Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Polska, Pierogies, and Piwo, part 1

Ah, Krakowie, moj ulubiony miasto. Of all the places I've traveled in the world(26 countries as of this July), Krakow still takes the cake for my favorite cities. The culture of Paris, the style of Rome, and more fun than Six Flags, Krakow may always be my favorite city. Amanda and I had a blast. 
Above, from top to bottom: the Rynek Glowny(ri-nik gwoov-nee; "main square") in downtown Krakow(pronounced "Crack-koov"), some polish bridesmaids admire the queen of the day(best viewed large), two jugglers entertain hundreds of Walk for Life participants in the planty(a ring of gardens and walkways encircling the downtown area), Amanda and me moments after she got off her train, and a homeless man who demanded money(had only Kopecs, Ukrainian coins) at 5 am. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pierogi Food Poisoning

From emedicinehealth.com:
Short episodes of vomiting and small amounts of diarrhea lasting less than 24 hours can usually be cared for at home.Do not eat solid food while nauseous or vomiting but drink plenty of fluids. Small, frequent sips of clear liquids (those you can see through) are the best way to stay hydrated. After successfully tolerating fluids, eating should begin slowly, when nausea and vomiting have stopped. Plain foods that are easy on the stomach should be started in small amounts. Consider eating rice, wheat, breads, potatoes, low-sugar cereals, lean meats, and chicken (not fried) to start.
To all: I'm OK, but sick. I cancelled all of my classes today after getting food poisoning from some meat pierogies I ate before I left Krakow. The above pictures pretty much describe my day, but I have lots to post about Krakow. Despite feeling pretty crappy, I had a great trip and wonderful weather! Thanks Amanda!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In Krakow this weekend

I'll be in Krakow this weekend with my friend Amanda. We'll be eating kielbasa, drinking Zubrowka(won't those pictures be fun) and getting in hot woda. I'll be back on Monday, enjoy the new posts below!

A walk through Strisky Park

Rainy weeks=go insane

I was trapped inside with constant rain over 2 weeks. Above is my new favorite snack, mustard on chorny khlib, or dark bread. Below is two pigeons sitting outside my window. It's all I can do to stop from going insane.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chernobyl Peppers

Well, not really, but these are really strange peppers. A common myth is that Chernobyl, which is in the center northern region of Ukraine about 12 hours away from me, affected everything in Ukraine. Not true. In fact, much of Ukraine was untouched, and Belarus received the brunt of the radiation. 
Still, these peppers looked like they have been through a nuclear disaster, the one has another pepper growing inside of it. Weird, but I ate them anyway. Maybe that explains the extra finger I'm growing. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Anti-Semitism in Ukraine . . . from Seminarians?

