What a long strange trip

We're sitting in the hostel after a little Italian food (our first in a LONG time) and reflecting on the day we've just had.

To catch you up...  After 2 legs of a 3-legged trip we have been through 3 things that I've never seen first-hand in my years of airline travel.

When we arrived in Simferopol the flight to Kiev was delayed by 1 and then later 2 hours.  This isn't that weird but we later learned that the delay was due to Aerosvit's employees striking.  Sergey told me that he actually saw the striking pilots drinking beer outside the airport while he waited for us at the Kiev airport.  Our 12:15PM flight left the airport at 6PM but not before Cam had puked in the camp car.

We spent a day in Kiev with Sergey on Tuesday which was nice but not quite as productive as we had hoped it could be.

We got up this morning (Wednesday) at 2AM to make our 5:30AM flight.  We got to the terminal on time and proceeded to the check-in line where we waited and waited and waited.  After the line not moving for 15 minutes I realized that the desks (for the second time in 48 hours) wasn't working at all.  The rumors were that the computers were broken.  Eventually the line started creeping - about the time our flight was supposed to leave - and we were issued a hand-written boarding pass!  It turns out Lufthansa's entire global check-in network had crashed.

After waiting for the rest of the passengers to get their passes and get on the plane we headed out... maybe only 2 hours late at this point.  At this point I thought we were home free - as good as in Frankfurt.  As we were getting up in the air an old guy went back to the toilet and as the stewardess tried to explain that he needed to return to his seat, he collapsed.  They helped him for a while including busting out the defibrillators.  Sooo we turned around and went back to Kiev.

This is getting long...

To sum up, after the sick gentleman was off-loaded and we refueled, we took off again and made it to Frankfurt almost 4 hours late only to find our bags were wandering around the airport.  We found them after 2 more hours and then spent a few hours trying to find Kremena and the right train.

We left our room in Kiev at 2AM and didn't get to our hostel until 3PM... all for a 2.5 hour flight.  Cam is not amused.


I already miss...

... the joys of a hundred orphans running around camp.
... the peacefulness and tranquility of a camp all to ourselves.
... seeing Campbell ride his bike around, "working on camp", and being independent.
... conversations with Tanya.
... hearing Andrey laugh at his own jokes.
... watching Campbell and Andrey yell at each other across camp in Russian.
... Luda's borsch.
... shashlik and banya at Sergey and Rita's.
... watching the guards break a smile as Campbell comes to hang out.
... lil' Sergey and Misha coming over to our internet cafe.
... our humble little home, where our guests sit on our bed to watch football games.
... hearing Russian.
... ears being blown out when I start the car after Jenya's been driving.
... that great feeling of when the lights and water come back on.
... working on the camp... or just hanging out with Matt while he does the work.
... the sea.
... sitting on the porch looking at the trees and feeling the peace of God when life doesn't make sense.
... being a part of programs that change people's lives.

2 hours before we leave. I was wrong Tanya... it's not like when I said goodbye before coming to Ukraine the first time... it's worse. We love each and everyone of you here in Ukraine. You are our family.


End of an Era

As we face down our return to Colorado from Ukraine I find myself already getting a bit nostalgic for our time here.  Not to say that I'm not excited to be back at home but I'll miss Kerch.  I was looking through some recent pictures and ventured upon a few older ones that I don't think I ever got around to posting.  Here's a few....

I found this Soviet-era painting in the back of a storage last year and was told to throw it out/burn it.  It was probably about 7 feet tall by about 10 feet long so I cut the canvass off the frame so that it might be stored somewhere less vulnerable.  It was done with the best intentions but we eventually used the back side to make a huge sign.

There was a time when it was not uncommon for me to work security - even the all-night shift.  Really nights were a better fit for me because it involved less need to talk to visitors.  One night Sergey stayed with me and he took this picture.  It's nowhere close to this light in reality (as shown by how our feeble lighting system look like spotlights) but I like the effect.

It kind of captures the way your head feels about 4 am on a winter morning before the dawn comes.  Also somewhat post-apocalyptic.

Here's some of our recent visit to the 300 year old Turkish fortress of Yenikale with Judith.  She took all of these pictures.

She stitched this one together and I like that it shows a lot more of this side than any of the pictures I've taken.

This was us walking back after a more staged photo op sitting on the arch but it worked better as a casual shot.

I think this may be my favorite.  As we walked the top the fortress wall into a massive headwind, Cam felt like a bird on my shoulders - closing his eyes and flapping away like he was heading to Russia.


Yeah, that'll help the economy....

I just caught on NPR (if your a blogger you should either read or listen to NPR cause it makes you seem so erudite when you quote it) that the FCC is proposing to impose 'Net Neutrality' upon service providers.  ISP's wouldn't be able to restrict high bandwidth uses such as streaming TV shows in favor of other (read, more productive) uses.  The rationale is that large telecom companies might have a vested interest in restricting content that they provide through other sources (ie. cable TV) - which I am perfectly ok with.

