Thanks for being part of the MEDA family. I thought you might be interested to hear about our new work in Ukraine. Just a few short weeks ago MEDA gift officers Mike Miller and Bob Kroeker were part of a group of 16 travelers to see MEDA’s Ukraine Horticulture Business Development Project (UHBDP).
Ukraine holds special meaning for many Mennonites, including some of those in their group. As they toured the old Mennonite colonies and heritage spots, including the historic Chortitza oak tree – a landmark meeting place, a Mennonite cemetery and the Mennonite Centre, the group replayed old family stories in their heads. For Bob, it was particularly bittersweet, as he walked in the land of his grandparents, who in 1929 had fled for their lives with their young family – including Bob’s mother, then aged four.
As part of her internship, Meghan interviewed over 20 clients of the UHDP project to learn what impact MEDA's work was having on them, their business and their families. The method they used to measure their life changes is called Most Significant Change (MSC).
At the end of her internship, Meghan decided to complete the exercise herself to see what she was able to achieve, how has she changed and what she has learned most from the experience.
To read her MSC story, click here or on the photo.
As part of her internship, Ola interviewed over 20 clients of the UHDP project to learn what impact MEDA's work was having on them, their business and their families. The method they used to measure their life changes is called Most Significant Change (MSC).
At the end of her internship, Ola decided to complete the exercise herself to see what she was able to achieve, how has she changed and what she has learned most from the experience.
To read her MSC story, click here or on the photo.
It is hard to believe I am writing this post from my new desk, in my new office in my new home! I cannot believe my internship is over and that I am back on Canadian soil! I think my last month in Crimea was probably the best of them all, which made it hard to leave, but none-the-less I am happy to be back in my home and native land!
Everything at the UHDP wrapped up wonderfully. Olya and I went full throttle finishing up our MSC stories. In the last month we conducted 8 interviews and wrote 8 stories bringing us to our goal of 20! Each story was as heartwarming as the last. Each person we interviewed, no matter their age, gender, background, crop, or size of their farm, has had great results from working with the UHDP. It just goes to show how great the Ukraine Horticulture Project is to be able to produce such great results for such a variety of different clients.
As a small parting gift for the UHDP offices, Olya and I wrote Most Significant change stories about ourselves to share with everyone how the Project impacted us as interns. You can find mine here: Meghan Denega MSC Story
Not only was work the busiest in the last month, but I also travelled the most too! Although I had been taking advantage of the interesting and beautiful natural and historic sights of Crimea the whole time I was there, in the last month I managed to squeeze in a bunch of great trips with great friends! I have so many great memories from hiking in the mountains, exploring ancient Byzantine settlements, visiting residencies of the tsars and other nobles of the Russian empire, and meeting and getting to know so many great people along the way! I was even able to meet and spend some magical times by the sea and at the top of Crimea’s highest mountain, Ai Petri, with my now colleague Susan and a volunteer auditor Dale! On my last full day in Ukraine I climbed the mountain Djimerji, had dinner in a lovley cottage restaurant in the forest and enjoyed another Russian sauna- complete with oak branch beatings! Here are a few photos from my last few adventures including the UHDP Simferopol Staff (left), Ai Petri (middle), Rock City (right):
Grass-Is-Greener-On-the-Other-Side Syndrome. Many, if not most, have had a case of it -- dreadful, pesky thing it is. And hard to get rid of too—some struggle with it for life.
My time riding the rails here in Ukraine has taken on a special purpose. While I’ve always enjoyed sharing a couple of hours of uninhibited conversation with captive strangers, my approach in these encounters in Ukraine has been somewhat more calculated.
While I personally think I do a decent job of looking and sounding like a local, it eventually comes out (whether through the natural questioning period or a grammatical blunder) that I am not exactly from this neck of the woods. I can’t help but feel a slight disappointment when I’m ‘found out’, as a foreigner. Don’t get me wrong—I am a proud Canadian, but there is something special about going unnoticed as one of the locals.
