An American Thanksgiving in Ukraine

This year on Thanksgiving, I found myself teaching all my lessons and hardly even noticing that it was indeed Thanksgiving Day until my parents called to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving. This time last year I was still in training, and in honor of Thanksgiving my cluster mates and I made pizza, chicken curry, and lots of dessert in order to have a little celebration after class. I think last year I was more saddened by the idea of missing Thanksgiving; this year it was just a fact of life. It also helps knowing I’ll be home for the next major holiday—Christmas! That makes missing Thanksgiving much more bearable 🙂

I still wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving in some way, so Friday after classes I traveled across the oblast (region) to my friend Tammela’s house, where she, Michelle, and I prepared something yummy to take to a Peace Corps Thanksgiving Gathering we were attending in Dolina the next day. Michelle had found the recipes, and bought the required ingredients (she even found REAL Philadelphia Cream Cheese, because she lives in a big city!) and after eating a tasty dinner that Tam cooked for us, we started the baking process. Our first recipe was No Bake Cookies, with peanut butter, chocolate, oats, and other tasty things. The plan was to melt it all together on the stove, and then spoon it into cookie shapes on wax paper. The recipe was pretty easy, and in no time at all Tam and I were spooning the goopy mixture into cookies. Here’s a picture of our efforts:

The next recipe was for Oreo Truffles, and was incredibly simple—crush oreos and combine with Philadelphia Cream Cheese, then roll into little balls, and drop into a pot of hot melted chocolate. Extract the chocolate covered ball, and dust it with crushed oreos. Voila—Oreo Truffles! The recipe was easy, but the only problem was getting our chocolate to melt. We couldn’t find baking chocolate, so we just broke up chocolate bars and put them in a pot and let them melt. Unfortunately, the chocolate began to solidify soon after it melted, so we added milk and butter like crazy trying to keep the chocolate in a liquid consistency. It was hilarious, and in the end the truffles were a little deformed but still tasted heavenly. They were definitely my favorite, I can’t wait to try this recipe again! Here’s a funny picture of Michelle and Tammela, after our truffles were finished:

The next morning we woke up early, so we’d have enough time to get to Dolina in time for the Thanksgiving Feast at 3pm. Upon waking, we discovered that the No Bake Cookies had never solidified, and were still just goopy blobs sitting on the baking paper. We decided to spoon all the goop into a jar and serve it as Peanut Butter Chocolate Pudding at Thanksgiving. So with our desserts packed, we hit in the road.

We made it to Dolina in plenty of time, and walked to the museum where our feast was to be held. There are three volunteers in Dolina, and a fourth living in a nearby village, so Dolina was an ideal meeting place. Two of the volunteers in Dolina, Jim and Robin, are an older married couple who joined Peace Corps after retirement and serve as Community Development volunteers. They’ve written many grants and raised tons of money for their community, and their work site is at this museum in Dolina where they hosted our Thanksgiving Feast. They invited almost 20 volunteers to the celebration, and Robin even ordered real turkeys from L’viv. She was in charge of cooking turkey and gravy, while other volunteers contributed dishes such as mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, macaroni, carrot salad, and other tasty things. We had quite the lineup for our feast!

Thanksgiving Dinner

Michelle, Tam, and I contributed our desserts, which we referred to as “goop and balls.” The goop didn’t last long, because someone set it out next to the appetizers and it became a dipping sauce for the vegetable appetizers. The balls (truffles) made it to the dessert table, and they were a big hit. I think they tied for best dessert with the pumpkin pie, but the pumpkin pie had an unfair advantage because its a traditional Thanksgiving dish. Plus Shaun (the volunteer who made the pumpkin pie) made it from scratch—I mean, scooping the guts out of the pumpkin, boiling the pumpkin to a puree, and then baking a pie from nothing. Pretty impressive, and definitely one of the tastiest pumpkin pies I’ve ever tried! All in all, I was incredibly impressed with how great the food was, and how enjoyable the company was. I really loved the time spent with these volunteers, and I can honestly say that this was the most enjoyable holiday I’ve celebrated in Ukraine 🙂

After feasting, we continued observing the Thanksgiving traditions by watching clips of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and parts of an AMERICAN football game! (They have football here in Ukraine, but its what we Americans think of as soccer. So it was great watching the real deal!) The museum had a projector, so we used it to project things up on a huge wall in the dining area. Somebody even remembered to bring Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving, so we watched that too. It was pretty much the most American Thanksgiving Ukraine has ever seen 🙂 I’m glad I was part of it, it was definitely worth riding buses all weekend to get there and back home to Sokyriany when it was over!

The only sad note was bidding farewell to Sean, a volunteer who just finished his two years and is leaving Ukraine next week. Robin and Jim had a farewell toast for him, complete with Ukrainian vodka, and all of us were sad to see him go. He’s a great guy, and he will be missed. Goodbye Sean!


An Appropriately Timed Article of Wisdom

If you have five minutes, I would strongly recommend reading this article. Especially if you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer; if you’re a PCV, this article should be required reading. Check it out.

The Huffington Post: What the Peace Corps Taught Me About Failure

The author served as Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, and honestly shares about the failures of her service, and how her best efforts were sometimes fruitless. The article gave me a new perspective of Peace Corps, which was something I really needed. Lately I’ve been feeling like my presence here isn’t changing anything, and questioning what exactly Peace Corps achieves, in a quantifiable sense. The whole point of the article is that failure is part of Peace Corps service, and how you handle it determines the value of you service.

I want to share with you my favorite part of the article, in case you don’t have a minute to read it: “I survived two years in the Peace Corps. My proudest accomplishment during my time in Senegal, one that can’t be expressed on a résumé, is how much I grew up.” This sentence  really hit home for me; just substitute the word “Ukraine” for the word “Senegal,” and you have my feelings exactly!

So maybe I’m overestimating what needs to happen for Peace Corps to be a worthwhile endeavor. Even if I never get my grant finished or funded, or never feel like my students are learning anything from me (English or otherwise), I’ve still made some lifelong friends and grown up a lot. Before Peace Corps, I was pretty much a spoiled child. I joined Peace Corps for the challenge and for the possibilities, and even if I fail here on a daily basis, I’m learning how to persevere, adapt, and survive on my own. Every day teaches me that I have enough strength to keep trying, and after a year in Ukraine I can definitely say that I’ve grown into a self-reliant woman. Its not self-confidence, but more like self-belief. I would’ve never known I had this inner strength if I wasn’t serving in Ukraine, and having to dig deep for the will and motivation to continue on in my work here when all I can think about is how easier life would be at home.

So I guess in the grand scheme of things, growing up and into the person I can be must count for something in the tally of Peace Corp’s worth in my life. And I still have a year left here— that’s plenty of time to change some of these failures into successes 🙂

And in closing, some wonderful words of wisdom from Iain Thomas:

“If nothing else, one day you can look someone straight in the eyes and say,“But I lived through it. And it made me who I am today.”