For Lauren, Mike, and Heather. And You.

10408782_10152545733565875_7305253746552494076_n

I just got back from a Thanksgiving trip up to Connecticut to visit my friends and their families.  It was supposed to be a super quick visit of just 24 hours or so, but with some serious arm twisting I was convinced to stay on for another day.

One thing that tends to happen when I gather with friends like these is that I end up thinking about stuff on a much deeper level than I would otherwise.  And with someone like Lauren, I usually do even if I really don’t want to.  Yesterday at brunch was one of those times.  At some point over eggs, French toast, and some type of mayo-less wrap thingy, the three of them decided to try to solve the ills of the American education system.

Now, Heather’s a lot smarter than I am (well, they all are, actually), and she knows her way around the education system.  And Mike just knows everything (he reads, try it).  And, if I have anything to do with it, Lauren is going to save the world someday.  So as the conversation progressed, I really was just trying to focus on the football game being shown over Lauren’s shoulder.  But as I sat there desperately hoping the waitress would show up with a second cup of coffee, my comrades seemed to get stuck where you would imagine most people would.  The fact that our education system is broken is the very definition of a no-brainer.

But how do we fix it?

The waitress was nowhere in sight.  Dammit.

[I’ve expanded it greatly here, but this is basically what I said or at least wanted to say.  And, by the way, “GROSS OVERSIMPLIFICATION OF A TREMENDOUSLY COMPLEX PROBLEM” alert on my part.  I get that, really I do.  But it’s my blog.  If you don’t like it, start your own.]

Here’s how you fix it.  You get 10,000 Mikes, Laurens, and Heathers to run for office across this country.  And you need them to win.  We don’t value the right things in America.  We say we want strong family values, and yet we debate whether or not stores should make their employees work on Thanksgiving.  Because family is important, but so is being able to go to Walmart at 5PM on Thanksgiving even though some poor schmuck making minimum wage has to be there to serve us.  We say we value kids.  But we don’t want to don’t even consider the possibility of any sort of firearm legislation that could maybe, just maybe, prevent the next school shooting because we don’t want to politicize tragedy.  As if politics were the most important factor in the conversation.

We value money.  We value stuff.  We value a sense of freedom to choose that might still make us the envy of the world if it also didn’t simultaneously make us look like a laughing stock.

The things we did on my ‘extra day’ in Connecticut—waking up and making breakfast together, driving up into the mountains and cutting down a Christmas tree, stopping on the side of the road to take a picture of the sunset, picking up a friend’s ill father and taking him out for drinks and to share food together, sitting around a fire in the freezing cold and looking at the stars (and wishing the security lights weren’t activated by things like ‘wind’ or ‘thought’)–those are the types of things that have value.  And sure, there’s freedom involved in that somewhere.  And a tree was sacrificed.  But that’s not my point.  We don’t value things like a humane nature, or generous spirit, all of these different ‘childlike behaviors’ that exhibit value.  We admire them, but we don’t value them.

Not on the scale necessary, anyway, and definitely not from a public policy standpoint.   If we did, we wouldn’t even have to talk about things like this and I could have just watched my damn football game.  If we did, the 5th-grader who isn’t up to reading level wouldn’t just be funneled into a remedial program designed to pretty much guarantee he’s dropping out by 10th grade, entered into the criminal justice system by the age of 15, and viewed as a community development data point for how many prison beds we’ll need by 2030, because we need to start planning on how we’re going to pay for a new prison with all those TAX DOLLARS.

If we valued all children on the scale necessary, we would do something about that 5th grader yesterday.  And we wouldn’t argue over how much it costs.  Children are valuable.  Their education is an investment.  And it’s one we all have to make.  Because what we’re doing now is not working on the scale needed in order to achieve what we all say we want from a values standpoint:  the opportunity to live our lives peacefully amongst each other and pursue that Happiness thing.  The kids that we are failing are the ones who will typically end up in our prisons, in our food banks, and in our emergency rooms, draining our system and taking away our resources and just generally being a burden on the rest of us.  And they’re just as likely to turn out to be a Republican as they are to be a Democrat.  Blame them, blame yourselves, blame me.  Whatever, I don’t care.  But it needs to be fixed.

Am I saying that the entire system needs to be turned upside down, and we need to evaluate how we pay for our public education system, how teachers are trained and supported (and yes, ‘supported’ includes being evaluated and, sometimes, fired for cause), and how we should prioritize taking small local success stories and bringing them to scale with little or no regard for cost or who gets the credit for that success (charter, public, private, etc), or who has to pay for it (btw, that’s us)?

Yes.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a football game to watch.

Incidentally, it turns out when you say stuff like this and you’re running for office, even in a fairly ‘liberal’ district, you still lose.  At least you did 7 years ago.  But that also could mean that person wasn’t the right one for the job.  Which is why you, Lauren, Mike, and Heather, have to run, and you have to win.  All 10,000 of you.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The joke’s on me

<Ed Note: As I write this, Russia has effectively taken over the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, an act that has stirred up a whole other series of emotions inside me. It’s difficult to ignore that, but for now, I need to get these emotions out, before I can effectively tell you my feelings for Vladimir.>

Я заблукав. Ya zabluKAV. I got lost.

That was one of the first phrases I learned when I began studying Ukrainian back in February 2010 prior to leaving for Peace Corps. I remember joking with my friend Amber, betting how many times I’d have to use it during my service. I’m not sure if it has the same dual meaning in English, as in “I got lost” in a spiritual sense. But the phrase has occurred to me a lot over the past week or so.

As my friend in Seattle, also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, said when she got my email, evacuation messes with the soul. So to try to help repair some of that, I’d like to explain what the hell just happened. And then I’d like to say thank you to some people.

The word ‘evacuation’ may conjure up images of marines racing you to a helicopter, to be transported to the nearest airstrip, thrown onto a military transport, and whisked out of danger under the cover of darkness. Ours wasn’t nearly so dramatic. But it was FAST. And it was pretty exhausting. Here’s how it played out for me in Kyiv.