Whenever I mention I’m from Canada, there is a distinct shift in the energy of our train cabin. Sometimes I sense envy, or a feeling of ‘I should be on my best behaviour’, or ‘ this foreigner has it so cushy she has no idea what real life is like’. Still, many default to filling this foreign ear with reasons why they have problems in their life, government and country, and will always have those problems . They can’t find the money to bribe a university for a diploma, they can’t find good work, those that are in power lie and steal and kill, corruption is so much a part of everyday life that it won’t ever go away…
In the beginning, these rants were a hard blow. I used to think about each train character for days after our meeting; it was exhausting. As someone with a generally sunny outlook on life, I didn’t want to believe that things were bad, getting worse, and there was no way out… except for moving to Canada. (As many suggested… “won’t you invite grandpa/auntie (insert name here) back to Canada with you?”)
While I tolerated these bumpy rides at first, soon enough the optimist in me came alive and piped in. I would meet every complaint with something positive that I had noticed during my time here; with a question about how such problems can be solved; by sharing some of the challenges that we face in the West. I don’t blame these people for becoming blind to the good things that surround them, the general population really does face a lot of hardships, with much of it coming from the government that is supposed to be protecting them.
As a representative of “the other side”, and a seeker of green grass wherever I go, my remedy for these sufferers became my list of favourite things about Ukraine:
1. The quality of food – The amazing soil quality (Ukraine has 25% of the world’s black topsoil) makes the produce delicious, a noticeable difference from the West (except Ontario peaches, those can’t be beat!!)
2. The amazing nature and history– This one is usually administered in multiple treatments. Ukraine is definitely an underdog on the North American radar of cool tourist spots. I have found, and been introduced to, gem after gem. From the amazing mountains along the Black Sea coast, to the Greek ruins near Sevastopol, to the cliff-dwelling monk community, to the soul-shatteringly beautiful churches in Lviv, to the 2000 year old cemetery in the Tatar capital.
3. The talent and drive! Ukrainians are very driven and capable people. Like one of the farmers that the Project supports once joked in an interview “ Ukrainians like to work. You help us get a tractor, and soon we’ll be working your fields in Canada, and for a good price, too!” Besides the entrepreneurial, “survivor” spirit, many are talented, especially in sports and dance. Many world-class athletes and dancers (especially ballroom!) come from Ukraine, definitely a reason to love and feel proud of your country.
4. Relationships: One thing that my patients were especially responsive to was my highlighting of the quality of communication between people, especially strangers. People here are open with each other – they talk to each other like we would talk to our family in Canada. Not overly polite or careful, but direct, open, soulful. People here skip the small talk, and go straight to what matters. This is something people really reacted to actually, when they realized it was one of the few good things left over from the Soviet rule --- the brother and sisterhoods between the people.
5. Approach to health – everyone has a knowledge of which herbs, teas, oils help which ailment. There is a culture of folk wisdom that has survived and thrived, and chemical treatments are secondary options for many. Also, there are opportunities for those on their pensions to vacation annually at one of the many health resorts along the sea side as a preventative approach—brilliant!
6. The amount of celebrations! People here are constantly celebrating – “Day of the Rail Worker, Day of the agricultural worker, Youth day, Forgiveness Day”...the list goes on! It was amusing and endearing to me how often there were fireworks in my small industrial town of Melitopol (we’re talking once a week, sometimes more!) Below is a picture at the Melitopol's 228th birthday (which I'm gets changed at the whim of the latest mayor)
7. Opportunities- This is when I would do a shameless plug for the UHDP. People were really skeptical to hear about a project without an ulterior motive, but once I convinced them that there is no catch to the work we do—they were floored. Below is a picture from a recent field day about grape cultivation, which was put on by the Ukrainian Women Farmers Council.
I also helped clarify some of the over-glorified myths about Canada and the West – University education isn’t free, democracy isn’t perfect, and the business environment is still its own unruly ‘feeding time at the zoo.’
The result of the treatment is hard to track. I can only hope that the jolly musings of a half-foreigner will have a contagious quality of their own. And for those of you daydreaming of an escape – I would advise against it. The best thing, the only thing, is the present moment. So make it the greenest it can be!
On another note, I leave Ukraine in just two weeks. If you’re not yet exhausted by puns -- yes, the grass has been very green here, but I know that at home in Canada, and wherever my next adventure takes me, there will be green to discover too. Stay tuned for my next and final soul search (read: blog post), where purpose, pleasure, and personal discovery will take the stage together for the last time here in Ukraine.
