Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ukraine Day 1

Day 1 – 5/24/09

We arrived in Kiev around 10:30 am, 8 hours ahead of the time at my house in Nebraska. The trip was fairly comfortable and not nearly as long as I expected it to be. I have no idea why I thought I would need a battery pack to extend the life of my ipod. The group spent a good portion of the time talking, and we tried to spend another good portion asleep. That wasn’t always successful. One of the strangest things to me was seeing the sun set, and then rise again only a few hours later.

As soon as we landed and made it through customs, we hit the ground running. There was a bus waiting at the airport to take us to the YWAM base, which was a boat on the river. We met some of the folks who would be with us and learned a little bit about what we were doing and about the kids we were helping. The statistics that stuck out in my mind the most was that 10% of the students from the orphanage will commit suicide before the age of 18. 60% of the girls who graduate from this orphanage will be victims of human trafficking and 70% of boys will enter a life of crime. Graduation is in a month.

After training we jumped back on the bus and drove to the actual orphanage. Though we were all told the best way to beat jet lag was not to sleep, most of us couldn’t help ourselves and slept the rest of the trip in the bus. Soon we were at the orphanage and loaded into our rooms. The beds are small, about ¾ the size of a twin bed, maybe smaller, but are comfortable enough to sleep well in. Though we were all tired, it was not yet time to sleep.

We met several kids right away, and Stephen McGee, a photojournalist traveling with us who has an amazing gift of getting to know just about anyone in 5 seconds flat, took to playing soccer with the kids while the rest of us toured the facility. In the coffee shop (the size of a large bedroom with a bar and a coffee machine and some tables) I met a boy, I’m guessing around 16 or 17 years old, taking music lessons and who asked if any of us played guitar. I told him I did and he asked me to teach him. I told him through a translator that I would try after his music lesson was done.

After the tour we went back to our rooms to relax a little, but it wasn’t long lived. Helmut, a German carpenter that is working with us, was already building a platform that was to be used to paint the ceiling in one of the rooms. It was more than a one-man job so I took to swinging a hammer. We finished in about 30 minutes and the boy who I was going to give guitar lessons too was already at the door so I grabbed the guitar and we went back to the coffee shop. Trying to teach someone guitar is difficult in the first place. Trying to teach someone who spoke no English was even more so, but he was motivated and quickly learned the G, C and D chords.

Quickly it was time for dinner so we headed down to the cafeteria and ate our first Ukrainian meal at the orphanage. It consisted of half a tomato, some sort of rice, bread, hot tea and a type of pastry that was round and had sour cream on top. The orphans ate their meal in less than 5 minutes and were out the door. It took us a little longer, and as soon as I was done, the boy was ready to play more guitar. We worked at it a little more in the coffee shop and then he wanted to move outside so that everyone else could here. We sat on the steps of the orphanage and drew in a few more of the boys who wanted to hear “System of a Down,” “50 Cent” and “Eminem.” Unfortunately I didn’t know any of this music so I played them some Pilot for Kite stuff and they seemed to like it. One of the leaders, and older woman here at the orphanage, brought out a blanket and ushered us to a bench area by an outdoor ping pong table where kids were playing. This caused several more kids to it and listen as I quickly ran out of songs to play. Luckily Danny, the singer for a band called National Product, came down and took over the performance.

You get many different reactions from the kids. Most of the girls look at you as if they’re trying to figure you out and are highly suspicious. The leaders say the girls are the hardest to get to know. Ukrainian girls are very girly, even more so than American girls. They rarely play sports or lift heavy objects, so when American girls are here to help and are playing sports and lifting 2x4s the boys are very intrigued.

The boys are easier to get to know aside from being normal teenage boys. Though you don’t speak their language, you understand that some of them are making fun of you, but it really isn’t that bothersome when you can’t understand them. The leaders said this was normal and that pretty soon they’ll be your friend and won’t want to leave your side.

As of right now, Ukraine is not what I expected. Though there are definitely differences from the US, there have been many times I’ve caught myself feeling as if I were just in Lincoln or some other town in the US. Visually, it’s much the same. There are buildings, green trees and cars that have the steering wheels on the same side as they are in the US. The people, though usually very much Russian looking, are just everyday people like you and me. Until they speak, it feels like any other town in the US. This may be due to the fact we are isolated at bit at the orphanage. I’m sure we’ll be making some trips into town in the near future, and that should usher in a bit more of a culture shock.

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