Sunday, August 30, 2009

First Sunday

There are fifteen teachers in my group, and it is a monumental hassle to get that many people together in one place. Keep in mind that we all live separately, nobody speaks the language (None of the teachers, at least. We do have native coordinators that help usher us around sometimes.), nobody knows how to read, and Kiev has five million people in it, with plenty of room to get lost. Add to that figure the fact that these girls look killer every single day, which is highly conducive to running late. Today we met up with the other Kiev group (about 6 teachers) to try and find the church. I left my house at 8am for an 8:45-9ish meetup at the metro. Of course I was only the second person there. The last person didn't show up until after 9. Rode the metro until the end of the line, then crammed on a bus for another 15minute ride. We arrived at 9:50 for 10:00 church, which was probably a miracle.

Church is on the second floor of some building, and consists of one hallway and about 5 rooms. These rooms contained the nicest toilets we've seen since America, and FREE filtered water. YES!!! Drinking water is a precious commodity here, and this was not only free but also non-carbonated. A truly exciting perk. (ILP warned us that lots of teachers get kidney stones because they stop drinking water. Understandable, since it's a bit difficult to get a hold of).

The branch doubled in size with us there. Literally, not figuratively. It's the Kyiv International Branch, and consists mostly of US government/embassy employees and their families. The branch was ready for ILP with nametags for not only us, but the rest of the branch as well. They gave us all maps of the area, bus lines, phone numbers if we get lost, getting-to-know-you forms and more. Seriously prepared. In the hall after church, the primary president (over maybe half a dozen kids?) recruited primary teachers. Me and another teacher are in charge of the entire nursery. We don't know the girl's name yet, but we'll meet her next week:)

After church we stood out at the bus stop for half an hour waiting for Bus 24 (as instructed), but it never came. We met a giggling old grandpa with a full set of gold teeth who chatted at us in Russian for about 15 minutes. After a while we came to the conclusion that Bus 24 didn't exist, mostly because a couple Ukrainian kids our age told us so (in broken English, of course). So we hopped on the next bus that came with a question to the attendant, "Metro?". We rode the bus for quite some time, not entirely sure where we were going. The attendant who stands aorund checking tickets didn't speak English, but "metro" is the same in Russian and English (hallelujah). She waved us off the bus at the right stop and we stumbled into the metro. We rode it to the connecting line, which is always tricky to navigate. I got to ask directions again from two other people who don't speak English. We got home at three. That made church a 7-hour roundtrip pilgrimage.

I would like to pause here to explain two things, since they are both quickly becoming huge parts of my life. Number one. I am becoming the group expert at asking Ukrainians for directions. Getting lost is one of my favorite things to do, especially since this city is so beautiful. I have become the designated directions-asker of the group. Its thrilling, in a small way, to be able to effectively communicate with a stranger who doesnt speak the same language. Also, it takes skill to find someone who is nice and wont walk off with a toss of her unfairly-gorgeous hair. Yesterday, a lady tried to pay the metro fare for four of us. Points for Alena.

Second, a bit of a Kiev lesson. Kiev is separated into Left Bank and Right Bank by the Dnieper river. It flows north to south, so if you stand looking downstream, the right bank is on the right. Counter-intuitive, if youre looking at a map. Kiev has a killer metro system broken into three lines--red, green, and blue. These intersect in a triangle. I live off the stop called Druzhby Narodiv aka Дружби Народів. That means Friendship of Nations, in English. The metro is sometimes as deep as a dozen stories underground, and requires the longest escalator ride of your entire existence, both up and down. Each stop has two sides, going either direction, and its nigh impossible to remember which side you need to be on, since theyre perfectly symmetrical. Also, all signs are written in Russian. So just reading directions is not totally feasible. You just have to memorize what the name of your stop looks like.

Дружби Народів is on the green line, third south from the center triangle intersection . I am pretty centrally located, most of the other teachers live on the outskirts.
This place is gorgeous, by the way.

Friday, August 28, 2009

To whom it may concern:

Bedroom, view from the balcony.

Dear World,
If heaven doesn't have a room like this, I'm not going. Please note the following: Matching antique beds, corresponding comforters, eagle statue, wrap-around bookshelves, flowing lace curtains, glass chandelier, perfect ceiling shadows, original glass-paned doors, an 11th-floor balcony encased in rippled glass and wood overlooking Kiev, and a Ukrainian host-sister who redefines home. Please plan accordingly.

Best regards,

PS: Did I mention the books? Sheer loveliness.

More to look at.

Golden-domed churches, from my bedroom balcony.

Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night just to see this again.

Our purring machine (one of six pets).

The everything-else room: computer, dining-room, living-room, clothes storage, etc.

The bathroom. The pot on the chair sits next to the tub, full of boiling water. To bathe: Sit in tub. Scoop out boiling water with a small pot. Mix with cold water from the tap. Dump over body. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat...

Some photos.

Bedroom, lots of books.


My bed on the left.
Lesya's on the right.
Rug on the wall.

Bedroom door to balcony.

This is what I think about.

Pickpockets. Constantly.
Mullets. Constantly.
Architecture. Constantly also.
Outrageous clothes.
Metro directions.
Druhbsky Narodiv. My stop.
24-hour clocks.
Exchange rates (8.88 today!)
Teaching schedules.
Adventure planning.
Not looking too American.
Not sounding too American.
Not getting too lost.
Converting dollars to hryvnia.
Finding uncarbonated drinking water. ("No gas?")
The Cyrillic alphabet.
Soft L's.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A second rushed email.