"President Bush is disliked by many," said Brett, giving an example of the past tense to his English class of Ukrainian seminarians.
This prompted a student to assume "and Bush, he is Jew?"
Brett, my lifelong friend and roommate, explained that no, Bush isn't disliked because he might be a Jew. And no, he wasn't surprised by the response. Having been a seminarian in America himself, Brett's very attune to the religious scene and general attitudes toward faith. To illustrate the Ukrainian attitude towards Judaism, Brett just explained to me the Vertep(which neither of us have actually seen, fyi), a Ukrainian Chistmas play tying the birth of Christ to Ukraine's attitudes and culture. The only Jew in the story is the best friend of Satan.
I should preface all of this by saying the American understanding of anti-Semitism and where it comes from is entirely different from the Ukrainian experience, much of which is steeped in pre-WWII history(we Americans are, I admit, in the dark here). How much do you know about the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1920, the Holodomyr Famine in Ukraine, or Old Europe(pre-1940)?
To give some background, Ukrainians don't have a lot of exposure to faraway cultures, ethnicities or varying points of view. Mostly everyone here is of Ukrainian, Russian or Polish descent. Few people travel out of the country, those that do go somewhere in Europe or to the USA. I have seen one African in L'viv and, I kid you not, some people stopped in their tracks and stared, mouths agape, in shock. There have been a few chinese tourists here, and they stick out like Boy George at a Catholic funeral. It's a matter of exposure.
My friend nearly wet his pants last year during a discussion of religion when one student, innocently unaware, asked, "the (n-word)s in your country, they are religious?" This spawned a 10 minute explanation of what that meant, why it's the most innapropriate word in the American vocabulary, and what the proper reference was. If English is your 4th language, you've never been outside Ukraine, and you've never seen someone who wasn't pale in your life, you'd probably make the same mistake.
Back to Judaism. According to the American Holocaust Museum, there were some 200,000 Jews in L'viv(then L'wow or L'vov, the Polish or American names, respectively) in September, 1939. After Operation Barbarossa, the Nazis took control of L'vov and sent many Jews to Belzec concentration camp. Post-Holocaust, there were only 200-300 Jews left. I'm having trouble finding reliable sources in English about the current Jewish population/culture in L'viv, but as I understand it, nearly every synagogue in L'viv was destroyed, some 40 buildings. L'viv had the third largest Jewish population in Poland before the Holocaust.
Today, there are no markers, monuments or signs to speak of that recognize Jewish cemetaries, synagogues or the ghetto. In contrast, Krakow also had a large Jewish population and ghetto, not to mention Plaszow, the concentration camp featured in the movie "Schindler's List." Just about everything is marked well, and tours are regularly given. Judaism is part of the city's identity, and Krakow to L'viv is about the distance from Madison to Chicago. So how come Krakow is so friendly to Judaism and L'viv isn't?
Judaism in L'viv or Ukraine, as I understand, is still a very touchy subject. I just edited a story about a Jewish Rabbi in an eastern Ukrainian city that was publicly assaulted in broad daylight by a gang a few weeks ago. Obviously, this isn't everybody, but I find it really interesting it is such a hot-button issue. Circa WWII, there was a lot of ill-will in Europe towards Jews, it wasn't just in Germany(this is too complex to elaborate on here).
Before, I thought anti-Semitism to be so neanderthalic and trivial that is was laughable. My aunt studied in Tel Aviv and often indulged us with Jewish food. I still love eating at Ella's Deli, a Kosher restaurant, in Madison, WI. So I was a bit taken aback when Brett caught me up with Ukrainian affairs, but I've come to realize it's part lack of exposure, part historical context, part something I don't understand.
I leave you with Brett's story from his class yesterday, a policy I will adopt as my own:
"I was explaining the conflict between 'Secular America' and Religious America' by dividing my class in two teams for a mock debate. Not wanting to generalize, I started naming people 'you represent Catholicism, you're fundamentalist, you're Lutheran, you're Muslim, and you will be a J- . . . But I let it go."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Wuv, true Wuv

Trapped inside for a week by the rain, the sun finally came out on Sunday and I went for a walk with my camera. Again, I saw some 10 brides(no exaggeration, I counted) in about 2 hours in the city center, and took a few frames. The last one is of the part across from my apartment, and this gigantic Orthodox church that looks like a bizarre bee-hive. 

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Orange flags vs. White; Ukrainian politics explodes in downtown L'viv

I was walking downtown a week ago and saw this rally for Prime Minister Tymoshenko's party. If you read my previous post, then you already know about the breakup of the coalition and how the once cordial Tymoshenko and President Yushchenko have suddenly become bitter enemies. So have their supporters. I managed to work my way into the center of the crowd, just as the Yushchenko supporters(orange flags) were staging a major upset of the rally of the Prime Minister's party(white flags). Minutes after this video, I was standing next to someone carrying a white flag when a orange flaggie charged him and tore his flag down, tearing it to shreads. The cops formed a human wall at that point and the Yushchenko supporters took over the main square. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sweet dreams are made of these

I've been negligent of how influential US culture is worldwide. There's a surprising number of bad 80s songs that get recycled by Ukrainian/Russian pop artists and overplayed. This happened while driving in a car with Father V to the mental hospital. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Move byc, get out the way

Something random: a film picture I took in night bazaar in Marrakesh, Morrocco over a year ago.

Lately, I've been taking Polish lessons from two friends; polish psychologist/dancer sisters that Brett has tutored before. They're twins. After struggling through my Polish and them getting frustrated with their English, we struck a deal to teach each other. I meet with each of them once a week. I'm realizing just how bad my Polish vocabulary is, but how much I remember from writing and pronunciation. 
Brett and I have decided to spend at least two days a week speaking either all Ukrainian/Polish or all Italian in the apartment. We tried it after my Polish lesson last night, and I had a terrible headache afterwards. After living in Italy, I'm convinced immerssion is the only way.
Here is your Polish lesson:
Byc'(B-itch)= to be, which conjugates to
Jestem(yest-em)= I am
Jestem Amerykanski= I'm an American(simpler than 'USA stany zjednoczone' which means USA)
Dzien Dobry(gen doh-brih)= Good day
Dzienkuje(gen-koo-yay)= thank you

Probably enough for now. Next time, Ukrainian.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

So, am I going to get invaded by Russia or what?

You might have noticed Russia stomp all over Georgia about a month ago, refuse to leave and ignore a peace deal brokered by EU president Nicholas Sarkozy. Pretty standard for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Put-dawg. I enjoyed an article on the recent collapse of the pro-western Ukrainian coalition that called Ukraine a "powder keg" that could ignite a land-grab by Russia. What the hell does that mean?

A recap: In August, Russia invades Georgia to 'protect' two separatist regions, going deep into Georgia and overstaying their welcome. This makes Ukraine nervous. In the 2002 presidential election, two Ukrainian political parties brokered a peace deal to oppose the pro-Kremlin candidate and win the presidency. They were Viktor Yushchenko(currently president) and Yulia Tymoshenko(currently PM). They wanted to join NATO, move closer to the west and strengthen ties with the US. This infuriates Moscow, and mysteriously, someone poisons Yuschchenko. You do the math.

There are roughly 144 million ethnic Russians living in post-soviet bloc countries(like Ukraine, Belarus, etc.). They speak Russian, they look Russian, they breathe Kremlin and they'd be happy to have Russia back. There are about 10 million ethnic Russians in Ukraine, according to figures I've seen. However, everybody east and south of Kyiv, I'd say at least 25 million people, speaks Russian. From what I've heard, seen and read, these people don't like the west.

World War II was the war we fought against Nazi Germany to bring freedom back to the world, right? No no no, it was the Great War of Liberty against Fascism, remember, comrade? Seriously, that's what people call it. Russian propaganda is fierce here. Hence Put-dawgs claim that there were American citizens in Georgia who instigated the conflict with Russia and "were receiving direct orders" from their government to "benefit one of the presidential candidates." Sounds like something out of . . . 1940s propaganda.

This past week, the coalition between the Ukrainian president and the Prime Minister collapsed. After some terse comments by the PM today, it's probably for good. Western, pro-NATO Ukrainians whisper the PM has ties with Moscow. Eastern, pro-Russia Ukrainians think the president has ruined an already bad economy and favor Putin's strong-arm economics. I just edited an article about a bishop getting signatures from 7 million Eastern Ukrainians to oppose joining NATO.

The moral: this coalition collapse could send Ukraine's NATO-wayward government tumbling back to Moscow. If Ukraine does make and get it's NATO bid, it could be the match that lights the powder keg of civil war, and/or an invasion. No one seems nervous here, and I haven't seen anything to make me suspicious. Ukrainians are more interested in their own politics than Moscow's interests. Still, it's a lot more real than I thought.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

So, what exactly am I doing in Ukraine?

A friend recently popped the question over skype(thanks, pooja) and perhaps I haven't told everyone why I went to Ukraine of all places. I am here to teach English, and I could have done that anywhere, but there are specific reasons. I've always wanted to volunteer abroad, and I thought I would do that in Tanzania or Bangladesh or someplace where you need a Malaria shot to go.
However, life has its own plan. I applied and was offered this position earlier this year, I didn't have to take it. I could be in Bangladesh. But who am I to choose where I volunteer? Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of volunteering? I had an opportunity and I took it, and I think I'm here for a reason. My other reasons:
1. my best friend is here
2. I have family roots in Ukraine, my grandmother is from this city
3. I wanted to do something faith-related if possible, this is a Catholic university
4. if not now, never. You only live once.

Slavonic Dance

Two of our friends were in a dance at Ivan Franko University downtown, it was actually a lot of fun. I would have liked to join in!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Photographing for the University

There was a procession today to a new UCU site in L'viv where they are building a new addition to student dorms. It was wet, cold and rainy, something I can expect more of in the future. They don't like photographers here, but it was my first assignment.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Yushchenko, Tymoshchenko, we all shenko for ice cream

Walking downtown today, I ran into a political rally that almost turned into a riot. I'm a little disappointed in my pics, but then there really wasn't any real thrilling action. Most of the event was pretty underwhelming, until the pro-Tymoshchenko rally(the current Prime Minister of Ukraine, soon to be running for president) was upstaged by hundreds of Yushchenko(the current president of Ukraine, running for reelection) supporters, who stormed the main square chanting "Yush-chen-ko!" 

Four brides in 15 minutes?!

This is insane! I've rarely seen two weddings at the same location, let alone four on the same crappy, cold, rainy day at the same fountain within 100 feet of each other in 15 minutes. Eastern Europeans are SO tacky when it comes to weddings and wedding pictures, but at least they get it done right. It made a good picture. 

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's all about the hookups with priests

"First, we go to the heart of the hospital, the church," said Father V. 
A squirrelly man of about 35, I'm a little shaken by his instantaneous trust and ability to squeeze his car between tanker trucks moving at 50 miles an hour. He has an oval face and deep set, brown eyes to cast about his unassuming gaze, softening his greasy, pointed features. If he wasn't a priest, I wouldn't want to meet this guy in a dark alley. However, he's practically a saint; he's the only priest serving some 1500 mental patients, and I felt ashamed this place gave me the heebie-jeebies when he so easily hugged, blessed and touched people.
But here I am, about to follow him into a mental institution where I don't speak the language, and to illegally take pictures of patients. Just 15 minutes ago, he was cutting people off in traffic, dodging potholes and playing some black funk from The Temptations' soul years, something I found strangely ironic. I had heard Ukraine is quite embarrassed about the condition of its psych hospitals, and particularly sensitive about photographers. I have a penchant for these situations.
We park the car outside a tan colored, four story building and trudge up some steps, where I am startled by a dog standing in the hallway. After a quick stop at the chapel, he takes me to the first few rooms of patients. Not speaking any Ukrainian, and too rusty with my Polish to make out more than 'yes' and 'hey you,' I rely totally on Fr. V to interpret. He lets me know when I can shoot by winking and making a shutter motion with his index finger, grinning from ear to ear. When one of the hospital officials walks by, he shoos the camera away. Doors are opened with the "Russian System," as he calls it, by ringing a buzzer 10 times before someone looks at you through a keyhole. When the door finally opens, I'm stunned at what I find. 
I have worked twice with mental patients. Once was in Rockford at the Janet Waddles facility for my AP Psychology final, I wrote my final paper on Depression and Anxiety in Schizophrenic Individuals that I interviewed. The other time was in Milwaukee, a photo project at the Grand Avenue Club, an incredibly warm-hearted institution providing community and opportunity to individuals with mental disability. 
In Ukraine, all of the patients are herded into rooms, usually about 25x25 feet or so. There are 10-15 cots per room, the sheets are clean from what I saw, and people seem to be fed en masse from cooking pots. It's not terrible, but most look more like walking and lying corpses than patients. I was particularly affected by the 'isolation room,' as I call it. Fr. V explained how everyone in that room needs constant supervision, and therefore is placed inside until further notice. Some of them have been there for years, pacing the same square box and sleeping in the same bed. They aren't allowed to leave.
I am reluctant to let out too many details. I don't want to get anyone in trouble, and this is the first trip of (hopefully) many with Fr. V and a long-term project. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Univ Monastery

Visited Univ Monastery with Brett and an Orthodox Bishop he was showing around. Wonderful place, the monastery is run by Greek Catholic monks, a church that is in communion with Rome but keeps Orthodox roots. From bottom to top:  a cattle farmer with gold teeth who was walking around the Monastery grounds, the priest who gave us the tour and invited us to return, and this amazing polish monk. He's 92, was born in Poland and married young, fought in WWII, and lived not too far away until his wife died in 1999. He has since donated all of his possessions to the monastery and joined the monks. I'm disappointed in this portrait, there was a much better picture here, but I had about 30 seconds to take a few frames. I've since vowed to return. I was humbled when he kissed my hand, an honor only reserved for priests and bishops, and hobbled away.

Friday, September 5, 2008

can I kiss your hand?

Petro the Mustachioed Photographer, Brett and me have decided Ukrainians are far more polite than Americans. Most Ukrainian men will stand when a woman needs a seat on a bus, people greet each other formally at the University("Glory be to Jesus Christ!" in Ukrainian), and people are genuinely interested in having conversation. Americans, by contrast, have placed a wad of chewed gum under every seat and desk in the continental 48, will greet you with "how are you doing?" and then walk away without waiting for an answer(as noted by Petro, the Ukrainian), and the preferred method of cutting food involves holding the knife like a spear.
So when I return to the states, I will start a movement, a revolution, dedicated to reviving the chivalric kissing of a lady's hand. I really don't see this as practical, but it's going to win me points with just about everyone I meet(except guys). Plus, if I can pick up some french, I might grow a mustache and address women as "mademoiselle."
But seriously, isn't this a great custom? How come Ukrainians, who have no infrastructure worth mentioning, are described by some as the "hillbillies of Europe"(not my words, but I am Ukrainian), and often match gold tank-tops with green bell-bottoms, have enough class to kiss a girl's hand when they meet her? I haven't witnessed it yet, and Petro says the custom is dying out, but everyday chivalry is something that needs to be put into practice.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Looking forward to Ukrainian medicine, or lack thereof

I stopped in for a meeting with Petro today, the University's multimedia jack-of-all-trades. He works in the 'information office,' or the PR, photo, video, advertising and secretarial office all rolled into one. At Marquette, this might be an army of 50-100 people, but at UCU, there are about 15 that do it all. I have to hand it to them, they do a heckuva job.

Petro(Ukrainian for 'Peter') was admiring my D300 and we were discussing assignments when a woman ran to the door, chattered something in Ukrainian and Petro leaped over me and out the door. I waited a few minutes before Petro returned and told me a woman had fainted in the office. I offered to help and got a blank stare, as if "wait, you know what faint means?"

I remember shock treatment from Boy Scouts: elevate the legs 6-12 inches, cover them in a blanket, use a moist towel on their forehead, give them air. Her pulse was strong and so was her breathing, and she kept coming in and out of shock to sputter moans and stilted phrases of chattery Ukrainian. Now, I'm not a doctor, but having grown up with one all my life, I felt fairly confident I was treating her somewhat effectively. I wasn't so sure about my Ukrainian compatriots.

I was particularly amused/dismayed by their practice of dabbing cotton balls in alcohol and sticking them under her nose, which only served to cut the oxygen off long enough for her to jolt awake and then fall back into shock. I wouldn't let them lower her legs, but it seems like medical training is in short supply here. However, when somebody did call the University doctor, she showed up in moments and took over. 

In case of bodily harm, I'm considering reverting to my dog's method of self-medication: eating grass and clover until I purge my body via toilet. 

Nice weather, but watch out for the gas prices

Yeah, I know American gas prices seem high, but Ukrainian ones are outrageous! This sign just 10 minutes from my apartment reads roughly 6 Hriven a litre, or about $1.25. There are ~4.5 liters in a gallon, making a gallon of gas in Ukraine about $5.57! And you should see what they drive; the Wikipedia definition of 'Jalopy,' a decrepit, run down, unreliable automobile, includes a picture of a Lada, a Russian car commonly driven in Ukraine.

Beautiful day otherwise, I took a walk through the park. I teach my first class tomorrow(there was a mixup today with the classes, apparently the schedules are pretty volatile the first 2 weeks), I hope to embarrass my students by taking a picture of them at the end of class. Look forward to that post!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Arrived safely in Lviv today at 3:30 pm. Luggage is here safe, camera equipment is safe, I'm safe. No worries! Apartment is as cozy as ever, had a delicious meal of Varenyki(pierogi) and borscht. Washed it all down with some scotch and a cigar this evening. Goodnight and God Bless! Thanks for your prayers,