The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps...Jud Dolphin

Tuesday, May 12

Live Life and Get Along

Somoil Castle, a medieval
heritage sight in Ohrid, Macedonia
Many friends and family have asked, "How are you?"

I want to assure everyone that all is well here.  The violence that played out over the weekend has subsided and all is calm now.  

Last weekend, violence flared in a city about 25 miles from Skopje.  There was loss of life and damage to homes.  The episode was contained although it worried many many Macedonians.  As a new friend shared, "We've seem too much violence and suffering.  People just want to live life." 

Peace Corps has been diligent in monitoring developments and keeping us volunteers informed.  Our safety and well-being is their highest priority.  If a situation develops, there are plans in place.  I feel quite safe and secure.  

There are always problems to solve.  For example, in Macedonia unemployment is at 30% with the young and minority types even higher.  The Peace Corps is here to help.  We share our skills and goodwill. We help to build the capacity for a better life.  I think in a cumulative way we are making a positive difference. 

Right now, I'm remembering the famous quote attributed to Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along." 

Of course, this applies not only here, but also in places like Baltimore and dozens of others if we only take a moment to think about them.   What people want around the world is to just live life and get along.  

Simplistic, perhaps, but maybe worth trying since nothing else seems to be working so well.  

Sunday, May 3

No Pandora Here

They don't have Pandora in Macedonia.

It's a surprise as I take a break from language training and click on my tablet for some music. “No Pandora in your current country.” It probably has something to do with copyrights and other legal stuff.

Back in America, I got use to listening to Folk Rock from the 60s and 70s. It's music of my social activist era. But it's not available in Skopje.

It's not that Skopje is backwards. Actually this Capitol City appears quite modern. It's a city of about 550,000 where almost a third of the Country's people live.

My living space with fold down futon
My one room efficiency is in a modern part of town. I'm on the third floor and trees surround me. In the morning, sunlight floods through the windows dancing dappled patterns on the floor and walls. 

Earlier today, a couple of crow like birds (black with white on the body) squawked to wake up the morning and me too!

Morning coffee among the trees

I can walk out onto a large balcony. I love having an outdoor space. I have one chair, but my landlord says he'll bring another and a small table. In the corner, a flower pot sits neglected, but not for long. Planting time!

Outside tall sycamore trees line a wide boulevard – two lanes each way and a grassy area in the middle with more trees. Between highrise apartments, distant mountains hover over the horizon. Some are still snow capped. Lovely. It gives me a refreshing feeling even though cars wiz by.  

My boulevard and double decked bus with snow capped mountains in the distance
Across the boulevard about a block away, there's a cluster of stores including a supermarket. Wow, I've lucked out. Good karma is with me.

Though today, I'm hunting for the Green Market. It's called a bazaar in Ukraine and a farmer's market in the USA – a place for garden fresh produce.

Down a narrow alley lined by shops, I go. I walk past several clothing shops, a toy store, a barber shop and a bedding store. I'll remember the latter for another day since I'll need some sheets. These are not chain stores like the ones that have taken over America. They are run by Mon and Pop entrepreneurs.

Opening into a parking lot area, I find the Green Market. I congratulate myself. My first adventure. Success!

Today is a day for fresh salad. Big heads of lettuce, spinach, spring onions, radishes and more are displayed on the ground or in small stalls. I walk the aisles feeling a little intimidated since I'm not sure how I'll navigate through the purchasing of tonight's meal.

Peace Corps has been great in orienting us PCRV (Peace Corps Response Volunteers), but it's only been a week. Over the past 4 days, they answered questions and outlined essential health, safety, administrative and IT issues. And everyday we had 4 hours of language learning with an excellent teacher.  

Language learning works. I'm speaking “Makedonski.” I can say hello and goodbye, please and thank you. I can ask where, how much, how are you and even say, “nice to meet you.”

Of course there's more. I can introduce myself. Tell locals a little about the Peace Corps and what I'll be doing. Given enough time, I can sound out signs and guess at their meaning. But is it enough for the Green Market?

Alexandra introduced herself in English.  She worked for two years in London
Not to worry. The vendors are friendly and patient. You can communicate a lot with a few words and lots and lots of gestures. When in doubt of a price, ask for it to be written down. Numbers are universal.

