Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March 29, 2010—A little about some other parts of the world—Poland/Ukraine Version

March 29, 2010—A little about some other parts of the world—Poland/Ukraine Version     

In case you wondering what i looked like when I think about what to write on my blog entries:

And this is what I look like when I actually write them:

So the last post I mentioned that I had managed to get myself into a spontaneous trip to Poland and Ukraine, both of which we amazing and exactly the vacation that I/we all need more often in our lives. 

This particular vacation began with a pleasurable overnight bus ride (13 hours, originally thought to be 20—relief), pleasurable because it is ok to drink on public transportation otherwise I would have not been a happy camper.  The first day was spent in L’Viv in a sleepless delirium which seems to be the cool thing for me to do on every vacation as of late.  I believe you must see both the day/nightlife of a city to truly enjoy it, so if you are on a budget and must package your vacations into short excursions, sleep simply put is the first thing to go. 

Tons of cool architecture: 

and more:

L’Viv is a gorgeous city with all the things to love about Eastern Europe with the additional flair of a Western Europe feel to it.  Something that nearly always makes an impression on me in a new country or city is how as foreigner or at least someone with the all too familiar look of being lost is treated by the yokels.  My personal favorite experience like this was in Vancouver BC when I was helped by a slew of people when my car broke down and still made it to one of the greatest concerts I have seen in my life.  The first 5 minutes in L’Viv brought back this memory.  I asked for directions from one person and was immediately approached by a young woman who told us she was headed in the same direction and could show us exactly where to go.  After talking for a bit, we found out she knew people at the hostel we were staying at and that progressed to her and her sister kindly showing us the lay of the land in L’Viv a city they are proud of for good reason.  We managed to make it to scenic lookout locations, markets that were perfect for buying ex-soviet awesomeness, a shooting range, and a variety of clubs that can only be described as unique and requisite on a trip to Ukraine.

Hostile takeover of the hostel:

Neal being cliche:

As for the rest of the journey, we continued on to Krakow where there is plethora of gorgeous architecture and a very cool city square with plenty of opportunities for whatever kinds of mischief/adventure you want to delve into.  It was a little bit more expensive than L’Viv but we made due, by subjecting ourselves to mass of amounts of cheap and amazing kebabs, something that Washington really needs to realize the beauty of—probably the best late night snack ever.  Would you honestly ever get late-night hot dog or McDonalds again, if there was a kebab stand in town? The answer is only yes if you are dumb or crazy J.

A very alert taxi cab driver:

View of Krakow from a castle:

Something I must say in general about traveling is how great staying in hostels can be.  It is amazing how many like-minded individuals you can meet on a vacation.  Staying at a hostel is much like your first day in college or at a job where everyone is new.  It provides an incredibly comfortable atmosphere where it is not acceptable to talk to everyone, it is encouraged and you end up making some of the best sorts of friends even if it may only be for a day or two. Something about a hotel reminds me gated community, trying to avoid the contact that needs to be made with the outside world.

For all the smiling and good times had throughout the trip, we definitely toned it down for one day in particular, the day we visited Auschwitz.  On the way to the concentration camp, I believe I did what I do nearly every time there is a serious event that I am actually a little nervous about in my future--we laughed and told jokes in an effort to not have to deal with the reality of it.  The mood turned to somber and serious the second that we arrived in the town.  It is weird to me to think of growing up in a city of town that possesses one of the darker histories of humanity. I wonder how it would change your perspective on things being so close.  I am sure for some people it would strike pretty deeply into their character, but I could also see how some might choose to repress the thought of it. 

Much like the most beautiful and most ugly things in the world, words do little to describe the experience of being there.  I think one of the things that affected me the most was the familiarity of it all.  The wooden buildings, the dull-color painted walls, the dirt roads connecting it all.  We have all seen these basics before, but what sets these particular things apart is simply the fact that countless atrocities on humanity that were committed there.   It reminds us of the frailties of humanity and the decency of humanity that is sometimes swept aside in cruel times.  Seeing a child’s shoe can bring a tear to your eye for many reasons, whereas a room full of children’s shoes that were all of their last pairs brings a different sort of weight to your mind where you can find yourself floundering in your emotions.  

