First Day highlights:
Airplane: I sat next to an old Holland woman on the international flight. At the beginning of the flight she talked to me in English but by the end, she only spoke Dutch. Even when I reminded her, "I'm sorry? What was that? English, please," she seemed to have forgotten all English so I just started nodding and acting like I understood.
The arrival: Tamila's husband Tolya met me at the airport. When I arrived, I rushed through the big sliding glass doors where everyone waits for arrivals like they're movie stars… and saw no one I knew. Tolya wasn't there with a big smile for me. No one was. Just a bunch of strangers and taxi drivers who wanted to know if I wanted to pay big bucks to go to the central train station. I didn't.
So I looked around, pretty sure I would know him when I recognized him. I didn't have a cell phone or anything. Finally I walked over to a sitting area and pulled out my computer. I opened it and prayed for wi fi, but pretty sure there wasn't. There was so I called Oksana from skype because I didn't have Tolya or Tamila's phone number on skype. She answered, I explained, she gave me Tolya's number so I called him on skype. He doesn't know English so this was my first attempt at rusty Ukrainian. He said he was by the exit where all the arrivals come. I said I was by the exit. He said he didn't see me. I said I didn’t see him. We were at a loss. I said I would go outside and wait there. He said he would find me. I went outside. I didn't see him. I asked a uniformed guy standing there smoking if there is more than one exit. He said no but there is more than one terminal. We were at terminal F. The main building is terminal B. I called Oksana and told her to call Tolya and explain this to him. She called him, I waited and at last, I saw his hurried bobbing head coming through the cars from the distance.
Hurray! I didn't have to find my own way. Especially since I had racked my brain for the name of Tamila's metro stop and was pretty sure it was "Obshorka." So if I DID have to get a bus or taxi, I could tell them what metro stop I needed. Except that later when Tamila's daughter Slava asked me if I remembered their metro stop, I said Obshorka and she almost doubled over laughing. Because their metro stop is Osokorki and I had just said the word of a person who eats everything in sight. "Where did you hear that?" she gasped in between fits of guffaws.
I had no idea. But I was sure I had heard it somewhere. "Well, it has an 'O, I was close," I said. And then when I came to Koziatyn, the town where I worked for two years I saw "Obshorka" written on the supermarket and remembered why I knew the word. It's the name of a supermarket chain. So Slava didn't need to laugh SO hard. It's a legitimate word.
Tamila and Slava: Slava works now for eight hour a day from about noon to 8 p.m. and is saving up to go to Crimea for her birthday with friends on Aug. 13. She wasn't there when I got to the house. Tamila made me dinner, we talked a lot and then I took a short nap. Exhaustion had kind of slammed into me after five hours of sleep on the plane. Slava came home while I was sleeping so I woke up and we hugged a lot. Then we talked and went for a walk. She filled me in on life and work.
Finding Anya: I ate breakfast with Slava, she went off to work, and I went to meet Anya at the Poshtova Ploscha metro station. I had talked with Anya on skype that morning to figure out where to meet. We agreed on 11:50 a.m. Of course, Slava and I were late leaving the house and then I had difficulty managing to get off at the right station. Anya had told me it's the metro stop with the Vernicular (a cart that runs up the side of the steep hill to a bunch of cathedrals and churches) and that there is one exit from the metro at that stop and she'd be waiting by the doors.
I had to switch lines and when I got off the first train I couldn't figure out where to go, I walked one way, then the other, then finally read a sign and figured it out. Then as I got on the next train, I scanned the list of stops and got nervous. Had Anya said Kontraktova Ploscha or Poshtova Ploscha? I remembered that one year ago, I had the same problem, I couldn’t remember which one and I went to the wrong one. I decided it must be Kontraktova. That seemed more familiar. So I went one further than Poshtova and got off. Then I froze because there were two exits. Maybe Anya had been wrong? I finally found a friendly looking lady and told her I was looking for the vernicular. Was it at this metro station or Poshtova? She thought about it, and decided with another gentleman standing there that it must be Poshtova. I was already 20 minutes late. With a sigh, I waited for the train again and got on the metro going back one station. Then I hurried off, raced up the stairs, and there was Anya. Lots and lots of hugging ensued. She thought I might have been lost.