Only a 24-hour train ride from Simferopol and I arrive in Lviv. Lviv is the second biggest city in Ukraine. It was founded in 1240 by Daniel, the leader of Galicia (an Austrian province), and named after his son Lev; which means Lion. Having been a part of 4 different nations throughout history, Lviv is now part of Ukraine and is considered to be its cultural capital. Lviv has a population of approximately 1.5 million and the residents are predominantly Ukrainian (and very friendly!). Finally, in Ukraine I heard Ukrainian, I saw embroidered blouses, Ukrainian dancing and heard my favorite Ukrainian song Chervonu Rutu (not sung by me)!
What I found especially interesting about Lviv, as I mentioned, is that over the course of history, it has belonged to 4 different nations. Lviv belonged to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland from 1349–1772, the Austrian Empire from 1772–1918 and the Second Polish Republic 1918–1945. At the outbreak of World War II, the city of Lviv was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union and with the Collapse of the Soviet Union, Lviv became a part of Ukraine. (This is especially interesting to me, because recently I saw that my great grandfather’s birthcertificat and in said he was born in Austria; for the longest time I was sure he was Ukrainian, but now that I know this about the history of the area, it all makes sense. He was Ukraianian, but he was born in a part of Ukraine that at the time belonged to Austria!)
Most of Lviv’s archtitecture is still intact, unlike many other Eastern European cities that have been damaged by both World Wars. Lviv’s historic churches, buildings and relics date from the 13th century. As a result, Lviv’s historic centre is on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage list. While I was in Lviv, I was fortunate to visit a number of Cathedrals, maybe too many to keep them all straight! If I had to choose, I think my favorite would be St. George’s Cathedral (pictured right). While its interior was not as extravagant as some of the others I visited, I liked it mostly because of it’s location; it is situated high on a hill that offers an impressive view of the city.
In 1903 the Lviv National Opera House was built and remains one of the most beautiful in Europe- it actually emulates the Vienna State Opera house. I was fortunate enough to see two performances here- one opera and one ballet (pictured left). Both were very impressive, and I was pleasantly surprised when in one scene of the opera Ukrainian folk dancers took the stage; reminding me of my past as a Ukrainian dancer and also making me think of many of my friends back home!
Another beauty Lviv has to offer is the Lychesivsky Cemetary (pictured right). Since its creation in 1787 Łyczakowski Cemetery has been the main necropolis of the city’s inteligentsia, middle and upper classes, and apparently it has the same sort of overgrown grounds and Gothic aura as the famous Parisian necropolis. I spent a lot of time wandering here. It was one of the highlights of my trip.
My last day in Lviv was extremely cold (well extremely cold compared to Simferopol), so I decided to take a bus tour of the city and save myself from freezing! The bus tour was very informational and I learned not only about the history of Lviv but also about the many influential people to have lived there. One of the coolest things they pointed out was the former KGB head-quarters. There is a joke that the KGB- building is the highest point in Eastern Europe, because from its basements you can see all the way to Siberia!
It was a quick trip, but well worth the two 24-hour train rides! After the cold weather, I was definitely happy to get back to the mild temperatures and sunny skies of Simferopol. Funny thing, this time when I returned to Simferopol, it really felt like I was coming home! Too bad it will only be home for one more month and then I head back to Canada! Seriously, where has the time gone?
Wow! Is it 2013? Did we survive the 2012 doomsday fears? Looks like we did! Well, from what I understood of the Mayan prophecy anyway, it wasn’t supposed to be the end of the world, but rather the end of the world as we know it. I heard December 21 corresponded with a shift to a new “world”; one characterized by a greater common consciousness. I believe that we are experiencing such a shift, whether we realize it or not. I know that, I, personally, feel much more aware of my self and my body, the people around me and our connections to one another, and also of our connections to what is greater. Although this could be a result of me growing older and wiser, I like to think it has more to do with something grander!
So how did I celebrate this New Year? Introspectively, as per my tradition. This year, I welcomed the new and said goodbye to the old at a Russian Banya. And what is a Russian Banya you ask? It is a Russian Suana. And what can I tell you about a Russian Banya? It is a Russian tradition that has been enjoyed by people in Eastern Europe and Russia for centuries. For me, it was a little piece of heaven for my body and soul, and I am so grateful for such an amazing experience…..
I started my day with an athletic massage, this is not really a part of the tradition, but it felt so good and it got all the knots out of my body before heading to the sauna floor. The reason I say sauna floor, is because it was a whole level of different types of saunas. There were dry saunas, and steam rooms, saunas with therapeutic herbs smouldering, different steam rooms with steam coming from all directions, different temperatures, and of course cold pools to jump into! By far my favourite was the Russian Sauna. I decided to pay extra and receive a treatment from the therapist, and I am so glad I did…..