One man insists that I take a “digital” of his eggs. Obviously he's proud. One of these XXL egg easily equals two large ones. As I say goodbye, he grabs my hand and I think he is saying, “Come back, come back again.” I will. His big smile makes me feel quite welcomed.
I'm ready to cook my first meal in my new home. It'll be curried lentils with olives, feta and spinach salad.

A 1st meal at home
It occurs to me that this is a meal I could share with my counterparts at Public.” 

 We only met for a few hours at the end of training, but already I'm getting a positive feeling for the leaders of Public, a civic engagement NGO.

I sense dedication. They talk about making Macedonia a better place by including the poor and marginalized.

Their passions hook into my social activism of earlier years when I worked with street gangs in Pittsburgh, organized for the inclusion of black construction workers in trade unions and started work at the Lafayette Urban Ministry.

My counterparts greet me with a gift bag. Inside is a bottle of Macedonian wine, a guide book of must-see sights and a big container of curry powder!

Imagine. They've been reading my blog and wanted to be sure that I didn't run out of curry. How sweet and thoughtful is that! We're going to get along just fine.

Natural trees to enjoy
So I'm thinking, “Tonight's meal will be a preparation for my first dinner party.” I'm looking forward to that gathering.

Macedonia may not have Pandora, but it has urban style, natural settings and a Green Market with the freshest seasonal foods. It has friendly caring people and an organization that wants to make a difference.

Who needs nostalgic feelings from folk rock music of the 60s and 70s when the challenges of real-life social activism awaits me at Public, my new NGO home for a year.  

Saturday, April 25

Moving a Life

It's not easy moving a life...although my niece and her military family do it all the time. She claims they have it down to a system. I'm not sure that's possible for me.

Sure I make lists and then I compile those lists into more lists. I'm working on my third final list now. Progress?

So many details to sort. Duplicate keys for renter. Pick up new glasses. Set up Skype. Pay bills. Stop Medicare. Alert bank of travel. Finalize will and medical directives. And of course sort clothes and decide what art supplies to take. Oh, and don't forget favorite spices. I've gotta have curry.

I'm packing two duffel bags which will hold my life-support for two years. While I'm sorting, my internal I-Pad hums a 60s folk tune – “All my bags are packed. I'm ready to go ….Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane...” 

I'm thinking with a big smile, “the hassle of packing up a life is worth it 'cause I get to go to Macedonia. What an adventure!"

Macedonia seems exotic. Doesn't it? Like many Americans, I know little about it. I know it's in the Balkans, but not much more. I'm learning that when the former Soviet block country of Yugoslavia fractured in 1991, Macedonia re-gathered into its national identity.

Macedonia has deep roots. Archeologists see evidence of human settlements as far back as 7000 BCE. Along the way, notables like King Phillip II and Alexander The Great created the world’s largest Empire stretching from Europe, to North Africa and India.

Since then it's been fought over and conquered by Greeks, Romans, Serbians, Bulgarians, The Byzantine Empire, The Ottoman Empire and more. It's a history of cultural amalgamation and conflict.

Think World War I, Macedonia was in the center of the powder keg that ignited then. And still, It's neighbors especially Greece, Bulgaria and Albania protest its existence. Each thinks the land should be theirs and they can look back and make plausible claims. This time the conflicts have been a war of words mostly. I'm grateful.

The organization I'll be working with wants to include the marginalized in the new Macedonia. They want to alleviate poverty.

It's a big mission that they approach through social policy research and advocacy. Right now they are working on a project that “will produce the first empirical index measuring corruption and clientelism (sic) in media.”

I'm excited to be joining such a group. I hope to contribute to their organizational development drawing upon my 40 years of experience with social change organizations and the contacts I've made along the way. I see my work to be a way of sharing best practices and connecting my Macedonian counterparts with others in America who share a just and inclusive vision for life.

At a farewell party last week, I got talking with a friend who volunteered to contact the staff of DC's street paper. It's like the one in Macedonia. Homeless people sell the weekly paper and make income for their own needs.

We thought that maybe we could arrange a Skype conversation connecting these staff in a direct way. It's social entrepreneurship connecting around the world. Who knows where it might lead.

So here I am with just a few more hours in my apartment. I really am checking off my final, final final list. My physical possessions are down to necessities + curry carried in two duffel bags for the year.

Yet I'm thinking how very fortunate I am. 

