Tuesday, September 09, 2008

While driving down the road to Liebenau, guided by our trusty (borrowed) Garmin Nuvi GPS, and Linda kept wondering “why do they do so much burning around here?” Often trees are burnt by the numerous grass fires on the road sides. That coupled with the blue vapour trails left by so many older trucks, suggests that Ukraine has a long way to go improve its environmental record.

However, lest we think too smugly of our environmental work in North America, we have found that there are things we can learn from Ukrainians. A lot of what we encourage Canadians to do in terms of good environmental practice is already being done here.

In Ukraine we tend to follow the one-hundred-meter diet, buying most of our vegetables from the lady across the street. We don’t buy a great deal of fruit, as it is given to us from the gardens of staff and friends of the Centre. We suspect that most of our Sunday lunch-time dried fish comes from the nearby Sea of Azov. The meat we buy at the market often comes from local sources. We do have a good German-made washing machine but we use the Ukrainian sun as our dryer. While we do put on quite a few miles visiting nearby communities, any traveling done in Molochansk is on foot. Every year there are more cars on the roads but still the vast majority of Ukrainians in this village use their bicycles. Yesterday we spotted a Ukrainian woman who, by North American standards, would have surely qualified for Seniors’ passes, possibly a disability pension, walk up her driveway using her bike as support. She got on the road, stopped, and Ben said to Linda, “watch this, she is going to get onto that old Soviet-era bicycle—it may be the first she ever owned.” Indeed, with little effort and amazing style and agility, she was up on that bike and pedaled as she had likely been doing all her life. No waste of energy, no problem balancing. Take those two wheels away from her and she would soon have to use four. Later we saw a young girl barely into her school years, slowly pedaling past a young friend who was walking—the next thing we knew her friend took one or two nimble steps and sat herself down, sidesaddle, on the back of the bike. The cyclist never broke stride. Easier than mounting a cable car in San Fran.

However it’s too bad this 8-year-old cyclist won’t cycle as long as the babushka; the locals are catching our bad habits too quickly. Already these strong, sturdy, hole-defying Soviet-era bikes seem to be in the minority as every youngster lusts after the chrome, multi-geared, plastic-laced hot rods named Phantom, Fort, Sport, or Hercules. And the streets whine with the numerous scooters that can carry more than any Smart car. And every year we see more big bikes, even a few choppers with the “Hardly” Davison look.

This week a senior Ministry of Education official from Melitopol reminded us that so many of the trees growing in the Molotchna area can trace their roots back to Johann Cornies. In fact, he proposed that there should be a joint event celebrating the forested parks started in this area by Cornies and continued by young Mennonite men. We will be visiting him shortly.

We have also noticed that the industrial pollution in Molochansk appears to have decreased significantly. Unfortunately this good result came at a cost—the local milk plant, which produced beautiful white milk, also produced incredibly black smoke. Now it produces neither, as it went into receivership 6 weeks ago and took 200 already-scarce jobs from this community.

We keep hearing of tragic cases where people have bought appliances on credit and now find themselves in circumstances where they cannot pay. The interest rate is often well over 20% (sometimes over 30%). The debt keeps growing and now exceeds the value of the appliance. The stores aren’t interested in repossessing. People who should be collecting a pension are now finding themselves seeking work in Russia to pay off this growing monster.

For those of you who expected this email on Sunday, sorry. We were ready to go, however the internet wasn’t.


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