My ‘ritual’, as Edick (the therapist called it), involved lying on a large ceremonial/offering type bed of wood, in front of a wood-burning stove, inside a large oak sauna. Edick, who was interestingly, a former military officer, put fresh oak logs into the stove and threw water over the stove. The smell of the steam this created was woody and wonderful. By my face, he placed a small towel of crushed ice; which made it nice to feel some coolness in the midst of the hot steamy room. Then came the ‘massage’. This was done with large oak branches. The massage involved various techniques, like beating, hitting and scratching my entire body with them. In between the beating, he would let the braches hug my body, which felt so comforting- it was like being hugged by Mother Earth Herself! It was so hot and the branches stung, but then being embraced by the branches felt so comforting. Next, it was time to go into the freezing cold pool. This first time, I was allowed to ease myself in slowly. After a few moments in the freezing water, it was back in the sauna. The branches came out again, and I got the beatings and the embraces from the oak branches. This time after the beatings, Edick threw crushed ice all over my body and scrubbed my skin with the ice. It was amazing, it was like hot and cold and pain and pleasure all at once. Once the ice melted, it was back into the cold pool, but this time I had to jump in! Then, it was back to the sauna. Another beating, more hugs from mother earth, another crushed ice exfoliation massage and a few minutes to relax in the heat. I could have stayed in there all day, but obviously this is not possible and my prescription was to dry off and rehydrate with green tea with lemon and honey! Like I said, absolutely heavenly!
This was such a great New Year’s experience for me. It felt good to do something so nice for my body. After the banya, my body was begging for rest, and I gladly took it! During the next couple days, I spent time to focus on my mind and my soul and I set the goals I would like to achieve in the coming years. This year, however, I did my goal-setting in a very different way from what I am used to. Based on the advice of a friend, I changed my goals from being mostly concrete, to being mostly abstract. In the past, my goals have all been very definite attainable things ie) I want to do a master’s degree, I want to work in foreign affairs, I want to buy a house, I want to get married, ect, ect. The problem with this is that now that I am close to achieving of these concrete goals, I still felt unsatisfied. My friend recommended that I change my goals to feelings rather than to accomplishments, which is pretty much the best advice I have ever received! Now instead of saying: ‘I want to this kind of job’, I say: ‘I want to feel successful, challenged and appreciated in my work’. Not only have I applied this way of thinking to my career goals, but I have done it for physical, emotional, financial and spiritual goals as well. So far it has proved to beneficial to my overall well-being and I look forward to a great year, professionally and personally!
It has definitely been a learning experience here in Ukraine, both on the job and off. It seems that I get very self-reflexive living in another place amongst a different culture. It is like you are given a different lens from which to view yourself. My experience here in Ukraine has provided me with a very different lens from which to view myself and the society I grew up in. I have come up with some interesting observations that I would like to share with you… but in the next post! I will leave with this for now, and some photos from Simferopol and around Crimea. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year! С Новым Годом!
Before you start calling me a Grinch, hear me out! Christmas, and holiday spirit does exist in Ukraine, and even in the humble town of Melitopol, but it is somewhat different than what I'm used to. In fact, I'm grateful for the absence of crazed shoppers, repetitive holiday soundtracks, did I mention crazed shoppers??
Ukraine is rich with holiday traditions. The timing is just a little different. The 25th is just another day here (except for the Canadians here, who will be roasting up a beast and caroling!). Orthodox Christmas is celebrated January 7th. This is because the majority of the Orthodox churches worldwide use the Julian calendar, created under the reign of Julius Caesar in 45 BC, and have not adopted the Gregorian calendar, proposed by Latin Pope Gregory of Rome in 1582, and adopted by the West!There are 13 days in difference between the two calendars, so December 25th on the Julian calendar actually falls on January 7 on the Gregorian calendar. So really, everyone agrees! Christmas is still kept on December 25, which just happens to fall 13 days later on the Julian calendar.
Some interesting traditions that parallel ours back home:
Caroling – done on Orthodox Christmas too… but with a twist. It is an adoption of the good ol' trick or treating model (I got a little worried when Halloween came and went). By the sounds of it there is a bit more of give and take here compared to how it works back home.. kids sing songs, recite poems, wish good health, and scatter grains and seeds around (in? eek what a mess) the houses of their neighbours for good fortune to feed on.
