Salt in the Match Box

September 19, 2010

Hello Friends!

Salt for the train picnic
A new interesting fact.... 
Ukrainains put salt in a match box as part of their train picnic packet.  I find out this is really true... not just because my office mates do this, but all my Ukrainian colleagues do this. Everyone I have asked about this tradition said " YES, It's a Ukrainian Tradition."   Photo to prove it..   Please note the hardboiled eggs, too- also traditional train picnic food.

Train Picnic
I learned this new fact when I traveled with my organization from Lugansk on the 4:45 p.m. overnight train to Kiev.  Once organized in our "coupe" rooms that had four  benches--two high, two low--  mattresses, sheets, pillows, towels that we had to arrange on each bench--  we all gathered in the ONE "handicap access" coupe room for our picnic supper.  The picnic supper photos are attached and will prove that I am assigned to an organization that works hard and also has TONS of fun together.

Work colleagues on the train
I must admire my colleagues who are in wheelchairs.  The one special train car that is  the "special needs/ disabled access" car has only ONE coupe room out of 15 that is accessible for the disabled.  My counterpart and I shared the one accessible room.   While her bunk was the lower bunk, I cannot imagine how a disabled person could leave a wheelchair and climb up to the higher bunk!  

Train picnic with work colleagues
My two other colleagues in wheelchairs had to be carried to their rooms as their wheelchairs were too wide for the train corridor.   The Ukrainian train system provides a wheel chair to transport the disabled down the corridor, but even this "special wheelchair" is too wide for the corridor."  

In  all of the Ukraine train system there are ONLY 10 special needs access train cars... and each of these cars has only ONE room available for a disabled person with ONE accessible bunk.
One of the steel mills outside Lugansk

Looking out the train window as we left Lugansk, I had a flashback to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and the steel mills.   

Once we arrived in Kiev, our organization was busy preparing for the Right to Work for the Disabled Conference.  My organization was the recipient of a two-year grant (along with several other organizations for the disabled in Ukraine) and the conference was a progress report on the  seminars and programs established to help disabled Ukrainians seek employment.    I was one of the speakers at the conference; my topic was the ADA and what the ADA means for the disabled Americans as well as for American businesses.  I was very honored to be on the speakers list!

Young dancers in talent contest
I have also had the pleasure to be a judge in a regional talent contest.  The participants were all disabled youths between 10 and 18 and the categories were dancing, singing, poetry reading and one piano soloist.    The seven finalists we picked will move on to the national talent contest for disabled youths.  That contest will take place in Lugansk in mid-October.    The photo I attached has 10 year old dancers, performing a waltz.

Gymastics at the picnic
The Saturday afternoon Lugansk English Club is a wonderful example of a sustaining Peace Corps project.  Yesterday, Saturday, Sept. 18 we had 41 attendees.  We had a wonderful discussion on voluntarism and what it means in the US and what it means in Ukraine.    Our English Club had a group picnic and 35 of us hiked out to an older park near the fringe of an old air base, no longer in use.  Soccer, badminton, frisbee, football and "gymnastics"  -- Great fun!

What is also fun is that I have started a Cooking club as a small "offshoot" of the English club".  We have 15 very interested participants and our plan is to cook one Ukrainian dish and one "other country" dish at each session.  Most of group are Ukrainians and their interest is learning what we do with cabbage and potatoes and soup and meats --- Do we have a barbecue?  What do we do when we barbecue?   And of course the few Americans in the group want to know how to make a proper borsht and a proper perogie.  I know we will have fun together.  Right now my small flat is "cooking central" as my small flat is larger than everyone else's!!  Our first cooking adventure will be Friday Oct. 1!  Can't wait.

Bill's salsa in Ukraine
And speaking of cooking, I have had a lot of fun practicing various dishes in the hopes that I could get a cooking club "off the ground" and into a kitchen.  I am very fortunate that my first huge success is fresh salsa.   Fresh tomatoes (помидори) , fresh cilantro (кинза), fresh garlic (чеслок), fresh lime (лаим), green onions (лук зелони) are readily available.  I owe my fresh salsa success to my friend Bill Bauer in San Diego, who is famous for his fresh salsa!