The last impression of Auschwitz as we walked away.
Entrance to Auschwitz "Work Sets You Free"

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March 20, 2010---Poland & Ukraine

Well, I was feeling spontaneous and am now in headed to Krakow, Poland from L'viv Ukraine.  L'Viv is absolutely gorgeous and people equally so.  A friend of mine needed to meet a friend in Krakow on Sunday so I decided to keep him company on the long bus/train ride to our destinations.  I am truly a selfless being... I did this purely because I wanted my friend to not be bored on his trip--not because a vacation to Ukraine and Poland sounds amazing. 

Anyhow, that is what I am doing.  Not saving the world at the current moment, but enjoying life and loving the travel. I will not post any picture until I get back next week, because it is kind of a pain in the ass from here.  anyhow I will keep you all updated I suppose as the trip progresses.  We may make it to Auschwitz and some other points of interests.  anyhow peace out folks.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

March 9, 2010—A Tangent

March 9, 2010—A Tangent

Life was good this weekend. I took an adventure to Balti, the second-most populated city in Moldova, sitting at a hefty 100,000 or give or take a few ten-thousand. The whole people-working-abroad thing really throws off any estimates you can make about Moldovan cities and villages.  My village/city (depending on who you talk to—young adult or adult) for example is supposed to be a little less than 15,000 by the books, but most people say that 10,000ish live there now.    The thought that gets conjured up in my mind this that of Detroit where they say it can feel like a ghost town with its shrinking population and its continued presence of massive architecture. The difference between here and the states is that here a large percentage of the families have one or two parents or children working abroad or in a major city such as Balti causing the population of a city or village to usually be less than what is advertised on the books.   You might say that this happens quite a bit in the states, because small towns on the whole ship off their young to the closest state university where they become learned in one of the various trades or pseudo sciences offered there. This holds true for the most part in the states, although the big difference is that the family who sends/loses their young off doesn’t traditionally depend on the income of that individual for sustenance, whereas in Moldova that story is all but rare.  

One recent estimate that I heard was that roughly 1 of the 4 million “living” in Moldova work abroad and in almost every case they send remittances back to host country nationals.  You could call the remittances double-edged swords though because they on the whole lead to a pervasive problem that the world as a whole deals with all the time—inflation.  Like many countries, inflation is a tough problem that Moldovans have to deal with.  Interest rates on a good day at non-profit organization come to rest at 15 percent and on a bad day can reach the 25 percent range. Over a period of a loan you can imagine what kind of difference this would make in regard to the difficulty of paying this loan off or even with dissuading you from ever taking the loan in the first place. There are many reasons for this phenomenon, but one of the biggest causalities is the fact that so many people work abroad and bring cold hard cash back across the border, after years of high rates of these remittances the average price of goods in general has risen considerably.  These things are natural, if the average disposable income of a population rises, the overall price of commodities tends to rise, bringing on unavoidable comments by the geriatric community such as “I remember when bread only cost a dime and seeing a movie at the local cinema was a quarter for the works”, the problem is that average prices usually rise with real average wages.  What has happened in Moldova is that “real” local wages haven’t risen, but Moldovans working abroad has indirectly given a “boost” to the local price of goods and services.   The more people work abroad the higher the price becomes for people working and staying at home. You can imagine what it is like for a large family, whose parents work at home or a local factory and have to continually put up with increasing prices.

In the States we enjoy quite the opposite of this, with a large influx of cheap labor from various countries; predominately from south-of-the-border countries such as Mexico (another popular country for remittances) because of this we enjoy the lower-than-average prices of goods.  You could sit back and say that is great for us, but I guess the point of this is not necessarily to make a point, but maybe to share a less vocalized view of working abroad for a brief moment.  Do what you will with it and enjoy your day… I am tired.

I apologize for my serious tone in this post, I realize I haven’t taken an air of solemnity like this in quite some time, I honestly sat down to describe an adventure to Balti that I took last weekend. Maybe you will get the alternative peachy-keen version tomorrow.

