All our bags are packed...
Peace Corps rewarded our dedication by taking several steps up from the usual Soviet-era sanatoriums where we typically reside for PC conferences. Our venue – Perlnya Karpat - is in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains and one of the premier ski resorts in the country. During the conference we reviewed all of the many administrative forms necessary to complete our service and transition back to the real world, as well as post-PC medical and employment options. Based on the information provided, we should be arriving home mid-May.
Aside from the administrative sessions, there was ample time after the first day for exploring the region. We went horseback riding during a moderate snowfall, and the evergreen trees were so beautiful all covered in snow. Afterwards, Sandy hurried back for her massage appointment (only $8 for 40 minutes). The Russian-style sauna was put to use by a large group of us one night, including the freezing cold “dunking pool” where you are supposed to cool off before heading back into the sauna. After a bit of trepidation, we both took the plunge and found it refreshing. Perhaps we were just in shock! Other PCVs did quite a bit of skiing and sledding, but we decided against it based on the slushy/rainy conditions of the second half of the week.
In addition to the significantly better living conditions and fun outdoor options, the food was also above and beyond our typical PC conference diet. The restaurant served a variety of Ukrainian and Carpathian-specific specialties, and we enjoyed trying different dishes throughout the week. A favorite was Mamalyga (also called Banush), which is a cornmeal porridge not unlike creamy grits or polenta, served with wild mushroom sauce. In the local bazaar, dried wild mushrooms were definitely the popular item. Our group decided to purchase a large jar of them for each Peace Corps staff member; such delicacies are expensive and hard to find in Kyiv.
We all presented the mushrooms, along with certificates of appreciation to staff for all their hard work over the last two years, at our farewell banquet on the last evening of the conference. Other PCVs contributed songs written over the last two years, a wine tasting presentation, a piñata filled with Ukrainian proverbs, many toasts and other original ideas. The evening was memorable, and we stayed up late dancing to American and Ukrainian songs, talking about the last two years and discussing what the future holds for each of us. Plans range from graduate school to federal employment, first jobs to retirement. We are enjoying the process of determining where we fit into the picture, and it was good to hear the plans of our colleagues for ideas and inspiration.
Love to all at home,
PS – Happy Valentines Day!