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

Tuesday, December 15

Throw a Pebble

Throw a pebble into a stream and watch the concentric circles spread out. Every child who has ever gone fishing with his father knows how this works. Maybe with amazement he watches the circles form and with delight he follows them outward until they blend into the current.

That's the image that comes to mind as I think about the Hearts of Love Charity Fund's first ever open house and fund raising event. We took a pebble and plunked it into the stream of the Konotop community.

Yelena, Director of the Charity Fund, is the energy and passion. She is not alone. Others join in - mothers and a few fathers working together make things happen. "We want to raise awareness. We want Konotop to see the possibilities of our children. And how a little help can make their lives better."

So it is important to showcase the crafts and art of the children and their families. Yelena makes a special point of showing me a beaded flower that a mother and her daughter has made even though the child is unable to walk unassisted and rarely gets out. "They wanted to participate," Yelena says. I'm touched. It's important to be included even if your body does not always cooperate.

Look at the display of crafts. Imagine the stories that are behind each hand-crafted item. The circle expands including more children. Families are no longer alone.

I'm asked to be the auctioneer at the live auction or as some of the parents say "the loud" auction. We are having a silent auction too. But they want me for the "loud" one. I think they are type casting me knowing that I am comfortable in front of groups.

OK, if the truth be known, I can be a bit of the ham. Still this is different. Doing a "Russian" Auction gets my nerves on end. Is this Russian Roulette? I worry a bit. But then the adrenalin kicks in and the good humor of the people makes it all a lot of fun.

That night after all the people leave we decide to have some chi (tea) and cookies while we count the collected funds.

At the silent auction we are amazed to have 11 new businesses supporting the work of the Hearts of Love Center. One volunteer quietly thanks me, "You helped us get over our fear of being rejected. I didn't want to go into the shops. I was afraid of what they might say. But together, we did it."

Several of the businesses offered to give free haircuts for the children and their families. "Just give us a call, it doesn't matter how many. We just want to help." The circles move outward catching others in the flow.

A collection box in the shape of a giant golden heart contains over 700 grievnah. The auctions and sale of crafts bring another 2100. That's a grand total of over 2800 Grievnah. By American standards, it is not a great deal of money - about $350. But when you realize that I am living on about $200 a month, it has a lot of buying power. We are pleased.

We wish more people had come. Of special concern are some of our local leaders who were invited but did not show. A discussion starts on how we might do a better job next time. I smile thinking that having this discussion is a Peace Corps success. We are evaluating and planning over chi and cookies.

A few weeks pass. An article in the paper reports the results of our auctions. Prominently is a big thank you to all the businesses. A good positive energy surrounds the Center.

Then late one afternoon,Yelena is all smiles. She gathers an interpreter and ushers me into a class room. She wants to tell me something.

"Last weekend a local cafe had a benefit for us. We didn't know it was happening. They auctioned off drinks. Imagine, one went for 600 grievnah. A Konotop leader, who had failed to show up for our auction, bought it. They raised over 2000 grievnah."

My jaw drops. This is totally unexpected or is it? Throw a pebble into a river stream and the circles spread outward rippling across the water...maybe into infinity. I wonder what will happen next?

Thursday, December 10

TGIF Ukrainian Style

He brings the drill out of the closet complete with bits of assorted sizes. It looks strange sitting on the small kitchen counter next to the cheese and bread. Guests are arriving now. Tonight we will crack open an ostrich egg and make a giant omelet.

Actually, you don't crack an ostrich egg. The shell is indestructible. It's maybe more than 1/4 inch thick. That's why Sergey, our host, has brought out the drill. I hold the egg as he drills and drills.

I'm included in a TGIF party (at least that is what we would call it in America - Thank Goodness It's Friday!). Oxanna invited me. She has been in my Leadership English Class and directs Konotop"s social welfare programs. I get to meet her boss and a lot of her colleagues.

All are very friendly hugging and greeting me and one another even though they just left work a half hour ago. I find out that among the 8 people, only one has met an American before. This is typical in this part of Ukraine. Travel is limited, not by the government but by economics, and tourists just don't make it much beyond Kiev.

I easily fall into feeling part of the group. I am always amazed at the warmth of Ukrainian hospitality. It's a great experience to be included in just ordinary day-to-day activities.

I am told that Sergey use to raise ostrich at his Dacha on the outskirts of Konotop. But no longer. I am not certain why. This is the last of the eggs that has been sitting in his refrigerator for a number of weeks waiting for a festive occasion.

