Friday, August 15, 2014

Second work week in Ukraine done!

A reminder: this is a personal blog of personal reflections and opinions. It's not journalism. I'm making no effort whatsoever to be fair or balanced. My observations will not necessarily be someone else's - you may disagree with how I have observed and interpreted something. How I interpret what I see won't be how someone standing right next to me might see it. All I hope is that I come from a place of honesty and sincerity in my observations - but I make no claims here to being impartial or even kind here. This isn't about being "right" or "wrong" - it's all opinion and about what I'm experiencing, from my point of view. It's all perspective. My perspective. Only mine.

A tweet I sent this week:

Dear USA: this is what a civilized society looks like: 
"I will be out of the office 27 Jul - 25 Aug for my annual leave." #novacationnation

Every time I email someone in Europe and get this message, I'm reminded of how much my husband gave up to move to the USA with me. Most people in Ukraine - just like all of Europe - take four weeks or so off in July or August - so I have gotten this message a lot for the last two weeks.

It's kept you up at night, and you are dying to ask: how are my ankles? Each morning, they are fine - boney and skinny, as they should be. During the day, I prop them up whenever I remember to on a box under my desk - which is full of lovely commemorative medals that I guess are handed out to really high-profile visitors. Hoping that once my Ukrainian office mate realizes I'm using such as a foot stool, she will not freak out. My desk has the front closed off, so I can't use a chair to rest my feet on, and I've hunted all over for something else to prop my feet up, to no avail. Anyway, box-o-medals helps tremendously: by the end of the day, only my right ankle is a bit swollen, just on the sides. Once it cools off, I'm going to start walking home every day, and that should take care of the swelling once and for all.

One of the things I love to do when I'm on a trip with Stefan is to seek out local beer. We've always done that in Europe - and it's surreal that we can do it now in the USA, that so many cities do have a local beer. Seeking out local beer is a way to experience the local scene. So, of course, I've been sampling beers in Kyiv. Soooo good. Soooo cheap. No after taste, like so many USA micro brews. Well done, Ukraine!

I'm so afraid I'm going to jinx it by saying this… and it's only the end of week two… BUT I LOVE MY JOB. Oh my goodness, I love love love it. I love trying to find simple ways to say incredibly complex things about humanitarian response and anti-corruption reform and on and on. Every day has these moments that are incredibly intense, or fun, or scary, or awesome. I go into work every day exhilarated and terrified. I LOVE working with other people again, every day, and what's great is that most of these international folks are just like me: here to do a very specific job in just 2-3 months, and then we're OUT OF HERE. It makes us all hyper focused, and that's an awesome way to work. But, as I said earlier, there are times I feel like I'm playing international aid worker - surely this is just a dream?! I cannot tell you how much I needed this job emotionally, spiritually and, of course, professionally. But… I'm also counting the days until I leave. I know I could never do this full time every day for more than, say, eight weeks... I'd wear out. It's too intense for me in the long term. I'm old. I love roller coasters, but I couldn't ride one every day, or even every week. I'm going to enjoy the hell out of this - and then be oh so happy when it's over. I am so looking forward to just walking around my neighborhood back in Oregon, petting all the neighbor cats and dogs, and playing in my garden. When this job is over, I've got to figure out what I'm going to do with myself, professionally speaking, as I don't want to run off like this all the time (except for FUN rather than work)... But that's something I don't have to think about right now.

On Thursday, the big boss said,'"You'll have to teach me how Twitter works."
Yes, the head of all our organization's operations in Ukraine said that to me.
While eating peanuts off my desk.
Peanuts are powerful.

I joke with him freely. I don't care. They hired me, this is me, love it and embrace it or fire me. I'm 48. I don't play reindeer games anymore. And so far, he digs it. And my peanuts.

This week I was sitting in a meeting room, waiting for a presentation, different people start coming in... and in walks one of my colleagues from my time in Kabul, a guy from Nepal that I liked very much. I almost started crying. He recognized me, and we had a joyous reunion. He's here in Ukraine to help re: the internally-displaced people (IDP) situation (they aren't called "refugees", since they are displaced within their own country). He has so much work to do…

I've blogged elsewhere about what my work days are like, if you're interested.

On Tuesday, I walked around a block next to my office (the block we're actually on is long, goes down a long hill, and isn't interesting). Our building is right on the edge of a gorgeous neighborhood that's quite trendy with government officials. There's a flower shop around the corner that has kind of done this lattice border thingy around the trees out front that I've tried to do in my yard - they've done it with sticks, I've done it with bamboo. I also saw a downstairs pub in the next block, and talked my office mate into taking me. She didn't want to - she wanted to go to the fancy schmancy Italian restaurant down the street, but there was no time, and I said, "Hey, what about that place in the basement over there?" It was, of course, delightful, with a simple, delicious three courses for lunch (some kind of soup, some kind of chicken and potato stew, some kind of something - and Kvass to drink). It looked like any simple local pub restaurant in Germany or Belgium or wherever. It's my favorite meal here so far. And she kept apologizing for it!

