Friday, September 25, 2009

The Pains and Joys of Mon/Wed/Fri.

The school is on the second floor of this apartment building, with the front desk guarded by fierce babushkas twenty-four hours a day. Please note the yellow marshrutka. That's the kind of bus where the horrible embarrassment occurred (see earlier post).  

View from the teachers' room.

Yaroslav, Vlada, Maxim, Polina, Yeva, and Nicole. This is the Basic Reading class. Vlada is super-smart and eager to please. We call her Hermione Granger. I see a lot of elementry-school-Alena in her, which feels strange. Polina and Yeva are sisters. Yeva is a Barbie-doll. The girls are absolutely nasty to each other. What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and sharp elbows, that's what.
Nastia, Katya, Olesia, Miss Alena, Yegor, Oles. Sasha B, Sasha H, Nicolas.
Ok, I need to gush a little bit about the kid with the juice-box, Yegor. He is the funniest kid I have ever met, America and Ukraine included. We call him Charlie Chaplin. He's only been learning English for about two weeks, so he basically mimes everything he needs to communicate. Every day during class, he comes up to me and taps me on the arm until I bend down to his level. Then he makes a big smile, pulls his hand down over his face, revealing a frown. Then he pulls his hand up, showing a smile again, back and forth. During break time yesterday, we were sitting at the table eating our snacks, and he tapped my arm again to get my attention. He proceeded to "unscrew" his thumb from his hand, badly hiding his thumb behind his palm, popped his thumb into his mouth, spit it out, and reattatched it. Bravo! So I showed him one where I stuck my finger in my ear, pretended that it went all the way through to my mouth, pressing my tongue against the inside of my cheek (Will Hoggan style). He got such a kick out if it, and tried to one-up me by doing another silent hand illusion. We went back and forth, trying to outdo each other with badly-performed tricks. Right as school ended today, he tapped me on the arm again. I bent down and he cupped his hands around his mouth as if to whisper "Toilet?" in my ear like he usually does. Instead, he kissed me on the cheek, smiled, and ran away. Haha, what a cute kid. Charlie Chaplin silent comedy, and a tricked kiss. Ukraine, we have a winner!

Rad, Redefined.

I pass these posters on the way to the school every day, so I finally stopped to document them. I don't know if the faces were put up first and then somebody else came along and doodled, or if it all got put up together. Either way, this art (yes, I call this art) sends mini-shivers of glee down my spine. I so wish I could have witnessed their evolution from Day 1.

Eight decay, left to right

I feel like these need to be hung up and preserved before the weather wastes them away.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Here's a laugh.

I'll probably take this down within 24 hours, but I know there's a few people who would really appreciate this. Also, there's a chance my eyes are going different directions.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


My host sister has half of Kiev's male population wrapped around her finger. This graffiti showed up at our apartment building the morning of the one-month mark with her current boyfriend. I think I enjoyed it more than she did, though, because she broke up with him this weekend. Sorry, dude!

This afternoon, we got to watch the Angel Moroni statue get placed on the spire of the Kiev temple. This temple is a pretty big deal--it will serve all of Ukraine, as well as the surrounding countries. Brother Luschin is in charge of this temple, and was also in charge of eight other European temples in the past. He and his wife are such nice people; we were at their house last Sunday for lunch and some mothering. She cooks like we are all starving African children, and her brownies might just be heaven on earth. He and I talked photography for a while, too. Before they put up the statue, I sat through an hour-long meeting with about 600 other people. Everybody was speaking Ukrainian, but it was nice to just sit and listen to the language. During the hymns, I got such a kick out of singing along in English to the familiar tunes. Even though it clashed terribly, the solidarity felt amazing. I didn't understand a word of the speakers, but it was easy to understand that the church is the same in Ukraine as it is in California or Hawaii. Kind of like an international Band-Aid. A great feeling, all afternoon.

This is Camille, another teacher in my group. She's one of my favorite people.

Sasha and Elder I-Can't-Spell-His-Name-In-English-But-It-Sounds-Like-Tuler.

Some Ukrainian friends, and some amazing clouds.

After the temple:
I don't get embarrassed about falling flat on my face and stuff like that, but I do get "American-embarrassed." American-embarrassed is when my group talks way too loud in English, making everybody within 50 yards stare and whisper. That's when I blush for them, for us, and pretend like I don't know them. No matter how hard I try, no matter how quietly I whisper, no matter how inconspicuous I try to be, we get laughed at or stared at pretty much every day. It's very frustrating. I've stopped doing the activities that our whole group participates in, because it just makes me cringe every time we get on the metro or on the bus and these girls are so darn loud and obnoxious. Instead, I make my own plans with just two or three other girls whose voices are quieter. In all seriousness, I choose my friends based on their vocal volume.