The apartment is small. Coats and shoes are piled in the entry way. That's the custom to remove shoes upon entering a home. Streets are mostly dirt and gravel so the dirt that can be tracked in is a housekeeper's nightmare.

I know. Having carried heavy carpets down four flights of stairs and beat the dirt out of them and carried them back up four flights of stairs, I can attest to the wisdom of removing shoes.

Early guests pull out a side board table and get another from the kitchen. Within moments, the all purpose room is transformed into a dinning area. The sofa will seat three or four and stools will accommodate others. Setting up this long table reminds me of Thanksgiving with all the relatives jammed into a small efficiency apartment. In Ukraine, it's normalna (normal).

Other guests arrive. More hugs are shared and the conversation becomes even more animated. Ukrainians may seem reserved in public, but with friends behind close doors, they know how to have a good time.

These folks bring typical foods for a Ukrainian meal. There is dark bread, cheese wedges, kielbasa, sliced apples, and cucumbers (always fresh cucumbers and in season, tomatoes and radishes). Tonight there is also a jar of pickle fish and some kind of cabbage salad. A plate of fresh lemons and oranges gives color to the table setting.

Small plates about the size of coffee saucers are before each place. I have never seen large Texas size plates. That would be shocking to Ukrainians.

All is laid out in duplicate since our make-sift table is so long. I notice that Ukrainians do not typically pass dishes. They reach from their place and spike whatever food they want. They will often fill your plate too - whether you want more or not. It happens to me often - not that I look under nourished, but because of their hospitality.

Traditionally there are a series of toasts - one is for friendship, another for the women, another for the men, another for health and still another but I forget for what! All of the toasts are spread out over the coarse of the gathering. But even at that, I am careful to not drain my glass for it surely will be refilled.

Nearly five hours later, we had consumed all of the food and a good quantity of vodka. We dance and sing and laugh and have another toast. It is a wonderful evening, but it's time to say farewell. TGIF Ukrainian style...until next time.

Oh by the way, we never had the Ostrich omelette. After careful inspection, it was determined to be a rotten egg. A real pity....

Tuesday, November 24

Color me Grey and then...

The sun will come out tomorrow....Like an old vinyl record stuck in a groove, I have been singing that song for 19 days. We're in a terrible weather pattern. That's right 19 days without sun. I wonder if the Russian language has a collection of words for cloudiness like I've heard the Eskimos have for snow.

Every day I open my eyes hoping to see something other than grey. Even the day light that seeps through the blanket of clouds is gone by about 3:30 pm. Night comes early and stays long in these parts.

It's true sometimes the weather teases me. Today it's a pale grey instead of the thick foggy grey or the deep dark grey or the wet raw grey. I think the clouds may part, but no. The weather is consistently grey...grey....grey.

The streets are a mess. Many of our roads in Konotop are unpaved. Rain digs into the dirt and gravel spreading little ponds and streams every where. Mud slimes across pathways making it difficult to walk. Yuck, I am slipping and sliding. Just look at my shoes

Ukrainians pride themselves in a neat appearance. So even though the grey wet weather makes it hard, clean shoes are expected. I got the message last week when a colleague asked if I needed a new pair of shoes. "No I don't think so," I said. "I just need to clean mine." She smiled.!

While Konotop has been wrapped in a wet grey blanket, my work at the Hearts Of Love Children's Center has sprung forward.

Every week I get to oversee an art session with the children. It's becoming rather popular with as many as a dozen kids at a session. They are all ages so it's challenging giving direction and doubly challenging to do so in Russian. The children take great delight in correcting my Russian language attempts.

We have been concentrating on flowers and sunny pictures. Do you think the weather is a factor? I look forward to Fridays. We all laugh and paint and have a good time.

About a month ago, Yelena (volunteer director of the Center) asked if I would help them develop a fund raising plan. She explained that they needed funds to heat the Hearts f Love Center.

There is bare minimum heat. While I have not guaged the temperature, I think it is hovering around 50 F degrees most days. I know that my nose gets real cold even with three layers of clothes and a skull cap. Everyone keep their coats on.

Fortunately, the grey cloud cover has also meant warmer than normal temperatures. So for now, we are spared the frigid winds and have a small reprieve from massive heating bills.

I am delighted to be asked to help with fund raising plans. The request comes out of the blue or is it the "grey."

