Saturday, May 1, 2010

Holiday Weekend

Yesterday after our first visit and Sofia's morning nap we took another walk to town. This weekend is a big holiday weekend here in Ukraine and the weather is beautiful, for the first time we saw a bunch of people in short sleeves outside enjoying the weather...and children without snow hats!!!

We've wandered back and forth almost every day since we've been here from our apartment nearby the orphanage to the town center about a mile away. This town is about 30 minutes outside of Dnepropetrovsk...but we think it's still considered Dnep. We walk through a wooded section to get to the town center which consists of some apartment buildings, some government and business buildings, a supermarket, a couple bars, an outdoor market, a post office, a small mall (which consists of open stalls of various goods), a notary office and a bank. I'm sure there is much more than this but since we can only travel by foot this is what we've discovered.

Inside the supermarket, there is a bar. An open beer bar with no seats where you can get a freshly poured draft and continue on your shopping excursion. We found the same thing at the "open air" market...right when you enter there is a bar with beer on tap. Beer is EVERYWHERE. People walk around with their beer bottles...instead of bottles of soda.

There are quite a few cars but it looks like people walk more than anything as a mode of transportation. We've seen some scooters and motorcycles, many bicycles and then a few old cars speeding by. What is fascinating is that immediately next door to the orphanage, with a shared wall with barbed wire, there is a state of the art sports complex where the Ukrainian soccer team lives and trains. Immediately across the street from the orphanage is a huge walled and gated community which must be where some of the staff live for this soccer team. There is a stark contrast between the people and the cars in town versus the people we've seen coming out of this gated community. The cars that enter and exit these places are high end new cars...think Mercedes, Infiniti, Lexus, etc.

On the other shared wall with the orphanage is another interesting place that we haven't quite figured out. It may be a school as we've seen kids on the property at times. Or it may also be a vacant building. Some parts of this building are literally "bombed out" and there even appears to be a bomb shelter door leading underground at one spot. Very interesting place...besides the few kids we've seen playing adjacent to these buildings, the place is totally vacant.

We plan on spending some time this weekend exploring town in more depth. It's a 4 day holiday weekend and it's one of the bigger celebration weekends here in Ukraine so I'm sure we'll see some action. It's there version of Labor Day and May Day combined. Cars drive crazy here and pedestrians do not have the right of way and are not regarded as important so we'll try and be as careful as possible. The parks are full of people this weekend too. LOTS of picnics and barbeques. Hector is always so eager to see what they are cooking. I think he's getting hungry!

We would love to get the nerve to go into maybe one of the bars and see if there might be food associated with it. There is a local dish, a soup actually, that we are so eager to try. It's called "borscht" and we are craving it! If we can't find it in town (and we couldn't find it in the grocery store), then we might ask our landlady who lives below us to make it for us. She's a cook at the orphanage after all!

Speaking of our landlady, we adore her. I wish we could speak with her more. Today, she rushed out the door when she saw us leaving for the orphanage and said in beautiful English..."How are you?" She was SO proud of herself and went on in Russian how she studied that all day today. She then taught us how to say "Fine" in Russian. Love her!

We run into goats all the time here...munching away at the fields nearby. That's the only livestock we've seen. Also, dogs run rampant in this town. There seems to be a HUGE stray population of dogs here. Cats on the other hand are few and far between and the few that we have seen are definitely pets not stray. Very interesting! It's kinda scary to come across a pack of wild dogs on our walks home.

People here do NOT smile readily. I haven't let that stop me from smiling at them. It would appear that most people here look grumpy and unkind and uninterested. That may or may not be the case. The checkers at the grocery store are downright mean! The staff that we've got to know at the orphanage and our adoption facilitators (Marina, Serge, Nikolai and Yulia) and our landlady have been incredibly lovely so I'm thinking that it may just be an exterior front that you just have to break through to see the true spirit and personality of a Ukrainian.