  1. After leaving work on Tuesday to go get my computer, I got stuck at the PC office because the metro was shut down, the streets were a parking lot, and taxis were charging double-fares to ‘try’ to take people places. People were walking everywhere. It really looked like the zombie apocalypse.
  2. Eventually took a taxi home (regular fare, thank God), told to prepare my ‘go-bag’ and pack/label all belongings in my apartment for possible consolidation and/or evacuation scenarios.
  3. Told later that day to make sure I had food and water for at least 3 days in my apartment, and not to go to work the next day.
  4. Told to consolidate, meaning all volunteers will gather at pre-determined spots around the country.
  5. Then told that I should stay put, since I was in Kyiv at my apartment, and it was safer that way, for now.
  6. Told that I should ‘consolidate in place’, meaning don’t leave my apartment until I hear from someone. If I lose communications, stay at the apartment until I hear otherwise.
  7. Received message to evacuate.
  8. Got a call an hour later with instructions, telling me I’d be picked up in 4 hours and taken to the airport. Be ready with one checked bag and one carry-on.
  9. Left on the first flight out with 6 other volunteers.

All of that happened in less than 4 days. So not any danger to speak of, but definitely some whisking under the cover of darkness.

I arrived in DC not having said goodbye to anyone back in Ukraine, and having spoken to just a handful of people in America about what was happening. And then for five days, I struggled with a tremendous amount of guilt, at being forced to abandon my life so quickly in Kyiv, and having to return to a place full of people who love me and miss me, but where I desperately did NOT want to be right now. All the while surrounded by people experiencing some of the same thing, but not exactly and maybe to different degrees. I know this was all forced upon me, and that I had no control over what happened. And I agree 100% with the decision to remove us when they did, even before the situation deteriorated in Crimea. It was only going to get more difficult to move us around the country, even as things improved in Kyiv. It’s hard to be responsible for 230 people. So as frustrated, angry, confused, and sad as I am, I got out because I had to, and they did a great job doing it. Eventually, I’ll stop just ‘coping’ with what happened and these rips in my soul won’t be so apparent.

As for what’s next, I have been given the gift of the next 45 days to try to figure that out. Today is Day 2. Since I only have my hiking boots, maybe I’ll go get some trainers so I can work out without feeling like bigfoot. Baby steps. I’m in Utah with my parents, and have some things to get done here first. I may head to Seattle soon, maybe for work but definitely for play, and almost absolutely not to stay. I’m considering going back into the Response program, if something resembling what I just left pops up. And apparently, I have a list of potential options in DC that I didn’t even know about, because my friends are just that awesome. But I’ll start thinking about all that on Monday.

For now, I have a lot of people to thank.

To Michele, Sara, Avital and Kym for what seemed like immediate phone calls at the hotel;

To Mom and Dad, Mike, Andrea, and Alicia for the Skype calls;

To Pete, Alexa, Dustin, Julie, Mary-Kathryn, and Allison for coordinating the final evening in DC for a phone-less Patrick, and for making the phrase “Who’s got Patrick?” mean more than just getting picked last for dodge ball:

DSCN2850edited

To Pete, because he’s Pete:

DSCN2851edited

To Allison, for being there on my first night ‘back in America’ (and by that, I mean ‘away from other volunteers’). I needed someone to tell me what to do and when, but not necessarily why, and I needed that person to not be related to the situation, and she took care of it. All the way down to the hot cocoa complete with chocolate-infused straw:

DSCN2861edited

To Tommy, Brooks, and Brandon for understanding the value of 4 PM. Every day;

To my group of evacuees, Cary, Cheryl, Lindsey, Tommy, Amy, and Wanna. It takes a special sort of whacky to (mostly) enjoy an evacuation flight plan that involves a 4 AM pick-up:

DSCN2795edited

To Wanna, for making me smile. To Cary, for making me smile. To Barb, for making me smile. All for slightly different reasons, but all with the funniest of results. For me, anyway;

To the wonderful staff of Peace Corps in Washington DC. For everything;

To my friends at East Europe Foundation, thank you for welcoming me into your group and giving me the opportunity to serve you. I admire your work, and look forward to the day when I can return to Ukraine and perhaps continue the work we had just started;

And to my friends in Dnipropetrovsk, at VIRTUS and the Mining University, I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to visit during my return. This is also something I look forward to doing, hopefully soon;

To Iryna and Oksana, for being there;

To my friends at Peace Corps Ukraine, for getting all of us out safely amid the chaos I know you are experiencing yourselves;

To my medical officer, Dr. Yuri, for making me laugh at some pretty serious situations, for me and for someone I care very deeply for;

To Marat, for being a great mentor. I hope to see you serving in the Ukrainian parliament one day soon;

And to Alexa, for not killing me. And not leaving me:

DSCN2861edited2

And for the hundreds of emails, text messages, comments, etc, that I’ve received over the past few months. Thank you for understanding that when I say I’m not happy to be back, it isn’t because of the people. Pay attention to what is happening in Ukraine!

Слава Україні!!!

DSCN2820edited

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I Like Snow

It may be -14 Celsius outside right now, but the fact is I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be. The sun just set a little while ago, and that crisp bone-shattering chill of a wind is picking up again outside. But everything looks really beautiful with that layer of white.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. It’s just that, even when I publish a blog with privacy settings, the link will occasionally appear with the first few lines visible. I needed something innocuous to fill that void. What’s more innocuous than ‘snow’?

Usually when I write one of these things, I have an idea where it’s ‘going’. And I typically try to manage the narrative in a way that ensures a flow for the reader. That may make some of you snicker a bit. But I say I ‘try’ nonetheless. And I say this as a warning to you that this entry may not follow that premise. Because I’m not trying to watch my words, or sew my thoughts together into a seamless (stop snickering!) tapestry of photos, captions, and colorful anecdotes. I simply can’t. My hands are just going to type what comes out, and I’ll try to leave it at that. Sure, I’ll edit. I know too many grammar Nazis to do otherwise. But the narrative itself is going to reflect the prattling in my head. I’m a little scared, too, but let’s see how this goes.