I think it's a result of just consistently showing up every day and pitching in however I can. I think it is a result of people at the Hearts of Love Center being open to trying some new ideas. I think it is because more and more children are coming along with winter.

Whatever the reason, I take the weekend to pull together some ideas. I want the plan to be adaptable to Ukrainian conditions and over time, to build financial capacity. I am pleased with how the ideas flow and even translate them with the help of Google translator (a little Internet gadget that can come in handy.)

At a meeting on Monday, I lay out some suggestions like starting a Friends of the Center program, holding an Open House Celebration and identifying a few Major Donors. I pitch the idea of asking businesses for donations for a live and silent auction so that we can build our relationships with them. I included a few next steps.

Several weeks pass. I begin to wonder if this fund raising plan is stuck in the muck

But unknown to me, many conversations are taking place.

It seems like Ukrainian planning is less formalized than American. Ideas perculate until a kind of consensus emerges. At least that's what I think is happening at the Hearts of Love Center.

My suggestions are passed around and spark discussions until enough people are on board to move forward. "Can you help us with a training too," Yelena asks? She and other volunteers are nervous about asking businesses for help.

I couldn't be more delighted. I put together a training drawing upon my experience with the Lafayette Urban Ministry and my Legacy Work. The following press release summarizes our next steps.

Press Release

Contact: Yelena Yushenko, Volunteer Director of Hearts of Love Center and Charitable Fund

Here in Konotop children with special needs and disabilities are emerging from the shadows of isolation. They are discovering possibilities for a good life.

Their story may be one that most Ukrainians do not know. In former times, the old saying of out of sight and out of mind was practiced widely. Disabled children were expected to stay home or placed in institutions.

Even today in many communities, the sight of a disabled child in a public place is rare. Public awareness barely registers and understanding of special needs is minimal. A family with a disabled child can anticipate a life time of struggling with few resources, feeling helpless and coping with growing despair. The whole family system is affected - mother, father, brothers sisters and grandparents.

But in Konotop for the first time ever, the Hearts of Love Center is inviting their entire community to become aware and understand more.

On December 4th at 16:30 hours, they will hold an open house celebration in honor of the International Day of People with Disabilities. This special day recognizes the achievements and contributions of people with disabilities.

"We want to raise awareness," says Yelena Yushenko, volunteer director of the Hearts of Love Center that serves about 60 disabled children and their families. "We want Konotop to see the possibilities of our children. And how a little help can make their lives better."

As part of the open house celebration, the community will have a chance to meet families, see crafts that the children have made, and enjoy some entertainment and refreshments.

A highlight will be an auction just in time for holiday gift giving. Area businesses are showing their support by donating goods and services. People can bid on electronics, dinner for two at a local cafe, a massage and even a clown birthday party. Many crafts will also be on sale. Yelena and her team of volunteers hope to raise enough money to purchase 200 gifts for the children of the Center as well as others in the community with special needs.

This event is the beginning of building on-going local support for a cause whose time has come. "We are working hard at recruiting at least 100 new friends for the Hearts of Love Center during this event," says Jud Dolphin, US Peace Corps Volunteer who works at the Center. With more friends aware of the Hearts of Love Center, we can broaden understanding and develop new programs. Maybe one day we will have the resources for a much needed computer center and connect these special children and their families with the world."


Wish us all well and remember us in your Thanksgiving Prayers.

Oh by the way, the sun came out today for several glorious hours.

Tuesday, October 27

Bakhchysaray (Back-chee-sa-rye)

Today my friend Barb and I are off to Bakchysaray (Back-chee-sa-rye). I just love the sound of that word. Apparently it means "garden palace." It was the capital of the Tatar Kanate dynasty from the 15th to the 18th century. Here a highly developed Islamic culture ruled the area. I know nothing about it so I am excited to be here. .

Fortunately, the Khan's Garden Palace has managed to survive the ages and Soviets destruction.
We arrive on a day that is bright and warm. Traveling here in October spares us of the hordes of tourists that come this way in summer months. In fact as we enter the main gate we are surprised to see so few others. It almost feels like we are having a private tour with attendants friendly and escorting us along the way.
The Palace is actually a compound composed of buildings clustered around a central court yard. While it is not as extensive and grand as Granada in Spain, it does have those wonderful turrets and intricate carvings of Islamic architecture.

