Monday, January 5, 2009

A Post for Me here is the deal. I know nearly 5 months have passed since my last blog entry and that is inexcusable. This silence has been deafening, ringing in my ears and causing me great stress. It isn't as if I haven't sat down 78 times with the intent of writing the "perfect blog entry" that would explain all of the reasons I haven't written a word in 150 days, while simultaneously catching you up on every little detail of what I have done during that time. I have written and rewritten the opening paragraph to this panacea of blog entries wanting so badly for it to be sincere and from the heart but it always comes out as something forced, self-absorbed (see the title of this entry for the definition of irony) and complete bullshit really.

So I've come to this realization...I just need to write something. Publish a blog post...break down the dam and let what follows follow. This is why this is a post just for me. I am writing this just to take the self imposed pressure of writing a new blog entry off of me, so that I can sit down in the coming days and actually write something you want to read about. Something that tells you what I have been up to and how I am doing (really well actually in case you were wondering). I am posting for the sake of posting, hoping that such an absurd idea is just the cure for whatever equally absurd reason has kept my blog silent these many months.

In closing, I apologize for being a completely lazy POS and while there is nothing I can do to make up for the last 5 months of being a neurotic mute, I can only tell you that I will do my best to get over myself moving forward and just tell you what's up because I know that's all you really want from me anyhow. I miss you, hope everyone is happy and healthy and ask you to come back soon to read a real blog post.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I'm Alive

Seriously quick entry here. I have less than 10 minutes until I have to run to the train station, but I wanted to let everyone know that I am doing well and will write up a long, detailed post when I return home from my travels. Might not be for a couple more weeks though. Life is good...hope the same is true for you. Bye for now...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

You know you're bored (pathetic) when...

…you’ve spent your last 33 hours watching an entire seasons’ worth of Grey’s Anatomy episodes (25 in all). I can see why it’s popular—it definitely has an addictive quality about it—but I feel the need to bring all of you “Greyniacs” back to Earth. The show, while entertaining, lacks originality. Shows like Weeds, Breaking Bad, even Flight of the Conchords; these shows are trailblazers, started from scratch with no readymade formula for success available to them. Grey’s, in this Peace Corps volunteer’s opinion, is merely standing on the shoulders of the many, many other successful hospital dramas that came before. The dialogue is catchy, the cast is attractive and the characters are well developed, but I can’t shake the feeling that each week’s script follows some algebraic equation that was worked out long before Grey’s hit the scene. Good summer time viewing but nothing to write home about (unless it’s in this blog). Oh, and the episode where Meredith almost dies—lame. You just can’t expect to build any real suspense when the victim is the shows namesake. I’ll give Grey’s Anatomy 2 ½ out of a possible 4 steaming hot bowls of borscht.

Now onto the real reason you come to this blog…me! As usual, a relatively uneventful past 10 days or so. I spent some time visiting two of my good friends, and fellow volunteers, who respectively just moved into fresh digs. Unlike myself, who has nothing new to report on the housing front, both Nathan and Lindsey have spacious accommodations of their own where they are free to come, go and do as they please…but that’s where the similarities end. Lindsey lives in a beautifully appointed apartment in a city of 50,000+; whereas Nathan has an old, barren house in a town of 424 (425 including him…). Lindsey’s apartment came with a washing machine, DVD player, Dolby 6.1 surround sound, a microwave and an incredible shower complete with hot water; whereas Nathan’s house (much closer to the norm for PC housing) has a table, a few chairs, no running water (not even a sink), a coal burning stove and an outhouse. He does, however, have neighbors that bring him meals at least twice a day and check in on him often just to make sure he’s happy. Quite the contrast, but each does come with its own set of perks. Needless to say though, both Nathan and I will be paying frequent visits to the Four Seasons Джанкой as long as Lindsey is willing to have us.

