Saturday, January 30, 2016


Hi all,

So, it's been an eventful past week or so. Last weekend (Thursday night, technically), I hopped a train to Kyiv to go to a committee meeting on Friday. I was in a third class berth, and was happy that it was all women. Third class is similar to second, except that they don't have full compartments - there's rooms of four bunks (stacked two by two), with an opening to the corridor, which has two stacked bunks across from it. So there's a lot of humanity going on, especially when you're right next to the bathroom.

Some of the humanity involved a rather belligerent man who kept shouting Glory to Ukraine (which necessitates the response: Glory to the Heroes!) and insisting that everyone only speak Ukrainian. This was treated good-naturedly for a while, but soon wore down the people around him. One charming young woman apparently decided to try debating with him. There was much side-eyeing happening between myself and the women in my little semi-compartment. Eventually he did pass out, which made for a more pleasant environment.

Despite it being broiling, I managed to pass out for a few hours, but was happy to pull into Kyiv around 7:30am - in plenty of time for the 10am meeting. Kyiv had snow! Like, inches of it. Their best management techniques apparently involve salting and, somewhat bewildering, putting up plastic hazard tape (at neck-level) across portions of particularly dangerous stretches of sidewalk. So you got to have the added danger of clotheslining yourself as you tried to focus on not slipping. Fortunately, the organizational HQ is quite close to the train station.

I waltzed in to discover three other early/late arrivals - some of the closer volunteers had arrived the night before. It was fun to catch up before getting ready for the meeting. The meeting itself went on for less time than expected, as it was mainly organizational. I'm officially the "head" of the committee - appointed by the organization - but it's a great group and I think it just means I'm the official deadline and materials round-up coordinator. Fine by me!

It was also productive in the fact that I got to meet with the doctors, get my flu shot and then meet with my regional manager and the safety and security officer in charge. He made me name his (second) fish. My regional manager is very hands-off but supportive - I know that he'll go to bat for me and there's a good relationship of trust. It's also not very hard, because I don't see the point in not being completely transparent in my plans - there's nothing to hide. I think if he was constantly checking in with me, I'd be more tempted to tell him less details so he wouldn't be tempted to micro-manage. Anyhow, it's nice to have a style that I find easy to work with. Plus he's pretty cool - knows the good places to go for nightlife or to buy a tent...

So you know it's clean...clearly we got the ritzy room somehow!

A little sexist.

After dropping stuff at the hotel, a group of us ventured off in search of a restaurant. I thought that we were going to this burger place that came strongly recommended, but it turns out I missed a twist in the decision making tree. Which was perfectly fine, but got a bit confusing at one point. I didn't have to lead the expedition though, so I was perfectly fine with where we ended up - a restaurant with 50% all the menu items...slightly strange, but we made it work and had some pretty decent beer.

I don't drink alone at site - actually I barely drink at all because Lila is Baptist and she's who I hang out the most with. And it's not really within the culture to go out alone as a woman. Sometimes groups of women do go out, but it seems that it's only for special occasions, and probably still not to a bar. So it was really nice to get a few beers with people who were drinking responsibly and fun to talk to. It was nice to meet some of the new volunteers and hang out socially as well.

That's right, hot chocolate WITH mini-marshmallows

Saturday I made plans to meet a previous volunteer who is now working in Kyiv. She was actually going to the National art museum with one of the staff from my organization, whose husband is a painter. So we ended up getting a curated tour, which was pretty awesome. I'd covered the museum briefly with the 11th form for their "Art" section, and so I recognized a few of the works. My favorite painter was Abram Manievich , who I just discovered eventually came to live in the US. There was also a self-portrait by Taras Shevshenko, the national poet/painter forced into servitude and soldiery. The volunteer's roommate (who is half Ukrainian, half American and recently returned to work as well) came along, and was a lot of fun to hang out with. Afterward, we three went to find lunch and then to meet up with the dwindled group of volunteers who didn't leave until the evening.

Before I left, I met with my secretary/student friend from work, who was in Kyiv for courses. It took a while, but we ended up finding a place to get coffee. I also took a creeper picture of a guy who embodies the Kyiv-vibe - shaved head with long topknot bun, rocking a sweater...

Also: note the manspreading

The trip back was pretty uneventful. Tired of the eventual awkwardness of my trainmates discovering my lack of communication was due to foreignness, I out-ed myself immediately, figuring that I'd be comfortably ignored. Nope, instead one declared that they'd just speak slowly, and I ended up in an hours-long conversation. I definitely lost the thread at times, but it was still a lovely exchange. I was in second class, which was more spacious, quiet and less heated. Unfortunately, I found myself starting to come down with a sore throat...and with a tree abandoned on my doorstep. (No Idea)

Second surprise: the glowing eyes was a cat.

I arrived back Sunday morning, and wasn't feeling so hot. I stayed home from school Monday - trying all day to reach the medical office. I finally had to call the after-hours line. Between my low fever, sore throat, sinus pain and fatigue, they ordered me to start taking antibiotics (thoughtfully given in advance) and forbade me to return to school for three days. Wednesday night, I was informed that our school was closed under "quarantine" for the next week and a half, so apparently I'm in good company.

Yesterday I left the house for the first time, and managed to get all my house cleaning done! Plus in all my down time I managed to create some materials and get some grad school writing done.

Anyhow, going to utilize the rest of the week for more prep and materials creation...

Hope all is well,


Cat in the (floating bowler) hat

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