Sunday, September 2, 2012

Happy Knowledge Day!

Halloween already? No, even scarier- school!

Knowledge Day, or День Знаний, was yesterday. It represented a return to homework, books, and teachers' dirty looks, for classes are back in session. The streets were filled with students in uniform, heading home from the day's ceremonies. The uniforms are slightly shocking. They're adorable on a child-
but perhaps a bit more risque on teens?
If you're Ukrainian and reading, thinking hmmm, what's so strange about this?, I blame it all on Britney Spears. And male readers, before you get all worked up, let me tell you that these uniforms aren't worn every day (although some say that they are supposed to be).
В школу, to school
The вахта came for tea this afternoon and mentioned taking her grandchildren to "first bell" yesterday. She came armed with probably 100 photographs, including a dozen or so of the grandchildren. I'd always wondered how Ukrainian women learned to do such classy poses for photographs and suddenly the answer was in front of me. Kindergarten.
"When will September 1st come?!"
Dressing the kids up and getting a photographer to take their picture is all the rage. This isn't just any old dress-up, though. Her grandson, for example, was photographed:
  • as a boxer. Shirt off, boxing gloves on.
  • as a soldier (who looked more like a mercenary). Machine gun and ammo belts included.
  • as a... mafia don? In a business suit, holding a briefcase with gobs of $100 bills sticking out.
  • as a cave man, complete with dinosaur bone club
And that's just what I can remember! Her granddaughter didn't have as many 'themed' photos. Rather, the girl was posing in fancy dress clothes that are usually found on adult women. Even though this girl was like 5, she looked super confident. Someone had told her exactly how to hold her limbs. I wish someone had taught me how to pose for photographs when I was that young. Relevant side story: Last week some of us decided to take photos near a famous Kharkov landmark. When it was my turn I did the usual stand awkwardly, arms at side, try to look comfortable. Then it was Yulia's turn and she immediately hopped up on the railing, turned to her side and tucked up her knees. It looked great on the camera. She went on to naturally do other really amazing poses. This was the first time I became really conscious of this thing, of women here knowing how to look good on camera. Come to think of it, her 10 year old daughter does the same thing- confidently and naturally strikes a pose whenever the camera clicks. It must all come from kindergarten and these theme photos!
Back to the tea... we had a nice visit with L, the вахта. She brought roses (an odd number, of course) and delicious homemade apple jam. Thinking of the English word preserves, I barely caught myself from calling it preservative, which unfortunately translates as condom in Russian! L is in her early sixties. She trained as a singer and traveled the country to perform. Despite complaining that age has ravaged her voice (it hasn't!), she regularly broke into song during our chat. Like many in Kharkov she's a staunch Russian speaker. (You know this issue is a battle cry, right?) Her husband passed away and she lives now with her daughter and son-in-law. Or perhaps they live with her, it's hard to say which came first in Ukraine. Now she earns about $50 USD a month working as a вахта and she often starts her sentences with у нас (in our country) or в Америке (in America). Two of her favorite philosophical topics are the end of the world and the possibility of her own death. I never know what to say when those topics come up. I was glad when she switched to more light-hearted stories, such as the time her tour bus stopped near a poppy field, and all the passengers brought so many poppies on board that everyone felt ill from the flowers' effects.

D got most of the verbal barrage. L is quite the talker. If each of her words were a drop of water, her speech would be Niagara falls. At the beginning I could follow almost every drop, but by the end it just blurred and I sat back in fascination at this waterfall of words. L is a kind woman, as evidenced by her concern for us and her gifts, but L is also a very strong woman. In my opinion, anyone over 50 in Ukraine has incredible strength of character. The weak just don't survive. L told us a story about going to Moscow in 1998 with a suitcase full of goods to sell. This was not long after the end of the Soviet Union and the entire region was going through a rapid and chaotic series of currency devaluations. After selling the goods in Moscow the ruble crashed and the money she'd just earned from the sale become almost worthless. As I've heard many others from this generation do, L reminisced about life in the Soviet Union- free education, guaranteed housing, and oh, the tomatoes on the kolhoz!

Speaking of the good ol' days, schoolchildren weren't the only thing we saw yesterday. I want to end this post with a political ad that's popped up around town. I've posted pictures of the Ukrainian Communist Party ads before, but this is a new one.
Unemployment is the whip of the oligarchs. Vote for the Communist Party of Ukraine!!! Choose prosperity and happiness!!! Return the country to the people.


  1. Wow. This brings back creepy memories (did I tell you about in my brief stint at Russian public school?) More than anything, your life here looks so authentic. Especially that chai spread!

  2. Sasha, did you have to wear this outfit when you were in school? If so, email me a pic- too cute! :p

  3. Its really great scene I really like the streets of Ukraine and I am coming to Ukraine very soon.. :) Hope to see you there..

    Skype: mubashar.seabreezetravels

    1. Hi Sonu Ahmad, I'm sure that you'll enjoy Kharkov :) You'll be here just in time for the colors of fall!