Alright…one somewhat embarrassing/adventure filled story before I go. On Thursday morning, after a brief shopping trip to the bazaar, I boarded a hot bus back to my village as I always do. I knew it was my bus instinctively; same overweight, cigarette smoking bus driver, same peeling paintjob, same ripped up seats. I sat impatiently as my butter began to melt, wondering why it was taking us so long to pull out of the bus station but really thinking nothing of it. I also wondered why I didn’t recognize any of the villagers, but again, thought nothing of it. Finally, 20 minutes later than usual, the engine sputtered into gear and we were on our way.

The first sign something was wrong came only seconds into our trip. My bus always turns left out of the bus station but for some inexplicable reason we had made a right turn and were headed north. Still not quite confident in my language ability, I convinced myself that maybe we were just making a big loop, would be turning around any minute, and that there was no need for me to make a fool of myself by asking where exactly we were going. 5 minutes later, headed towards the middle of nowhere and not quite as certain of my story, I decided to suck it up and asked an old man why we were going the wrong way. He looked at me, muttered something in Russian and laughed. Then he alerted everyone aboard that I was on the wrong bus and that we needed to pull over so I could catch a new one headed back towards my village. Embarrassed, I climbed off the bus, but not before spilling 2 kilos of potatoes on the floor and leaving half of them behind in my haste to avoid further humiliation.

My butter now fully melted, I copped a squat on the side of a dusty highway in the hot sun...waiting…waiting for my salvation, but being left just another sweaty, stoopid foreigner as each car, truck and horse drawn carriage passed me by. Exactly 56 minutes later, my salvation finally arrived in the form of giant, shiny bus that I managed to flag down. The driver agreed to drive me back to the station, whereupon being dropped off, I asked 5 people which bus went to my village, climbed on an eerily familiar looking bus and 15 minutes later (after a left turn out of the bus station)found myself back in Ishun. Lesson learned…you can’t judge a bus by its fat bus driver.

Ok…that’s all for now. I need to go eat breakfast and quickly throw some clothes into a backpack. I am headed out to the eastern part of Ukraine to visit some friends and to get some much needed R and R (ha). Hopefully I come across a high-speed internet connection out there and will be able to upload some pictures for you all to check out. Oh, and I’m still waiting for some questions from you for my Q and A entry. Пока! (bye)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Housing Update/Film Review

No house, no apartment, not even an abandoned chicken coupe and no prospects…thank (TBD) for my newly found perspective, right? In all honesty though, I really have no reason to complain. Sure I am eager to live on my own…to feel like an adult again…but I am so fortunate that I live with an extremely warm and humorous woman, my babushka Maria, who sees to it on a daily basis that all of my needs, even those I didn’t know I had, are met. Whether its dressing my sore knee with a handkerchief soaked in vodka, waking me up at 4:40am to ensure that we get the best spot at the beach (its in our village), preparing a special bath just for my feet to make certain that all of the syphilis I apparently picked up on a recent trip to Simferopol was properly washed away (I had her repeat it s-l-o-w-l-y 4 times just to be sure I heard her right) or never letting me leave the dinner table until I eat a piece of congealed pig fat to ward away Tuberculosis (hello TB estate!), I know I have a friend and protector in Maria.

She has helped me in more, well, conventional ways too. Over the last week, Maria has been my constant companion as I have attempted to find a solution to my increasingly frustrating housing search. Once it became clear that all of the traditional methods were exhausted, she even ushered me door to door throughout most of the village asking for their help in finding me a place to live. Unfortunately, this too bore no fruit but the gesture reinforced how lucky I am to have Maria on my side (or just how badly she wants me out of her apartment!). Any doubt as to her intent, however, was laid to rest when she assured me that I am welcome to stay as long as I like…or need. At this point I have gotten over my disappointment and am comfortable with the idea that I will most likely be living here through August at the very least. My school has assured me that they will work diligently to find me an apartment and I trust that they will uphold this promise. The Peace Corps is also helping by using their contacts in my area to inquire about available housing…I figure (hope) something has to come of these efforts in the next 6 weeks. I will be sure to keep you informed…

