Monday, January 30, 2012


девушка-  You are tall.  You are beautiful.  ALL of you!  For the most part, you have long, straight, brunette or blonde, red doesn't seem to exist here.  You are thin, or at least in really great shape.  Very few of you are overweight.  You wear fur.  And amazing shoes.  Only the most stylish heels and knee high boots.  Even in this ridiculously icy city.  Unfortunately, you will not age well.  Perhaps it's because of the extreme winter temperatures... or the fatty, meaty food that you eat.

мальчик-  You are average height.  You are not beautiful.  You look like the stereotypical Russian bad guys in movies.  You wear black.  You are clean shaved.  So many of you have scars.  You don't seem to be in great shape like the women.  But even if you are lacking in good looks, you make up for it with your classic chivalry. You hold doors, you help women with their jackets.  You buy flowers, give up your seat on the metro, and always carry your lady-friend's bag.  At first I took many second looks at dangerous-looking men with designer purses... but a beautiful woman is always somewhere close. 

As cold as the people seem on the outside... never smiling and always in a hurry... they are so nice as soon as you start getting to know them.  If you take a moment to say hello and ask how they are doing, most of them will immediately be friendly.  Except the waitresses at our favorite restaurant, of course.  They're still pretty cold, even though we eat there every day. One thing that is surprising to me about this large city, is that I've found everyone to look the same.  I went shopping with my host's niece, and I lost track of her in a very small store.  How do you lose a tall, beautiful woman in a small store?  You fill it with tall beautiful women.  It doesn't help that they all dress the same.  But they all dress well.  All of the people here are very well dressed, men and women.  It's amazing.  I thought I brought my nicer clothing with me, but I look homeless.  It's true.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Metro

My primary means of getting around Kiev is the Metro.  I prefer walking, but with the snow, slush, and the recently extreme temperatures, the cleaner, faster, warmer option is the metro.  The metro stations here are a vast, spacious, expansive, beautiful network of underground structures with escalators like none I've ever seen!  I feel like the majority of my time in the metro system is spent on an escalator.  The stations are so clean, and so efficient.  I am constantly shocked at how many people I see every day in the stations and on the trains.  But, it is an amazingly cheap and fast way to travel around the town.

  The following are some observations I've made while using Kiev's amazing transportation.  Please keep in mind that public transport of any sort is really a novelty for me.

It is important to remember not to talk to anyone on the metro, unless you're going to scold them for something, like losing balance when the train starts.  Don't smile.  If you smile, you're weird.  To get the most out of the metro, you should try to walk faster than everyone else and squeeze onto the train, push if you have to, even when there is clearly no more room.  If you are a man walking with a woman, you should hug her and kiss her every moment that you are stopped... If you are waiting for a train, on the train, on the escalator... It's not ok to smile at people you don't know, but public displays of affection are ok.  Don't ask me.

The escalators... Oh my, the escalators.  The first day, when my host took me along the metro route I needed to get to school, I got serious vertigo on the escalator.  I held onto the hand rail, but as usual, the hand rail moved faster than the steps.  I've never been in such a long angled tunnel before... The tunnel is designed specifically for the escalator.  After the first, there was a second, taking commuters the rest of the way to the surface.  Somehow, I found a location in town where you can switch from one station to another somewhere beneath the earth at the bottom of a hill and exit the station on the surface at the top of the hill. Unbelievably the two escalators there were double the length of the two in my station!  How is it possible?!
Also, unlike you're typical department store escalators, the metro stairs move fast.  Not too fast, but definitely fast enough that if you're not paying attention when you step on, you will find yourself wanting to fall backwards.  I've found that I must be ready to launch myself into a rather brisk stride when my step hits the top. If not, I will get pushed out of the way by those behind me who are ready to walk fast. The best advice I can give for metro escalator adventuring is Go with Confidence. Just look that escalator right in the eyes (eyes?) and tackle it with all you've got.  Also, don't wear heels.  I don't care if you are in Kiev... better to be unfashionable than break an ankle.

Another hurdle I've encountered is figuring out where the heck I am when I get off the metro.  Almost all of the stations are underground, so you must first find the stairs leading down to the station, usually located at street corners or in plazas.  Once underground, there are large networks of tunnels containing vendors, food courts, and even some rather large shopping malls.  A person must navigate through the flowers, pizza, souvenirs, and lingerie to find the doors of the metro station.  If you take a wrong turn, you'll end up at another set of stairs which will lead to the surface on the street corner opposite of where you entered (if you're lucky!)   It usually happens that I exit the metro and walk to the wrong end of the station, ending up a few blocks from my desired destination.  When I do make it to the correct end, I usually choose the wrong stairs and end up on the wrong side of the road.  I go through this process of playing prairie-dog almost every time I try to go somewhere... Popping my head up somewhere, looking around to get my bearings, then popping back down to the underground to try a different hole somewhere else.

On the plus side, I can now read the metro signs and I understand where the trains go.  That means that anytime I'm lost in town (which is often), all I have to do is find a metro station to get to some place familiar.

Next topic of discussion...  The people.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

This Is School?

Yeah, I guess I need to update the blog more often.  My two beautiful ducks were killed by a raccoon, just a couple days after I made the last post.  But I bought them with the hopes that they would protect my chickens and they did.  The cinder block has since been replaced with a more secure locking, hinged door and we've had no more deaths.  I plan to get more ducks in the spring.

We're well into winter now and the holidays passed without incident.  The break between semesters seemed pretty short, but the time our friends and house-mates were away seemed to last forever.  I guess that's how those things go.  I can't believe I'm already in the second semester of my second year of college!  Turns out I'm a pretty good student when the situation is right.

At the moment, that situation is a small classroom in Kiev, Ukraine, with all my lessons held in Russian.  Looking back, I'm not really sure how I got here.  Of course I drove to the airport, got on a plane and flew, but how the heck did I end up in Ukraine, of all places?  I never in my life imagined wanting to travel here.  And here I am.  The truth of it is, I am going to school to learn.  There is no other reason.  I want to learn Russian?  I'd better do it right and go some place that speaks Russian.

Still... I'm baffled that I am actually here and am actually getting school credit for this.

So, what is Ukraine like?
In January, it is cold (9c/15f today).  It is icy.  It is grey.  The people are also cold.  If you want to fit in, don't smile in public. Don't smile at people you don't know.  And you should always try to get in front of them.  People seem to always be in a hurry here (maybe because it's so cold?), and will walk faster to pass you on the sidewalk, or try to squeeze in front of you to get what they want at the grocery store... Even if you're the only two people in the store!  It's a bit strange and it makes trying to speak the language in every day situations rather difficult.

On the flip side, my host is fabulous!  She is so sweet and I feel like I'm at my grandma's house.  Valentina is always concerned that my shoes won't be warm enough or that I haven't had enough to eat...  The food she cooks is wonderful, but it is hearty.  I have had to ask my instructor how to tell Vale that I would like to not eat so much.  I wrote it down, but I haven't tried to tell her yet.  She is so nice and so genuine that I don't want to be rude.  My current plan is to walk home from school everyday, instead of taking the metro, to burn off all the extra calories.
The apartment I live in is located in 'Old Kiev', now called Podil, on the banks of the Dnieper River.  It is a wonderful neighborhood, close to the metro station, and without too much traffic.  It is a great place to walk in the evenings and there's even an ice-skating rink set up in the square.

I have two more weeks of lessons before returning to the states, so hopefully my speaking skills will improve by then and I'll be able to hold an actual conversation with my original mentor at Prescott College.