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

Thursday, April 23

Ukrainian Pasxa

Imagine that you are at one of the Big Ten Universities, like Purdue. It's a bright day. The sky is cloudless blue and there is a chill that bites into your cheeks. You and hundreds, thousands of others are scurrying to the stadium for a game. Everyone is focused on making it there before the first kick-off.

Now transport yourself to Ukraine and experience Pasxa (Orthodox Easter). It is 5:30 am and the sun is not quite up. I quickly dress and pack a basket filled with foods. Typically, the foods include Pasca bread, kielbasa, colored eggs and anything else that the family might eat that day.

Luda and I wait for a taxi. She is on crutches and it is impossible for her to walk long distances. Together we take the taxi to one of Chernihiv's oldest and largest churches. The day is breaking as we depart. It will be one of those bright chilly Big Ten football days.

But to my surprise the analogy continues.

I immediately notice that the streets and walkways are busy. Hundreds, thousands of people are walking to church. Each family or couple holds a big wicket basket filled with Pasxa foods. One after another after another they form a procession scurrying just like the crowds at a football game. The difference is that many of these people will walk miles. Few have cars and buses will not be used on Pasxa. This is a holy time, a holy procession from every corner of Chernighiv. The sight and extent of devotion is remarkable.
We arrive at the church. It is one of Chernihiv's oldest and largest. A fence and gate encircles an inner courtyard. Today the gate is flung wide open. Kneeling at the gate are a half dozen beggars. Bibical images come alive as Luda stops, holds her crutches in one hand and bends down to places a few coins in a beggar's hands. I do the same.

In the court yard, families stand side by side in a winding snake like formation. All are focused on a Pasxa morning blessing. The baskets of food are uncovered. The priest and several acolytes slowly pass along the line chanting “Christ is Risen” and then in response “He is Risen Indeed.” Along with the chant, copious amounts of holy water are slung onto the food and families. All cross themselves and some fall to their knees in an act of humility as if before the risen Christ.
Inside huge crowds wander between pictures, statues and tombs of holy men. Slowly and devoutly prayers are muttered, the sign of the cross is made and often a kiss – a holy kiss is placed on the icon.

Luda has an advantage with her crutches. The people seem to part to give her space. I follow her in her prayers. A few candles are lit and placed on pedestal displays. Their reflection shines in the massive golden altar stretching from floor to ceiling and wall to wall.
I remember family and friends who I know are having difficult times. I think of the blessings we all havein sharing each day. After an hour or so, Luda asks, “Ready to go?” I am.

We pass by the beggars again giving a few extra coins . I take photos of the church and the priest blessing more families and Pasxa food. My Ukrainian church time ends as the blessings of Pasxa begin.

Monday, April 13

Sights in Chernihiv

Here I am with Ksoosha. She is 23 years old and has studied tourism at the Institute. She has been fantastic in helping me since she knows how to speak a lot of English. One afternoon, she and Pavil (Paul) took me on a sightseeing excursion. After a life time of looking at pictures of the onion domed churches, I was walking towards them in the golden sun light.

We were welcomed to Ukraine in a traditional welcome ceremony. The bread was the most beautiful piece of culinary art that I have ever seen. It was a shame to eat it. But we all were invited to partake in a kind of welcoming communion. Ukrainians are warm and welcoming. They have a saying that it takes the eating of 16 kilos of salt between people to become friends. While I may not ingest so much salt, I look forward to new friendships. Here is a view from the ramparts that surround one of the churches. I believe it is the Dniper River. In the early Spring all is waking up and fresh.

Magnificent holy structures. On Palm Sunday, they have the blessing of the pussy willows and weeping willows at the churches. Bunches of willows are brought to the church. The Priest takes a bucket of holy water and drenches the willows and the people holding them. Believe me, I got wet like a Baptist! The willows are taken home and a ritual flogging is performed so that the pain of the life will leave this family during this holy week and stay away throughout the year.
I can only hope that the pain of this life will be bearable for all this year and maybe stay away...for many more to come. Bless the pussy willows and weeping willows. Bless us all.

This is a memorial to all the people of Chernivol. After all these many years, the melt down of the nuclear reactor still makes the area inhabitable. Although I read that the animal population is on the rebound. The animals may not live so long, but without a human population they have an opportunity to fill the ecological space.

I believe this is the oldest church in Chernihiv. It is caught in the middle of a struggle between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches. Who will have this historic church under their control? I find it remarkably beautiful. What do you think?

Thursday, April 9

First Speech in RUSSIAN

Okay, maybe the pronunciation was slow and maybe I stumbled on a word or two....But after 5 days of language study, I made my first public speech.

I am truly amazed by the investment that the Peace Corps is placing in our language competencies. We are divided between two languages – Ukrainian and Russian. Here in Ukraine, about a third of the people speak Ukrainian and a third Russian and the final third both. The Russian influence comes not only from the Soviet period, but from centuries of close and sometimes contentious relationships.

The Peace Corps blieves in building relationships in Ukraine. Language becomes essential. Here not so many know english though it is a growing number among the young. Still for Americans to learn the language is important to the Peace Corps mission and our standing in the community.

My language group consists of five trainees and one native Ukrainian teacher. She is amazing in all the various ways that she presents the lessons. Definitely never boring and often a lot of fun. I knew absolutely no Russian before Peace Corps. The prospect of trying to learn actually gave me a chill – the kind you get when you know you are in a situation that you may not be able to handle...brrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Like I imagine bungy jumping!!

But then I remembered my niece, Jennifer's advice. She has traveled the world as a student and with her career army husband and family. Her language skills are strong. She said, “Try not to figure it all out. Try not to get every detail. Just listen and keep open to the flow. It will come.”

Her advice and the excellent teaching and yes, my effort made it possible to make the small speech. I got to introduce myself to the Deputy Mayor and the Department Head for Tourism of our City, Chernigov. It was a 7 sentence speech and I was very proud of myself.
I now have a growing hope that Russian language will come. What a huge change from those month of anticipation. I get up every morning saying to my brain..."get open to that flow!"

My friends, the Hellers, say that I am in my honeymoon period. I say FANTASTIC!!

Peace Corps Staging

First afternoon of Peace Corps is complete.

What an exciting time. It is wonderful being joined with so many interesting people. I am really looking forward to learning more from each and building new friendships. We are a group spanning ages from twenties to late 60s. We are east coast...west coast...Hawaii and everywhere in between. Quite a few of us are in our senior years. It is a great dynamic in conversations and discussions. I am learning the lingo of a younger generation!!

The workshops have been well done. I am imppressed with the quality of presentation. Who would think that policies and procedures could keep the interest of 55 PC trainees? But there was enough variety and interactivity to keep us engaged.

I am feeling much better, thank you. A three day spring cold with intense coughing and maybe a little fever had me worried. Brother Peter let me sleep at his house for nearly 30 hours straight. We broke my hibernation by going to a New Jersey diner. Comfort food was on the menu. I had hot turkey sandwich, mashed potatoes and rice pudding....YUM!! That and NyQuil have made all the difference.

My last night was spent with Peter, Valarie and my niece, Jessica. I a got a few calls from friends and a farewell was shared with my son, Paul. All of these moments are cherished memories. I am feeling very blessed.

Tonight I am treating my self to a wonderful dinner and then off to bed for a 6 am wake up. After all this time, the adventure begins and within the next 24 hours...UKRAINE.