Now onto the good news! I had running water for nearly 30 hours…in a row…before it shut off again. I was able to take my first real shower in nearly 5 weeks, albeit a cold one, and by shower I mean I stood under a faucet that more leaked on me than anything…but it was a shower all the same. It’s interesting how things that I defined as necessity only 4 months ago are now the little luxuries that I so look forward to but seldom get to enjoy. Again, thank you perspective. Other luxuries I would include in this list would be drinking cold water (almost as dangerous as an open window…you do know that drafts kill more people annually than cigarettes, don’t you??), waking up with less than 6 new mosquito bites and finding a public toilet that consists of more than just a hole cut into a concrete slab.

On a wholly separate note…God Father III has to be one of the worst movies ever made. I spent the better part of the last two days watching the entire trilogy—I had obviously seen parts I and II before—and was left so disgusted at the end of Part III that I’ve lost some appreciation for the greatness of its predecessors. I won’t give anything away for those of you who have not seen it, and I implore that you don’t, but are you really going to tell me that within the span of 5 minutes Michael Corleone, a man who trusts no one, goes from barely knowing Sonny’s bastard son to making him his protégé? Garbage. And Andy Garcia gives one of the worst acting performances of all time just outpacing the one given by Sophia Coppola. I just cannot get over how underdeveloped and haphazardly thrown together the plot was either…so disappointing. Baseketball (IMDB it if you need to) is Oscar worthy by comparison. Alright, rant over.

So that’s pretty much my week in recap. The next month or so should prove to be more exciting as I plan to do some traveling around Ukraine, and within Crimea especially. I also hope to post some pictures at some point…I need to buy a flash drive first. Hope you all have health, happiness, wisdom and so on…Miss you all.

PS...Here is my address in both English and Russian for those of you who want it:

Jordan Brown
Post Office Box #135
Main Post Office
A.R. Crimea Oblast

Дҗордан Браун
А/Я 135
Г. Красноперекопск
А.Р. Крым

Packages and letters should arrive here using only the English version, but why not live a little and give your Russian some practice?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Writers Block in the Eastern Bloc

I am sitting here knowing that I owe you an update, an accounting of how I have spent my time since I last wrote, and yet the words just won’t come. Perhaps it has something to do with the previous week being one of the least eventful of my 27 years—a week spent rereading Atlas Shrugged and ambling about the Ukrainian countryside aimlessly—or maybe the perpetual food coma that I have been in since my arrival is finally taking its toll. (Nothing brings more joy to a Ukrainian babushka than a taut waistband for which she can take the credit) Regardless of the reason, I will do my best to fight through this writers block and give you some sense of what I have been up to as of late and why I might be homeless come Thursday...

As I mentioned above, much of my time this week has been spent rereading Atlas Shrugged and I can’t help but feel incredibly ironic in doing so. Here I am living in a tiny Ukrainian village, a Peace Corps volunteer, working towards a collective ideal (in some sense), but I spend my days glued to one of the greatest tributes ever paid to “the virtue(s) of selfishness” and individualism. More sinful is that I cannot remember ever enjoying a book this much, even in spite of the context in which I am reading it, or maybe because of it. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that my social principles and my tastes in literature seem to be in contradiction, but if any of you have read Atlas Shrugged you’d know that contradictions do not exist, only false premises. I’ll let you try and figure out what that means…or if it means anything at all.

Now that you’re all thoroughly confused (I am too so don’t worry) I’ll tell you why I may be out on the streets in a matter of days. Before panic sets in (Mom) let me say that I won’t be homeless, but I am having an extremely hard time finding an apartment of my own. My rental contract with my host family expires this Thursday, and while I know that they would be happy to have me stay for a bit longer, I am eager to live on my own. Being able to cook for myself and not feel guilty when I leave a forkful or two on my plate and having sole say in when I wake up in the morning are two of the more compelling reasons why I feel this way. That said, I really do love my host family and am hoping to find something nearby their apartment.