As you may have read on this blog elsewhere, I have a driver that takes me to the office every day, something my host so generously arranged. It's a dude with a car, a friend of another dude with another car that my friend usually uses (my friend doesn't have her own car - not really needed here, if you stay in the city). This new driver, very young, speaks a little English, and was in the USA once, in Pennsylvania. I pay him less than $10 a day - that's the going rate. As I'm not paying rent (despite my pleas to do so), and it's so freakin' hot every day, and it's a 40 minute walk to work, $10 is totally worth it. I just wish his English was good enough to answer me all the times I say, "What's that?" I gave him a tip on Friday, telling him I wouldn't need him in the afternoon, as I would walk home - and then had to call him to drive to my friend's before she left for work to get my glasses, which I'd forgotten to bring. ARGH! I'm so not used to working outside of the house daily...

And then I didn't walk home on Friday. By 4 p.m., I realized it was going to have to work at least until 6, maybe later. We were all pushing hard to get a major document out to HQ back in NYC, before a big important visit next week. Finally, it was done. I sent it to everyone it needed to be sent to, and then I ran out of work. Barefoot. I RAN. It was 7 p.m., my car with my friends was waiting, and I didn't want anyone to be able to find me to ask me for one more table, one more graphic, one more paragraph change. So I kicked off my work shoes (I leave them at the office under my desk), I grabbed my Tevas and I RAN RAN RAN down the steps and across the compound and through the gate and into the waiting car. And I came back to the apartment were I'm staying, and we ate fresh bread and gorgeous cheese, and salmon, and drank champagne and Maker's Mark… oh, it's so hard here, how will I get through it….

My friend here with whom I'm living has a cat. The cat is big - even bigger than Gray Max, and all black. And psychotic. In a good way. Other people have reported he's bitten or scratched them. He hasn't done that to me but, then again, I wait for the cat to come to me, even if it takes days, before I pet him. He loves me only in the mornings, when my hosts are asleep. Then he's around my legs and talking to me. And my reply is always the same: "No, I will not feed you. That's someone else's job. It doesn't mean I don't I love you." My nights consist sometimes of just drinking beer and playing with the cat. My friend's husband took a wine box and made a house out of it, and the cat attacks it nightly, from the inside. I joke that I've actually been recruited for a cat cult, as our lives, at night, seem to revolve around watching the cat. I have gone out once after work, but at the end of the day, I'm so wiped out, I just want to go home. I save my socializing and exploring for the weekends.

The food here is just incredible - so many fresh veggies and fruits. I am so missing my gorgeous tomatoes I've been growing for months back in Oregon - but my consolation prize of fresh veggies and fresh fish is quite a reward. And Kvass, of course! Everyone eats fresh fruits and veggies when they bring their lunch. I usually bring my lunch - and I'm astounded that the Ukrainian staff here promptly cleans up after themselves in the communal kitchen.

It looks like the last 90 degree (32 degree Celsius) day was Thursday this week, according to the weather forecasts. I hate a big city when it's 90 degrees or more - especially when I have an office mate that hates air conditioning. I have never sweated through so many clothes, not even in my own unairconditioned house in Oregon in these horribly hot days of summer. Ukranians aversion to air blowing on them here is… weird.

Ukrainian women are the model of Western beauty. Wow. Some overdo it with the hair and makeup, but most are just naturally gorgeous, with smooth, clear skin and lovely hair and features - some with round faces, some with long faces, all with beautiful faces. It's so intimidating. Many do wear the crazy high shoes I've heard so much about - and seen in Portland, Oregon quite a lot - but flats are definitely popular here as well now. See-through skirts and see-through dresses remain the norm here - I was warned about that, and it's definitely true. What I love is that, at least in downtown, men don't give them even a second glance. I look more than they do. I will say… and I'm sorry if I offend… but so far, I haven't found the men here all that attractive. In Afghanistan, there were men who were so beautiful. In Serbia as well. But Ukraine… all the men have buzz cuts and look like they aren't even trying, in terms of dressing to look half way attractive. And those are my sweeping generalizations for today! Hope I've offended lots of folks!

Speaking of offending, I'm keeping notes for a post-deployment blog - things I can't post now, while I'm here, but can later, once I'm out of the country and out of this job. Does that whet your appetite? Are you intrigued?!?

Pictures soon - aiming for Sunday night to post some.

Interesting comparison by @BBCMonitoring of Ukraine & Russia media messaging, how dissent is handled (or ignored).

Russia's incursions since 1990 have never ended well for Russia - even when they "win", they lose.

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