Happy Friday!

Over Thanksgiving weekend, Ashley and I witnessed some of our Ukrainian counterparts struggling with the…how to put it…cultural nuances of the Macarena. Obviously we were more than happy to provide them with our skilled expertise (that is what we’re here for right?!). Jayson caught the hilariousness on camera. It’s all in a day’s work people!

What’s up Kharkiv, What’s up

You win universe. I’m a terrible blogger. When I finally get the focus to blog it usually ends up in the black abyss of cyberspace, chilling in draft mode with all my other half-finished posts. Contributing to my apathetic blogging attitude is the fact that we’ve been pretty busy the past few months. I’d love to write a post on every single thing that’s happened, but let’s be real, we all know that’s not going to happen. So here are the highlights:

  • My mom came to visit in September! When someone travels halfway around the world to visit, you better believe it goes to the top of the list. Her trip was short and sweet, but I think she got a good glimpse of Ukraine and what our life is like here. She was a huge hit with the locals – even snagging a coveted invite to the banya (something we have yet to experience). She even went with us to a wedding on her first day in Ukraine. That brings me to the next bullet.

Mom and host family

{Dinner with our host family in Staryi Belous. The ducks shiver with fear when we come to visit}

My mom is embarrassing

{She can’t take a normal picture. Is that Lenin or my mother? I can’t tell}

Dinner with Evan's coworkers

{Dinner with some of Evan’s colleagues}

Mom and me

{Bittersweet goodbyes in Kiev}

  • Viatly and Yana’s Wedding! We had the honor of going to our friend Vitaly’s wedding in Poltava. It was an amazing and intimate experience. I’ve never seen hospitality quite like that. Their families were so warm and welcoming. I might have to do a separate blog post for this because I can’t capture how special it was in one bullet point. Moving on.

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{Cheers to the newlyweds}

  • SPA Grants. The last month or so Evan and I have been working on our Small Project Assistance grants. Evan and his organization are developing a Sustainable Village Project in the Kharkiv district, which has received significant media coverage in Kharkiv (you can now Google Evan Hughes in Russian). An event related to Evan’s project was even tweeted by the Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes – who I now follow religiously on Twitter and Instagram. God love ya, Ukraine! For my project, I am working with the Kharkiv District Council to provide leadership training and organize a group of local artists into a formal NGO. My community partners are fantastic and I’m really looking forward to implementing the project. We should find out soon if our projects will be recommended for funding. We found out today that our projects will be fully funded! Woo hoo!

Round Table with Sister City Members

{Sister Cities Round Table: the first round table I’ve been asked to participate in!}

Evan at Energy Conference

{During Energy Week, Evan presented on the Sustainable Village Project at Kharkiv Palace}

  • Yours truly can now add tutor to her résumé. Last month I started tutoring a 14-year-old girl named Yulia in English. At first I was really nervous about exposing my weakness when it comes to English grammar and spelling. The other day I could not figure out how to spell “tongue.” Humiliating! What I wasn’t expecting is how gratifying it is. I look forward to our sessions more than I care to admit. It’s a win-win.
  • Team-building excursions. In September, I went paintballing with the district council. Afterward, we had a picnic and bonfire where I was asked to give a toast about the experience in Russian. My bruises and pride are still healing. A couple weeks ago we went with Evan’s organization on a day-long adventure in the Kharkiv district. First, we went to an abandoned castle. Many #Photosessias later, we went hunting for forest mushrooms (relax Peace Corps, we didn’t eat them), and finally shashlik’ed in a forest of trees dedicated to monks. Note: The forest may have greater significance, but all I could understand was that the trees are for monks. Russian: 1 Clarissa: 0 Team-building is still novel in Ukraine, but we were surprised to see a story about the excursion on a local news website.

Paintballing

{Lucky for me, the safe word “OUT” is the same in Russian}

Evan's coworkers

{Sightseeing in the Kharkiv district}

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{Would you like some salo with that vodka?}

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{Mushroom hunting}

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{Shashlik’ing}

  • While still unofficial, starting in December, Evan and I will both teach a couple of classes (Business English and Oral Discussion) at the Polytechnic University. I am looking forward to engaging with more people on a weekly basis. In return, the university is going to provide us with housing – meaning we finally get to move out of the Kharkiv suburbs! In addition to saving about 200 UAH a month in transportation costs, living closer will make it easier to participate in all the cultural activities that Kharkiv has to offer. Fingers-crossed it all works out!
  • My 25th Birthday in Ukraine. In October, we also celebrated my 25th and first birthday in Ukraine. True to Ukrainian custom, I prepared lunch for some of my coworkers. I made buterbrod (open face sandwiches), fresh veggies with ranch dip, deviled eggs, and peanut butter chocolate refrigerator cookies. The ranch dip was a huge hit, but apparently the rest of it wasn’t quite up to snuff. At the end of the day my colleague said, “I think Americans do things much simpler,” to which I replied, “Oh really. How so?” and she said, “It was very easy for you to make this. In Ukraine, we spend a lot of time preparing meals for our birthdays.” Ouch! I think this is what you call getting “Ukraine’ed.”