Unfortunately I am having no luck in finding reasonable housing anywhere in this village and may have to resort to looking in the nearby city. I had one promising lead but word leaked to the landlady that I was American and she jacked up her asking price by about 500% and is unwilling to negotiate. I also found a 3 building estate that is pretty sweet, but 3 members of the family that lived there previously died from TB so I’m thinking that’s probably out of the picture as well. I am meeting with the director of my school tomorrow hoping that he can use his pull to find me something that might not otherwise be available, but I am not getting my hopes up. Ultimately I know that I will find something …it has just been a much harder process than I initially envisioned.

What else can I tell you? I made American style Mac and Cheese for my fam and a few select neighbors this week and it went over reasonably well. It could have used more salt, but I’d call it a success. Also cooked up some traditional Ukrainian eats with my babushka…rice and meat filled blintzes fried up in butter and served with a dollop of mayo. Yes…they were every bit as delicious as they sound. I have a feeling for every pound I have lost since I got here (I’d say 6 or 7) I’ve probably added 10 points to my cholesterol level. Free samples of Lipitor are welcome.

Hmmmm…bought a French press a couple weeks back. 99% of the coffee here is of the instant variety and is pretty nasty so I thought I’d indulge myself a bit. Problem is that pre-ground beans don’t seem to exist here so now I have to go out and buy a hand grinder if I want to be able to use my press. Not too pricey of an item but still more than I had hoped to spend just to enjoy some decent coffee in the AM. Speaking of food and beverage items, I thought I’d list some of the random things that you can’t find in Ukraine:
• Brown Sugar
• Chocolate Chips (ridiculous, I know)
• Root beer
• Vanilla extract (thankfully I brought some beans from home and with a cup of vodka and a few weeks time I’ll have my own)
• Peanut butter
• Grated Parmesan Cheese
• Pancake Syrup
• Cream Cheese
• Graham Crackers
• Barbeque Sauce
• and the list goes on…

I am not missing any one ingredient as of yet but I am sure come month 9…14…22 I will feel differently. Definitely could go for a Buddy’s pizza and trip to Red Coat though. A Chimay, tenderloin tip app and Red Coat burger sounds more delicious than you can possibly know.

So how’s that for beating a wicked case of writers block? Managed to write one of my lengthier entries and still have some good stories left in the arsenal. I think I might do a question and answer type post in the next couple of weeks so if there’s anything that you’d like to know that I haven’t covered, and I’m sure there is, just email me or leave one in the comments section. Hope this finds everyone happy and healthy…and if you’re fortunate enough to be so, I wish you the wisdom to know just how lucky you are.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Barnes & Ignoble

Здравствуйте! My apologies for the long delay in between school is undergoing a slew of summer repairs and included among them is the repainting of the computer lab. At the moment I am braving the fumes just to give you all an update...the things I do for you people. Anyway, I have had a pretty solid last 10 days or so. I've made a friend or two, explored more thoroughly my new village and the adjacent город (city) and have taken a couple excursions within Crimea. I am also in the midst of a frustrating apatment/house search but I will get to that in a bit...

First, one of the more humorous stories of my past week. I took a bus ride down to Simferopol, the capitol of Crimea, to check out the city and get some good pizza among other things, but mostly to buy some books written in English. I have torn through the handful of books that I brought with me from home and have a long, slow summer in front of me so getting some new reading material was a high priority. (Quick aside-Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is fun and easy read...I recommend it highly. Thanks Nai) My counterpart/friend Svitlana knew of an outdoor book market where she thought we might have some luck so we headed that direction not really knowing what to expect. There were 60+ small book stands filled with all sorts of Russian literature, but unfortunately no one had or knew of where I could buy some English books. I was definitely bumming but we decided to stop at one last stand where I asked in broken Russian if they had any books written in English. The old man working the stand lifts up his head and beckons to a shoddily dressed, cigarette smoking, greasy looking character who is perched on some crumbling Soviet era fountain nearby…I know it sounds like some cheesy movie but that’s what makes it so great. Anyhow, the old man motions for us to follow this guy, so we do. We follow him into some giant building, up a staircase, through a series of corridors and out a door into overgrown field/parking lot and finally over to one of those giant, rust encased shipping containers. Our friend pries open the squeaky doors, climbs inside and emerges with a small box of books, completely covered in grime and dust, but nonetheless all written in English. It would have been far more apropos had he handed me a nondescript package wrapped in butchers paper and tied off with some string but I digress…I probably had only heard of two books in the entire box (which I bought…The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Jackdaws by Ken Follet) but I grabbed two more that looked like they might hold my interest, haggled the price down by 15 гривна which is the equivalent to about $3 and we were on our way. Definitely one of the more unique book purchasing experiences I have had…