And of course with every success, there is failure.  I have found corn meal in Ukraine,  and while corn meal isn't for tortillas, I thought I had also found corn flour which IS great for corn tortillas.  What I discovered was I had purchase CREAM OF WHEAT FLOUR which does not make tortillas in any way shape or form.  So back to the Russian studies and relearning the words for corn flour.


Caroline meets the larger-than-life Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko

April 5, 2010   Chernigiv, Ukraine...
Chernigiv is  about one hour north of Kiev.  I am living with a host family in a very small, but typical apartment.  There is running water all day and even hot water in the bathroom!!!

I have my own room with a window that opens, so I can get fresh air all day and night.  I am in the Russian language learning sector-..   Supposedly my site (when I am assigned in June will be in the Russian speaking area of Ukraine.)

Vicki and Cheryl- and our study aides
I am assigned to a group with 4 other  volunteers (we are called Cluster 5) and the other four  live "sort-of" near me- we will attend training classes and language classes every day together.  Vicky and Cheryl, my two new best friends, are terrific and we will "keep each other sane" during our three months of training.  We just bought our cell phones...for Ukraine and are now in an Internet cafe.... learning how to work the phones and also contact friends.

My new cell phone number.... which a Ukraine phone... so calling from US or to US will be pricey, but here is the number:
+380 63 6929284

Easter Sunday Blessing
Yesterday was Easter Sunday, a very big deal in Ukraine.  My host family Mother, Tatiana, was making Easter breads all day, and preparing other foods for Easter Sunday and to take to her parent's house.  At 5 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning, we got up and went to the church courtyard with our baskets of Easter foods.  We bought candles and had the Easter flame passed to our candles.  We placed the baskets on our head and the church "patriarch" splashed holy water over everyone!!-  Then after we were suitably blessed and drenched... we walked HOME.... Nothing inside the church and  then... we sat down and ate the blessed foods and then back to bed!!!  I woke up at 8:30 a.m. and ended up walking the neighborhood and then went back into the church just to see what was in the church.  

I just read about the earthquake in Mexico-- Mexicali.  Trust my San Diego Family is well and nothing terrible happened.

Hope all of you had a happy Easter.  

I need all your good thoughts for the Russian language classes -- It's really tough!!!

Lots of love to all of you....and MOM... Happy Birthday.
May 10, 2010  Chernigiv

Hi all,

Host family dacha in Desna, Ukraine

I think the best part (!) of the past week was a visit to my host family's dacha.  Many Ukrainian families have a small farmnhouse (dacha) in the countryside.  My host family mother's family comes from Desna, just about 45 km south of Chernigiv and I was invited to spend a Saturday night at the dacha-- and help work in the garden.  Since I LOVE TO GARDEN, the adventure would promise to be excellent.  

After an hour bus ride to Desna, I arrived at the family Dacha.  The dacha is a very small, probably 200 square feet, house that has one main room, with a small indoor porch/hall.  The indoor porch had a small gas one burner appliance, a counter for "kitchen" prep work and a lace curtain to pull in front of everything to hide "the mess".

Inside the dacha
These little cabins have an internal "pizza" oven of sorts for making bread and roasting foods and additionally to supply heating.  The oven has a chimney and then a pipe that travels across the ceiling and down into another "over area" that has a smaller cooking area.  Supposedly this pipe distributes heat to different rooms.  Behind and above these two "pizza oven areas" the families build a bed in the "loft area above".. My host mom was so proud to give me the loft bed because under the blankets it was so "warm".    Now, if the outside temperature is 36 degrees that would have been super, but this particular weekend, the outside temperature was 80.  The cabin has windows, but they are nailed shut to keep the heat IN as well as the bugs OUT, I guess. (Although the mosquitoes were rampant inside and outside!)   As an older female with night sweats, this was probably  the most uncomfortable night of my life!  There were several mosquitos that I could not kill and all campers recognize the "zzzzzz" noise that happens in your ear as mosquitoes buzz around.  The quilt... that must have weighed 10 pounds kept me protected.  

