So, two weeks to go. And then I'm done. I'm done with this amazing adventure. I will leave Ukraine.
I feel the way I have only on a motorcycle or camping somewhere with my husband these past few years.... yes, Ukraine is as good as motorcycle riding and camping. HIGH PRAISE INDEED.
I am the luckiest girl alive - at least I have been for August and September. I can't believe I got this amazing gift of a job. Out of no where. Just landed right in my lap. As did my first job with this organization - it all started with an email, out of no where, in 2000. I still can't believe it. I feel like I'm going to wake up and it's going to be July and I'm going to be in Forest Grove and wondering what in the hell I'm going to do with my life. Actually, I always wonder what in the hell I'm going to do with my life. But now, with money in the bank and a solid, RECENT work experience, I'm not as worried about not knowing.
Do I worry about afterwards? Yes. But that's for another blog.
Co-worker: "I'm going to some meeting about gender blah blahs blah mainstreaming women ta ta ta dee dee dee."
No, really that was our conversation. The development/humanitarian jargon gets to even us - especially before we've had several cups of coffee.
Two important things I've learned on this job:
"Help me to do this" means "Do this for me, please."
"I'll be brief" means "I"m going to talk for 20 minutes, even though I only have 3 minutes allotted."
Also, I tried to kill my boss with roses on his birthday. Sorry!
An important thing I've learned for after work: Beer from kiosk near apartment: excellent. Cheese from the kiosk near apartment: oy vey. Nothing but cheese from Good Wine for rest of my time in Kyiv!
Saturday, Sept. 13, the couple with whom I stayed my first four weeks threw a party for me with incredible food - overflowing with fresh Ukrainian vegetables and added bonus, American store-bought salsa and homemade corn muffins! - lots of yummy things to drink, and a mix of friends and co-workers. I'm so sorry I didn't run around getting photos - not of the people, not of me debuting my fabulous Ukraine blouse, only of the food before everyone arrived. That's a huge regret. Because the evening was so special. And there were most of the people that have been special to me in Ukraine there, all together, in one room. I can't believe I didn't take photos. But I was just having this amazing time. I was sooooo happy.
I found out that some particularly hard partiers went on afterwards to Coyote Ugly, a new bar in Kyiv next to Good Wine. No. And can I just say how ticked off I am that most Ukrainians are having an introduction to the word coyote through this almost-a-titty bar instead of MY COMPANY?!?
The next night, one of the head honchos at work threw a dinner party at her apartment for just the visiting staff from other countries that work in our immediate office. Except for her, all of us are on short-term contracts of just a few months. Her apartment is near the Presidential office, on the same street as the Lutheran church, and just a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I am right on the edge of the most beautiful neighborhood in Ukraine, truly. It's just too lovely for words. As is her apartment. Wow. And afterwards, we washed dishes - very important people washed dishes.
Food and transportation are so cheap here in Kyiv. Accommodations are not. Hotels are more expensive than probably anywhere I've ever been. Apartment rents are through the roof. A lot of people own apartments here, in the city center, that they rent out to foreigners and other temporary stay folks, while they themselves live over on the other side of the river, where it's FAR cheaper. If I were staying here longer, I would have gotten a cheaper place, but I love being within easy walking distance of work and anything I want to see. There's no reason not to fully enjoy my nine weeks here - this isn't like other posts where I have to be constantly on alert for security reasons, where it's mandatory that I take a company car to get somewhere.
Kyiv. It's a beautiful city, in landscape and spirit. I love this city. I love this city as much as any European city I've ever been to. It is so easy to feel at home here. It's easy to get around the immediate downtown. It's not a super friendly town, but it's not rude - Kyiv folks do their jobs and save the overt friendliness for the people they love. The food is just... it's all that. The biggest challenge of being here is the language, particularly how it's written. I do a better job of listening and hearing things I understand than I do every trying to read anything. I was so spoiled my first four weeks here, no question, regarding getting around - by living with someone fluent in Russian and who can get by in Ukrainian and who can read everything.