Even so, I had the most awkward bus ride of my entire existence on the way home. There were four of us, and we shoved our bodies onto an already-too-full bus. I got stuck riding in the stairwell, in charge of opening and closing the door at each stop. We were crowded painfully close together, holding onto anything and each other for support. Every time the buses stop and go, un-anchored bodies go flying. As soon as we got on, a babushka started yell-talking to nobody in particular, but obviously talking about the four brats who crammed themselves onto the bus. The first stop came, and I dutifully opened the door to let people off the bus. The second stop came, and I did the same. Unfortunately, we were in stop-and-go traffic, and the bus stops aren't marked very well, so I ended up opening the door in the middle of traffic. A guy on the bus that we kind of knew leaned over to me and informed me to close the door, because this wasn't a stop. An easy mistake to make, but the entire bus chuckled anyway. The babushka was still chattering away, and she seemed to get funnier and funnier because soon the whole bus was in hysterics. A man by me was near tears of laughter, and an old man by my friend kindly patted her on the hand as if to say, "We're all laughing at your expense, but don't take it too personally." I opened the door again (fortunately at a real bus stop) to let more people on, and the crowd pushed my body to the back of the bus, away from the stairwell. At first I was grateful to be relieved of my duty as door-opener, but the situation did not improve much. I stood in the aisle holding a rail, back to back with a fat old woman. Suddenly, she bent over and her large buttocks pinned me flat against a stranger sitting down. I was caught like a bug in her cheeks, unable to move. The babushka was still making everybody laugh, which is very unsettling in a society where public laughter is so rare. We finally got off the bus, gasping for breath and for relief. I was sweaty, red, and near tears from embarrassment.

On a less awkward note, we went to the cinema and saw Tim Burton's new movie, "9." It was all in Russian, and I really enjoyed trying to figure out what everybody was saying. We made it through the ticket-counter and the movie without incident. Thank God/Buddha/Deity-of-your-choice. 

Friday, September 18, 2009

And then Fall fell.

Since I've been here, the weather has stayed pleasant and inviting. People say it's humid, but I can't feel any excess moisture in the air, which means that it's perfect. At least for my Hawaii bones. Also, my brain has shifted from Fahrenheit to Celsius. My point about the weather: it's been sunny and warm. Mostly.

The first week I was here, I woke up in the night to a terrific lightning storm. Waking up, let alone in the middle of the night, is not something my body embraces. But at five in the morning, I found myself out of bed and standing on the balcony, watching the lightning shred the sky. I wasn't quite wide-awake, so the thunder made my blurry brain roll around a bit in my skull. It was like one very large welcome from Ukraine's atmosphere just for me.

Sunny and warm for three weeks.

And then last night, autumn arrived. I walked out of the metro station to find that the sky had burst its seams in every direction. Rain poured down and lighting glared in the black night. My 15-minute walk home turned into an 8-minute dash of mad happiness. With good music in my ears, I ran down the street wearing sandals, a skirt, and a crazy smile. I swear, rain turns me into a lunatic. The rain caught in my eyelashes and pasted my hair flat against my forehead. Bursts of purple lightning illuminated my path, saving me from breaking my ankle in the many pot-holes. I ran all the way up the tree-lined lane and down the ramp into the cross-walk. Soaked to the bone, I laughed when I saw a man trying to protect himself with a newspaper over his head. To my utter amazement, he caught my eye and laughed back! Nobody makes eye contact; nobody smiles; and certainly, nobody laughs with a stranger. This was the first time anybody had returned my smiles since I've been here, and it was the most shocking delight. I made a puddle on the bathroom floor as I peeled off my wet clothes, still grinning madly, and realized that the rain was not cold at all. This one warm downpour was the final slip from summer, and the gentle introduction to a chillier season.

I hope I'm ready, because it was 11 degrees today.

Monday, September 14, 2009

In my place.

The exchange rate makes me smile every single day. Example No.1) I can get a delicious mystery burrito the length of my shin, WITH cheese, for 16 hryvnia (less than $2USD). Example No.2) This weekend, we went to the opera for 30 hryvnia! Translation: Less than $4USD. This was no crummy side-street dive, either. We're talking red velvet seats, gold cherubim, crystal chandeliers, and porcelain toilets. After paying to use the porta-squatty earlier that day, I was beyond excited as I stood in line to use a free toilet in a beautiful bathroom. I couldn't quite figure out why all the women's heads were visible above the stalls though. My answer came as I swung the stall door open, revealing a very clean, flushable, but, alas, throne-free hole in the ground. It became even more awkward when I took the step up into the stall, and realized that when I stood inside, I could easily see down into the other stalls. I've had nightmares for years about being in a bathroom where all the stalls are adjoined and the walls only go up to my waist, so everybody can see each other pee. This bathroom was basically a nightmare-come-true for me.

You don't know how awkward it is taking photos is a public restroom. Please notice how high my head is above the wall, and I'm already crouched over! Really exciting, I know. The opera was great though, with a fantastic orchestra. The show was "La traviata" and I'm pretty sure the woman playing Violetta could have shattered glass with her voice. A dem fine woman, and a dem fine show (name that book!). Everybody's seats were kinda crummy, but I was too lazy to get up and switch. I sat on the far left in the balcony, where you have to lean onto the railing to actually see the stage. It was in Italian, of course, and the translation screen was in Ukrainian. And yes, Dad, I fell asleep.

This is very small and inconsequential to the rest of the world, but not to me: This is my laundry hanging on the line. I feel like such a rich American kid--I have never been without a dryer. Perspective shift, please. Yes, super-size it.

And then I leaned way out our 11th-floor window just like my parents taught me not to, and was blown away by a magnificent rainstorm marching across the city. I swear, we're not in charge.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I like museums that only cost $1.50 USD

Open air museum: Traditional egg-painting, my first ever squat toilet, a field of old windmills, and more Ukrainian buildings. It got hot so we hid in the garden shade behind the blue building...

A porta-potty is strike one. Strike two is that I had to pay for it. Strike three is that I walked in and there was no toilet. Just a hole. Does it matter which way you face?




Who can resist a ditch full of puppies?
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