Friday, January 24, 2014

The little things

When we came to Ukraine in 2011, we came with four suitcases and a cloak of optimism that everything would work out. To paraphrase Ray Bradbury, it was more a matter of going to the edge of the cliff, jumping off, and trying to build our wings on the way down.

After all this time I can't say that our wings are fully-built... or perhaps it's just that they don't actually look anything like wings should look.

I thought that by 2014 every "i" would be dotted and every "t" would be crossed.

Guess what?- our life in 2014 is more like a document riddled with spelling errors and haphazard grammar. It's still a fantastic story, a story we wrote word by word and wouldn't wish to trade for any other, but it's a story that I could never have seen coming, full of uncomfortable compromises with fate, distant and displeased family members, and tenuous legal maneuvers (that last part probably being the consolation prize of everyone who comes here).

For one, I thought this story would have ended by now (hence the blog title "8 Months in Ukraine").

I never imagined it would still be going on the fumes of hope.

Two years ago we had a small financial cushion.
Now we're sitting slightly uncomfortably on the floor.

Two years ago we didn't even have a plant to our name.

Now there's a cat. An in-extreme-need-of-remodelling apartment in Crimea with a water leak. A supremely pissed-off student loan company. And let's not forget a revolution tearing up the streets of Kyiv.

I don't mean to complain or sound ungrateful. One thing in our favor is happiness. At least, I think we're happy. Every single day I wake up and am so grateful to be in Ukraine and am very aware that coming here was a choice. My students are wonderful and kind and eager to study. I'm learning to take control over my schedule and, through experience, direct the reins so that I have some control over how each day goes. This blog has been an absolute lifesaver, especially in terms of meeting fascinating people (like you!!! Thank you!) and finding out new things about Kharkiv. As for D being happy, unfortunately I can't vouch for that anymore. He was tremendously generous to agree to move here and I believe he's proud of transitioning from programmer to a management role, but he's carrying a lot on his shoulders these days... and problems just keep piling up.

In Ukraine there's a strong obligation for men to be breadwinners and be able to provide for their families and he takes this idea very seriously. He works so freakin' hard while encouraging me in everything I do. Sometimes I worry that I owe him more than I'm giving. I've taken to heart my version of the stereotypical role of women in Ukraine- cook for your man, clean the apartment, aim to be a Heidi Klum with the brain of an Einstein :p - and I contribute to our income. But I see the little things adding up; while I may be the voice of our duo online, he usually has to fill in for us in all day-to-day errands (shopping, phone calls, dealing with the landlord, etc). And there's been so much bureaucratic crap lately, stuff that is disheartening and adds up to 3 steps back for every 2 steps forward, stuff that doesn't seem to accomplish anything yet needs to be done. Sorry, I'm probably rambling here. What I mean to say is this: he put my happiness first by moving here. If he's no longer happy here, perhaps it's time for me to prioritize his happiness in return.

This doesn't signify an imminent departure from Ukraine. Leaving would require things like sufficient funds for plane tickets, medical hoopla to get the cat out with us, and some kind of landing pad (or even a crash pad). We need at least a semblance of plan before we jump off the edge again. And I don't want to go.

But it's on the table now.

I didn't mention this idea on the blog before, but it's been on the table since Thanksgiving- we went from not-even-thinking-of-leaving to acknowledging it. I feel like we're still happy in general, but these little things are piling up and taking more space in our psyches. And Euromaidan has been a big trigger. It's such a painful thing for everyone. No one wants chaos and heartbreak, no one wants to see their community torn into warring factions- but it's happening. People are taking sides and it's impossible to ignore from any distance. I cry for the dead, for the hatred that has sprung up between neighbors, for the growing chasm between the people and the leaders. It seems like the very air we breathe these days is laced with sorrow. The country can not focus on positive things at this moment, things like helping the elderly, improving the roads, fighting the HIV epidemic- everything has been put on hold and this is echoed in our lives. Survival mode is engaged.

Will we all wake up and find that a loaf of bread suddenly costs 1,000 uah? Will there be more violence on the streets? Will foreigners be targeted? Will TV and internet work? Will the government have suddenly absconded to safety and left only crumbs for the nation?

So that's life right now. A lot of little things and some rather big ugly things too. I guess we're all just holding our breath, waiting for answers, waiting for the sun to rise and tomorrow to come.


  1. Hi Katherine - I feel your pain and sorry to hear things are not working out the way they should be...I think that leaving Ukraine at the moment would be a right move for you... You can always come back at a later point in life when/if things get better in Ukraine...Stay strong! - Natalie

  2. I'm a little shocked that the Ukrainian protests didn't peter out like the Russian ones, so I know you all must be in a rough situation. Best of luck with all of your tough decisions.

  3. It's not that bad I think. Just today i met a friend, a young woman, who hasn't heard about Euromaidan at all. I would like some change, but unfortunately, nothing will happen, nothing will change.

  4. It's so hard trying to figure out the whole 'what to do with your life' thing. I started grad school with a very specific reason (the State Dept's English Language Fellowship requires people with Master's degrees), although now that I'm about to graduate I really would rather stay in the US. I've applied for the ELF... but also for several jobs in the US. I keep going back and forth on what I want to do. Honestly, I would love to be in Kiev right now, although I would feel very uncertain about trying to make a living there (or elsewhere in Ukraine) at the moment.

  5. After calling Ukraine home for more than 2 years, it must be unsettling to be faced with the question of moving--and out of the blue, at that. It is devastating to see your community pulled apart, too, and I can't begin to imagine how that must feel. Best of luck in making your decision.

  6. Though I can't begin to understand what it's like in Ukraine right now, one of the best pieces of advice I've received is to leave before you start to really dislike things. That holds whether that's a job or a place. It's worth keeping that in mind as you weigh up your options.

  7. I just want to reach through the internet and give you a hug because I've felt exactly like this! For me, once I got it in my head that it was time to leave Kyrgyzstan, the logistics became so overwhelming and all-consuming. Where should we go? How do we get the cat there? What will we do? And maybe you can relate to this, but I felt like the initial decision to pack up and move to the former USSR was way way easier than moving out. Buy a plane ticket, sign up for classes at a local university, book a hotel room for the first week, done. Getting out? Jobs, apartments and leases, cars, etc, and everything is *so* much more expensive. I remember frantically trying to plan our move out of Bishkek, thinking about where we want to live, what we want to do, but just getting stuck. Oh wait, it doesn't matter if I want to move to Portland or Denver or DC if we don't get a job offer. Hence... Belgium. Which came about very very suddenly. The universe is funny like that. Do your best to enjoy whatever remaining time you have in Ukraine and good luck with whatever/whenever/wherever the next chapter is!