Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sept 2 & 3

Another beautiful day in Kiev!!

I took the metro completely on my own yesterday and had no trouble getting to the school (getting back home was another story). I was very curious to see how the visa situation would be discussed at this policy meeting. In the end, I was impressed by their approach...which was pretty much "this is Ukraine, no one knows anything and what they do know will change tomorrow." So.....yeah. If the school had said anything else, especially something along the lines of "Don't worry, your status here is completely secure and legal" then I would have felt cheated and lied to, because it's hard to make a promise like that here. 

Roommate update: EC moved out last night to live with his girlfriend (visiting from Russia) and 2 new roommates arrived, so I am now sharing my room. There are 5 of us here now, amongst 3 bedrooms. We get along fantastically, it's very fortunate! Since I was the only one home last night (alone with my cold), I took the new roommates out to buy groceries. We also visited a little tea store in the metro with 50 billion or so varieties of tea. I really hit it off with the saleswoman there! She had extensive knowledge of everything she sold and I got three 50-gram bags of teas for about $10. I find shopping here to be interesting: some things are a bargain, like these teas, while other items cost much more than you'd pay in the US. I'm trying to live "local" and go without the expensive items that locals can't afford...but sometimes it's hard to judge prices, because what's expensive for a local can still be cheap to my thinking.

Today we spent the morning hanging out in the kitchen. Anastasia, H's visiting (kind of Ukrainian, violinist in London) girlfriend spent the night and made us soup in the morning. The most fantastic part of my day was meeting up with Lena. Lena and I have been penpals for about 2 years now. She lives in a small town 90 minutes away from Kiev. We spoke on the phone for the first time yesterday and today she took a bus into Kiev to visit me. We spent the entire afternoon hanging out at Independence Square (known here as Майдан Незалежності). It was a beautiful and exciting afternoon!! There were lots and lots of people milling around the square and some sort of large-scale public televised event (dancing) in the middle of the square. I kept hearing the word "Ukraine" repeated over and over in the music, and the 50 or so dancers would repeatedly form themselves into a human outline of the country. People here seem to be very proud to be Ukrainian.
Lena speaks wonderful English....amazingly, she pretty much learned it through self-study and keeps it up by chatting with the occasional Peace Corps Volunteer her family hosts for Ukrainian-language training. (If you are in the Peace Corps in Ukraine, or planning to be, keep in touch with your host family! They're sad if you go off on your assignment and never contact them again!) It was interesting to hear her opinions on life here. I asked her what she thought of the "marriage agencies" and she told me that one agency had offered her a job, not translating letters from Russian to English but instead completely composing them herself. So a guy thinks he's getting a letter from a particular person, but instead all those promises of love and devotion are coming from a "translator"! We stopped for tea three times. The first time was at Coffee House ("where coffee is a lifestyle"). This was a fancy coffeehouse with a very stylish interior. Then we went to this underground and incredibly-upscale shopping mall, full of expensive American stores that I don't have the money to even walk into! Again, Ukraine, how can you have so much glamor and advertising and still not provide toilet paper? Arghh....
Anyways, Lena showed me a bookstore in the mall. I was surprised to find some of the English texts I use (Grammar in Use, in case you're interested) for sale....for half the price! They cost $30 each in the States and only 115 griven here (about $15). There was even a section of English language fiction books, but thanks to my Kindle, I was able to resist the temptation. We went down to the food court (D, this is where you and I had baked potatoes and beer in 2007) and went to Lena's favorite cafe "Sausage Express" for sandwiches and more tea. Here's a photo...it was delicious! I know some particular Russians in Wasilla who would be crazy about this place :p
In the background of this photo you can make out McFoxy's, a local McDonald's rip-off that sells chicken fast food. Haha, McFoxy's, what a great name! Speaking of McDonald's, there's one on every single street here. It's insane! After lunch we paid 2 griven (about 20 cents) to pee in the public restroom. I always feel bad for the ladies that work there, collecting your money and perhaps doling out a couple squares of toilet paper. What a job! We headed out of Globus, the shopping mall, donated some money to a lady with an absolutely beautiful cat with silky, long hair and cute little dog in a shopping cart (she was collecting money to help stray animals), and went back above ground. We watched some of the dancing in Independence Square and then visited the post office so Lena could buy some envelopes. We did a lot of strolling before visiting our final cafe for another cup of black tea. It was such a pleasant afternoon!!
I took an astonishingly-empty metro back home (if only it was like this more often!) and then spent a good 10 minutes wrestling with the front door. Not only me, in fact, trying to open it from the outside with a key, but also with Cowboy trying to open it from the inside! Haha, I guess that's payback for you- I remember when I was a case manager for refugees in Alaska, I'd often spend 10 minutes waiting outside someone's apartment while they took 10 minutes figuring out how to open the door. It was kind of funny to watch the doorknob turning back and forth for so long, but I'm sure if some Ukrainian was watching me they'd think the same thing!

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