Wednesday, August 29, 2007


For those of you who have children, especially boys, you know how hard it can be for them to get along. Long car rides can be a nightmare and don’t even get me started about 25 hour long train rides. The Bible is filled with stories of brothers treating each other horribly, Cain and Able, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. So it is a cherished moment when we as parents can sit back and watch our children not only getting along, but actually working together to achieve a common goal.

Joshua and Dominic working together

Dominic stopped laughing at Joshua collecting scrap metal when he realized that Joshua was walking away with money in his pocket simply by picking up what others have discarded. Now the boys are working together to locate and retrieve scrap metal together. They have actually found pieces so big that it took both of them to carry it. They split the money and so far haven’t had any arguments about it. I was so impressed with their business skills (Dominic is keeping a log on the computer of how much money they make, for tax purposes I think) that I went along with them to help out. I freed up some large pieces that were under some rocks and concrete and helped them get it to the scale. The man and woman who buy the metal are a very nice couple. They get a kick out of the two American boys who sell them scrap metal. They are impressed by Dominic’s and Joshua’s determination to hunt down scrap metal so they can buy ice cream and chips at the store.

The scrap metal man laughing as he weighs the boys' scrap metal

As we were leaving the scrap metal place, an older boy walked up to Joshua and asked him for three Hryvna. I asked Joshua why this kid was asking him for money. Joshua replied, “Well, do you remember that place where there was scrap metal, but you said I wasn’t allowed to climb the fence and go over there? Well, this kid was really nice and for three Hryvna he picked up all the scrap metal and threw it over the fence for me.” Well at least he didn’t go where I told him not to.

Dominic is thinking about buying a small scale of his own because some of the other kids have expressed an interest in selling him scrap metal. He reasoned that if the other kids bring him scrap metal and he buys it at 25 kopeks per kilogram, then he can sell it for 50 kopeks per kilogram without having to do any of the work of finding and collecting it. I almost signed off on this little business venture but decided that storing scrap metal in our apartment might not be such a good idea, not to mention the steady stream of kids knocking at our door. I can’t complain though. Dominic is trying to find ways to be self sufficient, at least when it comes to extra spending money.

The boys sold more than their combined weight in scrap metal today, but before you think about getting into the scrap metal business here in Ukraine, you should know that they made a whopping $5.40. That works out to be about 4 ¼ cents a pound, but the average ice cream cone costs about 12 cents. So who cares, right? All I know is that our boys are working together and aren’t fighting over who made faces at who.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.” Ecclesiastes 4:9

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Politics in Ukraine

Elections are scheduled to take place on September 30th so everywhere you look there are pictures of the three most prominent political figures. I can't even begin to try and explain it all so I have listed some recent links that explain their positions.

As foreigners, we try not take sides when it comes to politics, but I think you can guess where Danny stands. (Danny, you knew this photo would eventually surface.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Independence Day

Joshua and Anya sporting their Ukrainian colors

We celebrated Ukrainian Independence Day (16 years) today by going to the amusement park in the center of the city. We took a neighbor girl named Anya with us and let her talk us into riding some pretty scary rides. The first ride looked tame enough, but Joshua and Dominic wisely decided to sit it out. When the ride that I thought looked like a kiddy ride began to violently fling us up in the air and side to side, I remembered something. The emphasis here is on fun, not safety. As I clung to the thin bar across my lap that was supposed to keep me from being flung to the concrete below, I realized how much fun I was having. Unfortunately I got carried away with the moment and let Anya talk me into going on "Storm". The ride took us high up into the air suspended by chains and various cables and then dropped us, not once but twice. Thanks Anya.

Me and Anya on Storm

Joshua and Dominic thinking I was crazy for listening to Anya

We went on a few more rides, but I stayed away from the ones Anya recommended. I talked Edna into riding on the giant Ferris Wheel. She regretted that. As she put it, she has an irrational fear of heights. After peeling Edna's hands free from the metal on her seat, we watched some of the youth that were singing and performing in the middle of the park. We stayed at the park until the heat and humidity wore us out. We're looking forward to all the fireworks tonight.

Joshua and Edna on a little coaster

Anya and Joshua on the spinning swings (Edna and I were on there too)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bila Tserkva

"I love Bila Tserkva"

Many people have asked us about the city we live in, Bila Tserkva. We thought that it was time to share a little about where we live as our city celebrates its 975th anniversary and Ukrainian Independence Day tomorrow. Bila Tserkva is located about 80 km (about 50 miles) south of the capital city of Kyiv, about an hour by car. Since Ukraine became an independent nation (Ukraine declared its independence on August 24th 1991) and is no longer part of the former Soviet Union (most of Ukraine officially became part of the U.S.S.R. in 1922), the cities have all reverted to their Ukrainian names. Kiev became Kyiv, Belya Tserkov became Bila Tserkva, and so on. The official language is Ukrainian. Schools are taught in Ukrainian and everything is written in Ukrainian, but about 25% of the people in Bila Tserkva speak or prefer to speak Russian. As you go east of here, more people speak Russian and west of here, more people speak Ukrainian. Most people speak both or a mixture of the two. It can be a bit confusing at times.

