I would have studied more,
but I was too busy with the revolution.
It was said without irony, in all seriousness, by a young person involved in Maidan, someone that I went out with during my first two weeks here. And I laughed and laughed. And said I would put it in a blog. And, at last, I have. Which one said it? I'll never tell...
Kyiv doesn't feel like a city that just had a revolution - not until you see the memorials here and there near the center of town - stacked flowers, encircled by bricks, here and there. They mark where someone was killed. There's one just across from our office. There are also many, each with a photo, on the ulitsa Institutskaya, a street that descends sharply down to Maidan. But elsewhere - it's so easy, maybe too easy, to forget.
If I had a factory to build in Eastern Europe, I'd build it here, in Urkaine. Not Turkey, not Romania, not Macedonia, not Albania. Look, Ukraine is not Germany, but it's a country with a tremendous amount of promise - people in Ukraine are well educated, have as much understanding of the service industry as people in Spain or Italy, and are VERY tech savvy. Move your damn manufacturing or tech business here. Open some affordable places to stay across the country. Create a hostel movement here. Write a book called The Ukrainian diet: how to look like a Ukrainian woman in 30 days, and then open some spas and lingerie affiliated with the book.
And, yes, that's with a conflict happening in the East. I still say: open your business here if you're thinking about opening somewhere in Eastern Europe.
I'm so glad I went on a six week motorcycle trip back in 2008 through most of Eastern Europe, because I got to experience this region on a very intimate level then, and it prepared me SO much for this experience. I did not come to Ukraine then. I remember thinking, at the time, well, Ukraine is so OUT THERE. It's SO FAR AWAY. It's going to be SO BACKWARD. And while I haven't seen the whole country, from what I HAVE seen, I am blown away - in a good way. If this country can get its profound, massive, horrific corruption problem under control, and create a place that's welcoming of everyone, no matter their ethnic background (as much as any other European country has...), this will be a country worth investing big bucks in.
My first weekend in September, I went to the Gulliver mall here in Kyiv at long last. I hated it. I hate malls. The stores are all upscale blah blah blah. I hate upscale blah blah blah. But I needed some things, and knew it was the place to look for such. Kudos to the Apple store there, the iStore - the staff tried very hard to help me. They couldn't, but they tried. And I respect that.
I not only dared to go to the mall, by myself - I dared to go out without lipstick. It's only 2nd time I've done that. This is a lipstick city. This is a women-better-look-great-always. Yes, some overdo it - but most women here just always look *nice*. And not everyone wears the crazy shoes - I've seen just as many flats on beautiful, skinny women as 5 inch heels that defy gravity and common sense.
The women's see-through clothes and lack of underwear was really disconcerting the first three weeks here. And sometimes, yeah, I still gasp at the sight of so much underwear - and what not. But you know what? I have never lived in a city where women walk with such confidence EVERYWHERE. I kinda love it. Although most of the time I feel like a big, fat slob here… women under 40 her in Kyiv are, for the most part, fit and gorgeous. Hence why I suggested that book earlier in this blog...
The food in Ukraine has been AMAZING: *fresh* veggies, *fresh* fruits, meat raised right here in the country… and with the great food and all the walking, I've lost a bit of weight. No wonder the women here are so amazing looking. The wine is… awful. If you come here and like wine, you'll be drinking imported wine. But the local beer is wondrous and cheap.
So, confession time: I have developed a huge, massive phobia about escalators - going up, rather than down. It's all I can do not to hyperventilate and start screaming "Get me off this damn thing!" I think it has something to do with my wreck back in June. I actually made a conscious effort to work on it at the mall, and it was terrifying. I would get off the escalator after going to a floor and just start walking around the floor, breathing, hoping the feeling would wash away. Later, I dared to go into the subway here - THE DEEPEST SUBWAY IN THE WORLD - with my former host. She knows about this knew phobia, and knows I want to work on it. For some reason, if someone is behind me as I'm going up in the escalator, I'm fine. The more people behind me, the more I'm fine. I actually walked fast as we got off the train so I could get in front of a bunch of people about to get on the escalator, so they would be behind me. And I was fine. But if I'm alone, it's a nightmare. A NIGHTMARE. I don't even know how to describe it - the fear, the anxiety. I'm fine on a glass elevator. I'm fine in a ski lift. I'll probably be fine on a zip line. But on an escalator going up: all I can think of is how I'm going to fall backwards and die.