Until then or another then.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What the Hell is That?

March 2, 2010—What the hell is that?    

That would be the sun and the broad and overwhelming-welcome changes in the weather, life and most of all (in this humble bloggers opinions) in the ol’ psyche that come from the new season. I have not written on this blog for over a month now and I suppose it is time again to inform the minute following that I have.  Although that amount has grown a bit since last I checked, which is always nice.  So what has happened in the last month?  Some would say not too much, but I suppose since this is the Peace Corps it is interesting to at least someone.  Just kidding really, in all honesty the past month has been rife with new experiences and good/bad times. 

A large percentage of Moldovan statues incorporate guns into the art:
To start off this, I will talk about маслыница.  A holiday a few weeks back that celebrated an ol’ pagan and Russian tradition for the coming of spring and the start of пост (Lent or the 40 days of fasting that some other religions take part in the states).  The day itself is celebrated by eating pancakes all day with fruit or sour cream. The pancakes symbolize the coming sun.  In this blog are a few pictures of the day, which was surprising the first absolutely beautiful day of the year.  The irony was that the very next day turned right back into a foggy, raining, muddy day again--dashing the hopes for spring starting already.

France vs. America: My money was on France:

They take the fasting a little more serious here from what I have observed, not drinking water or eating food for the first 3 days at all.  I refused to give up water, but I did tell my Babooshka that I would fast with her.  She said “ok”, and then next time that dinner time rolled around there was the all too familiar multiple course meal that I have become accustomed to; waiting for me.  She insisted that I did not need to take part in the tradition, so I said “how about I just don’t eat any meat for пост?” something that she also does for the remaining days of пост.  Thinking that this time, for sure we were on the same page and that surely breakfast the next morning would only be eggs and bread.  No, I was surprised with a large defiant helping of Salami standing in the place of eggs as if to signify her adamant refusal for me to “endure” in her traditional way.  So now, instead of trying respect her traditions and I get to be a jerk and eat large meals of meat in front of her, even when yesterday she told me she was craving BBQ.  Yeah, I get to be that guy, that says yeah that sounds delicious saying that with my mouth full of a cutlet of meat that she prepared for me.  I tried.

More pictures of the nice day: 

Over the past month or two, I have met a fairly large group of European Union volunteers, who have proven to be more than entertaining.  Most of them live an hour’s bus ride from my village.  Hanging out with them, definitely is refreshing.  It actually reminds me of being back in a youth group in church before I opted for working Sunday mornings at a restaurant. They are incredibly fun and always trying to make the most fun out of their situations.  A day spent with them most likely means I will take part in some sort of artsy project, whether it be cooking or doodling.  I appreciate it quite a bit because suffice it to say it makes me feel young in spirit again. What is it that makes us lose sight of the little things like that? I don’t want to blame it on anything specific; I feel that would be disingenuous to the cities, jobs and people I have come from.  Anyhow, more about Moldova.
Very serious theater performed by the French and German ladies:
Over the past month I have also had a couple of Peace Corps ISTs (In Service Training)s, once for the work I am doing here and the other for language training.  Both were incredibly helpful for me.  My partner and I made significant progress on the grant that we are writing together.  We hope to have it completed early this month.  The language IST couldn’t have been better, I think all of the Russian students agree that they miss the tutors that we had in Chisinau—some of the best.

I have decided to grow out my chest hair: 

My hope is that with the changing weather I will have more stories to talk about with you kind folks.  This winter I could have been a professional film critic, but I don’t think that is what you wanted to hear about that from Moldova (For any future Peace Corps volunteers that read this:  An external hard drive is the best/worst thing to ever bring to a country.  It will consume hours on end, but will also supply you with much needed breaks from PC reality. Consider yourself warned).  The last few weeks before the nice weather arrived, my village reminded me of London horror movies that take place in 19th century, such as the Movie “From Hell”, massive amounts of thick fog obstructing your vision for anything past 5 meters, and an eerie inordinately small amount of people on the street.  All is well now though. 

Anyhow I need to be on my way.