MY FIREPLACE: I'm sitting beside my imaginary fireplace listening to "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" while it snows outside and sipping hot tea spiced with a touch of cognac. Music and memories. Ah, bliss.
BOOKS FOR THE LIBRARY: I have been asking around and so has Kathy Curro and others about mailing books from America to Starobilsk. As Kathy put it, we have a glut of books here, they have none or few in Starobilsk, and it costs an arm and leg to get them to you. Nothing's easy, right? On top of this, Ukrainian customs has lots of rules and regs and they change often.
I put out an SOS to PCVs in Ukraine and responses are coming in. Melissa Ailiff, in southern Lugansk, bless her soul, says she's been collecting books for some time now. "I have over 200," she says with glee! Her goal is 300, and I believe she'll make it.
The cheapest way to send books, says Melissa, is using the United States Postal Service (USPS), the good 'ole US mail, with one of its flat rate international packages. It's about $55-60 for a box up to 30 lbs, she says. It's high, but not over the top. She says some of her fans raise the money for postage, others donate the cost. Address the box to me directly (not the Library at this point): Francine Curro Cary, c/o Flyat, A/R 14, Starobilsk, Luganst Oblast, Starobilsk, Ukraine 92703.
Keep the box to about 25 lbs and write on the box and on the custom slip: USED BOOKS PERSONAL USE NO VALUE. Don't indicate PCV or anything like that. Just use my name.
Maybe my sister can experiment with a box and we'll share what happens. Are you there, sis?
ADDENDUM: PCVers had other ideas: Buy books at www.amazon.com/UK. They ship books to Ukraine all the time. Buying books is an expense, but you don't have to worry about shipping. Derek Horn and others suggested Darien books at http://www.dba.darien.org/. Done! You can count on volunteers to come through! Thanks to all.
FRESH FRUIT: After going to the Library to deliver a get-well card to Iryna, who's been sick with some flu, I stopped at a nearby street vendor selling seasonal fruit and bought apples and tangerines. The vendor was helpful and accommodating, patiently counting things, weighing them, explaining the prices. He got right away that I was from America. I was bundled up like an Eskimo and wearing my bright blue coat, so he might have recognized me from that! I said I was sorry I couldn't speak much Russian, in my broken Russian. He said in Russian, and I understood it, "No problem. I dont speak any English. It's nice to meet Amerikanka!" Another close encounter of the cross-cultural kind that makes the life of a PCV so special!
CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS: A tall Christmas Tree is going up in front of the Cultural Center, one of my favorite buildings. Right now it is just a pole, but I can see where the branches will go. I'll send a photo. Also, I had a late meeting
and saw some Christmas lights downtown.
MEETING FRIENDS: Whle I was walking about town a few days ago, I ran into Anton, my poet friend, and Asya, my English teacher friend. Asya and Anton knew of each other but had never met. I felt doubly blessed: I got to see two great people, and I got to introduce them to each other! They were thrilled to meet in person. It's such a good feeling to help make these kinds of connections. I gave them each a piece of fruit.
GIFTS: I noticed Luba's lipstick and eye shadow were running low, so I decided to get her some new ones. I went to a store that sells L'Oreal, very nice. It's amazing how such a little thing can mean so much. She had tears in her eyes, thanking me for my kindness. It helps bridge that god-awful language barrier that keeps us from chatting like the good friends we are. I felt I received more in return than what I gave.
CHRISTMAS IN ISTANBUL: It's final. I will be in Istanbul for Christmas! PCV friend Jud and I were commiserating about not being home, feeling sorry for ourselves, when Jud blurted out, "Let's go to Istanbul." Well, guess what; after thinking about it for a few weeks, we made reservations on Air Turkey and will be meeting in Istanbul. A few other PCV friends might join us. We'll be staying in the Antique Hostel in Sultanahmet, Istanbul, near the Blue Mosque, Ayasofya, Topkapi Palace, St. Savior in Chora, the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, and the Grand Bazaar. It won't be a white Christmas, but it will be a colorful Christmas!