Saturday, September 5, 2015

Mashrutka Musings

I Adopted! (Gender Unspecified)

Hello all,

Well, I survived my first week, and it was mostly a successful venture. There was a moment when I feared chaos among the second graders (my counterpart TOTALLY owes me for taking on her classes alone while she's still gallivanting about the US through this next week), when a game of Simon (Miss Stephanie) says quickly derailed with the discover of *BEADS!* on the floor. So I lost about 5 kids to random wandering.

So now I know to plan double the activities, hopefully also get a song and maybe even show a little cartoon. Because I have them again on Monday - along with the OTHER section.

My temporary counterpart also had a bit of a terrible day on Friday, as she just got her driving license and had a few mishaps that lead to no end of frustration and tears. I only thought I might die twice though during the proceedings, and it was humbling to see someone have a really, truly bad day. I couldn't do much except lend a reassuring ear and do some back rubbing (y'all, I'm SO not good at comforting people...). Things turned out ok,

Anyhow, I had another breakthrough that I think also gives some insight into the culture I'm immersed in every day.

As much as a 45 minute walk can be enjoyable with a good podcast and properly broken-in footwear, the latter is still a concern and I have the blisters to prove it. So it was pretty much necessity that led me to exploring taking the mashrutka (minibus) that picks up (conveniently) right outside of my building and that goes to center.

Now, coming from a region in the US that has absolutely NO form of public transportation, excepting the occasional Greyhound bus, I find public transportation a bit trying under the best situations. My first real exposure happened when I lived in Germany, and that did lead to an adventure or two - notably clutching a book of fairy tales in the middle of nowhere near midnight waiting for the bus that dropped me at the wrong end of the line to turn around so I could go the correct direction - so I have a lingering aversion to taking anything for the first time.

And of course there's the fact that in Ukraine that schedules can be rather whimsical, based on factors that I can't even begin to fathom. They also work on the premise that another person can always be squeezed in. Boarding a bus (or anything that involves a "line") is a frantic free-for-all bottleneck exercise that never fails to induce a slight panic.

Once aboard, you handover your fare and squeeze towards the back. If you're lucky you'll get a seat, otherwise you're stuck surfing. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a city on the subway will have this art-form down. It's a braced-leg position with one hand wrapped awkwardly around people to the nearest support bar. Stops are really more of suggestion - with some definitely planned, but it's not unusual for someone to simply flag down a ride from the road or to request a stop somewhere along the route.

In theory, this is very convenient. In practice, it can make approximating where your stop is a bit of a challenge. It is also (for all of summer and a good ways into fall) a sweltering hell-hole of heat perfumed by a miasma of body odor. Today I lucked out with getting on a mashrukta with the window open. Thankfully, an older woman querulously demanded that it be shut! God forbid that a breeze enter a hotbox of humanity and possibly air anything out.

Sorry, not that I'm bitter about this. Ukrainians (and Russians? and Europeans?) have this fear of breezes or being cold in general. I mean, somehow my ovaries seem to always be at risk of freezing.


There are some great things about them (other than quartering my actual walking time to the school). For example, there is a very established culture (including window closing mandates) within the mashrutka. Any babusya (grandmother) will definitely tell off any drunk man who starts to make a pass at you. In general, men will give up their places to a woman, and every gives up seats for the babusya or a mother/pregnant woman.

In addition, you might have noticed my lovely plant picture. I found a nice aloe vera plant (I think - and better late than never...) at the market place and decided that it was coming home with me. While I couldn't live with the guilt of abandoning a pet, a plant can always be surreptitiously dropped in a classroom at the end of the year. Anyhow, I ended up taking the mashrutka from behind the bazaar to my apartment, laden with two bags of groceries, my purse and the plant. This made my position for surfing a bit precarious, but luckily, a nice woman next to me took the plant from me.

I mean literally, she just reached over and grabbed it - returning it when I went to disembark. This is another common phenomenon that I'd witnessed before but never had happen to me. It usually happens when you give up your seat to someone, but they'll take your purse or bags and hold onto it for you. Sometimes they are very insistent, and you really have not choice but to relinquish your belongings. You'll be helped, and you'll like it, by golly.

Anyhow, it was nice to be folded into that cultural experience and probably saved the woman from getting her eyes poked out. A win for everyone!

Anyhow, back to attempting to salvage part of the evening in the name of productivity - I have some Warden duties for formulating an emergency action plan to work on, a training request to assist with the incoming volunteers to complete and several things I'm undoubtedly forgetting about.

Hope all is well,


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