Kyiv is a short flight from so many places - Prague, Istanbul, cities in Poland. Easy to get a flight here from Amsterdam. I really can't recommend this place highly enough as a tourist destination. Best time to come, IMO - late August or early September, when the weather isn't stupid hot but it's still warm enough sit outside (and if it's not, they'll bring you a blanket. I'm not kidding.), and there's fresh fruit and veggies being sold on the streets EVERYWHERE. And buy Lonely Planet Ukraine - it really does have all you need re: getting around and being here, including a list of companies that rent apartments. More on LP later in this blog...
It has cooled off quite a lot - from temps of around 76F / 26C the week before to 66F / 19C on Monday, Sept. 15, and the temps stayed there all week and weekend. And then it gets even colder the next week. That's a problem only when it comes to my clothes - I'll be alternating between the same two sweaters every day my last week here. I have been so lucky with the weather here - I cannot complain. Rained just one day. It was only horrible the first week - so hot I thought I would melt, especially with an office mate that hates air conditioning. I don't want an office that's frigid on a hot day, but I do want an office where I'm not sweating while I'm typing, and my computer isn't about to explode from the heat.
I'm busy at work - busier than I was expecting these most recent two weeks. I thought I had just one more project to do, and then I worried that I wouldn't have anything else to do. But SEVERAL things have just cropped up. I'm slammed. Which is absolutely fine. I LOVE this work. I love it. I could write communications strategies every day for the rest of my life. I could. I love doing it. I'm good at it. No, really, I am.
Not that I don't have bad days. I do, sometimes. Well, just two, so far.
It's so bizarre: I've netted probably 30 more followers on my professional Twitter account. But my personal account, the one associated with this blog, the fun one, about travel and, well, fun? I've netted none. For every one follower I've gained, I've lost one. I just knew I'd have 450 followers on my personal account by the time I left Ukraine. I was WRONG. Meanwhile, I've got more followers on the professional Twitter account than some of the agencies I work with!
One Sunday, my former host and a co-worker and I traveled by bus to the neighborhood near the Central Botanical Gardens (bus 14), to visit an Austrian woman who finds Ukrainian artists with paintings, sculptures or folk art she likes, and then she sells such out of her house. She's an artist herself as well. She is who discovered this guy's work that I love so much - though I just found out she's never met him! She gets his things through someone else. She lives in a gorgeous house, in an area with spectacular views of Kyiv down below, in a quarter with a lot of diplomats who have their own grand homes. Nice places, lemme tell ya… my friend found her via the Kyiv Expats Facebook group, which is a really great group for finding places to live, things to do - even jobs.
I've had three health issues while in Kyiv… so far. I hope it's all I have: first was the ankle swelling following my flights, and then at the end of every work day. That's gone away almost entirely - a few times at the end of the day, I see some slight swelling around the right ankle, though I'm not sure anyone else would notice it, and it's always gone by the time I go to bed. Second was that dang UTI. And third has been heartburn. I have chronic acid reflux. It's one of the legacy's from my Dad's side of the family (the other is a love of musical theatre - go figure). I thought I had brought more than enough Zantac and antacid tablets to get me through not just Ukraine, but Germany as well. But with more than two weeks to go, I see that I have just a week's worth of pills left - I had taken two a day many more times than I had realized. I knew I could keep that horrible pain under control - but didn't realize just how many meds I needed for such. It's very hard to get antacid meds in Germany - even if something is over the counter, they will give you just a few doses and a long lecture about going to see a doctor. I'll be asking a co-worker to go to a pharmacy with me next week, to see what I might be able to get over the counter.