So in this time when the economy needs a boost, the FCC feels that this is the point to intrude upon publicly traded, successful, large scale employers, forcing them to act against their own self-interests so that the 10% of the nation which is unemployed can stream "The Bachelor" from their couch.  Nothing motivates folks like unlimited viewing of mind-rotting television.


Best and worst ideas of the day - Dan Carlin and Blog2Print

This began as a 100% positive post, extolling the virtues of a newly discovered addiction but just came across a product on the other side of the spectrum. First the addiction...

Some of you know or have gathered from early posts that I am an avid listener to podcasts. I used to listen to political talk radio all day long until I discovered World Soccer Daily, a 2-hour daily satellite radio show that I subscribed on iTunes (thanks Slick). This and other footy podcasts were fantastic for making menial jobs or long drives go by quickly. Recently WSD went off the air and I was stuck with lots of time and nothing to podcast. Then I stumbled upon a show by a guy named Dan Carlin called Hardcore History.

I love history. I have a degree in history and was turned off to continued study not by the difficulty of further degrees but by the idiotic simplicity of the BA that I received. I have often been told that I explain historical events in a way that makes it interesting and understandable for people who previously had no interest in the topic. If I am 1/10 as interesting to other people as Dan Carlin is to me, I may have to reconsider going into teaching. This guy is fascinating.

I downloaded my first of his podcasts (1st in a series about the eastern front in WWII) on Thursday at lunch and I have already finished that series and another about the Punic Wars. That's over 7 hours of content consumed in less than 36 hours of life. My appetite for footy news was never that voracious. If you sometimes hear something on the news and wonder "What's the back-story to that?" or just feel embarrassed that you don't know much about the world, go to Hardcore History on iTunes and pick a show that looks interesting.

Now the bad...

On Blogger they have a site called Blogger Buzz that talks about new features and related content. Recently they talked about a service called Blog2Print which may the worst use of technological creativity I have ever come across. Basically it gives you the ability to take your blog and turn it into a printed, bound book. How pompous is that?!? If your skills are up to it write an actual manuscript and get published. If not, just keep it online (everyone is trying to go paperless anyway, right?).

It's not that I can't see a possible value to the service (ie. printing the daily entries during the process of having a child or some other important on-going event) but when I catch this update after having perused my blog and others which are equally silly and amateurish, I can't help but laugh.

Update: I found a new bad that's worse than Blog2Print. With Safari, the new Blogger publisher doesn't allow you to paste content into the pop-up windows. That means that you need to manual enter those huge URLs or HTML codes into this blank. Not gonna happen. This post has links but you must view the actual blog page (not aggregator) in order to see them. Sorry.


Rejection will come

Today we had a visitor to camp named Artem.  He's 5 years old but roughly the same size as Cam.  Since he came expecting to have a playmate here, we decided to let Cam skip his nap (something he didn't seem likely to do anyway) and play with Artem this afternoon.

They appeared to enjoy it for a while but eventually they came to an impasse.  Cam wanted to play with cars; Artem wanted to ride bikes.  We advised Cam to invite his new friend (who he still only knew as 'Kid') into the house to play with his cars and tracks.  Unfortunately, he either couldn't convey this invitation or Artem wasn't interested because we soon heard Cam's furtive cries from outside.  He had been rejected...

Sarry and I debated whether he is mature enough to yet feel that rejection or if he was just tired and angry that he didn't get his way.  Whichever it is, his dirty, tear streaked face gave a preview of the day when he will be rejected and will unquestionably understand that someone doesn't want him, value him, love him....

I'm dreading that day but for now all we can do is impress upon him in no uncertain terms that he is wanted, valued and loved - regardless of what this fallen world and its inhabitants tell him.


The waiting game... The Champions League and ACORN

As far as I can tell sometime in the next hour or two (I'm still not so good with working with differences in time zones that aren't CO, the UK or here) 2 interesting things are going down.

At 9:45pm (my time) the first set of Champion's League group stage games kicks off.  I was offered a chance to go with Jenya to the Dynamo Kiev v. Rubin Kazan game tomorrow night in Kiev but our financial situation means that the trip would have been pretty irresponsible.

Secondly, reports are flying around the web that sometime soon there will be yet another ACORN video released that is even more damning than the 3 hooker/pimp/underage brothel videos that have hit this week. I can't say that I place as much importance on the ACORN troubles as many other political folks, but holy Moses (Cam's watching Prince of Egypt right now and I couldn't resist the reference) it's a awfully weird story to follow.

To be honest, I am much more excited about the CL but they probably won't be televised so I gotta entertain myself where I can.


Worst tasks at HopeCenter: a comparative study

I always thought the worst job at HopeCenter was sewer duty (haha, duty...) but today I have been exposed to one that might leap frog it in the standings.  Remember as you read this that I have been blessed - by way of a croquet mallet to the face in my youth - with a very bad sense of smell  so when I refer to stench, it is much worse than you might imagine.

I'll give you the breakdown and you can make the call....

