Overlanders: Going home

>> Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Our newsletter, still reporting from Ukraine :)

Sitting back, enjoying some Zhifchik now. (That?s a kind of pop here, more like a carbonated apple cider with Echinacea added. As much as I love the Ruby-red Squirt that I can apparently only find in Ames, Iowa, I like this stuff that much more. But of course, they don?t sell it anywhere in the States, even at Russian grocery stores)

I took Leilani out for a quick (one-hour) stroll this morning, ?round past the circus and back. I found a couple of interesting things I thought I?d write about? At the market, of which much can be written alone, there are these little old ladies that sit around with insulated boxes (read: coolers, but for hot foods) selling piroshki out of them. These are like hot, stuffed sandwiches, usually fried, sometimes baked. They contain either meat, potatoes, or cabbage and they?re actually incredibly tasty. Many people buy them, as you can tell seeing everyone walking around with one. What?s especially interesting is that they cost about 16 cents a piece. Add that to a glass of kvas (a non-alcoholic malt beverage) for about 18 cents, and you?ve got a pretty-filling meal for less than 50 cents. Take that, McDonalds!

They do have McDonald?s in all the major cities here, by the way. But except for the fact that the menus are all phonetically spelled out in Cyrillic writing, it?s pretty much the same stuff that makes you sick 10 minutes after eating it as we have in the US.

Jumping back to Yalta, in our vacation-within-a-vacation a while ago, I just wanted to mention that we did get to see the Swallow?s Nest (Google it if you don?t know what it is), but we only got to see it from a distance. Had I looked in any tourist book, I would have found out that it?s no longer available as a tourist destination; apparently sometime in the 70?s some Italian woman purchased it and turned it into a very expensive Italian restaurant, since it needed repairs and the country didn?t have enough money for it. Oh well, maybe next time (in about ten years from now?) we?ll make some reservations and try it out.


There?s a verse in Proverbs that goes something like, ?Don?t start building a wall if you don?t have the money to finish it.? Ukraine seems to have skipped over that verse. Construction methods or style in Ukraine is just wrong, I think. There?s some roadwork that?s going on near our friend Natasha?s house. When we first arrived in Ukraine, they?d dug two holes; one off the side of the road, and one in the middle of it. There weren?t any workers to be seen, nor were there for a couple of weeks thereafter. After we got back from the Crimea, I did see some machinery out there every other day or so. They dug another hole, I think, and called it quits for a while. Then they came back and expanded the first hole. Now it?s sitting there again, several holes in the road with piles of dirt sitting next to them, and people do their best to get around it all. Elena told me it?s because they don?t have the money to finish it ? whatever ?it? is, of course, because I can?t really tell what they think they?re doing.

At least living in Ukraine teaches you to be on your toes, because you don?t know when someone?s going to start a project like that, or when they?re going to finish, either. Just last night (the 7th) ?they? shut the water off for our building. No warning, no information about it, just foop! No water, have fun. Fortunately, it just came on as I started writing this, at 10am this morning (so we all rushed about washing, flushing, filling, and boiling.). Living over here is like camping out and you discover that your campsite has running water so you get all psyched up about it, but then you realize it doesn?t work after all.

These aren?t just isolated incidents, either. Here?s another example: When we first arrived in Ukraine, we tried calling a friend of ours, Inna, at her workplace since she doesn?t have a home phone. (She has a mobile phone, but if you call one from a landline, you get an extra bill sent to the landline.) At first, we were able to get through to some kind of general secretary, at least someone who was in charge of answering the telephone. We asked to be transferred to Inna, and the secretary said she?d do so, however we only wound up on eternal hold. Later (and by this we mean pretty much EVERY single day thereafter) when we tried, no one answered the phone at all. Personally, I just do NOT get it. If you?ve got a job, DO your job, make the customer happy, and keep your job. That?s usually how it goes. Here, it?s more like: you?ve got a job, so forget everything else.

Maybe it?s because living conditions are just that good over here. I notice they still do have incredibly long lines for things still, here ? it?s just that the lines have moved. Where once, I have heard, they waited in line for toilet paper, now they wait in line at the ATM. And I?m not talking about the small, maximum of 5-minute wait that we have over here. It?s more like a constant line of 20-50 people who have almost all crammed themselves into your personal space (particularly that personal space at an ATM that is universally understood in America, in which if someone stands it feels like they?re watching your bank transactions).

We went into a toy store to buy a present, yesterday. I stayed outside with the stroller while Elena and Inna (whom we ran into entirely by accident!) went inside. I?d never seen hardly a single person go into this toy store every time I walked past it, but for some reason at this time, I watched as (I counted) 20 people filed in almost without stop. This is a store about the size of a bedroom, already filled up with toys on the walls and floor. I tell you, it?s just unexpected chaos over here, everywhere you go.

I don?t feel it?s right to complain in such detail for so long about Ukraine, though; I mean, there are a lot of things that are good about the country, too. When you do find friendly people, they?ll go out of their way for you, to the end. Life does not ?rush by? even half as fast as it feels like it does in America. Television, cars, and commercialism in general just aren?t as much a core part of your life here as they are, there. It?s easy to be a neighbor here, just because everyone is out there, walking around.

Monday: This is interesting: First, I already knew that everyone had to have at least one passport. After talking with Elena I learned that people in Ukraine also must have a place of residence actually listed in this passport. I suppose it makes sense, since they?re required to carry these documents around anyway, but without that residence listed, they can?t get a job, go to the bathroom, request a house call (doctors still make house calls over here!) or what not. (Okay, I?m kidding about the bathroom part, if you hadn?t figured that out)

Tuesday: Remember how I said the handicap-friendliness of Ukraine is a little lacking? We were walking around the market today and I saw a store that I need to mention. We saw it earlier but I forgot to say anything then. It has three steps leading up to the door, which makes it non-accessible, although that really doesn?t matter because the roads, sidewalk and market are full with enough curbs and potholes to make navigation via wheelchair impossible to begin with. But at the top of the stairs? A handicap-access button for the door.

Absolutely. Hilarious.

Wednesday: Well, I start my trip home tonight, while Elena and the baby have decided to stay on for a few more weeks. Talk to you all again later, State-side!


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