Monday, March 28, 2011

Mt. Hoverla: "Val, I don't like this!!!"

It started getting really steep where the line of people disappear into the clouds.

The title of this blog is a direct quote from yours truly during my descend down Mt. Hoverla. I took part in an event that has been going on for the last 100 years in Ukraine. Normally in late winter/early spring, Ukrainians gather to climb the tallest peak in the Carpathians. A Peace Corps Volunteer organization hosts this event. Last year, Catherine (PCV who hosts the event with her organization) and two other PCVs as well as group of Ukrainians conquered the mountain. This year 85 PCVs came together to climb this Ukrainian Everest!

On Friday morning, I headed into Lutsk to meet up with the local Volynska crew (Jon, Terry, and Melissa). We took around a three and half hour bus ride to Lviv. There we grabbed dinner at local restaurants and bumped into many small groups of other PCVs. Around 9pm, all the PCVs gathered in the train station to check in and get our assigned seats on the two cars that were mostly Americans. In my compartment, there was Allison (cluster mate), Val (site mate), Kathleen (fellow Turkmenistan reject), and two other PCVs that I hadn’t met before. We got settled in at a decent hour, because we wanted to be rested for our big adventure.

We arrived to the nearest town next to Mt. Hoverla around 4ish in the morning. At 7am, together Ukrainians and Americans gathered and jammed on to many marsukas to head to the beginning of the path. By the time, we got checked into the national park and dropped off at the beginning of our hike it was around 8am. The hike started on a gravel road, that eventually led us to a ski lounge, there we were paired by two as we headed out on a narrower trail.

Me trying to look calm on the climb to "little Hoverla."

The group estimated right around 600 hikers weaved its way through a forested area that was covered in mud and ice. Eventually after making it out from under trees, we hiked up a very steep incline. My group of friends were at the end of the snake up this part. It was all snow. We had an advantage of people going in front of us. We did our best to use their foot prints as foot holes. We got to the mini summit around noon. This is what we were told was the false peak. The actual summit was many more kilometers up. Only a handful of people from the entire Ukrainian and American group made it to the top. You were only allowed to go up if you had proper equipment.

Even at “little Hoverla” as some Ukrainians called it, I couldn’t see the real submit, because it was covered from clouds and blowing snow. On “little Hoverla” most Americans and Ukrainians took this as a chance to have a picnic. People snacked on things such as power bars to cucumbers and sausage. I’ll let you figure out what nationality was eating what. Also a decent amount of vodka, homemade moonshine and wine were consumed at the top as well. After taking some photos and snacking, Val, Allison and I decided that it was a good time to head back, because it was quite cold and windy.

Let me tell you on the way up I said many prayers, because I could see myself tumbling off the side of the mountain. I was nervous the whole way up and didn’t say much. With that said, going down was by far worse. To try to walk down the footsteps that we made on the way up didn’t work very well. So we along with a few others that were the first to head back decided to take to the fresh snow and side step it all the way to the bottom. This worked until I lost my footing and ended up sliding down. Now picture Allison probably 15 yards down and to the right of me with Val somewhere in the middle. The farther I slide the more momentum I built up. As soon as I started sliding I started yelling the phrase, “I don’t like this!!! Val, I don’t like this!” Val was yelling back “Grab a bush.” There were evergreen bushes that were buried in the snow that were scattered along the slope. I felt like I was using every ounce in my body to grab a bush as well as heel in my boots. Still I was sliding and couldn’t stop myself. It felt like I had greased up my pants with Crisco with how quickly I was sliding.

Should have known it wasn't going to be a piece of cake.

Finally from grabbing a bush that was many yards from where I had originally started this terrifying ‘ride’ was I able to stop. I stood there while Val made it down closer to me. We took a few minutes as I regained my breathe as well as attempted to regain my composure. Then we started at it again trying to side step our way to safety. I would slip and do everything to catch myself before ending up giving way to the Crisconess of my pants. At one point, I look at over to Val and with no shame said, “I’m scared.” It was a few more steps that again I lost control and started sliding again. Trying not to panic I thought just ride it out until I can grab a bush.

Problem. Another PCV Erin and her boyfriend were directly below me. I was like yelling again “I don’t like this!” as she was yelling up to me who was gaining speed in her direction “Kate Schmidt you better not hit me!” By the time, I reached them I was able to redirect my path of trajectory not to hit them and grab a hold of a nearby bush. Long story, short: I survived Mt. Hoverla with a little help from my friends. It was a great experience, but I don’t think I would want to climb it again. Ukrainians told us that it was the worst weather that they had experienced in all the hikes they could remember. It had rained, sleeted, and snowed at different points in the hike. Regardless, I had a great time with my fellow volunteers and have another crazy story to add to my Peace Corps Volunteer service.

Woot woot a group of us on top of "little Hoverla."

Saturday evening, we grabbed dinner in a small local café and recounted the crazy moments of the day. Val made the best analogy by saying people sliding down the mountain out of control with fear in their eyes was like watching Titanic when the ship is sinking and people are sliding down the deck. Oh, good times. The train started heading back to Lviv around 10pm and we arrived at what was 4:15amish, but really 5:15am (Ukrainian day light saving is two weeks behind). We hung out in the train station until 6am. Stood for 20mins freezing in the darkness while waiting for a marsuka out to the bus station. Caught a 7:05 bus back to Lutsk and I was home by 11:30.

It was a long weekend and I was exhausted yesterday as well as today, but again I had a great time. It was really awesome to see volunteers I don’t get to visit with a lot as well as my local crew of volunteers. I definitely realized that I lucked out with having a great group of PCVs right around me in Volynska Oblast as well as having them not far from me. I have a site mate as well as 5 volunteers 40ish minutes away by bus. From sharing the train, helping each other up and down the mountain and eating together I realized we really are like a family; strange and crazy but none the less a family. The overall experience was a great way to wrap up my spring break.

Part of the Volynska crew hanging out in the train station.

Earlier in the week, I was able to hang out with Allison at my site on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday, I spent reading, napping, and cleaning. Thursday, I went into Lutsk to have lunch with Terry and then use the internet café to Skype with my sister and Bre. The best part was getting to watch (from ground floor level) Leo sprint crawl across the floor to the pc. He is super, super cute these days. Then Friday was when the great Mt. Hoverla Experience started. This week I’m looking forward to a normal week of school and crossing my fingers for warm and sunny weather. Hope everyone is enjoying spring where ever they find themselves. Miss and love you all.


Quote of the Week:
“Have you ever had the bathroom attendant say molodets (great job) to you?”- PCV Ben after spending 15 minutes in the train station bathroom in Lviv

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Get Up and Change the Channel Yourself

One of the few things that I actually want to bring back from Ukraine, but can't.

Howdy howdy all! This week brought spring, which I welcome with open arms. We have had a mixture of no scarf & gloves days as well as days were they both are desperately needed. There were a few days of on and off sunshine. I’m hoping this next week it, because more and more permanent. I think it was Wednesday I woke up to the ground covered in snow. I’m praying that those days are behind me.

From the first photo, you can see what the typical volunteer watches on TV. Most volunteers lack the opportunity to watch real TV. The only time I have watched TV was back in training with my host family which mostly consisted of Ukrainian Idol Competition and Pirates of the Caribbean (a million times). Since getting to site, I only really catch TV when I’m out at restaurants. It is very popular to either have football matches on or MTV like stations that play a mixture of American, Russian and Ukrainian pop videos. I do watch a lot of movies and TV shows on my own computer, but in the presence of a real TV I’m mesmerized and can’t seem to look away.

10 goofy Volynska Oblast volunteers (1 behind the camera) + 1 awesome regional manager + countless others past and present = 50 great years of Peace Corps

In the absence of TV (believe me I do miss my Grey’s Anatomy), I have come to really enjoy the ample amounts of time to read. This week I finished the 2nd book of the The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series. I’m really excited to see what the movie will be like. I also read All New People about a woman who grew up in an interesting family outside of San Francisco. It is based on the writer’s life, but is classified as fiction. The following is one of my favorite parts.

“The sad thing for my mother was that she believed too that God shows up on earth as Christ, or Buddha, or Krishna, either to pass the word about love and peace and fellowship, or to inspect the damage that we the tenants were doing, and He or She most frequently showed up in the guise of the lost, hungry wayfaring stranger. Everything and everyone who cropped up in your life was part of the test, as of an emergency broadcast system. Did you handle it—or him or her – with grace and kindness and good humor? Did you love everyone as brother and sister? Even the winos and Russians? My mother really tired.”—All New People by Anne Lamott

Green food and beer as a Pre-Patty's Day Dinner.

What to share about the week. It was a routine week at school nothing too crazy going on. Classes behaved or didn’t behave as normal. On Thursday, I took the opportunity to share the wonderful Irish/American holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, with my classes. I created a word search puzzle for my younger classes and played some Irish music in class. What I enjoyed even more was playing last year’s St. Patrick’s Day episode of The Office for my 10th form class. I think they understood a decent amount for their personal levels, but regardless of level they all agreed that Dwight was a crazy and strange individual. They loved the MEGAdesk parts.

The night before Melissa, Val and I got together for dinner at my flat. We made pesto pasta, and apple carrot salad. It was really delicious as well as nice to just relax and chat. St. Patrick’s Day was always a big deal growing up as a kid. First reason it is my little brother Kevin’s birthday. It is crazy to think my baby brother is 22, but I guess that makes sense as I’m now slowly closing in on my 25th birthday. The second reason St. Patty’s Day was something to look forward to was Rescue 33 Doughnut Days. The volunteer ambulance service in Chillicothe makes super awesome delicious cake doughnuts as a fundraiser. What I would give for a box of sprinkle doughnuts…maybe next year.

Please notice the baba in her house gown across the street.

Scariest/interesting moment of the week: three of the janitors/grounds men trimming one of the trees right in front of the school on Friday. So imagine on guy on a wooden ladder that was so flimsy that it must have been from Soviet times. Two guys down below trying to catch the branch/pull it down. The man cutting was using a chainsaw that was light enough for him to reach out really far to cut while barely still balancing on the ladder. He went to cut through a pretty big branch that also happened to be tangled in the power line that ran into the school. It made me nervous just watching it, I quickly entered the school yard and went into the building. I was pleasantly surprised later in the day when I saw all three men doing some other in project in the school. I was sure that as the man cutting made it through the branch he was going to lose control of the chainsaw and then the men below would be sawed up as well as electrocuted as the branch finally broke from the tree would sure enough pull down the power line.

Saturday night, I spent the night at Melissa’s flat in Lutsk and Jon joined us as well. We made… I forgot the fancy name, but essentially cheese and bean hot pockets. There were super delicious and I used my last ranch dip mixing packet so we would have dip for chips, ritz like crackers as well as the hot pockets. Cooking meals with other volunteers has to be one of my favorite things to do on our down time. I don’t know about other oblasts, but I really feel like us Volynska volunteers have created a little family. I am really blessed with great people around me which saves me in moments of frustration and enhances the good moments.

Why not have an impromptu boy band photo shoot?

Sunday was community English club. Unfortunately, an old man named Slavic who often compares old soviet times to present day was not in attendance. Sometimes his statements are a little outrageous, but I think he adds a lot of color to the group and normally I am happy to see him. We alternate between discussions about different topics as well as watching films. This week we started “Catch Me If You Can” with Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. Ukrainians got a real kick out of DiCaprio when he pretended to be the substitute teacher, especially when he made the jock read French in front of the entire class. We will pick up the second half next time.

After English Club was over my clustermate Allison came to visit. We did some shopping around Lutsk, because she is looking to buy a CD player for her resource room and hung out with a couple of the Ukrainian kids who are close to our age and Jon. It was great to enjoy each other over a delicious cup of hot chocolate. After Allison and I headed back to Kivertsi, we enjoyed a not too crowded marsuka ride home. We got back to my place made some tea and then watched Social Network as well as The Fighter. I really enjoyed both films. Crazy to think of the world pre-facebook and Marky Mark without a shirt is always great to stare at. Two thumbs up!

Today, Allison headed home to the VV in the early afternoon and I’ve just been getting some spring cleaning down as well as trying to knock small tasks off my long to do list. I’m looking forward to doing a lot of relaxing, reading, cooking, and napping over this Spring Break. Hope all is well at home. Miss and love you all.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Go, Go, Go!

Karen (NCC college friend), Me (of course), & Sarah (Karen's sister)

As the title of my blog suggest, the last couple of weeks has been nonstop, which is why this week I’ll have to cover for the past two weeks. The past two weeks were filled with birthdays, snow, cold and warm weather, slush, friends, sickness, trains, laughs and friends.

First Week of March

Happy Birthdays go out to Theran and my mom. Theran turned 24 on the 2nd and my momma turned 51 on the 5th. Normally my letters make it through the Ukrainian post service and to people’s mailboxes at home in eight days. There has been a slow down for whatever reason. So apologize for the belated well wishes, but know I was thinking about both of them on their days.

On Tuesday, I woke up with a sore throat and no voice. I texted my counterpart (I try to avoid awkward conversations on the phone) to tell her that I was sick and wouldn’t be coming in. No sooner than I pressed the send button, she was calling me to say she would come to me in the afternoon. Since I felt like poop and didn’t care to interact with her around noon I assured her I was feeling much better from an ample amount of tea with honey (in Ukrainian this can fix about any illness). She apparently believed me, because I was left to myself.

Feeling a little bit better than the day before, I woke up at my normal 6:30, enjoyed a warm bucket bath, grabbed toast for breakfast and then I was off to school. I arrived to school, when two of my fellow English teachers heard my voice and just saw what I looked like they couldn’t believe I came to school. After 10 minutes of being hassled that I was crazy for coming to school, I accepted their offer to allow me to go home. I took the day as an opportunity to hydrate and relax. I did get a lot of things done around my flat in preparation for my friends arrive the next week too.

Illegal photo of Water Lily.

Despite not feeling the best, I still hosted my Friends English club that has slowly transformed into UNO and girl talk club at my flat. I have anywhere from 2 to 6 girls 10th- university students come with cookies to chat and hangout. I provide the tea and entertainment. That English club I explained the mullet. How such an awesome haircut in Ukraine can be seen as not so desirable in America even if it is business in the front and party in the back. We also hit on how guys should take care of the uni-brow issue. Oh, the things I teach.

Thursday was my second and last day of school. It was a normal Thursday which includes classes in 10th, 6thA, 5thA, and 5thB. I have to say that 6thA and 5thA are probably two of my favorite classes. Their English is alright, but they listen better and are just goofy in their own way. They have a nice balance of personalities throughout the classes. 3 quiet kids + 4 studious kids + 7 enthusiastic kids + a sprinkle of 3 trouble makers = a perfect Ukrainian class.

Friday was our official “Meet Your Neighbor,” which translates into the 12 volunteers of Volynska Oblast getting together with our Regional Manager to talk business as well as to be social. We swapped ideas for how to run English Clubs, what to do with trouble makers in class, travel policies, and many more topics. It is helpful as well as fun to get a Friday off of school.

Karen and I at Lutsk Castle.

After the meeting, we all enjoyed the best pizza in Lutsk before people took off back to their sites. A group of us went out to another restaurant for beers. I hung out until around 7:30pm so I could have enough time to catch my overnight train to Kiev. Jay, who is a community development in a small town in the very north of our oblast, was headed into Kiev for a meeting and was able to get ticket next to me on the train. It was nice to have a travel companion and not have to worry about my stuff when I’m going to the bathroom at three in the morning.

I arrived to Kiev promptly at 6:05am. Jay and I headed up to the Peace Corps office which is only like a 10-15 minute walk from the bus station. I chatted up some other volunteers until it was time to go find my hostel to drop my stuff before Karen and her sister arrived at 1:50pm. (Random side note: I saw one of the crazy Charlie Sheen interviews on Youtube; I found it more disturbing than funny) I found the hostel without too much confusion. Then hopped the metro back to the train station where I then caught a shuttle out to the airport. The girls arrived with no major problems that afternoon. We walked Independence Square, caught up over dinner and eventually got to bed at a decent hour.

Karen and I were founding members of what we called the North Central Breakfast Club, which means we probably had at least 4 Kman breakfasts a week for the last three years of college together with Cora, BJ and others. She is currently at UNC- Chapel Hill and thought there was no better way to spend her spring break than coming to visit me in Ukraine. Her sister, Sarah, is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Uganda who is currently working in Haiti and thought why not experience Ukraine with her sister and some another Peace Corps person.

Last Week

Over the long weekend we had an exhaustive tour of Kiev. We did a free walking tour that was interesting, but we were pretty cold throughout it from the low temperature and the steady breeze. We saw many of the must see churches as well as the caves where ancient priests are buried. Ate a lot of traditional Ukrainian food as well as hit up the craft market on the artsy street behind one of the main churches.

One of the many churches of Kyiv.

We got back to Kivertsi in time to celebrate Women’s Day (the 8th of March) with my local Peace Corps Volunteers. Val (my site mate) had just moved into her new little house so we took the opportunity to make it a house warming party as well. The next couple of days were full of teaching for me. One of the days the girls came to school with me. The kids were pretty well behaved and by that I mean they weren’t as crazy as normal, but still all over the place.

Friday, we rode a 3 hour bus to get to Lviv. We went to the Lvivske Beer Museum, cemetery, “Water Lily” ballet performance, dinner at the underground password restaurant, and of course some vodka indulging at the hostel. The next morning, we got up relatively early considering we didn’t really go to bed until early morning. Karen and Sarah went up in the tower in the center of town while Kelsey (linkmate) and I cruised through a souvenir shop. We looked around at the bizarre (market), craft/antique market, and a handmade chocolate café. By 12:30, we had said our goodbyes and the Ocwieja sisters were on their way back to America. Kelsey and I grabbed some street food, sat and talked a little bit before heading back to our own sites.

From the center of Lviv out to the farthest bus station to Lutsk bus station then marsuka back to Kivertsi it takes me almost 5 hours. I was super worn out from being the tour guide and really couldn’t wait to get back home to just crash which is why I think the journey back to Kivertsi seemed unusually long. Eventually, I got back to what seemed like a very empty flat after having both of the girls here and crashed before 9pm.

Forgot the story behind the hedgehog, but made for a great photo shoot.

Yesterday, I woke up pretty earlier and got motivated to clean my flat, bucket bath, and respond to a week of emails and face book messages that had built up. At 12:45, I hopped a marsuka into Lutsk for the weekly community English club. This week’s topic was music. We discussed different types of genres, what makes certain music popular and listened to different kinds of music thanks to DJ Jonny Kidd (Jon). We had good attendance as well as participation from our Ukrainian friends. Woot woot for English club. After, Melissa and I headed to Tam Tam (pronounced Tom Tom) so I could buy moose to try to keep my curls under control. I got home around 7pm and was asleep by 9:30pm just super worn out from the busy past two weeks (Mom that is my excuse for only posting photos).

I’m looking forward to a normal school week and for surviving this week I get next week off. Got to love Spring Break 2011!!! I’m hoping to do a lot of sitting outside and reading. Right now the weather is fabulous, but I’m still a little weary that I could wake up to a foot of snow. I won’t put away my winter boots and long johns until April. Well that is about it for now. Hope everyone in America is great. Miss and love you all.


Globe monument that has all the capitals of every country. Woot Woot for Washington that sounds like Vashington.

5 Interesting Things You Should Know

1.From touring Karen and Sarah around I realized I’m more in love with this crazy, but oh so interesting country than I realized. Ya loublue Ukraina!

2.I witnessed my first bribe. The marsuka driver got out walked to the back of the bus with his wallet in his hand with the police officer that flagged us down. Three seconds later he was back in the bus and we were off.

Shrek or Obama? Hard decision.

3.I told a drunken Ukrainian man at the train station that I was Canadian and married as well as some other made up stuff. I have fun in interesting circumstances.

4.In the absence of vodka and beer, I have recently gotten addicted to hot chocolate. Think of melting a Hershey candy bar and putting it into a coffee cup. Delicious!

5.I’m so warm or not freezing that I’m writing this blog to you barefoot and shorts.

One of my favorite fellow PCV Kelsey (linkmate) and myself in front of the Opera House.