 My life experience is about to expand. New friends, new challenges and lots of adventure.  My life is on the move.  I wonder what lies ahead....

Sunday, April 5

Skopje, Macedonia and Peace Corps Response

Retirement is grand. 

You get to do most anything whenever you want.  Get up early with the birds?  Give it a try.  Sleep in?  Sure, why not. 

Volunteer in the community.  It feels good to give back.  Invest time with family and friends.  Close relationships are so precious.  Expand hobbies and discover new passions.   Lots of retirees say they are busier now than ever before.   

For sure, when you retire, you’re a free agent and the Social Security keeps coming no matter what…I hope.

And for me, retirement means chances for new adventures.  On April 25th, I’ll be embarking on another.  I’ll be taking off from Dulles airport.  Destination is Skopje, Macedonia.  It’s the birth place of Mother Teresa. 

My purpose is to serve for a year as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer (PCRV).

Peace Corps Response provides opportunities for returned Peace Corps Volunteers to undertake short-term, high-impact assignments in various posts around the world. It began as a Crisis Corps in 1996 responding to the genocide in Rwanda.  Since then, over 1000 Volunteers in more than 40 countries have served.

PC Response Volunteers fill specific needs for skills and expertise.  Along with language and cross cultural understanding, they are able to have an immediate impact where it is most needed.

Last Fall I ran across this posting for an Organizational Management Expert.  I thought, "That sounds like me."  My working life has always involved developing and managing organizations.  While in Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I taught leadership and organizational development seminars. 

But what really caught my attention in the posting was the organization’s vision and mission:

Our Vision is one of a more equitable and just society which actively values supports and empowers marginalized people. 

Our Mission is to alleviate poverty and to enhance inclusion of marginalized people….

“Wow,” I thought, “these are the kind of values that I have tried to work for throughout my life.  Here’s an organization that speaks to my passions and I have some of the skills they need to be helpful.” 

It didn't take too long before I applied and entered the Peace Corps application process. I was assigned a recruiter.  An interview compared my background and skills with Macedonian needs.  Peace Corps agreed that it was a good match.  Before the end of 2014, I was offered the position.  Hooray!

But there’s more, namely medical screening.  Here’s where the process gets muggy and bogged down.  Lengthy forms had to be completed.  Many doctors had to be consulted.  Medical record had to be obtained from archives. 

My broken arm required faxing 32 pages of operational procedures.   Yikes! 

More followed. Sixteen requests for vaccinations, blood tests, x-rays and the like had to be fulfilled.  If anything, the Peace Corps medical process is thorough and it takes many weeks.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that for a guy bordering on 70, I’m in good health and I’m going to Macedonia.  Hooray!

So here I am embarking on yet another adventure.  My apartment is rented to a good friend.  My needed possessions are reduced to two duffle bags.  And my mind is churning with excitement.

I’m grateful that in a world riddled with strife, senseless murders and so much warfare, we still have space and funding for a Peace Corps.  I intend to make the best of it. 

Few of us get to change the world in any dramatic way, but most of us can add a little more light. 

On this Easter morning, I’m thinking of Pope Francis and the ancient prayer from his namesake.

Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace. 

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; 
where there is despair,hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Pope Francis and Istanbul's Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran pray together in the Blue Mosque, Istanbul. 

Tuesday, December 16

Christmas Spirit and Justice for All March

Today I'm off to the Kennedy for a candle-light concert.  It's gotten colder about 35 F.  Decorations are up and it’s feeling like Christmas time.

But yesterday, I put on my marching shoes.  I joined several thousands walking from the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. 
I’m part of the Justice for All March and Rally protesting the killing of black sons and the impunity of police.  
This kind of marched is being echoed in cities across the country.  I think it’s the civil rights issue of the new millennium.   If you ask me, it's long overdue.  

We walk together chanting: 

"Hands up.  Don't Shoot"                "We can’t breathe” 

     “Stop the Killing.”   “No Peace without Justice.”   

Signs amplify the anguish and a hope for a better future.    Many announce “Black Lives Matter.” A mother tells her fear, “Don’t shoot…my son has a future.”  I think, how sad that in 2014 we still need to say such things. 
But then again, after weeks of protest, the killings have barely penetrated American consciousness.  Several signs are telling,  “White Silence = Equals White Consent.” 

I’m struck by a young boy’s hand-made sign saying simply – “Am I next?” 