The ONLY good thing about the whole experience was... I sweated so much I didn't have to go outside to use the "toilet"...  I guess I am beginning to have my own repertoire of  cocktail hour  stories!.

I did enjoy the gardening and the countryside.  Ukraine has unbelievable soil --- black soil, like Illinois, and in the Chernigiv area, lots of water, so the small dachas have glorious produce.  

During my stay in Chernigiv, we ate carrots, cucumbers, potatoes, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, apples, apricots, cherries, raspberries, and strawberries-- even WILD strawberries, from the family dacha.   Terrific!


View from Kiev Botanical Gardens down to Dnipro River

May 20, 2010  Chernigiv


Hello All,
It is wonderful to hear from so many friends.  Thank you, thank you.

It is FULL on spring here  and there are PEONIES and lilacs every where!!

Vicki, Sveta, and Cheryl
This past week, my good friends, Vicki, Cheryl and I went to the Kiev Botanical Gardens; our tour leader was Vicki's host mother, Sveta (who is an economics professor at the local university).  My face book has pictures of the most gorgeous lilacs I have ever seen.  The botanical garden in Kiev is phenomenal and I don't think my pictures do justice to it.  I even found a succulent garden (indoor building) that could be the model for a California drought tolerant back yard.  So many great succulents... and a few really weird ones... 

The oven mitt cactus

I am on the other side of training now. I have my site placement interview tomorrow and  I have no say in where they send me, but.... who knows....

I find Ukrainians like Italians...they LOVE food  ( I just wish the food was as good) , they talk with their hands, they have unbelievable facial gestures- which is another language, they speak VERY FAST and they are very friendly people!  

After the botanical garden trip, on the bus ride back to Chernigiv, I pulled out my homework and the lady next to me was so fascinated, she grabbed my book and FILLED IN ALL THE EXERCISES.... AND HELPED WITH MY PRONUNCIATION.  My seat mate did not speak a word of English.   It was a wonderful 90 minute bus ride   and the people on the bus thought it was great that I had help with my homework!!!


June 15, 2010  KIEV

Hello Everyone,
I am have received my Peace Corps Site Assignment- my new home and my work - for the next two years.  On Thursday, June 17, I am off to the city of Luhansk  (Луганск)-... the administrative center for the region as well as the major city in the region. (480,000 population)  I am assigned to work with the Association of Young Disabled of Eastern Donbass- East Luhansk, a non-profit organization whose mission is to assist young people with disabilities in their professional, medical, social, and artistic rehabilitation. The main goals of the organization are:  to implement new programs of professional, educational upbringing of disabled children at home, to organize events that allow for increase in social level, and organize medical assistance to your with health challenges.  

The groups suggested potential projects:  participate and prepare advocacy events- seminars, trainings and round table discussions, participate and prepare social and cultural events such as festivals and contests, outreach activities in the oblast region; assistance in helping disabled in improving their employment situation; teaching Business English for the staff and clients in the form of English Club, and assistance in web design.

I am not counting all my chickens before they hatch yet, but I was told today I will have my own small house, with all the amenities... water, electricity, gas for cooking.  I am just hoping that the water is INSIDE....and that the plumbing is also inside.  I WILL KNOW ON FRIDAY!!!  Other wise the list of "I wanna" is growing... solar outdoor shower and composting toilet!!!

I am very excited about the opportunity...AND I am welcome to all resources you can share with me about working with people with disabilities of all ages.

Thank you all for the emails and thoughts- I can feel all the good "vibes".


OH... Once I know my housing... visitors are welcome... YOU CAN FLY FROM THE USA TO KIEV and then to LUHANASK....

June 17, 2010
June 17, 2010 - Swearing In Ceremony- Peace Corps Volunteer
Hello Family and Friends,
I am so proud.... I am now a bona fide Peace Corps Volunteer. 
I know my Dad has been with me all the way and he would be so proud, too.

Thank you all for everything you have done to help me make it.  

More updates to come.

A big hug to everyone.

Peace Corps Volunteer - Ukraine

What a good mailing label looks like!!