The city was founded in 1032 and called Yuriev by Yaroslav the Wise, whose Christian name was Yuri. The present name of the city, literally translated, is "White Church" and may refer to the white-painted cathedral of medieval Yuriev that no longer exists. The story we have heard is that the city was attacked and everything was destroyed except for the white church. Since that time it has been referred to as Bila Tserkva.

Since 1363 it belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and since 1569 to the Crown of the Polish Kingdom. A peace treaty between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Ukrainian Cossack rebels under Bohdan Khmelnytsky was signed here in 1651.

After the Third Partition of Poland in 1795 Bila Tserkva came into Imperial Russia. It was a significant market place in the 19th century. During the Soviet times it became a large industrial center (machine building and construction industry). The city was occupied by the Germans during WW II and saw heavy fighting when it was liberated by the Soviet Army in 1944. Bila Tserkva suffered from the German’s “scorched earth policy” as they retreated.

Today Bila Tserkva is a city of approximately 215,000 people according to the last census in 1998. The river Ros runs through the city and along the city’s largest park, Oleksandria. The city has large open air markets scattered across it where you can find just about anything. We prefer to do our shopping this way. You get the freshest foods fresh from the farms there. Large Soviet style apartment buildings dominate the city skyline, but they are in sharp contrast to the small village like communities that are sometimes just across the street. Mud and wood constructed homes without running water can often be seen standing in the shadow of modern buildings and businesses. Cows and goats grazing along parkways within the city are a normal sight. The line between city and village is sometimes a blur.

Ukraine has a long history of changing borders and being invaded by foreigners. Its rich fertile land has long been recognized as one of the most desirable places for agricultural production. People have told us that the Germans shipped the rich soil back to Germany by train while they occupied Ukraine. Our favorite joke is about an old man living in a village in Transcarpathia. When asked about his life he said, “I was born in Austro-Hungary, went to school in Czechoslovakia, served in the Hungarian army and then went to prison in the Soviet Union. Now I live in independent Ukraine!” “Oh you must have traveled and seen a lot!” “Oh, no, I have never left my village!”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Scrap Metal is Money

Joshua leaving after completing his transaction (you can see the scrap metal lady in the top of the photo)

We questioned Joshua one day as to how he had money to buy ice cream from the store next door. He explained that he saw some metal laying in the road one day and decided to sell it to the scrap metal dealer across the street. He said it was easy. You just ring the buzzer, the lady comes out, weighs your metal, and gives you your money. He has reasoned (and we can't come up with a good argument against it) that selling discarded scrap metal is a good honest way to make extra money. People will often discard metal by just leaving it by the side of the building or throwing it out in the street. We've decided to let Joshua continue his entrepreneurial practices as long as we can monitor his transactions. We were able to snap a few pictures as the deal went down today. We're just glad that Joshua is willing to part with all the "treasures" he finds outside. He's a bit of a junk collector and trader of unique trinkets. I guess he gets that from me. You should see all the cool stuff I traded for in Mongolia. (No Ken, it wasn't a booster charge for an RPG, just the container for one.)

Click here to see video of where Joshua sells his scrap metal

Joshua holding up the earnings from his latest transaction

Friday, August 17, 2007

Day at the River

Maxime, Dominic, Joshua, Edna, and Boris

After almost a month, we finally got our computer working. The only issue we have now is that most of our programs are in Russian. No worries though. We need to learn Russian as well as Ukrainian anyway.

Last week we took Maxime with us down to the river to barbeque shashlyk. We all had a great time including our dog Boris who never leaves our side. The best part was the night before we went to the river. We had invited Maxime to go with us, but we were still waiting to hear back from him. We were sitting in our room when we heard a little voice from outside call up to us. We looked outside and there was Maxime and his mother. We were having a hard time understanding what she was saying so we told them they could come up to our place. We were all shocked at how friendly Vera, Maxime’s mom, was. She came in and hugged each of us and told us how happy she was that we had invited Maxime to go with us. We hope that Maxime will get to hang out with us more often. We all love having him around and he has been helping us with our Ukrainian. Maxime has even picked up a few words of English. The only words he knew when we met him were “jingle bells”, but it came out as “chickum bells”.

Maxime couldn't wait for the shashlyk to be done

Swimming with Boris