Hey family,
The airport delivered two suitcases to me at 5:30 this morning. Unfortunately, only one was mine. Fortunately, the airlines said that they knew this, so they came back later today and gave me mine (turns out the other one belonged to a girl in my group).

So, my house has a good computer with skype and great internet. The metro is crowded, smells like B.O. and will throw you onto other people if you aren't holding a handrail. Lots of fun. I'm not being sarcastic actually. I talked our native coordinators into NOT calling Lesya to meet me at the metro station at the end of the day; instead I walked home by myself. And didn't get lost. Highly independent, I know. They're also letting me ride the metro by myself tomorrow.

ILP gave us all-access metro passes good until the end of the year. They also provided us with pay-as-you-go phones so we can get a hold of each other and our host families if we get lost. It's free on our network to each other, but probably pretty expensive international. They just had us put 20 hrynia on it, because supposedly cell phones are REALLY cheap here. There are stations all over the city like ATMs, except they're for adding money to your phone. 8.5 hrynia is one US dollar, as a reference. We are getting a killer exchange rate right now, apparently. We went out for a huge delicious lunch and it was less 30uah (hyrnia). ATM machines work great, no problems with money at all.

Today we met in groups according to where we live, and learned how to use the metro, how to exchange money, and how to get to school. We had a meeting with all the native coordinators here and went over stuff and then we went downtown for lunch and a wander. Our group of 14 teachers is split between three schools. The school I'll be teaching at has three of us, and the school is brand new this year, so they say we have our work cut out for us.

I don't think I have jetlag at all, even though Kiev is 9 hours ahead of Salt Lake. I just didn't nap yesterday, and stayed up until about 11, then woke up at ten this morning. Seems to have done the trick. I'm getting a blog together, by the way. 143.

PS: Military/24hour time and Celsius are hard to get used to.
PPS: When I told you we have three dogs and two cats, I forgot to mention the parrot.

A rushed email.

Hello family! I just wanted to let you know that I arrived safe and sound in Kiev. My luggage, however, is in Germany. Going through passport inspection was sheer madness--pushing and shoving and yelling and cutting in line. And then BOTH my bags were missing, and six other people were missing one of their bags. The lost and found lady was really grumpy, but she got us through customs and located our bags in Dusseldorf. They're supposed to be here tomorrow.

I rode with Igor, the nicest native coordinator EVER, to my host family's apartment. He is like an extra father for everybody; a seriously kind dude. He just gushed about how great this family is. Ok, so the family: my host sister is Lesya and she's 17. Incredibly cool girl. She speaks really good English. Not perfect, but really good. Her mom is Larisa. She doesn't speak a lick of English, but I really like her. The dad died a few years back, unfortunately. Granny also lives here. She's 83 and I haven't seen her yet because she's a bit sick and wants to be left alone. The apartment is on the 11th floor of an ancient-brick apartment building. I share a room with Lesia and we have a gorgeous view of Kiev. Our house is pretty much in the most central part of Kiev. Not geography-wise; I don't think it's "downtown" but it's "central." Does that make sense? I'm losing my English already.

I've been awake for thirty hours. I got here in the late afternoon, and I resisted the temptation to nap so that I would be able to sleep tonight on normal Ukrainian time. Instead, Lesya showed my around the apartment, had me practice getting in and out of the building, and showed me the neighborhood. They have 2 cats and 3 dogs in a tiny apartment, but there is zero smell and the animals are really clean. The apartment is very modest with at least half the walls covered in bookshelves (Larisa is a philosophy professor). There is a small balcony off our bedroom, and the glass in the windows is thick, old, and not like our perfectly-even glass. The furniture and carpet is way old, but everything is so clean and tidy.

I met a couple of Lesya's friends, including her boyfriend, Yora (I have no idea how to spell that). She seems to have her head screwed on straight. The boyfriend is such a nice guy and treats her really well. The three of us spent the evening going on a walk, and then we went to a playground. We sat on a bench and just talked for a couple hours. His English is ok, but he gets frustrated with himself. An interesting mix of language abilities between the three of us. They're teaching me Russian, and I help them with English. And we talk about the differences too. The boyfriend was supposedly one of the best skaters in Ukraine (as in skateboarding) and he learned a lot of his English from American skaters, so it's pretty funny. Oh, and he composes instrumentals for rap. Yeah. I know. His mom is a musician, so he seems to have a background in music. Neither of them are gangster at all though. They told me that they don't even smoke weed cause they've watched people get messed up from it. Two really solid friends in one day. And they both know that I don't do coffee, tea, alcohol, smoke, etc. and even asked me about that. They told me that they promised to have my back and not teach me swear words disguised as normal words. (Apparantly, a favorite pastime is telling us that "I'm a good person" is pronounced "I'm a piece of sh*t" so that person walks around telling everyone that they're a piece of sh*t. ha...) I feel like I walked right into Everything is Illuminated as far as language goes.

The apartment buildings rotate getting hot water, so Larisa is boiling a pot of water for my shower right now. I get to use a bowl of half cool water and half boiling, and then just pour it over my head in the tub. The airport promised that my luggage will be here tomorrow. Go ahead and mail that ISIC card to the PO box address. The name Igor Vavilov and then put "for Alena Hoggan" under that, so they know which teacher it's for. Apparently we're not allowed to give out our host family's address, just to keep their privacy. Tomorrow is a tour of the city and learning how to get around. 143.

-Alena (apparently a popular brand of cooking oil here, so I've been told...)
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