Every single one of you knows what’s happening in Ukraine. Well, no, that’s not entirely true. Nobody knows what’s happening, which is part of the challenge now. But every single one of you is aware that something is happening. If not, shame on you for not reading any of the emails I’ve sent or updates I’ve given via social media, or any number of the other tweets, messages, status updates, wall postings, blogs, etc that hundreds of former volunteers have also shared. I’m not trying to scold. But if you truly don’t know, I apologize because I am not going to re-cap it for you. Too much has happened just in the past 11 days for me to reconvene all of the events in my mind again, not to mention the emotions created in the process, and pour them out here for my private audience. I don’t have the strength at this point.

My friend came to visit me. He’s been volunteering in the medical ‘center’ of the protest zone (called EuroMaidan), and he had some stories to tell. But only after I prompted him. And put a few beers in him. He admitted some were actually kind of funny. Others are too grisly to repeat, even in a ‘private’ setting like this. It became uncomfortable to listen after a few minutes. But I also didn’t want him to stop. The psychological toll from something like this is beyond my ability to comprehend. And yet, by the end of the night, we were telling different stories and laughing out loud, and for a while everything seemed okay again. But I know he’s going back, to help. And I know he’s one of thousands of people who have similar stories about what’s been happening. Who none of us will ever meet. And I want to scream in my apartment how incredibly heroic they are. And how every single one of them should be celebrated as such by anyone who says they believe in freedom, or democracy, or ‘will of the people’ whatever the hell that means.

I shouldn’t be saying these things, because of my affiliation with a nonpolitical, neutral ‘foreign entity’ operating on Ukrainian soil, at the invitation of the very authority that is now looking to eradicate those fundamental democratic principles in an attempt to maintain its own survival. At the cost of its own people, and country. I can’t say these things in an email, or on a public social media site, and yes, it’s not the brightest idea to say them here in a ‘private’ blog post. But I’m counting on the fact that you can. That while cheering for someone to win or lose the Super Bowl, or trying to figure out just how little you care about Justin Bieber’s descent into moral decay, or yes, even honestly dealing with real-life problems of your own, you please remember that there are people like my friend, standing on a barricade just a few miles from me, in subzero temperatures, all night long. They don’t ask us to fight their fight. Believe me, they are fighting it themselves. But they need to know that they’re not alone. And that other people who also matter actually care about what happens to them.

I’ve spent over two years working side-by-side with people here, some who were skeptical at first when I said things like ‘it doesn’t matter what I think or believe about Ukraine or its people. What matters is what you think and believe.’ I didn’t understand at first why it was so hard for them to believe me. Or believe in themselves. But I learned over time where their frustrations came from, and why. And I also started to see glimpses of hope, and the ever so slight spark in a lot of young people in Dnipropetrovsk as they talked about what they wanted for their country. And as radical as it may seem, I do feel that what’s happening now is a release of the frustrations of so many people, of all ages, across this entire country.

1013788_10201097916961813_803243125_n

Because they want to believe again. That corruption does not have to be the status quo. That the phrase “It’s Ukraine” doesn’t have to be a phrase of surrender, or resignation to life’s daily grind. That journalists can report the news, and people can speak their minds, without being afraid of being kidnapped, beaten, tortured, or killed. That the promise of Ukraine, as the crossroads between Europe and Russia, can be realized. That they do have leaders who they can be proud of, and more often than they believe, it’s someone looking back at them in the mirror.

Wow. Just re-read this. Looks like my brain exploded on the screen. But I’m not changing a word. For those of you not on my email list, the bottom of this post has the videos I shared earlier this week. The first one is a dedication to one of the protesters who was shot and killed. His name was Sergiy Nigoyan, born of Armenian descent, resettled in my adopted home of Dnipropetrovsk, and shot down for standing up. I still can’t watch the whole video without pausing it.

Show these to someone you know. Tell them about Ukraine.

I always appreciate hearing from you. Now, I suppose, more than ever. Keep sending me your good thoughts, I can’t tell you how much they mean to me. And if you have actual questions, feel free to ask. It’s always fun to Skype (pkelley0200) with people. Make me laugh, and I’ll try to do the same. :-) And if you want to be added to my email list for more frequent updates, let me know.

I’m safe. My volunteer friends here in Kyiv and around Ukraine are safe. Really might be greedy of me to want more than that. But I do. Peace & Love to you all.

Sergiy Nigoyan, Our Shevchenko

Faces of Maidan

What You Can Do

Why Are We Doing This?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The more things change (or, how a washing machine can change a life)

Привет Всё!! Season’s Greetings upon you all, from my old/new home of Ukraine (don’t ever let me hear you say “the” in front of that)!! As I sit here writing this, I just finished celebrating Christmas. But it didn’t feel like it. But it sort of felt like it. To find out why, you can read last year’s holiday post.

For those of you keeping track, I was away from Ukraine for six months between assignments. In many ways, it feels like I never left. In Dnepropetrovsk (where I used to live), I had malls, traffic, American fast rood restaurants, etc practically right outside my door. Kyiv is pretty much the same way. Riding a marshrutka still requires a combination of patience and humor, all the while trying not to be the ridiculous foreigner laughing at just how hysterical it is. People still look at me strangely when I speak what I think is perfectly understandable Russian. And I find myself wondering daily if that babushka sitting outside my building will ever smile at me. <Challenge, accepted>

But in many other ways, things have changed dramatically. Even with the similarities between Dnepro and Kyiv, my new city is a very different life experience. I spend almost an hour on the metro everyday (in my old city, I lived two minutes from my office). Housing here is incredibly expensive, and I consider myself lucky to have been able to find this place especially so close to a metro stop. Also, while in Dnepro I was always finding myself in Russian-speaking situations, here in Kyiv it’s almost 50/50, meaning there’s  a good chance I won’t have any idea what’s happening because this person is speaking Ukrainian. Good for me, because it means I’ll have to learn more. But a bit confusing, too.