And the crazy thing is: every street I walk on here in Kyiv, I map in terms of how I would ride it on a motorcycle, and every time I see someone on a motorcycle, I wish I was riding.
I LOVE YOU, IRRATIONAL BRAIN!
Speaking of my motorcycle wreck from back in June in Utah: the wound on my right leg still hasn't completely healed. There's no open scar, but it's all still very pink. I put the special stuff Kaiser Permanente gave me on it, and have been wearing bandaids on it most days, because while I accept I'm going to have a scar, I'd like the scar to be as subtle as possible. The area above my left eyebrow remains a bit more tender than the right side, and I think I can feel the slightest bit of scar tissue there. And I think there is a scar there, but it's only visible in certain light. But otherwise, I've been absolutely fine. Except for escalators.
I've seen four women motorcyclists in Kyiv in my six weeks here. One, a red head, parks her bike on Kutuzova St. some mornings - I passed her when I went by car to work. The other two I noticed as I was walking out and about. I get very excited when I see women motorcyclists in other counties. UNDP has their development indicators (literacy rates, live birth rates, HIV/AIDs rates, etc.) and I have mine (number of women motorcyclists, number of female skateboarders or roller derby players, number of goth girls, number of punk rock or metal girls, etc.).
I know what you all want to ask, but don't dare, because you're too polite: WHAT ARE THE BATHROOMS LIKE?!?
So far, they've been just fine - as in, clean, with plenty of running water. Even the one and only latrine I've used has been fine, as nice as any I've used whilst camping in Oregon. But I know that I've also not stepped too far out of "the bubble." In an effort to be overly careful regarding bathrooms, I "held it" for too long for several days my first three weeks here, and ended up in the early stages of a UTI. Luckily, as I learned in Serbia, what's available only via prescription in the USA is easily available in pharmacies in Eastern Europe. I highly recommend you mix the stuff they give you in fizzy water rather than plain water - makes it much easier to drink. And make sure you put the packages away when you arrange to have a massage in the same room where you keep your medication.
So, what was the first thing I illegally downloaded and watched in Ukraine? Um… Season 2, Episode 1 of "Sherlock." Which I've already seen probably 4 times. DON'T JUDGE ME. I watched the last episode of "Fargo" which I missed back in the USA (underwhelmed - though I thought the cast, including Martin Freeman, were all terrific). I'm now rewatching two episodes of "Broadchurch" so I can finally see the end of it.
I've been grocery shopping by myself three times now. I've infuriated different checkout people with my insistence in getting rid of my coins. I also paid for myself and a colleague on a bus, entirely in coin, and the guy that rides the buses just to take payments said, "No one ever pays in coins!" Damn foreigners! As you may recall from this blog, I found more than 5 hryvnia (pronounced grieve-nyah), the local currency, in coin in my apartment, and while that's just 39 cents in US coinage, it's enough to almost buy a large bottle of beer here. And money exchanges rarely accept coins - a few at airports will. A bank might. But I'm going old school. Sorry, Kyiv. They'll be gone soon, I promise. What isn't I'm going to dump in a busker's bowl my last week here.
Saturday, Sept. 6, I toured the grounds of Saint Sophia Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cathedral's name comes from the 6th-century Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople (Sophia means Holy Wisdom; the church is dedicated to Holy Wisdom rather than a specific saint named Sophia). But its architectural model could have been the 13-domed oaken Holy Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod. On the inside, it has mosaics and frescos from the 11th century - including scenes from the Old Testament (IMO, that's rare). The church has been through rough times, damaged in the pillaging of Kiev in 1169 and again in 1240, in the 16th century when Poland and Ukraine were trying to unite catholic and orthodox churches, and the Soviet anti-religious campaign of the 1920s and 30s - I don't think any church services were held in Soviet times. All Orthodox and the Greek-Catholic Churches lay claim to it - and fight over it now. Therefore, no religious body has yet been given the rights for regular services. So, for now, it's a museum of Ukraine's Christianity.
While I was touring St. Sophia's, a couple dressed in historic outfits slowly, slowly, slowly walked out to some recorded music, waved at people in the square for about 2 seconds, then turned around and came right back. No idea what it was about. The mother of the "queen" was there, taking photos. I think they need a lot more reenactors - some ladies in waiting. Some warriors. Some adoring peasants.
