Heaven and Hell

Is placing emphasis on the afterlife denying life?  To concentrate of heaven is to create hell for oneself?

I spend a good deal of time thinking about religion.  It's forced down our throats constantly.  This is an especially American ideal and one that I see polarizing our nation- it's making me gag.

People are often told that is is very wrong to attack religion because religions makes men virtuous.  So I'm told; I have not noticed it...look around.

I find as I look around the world that every bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the moderation of war, every step towards the better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world...

This does not make a whole lot of sense to me.  This is one of the many reasons why I am not a Christian.



"The people in the kupe are sneaking glances at my burn marks.  They probably think I have a troubled and difficult life, so they dare not bother me because I may act erratically, even hostiley.  I'm ok w/ this."
-Tuzz 05.05.07

"I am entertaining the question of whether I am tan or just dirty- ya prosto ne znayu.  Tomorrow's shower will reveal a lot.  Until then, I maintain certainty that I exist in filth."
-Tuzz 05.22.07

"Oh nonsense.  Fabulous!  I'm sure there are dingos, owls, and mt. lions that would do us.  You think 'cave woman' translates over?  (Probably takes the genitive case as woman of the cave
and loses all real meaning."
-Tuzz 05.22.07

"Oh LB! Fuckem!  Do not let them break you!"
-Eddie 06.19.07

"Ad for the marshrutka:  skip a trip to the sauna and you'll sweat so many buckets, you'll never make another trip to the well again."
-Tuzz 08.23.08

"My standards have plunged.  I have a date tomorrow w/a 30 yr old ukr.  It's a crawfish and beer date."
-Bethany 09.03.07

"My landlord just visited and took the chainik (tea kettle).  They needed it for the dacha, she said.  Then nosing in and around the kholodelnik, asked if I saw she cleaned it.  I said, "yah, you need that too?" No answer.
-Tuzz 08.30.08

"A little bit of me is dieing."
Eddie all the time


Extended Family

Living away from home requires creating family networks of friends.  I feel extremely fortunate to have met some of the brightest, beautiful, good-hearted people around.


Goodbye, Lenin.

I’m sick of Lenin.  After nearly two years in Ukraine I have grown accustomed to seeing statues of the deified Bolshevikleader and founder of the Soviet system looming over city centers.  As he is less ubiquitous in western Ukraine, I am reminded that these once-mandatory monoliths are now defunct.  Western Ukraine has begun the removal of these statutes, erasing his legacy from their collective psyche.  I’ve found that the cities who were forerunners in taking down Lenin are more progressive and prosperous communities in modern Ukraine.  These communities are getting a head start in reaping the benefits of rejecting the Communist legacy.

Take for example the process of obtaining a business license- a weeks-long bureaucratic nightmare in most locales.  However in the town of Kolomyya, the second city in Ukraine to remove Lenin’s physical presence, this process can be accomplished in less than one hour, with a modest one-time fee.  Residents take pride in their progressive community; a refreshing feeling to experience.
Of course there are reasons for the willingness of Kolomyyans to move on from the Soviet-run past; the west has fewer ethnic Russians and as a whole, western Ukrainians were less receptive to the Soviet Union.  When the Iron Curtain fell, the tourism industry provided them with an easy avenue for the transition to a free market capitalistic economy.  The question remains: if their post-Communism reformation (practical and ideological) has led to relative prosperity, why hasn’t it been used as a model throughout the country?  In other words, why do so many Ukrainians cling to the old was of the USSR?  Why do so many Lenins still stand?
The answer, in short, is that many Ukrainians harbor feelings of nostalgia and lingering patriotism for the bygone regime.  These are understandable feelings, but they don’t hold up to scrutiny.
First among these feelings is the loss of global superpower status.  For decades the USSR was considered the only power that could rival the United States, and to from that that to “just another country” is a blow to national ego.  However, this status was for the most part an illusion, as it stemmed not from economic might or a preponderance of conventional forces, but from their massive nuclear arsenal- the use of which would assure their own destruction (the MAD policy).  The USSR’s global influence could be better described as blackmail.
Because so many of Ukraine’s people died fighting for the Red Army, some say that to denounce the USSR would be a betrayal of their sacrifice.  But it is possible to honor the memory without glorifying the USSR.  Many soldiers were forced to fight against their volition, sent into un-winnable battles as cannon fodder, and shot by their own officers if retreated.  Soldiers deserve honor, not the nation behind them, especially one that treated its soldiers with such callousness.  Kolomyya has a monumental WWII memorial, but it’s dedicated to those who found to defend Ukraine, and carries no Red Army overtones.
The most common excuse for nostalgia is that “life was better” under the old regime.  They say everyone had something to eat back them, nobody littered, and there were no bums.  While this may be true, keep in mind that along with daily meals and clean streets, citizens of the USSR also had strict censorship, restrictions on travel, and neighbors that disappeared in the middle of the night.  And while present-day Ukraine does have its share of societal ills, the country is still in a transitional period, and transitions tend to be painful.
The irony of this situation is that as life worsens during the painful shift to democracy, people become less receptive to democratic reform and the transitional crisis worsens.  The tighter they cling to the old ways, the more drawn out and incomplete this transition will be.  If Ukrainians continue to reach for reform with one hand and hold firm to the old ways with the other, they will remain in transitional crisis indefinitely, or perhaps be torn in two.
Paired with these feelings of misplaced patriotism and nostalgia is the belief that Ukraine’s best hope is to hitch their wagon to Russian’s apparently rising star rather than do what they see as “selling out” to the west.  Though Russia’s star is apparently rising (where else was it to go after the nadir of complete government implosion?), it is still a country fraught with instability, corruption, repression, and flagrant human rights abuses.  In contrast with the success and relative stability of EU nations, the choice- if one must be made- seems obvious.  But this requires letting go of the past, a rejection of their ingrained identity as a vassal state of Russia.
Further hampering Ukraine’s transition away from Russia is many Ukrainians either don’t realize the extent of the damage done to them by the Soviet Union, or they refuse to believe what they hear.  If they were to fully realize the extent, I think a break would be imminent.
I could list all the disastrous effects of communist rule in Ukraine, but I couldn’t do justice in a few paragraphs.  Most already know of the brutality, and of the terror campaigns.  There was famine and Chernobyl.  As volunteers, we witness the lasting psychological impact every day, be it the reliance on bureaucracy at school or poor service at the ticket window of the train station.  And there is further invisible damage we don’t see.  There is corrosion a the foundations of their civic selves resulting from years of living under a government which, through violence and intimidation, tried to force its people to turn their backs on humanity and become cogs in a machine. 
The damage done by communist rule is terrible, and I’m amazed there isn’t more indignation over it, public or private.  When I meet a Ukrainian who speaks fondly of communist times I want to read him the litany of violations.  I want to grab him by the shoulders and scream “THEY MURDERED YOUR PEOPLE! THEY DEVASTATED YOUR COUNTRY!  WHY CAN’T YOU LET IT GO?”
But I don’t.  I’m a Peace Corps volunteer, and I realize that would violate the “political neutrality” clause.  Regardless, it’s not my place to lecture Ukrainians on their own history.  As much as I would like to see it done, I’m not going to start a petition for the removal of all the Lenins.  This change can only come from within.  In the end, I guess I’m just sick of the ghosts of this outdated ideology haunting Ukraine’s people and institutions.  I hope more cities and villages follow Kolomyya’s example.


Love it, Love it, Love it

I find myself bitching about Ukraine a lot.  Not because I don't like it, but because there are some many things that frustrate me here...and well, it's easier to bitch.  But, there really are so many wonderful things about this place.  Maybe I'll just stay forever.  Never!  Here's what I enjoy here...

-no waste
-it's cheap
-family is crucial and never forgotten
-they're a proud people
-no chemicals in the food
-the bazaar
-people walk
-there's still a gender divide and chivalry (this can be positive)
-there's subtle humor
-they don't forget their past
-they're economical
-they love to sing, dance, and act
-flowers and house plants everywhere
-home remedies
-my apartment
-my job
-Masha and Sasha
-the characters I've met in Peace Corps
-being told: "don't be so responsible" (at work)
-forest and mushroom hunting
-shashlik- kind to shish kebab
-the cookies and chocolate
-the vodka
-they know when to stop talking about politics
-not taking themselves too seriously
-genuine interest when they ask you something
-Na zdaroviya (to your health), even when buying smokes
-the dacha and kitchen gardens
-time to read
-seeing a totally new perspective and paradigm
-buying flour, peas, rice, sugar, and eggs
-those "kartoshka" sweets- I've no idea what's in them, but they're fucking delicious
-soups, yes, even borshch
-hearing the chickens
-the clatter of the horses' hooves
-communal public conversations
-seeing the ice fisherman
-being "hosti" all the time (a guest)
-kids being pulled on sleighs
-the bikes
-the clothes provide free entertainment

And, as my mom always told me and I tell my friends, "you have to laugh to survive"


Banana Hammocks Are Rad

This guy changed in and out of this sweet thong every time he got in or out of the water.  Then he would stand and pose (I think for me...I hope for me) like this for hours.  Amazing!


In response to family and friends regarding my safety in Ukraine after the Georgia conflict.
To all of you....

I appreciate you all caring so much about me, but I believe that you may be receiving biased news as well. Do you all not think that the US media paints a bad picture of Russia and CIS countries to keep you all in the immense state of fear that you live in? The US media does a very fine job keeping you all on your toes. Russia is a scary country, but not nearly as out-of-control as Bush, CNN, and the rest of the giants make you believe.

There is a potential for Russia to attack Ukraine, there always has been. But, I don't believe that the threat is any greater than the threat on Americans from nearly every country around. We are not well-liked abroad. 

Secondly, I don't get Russian news, I get Ukrainian news. And yes, there has been a great deal of media coverage about the attack. In fact, it overshadows the Olympics. For your information, Ukraine is NOT Russia. It is independent. This may be part of the problem for Ukraine- people don't call it by the appropriate name, and still think of it as a satellite republic of the Russian Federation. Yes, they do get pushed around a lot by Russia, but it's a separate country with a separate government. Ukraine is taking a stand against Russia. A brave move, yes. Of course there is fear on the citizens part, but they also feared Bush sending frozen chicken legs here to be sold (long story). Ukraine is growing more independent all the time, and it's a cool thing to be witnessing. They have recently elected a new Prime MInister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is pro west and pro the unification of Ukraine (a politically/ethnically divided nation). Ukraine has also joined the WTO, a step for them to enter into NATO and the EU (so many acronyms). Ukraine is moving into the direction of the west. (This idea seems to quell many Americans nerves.) These are major steps for Ukraine. They want to join the EU badly, so they will take a stand against Russia, but I don't think they have has much to fear as the media portrays back home. Why?

Perhaps your news is a bit one-sided as well. The problems in Ossetia have been going on for many years. This territory, along with the territory of Abxasia, are independent areas in Georgia. Technically, they aren't in Georgia, nor in Russia (something like Kosovo). The Ossetians want independence; Georgia of course doesn't want this. Also, globally this would spark a trend for all territories striving for independence- the Basques, Kosovo, Transdniester (Moldova), etc. Well, the Ossetians made some move for independence and Georgia attacked. These people needed help, so they asked Russia. Of course Russia wants to help, they want some of their old satellites back. So Russia entered into the conflict and attacked Georgian troops. As of yesterday, Georgian soldiers killed 1700 people and counting and Russian soldiers 900 and counting. Russia is not all to blame. Russian soldiers did not technically cross into Georgian borders. PC volunteers and the rest of American/British ex-pats were not ordered out of Georgia because the conflict was in a centralized territory where no PC volunteers live and where ex-pats are suggested to avoid.

No, I am not a Russian sympathizer. Actually, I'm not a fan at all. But, I think that you could balance your biased media with whatever biased media I'm receiving. And, perhaps, you could think that it's cool that I'm here and you can get some first-hand information about what's going on over here. Just because I work for a government organization doesn't mean I'm being brainwashed. In fact, maybe less so that all of you since I'm not on the internet, in front of the TV, or in the stores all the time. I'm not criticizing you, just maybe asking you to think a little (not that you don't). Peace Corps has nearly no contact with us and doesn't tell us what to say, think, or do. Of course I am proactive. Haven't I always been? I'd say PC is pro active...more than writing emails to friends, or preaching to the choir. PC is in 134 nations wold-wide, so its presence in Ukraine might possible have some good developmental intentions as well; not just political positioning against Russia. (Though there is probably some truth to this too.)

Maybe you could learn a little by keeping in contact with me, who is here first-hand, rather than relying on media (citing Newsweek proves my case- this is a bad source for world news). Or at least supplement your education. I am not westernizing Ukraine, but I am trying to get my students to lower their racial/ethnic/religious biases- something everyone could work on and maybe improve the global situation. And, I teach English. This is important; not just for westernizing, but for the globalized world we live in, and for communication. Too often communication is a last resort instead of a first resort. So, for me, communication is a positive goal that I have for my students. Another goal I have and am achieving is talking to Ukrainians and seeing their perspectives. America isn't the only country and I like hearing about other areas of the world, and consequently their opinions of us (not all negative). It puts things into perspective for me. Something that wouldn't hurt Americans.

I also don't think America has no much business getting involved. We are already stretched thin and this is a European conflict for now. We have no business pointing our fingers at the current moment. Us getting involved might, and probably will, provoke a much greater situation. This is only my opinion of course.

I really am happy that you are all thinking of me, just don't be so skeptical of what I'm doing and don't let the fear overtake you. I know it's a real situation, but the news there really instills such a sense of fear. I hope I didn't attack; that wasn't my purpose. Hopefully, I don't know...I hope you're staying cool. It's hot as balls here...and no fan (or A/C)...or water today.



Beginnings of many long, sleepless nights

A light in the daytime is a lonely thing.

It's easier to surrender to confinement.

Democracy is based on an educated populace- not just one that is able to read and write, but also a people who constantly ask questions.

They had all the vices and none of the virtues of this century.

If values are rigid, you can't really learn new facts.

The yellow smoke of progress hangs over Detroit.

Corruption undermines democracy and basic human needs.


There's always a 4th of July

I've never been so American as this year's 4th of July.  We sang all the American classics and even had some fireworks.  There was some contraband at camp too.  Wacky!


Couldn't've Said It Better

"For all of our enormous geographic range, for all of our sectionalism, for all of our interwoven breeds drawn from every part of the ethnic world, we are a nation, a new breed.  Americans are much more Americans than Northerners, Southerners, Westerners, or Easterners...It is a fact that Americas from all sections and all racial attractions are more alike than the Welsh are like the English...It is astonishing that it has happened in the last 2oo years and most of it in the last 50.  The American identity is an exact and provable thing."
-John Steinbeck
Travels With Charley

With this being said, it's hard to explain this to my students who want hard evidence about traditions and customs- things that define them as a people and a nation.  It's one of the hardest aspects of being American for me here- explaining who I am.