June 21, 2010
Hello Family and close friends,

Third day at the new office today. Still settling in and going through the check list from the Peace Corps.  I do have my new mailing address:   Russian version on top, English version on the bottom. 

А/Я  № 80
Mail Box # 80
Lugansk, Ukraine  91058

I know many of you have asked about sending mail to me so I am attaching the mailing instructions/guidelines that the Peace Corps has given to us.  Please NOTE that US International Priority mail is the BEST (and only) way to mail.  Also every box, letter, packet etc  MUST be labeled  "for Personal USE ONLY".  The instructions are really very clear.  The  zip code is also REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT!!

NO food of any sort.... SO... if anyone is flying over to visit... I HAVE A LIST!!!

Love to all and I will be sending an update soon on my new "job" in my new "country" in a "new" language. 

Caroline L. Mackenzie
Peace Corps Volunteer - Ukraine
Group 38

First residence in Lugansk - the veranda

June 27, 2010

Hello All/  Добре день!
It's Sunday morning  and I have been in Lugansk one week now.  My assigned site is really something- excellent people and very well connected to the region administration and also other networks in the country!!!  I do have my work cut out for me!!  But ... I signed up for a challenge, right?

I have been to my first meeting with many of the Lugansk city administration department heads- I was introduced to all, TV coverage!  The meeting was to promote hiring the handicapped and getting employers to commit to non-discrimination when hiring.  What I understood (and I had a translator with me) is employers are willing to hire the handicapped, but it is so hard for the handicapped to get to "places of employment " transport" and offices are not modified for the handicapped - "Access". 

My mind is churning with ideas, but I have to practice patience.  I can't help fix transportation and access for the disabled in one month!!   Step by step...I WISH I could enforce the seat belt laws... Seat belts save lives!!! and the people I am working with/for are all victims of car accidents!!

 BUT First -- I must improve my Russian language.!!!

Saturday, another PC volunteer and I went to an English Language Club, which meets every week in the main Lugansk Library.  It was a wonderful two hour session.  About 25 people were there-- lawyers, teachers, students, a salsa dance teacher, accountants, business entrepreneurs, and ALL ages.  We had a wonderful session talking about "society".... Next Saturday, because it will be July 3, we will be talking about "freedom" .  After the two hour club meeting, the tradition is to go to a local restaurant and continue talking in English... and networking.   I am already looking forward to next week's meeting.

I am presently living in a small house, renting a room from a very nice widow- her house is typical-- combined bath/toilet-- NO hot water in the summer.  Toilet does not work properly so we pour water down, BUT I am not complaining as I do not have to go outside to the Outhouse!!!  The washing machine does not work so I do my laundry by hand in the tub.  No complaints for now as it is summer and so clothes dry outside and I am getting my "upper body"  workouts!

The landlady has a nice yard and garden - tomatoes, raspberries, squashes, herbs, lettuce, potatoes, cabbage etc etc.  Ukrainians are avid gardeners as food from the yards keep them in food during the long, cold winters.  We picked sour cherries yesterday... I would have made a pie, but the landlady immediately canned/preserved all of them to use for the winter!!!  Much of what I see here reminds me of my childhood in Door County, Wisconsin.  Soil here is extremely fertile so the bazaars  (our farmers' markets) are just loaded with fresh vegetables.  I am allowed to cook so I make my own salads and fresh vegetables etc.  

I am looking for a small apartment, however, as I would really like to live "independently".    It will be tough as housing here is difficult to find and also expensive (by Ukrainian standards).   The landlady, who is very kind and very nice, has a very large dog which lives in a very large metal kennel outside and the dog is kept on a very large chain.  The landlady locks up the dog if I am to go outside at all.  So... it makes it tough for me to just go in and out.    

Study aids
I am hoping  to go to a Peace Corps focus group meeting in Kiev in September-- Focus group of Peace Corps volunteers across Ukraine who work with people with Special needs.  

Must get back to my studies now.  As I have mentioned before, any information on working with people with special needs will be welcome!!!  My wonderful architect brother and sister-in-law (Bennett and Kathy) have already sent me lots of information on modifications for handicap accessibility!!!  

