I feel like I’ve been a bit of a “Debbie downer” about Ukraine with a lot of negative posts on the blog lately. Some of the time, I really want people to understand that while Ukraine is far from the kind of third world country that’s part of the stereotypical Peace Corps image (you know, the volunteer in tevas and a t-shirt surrounded by adoring African children who have their English lesson sitting on the floor of a hut… or something like that), there’s a lot of messed up stuff that goes on here. Other times, maybe, it’s just easier to complain than to praise.
So anyway, I thought I’d post a list of more positive stuff about my experience here.
- I love Ukrainian hospitality and generosity. It’s truly unmatched. If you are invited to someone’s house for dinner, you will undoubtedly be served at least ten different dishes and will eat more than you would have thought possible. Plus, you will be sent home with more food… maybe even more than just leftovers. If you compliment some item at your host’s house, they may give it to you. (Really, this happened to me, and that’s further supported by what I’ve read in lists of cultural tips.)
- I love borshch (Ukrainian beet soup), fried pies (like mashed potatoes inside fried dough… how can a carb-lover go wrong?), and varenyky (dumplings).
- I like that if you’re patient enough (admittedly, “patient enough” sometimes means 36-hours-patient), you can get just about anywhere in Ukraine using public transportation.
- Also, you can get on or off buses just about anywhere along the route that’s convenient for you if you ask the driver.
- I admire the way Ukrainians carefully evaluate the quality of any item before buying it, and then take excellent care of what they own.
- I think it’s great that Ukrainian homeroom teachers remain with the same group of kids from 5th grade until the kids graduate, so they really know the kids, their learning styles, and families well.
- I also think it’s great that Ukrainian schoolchildren take turns sweeping and mopping their classrooms at the end of each day of classes. I think (hope) it helps them develop a sense of responsibility and ownership. Last week I walked into my counterpart’s room to find her 9th-grade boys with wrenches and screws in hand, fixing the wooden chairs. One of my PCV friends who works in a village has told me that her kids have to help plant and harvest potatoes that the school then sells to earn money.
- I love the sunflower fields in summer.
- I love the care with which the babushkas feed and look after the stray cats, and that my kids will sometimes collect uneaten food from the cafeteria to give to the stray dogs.
- I love that just about every female in the country (or so it seems) can sing and dance wonderfully. (And I’m horribly embarrassed that I absolutely cannot.)
- I think it’s an amazing feat that my fellow English teachers speak English nearly perfectly despite the fact that almost all of them have never left Ukraine.
- I deeply respect the way Ukrainians are quick to remember what’s most important in life: family and health.
- I love the availability of really local and really fresh produce (especially in the summer, when it’s also really cheap), and that in Ukraine, pretty much everyone who owns their home has a garden – often with grapes, cherries, apples and apricots as well as vegetables – and that Ukrainians conserve everything to have homegrown food all year long. (And of course, they share with me because they’re so generous, which is usually a good thing, except that I’m not a huge fan of pickles, and I have no idea how I will possibly finish off 6 jars of jam and 2 of honey in the 3.5 months that I have left in Ukraine).
- I appreciate the reverence that Ukrainians have for churches and all things related.
- I admire the resiliency of Ukrainians. I love their self-sufficiency and inventiveness.
- I love the colorful, quaint little houses that one finds in villages on the outskirts of town. Inevitably, they are immaculate inside.
- I like that I can wear the same clothes two or three times in a row and it’s completely normal. It certainly takes some of the hassle out of getting ready in the morning.
- I love the culture of ice cream and picnics in the summer. It’s wonderful.
- Kindergarten boys in three-piece suits are suuuuper cute. And I get to see them every day.
- I don’t know Ukrainian winter footwear hasn’t caught on in the states. It’s simply brilliant. They take normal styles (Ok, I don’t think 4-in heels should ever be “normal” in winter, but otherwise…), line the inside with warm, fuzzy fur, and add a bit of traction (sometimes) to the bottom. So I’ve been wearing nice riding boots (flat, of course, to represent American practicality with pride) all winter. They look great with jeans and my feet have never been cold. Really – even when my gloved fingers start to go numb, my toes are still toasty. The same for men – nice-looking dress and/or casual shoes that are as warm as clunky Sorels.
- Trains and busses are amazingly on time. In fact, given Ukraine’s bad winter weather, awful roads and the simple fact that so many other things in the country are disorganized or treat plans as a formality, the consistency and accuracy of the transportation schedules is pretty amazing. Despite the previous post’s complaint about the 8-hour trip to cover less than 200 miles and despite those 200 miles being riddled with
potholescraters, the bus left on time, hit every stop on time, and actually arrived a few minutes ahead of the schedule.
- I’ve become a true believer of the everything-is-better-with-sour-cream theory