But the most dramatic occurrence is still happening, and I hope this isn’t news to any of you. For the past month, the city center has been occupied by anti-government demonstrators. I’m not going to bore everyone with a re-hash of the how’s, what’s, and why’s, but as you can imagine this situation has made life here very interesting. Personally, I am ecstatic to be here for this. My love of this place has only been enhanced by the fact that, finally, people (especially youth) are raising their voices against the devastating corruption which has all but crippled growth in this country. And while I hold fast to Peace Corps’ non-political stance from an organizational perspective, I admit I choke up a bit when I hear my colleagues talk about what’s happening, or when I read another story about why “Vlad” or “Katya” has spent several hours on a train just to come and voice their support for a more transparent, democratic way of governance. Nobody knows what will come of this. Hopefully it will lead to a transition away from life as it is, and make it possible for Ukrainians to create the type of system so many claim to want. Stay tuned…

Okay, enough serious talk. Here are some photos about life so far (it’s only been 3 weeks, but it feels longer). First up, my very (br)own apartment:

DSCN2738edited

A game-changer appliance. This, and the vacuum cleaner, would have been enough to please me...

A game-changer appliance. This, and the vacuum cleaner, would have been enough to please me…

DSCN2740edited DSCN2742edited

A shout-out to my old UW colleagues in Seattle...how classic is that shower curtain? :)

A shout-out to my old UW colleagues in Seattle…how classic is that shower curtain? :)

The entry way, with tons of storage space.

The entry way, with tons of storage space.

The wall hanging is my landlady's...oy.

The wall hanging is my landlady’s…oy.

As for how day-to-day life has gone so far, I have to say that training for Peace Corps Response Volunteers is very different in one important aspect: time. PC Trainees (serving 2 years) start off with 3 months of intense language, cultural, and technical training before heading to their sites. PC Response Trainees are lucky if they get 2 weeks. Which we didn’t. Delays in arriving, weather, Kyiv traffic, switching accommodations, travel restrictions within the city, and a host of other factors made it practically impossible to have any consistent flow in our training schedule. It was disorienting for us who have experienced it before (PC and Ukraine)…I can’t imagine how the new people felt. But in the end, all 11 of us made it through. Seven of us will be in Kyiv, three have gone to various other cities (Kharkiv, Odessa, and Mikolaiv), and one has gone back to his original organization in Zhytomyr. I’ll talk more about work later, but we’re a mix of different projects, some PEPFAR (which I did in Dnepropetrovsk) and others USAID (which I’m doing now). We all started with our host organizations at different times, and moved into our living quarters in the same way, which just added to the madness. But as of now, I think we’ve all found a place to live and have started working. Ура!!

Conjugating the verb "to do"...ugh. Grammar.

Conjugating the verb “to do”…ugh. Grammar.

After our swearing-in ceremony

After our swearing-in ceremony

Out to dinner, post-trip to the immigration service office for our Ukrainian documents

Out to dinner, post-trip to the immigration service office for our Ukrainian documents

One other quick note about work: I’ve been assigned to East Europe Foundation, one of the premier capacity development organizations in the region. In just a week there, I’ve found them to be operating at an extremely high level of efficiency and productivity, and I’ll be working through the various December and January holiday periods to develop a plan that addresses some of the things they would like me to work on (such as CSR program development), while also including input from the other partners in this project (Peace Corps and USAID). We were supposed to have a week of USAID training as part of our orientation, but it’s been postponed to February. At that point, I’ll have a better idea of what they expect from me and this work. In the meantime, we had our staff retreat earlier this week, where we developed benchmarks for all of the various projects they are working on…check out their website if you’re interested. The retreat was held just outside of Kyiv, in a place actually called “Ukrainian Village“. It’s similar to Pirogova, which I wrote about briefly in this post. The main difference is that the Village is privately owned and operated. And they have a conference center where we could hold our retreat. Here are some pics:

DSCN2722edited

"Samaghoan Complex". Basically, moonshine distillery. They offer classes! :)

“Samaghoan Complex”. Basically, moonshine distillery. They offer classes! :)

DSCN2716edited DSCN2715edited DSCN2713edited DSCN2712edited DSCN2711edited DSCN2709edited DSCN2706edited

Laundry, old-school

Laundry, old-school

DSCN2727edited

This, to me, epitomizes village life

This, to me, epitomizes village life

DSCN2723edited

And finally, just for warm fuzzy’s sake, here’s a shot of some of us at Christmas dinner last night in Kyiv.

1501658_10151963585703472_1166047871_o

So we’re all sort of settling into our routines. The daily challenges of life in a new city are starting to give way to random moments of sheer terror, dumb humor, and quickly followed by absolute clarity. Kidding. Sort of. Like the other day when two women walked up to me as I was entering the metro and started speaking to me in Russian (terror). But they were asking me if I wanted help learning English (humor). When I said, in Russian, that I was an American who really doesn’t have too much trouble speaking English…usually…we all had a pretty good laugh. Turns out they are Mormon missionaries, and their church is less than 3 minutes from my apartment, on my way to the metro (clarity). Small world, indeed. Sisters Allred and Shaylee invited me out on Saturdays for “Sports Day” in the gym/auditorium. Definitely need to work on my jump shot, so I’ll be taking full advantage of that new connection. :-)

Hope everyone out there is having a great holiday season! Do keep in touch if you have a chance!! ‘Til next time, пока пока!!

Skype: pkelley0200

Email: pakman60@hotmail.com

Phone: +38 093 926 22 52

Address (until mid-January): Patrick Kelley, East Europe Foundation, 55 Chervonoarmiyska Street, Kyiv Ukraine 03680

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What I did for my summer vacation, and NOW WHAT?

Remember when we used to have to come back to school in the fall, and give an oral report about what we did over the summer? And we had to sit and listen to all the spazzes in our homeroom class (ourselves included) talk about family vacations, summer camps, earning money mowing lawns or babysitting, sleeping habits, etc…except for that one kid who was always like “I read Great Expectations, War and Peace, and The Iliad in the original Greek”…punk. Anyway, by my calculations, it had been 21 years since my last, TRUE, summer vacation. Three glorious months of ‘no more classes, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks’, or in my case, no job. And so, after spending 27 months serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine, I took a break. Here’s what 22,072 air miles and 2,826 driving miles looks like, as near as I can relate it in chronological order:

June 2013, Leaving Ukraine

969965_10151557892228472_789748838_n

Valera and Vadim, the two craziest students I had. I miss these guys.

