Hello Everyone, and Merrry Christmas from Vinnitsa, Ukraine!!!

I’m still alive! Still enjoying Ukraine! And I continue to praise God for this opportunity! I would like to thank all of you for your prayers. God has been with me every step of the way
In the past months, I have worked very hard upgrading the studio, and working on recording projects. Many hours of troubleshooting computers and gear.

I have only managed to fry one component so far, but that led me to find a computer that was plugged into an ungrounded outlet. The studio is now fully functional, and I have been able to record more and troubleshoot less in the last month.

I continue to work with Pasha, the Ukrainian that I talked about in my last letter! The language barrier continues to be a problem, but is less of a problem now, than when I arrived 3 months ago. When we don’t know what the other person is saying, we communicate by acting out the words or explaining a situation where the word might be used. The recording gear manuals and software programs we use are in English, so it is important for Pasha to understand English. He has learned a lot from me already, but there are those times when I need to grab someone to translate for us. I am learning Russian slowly, but mostly stay busy with the studios. This translates into very little time to study Russian.
We have finished Pasha’s album, and had a CD release party for it as well. The CD consists of 2 instrumentals and 6 songs in Russian. He wrote all lyrics and music for the project, and most of the work on the project. When I moved here in September, he had completed most of the recording for the project, and was working on editing the tracks he had recorded. I worked with him on his project, to help him with his project, and also to use it as an educational experience to teach him more about recording. I mixed his project, and then Pasha worked with another Ukrainian to design the cover and duplicate the CD’s. I have put samples of the project up on my Ukraine website. http://www.darrelllehman.com/ukraine/

Pasha’s CD release party consisted of a concert at a local church, and refreshments afterwards… well that is if you can call smoked prune cake refreshing. We thought it tasted more like cigarette butts, but it still had that great prune flavor. Ukrainians love the cake, and apparently serve it a lot, but I haven’t met an American, who has enjoyed that great flavor quite so much. The concert was good. He played the songs on his project, as well as other songs he had written after recording the project. Thre was a pastor that spoke as well, but I can’t tell you what he talked about. The whole service was in Russian, and the only people I understood were Pasha and his wife. For all those who have been involved in a service before, imagine someone telling you what to do. Of course the audience knows they were talking to you, but you haven’t a clue. Well that was me, just looking up front and smiling. At one point the pastor came over and asked me to turn it down. Well I didn’t know what he said at the time, so I just smiled, and reached for the mixer. At other times, I was staring right at the people up front, and they were talking to me, but of course I didn’t know. Overall, it was a very interesting experience.

One week in October, we went to Kiev to look for speakers for our new computer setup. We found only 4 brands of audio gear. Behringer seems to be the most widely used brand due to its inexpensive price. The only reason I mention this, is that all recording gear sells for a whole lot more than in the US. We bought a pair of Yamaha speakers for than list price, at least a 150 more than we could have found them for in the US. This definitely makes recording gear very expensive for any Ukrainian to buy. Well, enough about recording, now for the rest of my life.
For all those curious snow lovers, we had our first snow on October 23. However, we have had very little since that snow. I never thought I would come to the snowy country of Ukraine and get less snow to date than the East Coast of the US. I am very anxious for the big snow that everyone says should be here. However, it has been nice not to have all the power outages they also promised came with the snow. It gets dark about 4 PM here, which is about half way through my day.