All the best to everyone and HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!

More to come for sure.


July 2010
Lugansk and my new flat!!!

My building
Hello all,
The Lugansk family just happened to have a small, empty one room apartment.

ON MONDAY, July 5,  I will have my own apartment in the center of the city.  
Location is IDEAL and two blocks from work.

The apartment has just been remodeled so it is very new and very BRIGHT.  
IT's perfect for me.

Please come visit!!  The apartment is small, but I will always have room for friends.

More details to follow, I promise.

Have to get to the church and light more "thank you candles"....

Monday, July 5

My Kitchen
It feels wonderful to finally unpack my suitcases and be settled in a place that I am pretty sure will be home for the next two years.  I am truly fortunate to live smack in the middle of the city... near parks, near work, near all the open air markets, and near the concert hall.  I am sending a few photos of the little studio that I am renting.    I spent the evening cooking, pitting sour cherries for pie, making tomato sauce... the fresh tomatoes in the market are UNBELIEVEABLE!! So much fun!!!  I have to take advantage now and  freeze things, because in winter the "fresh pickings" will be marginal.

Golf ball size hail -- storm on July 5
I am also attaching one photo of the golf ball size HAIL that belted the city on MONDAY.  Storm was very powerful tropical summer storm, and the hail was HUGE and lasted for about 1/2 hour.

Here is a  link,, to my organization's web page.  This link should open to the conference I attended, one week after I arrived in Lugansk, and I was asked to make a brief comment on what the USA does for the People with Special Needs and the right to work.  I gave a brief overview about the A.D.A. and  added a few lines that Bennett gave me about "remuddling" work places!.    There are a few pictures of me and a translation of my little speech.  

My office has arranged for me to have translators for the entire month of July.. AM I LUCKY OR WHAT!!!

Big hug and lots of love to all of you.

OH YES... my first package arrived today.... unopened by customs.  Package was marked "for personal use only"  printed everywhere and it arrived in really good shape.  HOW WONDERFUL IS THAT!

July 15, 201o
Lugansk daily paper...

Hello Family,

Thought I would share a page from today's newspaper... "Lugansk Life".....  It is a report on last week's conference RE: Hiring the Disabled - I had to give a presentation on the ADA. I included Mom in the email list-- but not sure if she does any email at all.

Still hot over here.... bordering 100 degrees!!

Big hug to everyone.


Slavyansky Sanitorium - Work
August 2010

Lugansk and Slavyansky

Work has been busy and interesting.  On August 3,  I gave a presentation on the IDEA Act of 2004... the American education act for the disabled.  The conference attendees were all educators from across Ukraine and also representatives from the United Nations Development council that have given my organization grant funding in the past (and are encouraging my organization to apply for another grant funding opportunity).    Thanks to my daughter, Frances, and my sister-in-law, Jayne, I had LOTS of information for a very good presentation!.

My friends Valery and Roxanne working with
their daughter Ella in the hot springs

Then on August 4, my organization took me to a "sanitorium" where the disabled come every summer for treatment.  My organization also sponsors a weeklong conference at this sanitorium so many disabled Ukrainians sign up to come to the sanitorium for the health treatments as well as the conference.  Work can be really tough!  Specially when it means going swimming at 8:30 in the morning... to beat the 108 degree heat that will come a little later in the day.    

Our week long conference was a real learning experience for me.  The conference center, supposedly for the disabled, did had massages and treatments for the disabled.  But, my disabled friends could not have meals with me because there was no wheelchair ramp to the dining room.  At night, walking the sidewalks in the parks, there were NO sidewalk lights and water pipes crossed the side walks.. making incredible walking hazards even for the ABLED attendees!  Amazing!

After the conference in Slavyansky, my colleagues took me to a very famous monastery about 45 KM from Slavyansky, the  Svyatohirsk Lavra,  near the town of Sviatohirsk.  Originally it was a cave monastery, made inside the white lime rock.  Sviatohirsk means Holy Mountains.  My pictures are below.  The site is absolutely stunning.

Love locks...engaged couples make a vow to be true to each other,
lock the padlock on the bridge and toss away the key.