970797_10151557891448472_356528676_n

My friend, Moh, one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met, and one of the best friends I had in Ukraine

941867_10151557891223472_1912439569_n

Some of the friends (Ukrainian, American, German, Algerian) who got together for my farewell party in Dnepropetrovsk

601802_10151557891908472_265041789_n

Danil and Veronika

295574_10151557890843472_1064715681_n

One of my English classes, with “the boys”

They weren't the most talkative group I had, but they were fun nonetheless

They weren’t the most talkative group I had, but they were fun nonetheless

1017267_10151582806603472_1520674781_n

Last dinner in Kiev with some fellow PCVs

1002081_10151582805843472_754738043_n

You see, there’s this bell…

I know I look happy in all of those photos, but leaving Ukraine sucked. Seriously. Here’s a picture of my friend Kym, leaving on the train to Kiev the last time I saw her. I didn’t cry, though. Until the next day, when she called to say goodbye.

6478_10151559066213472_814745354_n

So, yeah, leaving wasn’t fun. But all is not lost, as I’ll get to a bit later.

After fleeing Ukraine, I headed to Ireland with my clustermate, Sim, to meet up with our friends Andrea, Noelia, and Sara (and Sara’s friend Jen), and eventually Sim’s wife El. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned all of these people before, except maybe Jen. Anyway, Ireland was as beautiful as I was told, and the people just crazy sweet. Definitely on my ‘to do again for a longer period of time’ list:

1004420_10151582828263472_1767969844_n

El, Sim, Noelia, Sara, Jen, and Andrea, at the Storehouse (I think) in Dublin, our last night together

17491_10151582828793472_600424594_n

Some cluster shenanigans

1044221_10151582825433472_1337153682_n

Kilkenny Castle

1016580_10151582826673472_348696980_n

Sara and I at the top of some church tower I can’t remember the name of in Kilkenny

1017047_10151582824728472_1713277902_n

Sim and I trying blood sausage at breakfast…I know our faces don’t show it, but it wasn’t that bad

1017201_10151582825623472_778631955_n

Sara, Noelia, Jen, Sim, me, and Andrea, at Kilkenny Castle

After saying farewell to the group in Dublin, Sara and I headed to the airport to catch different flights to the same place. We didn’t plan it that way.

1000903_10151582828908472_463172181_nNext stop, New York City!!

7312_10151578230688472_1993613385_n

Sasha (a friend from Dnepropetrovsk), Geena (my old English student from S Korea), Sasha’s wife, and Avital (RPCV), in downtown Manhattan

My old co-worker in Seattle, Becca, came downstairs from her office in Manhattan to welcome me back, Starbucks-style

My old co-worker in Seattle, Becca, came downstairs from her office in Manhattan to welcome me back, Starbucks-style

Becca, by the way, is the person primarily responsible for getting me to join the Peace Corps. So I typically blamed her whenever something went wrong. :-)

After just a few hours in New York, I headed to Utah to spend a few quiet weeks with my parents and acclimate to this crazy country. I had to get used to driving again, and of course, food was a priority.

Mmmmm...lumpia!!

Mmmmm…lumpia!!

From there, I headed out on my road trip around the West. That’s the 2, 826 miles I refer to above…first leg, Salt Lake to Seattle with my parents in two cars:

Following my parents, with Mount St. Helen's ahead

Following my parents, with Mount St. Helen’s ahead

I was in Seattle for about three weeks, mostly to make sure my nieces still recognized me and to say hello to old friends and colleagues who I still miss constantly. I also had a very quick family reunion:

1069217_10151624256918472_2053912325_n

Some of the old gang from United Way of King County. These folks, and many more not pictured, taught me everything I know about community development, volunteerism & fundraising, and organizational leadership

1005082_10151618575093472_1658862668_n

The two most beautiful nieces on the planet, Melanya and Britting. Don’t argue with me.

999314_10151612316658472_255552363_n

Four generations of Chapmans, Kelleys, and a few other names that I can’t spell…

1001173_10151607979078472_776511139_n

First night back in Seattle after 27 months, catching up with two of my best friends, Mike and Lauren. I can’t express how much I miss seeing these two every day.

969924_10151645179713472_1256690869_n

Getting the old Corporate Volunteer Council gang together again, after…a LOT of years. :-)

62302_10151643062623472_362177614_n

Some of the ol’ NOLA volunteer group. Troublemakers, all. I love it.

992781_10151626713853472_582499211_n

My favourite scotch bar in Seattle, with some of my favourite people

Saying goodbye. Again.

Saying goodbye. Again.

From Seattle, I headed south, doing the Highway 101 thing like I’d always wanted.

60504_10151662459023472_1641320028_nAlong the way to Portland, Oregon, I stopped in places like Long Beach, WA

Aptly named, apparently

Aptly named, apparently

And kept an eye out for rogue tsunamis:

74916_10151647460373472_2142192031_nI spent two nights in Portland, one with old college friends and the other with a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (6 months or so before me).

Fellow RPCV-Ukraine Patrick McMurdo, with the coolest piece of furniture he owns

Fellow RPCV-Ukraine Patrick McMurdo, with the coolest piece of furniture he owns

A smorgasbord of folks: Me, Arnaud, Jeff, Dan, Mieka, Jeff & Mieka's son, Becca, and Francisco (Becca's husband). Arnaud, Jeff, Dan and I were all in the same fraternity in college. And Mieka just liked us a lot. Especially Jeff, I guess. :-) Becca and I worked together in Seattle, and then she joined me on a trip to volunteer in New Orleans...

A smorgasbord of folks in Portland: Me, Arnaud, Jeff, Dan, Mieka, Jeff & Mieka’s sons, Becca, and Francisco (Becca’s husband). Arnaud, Jeff, Dan and I were all in the same fraternity in college. And Mieka just liked us a lot. Especially Jeff, I guess. :-) Becca and I worked together in Seattle, and then she joined me on a trip to volunteer in New Orleans…

From Portland, I headed down 101 along the coast for some of the best scenery I’ve ever witnessed:

945758_10151651039438472_2017943966_n

There was a sign next to me warning of 100mph winds…they weren’t kidding. I almost lost my hat twice taking this photo.