So, long ago, per my blog about my Saturday with the IDPs, I wrote a report about that visit and sent it to a person I work with, a specialist regarding internally-displaced people (refugee is a term reserved for people not in their home countries). He forwarded it to someone, who never responded - never said, "Oh, we'll get right on this" or "We know all about this already - thanks for the update", etc. Silence. Nothing. It really ticked me off. So I sent it to another program that is a part of our overall agency. And the rep got back to me immediately, said they knew about it, wrote some comments that showed she TOTALLY knew which group I was talking about, etc. It just reminded me yet again: some people understand how to work, some people don't. Some people think of themselves as part of an organization, of something bigger, and some people just love their little fiefdom and don't want anyone messing with it. I have encountered both kinds of people in every kind of organization, even for-profits. I work really hard to think of all staff as integrated and worthy of respect and being informed. And when I'm sitting there hearing someone from another department nit pick my work, I look for legitimate, constructive criticism to use - and also think, yeah, sister, but did it ever occur to you that you can comment on what I'm doing because I share it, but you never share a damn thing about what you're doing with anyone outside your department?
So, I mentioned Lonely Planet Ukraine earlier. I bought it just before I left the states, and it has been terrific. It was written before the latest Maidan revolution, before Yanukovych was thrown out of office, but there are hints here and there that such a thing is coming. There's this paragraph from one section of the book I found quite telling:
"The 'ethnic' schism between western and eastern Ukraine has been under the spotlight since the Orange Revolution, when there were brief but serious fears the county might split. With Russian immigration into Ukrainian territory from the last 17th century, some Russian Ukrainians still feel their allegiance lies more with Moscow than with Kyiv... Ukrainian nationalists refuse to see an east-west split as a solution to the country's ethnic strife. Through the cause of countless problems, the divisions are neither as clear-cut nor as intractable as some politicians like to suggest."
Remember - the above paragraph was written BEFORE Maidan, BEFORE Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine (they say they haven't invaded - Russian soldiers there are on vacation, choosing to spend their free time fighting in Ukraine. Um… yeah). It's the first thing I've read about tensions BEFORE those events.
A country that does not address unity issues - and I don't mean forcing people to be unified, I mean getting buy-in from all residents about what it means to be a part of the country - is doomed. You see it in Spain, you see it in the UK, you see it in Belgium, you see it in Turkey… how many more times will we see it? I'm shocked re: Scotland, by the way - I think the vote to stay in the UK was economics and the head talking, not identity and the heart. And sometimes, economics is your best argument to get a region to stay.
Speaking of unity problems… "in Lviv, on Ukraine's western edge, near the border with Poland, displaced people from the Donbass region in the east and the southern peninsula of Crimea seem to be around every corner. They are staying in hotels and private apartments and in tourist chalets and sanatoria in the nearby Carpathian Mountains… In Lviv, which has a reputation as a stronghold of Ukrainian national identity, the arrival of Russian-speaking skhidnyaky (from skhid, Ukrainian for "east") is having social repercussions disproportionate to the actual number of people arriving. With men from western Ukraine fighting and dying in the east in the battle against Russian-backed separatist rebels, some locals resent their presence. At the same time, some activists working with refugees in Lviv argue that the recent arrivals are helping to dismantle Ukrainians' stereotypes about each other." Credit.
Mark my words: ethnic and cultural divisions are second only to corruption as being the primary challenge for Ukraine. How will these be addressed by ALL sides? Will these be addressed? Stay tuned...
I've put a link to all of my personal and professional blogs that relate to my time in Ukraine here. It's part of my ongoing quest to answer the question, "But what is it like to work in aid and development overseas?"
And speaking of being an aid and development worker overseas... this was brought to my attention:
“And what will become of Jean-Philippe? Will prolonged separation cause their hearts to grow fonder? Or will she find comfort in the arms of the mysterious, brooding Jonathon Langstrom? Will she take a job at HQ? Or will she continue to answer the humanitarian call from a dusty refugee camp on the border of Somalia?” Who knew there was aid worker fanfic? I wrote a blog back in 2010 about a new ABC show that was going to focus on the lives and loves of aid workers (it was canceled VERY quickly) and someone this week sent me this link, which has that gem of a quote on the page. It's actually a satire. And I totally want to read it...
Off to Chornobyl!