As I try to absorb the experience, it feels unlike other marches.  Missing is a chaotic carnival feel that's been prevalent in other marches I've attended.  And there's no hint of violence. 
Instead families are serious, intent. They stand stoically almost prayerfully.  In fact, when an invocation is offered, silence spreads across the crowd.  Heads are bowed and strangers hold hands - one with another. 

 "Hear us, O Lord."
It seems to me that this atmosphere is under girded by hope that life can be better.  Of course it's mixed with fears and anguish that have lasted too long.  "O God, how long."

A radio commentary gives context.  Lethal violence has been the American experience used against black people during slavery and ever since the Reconstruction Era - Especially against black men who were often lynched with the help or at least the complacency of law enforcement.   

A speaker at the rally polls the crowd , “Raise your hand if you’re a black man who has felt fearful when pulled over by the police.”  Nearly ever hand goes up for as far as I can see.  Then he asks the same of white men and hardly a hand is raised.   I’m not surprised and isn't that the real pity. 

On the platform, the families of those unarmed black men killed by police are introduced.  They form a “wall of shame” and surprisingly to me are many more than I thought.  Naming 76 men and women unarmed, but killed by police, the NAACP chronicles these lost lives.   Read about them and click here.  

I walk around taking a few pictures.  I get to talking with a father with his young toddler.  I tell him about my grandson.  Our kids are two months apart.  He beams about his son.  We take a selfie. 
As we depart I say, “thanks for being here.”  And he says, No, no , thank you for being here.”  I guess his emphasis is because of my whiteness which is not as well represented as you might wish.

Though for me, it's a privilege to be here.  I say to him, “it’s a little thing considering….I just wanted to use my feet to help a little.”

As the Rally winds down, I sit on a bench and watch families pass by.  Some of us exchange smiles.  It feels good to be among people who want to make this world a better place for all.

Strangely, I get to thinking, “it’s feeling a lot like Christmas.”  

Because after you scrape away the seasonal glitter and the abundance under the tree, what remains?   

Slowly, a smile tweaks across my face.  It’s gotta be the practice of loving one another and walking for justice in this world.  

I think to myself, "God help us.  And of course, God is...."

Tuesday, September 23

Life Changes

Of course, we all know how life can change suddenly, but we don’t think about it much.  It hangs underneath daily consciousness until something happens and we become hyper-aware.   

A tall step ladder stands by the wall where I had left it a few days ago.  I was in the midst of trimming bushes on the edges of my patio garden.  Daylight ran out and I pledged to finish before the weekend was over. 
It’s Monday noon and the step ladder still beckons me to finish the job.  

Carefully, I place the ladder next to the bush which is more like a small tree.  Actually it’s about 10 feet tall.  I climb the ladder and hack away at the limbs. 

All is going well and a lot quicker than I thought.  Assessing my work, I move the ladder a few feet and hop back on.  Almost done, I reach for the final two branches in the back.

Then like a slow motion movie, the ladder shifts.  My mind races ahead.  “Jud, watch out. “  One of the legs of the ladder begins to sink into the moist soil.  I feel myself going and going and then gone.  The ladder falls one way and I’m flung the other with a terrible thud. 

“I’m in trouble,” I say to myself.  The white heat flashes from my extremities in an explosion of pain.  Hugging the earth, I look at my left arm.  It’s twisted at a 90 degree angle, just like an upside down L.

“Oh, this is not good,” I repeat to myself and attempt to pull the arm into a straighter line.  No bones seem to be protruding.  This is good.  I can move my neck and legs. That’s really good.  I’m feeling grateful. 

Up on a balcony a neighbor says that she’ll call 911.  Time passes as I practice slow steady breathing.  Now I know why I went to a Yoga class a few weeks ago.  Preparation. 

My mind races in hundreds of directions.  I think of all the what-ifs and should-haves and could-haves.  I image family and friends and feel their presence.  I tell myself it will be all right, but it hurts so bad.  What’s taking so long?

Too much time has passed.  No one has come.  I can’t hold it in any longer.  I yell out – “Help me.  Help me.  Help me!”  Up and down my apartment stack I hear balcony doors opening.  “Where are you?”  I yell back and more promises are made to get help. 

Time passes and for me now, time is pain. It’s so much more intense.  The arm has swollen like a long sausage balloon.  I want it to go away.  Then the neighbor above says she hears a siren.  I listen and yes it’s coming closer. 

