Friday, September 16, 2011

The next day....

Settling into Kharkov.... maybe it's just culture shock finally catching up with me, or maybe it's having left the insulated dream bubble of Kiev, but Kharkov is more like the Ukraine I remember from before. The Ukraine that makes me cry. The Ukraine that makes me angry. The Ukraine that makes me wonder why the hell I left the States. 

The school director's husband met me at the train station and gave me a ride to my apartment. It was dark, I was exhausted after the train ride, not really the best circumstances for an introduction to a foreign city. We stopped in front of a building just like all the other buildings, done in a particularly artistic style that former roommate EC calls “post-apocalyptic”. He swept us past the magnetic lock guarding the outside of the building, into the tiny elevator (otherwise known as the graffiti hall of fame), a quick stop on the wrong floor, and then finally onto my floor. He performed a complicated trick to get us through another door, and then finally opened the door to the apartment I'm in.
My entryway. I'm guessing this is the neighbor's stuff? For their probably ongoing ремонт?

It was the apartment of my dreams!
My bad dreams, that is.
Really bad dreams. 
I would like to say I wasn't expecting much, that my standards were pretty low, but that didn't do me much good. Everything was dirty, there was a big, freshly-squashed cockroach on the kitchen floor, a dead fly on the ancient pullout couch I will use as a bed....that surprised me a little because Ukrainians are usually very fastidious housekeepers. Maybe there was another teacher living here before me? But Kiev spoiled me overall- look, I know that if you're able to rent an apartment in Ukraine, it's only because the people who own the apartment moved in with relatives to get the extra income from your rent. And I understand- if you're living with relatives, where are you going to put your stuff? You'll leave it in the apartment you're renting out, of course. So that's what disappoints me the most, even though I knew to expect it. The apartment is very small and what little storage space there is has been taken up with the owner's books and miscellaneous building materials (everyone here in Ukraine is in a constant stage of ремонт, remodeling.) Here are some pictures from the night I arrived. 
Where the hell are the knobs? Did a knob thief come in the middle of the night?
Yeah, lace curtains. Hello, world! Please feel free to watch my life.
Landlord's stuff? It smells funny, but I'm afraid to investigate.
Shower = fun.
What is that? And why does everyone here use them? 
I took these and then curled up on the couch-bed using my arm as a pillow. And cried. This morning I woke up ready for food and water. Ladies, if you want an effective way to lost weight, please think of living abroad. There are several tried-and-true diet methods for expats, such as:
  • the “I don't know where to buy food” fast 
  • the “I don't know the language” fast 
  • the “I really need to exchange money into the local currency” fast 
  • the “I ran out of money and only have $5 until payday” diet (this one is mainly for men in their 20's) 
  • and if you need to lose a lot of weight quickly, you can't go wrong with a simple, old-fashioned case of food poisoning Just something to keep in mind as the holiday season approaches!)
    I honestly tried really hard to leave the apartment, but I couldn't make it past the front door. Remember when I mentioned working with refugees from Nepal and being amused at their antics as they learned to use our door knobs and locks? Well, hahaha. The joke's on me. But seriously, would you know what to do with this? (How do you unlock the upper lock from the outside?) I didn't think so! (It's insane. I'll have to post a video. And then when you come here and try to use this, I'll be sure to laugh at you!)

    So like I said, I couldn't get out of the fortress the first time. And since I'm already making complaints, here's another one: the neighbor came out and scolded me! Resigned, I went back into the fortress. It took me about an hour to get up enough courage to try again. This time I made it out.

    I went for a quick walk and came back to the fortress. While I was struggling to open the door, the neighbor popped her head out, “Oh, it's you. You got out.” and then shut her door. I struggled with the lock for about nine thousand days, then I knocked on her door to beg for help. She wasn't able to get the lock either, so she summoned her teenage daughter, who was finally able to open it. Turns out one key is hopelessly warped, so there will be no using that lock. The other lock is just crazy difficult to get undone. Anyways, at least their curiosity was piqued and they introduced themselves and smiled at me. Probably because they think I'm a bloody fool.

    EC, one of my Kiev roommates, has been ordered to Kharkov for a month. His girlfriend is also in town for a couple of days, so the three of us were able to (after several phone calls for directions) find the school. The metro here is a lot quieter than Kiev's. We actually all got to sit down on the ride! At the school we met the director and several of the teachers/staff. Dear readers, if I say “organized chaos”, would that give you a good example of how things operate at work? Or maybe a better expression is “just by the seat of my pants.” EC and I got a quick talk from the director. She informed me that surprise, surprise, starting tomorrow I'll be teaching a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) class in addition to the classes I was actually trained on. I am a little bit shocked- it will be good experience, of course, and things will probably go well once I start teaching, but I don't really feel prepared for this. For example, lesson 4 is already covering articles (when to use “a” or “the” and when to skip it). Holy cow, I better start prepping for this!

    After visiting the school we went to Mexico Хаус (Mexico House), where they serve burritos, quesadillas, tacos, pasta, and pizza (yeah, I know, geographically something is wrong with that menu). It was delicious! 
    EC thinking to himself- this doesn't look much like a burrito! It's not. It's a Ukrainian burrito, or as I like to call it, the U-kritto.
    Another dish from Mexico House
    My quesadillas: spinach, crab meat, and shrimp. Who needs beans?!
    I spent the afternoon indulging in retail therapy (sorry D. Check the bank account.) I didn't expect people here to be so friendly, but they are. Maybe because I'm shopping? :P I spent about $60 on some not-very-exciting things for the fortress, like a mop, a tea kettle, etc. And some food too, finally real food! 
    Check out these fresh radishes! They cost about 50 cents! D told me on the phone that I got overcharged, but I gleefully replied “50 cents! 50 cents!!!”


    1. Oh, Gosh.....It seems Kharkov is not the best place for good impressions. I am really shocked with the apartment you're going to stay at!

    2. Hope this rental doesn't cost you a fortune.

      There're apartments much better in Kharkov.

      And it's not uncommon to try to fool newcomers. But if you insist on the decent attitude, people usually offer much better options than initially :)