Each building had its own function. Some were official buildings where ambassadors from far away could be received or other important matters handled. Others were living quarters where the the extended royal family lived and relaxed. There is even an entire building (only one of four to survive) dedicated to the harem.
I imagine life five centuries ago while walking through the maze of interlocking rooms or pausing at a fountain for a moment of reflection or soaking in the cool breeze of an outside garden tucked in a nook between buildings.

Here are a few pictures that will help you to imagine a little about people who lived so differently than we do.
A lovely fountain sits in the center of an even more lovely rose garden.

Ornamentation adorns buildings.

Intricate designs on ceilings are incorporated into rooms.

A typical passage way connecting different parts of the Palace.
A sitting room in the Harem.
A nook with a fountain.
The famous Fountain Of Tears. The advances of an ancient ruler were shunned by a polish beauty. His greif was so intense that carftsmen built this fountain as an outlet for his tears. Water drips from side to side portraying the duality of life - good and bad, joy and sadness and so forth. Russian writer Alexander Pushkin was so moved by the story that he wrote a poem about it. in 1823. To learn more about the fountain, go to
Gold woven into material for royal garments.
Intricate carvings are everywhere.

Later that day, Barb and I take off for the 6th century cave city of Bakchysaray. I sure am glad I have gotten use to more walking. Today's hike is challenging. The first 20 minutes is a steep climb as we wind up the side of a mountain. I gasp, "It feels like a 30 degree angle." But like the tortoise in fables, I slowly make progress.
As we come around a bend, an amazing church reveals itself. It has literally been carved into the limestone rock along with cubicles for the monks. The Upensky Monastery got started by Byzantine monks in the 8th century. It was closed by Soviets, but since Ukrainian independence, monks have come to reclaim it.

As if on cue, the bells in the tower start to peal out a call to worship. Priests and lay people slowly climb the steps as if worship has already begun. I pause to listen and allow the devotion to God to surround me.

Our hike is just beginning. Next stop are the foot hills of the ancient Cave City - Chufut-Kale. Historical records are unclear, but people have probably lived here since the 6th century. The list includes Christianized Samaritans, Tatars, Turks, and the Jewish Karaites, a small sect

The steep climb to the the first caves is difficult, but I make it. Although no one, but Barb is around, I cheer my accomplishment.

Here are a few pictures of the vistas.

With dusk approaching, we scurry back down the hillside and discover that going down is almost as difficult as going up. But sights and accomplishments fill my memory. Say it again, "Bakchysaray (Back-chee-sa-rye)." - a garden palace and cave city. Places filled with history. What a privledge to be here.

Sunday, October 25


Train Station - Simferopol, Crimea

Parkland winding through Simferopol. It's so relaxing.

As the train moves forward, I am gently jerked from side to side. The monotonous wheel on rail clickety-clack surrounds me. It's almost hypnotic. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. I am on my way home from a three day vacation in Ukraine's southern most area - Crimea.

Outside a strip of small trees and bushes splash the landscape with Fall colors. I see oranges and yellows and reds and a few deeper purples. The vision from the train window brings to mind memories of New England that has been so much a part of my life. I think of family and friends and my co-workers with Community Catylist and AARP.

Beyond the colorful strip, deep dark fields spread out. Some have been freshly planted. Maybe it's winter wheat. I don't know. Now my mind says that I am in Indiana where I started my adult life and career. I think about my Hoosier friends and my children and the Lafayette Urban Ministry. .I smile. It's strange how you can be in several place at the same time. Present and past merge in a montage of memory. I am enjoying my travels.

Occasionally, small buildings, no bigger than tool sheds, cluster together and dot the landscape. They are the beginnings of homes. In Ukraine. land was owned by the State for many years and rules for individual ownership are yet to be settled. Having a small building on a piece of land is a step towards ownership, so I am told. Learn more from this concise report on the World Bank web site -

Clicking and clacking forward, I am traveling the length of Ukraine. I will be on this train for the next 15 hours. Ukrainian trains are on schedule, but they are not speed demons. I will travel about 500 miles at an average rate of 35 miles per hour. Of course there are stops at stations along the way that take up time, but still it is slow going.

I am not alone. Think Orient Express. Ukrainian trains are divided into compartments. Some are open to the aisle and others have a sliding door. I had an open compartment going to Crimea, but now I am traveling with a door.

There's a lower and upper berth on either side. It's rather spacious. When I think of how we Americans are stuffed into jets with 3 inches of leg room, I think Ukrainians know how to travel. I can spread out and lie down for a nap if I want. Later tonight, I will make up the narrow bed with clean pressed sheets. A pillow and blanket is provided too. I'll have some serious shut-eye. In the mean time I can stretch and relax.

