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

Wednesday, April 14

I Was Worried

I was worried. All night, I hardly slept a wink. By the time I had to get up and give my presentation, my worry churned into utter fear. My voice trembled softly and my knees quivered beneath my pant legs threatening to snap like over wrought rubber bands at any moment.

I was in Miss Leece’s 6th grade class. My assignment was to tell my classmates about last night’s news. I do not know how I made it through the five minute presentation without disintegrating in front of everyone. I was absolutely terrified. Even now, I shudder thinking about it.

From earliest childhood, I had difficulty speaking. I use to say “wawa” for water. My family seemed to understand and I got what I wanted. But to outsiders, I guess, I was hardly intelligible.

I arrived in first grade needing to both read and pronounce my A-B-Cs. For three years I was given speech therapy so that I could say sounds like SH and CH and TH along with S and K and D and of course, A, E , I, O and U.

I remember my father. He drilled me several times a week in the back bedroom. It was tough going. I think I taught him patience as he taught me the sounds I needed to know. He did a good job. Thanks Pop. I know you would be proud of me now.

Last week I was invited to tell a new group of 35 Peace Corps volunteers about my 1st year experience in Ukraine. I was standing front of my peers again. This time, I stood with confidence.

My talk wove together 20 tips for survival and community integration along with stories of people I met and projects I accomplished. Most have been recorded here in my blog.

I told them how I learned my Russian numbers and colors by playing UNO in Russian. Every time a card is laid down the number and color must be said in Russian. My host family still loves to play the game. My friend Jim sent me extra games to give-a-way. Thanks Jim.

I told them about a wedding and how I was toasted by the father-of-the-bride as the first American to set foot in his home. “You are welcome here in my home - always.”

I told them about a former Soviet military man who lived his career preparing for war against America, and how he wrapped his arm around me in an embrace declaring to all present, “This is our American.”

I told them about Konotop’s first charity auction and the 11 new business contributors. “We didn’t have the confidence to ask businesses for donations. You gave us the idea that we could do it.”

I told them about another Peace Corps volunteer who sometimes doubts she has had much impact. But then a neighbor tells her, “You have changed my family’s life. “ Imagine….

I told them about teaching English and Leadership English and my new project to strengthen NGOs through Organizational Development Seminars. I shared an idea for a Leadership Network in Konotop and my hope to see it meeting regularly.

I ended with more tips and a refrain that they will succeed. “You can do it. Take time to build relationships. Be patient with your language learning. And manage your attitude. The Peace Corps is one grand adventure.”

As I sat down, there was applause and then a comment from the new Country Director of Peace Corps Ukraine. He said, “Thank you so much. Thank you, Jud. Your presentation was outstanding, simply extraordinary.”

As I beamed with pride and satisfaction, images of Pop’s language drills and speech classes and Miss Leece’s news report flashed across my memory screen.

And I thought about my dear mentor, Dr.David G. Buttrick who in my Seminary years taught me about the power of words. “Speak in images. Evoke pictures in the mind. And remember your structure. Structure is meaning.” Thank you, David, your teaching and friendship are treasured.

How strange it is. A kid, who had a hard time talking, has spent a good part of his life informing and motivating others. With words and stories, I think I am helping others in more ways than I will probably ever know. At least, I hope so.

I will savor last week not only for the kind and generous comments, but for all the history – my personal history - rolled into a job well done. What a grand adventure this past year has been.

Thursday, April 8

A Pie Plate

Sometimes wanting something is more than half of the pleasure of getting it. The mind has time to image anticipation. Over and over, the story is replayed and refined and savored. When the day of getting finally arrives, it almost feels like a special event.

And so it was in my quest for a pie plate.

For several months, I wanted a pie plate I have been thinking that it would be nice to make a dessert when I get invited to a family dinner. Pies are not common in Ukraine. So a homemade apple pie would be so American and a special way to say thanks.

Unlike America, there is no Wall Mart. I cannot just drive to the Mall and choose from a dozen possibilities.

No, in Ukraine, you have to hunt. Different shops specialize in different products. If you want bedding, you go to the bedding shop. If you want fish, you go to the fish shop. And if you want a pie plate, you need to find a shop with household goods.

In Konotop, we do have a “Department Store.” It’s like I imagine our grandmothers once shopped at. It’s small about a quarter of the size of a dollar store.

There are no consumer friendly shelves. Everything is behind the counter. Rarely are prices marked making it difficult to comparison shop. You must ask to be shown everything.

I am in the cosmetic section trying to buy tooth paste. “How much is that one,” as I point to the shelf behind the clerk? “No, not that one…a little further to the right.” Of course, I am doing this all in Russian, my version of Russian. It’s amazing that I end up with Colgate Total.

In another section are plates, cups and vases. They are all displayed in square cases made of glass and dark mahogany framing. The cases stand about seven feet tall and glisten from the sun streaming in the front door.

If you want a closer look at an item, you must get the case unlocked. I think you must really want something in order to ask to have the case unlocked. Otherwise, it is too intimidating. I have been in the shop many times and have never seen the case unlocked.

The “Department Store” did have one oven-safe plate, but it was big and oblong. I wanted a small round one. “No, we do not have,” said the clerk. Instead of being annoyed, I found myself bemused and drawn into the quest. “Where will I find a pie plate,” I thought?

Of course, I could have asked a Ukrainian friend. But this time I wanted to do it on my own. After all, I have been in Ukraine for an entire year and it is time for me to navigate all by myself. If I can now buy my own train ticket, surely I can find a suitable pie plate.

I went to several other stores, but no pie plates were to be found. The challenge intensified. I branched out to hardware stores. I recalled that sometimes they carry house hold items. One hardware shop had a glass plate, but it was square. I was running out of options.

On Saturday, I got up early and made my way to the Bazaar. As I got close to the Bazaar, I saw a small shop that had a few plate and cup sets in the window.

“Maybe I will find one here,” I thought. I had written the Russian words for pie plate and a small dialogue on a card so that I could more easily and correctly ask.

But again, the answer was “Nyet.”

I think I sounded a little desperate when I asked, “But where?” The kind woman smiled and beckoned me to follow her outside. She pointed out a yellow building about three blocks away. I thanked her and scurried up the street.


In the shop were several choices. There was a small and round one, a pretty ceramic one and a spring cake pan which might also double as a deep dish pie pan. I went for the spring cake pan and its versatility. And maybe with my next Peace Corps allowance, I will return for the small ceramic one. My quest was complete.

In America shopping is often on automatic pilot. We hurry into the mega market, pick up a few things and then drive home. There are so many ways to be instantly satisfied.

Maybe it sounds silly, but I think I will enjoy my spring cake pan more because of the hunt and anticipation.

On Easter Sunday, I was invited to a family dinner. I made an apple cake. It was delicious. I noticed a sister-in-law of my host snatching a second piece. "Perfect," I thought.