People ask me a lot if I like Ukraine. It is great here! I enjoy living here, and the culture is very interesting, but I do miss a lot of stuff about the US. As a family we stay mostly in the house, or run out for short trips. So I end up being restless to get out. The food is definitely different than in the U.S. The amount of food isn’t a problem, but the limited variety of food, has me missing the US sometimes. We don’t drink the city water, so we go through many jugs of water and cases of Coke. I enjoy most of the Ukrainian dishes that are made in our house, but they have mostly been altered from the original recipe. I have heard the comment many times, that Ukrainians don’t really cook a variety of foods. For instance, they have pumpkins around here, but they have never heard of pumpkin pie. Instead, they use pumpkins to feed their pigs. Every little store sells bread. However, the bread doesn’t come packaged in bags like in the US. It just sits out on the stands all day, as whole loaves. I often wonder when I put a piece of bread in my mouth, how many hands have touched what I am about to eat. Speaking of food, I put up pictures on my site, of the meat market that I talked about last time. That place worries me sometimes too…. Do you think they ever clean the hooks they hang the meat on?

Over the past 2 weeks, I have had the privilege to visit 2 villages near Vinnitsa. The villages are very poor, and there is very little work to be found. My first visit was with Sherry and her adopted son Travis. We went to visit the orphanage he had lived in, and his old school. We paid a taxi driver drive us around for the day, because there was no chance of calling a cab once we were at the village. We first stopped at his school. The school appeared to be the same as any 12-year school in America. It was an old building, but well kept. I found out that the parents of the kids are responsible for the maintenance of the school building, and the kids are responsible for cleaning the entire school. The school was indeed clean, and Sherry said that it was because the kids understood that if they made a mess, they would have to clean it up. The second place we went was the orphanage. It was located on only the second floor of one of the buildings. It was quite small for the 30 kids that lived there. I found it interesting, that the kids decide when they want to leave the orphanage. However, since there is no work to be found, there isn’t much to be done when they leave. We took them fresh fruit and vegetables, because the orphanage can’t afford a lot of food.
Before returning to Vinnitsa, we paid a visit to 2 families that Sherry knew. We went to their houses, but we did not go inside. You will find pictures of the houses among my pictures. Many people in the village are self-sufficient because they only have enough money to buy bread. They travel very little because even a taxi would be too expensive. I can’t even begin to imagine how limited their knowledge of the rest of the world is. The one lady we visited lives in a little, white house with 6 other people. Her grandson had been adopted by an American family. We went to visit her to let her know how her grandson was doing. As soon as she found out why we had come, she cried. She was very happy to hear from her Grandson.

I visited the second village with an American medical doctor and his wife as they made a visit to the clinic in that village. The traveling was fairly rough, and all the roads around the village were dirt. With us were our Ukrainian driver, and a translator. I found out that the doctor at the clinic takes a bus from Vinnitsa as far as he can, and then walks the rest of the way, 6 days a week to work at this village. When we arrived at the Clinic, it was 10 degrees Celsius that is 50 degrees Fahrenheit inside. Tom, the American doctor, came to see patients, give second opinions, and bring medical supplies. His wife Maryland, is a nurse, and has organized many visits to Ukraine, bringing medical supplies and doctors from America. We found out that the clinic was so cold because they could not afford enough coal for the entire winter. So the rest of the day, we spent driving around looking for portable electric heaters. Tom, in the meantime, slowly froze as he saw patients all day.

Outside the clinic was an old tank. I don’t know how old, but you can see it on my website. It was very weird to look at a memorial in the former Soviet Union. To think that this tank was used against the US, and the tank displayed the power of the former Soviet Union. Some ideas about the Soviet Union have suddenly changed now that I stand on its soil, on the other side of the world. I am in the former Soviet Union, helping people in Ukraine.

Christmas is upon us, but this year it has come up with out the usual rush. I look around, and hardly recognize that it will be Christmas in 5 days. I live with an American family, so we put up decorations, but I haven’t seen much Christmas activity outside the house. The former Soviet Union never celebrated Christmas. Instead they celebrated New Years. They set up New Years trees and gave presents on New Years, I am told, so that they looked like the rest of the world from the outside. The only Christmas that is celebrated here is by the Eastern Orthodox in the beginning of January.

I am doing well here and enjoying learning and experiencing a culture that is very different than the US. God Bless, I wish you each a Merry Christmas from Ukraine!!!

Darrell Lehman