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....