Peace Corps Ukraine

{A few of my favorite people at the council}

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{Birthday #Photosessia}

  • Brian and Ashley’s Kharkiv Vacation. After much anticipation, Brian and Ashley finally made their way to Kharkiv. Brian wooed us with his Ukrainian and Ashley made it snow dill. 🙂 We spent too much money, took too many pictures, drank too much tequila, and probably had more fun than you should be allowed to have in the Peace Corps. It was awesome.

Peace Corps Ukraine

{The Gentlemen}

Peace Corps Ukraine

{The Ladies}

Ashley and Clarissa Staryi Hem

{At the Hemingway dedicated bar “Old Hem”}

Peace Corps Ukraine

{They were sane when we first met them!}

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{World War II tanks in Kharkiv}

  • Foreign  Service Officer Test. In October, Evan and I took the FSOT in Kiev. They released the test results last week and I’m proud to say that Evan passed. Evan’s brilliant so I’m not really surprised. My buddy from grad school, who will be visiting us in January, also passed. It’s a long process, but they are one step closer! As for me, I’m happy to report that I did not totally bomb the test. I passed the multiple choice by a solid margin but struggled with the essay. I’ll be brushing up on my 5 paragraph essays and taking the test again in February.

Evan brushing up for FSOT

{No wonder he passed! Here’s Evan studying before heading to the embassy. Evan wants everyone to know that he was not studying in this picture! Rather, he was trying to figure out directions to the U.S. Embassy.}

Coming up in the next month:

  • Friendsgiving! The CD village clusters from group 45 will reunite in Kharkiv for a weekend of epic fun. The preparations are in full swing. The cruise director – I mean Brian – has created the Google Doc menu. Jayson is preparing for the 30-hour train journey. Devin is still wondering if avocados will be around in November. Ashley tested her Thanksgiving weekend wardrobe. One word: elastic. Nate is curating the playlist, and Nicola has claimed the pies. Rachel is finding a babysitter for Simba. And Evan and I will find a turkey if we have to kill it ourselves. It’s going to be legendary.

Until next time…Peace (Corps) Out

Peace Corps Ukraine

{Stay Classy Kharkiv}

Happy Birthday Bubba!

My baby brother is 22-years-old today! I am using every bit of my self-control to not quote Taylor Swift here so this is going to be quick:

Happy Birthday Aaron! I love you and I hope you have a wonderful year filled with happiness.  I’m lucky to have you as my brother.

Last year Aaron spent his 21st birthday with us in Denver. I’ll admit, I was secretly thrilled that he thought that I was cool enough to spend such a milestone with. Here are some pictures from the trip:

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{Birthday boy on the Great Divide Brewery tour}

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{Hanging out with the hipsters of Cap Hill}

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{Aaron and Evan discussing the beers at Renegade}

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{Tour of downtown Denver}

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{One of the several hikes I forced him to go on}

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{Here’s to 22!}

Peep Show

This weekend I spent Saturday afternoon exploring the city. It was a beautiful day, to me at least, cool, cloudy and raining off and on. Perfect weather to just wander. As I was walking around, I started to notice the beautiful street art that Kharkiv has to offer. There are these amazing murals everywhere. Below are just a few examples. Some of the pieces are incredible, filled with intricate details and bright colors. Unfortunately there is also a lot of graffiti that obviously lacks any artistic intention. Punks.

While walking over to Pushkinskaya Street I got more free art than I bargained for.

I was meandering – and I’m telling you this is a perfectly nice and safe part of town – when I came across this man standing in the alley maybe 10 or 20 feet away from me. He looked like a statue at first. He had his hands on his hips, which were popped out to one side, and he was staring off into the distance. Then I realized what he was trying to display. He had hiked up his already too-short running shorts to, well, let it all hang out. Regrettably and involuntarily, I did a double take to confirm what I thought I saw. I only wish my eyes were playing tricks on me, because there it was again for all to see. At that moment, all of my Russian escaped me, so I just kept walking stunned and a little grossed out by the whole encounter. Who knew I would see the real-life David in Kharkiv? Future exhibitionists beware; Mckayla Maroney and I are not impressed.

Not impressed

Now back to the street art:

Street art, kharkiv, ukraine

Street art, Kharkiv, Ukraine

Street Art, Ukraine

Street Art, Kharkiv, Ukraine