It’s been 22 years since I’ve been a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan. As I begin my second experience volunteering in the former Soviet Union, I’m discovering many changes but also quite a few similarities. Most people I’ve met have a better life if you count more appliances (e.g., washing machines–but not dryers) and many more products available in shops.
Yet the similarities are more fascinating: families still live with (or at least near) parents and grandparents. I haven’t heard of any retirement homes and Assisted Living facilities. The toilet paper is the same and we must put used paper in the trash rather than flush it–evidence of infrastructure at less than U.S. standards. Best of all, the Ukrainian people are just as kind, helpful and accepting as those I encountered in Kazakhstan.
In Kazakhstan’s city centers, large and ornate buildings, especially churches and monuments were everyone. As we walked farther from the center, we noted quite different living conditions. Houses were closer to what we might call cabins and apartment buildings were several stories high and with little aesthetic appeal. Streets were rarely paved. To some extent, that’s what I’ve found in Kolomyia. The difference is that on any street there may be quite lovely brick homes next to what we might call shacks. And not all streets are paved. More–but certainly not all–residents have cars, although I’ve only seen one gas station. People walk. If they can’t walk they will take local buses or taxis.
Some similarities between Kazakhstan and Kolomyia, Ukraine but different from the U.S. include the bazaars and national allegiance. I love to shop in the bazaars, mostly outdoors with vendors in small booths, because of the amazing mix of products and typically at better prices than in the shops. For example, I bought a pair of leather, ankle high boots for 850 hryvnia (about $31). Their allegiance to Ukrainian culture is shown by everyone wearing clothes with Ukrainian designs. Child in traditional blouse I was shown yearbooks of the children I now live with and each child in each class wore something Ukrainian. Can you imagine that in U.S. schools?
I’ll end today’s article with two more differences; first, the cost of internet access. Eat your hearts out! I have mobile internet access for 30 hryvnia a month (just over a dollar). I can receive emails at just about anytime and any place (so write to me!). Finally, today, March 8 is a national holiday with ALL schools closed. We are celebrating International Women’s Day! I suspect some of you haven’t even heard of that holiday and none of you are given the day off. Right? Let’s change that!