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?