969035_10151653556503472_1953100044_n 45712_10151651043818472_1515689844_n1001515_10151653559078472_451450588_n 1002315_10151651039083472_1539932527_n

Next stop: Crescent City, CA, to see my friend Amber

1009819_10151655099553472_1016269593_n

Redwoods!! They touch the frickin’ sky!

945942_10151655099303472_1386582155_n

On the ridge along the edge of Crescent City. About 5 minutes from Amber’s apartment. Not bad.

538975_10151657036283472_1974104576_n

That’s one tree in the center. This thing was massive.

536615_10151653562733472_866145006_n

Crescent City sunset on the Pacific

59090_10151655099323472_450334380_n

Amber and I at “Big Tree” scenic monument. No, really, that’s what it’s called.

21453_10151657035553472_1220172830_n

During my five days in the CC, we even took in a minor league game in Humboldt County, about an hour south of CCity. GO CRABS!!

It was good spending that much time with Amber, one of my closest friends from my Seattle days. She’s doing great stuff, check out her organization. If I didn’t have a ‘plan’, I could’ve very well ended up there, too. I still might.

I then said goodbye to Del Norte County, Crescent City, Redwood National Forest, and Fog, and headed towards the interior of California for a few days:

1005328_10151667755508472_227691092_n

Lake Tahoe

988269_10151662459303472_1367034157_n

A sunflower field just outside Yuba City, CA. Totally reminded me of Ukraine.

248217_10151662459048472_664922237_n

CA Hwy 299, near Big Bar

1003510_10151662459138472_2074849874_n

CA Hwy 20, near Nevada City

Finally, after about 10 days of driving down the coast, I got to Los Angeles to see my brother and help out around the house (he’s been renovating this mansion for almost a decade, inside and out): 6 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 3 studies, a living room and dining room bigger than my first apartment, separate garage with apartment above, even a ‘servants staircase’. Crazy.

1148782_10151681559948472_1688690362_n

The view from my guest room window

1150839_10151674263408472_1158196731_n

Me and my bro, outside a Korean restaurant in LA

954762_10151672484003472_422163012_n

My trip to CA/LA included a surprise visit with Samantha and Kathryn, my Peace Corps site mates in Dnepropetrovsk!

14472_10151670690578472_1614349945_n

Took a trip to USC’s campus to visit the Museum of Natural History

And of course, no visit to the MNH would be complete without a photo with Rex.

And of course, no visit to the MNH would be complete without a photo with Rex.

I stayed in LA for four days before heading to Las Vegas (Vegas, BABY) to see my friend Sara again. And I got to see her friend Jen again, too. You remember Sara:

Glamour shot, Kilkenny

Glamour shot, Kilkenny

And Jen:

Making friends in Dublin, Jen-style

Making friends in Dublin, Jen-style

In Vegas, it was pretty much the same.

1098041_10151681560238472_548165242_n

Ukraine brickface, on the strip no less.

999870_10151681560303472_136667238_n

Smiles. That’s better!

1170921_10151681560143472_668806378_n

Sara took me downtown. I had no idea downtown Vegas was even a real place. Much better than the Strip in my opinion.

From Vegas, it was a nice overnight drive back to Salt Lake City (overnight because it was only 92 degrees coming through the Arizona pass at 1AM, as opposed to whatever that would equal in the middle of the day in August).

It was another week relaxing at home, and then the real fun began. :-) GREECE! Some of the photos were taken by other, better, photographers.

DSCN2735edited

Similar to America, Greece has a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where they have an hourly changing of the guard.

DSCN2744edited

On the medal stand at Panathenaic Stadium in Athens

DSCN2722edited

Most people enjoy the ‘white’ buildings and sands of Greece (I do, too), but I also thought the colors exhibited by some dwellings were awesome.

DSCN2718edited

The New Acropolis Museum in Athens, built over an ancient Athenian neighbourhood excavation that you can see through the glass floors on the 1st floor of the museum.

DSCN2675edited

Hadrian’s Arch in downtown Athens. You can see the Acropolis on top of the hill behind me.

DSCN2582edited

The city of Lefkada, on Lefkada Island on the western (Adriatic) side of the country. My friend Labrini and her boyfriend Andreas live there.

DSCN2549edited

While in Lefkada, we took a day cruise around the islands. Absolutely amazing!

DSCN2435edited

One of the side alleys on the walk to the main marketplace in Lefkada

DSCN2426edited

Playing on the beach

DSCN2414edited

I’ve never seen water this blue

DSCN2410edited

Milos Beach, a short hike over the hill from Labrini’s hotel in Agias Nikitas

DSCN2391edited

My friend Maria and I, getting photobombed by the most orange shirt I’ve ever seen, at the Acropolis

DSCN2386edited

Acropolis

DSCN2375edited

The Karyatides at the Acropolis

DSCN2372edited

The crowd heading into the Acropolis

DSCN2370edited

The Parthenon

1255475_10200782249143894_1942000261_n

Me, Andreas, and Labrini. She and I met in Istanbul last New Years. When she left, she said to come stay with her if I ever came to Greece. I love meeting people when I travel. :-)

1239895_662171350459695_2094535262_n

Our final dinner in Lefkada: Maria 1, Maria 2, Andreas, Labrini, and me

1186839_10200782247783860_1818809636_n

In the mountains above Lefkada

1175308_10200781057394101_2098600235_n

Dude. I’m at the frickin’ Parthenon.

DSCN2503edited

One of the islands on our day cruise

Highlight of the summer travels, without a doubt. Best. Summer. EVER. You can see LOTS more Greece photos here. And lots more summer road trip photos here.

So, Now WHAT?

Most of you already know this, but I’ve signed on for another year with Peace Corps through a program called Peace Corps Response. I’ll be back in Ukraine. But instead of serving as a Community Development Volunteer with a local HIV organization, I’ll be working as a Capacity Development Specialist with a national organization (maybe HIV-related, maybe not) in the capital, Kiev, in a new partnership between Peace Corps and USAID. I’m really interested in working for USAID after I finish, so this is a great opportunity to learn more about their systems and processes for funding and evaluating international development projects.

