Franklin Countys First News

From Temple to Kosmach: Fulfilling a lifelong dream

Janine Winn visits the studio of Maria Vasylovich, a well-known weaver of traditional fabrics. She let Winn try her hand at her 100-year-old loom.

KOSMACH, Ukraine - When Janine Winn first began dreaming of joining the Peace Corps in her early college days, she imagined drinking water from a freshly cracked coconut, locals dressed in traditional grass skirts and adorned with banana leaf jewelry or trekking through a jungle of macaws, jewel beetles and tapirs. She imagined a two-year stint full of exotic new experiences, ones that would open her eyes to the color of life beyond Franklin County.

"So when they told me I was going to Ukraine I thought 'Wait! That's not exotic!'" Winn said.

But the Temple resident went anyway - leaving her family and friends behind to see what the country had to offer.

"In many ways it's similar to Maine. There isn't much racial diversity ... everybody dresses the same way with manufactured holes in their jeans. The cities are modern," she said.

Winn isn't living in a city, however, and she describes the village of Kosmach as old fashioned. "Like stepping back in time."

The streets are full of horse-drawn wagons, brand new minivans and motorcycles that trek down from the mountainsides with loads of cement, or entire families stuffed in the side car. The tiny mom-and-pop shops sell the basics - cheese, bread, sausage, beer and canned goods - kept on shelves behind the counter. While landline telephones never made an appearance in Kosmach, cellphones are as common as the cows tied up in front of every home.

"It's not what I expected. I was expecting to go beyond some boundaries with the Peace Corps and that hasn't really happened. But I have always been interested in local history and how things worked and I am living that here," Winn said.

As her dreams of a tropical paradise quickly vanished, Winn replaced them with ambitious plans for sleepy little Kosmach. Working with family and friends back in Maine, Winn organized a book drive to fill the shelves of the nine local schools and the three public libraries with English reading material.

"All they have are textbooks, which the kids aren't excited about," Winn said.

With the help of Jim Logan at Twice Sold Tales in Farmington, Winn is collecting storybooks, novels and non-fiction for the readers of Kosmach to enjoy. The Farmington Rotary Club has donated money towards the project, and plans are in the works for a drive to take place at local schools. Monetary donations are being accepted for help with shipping the books, which can be expensive.

The book drive is a project Winn has taken on independently- separate from her responsibilities for the Peace Corps which she said have been slow to progress. Her assignment through the organization is to help the local government devise a plan for bringing more tourists to the area.

"Life in this part of the world doesn't always happen on time. Things are moving very slowly. Helping in the schools beats sitting around twiddling my thumbs," Winn said.

With four months under her belt, Winn has 20 more to go before completing her two-year contract.

"The younger members feel like two years is a very long time and they're stressed about doing a good job for their resumes. It's different at my age. I'll be 70 next April. I don't have to worry about all that," she said. "You just reach a point in life where if you're gonna do it you gotta do it. I'll be back to Maine soon enough."

Winn encourages readers to leave questions or comments below for her to respond to. Anyone interested in making a book or shipping fee donation can contact Jim Logan at Twice Sold Tales.

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7 Responses »

  1. Amber, thank you for a thoughtful and colorful capture of my life in the village of Kosmach. I do love it here and I've been welcomed most warmly by the residents. It's not home, but is indeed an amazing place to spend two years.

    I do want to say that my expectations of Peace Corps, when I first filled out the application, ran more to herds of goats, barefoot children and people who did not look like me, than to coconuts and grass skirts, or the western mountains of an East European country. People and landscape here bear striking similarities to western Maine, and the community struggles are the same: schools, roads, jobs and the economy. But beyond that, the culture is very different with church, tradition and extended family the driving forces.

    I'm learning a lot, I'm having amazing experiences and, hopefully, contributing to the community. I also hope you have questions because I love talking about Kosmach and the surrounding communities.

    And thank you, Amber, for reminding people about the book drive and shipping costs!