That same day, we visited Peizazhna alley, a long, green walk made up of a Children's Landscape Park and then the Kiev Fashion Park. All of the statues and playground equipment in the parks were paid for by citizens and private businesses. My favorite statue is, of course, the Little Prince. And there is a giant Alice in Wonderland-themed jungle gym as well - AIW imagery is easily found in this city. Peizazhna alley is probably my very favorite place in Kyiv. Much of the artwork is interactive - like a bench that is also a teeter totter. Much more about the park if you will go to my Flickr account and read the photo descriptions (which is hard, I know - Flickr / Yahoo apparently doesn't want you to read photo descriptions; click on an actual photo, and if you scroll down, you can see what I wrote about the photo).
BOOM!!! POW!!! CRASH!!!
The sounds of horse chestnuts as they fall all over Kiev, assaulting cars and people.
As of my fifth week here, I've started getting asked for directions by people passing me on the street. I attribute this to being out alone now so much more, as my friend Ann isn't here to chaperone me absolutely everywhere. People start asking and my eyes get wide and I have to stop them and I say, "I'm so sorry. I cannot help." Then their eyes get big and they usually just smile and walk away. As long as they don't scream, "Russian spy!!!", I'm fine with whatever their reaction. Getting asked for directions is something that happens to me anywhere and everywhere. Do I look like someone who knows where she's going? Because, spoiler alert: I'm lost MOST of the time, figuratively and literally.
On Friday of my fifth week here, someone pointed out that a billboard with our organization's name and slang for "so what?" had gone up near our office. So I started asking around, and it turned out that all of the local staff had seen it and basically thought, "So what?" It turns out it's a pro-Russian radio station that is putting up the billboards all over town. So I got the second in command involved - we let our NY office know, and I asked someone to please monitor the radio station's Twitter and Facebook accounts to see if there are discussions regarding our organization on either. And it was like pulling teeth to get that to happen - the staff just looked at me like, "huh? why?" I had to explain that, while we aren't going to try to get the billboards taken down or respond on social media, we need to be aware of what is being said, because we may want to respond in other ways. And they continued to stare at me. Sigh… my work here is not done…
Surreal moment of the trip: proudly being shown a photo on an iPhone of a mature pot plant someone is growing on their terrace in Belgium.
As you've no doubt seen already, I got to puppy-sit for three nights and four days. Her name is Stella - or, as I kept calling her, Stella Dallas. She's a four-month old Bull Dog - or was at the time I kept her (still a Bull Dog, of course...). Her owner, a co-worker here in Kyiv, had to go out of town. She was a handful! I adored her, and it was the first time I ever kept a puppy. Conclusion: I'm not sure a puppy is for me. Two puppies, maybe, but one? Wow. That's a ton of work. At least two could play with each other! What was hilarious was seeing Ukranians, normally who never even look me in the eye, becoming blubbering piles of flesh as soon as they saw Stella. Adorbs.
Did you catch the Humans of New York guy in Ukraine? Oh, I loved the photos so! And it was the woman I share an office with that was his guide and translator while he was here! She's in one of the photos… I'm not telling you which one… It's not this one, but this was the favorite of my sister and I.
One of you asked: doesn't being in Ukraine make you a broad no longer abroad but still a broad abroad?
Okay, okay, okay, I'll do it. But I'll do it MY way. I will not rank them and I will not be limited to just 10 and you can do it if you want or not - no challenges to anyone. The books that stayed with me, that had a huge impact on me:
- Grapes of Wrath
- Elmer Gantry
- To Kill a Mocking Bird
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
- The Hobbit
- All the Harry Potter books
- The Handmaid's Tale
- The Bean Trees
- Uncle Tom's Cabin
- All Creature's Great and Small
- Cider House Rules
- The Stand
- All of Toni Morrison's books
- Books of fairy tales pre-clean up (where the Cinderella sisters get their eyes pecked out by birds at the end and all that)
Yes, I did give everyone who attended my presentation last week pizza. I'm a giver.
It's rained once since I've been here. Once. Good thing I brought this rain jacket!
And I'll end with some various things that caught my attention in the last two weeks:
- Transcript of Ambassador Samantha Power, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at the security council session on Ukraine in August.
- Russia is Already Invading Ukraine, an opinion piece from The Atlantic.
- As the Ukraine-Russia conflict enters its sixth month, there are signs from inside Russia that the nation’s nerves are beginning to fray, from the Seattle Times.
- As Ukraine fighting surges so too do Russian Ukrainian doubts about the war, from the Christian Science Monitor.
- The painful secrecy of Russia’s war in Ukraine. "A local politician was beaten unconscious after he started investigating why men from the elite 76th Guards Air Assault Division, which is stationed in Pskov, were coming home dead."