Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Neighbors

Story One

In the elevator, yesterday.
Mean lady, abruptly: Are you living on the #th floor?
D, shocked: Yes.
Mean lady, demanding: How much do you pay for rent?
D, shocked again: Uh, 3500 grivna.
Mean lady, snidely: Oh, I had clients who were willing to pay 4000 and the owner turned them down. I'm a realty agent myself.
And then the elevator stopped and she stomped off. 

Story Two

Our building has a вахта. The proper translation is probably desk attendant but if you've ever encountered one, you know they're more like stone gargoyles that have suddenly come to life and decided to fiercely guard their territory. I first encountered this strange race in Siberia as they religiously policed the entryway of our dorm. They shouted all day at the rambunctious 18 and 19-year-old students, made people wear little booties over their shoes, and rarely allowed anyone who looked over 25 in the building. They couldn't tell us apart (Gunhild, Anna, and me, the three blonde foreigners) but because of their advanced age I couldn't tell them apart either. If you had a late night (as in, any time after 11PM) you had to push a little buzzer and wait for them to wake up and let you in the building. There was a local legend about one student who froze to death a couple winters back because the вахта didn't let him in. I remember one particularly cold winter night (this was Siberia after all!) when we got back from a club at 3 AM and yes, thought we would freeze to death too before the вахта finally woke up, found her tapachki, and shuffled her way over to the front door.

The next time I met a вахта was in a hotel in 2007, vacationing in Crimea. She sat at a desk downstairs all day long. One day (several days after we arrived) we asked her for more toilet paper for the room and she refused, saying that the hotel was like a bureaucracy and the housekeeping department was closed for the weekend and we'd have to buy our own. Or wait until Monday. Her exact words! :p

And finally, there is a вахта crew at the school I teach now. Most are benign except for this one evil lady. When she's guarding the exit I have to slink against the wall to not attract her attention.

So, yeah. We were kind of surprised / horrified to walk up to our new apartment building, arms full of stuff, and suddenly be investigated by this sharp-eyed woman. When we first came to view the apartment it was nighttime and the вахта was off-duty. I didn't even notice the little glass office on the the ground floor. But there she was, questioning us in broad daylight like we were in a police line-up as we juggled bags from one hand to the other. Eventually she relaxed a little and another вахта came up. She'd noticed the plant I was carrying and asked if I like flowers, which led to where was I from, etc, etc. And since then both ladies have been quite nice (although there's a third I haven't met yet). The flower lady even gave me a jade plant (“the tree of love” she called it) and another leafy plant so that I would “have good impressions of Ukraine.” I'm just relieved to have passed the вахта test for once!

Story Three

We were leaving our old apartment building on the outskirts of town. As we each wheeled a duffel bag down the sidewalk, a man who looked vaguely like an off-duty Santa Claus asked “Going on vacation?” This man often spends his evenings sitting on the bench in front of the building, as most people do. Since it's so hot inside people like to spend their evenings gossiping outside on benches, spying on observing other people. This man was a regular attendee to these gossip sessions, along with his dog- the fattest dachshund I've ever seen in my life. I never know if it's proper to greet this group or not. Usually what happens is they fall silent as we walk by, watching us, and then resume their conversation as soon as we pass. Suspicious, right? Anyways, “Moving? Why?!” he bellowed, offended. “To be closer to her work” replied D, referencing my work but not exactly telling the truth. “Where's she work?” he returned. As soon as we revealed the name of the school I teach at, he simultaneously said “But you can't get any closer to it than living here!” and b) “I've been trying to enroll my daughter there! Wait, wait!” and he made a call on his cell, told his daughter to turn off the potatoes and come downstairs and meet this English teacher. (Pssst: Katusha is an endearing nickname for Katherine.) “Katusha!” he practically shouted, “you mean we've had a real English-speaking American living here all year and we don't get to meet you until you're leaving??!!!” His daughter was sweet and shy and excited to meet us and within a few minutes the mom had shown up too. We ended up exchanging phone numbers, although I'm not exactly sure for what purpose.

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