I am sharing this compartment with 3 others. I introduce myself to my compartment community. "I am from America," I say as if there is a doubt. They know when I utter my first Russian words.

A young woman says little but an older woman tries out a few words of English. She is from Belarus. She has traveled with an assortment of bags. They are commonly called Babushka Bags for obvious reasons. She checks each bag very carefully to be certain all is in order. A middle age man is the last to arrive. He says something in Russian but I must say back. "So sorry, I do not understand." It's a phrase that I use often. He smiles and tries again, but it is hopeless. I just smile back.

Three days ago, I hooked up with my Peace Corps friend, Barb. She is placed at the Crimean Tatar Library and Cultural Center in Simferopol. The Crimean Tatar people have had a long history.

From ancient times to the 19th century Crimea and the Tatar people were a center of Islamic civilization. They had an uneasy time under early Soviet rule and after The Great War, Stalin deported the Crimean Tatars for allegedly collaborating with the Nazi occupation troops. As they were forcibly resettled, many died of hunger and disease .

In recent times, the Crimean Tatar people have begun to return to Crimea. They come with a strong identity and a desire to reestablish themselves on the land. Of course other people have been working the land since the 1940s. How all of this will be resolved is unclear. But people are talking and in our kind of world talking is a good thing.

Crimea Tatar history was never discussed in my high school or college. How about yours? To learn more, go to or

From Barb's home in Simferopol, we managed to pack in many charming experiences and wondrous sights. Like the afternoon when we finished lunch in an outdoor cafe and asked for a coffee.

Instead of receiving our coffee, We were ushered into a luscious den laden with sheep hides on low lounging sofas for a Crimea Tatar experience. While we relaxed and took in the atmosphere of the den, a man squatted before a fire pit and prepared traditional coffee. Soon small cups are placed before us and we take a sip. Mmmmm! A thick and dark velvet coats our tongues as we nibble on sweets and marveled how surprising a request for coffee can be.

We make Yalta our over-night base. It reminds me a lot of Atlantic City. Instead of a board walk, a promenade stretches along the Black Sea. Shops and restaurants and lots of glitzy touristy stuff line the way. It is a great place to people watch leisurely. Barb tells me that in summer the crowds are impossible because this is the hub for vacationers from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

Here is a picture of our hotel corridor. You might think it is nothing special. But you would be wrong. Hotel Otdikh (Relaxation) was a 19th century brothel for visiting governmental dignitaries. If walls could talk, imagine the stories....

Of course, Yalta was the site of the 1945 Conference where FDR. Churchill and Stalin decided on the shape of post war Europe. It is also the summer palace where the last Czar, Nicholas II, spent summers.

We find a marshrutka that will take us to Lavadia Palace or at least we think so. The driver speeds by a sign pointing toward "Lavidia Palace." For a moment we think we are on the wrong marshurtka, but fear not. The driver stops a kilometer or so later in the middle of the road. He points to a side road and tells us to walk down there. We walk. It's a beautiful day and we are going down hill. That's encouraging.

Around the bend we see a large white building. It must be the Palace. We do not see a tourist entrance, but still we start taking lots of pictures. Then we notice something strange. Up on a second floor balcony, a woman in a robe is sitting on a plastic chair reading the paper. We look more closely at the windows. This can't be the Palace, it looks like people are living here!

The mystery is solved when we walk further and come upon the real Palace Lavadia. Apparently the first building was some sort of sanatorium. I wonder how many others made the same mistake. When you do not know where you are going, most any destination can suffice. We have a good laugh.
The real Palace Lavadia!

The next day we go to a small village, Gurzuf. The guide book says it was a magnet for artists. We are delighted by its charming wooden homes and winding streets. There is even an impressive small church.

At the end of one street is a special treat - the summer Dacha of Chekhov. It is chiseled into the side of the mountain. We notice an unlocked gate at the end of a walkway and upon opening it, we descend into a secluded sanctuary of sea and rocks.

I cannot resist and take a little dip in the Black Sea - maybe the way Chekhov once did.

The next day we visited Bakhchysaray and stumbled into an Indian restaurant. But I'll leave those stories for another time.

Right now the daylight is nearly gone from my train window. And the low night lights on the train make typing difficult. I will soon join my traveling partners in a little snack (you bring your own and share) and then to sleep.

Good Night for now. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.