Sunday, April 11, 2010


My commute, from August to December.

Ukraine would not be Ukraine without my host sister, Lesya--beautiful, smart, and above all, so kind to an American girl far from home.

The New Center School (And Inhabitants)






Final days

Igor and Maxim, cousins


Last day of school Christmas program!

Katya's mom hand-sewed her a Christmas tree outfit, just for this.

German wouldn't get out of the picture of Nastya.

Nastya, Yesenya, German


Ukrainian Cultural Quirks

-Drinking in public: Disgusting, excessive, and more common than water.
-High heels: You're not a woman if you don't wear them. Even in the middle of the night for a trip to the mini-market
-Mullets: Everywhere. Even on men wearing business suits and Prada shoes.

-Bathrooms: Squat toilets are not my friend.
-Picture posing: The women are all so foxy, and love to pose for photos in front of everything.
-Health overreactions: Swine flu.
-Cold overreactions: The air-conditioner is not Satan's breath, nor is it going to eat your children. Especially in an 85 degree classroom.
-Supermarkets: All bags go in lockers.
-Exact change: The cashier's eyes will send out laser death rays if you do not produce exact change.
-Bus/metro seating: Surrender your seat for pregnant women and the elderly, or get yelled at by strangers. Or by the babushka who wants your seat.
-Babs and bags: The babushkas are a class of their own, and all seem to carry the same tarp-like plaid bag.
-Packs of stray dogs: It's what's for dinner.
-Talking to us even when we don't understand: When we say we only speak English, we mean it. But by all means, continue talking at me if it makes you happy.
-Smiling/eye-contact: Absolutely not allowed.
-Bathtubs: No shower curtains, no mounted shower heads. Sit down in the tub, and try not to spray the cat.
-Carbonated water: "Gas?" or "No Gas?" that is the question.
-Aversion to ice-cubes/cold water/wet hair: It'll kill you.
-House slippers/indoor shoes: Nobody goes barefoot (too cold), so you wear house slippers. If you don't carry a pair in your purse, you can use the guest pair.
-Superstitions: Many. See below.
-Freezing ovaries: Sitting on the ground or a cold bench will freeze your ovaries and render you infertile. You will get yelled at by strangers, especially babushkas, if you sit on something cold. Larisa, the native coordinator for our school, saw my Ukraine guidebook sitting on the table and asked to see it. She flipped to the section on superstitions, where it talked about freezing ovaries, and said, "I don't know why they put that in this section; superstitions are beliefs that aren't true. This one is. Even my son, Igor, has things he needs to protect from the cold if I ever want grandchildren from him. He shouldn't sit on cold benches either!"
-Hair dye: Women dye their hair red. Once their hair grays, they dye it purple.
-Staring: No eye-contact allowed, but everybody stares at everybody else. All. The. Time. Sometimes I catch their eye as they stare at my body, so they quickly look away from my eyes, back down at my body. So I stare directly back until it makes them uncomfortable.
-Dr. House: Ukraine loves him almost more than vodka. His face is on more souvenir tote bags, magnets, and t-shirts than the Ukrainian flag. Almost.
-Don't judge an apartment by its elevator: Our mantra.
-Metro surfing: Stand sideways, bend back leg, prepare for the train to start moving, leeeeean, stand back upright, ride normally using toes to balance, bend front leg as the train stops, leeeeean, resume upright position, repeat. Failure to do so will result in you falling over backwards with strangers catching your flailing body. Trust me, I know.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


We returned to an entirely different Kiev than we had left. Everything was quiet and deserted. People walked around with scarves or masks over their faces, spending as little time in public as possible. The entire city had gone into terrified hiding, right in time for Halloween. They don't celebrate Halloween in Ukraine, and after the night train from Lviv, I wasn't in the mood for it anyway. After a long afternoon at home with Lesya, I decided that something must be done. I met Camille at the school by her house (in the same apartment building, actually) and we made Halloween brownies for a sick friend.

Or tried to.
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