Double Coffee: We went to a chain coffee shop in Kiev to drink and eat and talk. We ordered colas and a pizza. The waiter was nice and seemed to really like Anya. Every once in a while we wondered where the pizzas was. It was taking so long. How long does it take to make one pizza? While we waited, we talked and talked. An hour later, I finally told Anya to ask the waiter where our pizza was. He got a look of horror across his face, because he'd forgotten to order it, and said it would be ready in 15 minutes. It finally arrived, cold. Maybe it sat in a corner somewhere until he brought it out, I said. Then we got the bill. Cokes were 34 hryvnia and the pizza was 88. In smaller towns, Cokes can be 10 or 15 and pizzas maybe 35-40. Oh well. It was one of those adventures.
When being an American is useful: Anya had just been at a camp all week for underprivileged children, and American visitors. At the end of the week, the Americans unexpectedly gave her an envelope. She assumed it was a kind note and ripped it along the edge while on a train back to Kiev. It was actually two Ukrainian 500 hrn bills, and she had just ripped the edges off them. While this is no big deal in America, most stores won't accept ripped money in Ukraine so she was really worried. Several people urged her to take them to a bank and they would probably exchange the bills for other money, no problem. Still, she was nervous. So after pizza, I told her we should go straight to a bank. She kept saying how worried she was. "Just go in with a big smile and be super friendly; it'll be okay," I said. She shook her head. "They aren't like that here. They won't be nice to me," she said. When we got to the bank, I took the money from her. "I’ll handle this," I said. I walked in and asked the teller in English, "Do you speak English?" She shook her head. So I said in Ukrainian, "Sorry, I don’t speak Ukrainian well. I am an American and I have a problem." And I showed her the money. She smiled and chuckled a little and I had accomplished my mission. Anya took over and asked if they could possibly exchange the ripped money. She took it and gave us new bills without trouble.
Trains: Anya said we could try to find a train to Koziatyn, but since it was Friday it might be difficult to buy tickets so we did what Anya often does now. We went up to a conductor of one of the train cars on a comfortable 4:45 p.m. train and asked if we could buy passage to Koziatyn. Conductors allow this illegal practice when there are empty seats so they can make a little extra money for themselves. He agreed and we boarded with all my luggage. Anya met a friend, Dima, on the train accidentally and we sat near him. He had just bought a telescope and had several large boxes with him. He gave us pieces of paper to fan our faces with, because it was such a hot day and the train was stuffy. Later after we were off the train, he asked Anya for those papers and we had no idea where we had put them. I think we left them on the train. They were instructions to his telescope on how to put it together! He had it sent from Russia and will try to ask the company if they can scan the instructions and email them. We felt terrible!
Showers: We took a taxi to Anya's parent's house and her mom fixed a great dinner of potatoes, oven-baked chicken shish kabobs and salad. Her dad was away fishing for a few days and in the meantime, the water some how shut off and the other family members couldn't fix it. So while her dad was gone, the house was without water. We flushed the toilet by pouring water down it, and helped each other wash hands by pouring the water from a cup. We went to Anya's grandmother's house to shower. Funny thing was, she watches some children and they broke the nozzle head of her shower. So we washed with the faucet, and a shower hose. Haha, great times in Ukraine!
Surprise!: Before I left for Ukraine, I emailed Natasha, my teacher counterpart, several times that I was coming, but never heard from her. When I got here, I tried the one phone number I had for her but it didn't work. So I decided after showering, to stop by Natasha's house. I just hoped I wouldn't give her a heart attack by unexpectedly showing up in Ukraine, on her doorstep. Anya and I walked up the five flights of stairs to her door and rang the bell. It was 9:30 p.m. so she called out her customary "Who’s there?" in Ukrainian.
"Um, it’s a surprise," I said, also in Ukrainian. Silence. Then the door opened and she looked at me all wide-eyed."“Haven’t you checked your email?" I asked her and we hugged while she still looked dazed and shocked. "No," she laughed. "I haven't checked my email" Her two daughters came bouncing down the hallway and also gave me excited hugs. Then we sat and talked and they made me tea and we caught up. It was great to know I'd been missed.
Night time café (still on Friday. Longest day ever): There are a couple of new restaurants in Koziatyn and one of them is in Shevchenko park and is called "City Park" in English letters. Everyone agrees this is strange because Koziatyn is not a city; it's a town. We went there to meet Anya's friends and my good ol' friend Sasha and to drink Ukrainian beer, which is the best beer in the world. Everyone agrees about this point too, especially if they've been drinking a lot. We drank and I caught up with Sasha. A lot of catching up has been going on, all around. It really feels like I never left. And then the exhaustion really hit me again – jet lag – so Anya and I went home to her house to sleep.