see them again before I leave.
Sadly, Jane left for the U.S. on Sunday for her annual tour. She will be speaking at different churches about their work here in Kyiv, and she will also be visiting kids who were adopted from the Ark. I will have to put her schedule on my blog so that some of you can hear her speak. When I talked to her last night, she said Zurich was a balmy 27°F….jealous!
So I realize this post has been kind of jumpy, but I just wanted to quickly update about what’s going on since I got here. I am excited about this Friday, because I will hopefully get to see Nastya, another friend I met over the summer. She and I became really close and I always love to see the city with her…she’s such a little Ukrainian princess J
As for anything else I’ll be doing this week, probably just playing it by ear. I have been feeling a little sick, so I will probably just try to stay warm inside. This morning Mama Barbara showed me how to treat a sore throat with a spoonful of honey sprinkled with cayenne pepper. I highly recommend it!
Finally, I am in Europe!!! It seemed like this would never come during the fall semester!
Before I start my term in the Balkans, I will be spending a few days in London and just short of three weeks in Kyiv. I just arrived in Ukraine yesterday, and since I was only in London for three days, I will be blogging about that now….
I cannot really explain combination of nervousness and excitement I was feeling while sitting at my gate in Washington/Dulles airport on the 13th. I had just said goodbye to my sister, Jill, and it was this joking, sort of trying not to cry, moment. She jokingly said, “Don’t eat too much bubble and squeak!” in her ridiculously authentic-sounding British accent and we both laughed. My mom can testify to the fact that I do not always travel well. All I can think about in airports and planes is the amont of pathogens surrounding me, I can’t sleep on planes, and my ears don’t seem to pop for at least two days after a flight. Add this to the knowledge of being in a series of different countries for over 7 months and you have an enthusiastic, yet anxious, student ready to experience life abroad.
After arriving in Heathrow and going through “customs,” Sophie met me and we took the tube back to her charming Putney flat. A friend of several of my close friends at UNC, Sophie studies at Richmond UK, an international university in London. She opened up her flat to me for the time I was in London, and by Sunday we felt like we’d known each other for years!
After I arrived on Thursday (the 14th), Sophie and I went to the grocery store and I saw a little bit of Putney, her neighborhood in London. It’s in southwest London and has a very homey feel to it. Sophie, Meghan (a UNC friend studying in London), Melissa (one of Sophie’s Richmond Friends), Nicole (Sophie’s cousin and flatmate) and I made dinner together and pretty much talked all about how awesome London is. Then we headed to a local pub to continue the conversation.
Friday morning I received a phone call from Megan, my younger sister who was also in London. I was so excited to talk to her! She was coming back from a trip to India, and we met at Big Ben! We only had an hour together, but we went to Covent Gardens to just see something pretty. After we said our goodbyes, I putzed around Piccadilly for a little while. I then met Ellie (another UNC friend studying in London) and Sophie at a coffee shop, and Sophie gave us her micro-tour of central London. She took us to see Buckingham Palace, Westminister Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben, the London Eye and Trafalgar Square….such beautiful sights! Sophie and I headed to meet Meghan for dinner at a cute little Soho restaurant by the name of Hummus Bros…highly recommend this place! After dinner, the three of us went back to Sophie’s flat, and then went on to spend the rest of the evening in posh and charming Richmond.
Sleeping in SUPER late on Saturday, Meghan and I caught a bus and the tube into Central around noon on Saturday. We decided on the British Museum, since as is typical in London, it was raining….and freezing. We saw the Rosetta Stone! Seeing the artifacts in this museum made me think about how museums in the U.S. and Western Europe should really start thinking about returning this items to the countries in which they were found…you know, to the people for whom they have some cultural relevance. The museum was huge and slightly overwhelming, and Meghan and I decided to break for a late lunch. Where better to go on a Saturday afternoon that London’s most brilliant display of frivolity?……HARRODS! We actually spent two hours in this ridiculous department store in awe of everything from the £18 dog biscuits in the pet kingdom to the £500 tissue-box covers in home furnishings. To be fair, it is absolutely beautiful and fitting that the world’s only Harrods in located in Knightsbridge.
Following our window shopping, I met Ellie and some of her program members at Piccadilly’s Sports Cafe to watch the UNC basketball game. Despite our loss, we had a lot of fun! I jumped on the tube back to Sophie’s to spend the rest of the evening packing. 4:30 A.M. came early Sunday as Sophie and I lugged my suitcases to Heathrow…off to Kyiv!