  2. I first met Janine Winn in 2005 as a new Temple resident when I moved to Maine in 2005. She was assisting with a project and having a plant sale which I stopped to look at. Although I wasn't interested in the plants that were available, I found Janine to be friendly and inviting, very easy to hold a conversation with. It didn't take long for her to welcome me to the area and invite me to a potluck dinner at her farm and I accepted.
    Being from "away" may have had some minor drawbacks for some but fortunately I had the support of some family and great local friends to embrace me into the community, Janine was no exception and after the potluck dinner, having a beer on her old farmhouse porch while sharing laughter and stories became very much a part of me Maine experiencr. After a few short years, I began longing for home and decided to leave the banks of Temple Stream and head back home to Massachusetts but have been back to visit just about every year or so and it's always nice to see those who I've grown to know and love, with things usually pretty much the same, except for the stories that we share which now include memories of our own, shared together.
    This year was different though, you see, the regular resident of Wildflower Farm was not home to offer a beer on the porch or a laugh and a hug and all I could do was drive by and snap a photo to send a little comfort of home to my friend who dedicated two years of her life to The Peace Corps.
    I am so proud of my friend, who is living out her dream in the most selfless way, to make a difference in the world and make it a better place. So until our next beer on the porch Janine, I love you.

  3. Janine, I enjoyed Amber's story too -- and she reminded me that I have books which might be shared! We'd love to see more photos of your Kosmach years! How many people make up a "village" population? What does the main shopping street look like? A residential neighborhood? Maybe we should do some Temple/New Sharon/Industry/New Vineyard profiles that emphasize daily life to share with your Kosmach neighbors!

  4. Hi Kathy! Thanks for the questions!

    The village of Kosmach is made up of just almost 7,000 people and includes at least 5 mountain settlements with populations of 500 people or less. Brustury has 1,400 people and Prokurave, 1,200. The three villages make up the amalgamated community of Kosmach with a total population just under 10,000. The mountain settlements, anywhere from 2 to 7 kilometers from the central village are hard to reach.. steep dirt and gravel roads with precipitous dropoffs, questionable bridges and fords over mountain streams. The main road thru "downtown" Kosmach is paved but has horrible potholes.

    The main shopping "district" in Kosmach has several small, kinda convenience store places with some specializing in bread or milk products. There are also a hardware store, a home-goods store, a small, new gift shop, and a store that sells cleaning products, school supplies and toys. At the Vodaphone shop you can pay your cell phone and wireless bills, get your comuter repaired and buy various computer and phone accessories, but you have to pay with cash. None of the stores take credit cards and I haven't seen a check since I arrived in March. Only the two restaurants/guest homes in Kosmach take credit cards.

    Monday is the day that the bazaar is held in Kosmach (Thursdays in Brustury and Tuesdays in Prokurava). The bigger the town the bigger the bazaar. Picture Walmart out in the open with dozens of different vendors. Tires for you motorcycle? Tools? Household supplies? Appliances? Furniture ordered from catalogues? Cloth and embroidery floss? Fruits and vegitables by the kilo or in huge grain-sack type bags. Cheese, milk, sausage and fresh meat? It's all here.

    The residential areas almost all have fenced yards, and most will have a teathered cow grazing in it, at least part of the time. There are no big hay fields in the area, so during most of the growing season the "lawns" are allowed to grow to 6 or more inches, cut by hand with a scythe, and the dried grass gathered by hand and stored loose in sheds. The homes are a mix of traditional styles and new, Ukrainian versions of McMansions. The older houses generally have a kitchen in a seperate building with a tiled wood-fired cook-stove/oven, but with a gas or electric stove now sitting near-by.

    I have been taking tons of photos and hopefully be able to put together numerous slide shows on a plethra of topics for my return. For example, I've promised to give a presentation on vernacular architecture in the villages for the construction company my daughter Brady-Anne works for on the coast in appreciation for the book drive they are running.