I was originally scheduled to leave mid-September. But seeing as how I didn’t even interview for the position until right before I left Seattle, and didn’t officially accept it until early August, September was a pipe dream. But now everything seems to be lined up. The contract for the project has been signed by PC and USAID. All of my administrative requirements have been filled. And I’ve been told that my new tentative departure date is November 11th. Here’s hoping the government stays open for business long enough to get me over there. :-D

Here’s the last photo I took while traveling this summer. It’s in the Moscow airport, two gates down from my flight to Los Angeles coming back from Greece. For those of you who can’t read Cyrillic, it was a flight to my old city in Ukraine, Dnepropetrovsk. I was actually tempted to ask how much a ticket was. :-) I took it as a good sign that I’m doing something right. I’m enjoying being back in America, and eating a wide variety of food, and watching football on the weekends (holy cow, I missed that!!) again. But I’m also excited about what’s next. See you soon, Ukraine!

DSCN2787edited

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

And it was good

971320_10151551217688472_1847084951_n

This is my friend, Gary. Gary and I worked together at United Way in Seattle for almost 8 years. First as fundraisers, later as co-conspirators for the Free Tax Preparation program, and eventually we became ‘those two guys who disappear for coffee every morning’. His stories of working on volunteer projects in Africa through his church, of hosting foreign students (usually Korean) through the local community college where his wife worked, and his keen sense of comic timing all helped create a solid bond of friendship and camaraderie between us over those years. He was, as we old folks like to say, ‘a character’. Gary passed away in his sleep earlier this week. I won’t be able to share these stories with him in person now, and that hurts. A lot. And I can’t be there now to help my friends deal with this loss. And that hurts, too. But even as I grieve, I can still hear the old guy saying to me over coffee: “Are you having fun? Are you helping other people to have fun? Well, then, what the heck else even matters?” So I share these stories with you all, some tinged with sadness and maybe even a little regret. Not just to honor my friend, but because I had fun, and I like to believe I helped others do the same. I think he’d like that.

I managed to make my way to Kyiv in mid-May to say goodbye to the first wave of departing volunteers from my group. The trip started with a 1-day excursion with three other PCVs to visit the ‘exclusion zone‘ in Chernobyl. Before any of you lose your cool and scream ‘what the hell are you thinking??’, let me say it was run by a very reputable company, with the approval of the authorities, and totally safe as long as we followed the instructions of our guide. The zone is about 75 minutes away from Kyiv, and on the way there we watched a video that described the accident, what happened to the people living in the area, what happened to the responders and the ensuing workforce who helped build the sarcophogus around the reactor, and the current situation. What the world knows as “Chernobyl” is actually a nuclear power plant about 20 km from the city of Chernobyl. The nearest population area was a village of about 50,000 people (16,000 children) called Pripyat (3 km from the reactor). We had a chance to walk through Pripyat on our tour. It was eerie. Very ‘Planet of the Apes’ or ‘Walking Dead’ without the zombies. Structures such as apartment buildings, schools, and hospitals still stood, but were being taken over by nature once again. It gave me an idea of what the world will actually look like once mankind is gone, and all that’s left is what we’ve built. Like I said, eerie. My friends and I could hear our voices echoing off the buildings as we walked down what was the main street, now covered with bushes and trees.

970130_10151527423198472_1542879699_n

A monument to the thousands of people who died as a result of fighting the fire from the original explosion in the hours after the accident, and those who helped dig the tunnels under the reactor to prevent another explosion, and those who died constructing the original sarcophogus as radiation continued to pour out of the site.

261621_10151527423158472_1303058689_n

The original sarcophogus, hastily built around reactor 4 to limit the release of radiation

484756_10151527422223472_1039704826_n

A map of the ‘exclusion zone’. Chernobyl (Чорнобиль) is to the right central part of the map near the river. The radiation symbol is the site of reactor 4, and Pripyat (Припять) is just above the reactor site.

577632_10151527422723472_1464059061_n

Some of the apartment buildings in Pripyat, and the foliage engulfing the area

923282_10151527423118472_1981893363_n

The new sarcophogus being constructed at the reactor site. The photo doesn’t really depict just how big this thing was! It’s basically an airplane hangar that will eventually be lifted up and placed ON TOP OF the old sarcophogus. Amazing.

935446_10151527422388472_1548666304_n

One of the sleeping rooms at the school. Pripyat had 16,000 children at the time the reactor exploded.

944262_10151527422698472_195228873_n

Inside the hospital where the first responders to the fire were brought in for radiation poisoning. They died within hours.

946859_10151527422813472_121645867_n

My friend Elyse taking a photo outside the hotel complex in ‘downtown’ Pripyat.

947320_10151527422863472_1786215530_n

One of the most famous images of the post-disaster world. This amusement park was scheduled to open in Pripyat the day after the explosion occurred.

Overall, I’m very glad I went to see this place. Many Ukrainians have never visited the zone, and in fact everyone on my tour was a foreigner. All of my students were curious to hear about my trip when I returned to site. While there are people living in villages and towns in the zone itself (they chose to return), the area is pretty closed off for the most part. The government controls all entry and exit checkpoints into the zone. Obviously, no food or drink obtained in the zone is allowed to be carried out. People who live and work in Chernobyl and at the reactor site are almost 100% researchers (monitoring the radiation levels) or construction workers. They ‘live’ there for just 3 weeks at a time before they must leave. And, yes, we were checked for radiation before being allowed to leave the zone, primarily on our shoes, pants and other clothing. We’re clean.

Then, after returning to Kyiv, is was actually time to start saying goodbye. Some of these photos were taken by my friend and photography magician, Chris Merto.

375729_10151693482916823_728446556_n

Our favorite Kyiv hostel, The Hub, threw us a big ‘goodbye’ party for Group 41!

946930_10151528326898472_401496921_n 181486_10151528327078472_1331279411_n 600792_10151528327103472_617671026_n 941567_10151693481561823_1100673893_n 576656_10151693482071823_1739885188_n

Watching the first wave of people get into taxis and head off to the airport made things real pretty quick!