Santa (Ded Moroz) – Comes on New Year's, is usually quite svelte in stature, and his lady friend "Snegurochka" (Snow maiden). In case you are aching for a visual, someone in the e-world got wonderfully technical about the comparison. Presents are naturally done on New Year's, since this is when Santa comes! Guess it makes good sense that the poor chap gets a holiday after unloading all the k-nex, and polly-pockets in Canada. On a personal note, I really lucked out since Santa came to my house twice!
A final tradition that I've noticed here, and wish existed in Canada, is a city tree! From what I have heard, no matter how small the city, there is always a budget for a big tree!
When it comes down to it, I must confess, I wrote about the beauty and joy during the holiday season here because I really miss my own traditions, and doing them with the family and friends that I love so much! Whether your Santa is in red or blue, slim or plump, I hope he is good to you and your loved ones! Wishing you a Merry Christmas and happy holidays (whenever you celebrate them!) from across the globe!
So what exactly does the Impact Assessment Intern at the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project do? Please allow me to explain in this next post… ( ha! Like how formal my English has gotten? Tends to happen when you speak mostly to non-native English Speakers or in your non-native language!) Anyhow, basically my job is to create a series of Most Significant Change Stories on the project's participants. For anyone who has ever done any sort of research project, you will know that even though what is most valued is the outcome or the final product, the process is equally important and just as valuable (at least for the researcher anyway!). So I will share both the process and the (still not quite finished) product with you with the hopes that you will get a better understanding not only of what I do here, but what the project does as well.
To start the whole process, the clients that were going to be highlighted needed to be chosen. This was done by going through all of the project's newsletters searching for clients who have experienced significant change since starting with the project. The data was coded according to the aspect of the project that impacted the clients' Most Significant Change. A database was created and all relevant information on the clients was imported from other existing databases. Interview guides were created and translated. Prior to interviewing the clients themselves, preliminary interviews were conducted with project specialists to gather more background information on the clients. And finally, the first round of interviews were conducted. None of this would have been possible were it not for Ola, the other intern working for the UHDP- who unlike me, is fluent in Russian!
We have completed our first round of 5 interviews and are working on creating the finished the project. Let me share with you Esma Khalilova's Story:
Dear friends of the e-world! The time has come for my fairy rants to materialize into photographs! Here is some eye candy (well, more like eye veggies) that I hope will tide you over until I have to unleash my next tidal wave of 'WOW-LIFE IS-GREAT-THANK-YOU-WORLD- LOOK-AT-ME-GO!' Without further ado I would like to present the piece de resistence of my experience here! Bon apetit!
This is Natasha, one of the lead farmers of the project. She is walking us through her abundant and organized greenhouse (huge!). Hard to tell from the back, of course, but she looks to be in her mid-late twenties. It is a leap for young people to get involved in farming but I think they will be the ones that push Ukrainian horticulture forward-- there are a lot of innovations to be captured, money to be made, (and people to be fed!) , and Ukraine has some of the best natural resources out there. My hope is that there will be more young people like Natasha realizing that farming is a business, not an image.
Round table at the International Day of Rural Women. This was very cool to sit-in on. The speakers consisted of representatives from oblast-level government (sidenote, an oblast is like a province), CIDA representatives that are in charge of all the projects in Ukraine, members of large NGOs here, financial sector representatives, and of course some of our staff at MEDA (our Project manager, Stephen Wright is on the left). In the audience were many of the lead farmers of project, who also didn't shy away from adding their '5 kopeks' to the discussion.
Skipping now from purpose to pleasure, this is one of my off-the-beaten path weekend activities that I've enjoyed in the past weeks. There was a re-creation of a battle in 1943 between the Soviets and the Germans -- drew a HUGE crowd (think several thousand in a city of only 150 000!) They didn't skimp on anything-- all the equipment was in place (tanks, planes, war cars, canons, and more) and there were full-out explosions with dirt and debris flying everywhere!
Melitopol's Central Park, one of my favourite spots in the city. My Sunday morning stroll has become a ritual!
The park is complete with a 'Story Land', a gated 'happy place' for kids and grown-ups alike. (Grown ups get charged more because they assume you have a camera and aren't just there to daydream.) These are the bears from Goldilocks and the 3 bears if I'm not mistaken! Actually most of the characters I didn't know, since they came from Soviet stories. It was interesting to note that a few fairytales made it across the iron curtain: Goldilocks, the Little Mermaid, and the Three Little Pigs.
I had a magical time here, soaking up the incredible fall lighting and watching kids and parents play together. This is what I wrote in my all-purpose moleskin when I stopped for a rest on a nearby toadstool: "It is the calm after the storm. Rediscovering your childhood playland after being trapped in grown up chaos. It is so beautiful that a place like this exists. And that it was funded by the public sector. I think that part of the joy of having children is that you get to be a kid again yourself. Even if you fake it at first to be a good playmate and parent, that sense of wonder, discovery and non-judgement comes back in a real way. I see it now."
The following weekend in Yalta, the idea of 'play' got taken to the next level. Although I'll confidently say that dress up is a game fit for all ages! Also the whole thing felt very appropriate given the setting -- much of the old nobility and royalty used to have summer homes in these parts. Dreaming of having my own place by the Black Sea one day... although I'll enjoy it in slightly different attire, I think!
Last but not least a shot of the Chrysanthemum festival at one of the botanical gardens in Crimea. Went here with Meghan and my coworker, Vika, who walked my steps last year as an intern and stayed on the Project full time. Through a series of unfortunate-turned-fortunate events, we became flatmates (and partners in crime) just a few days ago! I like to think of her as the wiser more lady-like version of me. Lots to learn and share and laugh about. Couldn't ask for more!
Under the theme of 'love,' it is perfectly fitting that I share with you my impressions from the celebration for International Day of Rural Women (a United Nations day of recognition). The celebration spearheaded by our Project was held in Zaporizhzhya, the main city in the area we serve, on October 15 and drew 1000 attendees from near and far!
Helping bring together this event marked my first assignment here at MEDA. The team worked like a well-oiled machine, our open-concept office buzzing with phone calls, quick consults, print demos, and the like. While I joined just in the last two weeks of an event that had been in the works for several months, I was happy to be able to contribute actively—feeling a pleasant nostalgia from my conference-planning days.
After a long evening of preparation on-site, and after overstepping some unexpected thorns in our path, at last the unveiling of the big event arrived! I was stationed right at the door to meet and greet along with Meghan, the other CIDA intern working out of the Simferopol office. While it is somewhat draining bending and yelling into the ears of old ladies (bless their hearts!), I really enjoyed the opportunity connect personally with the guests, many of which were clients of the project. Seeing the joy and pride on peoples' faces when they were welcomed to an event that celebrated them – their hardships, their perseverance, and their roles as providers for the people-- was pure inspiration.
Love,in all its forms (or lacktherof) is all people care about, IMHO! I aim to capture and share what love looks like in the Ukraine- by drinking up the culture (na zdorovya!), getting intimate with 'the hard life,' and injecting my own love into the agricultural development project I have committed to for the next 6 months (Thanks CIDA and MEDA!)
My introduction to this country has left me feeling star-struck. It started with a week of courtship-- wining, dining and soaking up the sun on the breathtaking coast of the Black Sea in Crimea. There is a calm in the air. The cove where we were staying is hugged by mountains with huge trees,beautifully groomed grounds, rose bushes, marble benches and mineral springs to drink from along the way. Near our resort (actually closer to the town that my Dad grew up in, Gurzuf) there is a mountain that looks like a bear drinking from the sea called "Medved Gora." The beaches here are stoney, different beaches (marked by cement dividers that break the waves) have different size and colour stones. After a quick swim on my first day I was quickly captivated by the mosaic on the beach and have collected so many natural works of art:)
The mountainside hides away several impressively large "summer homes" of old Tsars and nobility—my favourite was the Livadia Palace where Nikolai II, Anastasia &Co used to vacation before their tragic demise. The mountain side has since been populated with health resorts where people come for an all-inclusive stay of healthy food and various procedures (as prescribed by the doctor when you arrive and based on your medical history.) The approach is really interesting to me… The government (both Ukrainian and Russian) pays for the elderly to come once a year for 3 weeks as a preventative measure so they don't end up draining hospital funds. (And perhaps also in gratitude for years of service to the country....but who can say!)
Life on the mountains makes for plenty of natural exercise (goodbye, eliptical!).The gardens are easy on the eyes and there are toothsome treats growing wherever you look-- figs, grapes, berries and cactus pears. Of course the views are what make the climbs such a soulful experience. My climbs lead me to discover what I now consider to be one of my sacred places: A 300 year old tree (The Platan) where many famous authors, poets and painters drew inspiration. I have done a bit of writing there myself (couldn't resist!) and plan to return soon.
I also lucked out in my introduction to the team at MEDA that I will be learning from and supporting during my internship. The day my resort time finished was the start of the annual retreat of the two Ukrainian offices (Melitopol and Simferopol), in Alushta, just a short drive down the coast. The weekend consisted of warm welcomes, passionate presentations, a horseback trip through the mountains and evenings of singing, dancing and 'enjoying' -- Ukrainian style!
My arrival to Melitopol also brought some gifts of fate. I arrived on the "Dyen Goroda," which is the city's anniversary celebration. We celebrate Melitopol's 228th in style! Sasha, the lead on the gender component of the project (where I will start my work) met me in the morning with her husband and son for a full day of fun and getting to know my new home. There was a huge festival (think 50 000+ people in a city of 150 000!) with various groups strutting their stuff in a parade that seemed to go on for an hour--- marching bands, athletic clubs, various cultural groups and a TON of ballroom dancing groups! Another lucky break for me :an ex-world champion in ballroom dancing teaches in Melitopol!
After a full historical and cultural programme, I said goodbye to the charming and welcoming family and headed to my new apartment. Klassna! That means cool / classy (?) in Russian.. a popular slang word. After christening the place with a dance party I settled in and started writing about my adventure to date.. only to be interrupted by fireworks jumping into my living room view! This was a moment of deep connection with the city for me. There is something about being part of collective attention---sharing moments of consciousness and joy-- that weaves you into the human energy grid of a city. First day at work was also comical and unique—but hey, I am spoiled by this point and already expect that something is up! As a joint celebration for my arrival and for my coworker's birthday, a 10am cake and cognac were served! In terms of work (which was ever-so-slightly affected by the morning's festivities) it was mostly exploring the existing documents-reports, spreadsheets, and getting settled into the office.
The rest of the week consisted of field visit days – to the MEDA office in Simferopol, and to sort out some logistics for the upcoming festivities for International Rural Women's day in Zaporizhzhya and finally in Tokmak, where the Zap. headquarters of UWFC (Ukrainian Women's Farmers Council) is located. UWFC in Zaporizhzhya is a large NGO that brings together rural women around topics of agricultural production, marketing and capacity building.Services provided by this NGO are in great need in rural communities, where most women have limited access to information about new technologies and approaches in agribusiness. I will be working closely with this group, helping the staff of five improve their business skills through a series of workshops and also collecting information for 'Success Stories' and 'Lessons Learned' in the project's reporting scheme. It was amazing to meet some of the clients of the project, getting tours around their farms, which for the most part have been thriving since their involvement. The farmers I met all had kind, hopeful eyes and an inspiring love for the land.
Week two has been full immersion into office life. We tackled Monday with another celebration (Thanksgiving!) and the following days have been showing me a clearer picture of what to expect for the coming months…the unexpected!
Looking on with energy, delight and gratitude--care to make it a date?
I suppose it would be a good idea to tell you what it is that brings me here to Ukraine! For those of you who don’t know, I am participating in an internship sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CIDA is a branch of the Canadian Federal Government, and as the name dictates, it deals with International Development.
People often ask, “What is International Development?” This is a funny question for me, because even though I did my Master’s in Development Studies, I still have a hard time defining it! There are many definitions and debates surrounding development, but I think a practical definition- and the definition most prevalent to my internship, would be that International Development is/are deliberate attempts by foreign actors, working with local partners to assist in the economic/social/political development of a country or a specific group of people.
I made it…. I’m in Ukraine! From the emergency row seating on the 9 hour flight, to my pick up at the airport, everything about my trip was smooth sailing! A little piece of traveller’s advice: Ask for emergency row seating, it’s like free first class!
Because my flight arrived so late, it was decided that I should spend my first night in Simferopol in a hotel so that I could rest and recover from the long trip. Special thanks to my supervisor Irina’s mom for coming to pick me up from the airport and taking me to my hotel! The next morning, my first full day in Ukraine, my supervisor -Irina Antonovskaya (the Monitoring and Evaluations Manager at the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project) came to pick me up and take me to my temporary apartment.