Many of the older women in Ukraine dress very traditional in skirts and layers and scarves around their heads. The younger women of Ukraine...well...that's a different story entirely! The women dress in VERY short skirts, hose, high heels and tight fitting and often revealing tops. They also wear a lot of makeup and have "big" or brightly colored hair. The men all kind of look the same in very typical and familiar jeans and sweaters or sweatshirts.

We'll see what the rest of the weekend brings for us! Maybe, just maybe, we'll find some "borscht" for's become our running joke!


  1. I wish we had posted more about what we saw and learned while in country! We were there such a short time...and I did not have my camera ready quickly enough many times...I wanted to get pics of so many things that were common...the brooms made of sticks is one thing I missed!

    In Ukraine--as is true with life in general--you have to look beneath the surface.

    Our cultures are so different!

    But things are not as they first seem (especially to "outsiders"). The not smiling and brisk approach to "service" was hard for us at first. We realized, though, that people are actually very friendly once a relationship has been established. People there are also careful not to intrude, to bother, to get in your business. They may seem aloof, or even rude, when they may be trying to give you some privacy or to not seem too interested.

    Beneath the surface, we saw a vibrant, life-affirming existence. We saw people and families enjoying each other...strolling, laughing...eating together. We saw people who work very hard to stay afloat, but who also take time to enjoy the things in life that Americans tend to take for granted.

    Check out those markets...interact with the people selling goods...check out the candies, nuts, fruits and spices. And definitely check out the food counter at the grocery. I am certain you will be able to find borsch. Traditional Ukrainian borsch has a tomato base...but you will also find a version with a chicken bullion base. Both are wonderful and super delicious. You can't leave without having some and learning to make it!!

  2. I REALLY love reading your blog! Makes me miss Ukraine!

    We are praying for you and your sweet little Sofia! I pray you are able to try all of the foods in Ukraine - They are wonderful! Ukrainians are so hospitable, I know your landlady would be happy if you asked her! :)


  3. i love this post and all the pics. i have learned so much about ukraine. i love learning about other cultures...thank u for that! :)

  4. I was watching America's Next Top Model the other day (my one reality TV weakness), and one of the girls is from Russia/Ukraine area. She said the very hardest thing about the contest was learning to smile all the time. She says that where she's from, smiles are for people you know well, friends and family. She said you aren't supposed to smile at strangers.

    So, it seems to be just the way that they are culturally. They may feel like you're crossing into their "personal space" by smiling at them when you don't know them, just like if someone you didn't know touched you on the arm or something.

  5. hope you can enjoy the holiday weekend and find some beer and borscht:)

  6. I especially love the bicycles, and not having to be locked up. Reminds me of my first Schwinn

  7. It's wonderful you are writing about the total Ukraine experience! How different our cultures are! Then again, we have cultural diversity in the U.S. - NYC is very different from Dallas, TX and the hill country of GA is very different from CA... well, CA is pretty different from anywhere else - LOL!

    I am so enjoying your posts. I am savoring a unique cultural experience through your words and photos! On top of that, it's almost like pregnancy... waiting... waiting... WOW! This beautiful little girl is YOURS and coming HOME with you!

  8. We found the grocery stores in the malls very handy in South Africa. If kmart has them, why not!? Love the beer while grocery shopping.

    With the extra time certainly get the list of cultural specific characteristics, foods and phrases. You are a blended family now! Your hometown has some families from Eastern Europe and perhaps Ukraine or connections. You'll find or make them!

  9. Very interesting post. I love reading about people and their culture. The unfriendly grocery checkers are in Germany and Holland, too, so don't take it personally :-) Doug's Dutch relatives remarked last weekend at how friendly and "familiar" people talk with one another here. Hope you find some borscht. I've seen it in a magazine and I can't say I ever craved it :-) LOL.

  10. Hi, love your posts and little sofia- so cute!
    You might already know this but the weird door- bomb sheltery looking thing is access to either the water or sewer pipe system- you can tell by the smell :) We lived in Moldova and it is funny how things look almost exactly as they do in Ukraine. I thought the entrances were for root cellars or something- I finally asked someone :)
    Thanks for sharing all the picks!