Saturday, February 27, 2010

One Full Year of Bliss

Apparently, getting a landlady who lived on the other side of the country was key to my happiness.  For one full year, I lived completely unmolested in my lovely little apartment with both heat AND hot water.  I even had internet and splurged on a cordless phone, relegating the rotary phone made by the Soviets in 1980 (the year I was born) to the closet.  I never even heard from Myroslava, the landlady, with the exception of a vague promise she made to my coordinator to come by sometime during the summer to check on the apartment.

Given my history with crazy Luba, I didn't particularly want Myroslava in the apartment.  Luba had had a problem with the most ridiculous things, like leaving a chair in the middle of the room, that really weren't any of her business, and I just didn't want to deal with all of that again, especially since my service was coming to an end in November.  I was hoping I'd be out of town when she was around, but just in case, I didn't answer any local calls (the ring is different for long distance, indicating people I actually wanted to talk to) when I was home.

She outsmarted me, though.  One afternoon, shortly after a weekend visit from a bunch of volunteers from other villages, there was a knock on my door.  "Маргарет, это вашa сусідka," (Margaret, it's your neighbor, in a mix of Russian and Ukrainian).  I looked through the peephole, and true enough, there was my neighbor, so I opened the door.  It wasn't just my neighbor.  My landlady was hiding around the corner, and she barreled her way to the door, which I unsuccessfully tried to shut before she got there.  I tried to explain that the place was a mess, and I was embarrassed (both true) and that, if she came back in a few hours I would have it clean.  She, literally, pushed her way into the apartment.

Then she started her barrage of complaints.  Why was I using the sheets she left there?  Why was I using the pan she left there?  Because you didn't leave them in spot we decided on in the spring.  The spot where you would leave anything you didn't want me to use.  Why did I move the couch from the bedroom to the living room?  Why was the table in the bedroom?  Why did you rearrange the kitchen?  Why did you put up a shower curtain?  Why did you put pictures on the walls?  Because I live about 6,000 miles away from home and I wanted to make this place mine.  I will fix it all.  Americans have this thing called a security deposit, where you pay your landlord ahead of time to ensure no damage is done.  I will leave the apartment exactly as I found it when I moved it.

After griping a bit more (Why did you put a hammock on the balcony?  Because the one time I tried to read in the park a drunk man asked me to touch his snake, and I'd like to read outside without that bother, thank you very much), she finally left.  I locked the door, on which the locks had been changed, and vowed never to open the door for the neighbors again.

Life is all rainbows and butterflies when your landlady lives an eighteen hour train ride away.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Doing Laundry in the Lap of Luxury

1.  Make sure the water is on.  You will not have enough reserve water to do laundry.  If you are on a water schedule (6:00 AM to 11:00 AM and 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM during the week and 6:00 AM 10 11:00 PM on the weekends), be sure to start and finish your laundry during the designated hours.  If the water turns off while the clothes are soaking, you will just have to leave them there until the water turns back on.

2.  If you do not have a hot water heater, or a kulunka, you will have to boil water to do your laundry.  Fill the largest pot you have and put it on the stove for around 30 minutes.  If you are lucky enough to have hot water, you will only need to light the kulunka or make sure your electric hot water heater is working before proceeding on to step 3.

3.  Take a laundry bucket and place it in the bathtub.  For large loads, you'll want to use a big, plastic laundry tub that takes up half of the bathtub.  For smaller loads, just use a large, metal bowl.

4.  Put detergent in the bottom of your tub of choice.  Add hot water (either from the faucet or the stove).

5.  Add clothes and swish around a bit.

6.  Leave the clothes to soak for at least an hour.

7.  Remove the clothes, rinsing them with clean water as you go.  If you have hot water, you may do this with any temperature water that comes out of your faucet.  If you do not have hot water, be warned -- the rinsing water gets numbingly cold very quickly, but it is not economical to heat up the rinsing water.  It takes too long to heat up too little water.  You may want to take breaks if you can't feel your hands anymore.  Be sure to ring out the excess water.


8.  Hang the clothes on the line on the balcony, rain or shine.  For special winter laundering instructions, please see number 10.

9.  Remove the clothes when dry.


10.  SPECIAL WINTER INSTRUCTIONS:  If you have an apartment heated by radiators, you will want to use them to your full advantage.  Drape as many wet clothes as you can across the radiators in a single layer.  Hang the remaining clothes outside.  Periodically check on the inside clothes, rotating their positions as some parts dry.  Remove each item when completely dry and replace with outdoor clothes, which will most likely, at this point, be frozen solid.  Continue the rotation until all of your clothes have thawed and dried.

It's a stickup!

 They're standing on their own!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tour of the новий будинок (ukr for new digs)

 Welcome to Dudnichenka Street, my new home.

Come around the corner of the building to enter through the back, as is customary in Soviet-era apartment blocks.

Make yourself at home and head on in the left-side door.  No need for a buzzer system in the village.

Walk up to the third floor.  Be careful while climbing the stairs!  Each step up is a slightly different height.  Fine communist craftsmanship at work.


I'll just let you in to apartment 8.