After that, it was back to my city to finish planning for my final project, Camp Leaders of the Future, version 2.0! This was the second year of doing this camp with my friends Chris and Christina. Last year, we did a ‘volunteerism and leadership’ theme. This year, we decided to do an HIV awareness camp. Some of the same kids attended, but I also met a lot of new ones. For seven days, we learned about HIV, healthy relationships, and stigma/discrimination against people impacted by the disease. At the end of the week, we traveled back to Christina’s village Bereznehuvate (pop. 4,000) and the kids gave a concert about what they learned during the week, and raised money for a local HIV organization. Was it successful? You tell me (again, my friend Chris took some of these photos):

970053_10151550227783472_939177104_n

When I am back in America, you have GOT to ask me about Denis! This is a shot of our epic ping pong match on the last day…

934142_10151693623146823_392280828_n

My team, Rainbow. I can’t begin to say how much these kids mean to me. Very thoughtful and courageous young people make me so happy!

580482_10151693687356823_1835950217_n

Saying goodbye to my Rainbow teammates for the last time as they drive off

431831_10151550352388472_1095215200_n

Denis was one of the kids I met at last year’s camp. This is his reaction to seeing me day one, this year.

969296_10151693622806823_205178744_n

A lot of these kids were in the group I taught in 2012 for volunteerism and leadership. So proud of them!

375591_10151550225583472_1351880091_n

Sweetest girls ever!

400435_10151550353448472_1800380304_n

My favorite part of camp, the discotech!

5901_10151693625041823_282503299_n

This year’s counselor group: Chris, Lindsey, Moi, Lyuda (Christina’s counterpart), Chris Carson (a summer intern with my organization), Dillon, and Christina

960053_10151693685981823_255375417_n

One last photo with the gals, after the concert

389245_10151550352943472_2006040468_n

The concert in Berezhehuvate, last day of camp

10349_10151550352528472_1393623090_n

Denis and me. I’m gonna miss that menace.

9359_10151693593381823_442072129_n

Prepping for the lessons, and meeting our Ukrainian teachers on day 1

1541_10151550232133472_2017786548_n

About 100 people came out for the concert on the last day. The kids raised almost 800 griven (about $100)!

936346_10151693619916823_377172055_n

For the talent show, the counselors switched personalities. I got to be Lindsey. I also learned that bras are ridiculously uncomfortable. Sorry, ladies.

971034_10151693611791823_356596529_n

The kids from Lindsey’s village

992884_10151550352323472_881106509_n

Ada, one of the Ukrainian teacher’s daughters. Best laugh on the planet.

184484_10151550352858472_1936224753_n

Relaxing during ‘quiet hour’

941413_10151693608196823_583516682_n

Waiting for dinner…

296125_10151550209553472_855424312_n

Evening concert, day 1. The kids couldn’t wait to wear their camp shirts, apparently

576649_541354425648_1600633979_n

Team Rainbow, with our contract for how we will behave this week

222998_10151693680111823_1939479665_n

Local police chief Sasha. He was our security for the two years we had camp there. One of the friendliest Ukrainians I met in my two years!

945560_10151693698651823_829949782_n

Bye!

GTfwMKZB9EQ dS5No1UTy9Q

Of course there are tons more photos on my Facebook page, and Chris’s as well. Hit me up if you want the full album links.

Naturally, the tears flowed pretty freely after the concert on the last day. You bond so quickly with people in those situations. And when they’re so young and wonderful, and they start to lose it when you say ‘I’m going back to America in a week’…agghh. Waterfalls.

And the last story I want to talk about in this post is a project that happened a while ago. My friends Catherine and Angela organized a day-camp where several of us traveled to Zaporizhya (about two hours south of me) to spend time playing with kids. That sounds nice enough. The reason this day was so special for me was that every one of those kids has HIV. It was one of my favorite days in my entire service. NOTE: given the circumstances, please do not  reproduce or redistribute any of these photos on the internet! Also, I should give you a ‘cuteness’ alert:

kids6edited kids4edited kids2edited 20130420_150608edited 20130420_143018edited 20130420_142729edited 20130420_142640edited 20130420_142553edited 20130420_142501edited 20130420_142350edited kids7edited

I wish I could have spent more time with them. For a few moments prior to meeting the kids, I thought I wanted to know their stories. How did it happen that they became HIV positive? Did they know why they took medication several times a day? How was their health now? Were they still living with their parents/families? But when I walked in the room and finally met them, none of that mattered. All I saw was a bunch of kids who wanted to play. And have fun. And really, what the heck else even matters?

Indeed.

Eleven days until I land in NYC. I know exactly who I’ll be drinking to first. Godspeed, my friend.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s done is done. Usually.

I’ve had trouble putting things into words lately. Like, a LOT (see?…). But then I spent five days in and around Kyiv saying goodbye to people, some of whom, because life is life and it’s not always clean and happy, I’ll never see again. And then I got this in an email from another volunteer when I returned to my site:

“I find it astonishing and amusing how the chance criss-crossing of paths at precisely the same time puts people with others, who could, just as easily, not have been.  Perhaps that chance crossing will happen again sometime, like the snap of fingers, like a breath.”

-Christine Graf, Peace Corps Ukraine Group 41

I’ve been saying goodbye to people for almost a month at my site (again, life is life), so it isn’t as if this ridiculous rollercoaster of emotions hasn’t already put me a little on edge. But then seeing the first of the volunteers in my group actually get into taxis and drive away…yeah, still on the damn rollercoaster. But now it’s like I’m in zero gravity. With a head injury. Over-caffeinated (or maybe that’s the rollercoaster itself). And the seat belt, when it bothers to work at all? Just there so they can find my body later…

Because it’s not just a matter of seeing or not seeing them again. I absolutely will see some of them again. But our paths will most likely never cross here again. And there’s something just a tiny bit heartbreaking about that. Because it means that this is over. This crazy, frustrating, angst-ridden, mind-numbingly boring, nerve-wrackingly heartpumping, hysterically exhausting episode is coming to a close. And all we’ll have left is the ability to look back, nod or wink at each other across the table (when we do get together, thank God), look down into our drinks, and grin knowingly. And not without just a little bit of pain.

Am I ready to leave? Yes. But is there anything I won’t miss about Ukraine? No. Because even the things that drove me nuts will make me smile. That’s the nature of adventuring, I suppose.

More later…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment