Trip Start May 24, 2006
Trip End Aug 21, 2006

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Flag of Ukraine  ,
Friday, July 21, 2006

I've spent the last couple of days with Tatiana's family in rural Ukraine. It's quite a contrast to Kiev, which appears relatively affluent. Most people here seem quite poor. There's electricity, but no running water. Under the old system most people here were farmers in collective farms, however now the collective farms no longer exist and most people were left with land, but without the know-how to run there own farms. Work here is non-existant (outside of a few shops and a school.) Consequently most young people have left for larger towns and the majority of the people who remain are pensioners, living off state pensions that have not been adequately adjusted for huge increases in the cost of living that have occurred. The rest of the people in the town live off subsistence farming and many have turned to alcoholism. Nevertheless the town now is filled with young people who have returned to visit there grandparents for the summer.

Despite the grim economic outlook of the town I am thoroughly enjoying the warm hospitality of Tatiana's parents who have given me enough food (and drink) for several people. Most of the food they eat comes right from the garden and barn. Fresh cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, pickles, peppers, eggs. Her father, Boris, enjoys making his own drinks to including juice made from birch trees and vodka distilled from beets.

During the several hours per day that her mother allows me to get up from dinning room table I've been out playing soccer with the kids, exploring the small village and hanging out at the beach. There's even a small bar with beer for 40 cents (now wouldn't you be hanging out there all day if you could?). The town also has a library and a cultural center building. At night someone brings a stereo and turns the place into a pseudo-disco, where basically anyone between 15 and 25 hangs out. In a town this small everyone knows everyone basically, so I stood out like a sore thumb there the night I went. Everyone was curious to talk to me and figure out what someone like me was doing there. Not surprisingly everyone thought that all Americans must be loaded with cash and at one point this sorta drunk guy started "money, money" at me (maybe he wanted me to buy him a beer or something). Though soon after that I created a distraction because this girl who was trying to learn English wanted to know what her shirt said (since it was written in Enlgish). Her shirt said "I want to show you my game" As you can imagine this created quite a laugh among most of the people there after I translated it and maybe this girl got some unwanted attention after words (poor thing), though I guess she learned a lesson about wearing some random thing in English. I have to say that 99% of words written on clothes pretty much everywhere I have been are in English and that yes, occasionally things are written on them that well the people don't understand what they mean. Oh well!

In addition to being labelled the "rich foreigner" I have also been accused of being a spy. (I guess there's a first time for everything). The day I arrived the grandmother of one of Vlad's friends was over for dinner. Naturally I told them about the places I had been. She then went home and apparently told her mother about this (who is 92). Her mother could not understand why someone would want to do this kind of travelling and immediately concluded that I was a spy. I later went over to there house to say hi and at first the great-grandmother seemed afraid of talking to me for fear of being arrested by the KGB for talking to a foreign spy!! (well maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration...) After a while though I got her to warm up and maybe convinced her that I'm just some lone backpacker (OR MAYBE I'M REALLY NOT??)
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