The EMT crew arrives and takes charge.  Checking vital signs and keeping me informed of everything is so reassuring.  Soon I’m on a gurney and on my way to the awaiting ambulance.

I think to myself, “It’ll be okay.” 

It’s now a week later. All went well except I had to change hospitals.  My healthcare provider doesn’t have a contract with the hospital where I was first taken.  I think it’s yet another reason for single payer universal health care. 
My operation went well.  They realigned my bones (both were broken) and screwed in titanium plates to keep everything in place.  I’m definitely equipped for excitement at the airport security gates.

At home, I’m learning one-handed life.  Simple tasks like putting on socks or changing a pillow case become mini-challenges. 

It takes me back to Ukrkaine and my Peace Corps service.  Ordinary chores had to be relearned the Ukrainian way - like swooshing laundry in the bath tub instead of popping it into a machine or taking a hot bath only after three pots of water have been boiled on the stove. I can see now that living day-to-day will be many new projects.

Of course, the benefit is more mindfulness.  I’m forced to slow down and notice.  I’m less on automatic pilot and more into making plans with what I have.  I’m thinking that in our modern technological life cluttered with more multi-tasking data, finding moments to be mindful is a very good thing. 

I remember how people appear when needed the most.  A lady on a balcony calls for help.  Others stop what they are doing to answer my screams of distress.  Friends call with support and well wishes.  Small acts of kindness give me a deep feeling of gratefulness.  I’m connected to a wonderful human family.  There’s such abundance when loving one another is practiced. 

No doubt, my healing will be a long slog. I wish I had a magic wand that could make it all better.  But I don’t. 

What I do have is the chance to take these experiences and re-weave them into my life-story.  I’ll learn more about living and giving in the moment.  I’ll cherish friendships more and make new ones.  Acts of kindness are not going to be taken for granted or quickly forgotten.  I have a chance to practice gratefulness and imagine new ways to pass it on.  As they say, “pay it forward!”

Sure, my arm is broken.  But I’m thinking. “maybe it’s not going to be so bad.”

Thursday, March 13

Crimean Tatars - Lest We Forget

I admit it.  Before going to Ukraine, I had no real knowledge of the Crimean Tatar people. 

Then my good friend Barb was placed in Crimea to work at the Crimean Tatar Library.  She lived with a Tatar family and ended up serving for nearly 4 years. 

Barbara has many deep and lasting friendships.  Since the Russian invasion, she has been on the phone daily, sometime for hours, trying to listen, console, and reassure them that they are not forgotten.

I think, if truth be told, they are mostly invisible.  Their stories get scant coverage in the West although a few articles are beginning to come through about the terror being reigned down upon these people.   

Thugs roam the cities and villages.  They mark doors with racial slurs identifying Tatar homes like the Soviets did 60 years ago in the forced deportation.  They intimidate families by demanding passports.  They talk about "killing those people."  

The dark-side of the pro Russia rallies we see on TV is this violence that is brewing against Tatars.  They are a vulnerable 13% of the population.  

The nightly news - even PBS - simplifies and fails to give us texture and complexity of what is going on.  I hope this will change.  

Recently, Barb was interviewed by WBEZ Radio in Chicago. She was able to give historical context and present examples of the situation.  

Click here  and scroll down to the podcast "Tatars in Crimea."  

I'm indebted to Barb for educating me.  In turn, I share what I have learned so that you might come to know the warm and generous people who are Crimean Tatars. 

Maybe someone with more social media savvy than I will post and help educate others too.     

Adapted from Presentation of Barbara Wieser

The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic Muslim people who have inhabited the Crimean peninsula for over seven centuries. They are a mixture of the descendants of the Golden Horde (the western part of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan) and the many ethnic groups of Crimea.

They are considered the indigenous people of Crimea.

From 1441 and for 300 years, the Crimean Tatars ruled the peninsula.  Then in 1783 Crimea was annexed by Russia even though these indigenous people comprised 98% of the population.

Over the next century, Russian oppression grew.  In waves of emigration the Tatar population decreased.  Some fled to the Balkans and Turkey while others were deported to Siberia by the tsarists deliberate policy of annihilating the Crimean Tatar existence.    

After the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin, there was an intensification of repressive policies and terror that further devastated the Crimean Tatar people and culture. 

These practices culminated on May 18, 1944.  The Soviets carried out a plan to forcefully removed Tatars in a mass over-night deportation.  They were carted into box cars and taken to  Uzbekistan and other distant Soviet Republics.  Many ended up in Gulags with as many as 46% dying along the way.  It's been called the Crimean Tatar Holocaust.  

Through all this suffering, the people kept alive the dream of returning to their homeland.  They formed a national movement and for fifty years of nonviolent struggle in the Soviet system, they kept this hope alive.  

In 1985 as the Soviet system started to collapse, the Crimean Tatars saw a chance to realize their dreams.  As more and more restrictions were lifted, their movement gained momentum. They could return to Crimea.  

In a 4-year period from 1989 to 1993, over 200,000 Crimean Tatars came back to Crimea.  Today, an estimated 350,000 Crimean Tatars live in Crimea, constituting 13% of the population.

When the Crimean Tatars began to return to their homeland, their requests for land on which to build their homes to replace the land and homes taken from them in the Deportation were denied. Seeing no other option, they squatted on vacant land and built homes without permits.  This, sometimes, lead to personal violence against them and destruction of their property.

Eventually land was allocated to the Crimean Tatars in “compact settlements” in Simferopol and other cities and in remote locations across the peninsula. Today the land reparations question still remains largely unsolved.

The Crimean Tatars are a cultured people.  They have established a vibrant society. They have an active political organization--the Mejlis, representatives in the Crimea and Ukraine Rada, 15 national schools that teach all subjects in Crimean Tatar, a university that educates Crimean Tatar language teachers, art and history museums, theater, library, radio and TV stations.

A link for more information on  The Deportation and Fate of the Crimean Tatars

I can’t help but think of that phrase – “Lest we forget…”   

Maybe in the reading of this blog in some small way, we'll know and remember.   

They say that when something goes viral on the Internet millions of people make an individual decision to pass it on.  Isn't it important that more people begin to know about the Crimea Tatars and the terror they are facing?  

The current crisis is more than Geo-political posturing, more than invasion and western response.  It's about a people with a history and a present danger who just want to live their lives and care for their families.  Lest we forget...

Thursday, March 6

Ukraine in Crisis

Here in America we get a matter-of-fact feel for crisis events.  From far away, some development flashes across the media. 

PBS News Hour silently shows photos of  soldiers killed in Afghanistan.   Regrets are felt for another drone that misfires on innocent life.  Demonstrations flare in Bangkok, Venezuela, Cairo, Myanmar.  Name the continent and something seems to be happening there.  So many many events…oh well.

Inspired by my Peace Corps service in Ukraine
And then there’s Ukraine.  Suddenly, the blurs of world events become personal.  I know Ukraine – its history, places and most importantly its people.  They are part of me and I believe that I’m a small part of them.    

A Skype call with a friend in Kiev starts with the telling of a murder.  “My colleague was killed by one of Yanukovych’s snipers.  He leaves a wife and a small child.  Only 32 years,” he tells me.  We stare at each other for a long time – separated, yet electronically close.  I’m so sad.  He looks tired or maybe worn out from the horror of it all. 

I ask him if people were targeted by the snipers up on the roofs.   “No,” he continues, “my colleague wasn’t even on the front lines of the demonstration.  He had no battle gear, no helmet, nothing.  He was killed taking a few medical supplies to help others.”

My friend tells me about joining a million on the Maidon (Independence Square) and being hit by a rubber bullet.  “Damn, it hurts real bad.” 
Scaring on the Maidan, Kiev's central square, displayed in a spliced photo

I remember the numerous times we made pizza and drank piva.  I think about how grateful I am that it was not a sniper bullet and then remember a 100 who weren’t as fortunate.  

I ask about Konotop.  “How is it going for people there?”  He tells me that the huge statue a Lenin is gone – pulled down.  “You mean the huge one that looked out upon the Square? “ I ask incredulously. 
Lenin tumbles in front of Konotop's Mayor's Office
I wonder if any of my friends were involved and what about the civic leaders who were part of my Leadership English classes.   Obviously they allowed this action to happen.  So many people were there.

Konotop is not alone.  I understand that the Lenin is disappearing from town squares across Ukraine.  In some places, the statue is severed at the chest and the face is taken away.  In its place a bust of Ukrainian poet and hero, Shevchenko, is cemented into place.  It’s a powerful patriotic statement. 