    Everyday is an adventure, everyday is learning something new. I'd like to write all of it down, but then I would run out of time to do. Such a dilemma!

  5. Great article! I have known Janine for a very long time in what seems like another life--and for her especially, indeed it is! Janine is your "home" there consistent or do you move from place to place weekly/monthly/yearly? Also, did you find it intimidating to go out on your own there and explore the first few times especially? You have never come across to me as a timid person but I would imagine it must have been at least somewhat of a challenge to, for instance, find out where a store is, get to it either on foot or however and then purchase what you wanted/needed not knowing the language--and then find your way back.
    Do they have such a thing as public transportation where you are? Or, if one doesn't have a vehicle must they rely solely on bicycles, walking or some other type of transportation?
    Where you are staying, do they have what we'd consider the basics here such as running water, an inside toilet that flushes etc?
    Are there certain customs there one must be mindful of in order not to offend the gov't, the law or the people? For instance, I know in certain parts of the Middle East, women must be covered or at least wear a headscarf, men are in charge etc.
    Thanks again for an informative article and your updates via fb!

  6. Hi Lori! Yes we have known each other for a long time... late 80s as I recall!. Thanks for the questions... I apologize for the delay in answering. Internet is iffy where I'm living, today (Monday) is a new national holiday, and I was honored by being included in a funeral for a family member-- a very different experience than a funeral in the US.

    So your questions: I was 10 weeks in the city of Chernihiv for training and language classes. It's a "small" city but about 3 or 4 times the size of Portland, and I missed the countryside. My next stay was three months in a nearby small village but it was too hard to get to Kosmach where I should have been working (wasn't getting anything done in Brustury) so about the first of September, I moved to where I am now. December 1st, I could get a place of my own... and I'm torn because I am so welcomed by this family and they sure feed me well, but a little more privacy would be nice.

    Not intimidated by exploring in a small town and its environs. My first afternoon in Chernihiv, however, I got lost on my way home from class and finally had to be rescued by my host's husband. My Ukrainian is still very poor, but I know enough to get by in stores etc. And when the internet is working, I make extensive use of Google Translate. I also have a very patient Ukrainian tutor.

    There is reasonably good public transportation in Ukraine, primarily buses and trains. In this area, the bus schedule seems to change fairly often and the buses between here and the rest of the world run only a few times each day. Most people walk a great deal, some have private cars, motorcycles are common, as are horse-drawn wagons. Kids ride bicycles but I seldon see adults on them. No one ever wears helmets or uses seatbelts.

    The home where I'm staying has all the amenities, including wood-fired central heat, but most of the cooking is done in the old kitchen which has a large woodburning tiled stove/oven as well as a gas stove. It doesn't have running water however. And most homes, however modern, also have an outhouse.

    Hardest thing to get used to: Stepping over threshold. I've hardly encountered a doorway that hasn't got at minimum a 2 1/2 inch threshhold.

    People here dress modestly, tho I don't think it's a rule. Women my age tend to wear skirts, heavy stockings, shoes that could best be described as oxfords, and a headscarf. Well, guess what? I concede to the headscarf when I attend religious services, but that's about it. And children laugh when I put on a headscarf!

  7. This is so interesting--ty Janine! I can see where the thresholds would be an issue--I'd be tripping up quite a bit until I got used to it lol.
    And, not to make EITHER of us feel old but um, you and I have known each other since 1984 --so more "mid" than "late." Your girls were so little then!
    That's great that there is public transportation and at least some amenities there that make life easier for those that live there permanently and those visiting. It seems like people take time to know each other more there and that the pace is slower but maybe that's just a mistaken impression on my part?
    Can't quite see YOU in a headscarf lol but that's nice/considerate (as you always are) to wear it to religious services.
    What is their currency called there? It must be confusing at first...
    I can understand being torn re: moving in December. But whichever you choose, I'm sure it will be great and you will have further adventures to share!