Simferopol otherwise is a very cool city. Kind of has a bit of a Mediterranean vibe to it and had the most delicious pizza I have had since coming to Ukraine. It is only a 2 hour busride away from my village and being that I have a good friend that lives nearby, I will most definitely be making frequent returns. Sevastopol and Yalta are next on my list...hopefully I will make it down to both sometime in August.

I am beginning to feel a lot more comfortable living my new village life. A great deal of that has to do with me realizing that I need to readjust my expectation of happiness and more specifically just what happiness here means to me. Will many days here register a 10 by the standard I had lived by back, at least not conventionally; but if I realize that the beauty of this whole experience is held in fetching water from the well, in learning to adjust to differing standards of cleanliness, in being alright with losing my privacy, then I believe I will be able to find happiness just about everywhere I look. Even on this new scale I know there will be days that fall somewhere south of 5 but there will be far more 8's, 9's and 10's of a nature that I would have never known back in the bubble. This certainly doesn't mean that the taste of a Ruth's Chris filet with béarnaise sauce isn't everpresent in my mind or that I don't look forward to buying a beautiful new suit when I move back home...but for the moment this is my life and I am learning to love it for the very reason that it's just so different from the one i left back home.

Ok...that took a little longer than I anticipated so I will keep you waiting with bated breath for the tales of my housing search. Hopefully I will have some good news to report by then as to date it has been a bit of a stuggle to find something adequate--even by my new standards. Hope this finds everyone well. Happy 4th!

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Thimble of Borscht...

Greetings from Northern Crimea...Life here is hot and sticky. I am mostly enjoying my new diggs but am definitely living a life more in step with what I, and most likely you, imagined the Peace Corps to be. Very small, very isolated, water and gas work when they feel like it and the language barier is all too real. While I feel like I am able to communicate and get basic ideas across I am more or less helpless to have any meaningful conversation. Yes I know it has only been 3 months and I know that I am doing well with Russian...blah blah blah...but that really isn't of any comfort when you go days without REALLY communicating with another person. My host Babushka is an extrmely warm and funny woman and I like her very much...but she keeps a running commentary going all day long...seriously...and it is probably the most exhausting thing I have ever dealt with. I understand none of what she says, which I know she knows, but she still keeps going. Eventually I am sure I will be grateful for this but for now its a little much to bear (bare?). Still I am happy even though this will easily be the most difficult two years of my life...past, present or future.

Today I went to the beach. I was told it was a little bit of a walk, which it would have been had we arrived after the first 3 miles. 2 miles later i asked if we were near and was told we were and sure enough, 3 miles later we were there. It was a nice little lake though and the 70 something year old babushkas in bikinis made the trek worthwhile...Thankfully we were able to hitch a ride 3/4 of the way home and even stopped for some lemonade at a friends doma which was welcomed. Played some ping pong afterwards...destroyed my babushka (that's right). From here on out its just me, a big bowl of borscht, some cookies if im a good malchick and whatever else the Peace Corps Gods decide to send my way today. Hoping for some cookies though...shortbread with some chocolate fudgy icing on the inside. Im enjoying the cookies here in Ukraine if you weren't aware. Alright...time to run. Just wanted to say hello. Miss you and love you....