Take your shoes off in the entryway.  It's important to keep the dirt from the unpaved roads out of the apartment.  Don't worry, I've got spare тапочки (slippers) for you so you don't catch a cold from walking around barefooted.


First let's head to the living room.  Have a seat on one of the omnipresent Ukrainian couch-beds.  Plan on staying a little longer?  Don't worry, they're great for sleeping too!

The floor's not too bad either!

Check out the snazzy Шафа.  You can store your clothes, assorted knickknacks, and books all in one place!  And if your landlady inexplicably locks them and you have nowhere to hang up your clothes, they are easy to break into using brute force.


They also double as a quiet place to make a phone call during a party.
I suppose you might want some tea and cookies.  будеш чай?  чай будеш? What a terrible hostess I am.  Lets walk to the kitchen.

Sorry about the mess, but the water isn't on during the day, so I can't always wash my dishes in a timely manner.


We also have coffee, blended drinks, and distilled water.

Let's have a seat at the table on the stoolchyks.

Would you like to check your e-mail?  We can do it in the bedroom.  Don't worry, it's only 6 kopecks/minute during the day.  We don't need to wait for evening prices (3 kopecks/minute).  Let's just hope the phone line is working.

This is the office side . . . 

. . . and the sleeping side . . . 

. . . and the entertainment/ironing side.

Oh!  You need to use the restroom?  Too much tea, I suppose.  Right this way.

This is the toilet room.  See that little door to the right?  Open it up and turn the red handle clockwise in order to fill the toilet-tank with water.  What?  It didn't work?  Oh yeah, the water's off until 6:00 PM.  There's a bucket of water for flushing behind the door.


Head across the hall to the shower room to wash your hands.  The sink sure looks pretty, but remember you'll have to use water from the bucket below the sink to wash your hands right now since the water's off.  At least when the water's on it's hot!

See you next time!  Hopefully you'll come back after I put the hammock up on the balcony where the clotheslines are on the left.  What a nice, private place to relax!  Thanks for coming!  Goodbye!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Herding Goats and Living in Yurts


O.K., so maybe I wasn't really living a nomadic life, but I was moving around a lot, with no fixed address, and living out of my backpack.  There were also a lot of goats wandering around . . . although the only person I ever saw tending them was a drunk old man drinking samahon at 10:00 in the morning.

My first stop on this leg of my journey was the Peace Corps office in Kyiv.  My train, the one that took 10 hours to go 450 km (which is about 260 miles, or the distance between New York City and Washington, DC, which the Bolt Bus does in 4 hours), also got in at 5:30 am.  About the only thing I found that managed to keep me awake until the rest of the world woke up was to go running.  It was pretty amazing, actually, running through the completely deserted streets of the city, down the main drag, Khreshatyk, with almost no one awake and very few cars on the road.  It always calmed me down and focused me, and by the time I got back other volunteers on other overnight trains had arrived and life was beginning to return to the office.  I'd take a quick shower (they had showers installed specifically for the purpose of volunteers using them after getting in on overnight trains), and then run over to MacDonalds as soon as it opened at 8:00 to grab a morning Big Mac (the Ukrainians are not so keen on breakfast food, so even MacDonalds doesn't have a breakfast menu).
Khreshatyk in the winter
So, this July morning that I arrived at the office, I went for run, had a hamburger, and then headed to Oleg's office to figure out the rest of my life.  He basically told me to hang tight and wait until they got some more information to see whether it was really in my best interest to pull me from my site.  Meanwhile, I e-mailed a few friends to see if I could stay with them for a while, rather than lurk about in Kyiv making my situation more obvious.  Luckily, my closest volunteer (the friend who hosted my birthday party) offered to let me stay with her, although she wasn't there at the moment, and was leaving within a week.  She was headed to Kyiv in a couple of days for a meeting and then we could head back down together.

Excellent.  Small piece of the plan in place.  Next, Oleg realized that the Country Director would be in my region visiting volunteers around Final Moving Date.  Somehow he finagled a ride to my apartment in the official Peace Corps vehicle, with the Country Director, to make sure I could get in.  This part of the plan, which made me more nervous than hanging out at a friend's place for two weeks, also involved a contingency plan for my apartment not being empty -- we would load all of my stuff into the White Chariot and I would be gone from my site for good.

So then I spent a couple of weeks in Kamianets-Podilsky in my friend's apartment.  She was there for the first week, and then I hung out by myself the second.  On August 21st, 2003, I went to another nearby city, Chernivsti, for dinner with the Country Director and some other volunteers and spent the night with another friend in her village.  The next morning, the White Chariot swung by and we began our trip back to Khotyn to my hopefully vacated apartment.


  The Country Director took this picture outside my building because he thought it was funny that I called our ride the White Chariot

In a fully functioning vehicle, the trip took about half the time it normally did.  When we got to the building, I was pretty nervous, and all three of us trooped up the stairs to apartment 8.  When I opened the door it was empty!  It was all mine!  We all looked around a bit, and even the Country Director was impressed with how nice it was.  He snapped this picture of me in my kitchen because he thought the sunflowers were nice and cheery, and worth the wait: