Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Life as a Nomad

I left my friend's village for the four hour bus-trolleybus-minibus trek back to Khotyn determined to make the best of living with Myroslava.  It was a gorgeous mid-July day, with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-seventies -- the kind of day that makes it almost impossible to believe that it gets to -30 in the winter, the kind of day that gives you hope that everything will work out.

When I got back to my apartment, all the laundry I'd done and hung up outside a couple of days before was in my room, still wet, drying on the couches.The bags and suitcases I'd started unpacking were all re-packed and pushed off to the sides of the room.  Everything of mine that had been in the kitchen and bathroom was missing -- I couldn't even find my shampoo.  Myroslava's stuff was still in the bathroom, but mine had mysteriously disappeared.  I was annoyed.  Myroslava had assured me that she would never come into my room without knocking unless she absolutely had to.  She'd even planned ahead for when she would need to pack up the living room and asked me if it was OK.

I ran some errands in an attempt to calm down before confronting her.  It also gave me a chance to formulate what I'd say to her in Ukrainian.  My language was getting pretty good, but subtly isn't easy in a foreign language, and I don't do well with confrontation in general, in any language.  So when I saw Myroslava later I asked her why she'd been in my room, moving around my things.  Her reply:  "Until I move, this is my room," and then she called Irina, my coordinator.  Apparently she'd been cleaning because she was having a bunch of guests come later in the day (Friday) and was having her wedding Tuesday and Wednesday!  She never said that I couldn't stay, but clearly it wasn't an option.

I called Oleg with an update and he told me to get on the next train to Kyiv.  Peace Corps would put me up in a hotel while we tried to figure out what to do.  I re-packed the backpack I'd been living out of for the past three weeks.  I stopped by the post-office on my way out of town and found that my pre-ordered copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had arrived!  The ladies behind the counter were staring in awe at the pre-printed label and debating what to do with it.  When they saw me walk in the door, they said "This must belong to you," and just handed it over.  That was the only time in Ukraine that I wasn't required to get a package-slip in my post-office box, sign said package-slip in blue or black ballpoint pen only, sign a log of packages in the exact same manner as the package-slip, in the witness of an Ukrposhta manager, and provide a photo-ID before getting my package.
The Khotyn Post Office
Obviously this picture was not taking in July

I hopped on a mini-bus with my Harry Potter book, happy that I had something to take my mind off the fact that I might be leaving my town for good . . . my cute little town with the funny ladies in the post-office who get confused when a package isn't wrapped in brown paper and held together by rubber cement.  To add insult to injury, when I arrived at the train station, I could only get a seat in Platzcart, or third class.  It's basically one car full of about forty sleeper-seats in one room.  Usually the windows are sealed shut and it's packed with people, belongings, sometimes chickens.  With Harry Potter to keep my company I really didn't notice most of what was going on in the periphery, and I headed off to Kyiv in hopes that my housing problems might be resolved someday soon.
A Snapshot of Platzcart
On this trip, the next winter, my friends and I were mesmerized by the woman selling three-foot tall stuffed animals to people who paid four dollars to save a little money and sleep on beds barely big enough for themselves, with almost no storage space for their belongings.

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