We end our chat hoping for the best, yet aware that the situation is so volatile.  

A few hours later I get word that Peace Corps is evacuating Ukraine - 240 volunteers back in America.  I make plans to welcome my friend, Barb who’s been serving for nearly 4 years.  We’ll hang out for a few days and try to make sense of what’s happening and worry about the people we love.  

Saturday, October 26

Are You The Artist?

I notice a couple looking at my art. The woman picks up a piece and shows it to her husband. I'm across the room so I'm curious, but I can't over-hear their conversation. Not that I needed to because within moments, they move towards me with a painting in hand.

“Are you Jud Dolphin...the artist,” they ask?

I'm at an art exhibit featuring 15 artists from my apartment building. We've transformed the lobby into a weekend show of creativity. Everyone is impressed by the quality of the art. I'm making new friendships and feel like I'm part of an artist community. It's great.

The prospect of the Art Show spurred me into painting more. I worked hard on a landscape entitled Winter Geese at Dawn. It was a real challenge. I never painted animals before and here, there were birds with feathers...yikes! It took me four attempts before I had what I was looking for.

Winter Geese at Dawn
Talking with other artists, I hear that it's not unusual to have a lot of paintings thrown into the scrap bin. “Do the work,” they say “and don't worry about the quality. It will come along.” Sometimes I wonder, but my mantra has become – Give it a try!

Some years ago, I came across a book entitled The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. It's a self-help guide for realizing more creativity. It's helped to open a lot of possibilities for me. In part, the Artist Way prepared the way for joining the Peace Corps and now for being more involved with art and teaching.

Cameron's approach is to follow a discipline of writing “morning pages”. They're three hand-written pages of whatever is top-of-the mind each morning. Although I often miss a day or two, the writing fosters awareness and helps to identify blocks that hamper creativity or just getting on with life. Often I'll imagine something on my “morning pages” and find a new opportunity for it later in the week.

Here's a link for some more information's_Way

I've reached for the Artist Way whenever I've felt stuck. Recently, a friend was telling me how she was feeling stuck. I mentioned the Artist Way, she bought the book and now we both are working through it – a chapter at a time. One of the side benefits is the chance we have to check-in with one another several times a month.

Both of us agree that we have become more mindful and have been amazed by coincidences and new possibilities popping up where none existed before. Ms Cameron calls it synchronicity.

So here I am at the opening reception for the Art Show. A lot of people have turned out. A cadre of my friends have come to lend support. The room is buzzing with activity. Besides the Winter Geese painting, I have two others on display.

Beach Dunes was created after a visit to my brother's home in Florida. I was impressed by the dunes that lined the beach. Realizing that they are alive with grasses blowing in the wind lent interest. And hearing how dunes actually move over time added some mystery. I hope I captured some of it.

Beach Dunes

Rock Creek Autumn was inspired by my bicycle rides along Rock Creek.  Rock Creek is a park that winds through the city of Washington, DC.  Not far from my home, there's a water falls that was part of an old grain mill.  I framed the falls and water alive with autumn color.

Rock Creek Autumn

More of my paintings are unframed in bins that line the far wall. A young woman tells me about a friend who has been having hard times. I think it's interesting how a creative atmosphere can sometimes open deeper exchanges among people. Synchronicity?

She looks at a small painting and says, “I want to get this for her.” I tell her about my visit to the Cherry Blossom Festival and how it inspired the watercolor. I hope it will cheer her friend. It's my first sale and an answer to my “morning pages.”

Cherry Blossoms 

Another sale follows. Also from the bin, it features a cluster of birch trees. It's inspired by the birch forests that are so much a part of Ukraine. After the sale, another person says, “I was thinking of that one too.” Maybe, I'll paint more birch trees!

Ukraine Birch

And then there's the couple who asked if I was the artist. They tell me about a parent who recently died after a long life. They're clearing his home near the ocean of personal momentous and preparing to make it a rental. “We think this painting will be perfect on the wall.”

The Wave

Later my son, Matthew, emails me asking how the Art Show went. I call back and tell him about the excitement of selling paintings. Two small ones and one large. He congratulates me and says with a chuckle, “I guess you're a professional now.” 

Wow, I have come a long way. And now I wonder....