Sewer duty:
Currently the camp has exactly 8 people here consistently.  That doesn't significantly tax our waste disposal system as long as no one flushes toilet paper (especially when some percentage of those utilize the trees as outdoor urinals).  On the other hand, during the summer there are as many as 150 folks here.

Occasionally it becomes necessary to clear out the sewers in order for them to function at peak efficiency - following the proverbial logic of poo flowing downhill.  Around camp there are several dozen manholes for the sewers which all have at least an in-coming and out-going path that runs through them.  When it gets clogged up someone has to climb in and dig out the gunk.  Since what passes through is mostly bio-waste, it decomposes into a black sludge.  The smell is... unpleasant to say the least.

Aside from the smell, the worst part is the headaches.  I think the decomposition releases methane; not the gas on which human respiratory system is designed to function.  On several occasions I've honestly thought I might pass out from what I assume is oxygen deficiency.

Meat room refrigerator cleaning:
This was a new one for me... and I think Yuri too.  Basically, the big fridge in our kitchen's meat room is where the once-frozen raw meat is stored temporarily prior to being turned into goulash or whatever.  A smell had begun to develop so today we endevoured to clean it out.  Apparently, over the past few months the process has been allowing blood and juices (mostly pork) to leak down into the frame at the base - a fact that unknown to us when we started.

Upon pulling the first screw a geyser of a black sludge (there seems to be a pattern developing here) came shooting out, accompanied by an odor that made the aforementioned sewage smell like sugar cookies by comparison.  It oozed, I cleaned, it oozed again, I cleaned up again, I flushed it out and cleaned up again.  By this time the whole end of the building was absolutely rank and I was covered in it up to my elbows.

As I type this, I can still smell it on my hands after washing with (in this order):

  • hand soap
  • industrial hand cleaner
  • dish soap
  • diesel fuel
  • concrete water (lye and sand - for exfoliation)
  • hand cleaner again
  • body wash
  • face wash

All that and it's still there.  If you can smell something over diesel fuel it's quite a smell.  I still don't know if the fridge will ever be useable again.

I debated posting about it but in the end decided that since it has dominated my day (due to the constant odor reminder) I would write it up.  I have tried not to be gratuitously disgusting and I assure you the actually experience was worse than I've conveyed.

What do you think?  Shoveling decaying sewage vs. cleaning rotting pig blood - which is worse?


Mowing the lawn and test post

I'm taking advantage of these pictures Sarry took today to test the new post editing features on Blogger.  This will be wildly exciting for you readers who will see exactly zero difference from the old format.  Enjoy...

Where were you....?

I read a lot of blogs.  I mean, a whole lot.  I suppose it's my connection to the US and method of following current events, my hobbies and my interests (I'm pretty sure I'll keep reading them when we get back to CO next month).

This gives me exposure to a variety of writing styles and voices.  Today is obviously 8 years on from the horror of 9/11 and there's tons of posts about the subject.  As I read a few I realized that there must be a point in the growth of a blog when you can ask honest questions about the lives of your readership without seeming ridiculously pompous - something akin to referring to yourself in the 3rd person.

"Where were you on 9/11?"
"Sitting next to you.... and why didn't you just ask me?"

Oh well, either way I'm nowhere close to that point.  Although, if you have a pressing need to answer the question I wasn't pompous self-confident enough to ask....


Clean and Sober

At dinner tonight I realized that today is the 10th anniversary of me going clean and sober.

Labor Day, 1999.

I was sitting on a boat in the middle of Lake Havasu observing the general shenanigans (very little of it legal) that go on at Havasu or any one of a dozen beach towns during spring break. I was partaking of several substances which have been shown scientifically not to improve brain function...

God opened my eyes in a very literal way. I can only describe it as the feeling of opening your eyes after receiving a concussion - everything's weird, bright and somehow brand new as though you have never seen it before. My immediate reaction was of revulsion - followed quickly by pity....

  • Why did those guys not feel like they could face the real world without being stumbling drunk?
  • What pain must that girl have suffered that she feels the need to prostitute herself for the sake of attention?
  • Where is my life going, sitting here smoking and drinking my mind into numbness?

I tossed out what I was doing and that was the end of my substance abuse. It wasn't through my strength of character, my insight or my will power. It was literally a miraculous moment.

It's been the defining event to which most of who I am now can be traced. My marriage, my family, finishing college, coming to Ukraine - it all stemmed from that semi-road to Damascus moment on a boat on a river....

I can't believe it's been 10 years already.


Last Camp newsletter

If you have a blog reader you will probably have already been alerted that I have posted on this but upon review I scrapped that post and decided to use Apture to link to the original document. So when you click ... HERE... you should be able to read the PDF version of the newsletter just as it would be emailed to people. I don't know why I didn't think of this before....

As a matter of fact, I think I will link to all the summer's newsletters....

When you click the link above it should show you Camp 4's letter but listed across the bottom should also be those for Camps 1,2 and 3 in order. Let me know if that doesn't work.